Microsoft Student Partner

A Thank-you to the Microsoft Student Partner Programme

Last week any Microsoft Student Partners who wanted to continue to be in the programme for the 2015-2016 academic year had to reapply, as I will be graduating in September I of course was unable to do so, bringing around the end of my time as an MSP.

I’d like to take this time to thank Phil Cross, Paul Lo, Ben Nunney and all the others who made being as MSP both great fun and really rewarding. I’ve posted about some of the cool stuff we got up to before:

Whilst we got a lot of cool perks like endless free Windows Phone and Windows 8 devices, this paled in comparison to the opportunities of travel and honing our skills both in presenting and dealing with people and in programming and development.

If you’re thinking about becoming an MSP — go for it. You’ll be afforded a lot of opportunities the average student just doesn’t get, which both you and future employers will love.


Computer Science Conferences Microsoft Student Partner

Campus Party : Europe in London

Last week I was fortunate enough to be with some of my fellow Microsoft Student Partners, some Windows Ambassadors, some Microsoft Interns and some Microsoft Employees at Campus Party Europe, an event which was described by the BBC as ‘Glastonbury for geeks’.

I would say this was fairly accurate, except there was less mud! Like Glastonbury there were several stages, a whole host of interesting people to meet, and tents!

Working on the Microsoft Stand

Tuesday through to Friday I worked for 6 hours a day on the Microsoft Stand. It was really good fun! Our job was to talk to people about Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8, Microsoft Surface and the Xbox One and endeavour to answer any questions they had about either the software or hardware. As well as that we tried to get as many people as possible to take our surveys, in return each participant got a surprisingly stylish pair of Windows 8 Branded Sunglasses and a glow stick!

I was also fortunate enough to have Academic Audience Lead Phil Cross, point a few developers who had questions about Visual Studio and developing for Windows platforms my way.

The TeamworkPM App for Windows 8 I developed on the 2 big displays and the Surface Pro I wrote it on
The TeamworkPM App for Windows 8 I developed on the 2 big displays and the Surface Pro I wrote it on

Throughout Wednesday and Thursday I spent much of my shifts writing a Windows 8 app for the project management website TeamworkPM. It was especially interesting to do this because my display was being projected on two 42inch monitors above my head, this meant everyone could see what I was doing and I attracted quite a few developers to come and talk about developing for the platform.

In the evenings when the stand got a bit quiet we would try to entice people to come and see our wares in a variety of ways, one of which was through the medium of dance :P. My highlight was the Macarana, or the Microsoft Macarena as I called it.  Below you can see us all dancing and waving our glowsticks to the ever-entertaining Harlem Shake.


The main thing that first attracted me to the offer of working for Microsoft at Campus Party Europe was the fact that we could spend our down time watching some of the many speakers that came to talk about their respective fields.

I was fortunate enough to catch 2 or 3 lectures a day, from people as well respected and diverse as Jon “Maddog” Hall — chairman of Linux International — and Ian Livingstone — President of Eidos and founder of Games Workshop.

The O2 arena hosted 8 stages, of all of which had talks from 10am – 10pm each night, so there was certainly a lot to take in — too much to write about here.

My favourite talks were actually that about free and open source software (sorry, Microsoft), and the relatively new phenomenon of open data.


At the end of the week my fellow MSP’s and I were super happy with being able to have witnessed one of the coolest, and largest tech conferences in the world, but even on top of that Microsoft were generous enough to allow us to keep the devices we had been using throughout the week to showcase both Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8 to customers, this meant a Nokia Lumia 920 and a Microsoft Surface RT each!

I was over the moon with the Surface RT because I had been looking to get an RT device for a while to test the performance of a few of my apps on the lower powered ARM CPU’s — but I was especially happy with the Nokia Lumia 920. My phone contract ends in a few days, and because now I have an awesome new phone I’m gonna go on a SIM only plan and save myself some money 🙂


I would like to say a massive thank-you to everyone involved at the O2, the people behind Campus Party, and of course Microsoft for making everything work like clock work and giving me a fantastic opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in our industry, a lot of laughs, some great knowledge and some cool electronics! I hope to see you all again soon!


Conferences Microsoft Student Partner

Featured on the Microsoft UK Students Blog and going to Campus Party

Today was quite an exciting day for me and my relationship with Microsoft, the company behind the Windows Operating System and The well known MS Office Software. This afternoon I was involved in a Lync meeting with a few of the people in the Academic Audience team learning about what I would be doing when I go to work for Microsoft for a week at the O2 Arena at an event called Campus Party.

Campus party is described, on their website, as

an annual week long, 24-hours-a-day technology festival where thousands of “Campuseros” (hackers, developers, gamers and technophiles), equipped with laptops, camp on-site and immerse themselves in a truly unique environment.

Recognized as the biggest electronic entertainment event in the world, Campus Party unites the brightest young minds in technology and science under the idea that “the Internet is not a network of computers, it’s a network of people.”

