Out and About in Berlin

Today we wandered over to the TechEd Conference centre to register.4092686828

This is the front of the centre. Very big. However, the most surprising thing was the sheer scale of everything around this part of Berlin. It must be the conference centre of Europe. All around there are enormous halls set out for these kind of sessions.

Next we ventured into uptown Berlin again. Peter wanted to climb to the top of the Bundestag. So we did.


On the way we took in the Sony Centre, which is absolutely huge.


On top of the Bundestag they have this amazing glass dome with mirrors inside that reflect down onto the parliament below.  Very impressive.


This is the view from the top of the Bundestag at the blocks they are assembling as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the end of the Berlin wall.

Tomorrow the conference itself starts properly.

Heading for Berlin

Today I was up at 3:00 am. Not that I’m complaining that much, after all we are going to Berlin for TechEd 2009. We had a nice shiny hire care to drive to Liverpool airport where we would board one of the few direct flights to Berlin. Once we had arrived and unpacked it was time for a stroll. Of course I took the camera.


The Russian Embassy


Brandenburg Gate


I love the colours of the stone in this light.


Nice buildings at night.

I’ve put some more pictures on Flickr. I think we are going to like it here..

Album Shaker for Zune HD

I’ve been playing with the Zune HD and seeing what you can make it do. The answer would seem to be lots. I’ve just finished a little demo that is an alternative way to find your music. Since XNA gives you access to all your album artwork I thought it would be nice if all the album pictures bounced around the screen and you just touch the one you want to play. Turns out that XNA is a great thing to write this in:


This is going to be one of my TechEd demos now, it really does work well.

A prize for anyone who manages to name all the artist and track details.

Rob at TechEd 2009

I’ve just found out that I’m giving a session at Microsoft TechEd 2009 in Berlin next next month. It is Breakout Session DEV08-IS: Writing Games and Exploring the Microsoft Zune HD in XNA 3.1 and it is in Interactive Theatre 2 – Orange on 11/11/2009 at 17:30-18:45. I’m really pleased about this. I’ve done TechEd sessions before and they are always great fun.

If you are in Berlin and attending TechEd 2009 I’d love to see you there. I’ve even come up with a new joke to use during the session, this alone should make it worth attending…

If you are are in Hull I’ll be “test flying” the session(and the joke) in the department before I go. The presentation will be in Lecture Theatre D in the Robert Blackburn Building at 2:15 pm on Wednesday 28th October.

It Lives!

Thanks to Ian, and his breadboarding skills, we now have a working prototype.

With this, we can rule the world....

Everything went very smoothly really. In fact it worked first time - which always makes me nervous. Sure enough, later on it started to behave stupidly, which we tracked to a floating output enable signal. Now I just have to get it to Barcelona without breaking it.

Although I will be bringing it into the department on Tuesday to demonstrate as well.

Little Big Planet vs. .NET Micro Framework

Today I bought a copy of Little Big Planet for the PS3. It is supposed to be wonderful. It lets you create fantastic contraptions in a virtual world. It is still in the bag, unopened.

Because I've been playing with the .NET Micro Framework. It lets you create fantastic contraptions in the real world.

Circuit design. Actually produced in a pub.

I'm making up a hardware/software system for TechEd 2008 in Barcelona next week, where I'm presenting a session called "Putting your Big Ideas onto Tiny Devices with .NET". I can't tell you what it is yet for two reasons:

  1. It is totally top secret.
  2. I might not be able to get it to work

Suffice it to say that the above circuit is crucial to successful completion of the project. I'm having a whale of a time bashing out the code in Visual Studio and deploying it to the target device.

Tomorrow we build the hardware...

Tech-Ed EMEA 2008 Barcelona

I've just found out that I have had a session accepted for Tech-Ed EMEA 2008. This means that if you sally forth to Barcelona in November you will be able to see me strutting my stuff about the .NET Micro Framework. I did a session about this in Orlando earlier this year, and this time I'll be able to use even more hardware (every time I turn around another Micro Framework board has appeared).

