Product Review

Pluralsight – “New Course Available”

It is a small UI change, but with big consequences for the user:

When you are looking at channels (their version of bookmarks), “New Course Available” might appear. If you click on it, you get a box like this:

So you learn about the new course, avoid wasting time viewing outdated material and replace it on your channel in seconds. And if for some reason you actually wanted the outdated material (if you are using an outdated version of a product, for example), it is still there.

Very, very clever.

Product Review

HelpXPlain – Product Review

HelpXPlain is a tool for making “videos” with step by step explanations, and screencasts. They are not really videos – it uses Javascript and images to make something that looks like a video, but is much smaller and more fluid.

If perhaps you used something like Instant Demo (which hasn't been updated for a while), you have seen this before. The big detail is that this kind of program used Flash for output, which is a big no-no right now, as it is not on by default and will be retired completely by the end of the year.

I actually used the program the first day after the release (and bought it shortly after) but I didn't post a review as I hadn't done a full video with it.

Now I have – just a page that only had a description of a process – How to Print a ZIP file .

So, what is nice about HelpXPlain vs Instant Demo? First, the HTML/JS output, and second, it is mostly easier to edit your screencasts in. They are mostly a bunch of slides, which you can easily remove or duplicate.

Of course, I am not great at this – there are some awkward pauses in my screencast – but I think it took me about an hour, while working on the script and learning the program, which I think is just fine.

Size and responsiveness are pretty great for me. Adding the screencast is a bit harder than a YouTube video, but the simpler way is just a few lines of HTML and uploading a few files (it adds to 4.6 MB, 28 files).

One very nice thing is that you can also add the screencast to Help files. HelpXPlain is made by the same company as Help+Manual, which I really like, and have used for years. While most software now consider Help files outdated, I still like them (and you can post them online, anyway – they have search and everything). It also supports translation (as separate projects), with paid AI translation support. I didn't try that, though.

Overall, I really like it, specially considering how new it is. Very much worth considering for your screencast or support videos.

PS: They don't have an affiliate program (that I know of), so I don't get anything from this review.

HelpXPlain Screenshot

Product Review

DevExpress MVVM WPF Framework

I have recently started using DevExpress' MVVM WPF Framework.

I really like it. The amount of code you get to skip vs regular MVVM is huge. For example (I use the POCO ViewModel based system), to add a command just add a public method. Need it be on/off based on some conditions? Just add a bool method with Can*CommandName* to your class.

Behind the scenes it generates a new class with everything it needs.

This applies to many other things, including a bunch of services that are very easy to use including, including reporting, file and folder dialogs, wizards, navigation and much more.

It is also free (without support), or included with support on their WPF components (which are pretty nice too).

There are a couple of videos that show some of the basics and the nice advantages:

Please note that so far I have not used other WPF MVVM frameworks other than plain MVVM, so I can't compare them to DevExpress.

Product Review

Safari Learning Paths New Interface

I really like the new Safari Learning Path interface.

It is a bunch of small things – specially the time marker on the top and the section time on the right.

The clean design is nice too, and the video player works well.

One thing that still didn't change is that a whole lot of stuff in Safari (including a lot of conferences videos) have no closed captions. Given how many AI services support this, I'm little surprised that this didn't change…

My full review of Safari.


Product Review

.NET Micro ORMs – Course Review

Just finished .NET Micro ORMs, by Steve Michelotti, on PluralSight.

This course covers a few Micro ORMs for .NET – including Dapper, OrmLite, Massive, PetaPoco and Simple.Data.

It was very interesting to see how easy they are to use, and how fast they are, compared to Entity Framework.

From my very limited experience, the best for me seems to be OrmLite – which is not surprisingly a paid product (although it has a free version for up to 10 tables in a project, which can work in some situations).

All the others seem very interesting, though.



Product Review

WPF MVVM In Depth: Course Review

WPF MVVM In Depth is a PluralSight course by Brian Noyes that covers using the MVVM pattern (Model/View/ViewModel pattern) in WPF.

I really like the way MVVM cleanly separates concerns. Great for re-usability and unit testing. It also goes pretty nice with WPF.

I have taken some of Brian Noyes courses before, and as usual this one was pretty clear and had very useful examples to follow along.

Overall, very much recommend if you are interested in MVVM in WPF.