The festival features over 500 hours of talks, debates, workshops, competitions and hackathons related to science, innovation, digital entertainment and creativity. Additionally, hundreds of hours of ad-hoc events are planned by participants and continue throughout the night.

Me and a few other Microsoft Student Partners, as well as some others from the University of Hull will be promoting development on the Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms, we even get our own Microsoft Shirts, which are bound to be fashionable ;). I look forward to it, its going to be a lot of fun and a great way to meet a lot of interesting people.

Later in the afternoon Phil Cross asked me if he could feature my latest blog post about QuickSync on the Microsoft UK Students Blog feed, I was of course happy to let him! He prefaced it with this nice message:

Danny Brown from Hull is one of our MSPs and has worked with us to help promote Tech and gives invaluable “constructive” feedback  on stuff we do. He’s written some apps and also worked with us on a project to build an incentives website and back end working quickly! I’d like to share that site but it’s been taken down as the incentive isn’t running any more. Anyway, he has started talking about his new venture and I thought it might inspire other students and startups to see what’s possible with skill, commitment and a certain amount of dedication. Oh and I imagine there were a few pints of Guinness involved as well!

Here it is and connect with him via his blog or LinkedIn.

which I thought was nice, he also took the time to tweet about it saying:

Always nice to be referred to as inspiring!

A big thank you to the Microsoft Team, I look forward to seeing you at Campus Party in early September!


Microsoft Student Partner

MSP UK Summit 2013

Gordon Walker, MSP Lead, talking about the history of Mobile Phones — No bonus points for spotting me with my blue hair…

A few weekends back was the Microsoft Student Partner UK Summit for 2013. As I’m a first year MSP it was my first experience of such an event and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was hosted at Modern Jago in the heart of Central London, which is always a nice place to be!

There were lots of inspiring talks from several softies including Andy Wigley talking about porting between Windows Phone 7/8 and Windows 8, Ben Nunney talking about developing a great user experience and marketing your apps, but most interesting to me was a talk presented by Mike Taulty about Windows Azure, particularly Windows Azure Mobile Services — a service which can be used to easily set up database driven RESTful services which integrate easily with Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone 7/8 Applications.

A Nokia Lumia 820 - Image from
A Nokia Lumia 820 – Image from T-Mobile

I spent much of the Saturday of the two day event working with Kevin Lewis, the designer I have been working with on the App Builder Rewards website, implementing additional features to the site. I also met up with Paul Lo, the guy in charge of the program who thanked me for my work and gave me a Lumia 820 Windows Phone 8 Device as a thank-you for completing so much work at short notice — which I will review soon. It was really nice to finally meet, in person, the people I had been collaborating with on the project and speaking to constantly through VoIP, Instant Messaging and Email for the previous two weeks — almost like re-meeting people I already knew.

In the evening I made the short train journey to Milton Keynes to meet up with my family and my close friend from back home Sam Marr to see the comedian Harry Hill at the Milton Keynes Theatre and grab some dinner. A great evening was had by all!

Once back in London I joined the aforementioned Ben Nunney and Co. for a few drinks in the hotel Champagne bar before retiring to bed, ready for an early start.

Regtransfer for Windows 8 Main Page
Regtransfers for Windows 8 Main Page

At 9:30 sharp on Sunday Morning we started again, and I spent much of the day working on my Regtransfers Application for Windows 8. Between working on that and networking with my fellow MSPs, in the social sense — not the HTTP sense 😉 — I also continued writing a presentation I intend to present at university called “Developing Windows 8: Live Tiles, Snap View, Search and Share”.

Developing For Windows 8 Presentation Title Slide
Developing For Windows 8 Presentation Title Slide

After mentioning it to Dean Meehan, he suggested I ask Phil Cross if I could present it to the rest of my fellow MSPs. So I did. The presentation went quite well, and I hope that everyone took something away from it. I was particularly pleased because after I’d finished presenting a Mechanical Engineering student came and asked for a copy of the presentation and said it included the best instructions on how to implement the “Live Tiles” feature he’d seen! Always nice to hear! You can view the presentation for yourself here.

Overall I had a fantastic weekend full of catching up with old friends from Dublin, Programming and Comedy, what more could you want? A big thank you to Phil Cross, Ben Nunney and the rest of the Microsoft Staff and presenters involved!


Conferences Microsoft Student Partner

Microsoft Student Partner North European Summit 2012

Unfortunately this is the only picture I have of all the British MSP Team together…

About a month ago I was on the weekly MSP Lync Online Meeting when Academic Audience Manager Phil Cross mentioned that there was an opportunity for some British MSPs to go to Dublin for 3 days for a North European MSP Summit. At the event MSPs from many North European countries would come together, under one roof, and discuss how to best utilize the MSP program, make some apps together and generally learn more about being an MSP and Microsoft as a company in general. I think it was fair to say I was more than eager to go.

