Posts Tagged ‘interview’

NatAmi ‘Native Amiga’ interview

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Peter Kaltstein, Software Developer, talks to reviewmylife about the NatAmi project and the Amiga computer.

1. What is the NatAmi project?

NatAmi stands for Native Amiga and is a reimplementation of the former Commodore Amiga design, aiming at more performance while still keeping low level compatibility. The original concepts are strongly tied to DMA and multiple programmable special purpose chips.

natami amiga board

Thomas Hirsch started with his idea in 2003, first as an Amiga compatible disk controller that evolved into a full AGA Amiga implementation by time. His main motivation was that he wanted to have Amiga back, but also the technical challenge itself.

2. What is your role and how did you get involved?

I met Thomas first, when we were both working in a computer company in Böblingen in 2007. Seing his early prototype in action convinced me to join to help revive the Amiga.

Because of my Linux skills, I have set up the Natami server and development infrastructure – both for public and team internal usage. We use IRC, TRAC and Subversion to synchronize work. As a software developer I am looking forward to getting my Natami MX-board soon, when OS & application development can start.

3. Who are the key people involved in the project?

Thomas is the PCB and chipset designer. The 68050 is done mostly by Jens and Gunnar. Andi, Keith, Jens, and Gunnar wrote 68k testcases for it. Many team members joined and helped the project: Bartek did the graphics for the 2D demo game prototype and web banners, while Guillaume is a professional musician and contributed his own compositions for Natami. Additional members help on programming and more.

4. How was the hardware specification for NatAmi decided?

The 1st design based on 68060 originally included the CPU socket and SDRAM. Since this design would have been very expensive it evolved into a more modular concept and also switched to DDR2 memory.

Jens and Gunnar started developing a softcore 68k highend CPU, that is included into the same FPGA containing the Amiga compatible chipset. This makes the CPU-card with a physical 68060 optional.

natami amiga circuit board

5. How do you organise the work amongst yourself?

Since this is a spare time project, we organize work items in the internal side of the web forum and on IRC.

6. Are you getting any input from the original Amiga designers / programmers, or are you working everything out yourselves?

Everything is done by ourselves based on public specifications.

7. How do you go about designing the chipsets to be compatible with the original Amiga chipsets?

We can’t give a compatibility percentage yet but any game that already runs on a 68060-AGA-amiga is very likely to run also on Natami. With WHDload there is already a project improving compatibility of the old games and this project also helps the games on Natami.

8. What are the most challenging parts of creating NatAmi?

It is difficult to name only one but here are some examples: For Thomas a lot of effort was needed in adapting the Amiga chipset to make use of a pipelined DDR2 memory controller. As another example Jens spent quite some effort on an efficient CPU-cache design on the N050.

9. How is the NatAmi project financed?

Everything is financed privately. Thomas payed all the prototypes and parts he ordered for stock by himself. However the biggest sacrifices are the working hours spent. Since the journey is the reward, this makes a project possible, that otherwise would only be possible with a big investor.

10. How and when will Amiga fans be able to get hold of a usable NatAmi retail device?

Currently Thomas is ensuring that all components on the MX-board are working. Afterwards the board can be distributed first to team members and then after additional testing and driver development to the public. Please understand we can’t provide an exact date yet, but we will publish on www.natami.net in our news blog, when ordering can start and provide more info when the team-internal board testing starts.

11. Will Amiga fans that have old games or applications on 3½ inch floppy disks be able to use them with NatAmi?

3.5″ disk games already booted on the 1st Natami prototype and are still supported on the latest board, the Natami MX. However many will probably prefer to copy them to harddisk-images or use a compact flash onboard.

12. What do you think the retail NatAmi device will look like?

As of now the Natami MX design with its current configuration is decided to be the board that will be sold. Additionally to the LX the MX features Gigabit LAN onboard and also USBv2.

13. Why is the Amiga still relevant today?

The OS and hardware were extremely sophisticated at its time and very much superior to the x86-PC. People have different reasons for wanting Amiga back. Replacing still used Amigas with a full compatible successor can be one. Another aspect of the retro-movement might result out of the fact that current systems appear bloated and are not always fast to use, despite of having several GHz of CPU clock and lots of memory.

Since AmigaOS is very fast, light-weight and friendly to use and was so much ahead of its times, it still can be a nice niche platform not only for retro-gaming but many other tasks and to develop for. On the Amiga a programmer has low level access to the hardware which is an interesting challenge and very efficient.

