Not a bad day, over all

Thanks to the reading I’ve been doing, and the source code that fellow pilot-geek Kris Johnson sent me, I think I’m starting to get my head around Objective C, if not the iPhone development environment. I answered my first Objective C question on Stack Overflow, and got over 12 upvotes and an accepted answer. Too bad I hit my daily reputation cap. But Kris saw my post almost immediately and commented on my new-found knowledge of Objective C.

The iPhone part is coming along nicely. I’m about halfway through the iPhone Application Programming Guide, and after that there are a couple more papers on the iPhone developer site to read. It might soon be time to start writing some test apps.

After work, I went to the gym and did Dan’s recommended light weights but more sets workout on the machines. The gym is a lot more crowded than it was in December – I wonder if this is just the New Years Resolution crowd, or just that there weren’t a lot of students around in December because of exams and end of quarter work-loads?

And in between, work sucked less than it had been. I got assigned a bug from the “BAU” (which I’m told stands for “Business As Usual”) group, which unlike the “Maintenance group”, actually seems to have some standing in the company.

In the Maintenance group, if you wanted help from somebody in charge of a design document, you had to preface your request with an explanation that you were only Maintenance, so they didn’t have to interrupt anything important to answer you. 50% of the bugs assigned to me are unreproducible, either because they were fixed under different report numbers, or I don’t know enough about some areas of the product to figure out how to reproduce the bug and can’t bother people who do know because I’m just “Maintenance”. Another 25% get put on hold after I figure out the fix because the fix involves a view change, which requires a review from the DBA group, and the DBA group aren’t going to give any priority to reviewing it because I’m just “Maintenance”. And have I mentioned that the bugs I fixed in the first two weeks are finally getting code reviewed on Thursday, 2.5 months after they were fixed? With any luck, they might even get checked into the code for the April release. (And no, I’m not kidding – that’s where I’m told they’re going to go if I can get them approved by code freeze in March.)

Now compare that to my first BAU bug. The bug report had some conflicting information, so I did some research in the design documents. That also had conflicting information, so I was able to have a meeting with one of the designers, and exchange some email with the “owner” of some other part of the functionality. From that, I was able to resolve some of the ambiguity, and decide on a plan of action. There are both GUI and back-end issues in this bug, and I’ve told them I want to fix both sets of issues instead of just the actual “headline” issue, and they agreed. And I get the feeling that there will be more help if I run into other obstacles. I feel positively giddy.

iPhone Logbook App requirements

Ok, so what do I want from an iPhone App? How about I list the requirements as I see them, and order them from highest to lowest? I have an idea that I can then choose a bunch at the top of the list and say “this will be the first release”, then a bunch below that to say “this will be the next release”, and so on down the list.

The perfect iPhone logbook app:

  • Must not require an internet connection!
  • User must be able to enter a new flight.
  • User must be able to browse existing flights.
  • User must be able to total up existing flights
  • A flight consists of a brief description, a series of one or more locations, the aircraft that was taken, and the number of hours spent in certain activities such as “Pilot in Command”, “Cross Country”, “Dual Instruction” as well as counts of other non-timed activities like “Day Landings” or “Precision Approaches”.
  • A particular aircraft should be known by its capabilities so that the user can get totals of time spent in those capabilities, such as single engine or multi engine, land plane or sea plane, complex, high performance, turbo prop, jet, etc.
  • User should be able to filter on date ranges, capabilities, aircraft flown, activities logged, etc, in both the browse and total functions, so, for example, you can total up how many flights you took where you made a night landing in a complex aircraft while pilot in command, or see all the flights where you landed in Syracuse (KSYR).
  • User should be given warnings of “currency” items, based either on recently logged flights, like if you’ve gone 90 days without 3 day or night landings, of for calendar items like when your medical expires.
  • User could track other things in the flight, such as who else flew with you or flight number that would be filter-able
  • User could have an unstructured note field to note down other facts about the flight that are not filter-able.
  • User could export the flight log to a Google Docs spreadsheet. (Some other iPhone apps do this – I wonder if there is an API?) (Obviously an internet connection would be required during this operation)
  • User could import the flight log from a Google Docs spreadsheet. (I have no idea if that’s even possible!)
  • User could customize the duration and count fields for flights.
  • User could customize the rules for currency, even combining several factors.
  • Application could publish an interface so that other apps (like CoPilot, for example), could transfer information from a flight that was planned or flown into the logbook.

That should keep me busy for a while, eh? Any additions?

New Blog Category: iPhone Development

I’m going to document what I’m doing on this iPhone development project, and it’s going to be in a separate category. If you want to follow just this without following anything else, you can point your browser at, and if you want to follow it on RSS,

Here’s what I’ve done so far, since signing up as an iPhone developer 4 days ago:

  • Watched the introductory iPhone developer videos available from the Apple Developer Connection
  • Read up to page 91 of 133 of “The Objective-C 2.0 Programming Language” (should finish soon). Decided that Objective-C is pretty weird looking, but it might have some merit. It appears like the bulk of “learning the language” isn’t going to be in the language syntax itself, but in learning the frameworks and libraries – sort of like Java, but much more so.
  • Downloaded the iPhone SDK. Fired up XCode and loaded one of the default app frameworks and ran it in the simulator. Decided that XCode is quite different from Eclipse, but if I learned to like Eclipse, I can probably learn XCode as well.
  • Started defining the requirements for the application. Haven’t decided if I’m going to do multiple posts about that, or just have one post and keep coming back to edit it.
  • Decided that I should do the design and development as openly as possible – yes, I’d love for my app to get on the App Store and make lots of money, but I think it’s probably more important to have something I can show prospective employers to prove that I’m not letting my skills atrophy just because I’m working as low man on the totem pole at a multi-layered bureaucracy instead of being top dog on a small team like I was for the last 6 years.

Next up, after finishing the Objective C document is probably to read the iPhone Application Programming Guide and maybe to work on a few small examples. And also to sketch out some ideas for the user interface. I really want something that looks good, and my past performance in that area hasn’t been the greatest. Maybe I can use that 99designs site that StackOverflow used for their icon to design an icon set?

Scratching an itch?

I’ve been looking for an aviation logbook for the iPod Touch, and not finding anything that is both suitable and inexpensive. Searching the app store for “aviation logbook” or “pilot logbook” finds one that’s $40, and meant as a companion (not a replacement) for a desktop program that costs twice as much, and another one that was about $5 which, after I bought it, turned out to be useless for general aviation. The Palm one I’ve been using for years and years, cost about $12 and does almost everything I could possibly need. I wish it could keep track of my IFR currency automatically, but other than that, it’s pretty nifty.

So unable to find what I wanted, I took the precipitous step and signed up as a registered iPhone developer. I’d been holding off on doing this, because I’ve always thought that my next smart-phone was going to be either an Android (Google) phone or a Palm Pre, and developing for those is a completely different kettle of fish than developing for the iPhone. On the other hand, the Apple Application store is well developed and seems to work well. Now to teach myself Objective C. From what I’ve read so far, it looks like a horrible language – sort of what C++ would have been if it had taken a wrong turn down an alley and gotten mugged by tcl.