After booking my tickets for a flight and 6 separate train journeys to and from the airport I eagerly awaited the 21st of November!


It was an early start for a student — 6am — to get to the train station for my 7:30 train to Manchester Piccadilly. I got to Manchester around 10 and got another shorter service from Piccadilly to the International Airport. By 11 I was in the departure lounge, after having a bottle of coke and my toothpaste taken from me by security and eagerly awaiting, but at the same time dreading my first plane flight without my family.

Before we boarded the plane a delegation from the Irish Parliament got off it!
Before we boarded the plane a delegation from the Irish Parliament got off it! Hence all the police

I really enjoy flying, I think it lends a certain perspective to life. It makes you think about how small everything is in relation to the planet, combine that with my work on my Solar System Simulation for 2D graphics — and you can think about how small the planet is compared to the universe. Here are some pictures of the “patchwork quilt” that makes up the land between Manchester and the Irish Sea and some interesting things in the sea itself, including a massive ferry that looks absolutely tiny.

"Patchwork Quilt" England
“Patchwork Quilt” England
Spot the ferry
Spot the ferry

When we got to Dublin Airport I bumped into a fellow MSP, James Thorne, and together we caught the Air Coach to Leopards Town, where both our hotel and the Microsoft Campus were situated. Whilst James and I wandered around the Technology Park looking for the Microsoft Campus I jokingly quipped “Just look for the most boring building, that’ll be the Microsoft one” — so I was surprised when I found Building one, pictured below, which I think is quite a nice looking place. However, we were meeting our fellow MSPs in building 2.

Microsoft Ireland Building 1
Microsoft Ireland Building 1
Our Welcome to Ireland
Our Welcome to Ireland – Cead Mile Failte – Gaelic for “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes”

Because our flights were slightly later in the day than other peoples, James and I missed the beginning of the welcome talk, but did turn up in time to introduce ourselves using a slideshow we had previously prepared. You can see my slide below:

My MSP Profile Slide for the North European Summit - Windows 8 Style!
My MSP Profile Slide for the North European Summit – Windows 8 Style!

We were supposed to show off our aspirations, some previous projects and some contact methods. I think this slide does that well!

After every MSP had introduced themselves — and there were well over 100 of us — we had a short presentation from the Microsoft European Marketing Manager about Windows 8 and Microsoft’s strategy surrounding it. After this we went for a meal back at building 1, which is where the Microsoft Employees normally eat. It was really nice, I really could get used to working and living around a Microsoft Campus!

The OSO Restaurant In Microsoft Ireland Building 1
The OSO Restaurant In Microsoft Ireland Building 1

After dinner we had country presentations, which were incredibly entertaining as well as informative. Each of the countries represented at the event had a 5 – 10 minute powerpoint about what makes their country interesting and unique, some even bought alcohol and traditional food for us to try. One of the amusing things which I hadn’t expected was the amount of friendly rivalry between the Scandinavian countries. 😛 It was all in jest however :). Our presentation had everything you would expect of a British Country presentation, self deprecation  sarcasm and wit — however we did learn that British Humor doesn’t make a lot of sense to some of our fellow Europeans.

Microsoft - Work Hard, Play Hard
Microsoft – Work Hard, Play Hard

As the main aim of the event was to aid with networking between MSPs we all felt it was appropriate to go for a night on the town in Dublin together with our European Comrads, and a gret night was had by all.


The next morning we were straight back to work to learn about how to make games for Windows 8 using the HTML 5 Canvas and associated Javascript API’s. This was indeed almost identical to the code I was already using in my implementation of my Solar System Simulation – so it was great to see I could use the skills I had learnt at university to make interesting HTML5 powered games for Windows 8.

After this we learnt more about the more “traditional” way of making gaming applications for Microsofts Desktop OS, XNA. XNA isn’t officially supported in the “Metro”/Modern UI Windows Environment, however a company called The Mono Project provide an API called MonoGame which allows you to use your XNA Code, with some minor alterations. I still think that it is a shame that Microsoft themselves aren’t officially supporting XNA any more but MonoGame is an acceptable replacement.