Product Review

WPF Productivity Playbook

Just finished WPF Productivity Playbook on PluralSight.

Lots of smaller productivity details I didn't know in WPF, as well as examples of several other things you can do with WPF.

Very interesting, and very well presented. My only complaint would be that there are no captions.

Got to say that the more I learn about it, the more I like WPF. Too bad that MS seems to be phasing it out…


Product Review

Principles of Game Design – Course Review

I recently completed the course Principles of Game Design, on Coursera, from Michigan State University. This course is part of the Game Design and Development Specialization.

I have reviewed the first course in the series – Introduction to Game Development .

This one covers how to design games – having game ideas, creating a story, characters and most of all good gameplay.

It is far less practical than the first, given its nature, although you are supposed to make a prototype of your game for the final assignment.

I took the free version, which unlike the first course, doesn't have quizzes and you can't turn in assignments (of course, you are free to make and evaluate then on your own).

One thing I particularly liked is that every video has a linked transcription. If you read faster than the video, on most classes in this course (which has little graphical supporting material, most of the time), this is much faster. The course also had plenty of links to books, articles and papers on the topics covered, many which great coverage.

The course was interesting, and I've learned a lot. The thing is, one of the books they suggested – Fundamentals of Game Design, by Ernest Adams – is so good that reading the equivalent book chapter always felt better than the course lesson. And as a plus for me, it was already included in Safari, which I already subscribed to (so it is practically free).

Of course, while the book is also filled with exercises, you get no feedback from it (but the feedback from the course, if it is like the first, is just from students, not teachers or TAs). You also don't get a certificate. So keep all of that in mind. In my case, I feel the book is substantially better.


Product Review

Quick Start To Unity – Course Review

Quick Start to Unity is a learning path on PluralSight/DigitalTutors that shows some of the basics of getting around in Unity and making a simple game.

There are about 3 hours of video content (although I took a couple of hours more, as I followed along in Unity and took notes).

I felt the focus was pretty good. I took it after the much longer Coursera Course, Introduction to Game Development . It doesn't cover everything from the course, but it has a nice set and several things that weren't covered in it.

In particular, there were plenty of small tips on how to get better looks (the course is apparently a bit more target toward artists). The completed project is quite simple, but looks quite nice.

Quick Start To Unit Course Final Project
Quick Start To Unit Course Final Project

What I didn't like:

  • the course is for Unity 4, and there is no information on how to make things work with Unity 5. So several times I'd have to Google how to do things. Some text on the bottom from the author with the changes would be great.
  • The video player doesn't allow speeding.

Overall, it is pretty interesting if you already have a Pluralsight subscription, or if you use their trial.


Product Review

Introduction to Game Development – Course Review

Introduction to Game Development, by Michigan University, is a MOOC in Coursera that teaches the principles of game development.

It shows some general principles, and then mostly dives into Unity, which is a very popular game development tool, free for most users, and very easy to use.

You will then develop 3 simples games as you learn Unity and game development:

  1. Solar System – a very simple model of the solar system, with planets that rotate around the sun, moons, light and sound effects.
  2. A roller ball game, where you collect coins and avoid enemies.
  3. A simple shooter where you shoot boxes till you run out of time.

You don't need to be a programmer, but it will make things easier on the last week of the course, and enable you to do more on your games.

My version of the level 2 of Box Shooter
My version of the level 2 of Box Shooter


You have mostly simple quizzes per section, and peer reviewed projects. On both, you will need to pay and verify who you are (by using a webcam) to get the certificate. Of course, that is just a way to get money, as verifying that you are in the room doesn't verify that you answered your quizzes yourself or that you made the project you are uploading. It is a simple way to monetize the courses, however, so I can't grumble much about it.

In this course, you can do all quizzes and projects without paying. You just don't get the certificate.

The course is part of Game Design and Development Specialization . It is interesting to note that quizzes and projects are disabled if you don't pay for the next course. Courses are cheap, though, just US$59.

Overall, I felt that the course was interesting, and I had fun building the games, even if I don't know if I am going to follow up on game development.

On a more somber note, the second project had the page broken (the assignment was blank) and even a week after I reported this and several people mentioned in the discussion forum, nothing was done. Questions about things that no longer work (because of Unity updates) went unanswered by the teacher or TAs.

So I'd be a lot less likely to buy one of these courses, knowing that if the course is broken, it is your problem.