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C#, Sunderland, Sonnets and Apress

I haven't blogged for a little while. Much has happened, leaving me in the curious position of being too busy to blog, but still trying to remember all the things I should blog about when I get the chance. Well, that chance is now, so here's my brain dump over the last week.

On February 9th I posted a blog entry about my foray into the world of SDL and C#. My goal was - and is - to try to create a generic game engine that turns XML into a game so that non-programmers can create games and, hopefully, add to the number of quality games available for Linux. Well, things have moved on just a little: the game engine is now powerful enough to be able to recreate Breakout/Arkanoid and Trout Wars, with more to come. Conditional actions are implemented, allowing things like "if number of asteroids on screen < 0 then go to next level", plus text support, randomness, timers, etc. We're currently working on platform movement and joypad support, and hope to have the next (internal) release done over the weekend.

Now, the important thing: when are we going to actually release the code and announce the project? Well, it seems that Sourceforge is on the verge of releasing Subversion access to the wider world sometime in the next few weeks. As we intend to host the project there, it seems like a smart move to wait for SVN to go live. Of course, if nothing happens by mid-March, we might just put a tarball up somewhere so that people can start playing around with it. Annoyingly, it seems that we've encountered at least two bugs with SDL (or SdlDotNet, it's hard to tell), because some things randomly refuse to work, completely out of our control. I plan to email the SdlDotNet author to see if it's just me or there's a wider problem.

In other news, part of the reason I've been off blogging is that I flew Up North over the weekend to meet some friends and go to watch Sunderland get drubbed by Tottenham. As it happened, Sunderland managed to pull back a goal in the closing minutes, so everything turned out alright in the end. Before the game we placed bets on how long it would be before the crowd started chanting for the board to be sacked (Sunderland is firmly at the bottom of its league), and I was suitably smug when my bet (25 minutes) was closest to the actual time (31 minutes). There's nothing quite so uplifting as hearing 30,000 people chant "We want Murray out".

While up there, Ildiko and I managed to attend matins at Durham cathedral. We sat in the fourth row, and there must have been fewer than 20 people in the entire congregation. Although it's true that matins isn't the main Sunday service, I think it's true to say that Durham has fallen a long way from its palatinate peak. Ildiko was completely baffled by the psalmody, which is fair enough; I had a hard time understanding the words myself!

We arrived home to find that my copy of LXF76, aka "The Eye-Scalding Orange" edition, was shredded by our cats. Evidently they didn't like the cover much, because other magazines - Digital Camera, PC Format and even other LXFs - were left alone, but the cover to LXF76 has been bitten off, clawed to shreds, then scratched into oblivion. And to think we paid extra for the fifth colour!

Many Apress books to read.

Of course, no trip is complete without some sort of sickness, so it's no surprise that a small cough I had developed into a full-blown hacking-like-a-hag sickness that managed to keep me at home on Monday and Tuesday this week. In the end, I came back into the office not out of any sense of duty, but simply a desire to spread the virus to the unlucky buggers who sit next to me. Mwahahaha. As I arrived back in the office I found a large crate from Apress, the book publishers. They've sent us some reading for the weekend, which is very nice of them. Now we just need to arrange a year-long weekend and we're sorted.

Being back at LXF Towers after illness is unusual for me, as this was the first sick time I've taken off since joining the magazine. The time off gave me chance to catch up on things I wouldn't normally get the time to do. This week, I've been reading poetry (Carol Ann Duffy, if you're interested). I find sonnets interesting, relaxing and enjoyable because their tight structure somehow engenders more freedom in the poet, and yet I feel that if I were to write 14 lines in iambic pentameter I'd have run out of ideas by the sestet.

It's probably because of childhood experience that we find rhyme so enjoyable, and yet I've always imagined it being a great hardship to force oneself into a literary straitjacket just to classify your work as a particular type. But as I've said, rather than constricting a writer's creativity, the sonnet form seems to add gravity and meaning to an otherwise simple piece of prose. Would a Shakespeare sonnet be as good if read as a letter? Probably not.

It's not just poetry that has these invisible boundaries. If you're a churchgoer, you might think your preacher is just banging on about the Bible randomly, hoping for scattergun salvation. But chances are, they have some sort of training in or understanding of homiletics - the art of preaching. My father is a church minister, and last year I asked him to give a 30-second tutorial in homiletics. It came down to this:

  1. Introduce the topic with a real-world example, preferably an anecdote from your own life or someone the congregation will have heard of.
    1. Discuss how the topic applies to God
    2. Discuss how the topic applies to people
    3. Discuss how the topic applies to you
  2. Sum up with a firm conclusion, outlining the points made.

Clearly preaching isn't just a science, as there are (many) dull preachers and (a handful of) interesting preachers. But I find it fun that there's a science behind a topic that most would say has little to do with science.

Now, I say all this because I'm quite curious as to whether there's a science behind writing for Linux Format. Is a review three steps away from perfection? Should a tutorial always follow the same format? Should we revive dactylic hexameter for What on Earth features? I'm not sure I could ever really spot such a science, at least not without some dedicated study. But you, the readers of the magazine, have probably already spotted it.

The LXF Science of Writing may already be there, we just don't know it - a de facto science rather than a de jure science, if you will. Would such repetition make readers feel comfortable, or bored? I sometimes wonder whether we'd get complaints from you guys if we put News after Reviews, simply because our format changes so rarely ;)

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