Learning Mono became immediately useful because for we were then split up into teams to make a game. I remember joking with a friend that I was finding it hard enough to remember all the British peoples names, and I was worried that with Scandinavian people in my group I would appear rude by being unable to remember or prenounce their names. Fortunately this wasn’t too much of an issue as I was paired up with an Englishman called Tom, a Norweigan called Patrick and a Swede called Michael. However we were also teamed up with a Latvian, whos named none of us could pronounce, so we called him G. 🙂

First things first, we had to come up with a team name. We all thought Michael’s idea of “Too Inappropriate To Succeed” was funny, so we went with that. The next thing we had to do was come up with a concept for our game. None of us could really come up with a good, original game idea off the top of our head so I suggested we all wrote down a Location, Action and Character Word on a small note. We then collated all of the words of each type together, so all the locations were in one pile, all the actions were in one pile and all the characters were in one pile. We then chose one of each word type at random, leaving us with Seal, In An Oil Barrel and Pick Axe. Based around these words we came up with an idea for a game called “Seal Summit”

Seal Summit is a double entendre because the game is about a seal reaching the top, or summit, of an oil barrel it is trapped in — but the game was also devised at the North European MSP Summit. In the game you play as a seal which has been trapped in a very very large oil barrel. You attempt to get to the top of the barrel by using your pick axe and trying to avoid falling objects. Yes, it is a tad strange. I have very little of the game to show off so far as we had a very limited period of time in which to come up with the context and start coding, however if you keep checking back soon I plan to work on it more over the Christmas break and may have something to show off soon!

After we had worked on our group project for a few hours we had another presentation — in fact my favorite of the whole 3 days — on how to give good presentations. Some of the tips we were given were basic common sense once you had thought about them, but had just never occurred to me. There were also some more intelligent ways of making yourself appear more confident and help you achieve the end goal of any presentation, which is to make people interested in the information you have to provide.

The tips included:

  • Lowering the lights counteracts the effect of stress on your eyes — which can give away to people you’re not entirely confident
  • If you need a moment to pause travel across the stage, that way it looks like you’re moving rather than struggling to think of something
  • Playing some low volume music in the background can be calming
  • Slides should have a small amount of detail, people are very visual and will just stare at the powerpoint rather than listen to you if it has too much on it
  • Don’t worry about your bladder, your body stops you from needing the toilet whilst in that sort of situation 😛

After the fantastic presentation on presentations we had a feedback session with the MSP Worldwide Program Lead, Michelle Fleming, about what we felt could be improved within the program, and what her ideas were for the future of the program. Some of the points made were particularly interesting

  • Some of the website and much of the online portal for the program were outsourced to other companies, they failed to deliver when the website was taken offline for several weeks. From now on a lot of the work will be carried out by MSPs for MSPs.
  • There’s going to be greater access to devices for MSPs to run and test software on, and show off to people
  • There’s gong to be a better system for sharing best practices for demonstrations, events and the like

All of this is bound to make the MSP program better and more effective both for the MSPs themselves and Microsoft. I can’t wait to see it all implemented.

After the feedback session we all had a period of free time to spend at our hotel before we all got on a coach to a very special location in Dublin.

Can you guess where it is yet? St. James' Gate Guinness Storehouse
Can you guess where it is yet? St. James’ Gate Guinness Storehouse

The Guiness storehouse was an interesting place to go, and something that you simply have to do if you’re in Dublin. We were fortunate and lucky enough to have Microsoft treat us to dinner in the restaurant, which gives you a 360 degree view of the beautiful capital city of The Republic of Ireland.

Its fair to see my fellow MSP’s and I had a great time. It’s a shame I only had time to briefly say goodbye to everyone before catching my early flight the next day. I’d like to say a big thank you to Phil Cross, Michelle Fleming, Microsoft Ireland and everyone else involved in making such a great 3 days. I’ve made some friends which I’ve kept in contact with a can’t wait to see at the next MSP event and learnt some useful skills not only for within the technology industry, but life in general.


Microsoft Student Partner

Windows 8 Elite App Showcase with Steve Ballmer

Yesterday Nick Case and I traveled down to Modern Jago in London for an event set up for members of the Windows 8 | Elite program. The Event was particularly exciting as the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, was presenting. I’ve been a fan of Ballmers since seeing the world famous “Developers” video on YouTube. Whilst a lot of people, myself included, find it funny I think its refreshing to see someone so genuinely passionate about what they do.

Nick and I caught our train from the Hull Paragon Interchange at 10:30 and were enjoying our journey until an announcement played on the train — “Please have all tickets and railcards ready for inspection”. At this point my heart sunk, I’d forgotten my Student Railcard in the rush to get out. Fortunately when the train guard came to me she was merciful and told me not to forget it again but that she would let me off this one time.

We arrived in the capital around 1pm and set off on our way to Modern Jago following the Circle line — enthusiastically referred to as the “Bright Yellow Line” by the woman opposite me on the train —  round to Liverpool Street Station from Kings Cross, from there it was only a few minutes walk to Club Row, the street on which Modern Jago is situated.

Welcome to Modern Jago!
Welcome to Modern Jago!

We were welcomed into the garden of Jago as there was an event which hadn’t yet finished still taking place in the hall. The building itself was formally a school and a lovely contemporary mix of old on the outside and modern on the inside.

Modern Jago Courtyard Garden
Modern Jago Courtyard Garden

Whilst in the network I had a look round for any familiar faces and spotted one of my fellow MSPs,  Abhilaksh Lalwani as well as a few people from Black Marble Studios.