I'd love to see you in the audience, so if you are coming out to Spain feel free to search out the session. I'll post more details when I have them. And I'm going to be using "All New Jokes" (tm).

Final TechEd Sessions

Today I went to my final two sessions at TechEd 2008, which is rather sad. I really love these conferences. I only have to get a whiff of brand new nylon carpet (which they must use loads of) to be transported into a world of name badges, backpacks and session planning.

The first session I went to was by Jonathon Kagle who was doing something rather uncharacteristic for a Microsoft Product Manager. He was lifting the lid on the next version of his product, .NET Micro Framework 3.0, and even inviting comment and discussion. He has put a really good post onto the Micro Framework blog describing what is coming down the tracks, believe me it is good stuff.

One of the great things about the Micro Framework team is that they are staying true to their roots. Some products get kind of bloaty and feature creepy as they get older. Stuff gets added which might be useful in some contexts, but not all, and the whole thing gets larger and more complex as time goes by until it becomes less useful with each release. I'm a bit worried about C# 3.0 in this respect, stuff has been added which I don't really see the need for.

This is not happening with the Micro Framework. Version 2.5 actually has a smaller memory footprint than 2.0, as the team have got better at squeezing quarts into pint pots. At one point Jonathon said that they had actually figured out how to add generics (a very useful but by no means essential part of C# 2.0) to the framework but that this would have added around 17K to the memory footprint of the platform, with no easy way to disable it.

That amazed me for two reasons. The first is that someone managed to get generic support into the runtime in 17K of code, the second is that 17K is a tiny amount of memory. Less than a full stop in this text is taking up on the screen. However, in the context of a platform that needs to be able to fit into 400K or so, it is big deal, at around a 5% increase. So they left it out. The Micro Framework will now fit onto a single chip microprocessor (a single 9mm square chip). Amazing.This platform just gets better and better.

The next session I went to was about Linq, which is also amazing. The reason you go to TechEd is to find out things that you'd never get hold of any other way. Like PasteXmlasLinq. You can find it in amongst the samples provided with Visual Studio 2008. For me it was  C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\Samples\1033\CSharpSamples.zip\LinqSamples\PasteXmlAsLinq.

This does exactly what it says on the tin. it converts a file of XML into the Linq code to produce that XML output. it provides a magical way of taking an existing lump of XML and getting code that will write it. So rather than having to mess around with writing elements and building up the structure the hard way, I can just paste the XML source into Visual Studio had have the code written for me. You have to play with it to believe it. If you have any interest in the use of Xml you should know about Linq. In fact, if you work with data in any way (even if you are not even using a database, just objects) you should know about Linq. Dan Fergus, the MVP who gave the talk did a first rate job of showing the power of Linq, and how you can use it to good effect on a mobile device.

TechEd Party Time

Imagine a theme park where the queues for the rides are around 10 minutes, all the food and drink is free, and there are people wandering around just giving you stuff. I don't have to imagine this (lucky me) because I've been to the TechEd 2008 party. It was at Universal Studios, which was nice because we got to go on the brand new Simpson's ride, which is ace by the way.


Entering the park.


Invasion of the nerds....


The Simpson's ride is quite a big deal, and great fun.


...indeed it does


The end of a perfect evening.

The .NET Micro Framework in Action

Today I went down to the Hands On Lab area at TechEd and had a go at the Micro Framework lab, just to see what it was like. The first exercise was to drive an LCD panel from a Micro Framework device....


Shameless .NET Micro Framework promotion....

Then it was on to building a little burglar alarm controller. Great fun. And the lab section was enormous.


We think our labs are quite large at the university in Hull, but this is just silly....


In fact the conference itself is just plain enormous. This is one part of one part.

If you want to find out more about the .NET Micro Framework, including devices and how to get hold of the development kit you can go to their site on MSDN. They also have a very active blog.