14. What Amiga’s do you own, and what was your favourite Amiga?

I still own an Amiga 4000 desktop. My machine history before is A1000 and A2000. Actually every Amiga I owned was great at its time for me, but I have to admit, that up from 68060 times on, I also started using Linux and continued to use it on PowerPC.

For more information visit the www.natami.net website. Photos used with permission of the NatAmi team.

McGaijin Software interview – Learn Hiragana Now!

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

McGaijin Software have just released their first iOS app “Learn Hiragana Now!” to help you learn the Japanese hiragana alphabet. Here is my interview with them.

1. Tell us about your new iOS app.

‘Learn Hiragana Now!’ is my little app to help people to read and write hiragana (one of the Japanese syllabaries) in as fast a time as possible.

learn hiragana now

2. How did you get the idea for Learn Hiragana Now?

My husband and I love Japan, and while we both spoke enough Japanese to get around, on our first trip we soon realised that being able to read would be a massive benefit. When we got back home we made an effort to learn hiragana, but if you don’t use what you learn regularly it quickly disappears from your memory. We made up some mnemonics (memory aids) to assist learning, and found that the learning became more permanent. When we both bought iPod Touches we got the idea for the app. It is the perfect platform – it’s portable so you can learn anywhere, and the touch interface makes it very easy to use.

3. What challenges did you face with creating it?

Everything! I bought a second-hand Mac laptop to develop it on, and I’d never used a Mac before so it was a steep learning curve. I’d also never done any programming!

4. What tools did you use?

  • PhoneGap to compile the application (a package to allow you to use HTML & JavaScript within iPhone apps).
  • PaintShop Pro for the images.
  • CoffeeCup HTML editor to create the bones of the app.

5. What testing did you do for the app?

Everything was tested by hand. As the app was mainly HTML it was easy to test in a normal web browser. Once it was compiled on an actual iPod Touch I just made sure that every link went to the correct place – it was more time consuming than I thought, so hopefully there are no bugs!

6. How did you become interested in programming?

Creating this app was my first programming experience.

7. Will you be porting this app to other platforms?

PhoneGap allows compilation to Android, and Blackberry if I remember correctly. I’ve got an Android phone but to be honest I’ve not had chance to sit down and look at this properly – real life tends to get in the way of things!

8. What would you like to see changed or added to the iPhone SDK?

As a complete beginner when it comes to programming (and Macs!) I would love to see a beyond-simple set of video tutorials that you can use to get up and running, and teach programming basics.

9. What next for McGaijin Software?

I’m working on ‘Learn Katakana Now!’ – a similar app with a new set of mnemonics to learn katakana. Again, this is taking longer than I originally thought, but it will get there eventually.

10. Are there any other iOS apps you’d recommend for learning Japanese?

Kana LS – it’s a perfect companion for Learn Hiragana Now. It allows you to practise actually writing the kana on the screen with your finger, great for revision!
Human Japanese – a great introduction to the Japanese language, filled with tons of interesting facts.

Learn Hiragana Now! is available on the App Store now.

Learn

You can get the latest information about them McGaijin Software on the McGaijin Software website.

Phoload interview

Monday, December 1st, 2008

phoload main pagePhoload is a new website where you can download free mobile software. Here is our interview with Phoload CEO Jamie McDonald.

What is phoload?

Phoload showcases free-to-download mobile games and applications that have been uploaded directly to the site by software developers. Users of the website can download, rate, review and recommend the software. We’re hoping to build a community around the software, with participation from both users and developers.

What does the name ‘phoload’ mean?

Contrary to some articles about us, it has nothing to do with ‘pho’ noodles! It is an amalgam of ‘phone’ and ‘download’. We wanted a name that was short, snappy and did not have many existing search results. We also rather liked the aesthetic appearance of the letters.

Why did you decide to create phoload?

We’ve been mobile software enthusiasts for a long time, but I think it is only in the last few years that we have seen the emergence of a whole raft of startups and individuals creating free-to-download location based mobile apps, mobile social networks, and messaging software. We wanted to create a site that made discovering and downloading all this fantastic new mobile software as easy and enjoyable as possible for users.

What are the most popular downloads?

As of today, the most popular download on Phoload is amazeGPS, which is a mobile satnav application. In our top ten we also have another mapping application, a language translator, a music player, a scientific calculator, a couple of apps that interface to various information feeds, as well as several games. I think that the top ten really shows the diversity of mobile software available today.

Which phones are people downloading software onto?