Modern Jago Courtyard -- My fellow MSP, Abhilaksh Lalwani, looks dappa in his Yellow Jumper
Modern Jago Courtyard — My fellow MSP, Abhilaksh Lalwani, looks dappa in his Yellow Jumper

After around 20 minutes or so we were invited inside to be seated for the event. The chairs were in straight lines across the hall floor and I quipped “It’s just like a lecture apart from we don’t have anyone we’re friends with to look for”, with that we tried to find 2 seats next to each other in a decent position. The ones we found were 1 row from the front right in front of the speakers podium, fantastic.

Welcome to the Modern Jago Stage
Welcome to the Modern Jago Stage

First up was a short presentation about some of the applications that had been developed by people in audience, some were quite impressive. Of particular note were the ever impressive Cocktail Flow, The British Airways Inspiration app and UK Bus Checker.

Best of British -- Windows 8 App Showcase
Best of British — Windows 8 App Showcase

The Best of British app showcase finished with a look at the latest Windows Phone 8 advert, showing off the personalized start screen of a certain CEO. You can see it here:

At the end Mr. Ballmer was welcomed on stage with the introduction “heres the person who owns that phone”. He entered with his usual enthusiasm and thanked everyone for being at the event and for supporting Microsoft through the biggest change in the companies history. The event was very much about how much Microsoft values its partners and the people who develop for its platforms — underlined by the fact the final slide on Mr Ballmer’s slide deck simply said:

Succeed With Us.

Steve Ballmer Explains how Microsoft are "All in" with Windows 8 and Windows Phone
Steve Ballmer Explains how Microsoft are “All in” with Windows 8 and Windows Phone

The Microsoft CEO explained Microsoft ideas and ideals behind the Windows and Windows Phone platforms and explained how every department within the company had some involvement with the finished products, in other words Microsoft are all in.. Steve felt as if he had “bet the farm on Windows 8” saying

When you change so dramatically your main product, which is used by over 600 million people worldwide of course you’ve taken a huge gamble

Steve went on to explain how Microsoft didn’t see Windows 8 as merely an update to an operating system but as a complete change on the idea of what a device is an can be, he highlighted this by an incredible series of weird hand motions explaining how some of the new laptop form factors are tablets that dock, some have hinges and how some are just like normal laptops but with touch screens.

This moment has remained in my mind partly because it was quite funny, but mainly because it symbolized to me how great a speaker Steve Ballmer is. He was so animated and genuinely excited about everything he spoke about — it was infusing and made you inspired to work on his platform. And guess what? That’s exactly what he wanted. I’d love to be able to speak to crowds of people in a similar style.

After Steve had finished he didn’t take any questions, which was a shame. I really really wanted to ask him the rumours of a XBOX Surface Slate 😛 But we did get to have a look at some of the new Microsoft Surface’s and some Lumia 820’s — both of which really impressed both Nick and I.

All the Microsoft Products!
All the Microsoft Products!

I even took the time to put my website up on one of the Microsoft Surface Devices. I was surprised to find whilst doing this that the Type Cover (the physical keyboard dock) was actually perfect for my fingers and provided a better typing experience than my 15 inch dell laptop keyboard. The tap cover was still good but I imagine it would take a bit of time to get used to. I’ve heard some bad things about the screen resolution of the surface, but frankly I couldn’t see any issue and I was impressed by the field of view. on a Microsoft Surface on a Microsoft Surface

Shortly after  I played with all these lovely devices it was time to go. Thanks to Phil Cross and Co for setting up the event, Steve Ballmer for making the time to talk to us all and for a fantastic presentation and Nick for coming with me! 🙂


Microsoft Student Partner

The Perks of Working with Microsoft

Reasonably often I hear my friends saying how they’re dreading a certain lecture or hate writing a certain essay they have to do. I’ve never really experienced that, I love what I do and I think I get to do a lot of really cool stuff — from making games to mucking around with robots. Another of the things I adore about this subject is the opportunities  you get that a lot of other subjects don’t seem to get, a good example of this was yesterday when I got two emails from Microsoft.

The first email was to confirm to me that my free tickets to the App Builder Showcase at Modern Jago in London had been reserved. This event is particularly exciting because the special guest is Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft and one of my favorite people in the technology industry because of his famous enthusiasm for what he does. I can’t wait to meet the man himself and hopefully learn a lot of things about both the company and the industry as a whole from a man who’s been there since the foundation.

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft - Somehow this man is in charge of one of the largest companies in the world ;)
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

The second email was to confirm my place at the Western European Microsoft Student Partner Summit in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft are very kindly paying all my expenses, including getting there, staying in a hotel and all my food for the 3 days. They will also be putting on a range of events and activities ranging from learning about porting XNA to Windows 8 & Networking with MVPs and MSPs to going for Dinner at the Guinness Storehouse (Yay! ;)).