Sessions and Very Silliness

Well, I did my session. Thanks to everyone who turned up. I enjoyed doing it and it was nice of you to all laugh in the right places. For some reason (perhaps because this was my first "proper" TechEd session (last time it was a lunchtime session) I was a lot more nervous than usual, even to the point where the brain went blank and I forgot that the word for pin is "Pin" when typing in the demo code. Such is life, I did manage to make it work at the end and I hope that everyone who turned up got something out of the talk.

My name in lights, still can't quite believe it

After the talk I went down onto the exhibition floor to catch up with the .NET MicroFramework crew. There seem to be loads more devices and configurations now and it is great to see the platform progress. If you have ever thought "this hardware stuff is too hard" then please remember that in this case the clue is not in the name. Hardware can be easy, and the .NET Micro Framework is a great way to start making code really do stuff. 

TechEd 2008 Orlando 184

Loads of toys!

Then I went on to meet up with Dan Fernandez, who wanted to do a video interview for the famous Channel 9. We spent some time chatting and got on so well that I unbuttoned my serious speakers shirt to to show him the very-silliness of the T shirt beneath. When the video is up on the site I'll post a link so you can revel in my embarrassment.

From C# to Sea World

I feel terrible about this, but whilst other folk were working in the conference hall myself and number one wife went to Sea World.  (actually, my conscience was clear in that I have got all my slides done and checked in, and my demos all work fine).

Obligatory jumping killer whale shot

Seaworld was excellent. Gave me plenty of chance to play with the new camcorder (this including recording five minutes of "non-video" when I forgot to press the record button...).


There is probably something very interesting and fish related in this picture, but I'm darned if I can find it now...


Experience those penguins...

Back to work tomorrow, my session is at 10:30 in the morning, right after the keynotes. I quite like this, in that it means that I get it over and done with.

Virgin on the Ridiculous

We flew out to Orlando today. We flew with Mr. Branson's favourite airline, which meant going to Manchester Airport to get on the plane, along with 450 other soon to be close friends. Normally I fly from Humberside Airport, which is just down the road and tiny. When you ring them up and ask them what time the plane takes off they ask "What time can you get here?". They don't have a luggage belt, just a chap with a wheelbarrow. Actually I'm being a bit unfair here, they have everything that you get at a proper airport. Last year they even had a delay. I love flying from Humberside, but I also love money, and unfortunately flying from Manchester was much cheaper.

Anyhoo, we got to make a two hour drive to Manchester and queue for a while. I tried to check in on-line, but the system wouldn't let me because all the on-line check-in was full. I wasn't sure what that meant until I got to the airport. The idea of internet check in is that you do all the hard stuff before you just turn up and drop off your luggage. The funny thing was that the queue at the airport for the luggage drop off was about three times the size of the normal one, which I thought was rather funny. Although of course our queue ran at a quarter the speed, which I guess more than levels things out.

The reason for this seemed to be that people were very fussy about where they were going to sit. I think that planes are now so big that they are becoming like cities. You have your east side and your west side, and a very dodgy neighbourhood down at the tail end. During the flight I went up to the galley to get a drink, and saw a rather nasty incident between the Sharks and the Jets which had to be defused by the stewardess lobbing in those little cans of cola (Virgin of course) and a barrage of small bags of pretzels. Down towards the cockpit someone had set up a gated community and where we were sitting several of the seats had been boarded up. In the middle over the wings there were loads of skips outside the seats, each full of last year's furniture.

But I digress. At least I got an aisle seat. Unfortunately it was behind the only person bad mannered enough to tip their seat back. I don't know whey they make the seats recline, because although you get that 75mm of extra space you also have to listen to the crunching of bones and the screams of pain from the person sat behind you. I had to put my legs into the aisle where they were run over by the drinks trolley and every one of the hundred or so small children that were also on the flight. Great stuff.

Eventually, we arrived more or less intact and made the taxi ride to the airport. The hotel is actually quite posh, and I'm really looking forward to the conference. And Disneyland.