Principally, Nokia, Sony Ericcson, Samsung and Blackberry phones (in that order of popularity). The most popular phones are almost all smartphones or other high end phones, with the most popular phone with Phoload users being the Nokia N95. Since launching support for Android last week, we’ve also seen a large number of T-Mobile G1s browsing and downloading software from the site.

What are your mobile software predictions for 2009?

I don’t think we are going to see anything revolutionary in 2009, just a continuation of the trends that have already started. That is to say, increasing usage and awareness of mobile software, increasing smartphone adoption, and the increasing popularity of mobile social networks and location based applications. I also think that the Android platform has a bright future. It certainly has enthused the developer community.

What technology is behind the site?

Phoload is written in Java. We use the excellent Stripes web framework, and Hibernate for mapping our Java objects to the database. As Phoload is a read-mostly site, we do a lot of caching using Ehcache both as a Hibernate second level cache, and for caching frequently accessed results that have been detached from Hibernate.

How is the site hosted?

On a dedicated server in Dallas in the US. We host with an excellent New Zealand based company called RimuHosting.

What challenges did you face in getting the site launched?

From a development perspective, the toughest challenge was creating a mobile software distribution system that handles the device fragmentation (especially in J2ME devices) in the best possible way. The system had to make it as easy as possible for developers to upload, and specify phone compatibilities for, multiple versions of a single item of software, while masking this complexity from users. I think that we have done well in this area.

Another challenge was sourcing the initial portfolio of mobile software, which was a lot of work. We spent many hours searching for and emailing developers.

What strategies have you used to get people to visit your site?

To promote the site, we started by emailing mobile industry and news site blogs, telling them about Phoload. We’ve found that this strategy has worked pretty well and we’re pleased with the press that we have received so far. We also try to promote Phoload by promoting the software on the site, highlighting relevant software to bloggers, and to users on forums etc. etc.

A search on Google for ‘phoload’ on currently gives 11200 results, how did you manage to get mentioned on so many web pages?

First of all, I think Google might be exaggerating a little, as when you click through to the last page of search results, there are actually far fewer results. But, there are still plenty, and I think one of the reasons for this is the blog coverage that I previously mentioned. Many of articles written about Phoload have been syndicated all over the web, so this accounts for a lot of results. These articles also prompt follow up articles and interviews, so there is a large ripple effect there.

How is the site funded?

We are self-funded.

What are your plans for monetizing the site?

We don’t plan to have any software sales on the site. We want to keep it purely focused on free-to-download software. Eventually, we’ll put some non-intrusive ads on the site. We’ll probably do this once our hosting costs start increasing.

Why should developers give their software away for free on this site?

phoload atomic
Primarily, developers will gain users and publicity. We hope to provide an excellent service to developers, and those who upload their software receive pages showcasing their products on the site, regular download reports, and feedback from the user community.

Also, we don’t just accept freeware, we also accept ad-supported and demo/trial software, and demo software can be associated with a purchase link to an external website.

How did you find the initial mobile software for the site?

On the whole, we used Google. We scoured the internet searching for mobile software that we liked and then contacted the developers of the software directly to ask if they would like to upload their software to Phoload.

What kind of testing do you do on the submitted software?

If it’s compatible with a phone we have, we’ll give it a try and report any feedback we have to the developer. However, we don’t make any guarantees to our users that the software has been tested.

Currently you support J2ME. Are there plans to offer software for written in other languages – e.g. Symbian, Android?

Yes, we launched Android support on the site last week and are really pleased with the amount of traffic the Android section of Phoload has received so far. We plan to add support for more software platforms soon, starting with Symbian.

Where do you want the site will be in one years time?

Hopefully, Phoload will be established as one of the best places to download and discuss the latest free mobile software. Also, by then, we will support all of the major mobile software platforms.

And finally can you give us a few tips for anyone setting up a new website of their own?

I think that virtually everything, from starting the company, sorting out the legal documents, contacting developers, and of course developing the site, took longer than we anticipated. So, I would encourage people to be realistic about how much time everything takes.

One specific mistake we made was with regard to search engine optimisation. I think if you anticipate that you will receive most of your traffic from search engines, then you have to think deeply about this from the start and during the whole design process. We thought we had done this (with search engine friendly urls etc.), but we still found that we received duplicate results in the Google index due to session IDs creeping into the urls unnecessarily, and both the www.phoload.com and phoload.com domains being indexed separately. We’ve fixed these issues now but wish we had fully addressed them before launch.

Thanks for your time.
You can visit Phoload at http://www.phoload.com/.