I shall of course be blogging about my experiences at both events, so check back for those!

And it would be rude not to end he post with a big thank-you to Microsoft for being so good to me, particularly Phil Cross and everyone else on the Academic Audience Team.



Microsoft Tech Center Day

A while ago I posted about how I had won the Windows Phone 7 Student Incentive Competition which allowed me to “spend a day honing (my) skills and (my) apps with (Microsoft’s) deep technical experts”. In a fantastic turn of events my housemate and great friend Rob Crocombe also won the competition meaning we could meet up in London, travel into Reading together and have a catch up after the long Summer Holidays at the same time as learning some really cool stuff at the Microsoft HQ.

When we eventually got to reading around 10:30 — I’d set off from home around 7:30 — we were given a security card to allow us to go around the building and shown to the demo room in the Microsoft Technology Center.

The demo room had seats along the back and a stage like area with several different sections, showing an office scenario, to a home scenario, to a living room scenario with various computers, display technologies and communications tech. Slap bang in the middle of the room was a “Samsung SUR40 with Microsoft Pixel Sense”. Even the softies laugh at how bad the product name is since a certain other piece of Microsoft Technology cannibalized its original name, Microsoft Surface, to retain its secrecy!

The Student App Winners, Including Rob and I join Dr. David Brown round the SUR40 running NUIverse for a group photo
The Student App Winners, Including Rob and I join Dr. David Brown round the SUR40 running NUIverse for a group photo

The first talk we had was about NUI – Natural User Interfaces – and how they are changing the way computing works. We were very lucky to have this talk delivered to us by Dr. David Brown, the man who single handedly created NUIverse — an application which allows you to explore the universe using a natural user interface on the Samsung SUR40. We wound back all the way to Command Line Interfaces and how GUI greatly improved on the usability of computer systems for the average person, but still required some training to use, whereas Natural User Interface attempts to require no, or as little as possible, training to use.

NUIverse by Dr. David Brown - which was demo'd to us - Image credit:
NUIverse by Dr. David Brown – which was demo’d to us – Image credit:

We spoke in depth about how some parts of NUI, such as touch screens are already mainstream whilst some others, such as object identification isn’t.

After this fascinating talk we went on a break for lunch (Tip: Go to as many Microsoft events as you can, the free food is always great ;)) in which we spoke to other competition winners. After the break we were shown into a conference room where Ben Nunney — the same man who did the Windows Phone 7 Camp at Hull University at the beginning of the year —  was getting ready to do a talk on preparing for Windows 8 application development.

The talk was on the same day as Windows 8 was released to manufacturing (also known as “going gold”) meaning that the code was finalized and sent off to the device manufacturers. In other words Windows 8 version 1 was finished. There was a clear excitement around the campus, especially with Ben — for whom it was his second RTM day having joined the company just after “that operating system between XP and Windows 7 that didn’t exist” was released (Also known as Windows Vista :P)

Ben’s talk focused on introducing people to Windows 8 from a complete novice stand point and built up to showing off the development tools and telling us where and how we could get more help to port our Windows Phone apps or create entirely new apps for the system. A highlight of the talk was trying to make the Visual Studio Windows 8 Simulator work in the simulator, A.K.A “simception” 😛

After this talk the 10 of us sat down with Phil Cross — the Academic Audience Manager at MS UK — to discuss how to improve the Microsoft UK Student developer group, and how some of the talks could be improved, made more interesting and become more likely to have an affect on the number of people actively developing for Microsoft platforms. I said I thought students needed greater access to systems such as tablets for testing, perhaps through borrowing them from Microsoft and that “Dev Camps” at universities needed to be less about convincing people the platform was worth buying – almost like a sales pitch – and more about showing them developer opportunities and practically how to do things.

Obviously there are some logistical and financial reasons why not everything is possible, but it was good to have the dialogue. In the end I think both the students who won the competition and the Academic Staff at Microsoft both got quite a lot out of the day — I certainly learnt a lot and enjoyed myself.


Mobile Application Development

Microsoft Windows Phone Student Incentive – Winner!

Today I recieved an Email from Phil Cross congratulating me on being “selected as a Top Apps winner” in the Microsoft UK Students Student Incentive Program.

Here is an overview of what the incentive scheme consisted of:

We know you love the way Windows Phone puts People First. Do you want to win one? Course you do!

We have put together a competition for those people who like writing apps for mobile devices. With our latest programme, only available to students aged 16 or over in the UK, we want to encourage you to write an app and submit it into the Marketplace.

For EVERY app you write, during the periods of the competition, (see the detailed terms and conditions here) you’ll have a chance to win one of 100 Nokia Lumia Windows Phones. We also want to reward those who write top quality apps so we are complimenting the random prize draw with a judged competition, the top prize being a trip to our offices to spend a day honing your skills and your apps with our deep technical experts.

