laptop kitsch-style laptop kitsch-style

Welcome to my personal website. My name is Thomas Ballard and I'm an aspiring computer scientist. I've also minored in obsessing over amateur design, game programming, personal finance, information architecture, space, music, small business, climbing, hiking, bmx, movies and more —none of which will make an appearance here, probably. But hey, I have other interests and that's healthy, right?

Introduction

By profession, I'm a software engineer/web developer. At night, batma...er, not batman. Rather, a computer programming nerd with a space fascination.

I've been revisiting projects (such as this) to expand their mission. (1) Support mobile (responsively), (2) update based on evolving best practices, and in some cases (3) simply refactor as my skillset evolves with experience. It seems like coding for "mobile first" is easier when you are starting from zero, but many projects have evolved over time to incorporate technology improvements as they mature and gain broader support. In those cases it can be more work to retrofit without breaking the original mission goals. That said, each project I've revisited has been really fun to rediscover and work through--web development has been a thing for twenty years or so now and rediscovering code from waypoints along that journey is a joy--even when you wince at some of it. :-)

Contact Info

Personal projects and general fiddling around

Sharing an interest I do as a hobby in spare time and what I do professionally, I find myself in a dilemma.
  1. I enjoy prototyping and fiddling with new technologies. As a software engineer I also know what production level work looks like--these aren't that.
  2. Having done this for many years, this is woefully incomplete.
Disclaimers aside, here is some fiddling...
  • Stock Research Tool - An example using localStorage, import/export via JSON, various APIs to stock lookup services, and playing around with Bootstrap and various ESNext features.
  • Create an HTML Word Search Game Board using JavaScript - An example showing, among other things, a contrast between "unobtrusive" and by implication "obtrusive" (?) inclusion of javascript in HTML projects.
  • Minecraft Portal Calculator - I enjoy Minecraft, what can I say. (Based on traffic logs, so do others.)
  • How to Build a Graph using HTML5 Canvas Tag and JSON - Another quick example, this time breaking down one way to plot graphing data.
  • 100 Hundreds Table Math Exercises for Grade School Kids - An interactive client-side application demonstrating skip counting with the hundreds table. This collaboration with my son also helped illustrate JavaScript programming, and HTML/CSS presentation.
  • Hyper Lander - an MS-DOS days game I wrote using C (a pet project that has seen numerous incarnations since I started programming as a kid, this version was a catalyst to help my brother learn programming). I've been fiddling with some of the assets rewriting as a web game using JavaScript and basic responsive techniques (non-functional currently, but a work in progress).
  • Online Time Sheet Calculator - An older utility I wrote to help track and calculate work hours.

And some rambling...

Online Jigsaw Puzzles using Flash: A Cautionary Tale.

Before the Internet, I never liked jigsaw puzzles. They were messy, required work space, and were a pain to clean up after. My family on the other hand, loved them. How to find a compromise a nerd like me could embrace? After all it was the decade of the aughts, we were living in the future! Heck, we could even animate web pages with Macromedia Flash!

Enter a cool little Flash application that creates puzzles from any photo fed it. We fed it some and wrapped the output with additional features to change the backgrounds for better contrast, provide links, labels and verbiage for search engines, banners, and other fodder from the aughts. All that was needed was a few minutes to kill, some basic hand-eye coordination, and a browser that supported the increasingly controversial proprietary technology.

And, for the sci-fi twist...

Browser support for Flash has been in the process of being phased out for some time now. And we're getting very close finally to having little to no remaining support. While there are alternatives, the cost of cutting over content may mean instead that some content will simply disappear as it's not economically feasible to rework.

The lesson may be that once shiny technology, ecosystems, frameworks can have a limited shelf life. Many developers don't yet have the wisdom to recognize this and can become invested before technologies mature. It can be a delicate balance differentiating between leading edge and bleeding edge. For personal projects like this puzzle example its just hurting some poor grandmother's feelings (shameful). But, if your company spent millions of dollars pivoting to shiny, ...oops?! Given the opportunity, making a technology choice which has broad buy-in and support by governing bodies such as the W3C can sometimes offer a hedge against this kind of forced obsolescence.

JavaScript Hangman and Ancient (Web) History

Long ago, one of my first web projects was fiddling with making a web page/game for vocabulary lists. It took the form of a customizable hangman game written in JavaScript, before support for things we take for granted today such as XHR, JSON, CORS, and even good support for event listeners.

Over the years it has needed minor revisiting, but what I appreciate about it is just how little has needed to change in order to keep it running over two decades of changes to web technologies. To me this is at least a rudimentary example of how choices during the development investment can have long lasting effects and pay dividends over a very long tail.

The (now ancient) front door for the project is here (on a free web host from the time): Play Hangman Game.

Here are some customized variations that use the base game engine, feeding different themes, word lists, etc. While there are more recent examples of web games, consider this was written around twenty years ago and still works (for the most part) without a lot of changes. Hopefully code written today will enjoy the same longevity.


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