Sexy Computer Science

I've been thinking a bit about how "sexy" the subject of Computer Science is. In her intro yesterday Karen Young from Microsoft mentioned that it was being seen as less attractive as a subject for students to take up. Applications to study computing are presently falling in Europe and the USA and for the life of me I can't understand why.

A few years ago there was a bit of a dip in the business, but at the moment the demand for computer literate people is as strong as it has ever been. If you are looking to move into a field where you get to shape the future and also build it then you should enter computing. If you like working with people, finding out what they want and creating answers to questions then you should enter computing. If you like puzzles and working in an environment where things just get more interesting every day, then you should enter computing. I can't think of any other field where you have the potential to have so much impact on the future. Computers are already a huge part of people's lives and that is set to accelerate.

For me the question is not "Why should I study computing?", it is "Why would I not?".

Professional Idiot

Sometimes I wonder how I manage to be as daft as I am. I must remember that not everything that seems like a good idea is actually a good idea. Here at TechEd they have a "Diary Room" in a kind of tribute to the "Big Brother" tv programme. It has a big red chair and a camera, and the idea is that delegates can describe their conference experiences which can then be put out as part of the coverage of the event. I guess the purpose is to get a true delegate perspective.

I walked past it this morning and the idea popped into my head that it might be hilarious to record a piece into the camera asking where the butter was, why there was no milk or cheese and then, after carefully examining the conference guide, look up take say "Oh, so it isn't the dairy room after all". So I tried it. Not good. I then made some other rather silly points and finally, for no sane reason, pressed the save button. Arrrgh. I'm cringing as I write this, I just hope that there is some kind of an editorial layer between my stupidity and worldwide distribution via the interweb.

Then, this afternoon I'd been asked to give a talk about being an valued professional. Karen Young, MVP Program Lead gave a great introduction to the program, finishing by making the point that computing is not seen a sexy any more. I started off my talk by wondering aloud if bringing me on next really was going to show how sexy computing really is. Good thought Rob. I then continued to tell all the students how the internet is "The Biggest CV you will ever have", and that you should regard your internet persona as a brand to be carefully managed so that you always look your best. As I was forcefully making this point the awful vision of me in front of the camera asking for yogurt drifted across my mind.


The TechEd Universe

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go to the Imagine Cup finals. These are organised by Microsoft and provide a great opportunity for students from all around the world to take part in the finals of a whole bunch of different electives. At the time I reflected that when you were at the finals you were effectively at "Planet Imagine Cup" where normal rules don't apply and we could all revel in fun technology.

I'm presently in the TechEd universe. This setup is huge. Everything is bigger this year, from the venue (there is a huge extra building I've not even been in yet) to the number of sessions. They have crammed an extra day's worth of material and have provided a big thick book with tear out pages to keep track of what is going on.  All the sessions are being recorded, and delegates can view the ones they missed.

I was here last year, and they seem to have found a way to make it even better. Wonderful stuff.

Micro Framework Fun and Games

Today Dave Baker and I strutted our Micro Framework stuff in front of our TechEd audience. Someone had rather kindly told Dave that "He must be mad to present with Rob". If I had a pound for everyone who has said that.....

We had some very nice toys to show off

The talk went very well, in spite of the fact that I told my favourite and second favourite jokes. I'm saving my third favourite for the talk tomorrow. We gave away a bunch of T shirts, a copy of the book and a complete development kit, so there were some very happy delegates. We had loads of questions, which I reckon is a good sign.

At the start of the Dave and Rob show

After the talk I headed off to "Ask the Experts" and spent a happy ninety minutes admiring all the new .NET Micro Framework platforms that seem to have appeared since I last looked, and meeting up with Roger and Colin, who had come al the way over from Seattle to run some porting classes and talk to delegates.

The way that Microsoft are prepared to send over the people who actually make their stuff always amazes me. Delegates can actually talk to the programmers who actually make the products they are working with. It must be hugely expensive in time and effort, but I'm jolly glad they do it.