I didn’t win the in random monthly draw, but I did win for writing a “top quality app” — this means I get to go to the Microsoft Technology Centre in Reading for a day to spend time with the experts improving my applications in the store! Definitely something for the CV and a chance to improve my products and brand image! Microsoft are even paying my travel expenses!

I’d like to thank Phil Cross and everyone at Microsoft for giving me another great oppertunity, especially so soon after the last one.



Reasons to be (h)appy

Monday afternoon I made the long, though surprisingly fast journey down to London from Hull. Not only was it fast, but it was actually enjoyable as it was a nice day and travelling with First Hull Trains means you don’t have to make any changes, which is usually a hassle, and you get free wi-fi the whole way without any need for a credit card. All good stuff.

The Humber Bridge from the Train
The Humber Bridge from the Train

I then stayed the night in Bayswater, near Paddington at a cosy 3 star hotel. I say cosy but frankly I was glad I was only spending the one night there. 😛

Tuesday morning I got up bright and early for the 10am start, unfortunately the Circle line, which I needed to get from bayswater to Kings Cross St. Pancreas as part of my journey to the conference, was suspended. This caused severe delays, including to me and meant I was a tad late, fortunately I didn’t miss anything though and made it just on time.

The conference itself was held at LSO St. Lukes near Old Street tube station. What I didn’t realise was

1) LSO stands for London Symphony Orchestra and

2) I was looking for a church rather than a conference or office building. Yes, that’s right a tech conference about state of the art technology was held in an old church. 😛

The venue was beautiful inside and out, the outside was traditional and the inside was a stark contrast being ultra modern.

The Old Church Exterior of LSO St. Lukes
The Old Church Exterior of LSO St. Lukes
The Modern Insides of LSO St. Lukes
The Modern Insides of LSO St. Lukes

Upon entry I checked in and was given a lanyard with my name on, to allow me to freely enter and exit the building through the day. I thought it was quite nicely designed — almost metro style with the extra-light fonts and coloured squares, which being a Windows Phone Developer I thought was pretty cool.

Reasons to be Appy Lanyard
Reasons to be Appy Lanyard

Peter Gregson – Playing the Cello Game

As soon as I’d done checking in Peter Gregson was ready to take the stage with his interesting session on using technology in Music. In response to  how the performer plays — no matter what instrument — his application goPlay can provide changes which would normally be achieved using a set of pedals.

Being a non-musician I wasn’t 100% sure of the advantages of the application, I must admit. However, I did enjoy watching peter play the cello, which was incredibly beautiful and an instrument I haven’t seen played before.

Christian Heilmann – Moving your App-Mind to the Web

After a 15 minute break to get drinks and a sandwich after Peters session Christian provided what was one of my favourite sessions of the day. Christian is the Principal Developer Evangelist of the Mozilla Developer Network, and spoke about how he felt that using HTML5  and the open web we could replace the need for mobile apps, such as those on Google Play and the iTunes App Store with interactive mobile web apps that work on all devices.

Christian made the point that the HTML5 specification has alternatives for a lot of native APIs which native applications enjoy using and often say web apps don’t have, such as geolocation and access to devices cameras, however a lot of these have not been implemented fully in mobile browsers — possibly to protect the revenue the application marketplace owners make. One particularly weird case is that Apple have full OpenGL support in their Safari Mobile Browser however you can only use it if you’re accessing the web page from an in-app web browser control. Is this an attempt by Apple to stop interactive 3D applications and games on the open web and restrict games on the iOS platform to their Marketplace? Who knows.

The session was delivered in a humorous way, and I agreed with a lot of what Christian said. The idea of write once, run everywhere on all mobile platforms is a great one, but one I feel wont happen for a long time. Too many companies have too much invested in their app stores, both money and resources.

One particular quote that has stayed in my mind is “A few years ago Furbies were awesome. They were cool new technology and delighted kids all over. Now they are forgotten and just look stupid and creepy. The apps of today will have the same fate – as they are not build to change but to sell. The best performing apps are targeted at kids and have an attention span half-life of a few months.” It puts an interesting spin on what is a good app, one I hadn’t thought of before.

You can read more about Christian and view the slides he showed at Reasons to be Appy on his website.

Andrew Spooner – We, Human

After another break Andrew Spooner from Microsoft took the stage to talk about how we should be creating applications which provide a great user experience to the people using them — and how the idea of making a simple, effective user experience for people… not just computer scientists lead to the creation of the Metro User Interface Design Language.

One thing I must say is that Andrews slides were the most beautiful and well made I’ve ever seen, I was genuinely impressed by a PowerPoint presentation! The presentation itself followed metro design rules and featured the same colours and icons as the Windows Phone 7 OS and the upcoming Windows 8 Desktop OS.

Andrew made the point that the user experiance, not the exact computation going on was what was important to the user, which reminded me of my own blog post “UX, not Specs”

Remy Sharp – Mobile Debugging

After an hours lunch it was Remy’s turn to take the stage and talk about different methods of debugging mobile web applications over all the operating systems and browsers available to users, which until recently has involved the time consuming task of downloading  every browser on every operating system and checking for faults.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was looking forward to seeing Remys session as he was one of the people whos websites taught me html and web development and got me into programming, so it was really great to see him talk about something he is obviously passionate about.

I’ve been thinking about improving the mobile experience on Worldwide Lighthouses and having to debug on multiple platforms — each with multiple browsers and OS versions — could have been a pain. Remy’s methods don’t allow for desktop type debugging, that’s the holy grail, but it brings us a step closer.

Ultimately, Remy concluded, we can only have desktop level debugging on Mobile OS’s with the help of the browser vendors and we should pressure them into improving their tools!

You can read more about Remy’s methods for mobile debugging from the man himself here.

Tim Ahrens – New Font Technologies for New Media

I like developing for Windows Phone, one of the reasons I like this is because I like the style of the applications, and one of the reasons I like the style of the applications is the use of fonts like Segoe WP. I like fonts, they can make or break a design as any graphic design student would tell you, but to be honest I know nothing about fonts — or I didn’t before Tim Ahrens session, which was absolutely fascinating.

Tim spoke about everything from how fonts actually work in the browser — detailing the differences between the new woff format, the older true type format and the internet explorer only eot format — to the differences in rendering on screen using black and white, greyscale, cleartype and Microsoft’s new DirectWrite.

I honestly never realised how much effort goes into designing and developing a font for use on screen or in print media, I’m astounded. Fonts are one of those things I’d always just taken for granted but they’re weeks, if not months, worth of work each. This session taught me a lot.

You can see some of Tim’s font design work on, and see TypeKit, the font to browser solution which he consults for here.

James Alliban & Keiichi Matsuda – Cell – Revealing the Digital Aura

James and Keiichi are both artists rather than programmers, but they made an awesome interactive art installation using Microsoft’s Kinect called Cell, you can view a video of it on YouTube.

The duo spoke alot about working in a team and collaborating on such a big project, and some of the technical aspects of the installation itself, but to me the most interesting part of their talk was about what they call the “Digital Aura”. A digital aura is a persons online presence — both the obvious stuff like their Twitter and Facebook accounts and the less obvious stuff like comments they’ve left on blogs or reviews they’ve written or check ins on Foursquare.

A lot of the digital aura is good stuff, connections with potential employers, connections with friends, a place to make your point and say what you think, but there can be some bad stuff, which is where “identity curation” comes in. Identity curation is the process of deleting or hiding the negative things about you on the internet and highlighting the good.

Everyone does it to a greater or lesser extend, whether its untagging a photo of yourself on Facebook or using a web app like Delete My Tweets to remove all your previous messages on twitter, as I did recently (before making my twitter public for #r2bappy)

Mark Boulton – Where There’s Muck, There’s Brass

The beginning of Marks session was interesting, a first class quote from him which I tweeted was:

I take pictures of taps in public toilets. I’m THAT guy.

His point was that we need to think about things as real, and genuine and truthful. Those taps in McDonalds restaurants that pretend to be made of marble are “Liars” and that annoys mark. Having application on computer screens, which are digital, trying hard to be like real items is lying too, one example Mark picked out was the Leather Bound calendar application in OSX. Its fake, its digital, why is it trying to be real?

Mark called the idea of having things being “authentically digital” Digital Patina, and called the Metro Design Style out for being good at it.

Some of the things Mark spoke about were actually at odds with what I was taught at university this simester, which got me thinking. Application user interface design is like any other creative form, subjective. Whereas my lecturer thought that designing things to be like real like items — for example the recycle bin in windows — was a great idea because it allowed people to learn about computers faster, Mark thought the same idea treated the user as if they were thick and according to him

Thats not a good way to start designing a user interface – thinking your users are thick. Its offensive.

Seb Lee Delisle – PixelPhones

Pixel Phones
Pixel Phones

The last session I saw — due to having to leave one session early to catch my train — was a more light hearted one. Seb wants to set the world record for the biggest display made entirely of mobile phones, unfortunately he has been denied it for using audiences phones rather than a set laid down on a table, but what he can do is in my eyes more impressive.

Seb explains PixelPhones as a

crazy project where I turn each phone in the audience into pixels in a large display. It runs in your phone browser so you don’t need to install an app

Live in front of us PixelPhones connected to over 100 devices using two Apple Airport Extreme Basestations and allowed seb to make an animation using the audience and play a game of nyan catch, videoed at another conference here — its crazy stuff.

For an in-depth explination of how it all works you can check out Sebs website here.

For now that is all, I’d like to thank Phil Cross from the Microsoft UK Student Developer Group and Abhilaksh Lalwani, also from the group, for being good company all day!

Thats all for now,