Finding Inspiration

I just attended and presented at TEDx Youth Montreal. An incredible opportunity to inspire and be inspired.

Our first presenter is Olympic medal winner Andreanne Morin. She was on the Canadian Women’s eight team at the London Olympics and came home with a silver medal.  50 weeks of training a year, 6-7 days a week, 3 workouts a day, oh and she’s a law student! Through sleet, snow, fatigue, they trained and worked. When the big race happens your training pays off, especially the most gruelling workouts when you were tired and didn’t think you could do it. Because you know you got through those and you can do it when the time comes!

The next presenter is David Ragsdale, a neuroscientist who pulls an actual human brain out of a bucket! He then proceeds to explain what defines each of us, changing the way we see ourselves completely.

A 13 year old girl named Sophia who has a disease that caused all her hair to fall out and was forced to realize that now she’ll never fit the mold of the perfect 13 year old and explains that since she accepted that and took time to just figure out who she is and stop worrying as much about what others think she’s never been happier. “No-one here fits the mold, we are all different, so take a step back and figure out who you are and break the mold!”

Uhhhh… wait a second, I usually present to a bunch of geeks and explain how to write code, how exactly did I end up here again waiting for my scheduled time to go backstage and get miked up.

I have 9 minutes, no cue cards, and no slides. Why does 9 minutes seem like such a daunting task when I used to spend all day standing in front of a class explaining and presenting.

A video from a TED talk by a man who took fun pictures with his 28mm lens of people in Israel and posted huge photos of them on walls in Palestine, then took pictures of people in Palestine and posted giant photos of them in Israel. Showcasing local everyday heroes and giving everyone a reminder of the commonalities between the two sides.

Next, Sasha Diguilian, a professional rock climber who recently won a gold medal at the Pan Am games. The training is hard, she says, but every time she considered skipping a training session she reminded herself that every training session she attended was a step forward, every one she skipped was a step backwards. Why would anyone choose not to keep moving forwards!

I’m up next. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time preparing for 9 minutes. On the train, in the hotel the night before, in the hotel the morning of, sitting on a bench in the hallway visualizing it in my head, changing only a few words here or there, not wanting to risk throwing off the speech I had written up. I think the last time I wrote every word of a presentation and memorized it was in high school.

My talk, is apps, seriously Susan? I mean isn’t that just your job? How do you make that inspiring? Well, some aspects of my job are inspiring, no seriously, when you see the apps other people create it can blow you away! Do you have a smartphone or tablet? They are everywhere. Of course the apps make them really shine. Anyone can build an app, in an afternoon you could build something simple. That’s a great way to start. Now think bigger, something that could help you day to day. Now think bigger, something to help others day to day. Now think bigger, what app could help a charity. Now think bigger! Could your app have a real impact? Help someone with MS record and report their daily symptoms to their doctor? Take a recording from a stethoscope and send it to a program that analyzes the sound to determine if an infant in Africa has pneumonia so they can be treated in time to save them?

“Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”

It’s a quote from an Apple commercial, but I love it.

Are you crazy enough?

Dream it! Build it! Live it!

You could see the students in the audience nodding, they get it, they see the potential of the devices they already have in their hands. The students seem to understand it better than most adults! That’s why they inspire me, they don’t see the barriers or limits, they just see the potential. May we all take a lesson from the students and be crazy enough to think that we can make a difference!

My talk might never be posted online, so maybe only 200 people will ever witness a 9 minute talk that took me hours of work. But, no regrets! I will never again share a stage with such an inspiring and diverse group each of whom inspired me in a different way. I can only hope that in some small way I repaid in kind.

I want to be more like Lee Dirks, I’ll miss you

Sometimes even in a brief time of knowing someone you can still feel inspired by them

Lee Dirks of Microsoft Research and his wife died this week in a tragic car accident. I met Lee Dirks at the iSchools conference in Toronto in February. We spent a few hours together talking about opportunities to work together in the coming months, about our kids, and life in general.

Lee was one of those people who greeted everyone with a very big smile, he was thoughtful and courteous. He did those little thing that matter, like standing aside to let you enter the elevator first. Despite the fact that Microsoft is a company where we are all inundated with emails every day. He answered every email I sent his way (that is truly an achievement at Microsoft). He never made me feel like I was being a nuisance, he was always helpful. Put simply, I will miss him. I would like to be a bit more like him. Gone but not forgotten. I am glad I had the pleasure of knowing him and very sad to think I will not see him again.

That said, I believe that when you meet someone you like, somehow a little piece of them stays with you, because there will be moments when that encounter comes back to you and affects how you respond. I suspect there are a lot of people out there who may be a little better for having known Lee, I’d like to think I am one of them.

Is Microsoft becoming the cool kid?

Times are changing…

I just came back from Microsoft TechEd North America, so much more than PowerPoint!!

They had the Microsoft Mustang developed as Project Detroit that was developed with West Coast Customs. This project was so cool it was featured on CoolCarsHotGirls, who ever thought Microsoft would be on a website with a name like that!. By the way it’s Open Source too!

Similar to a concept car, Project Detroit was created to inspire developers to think about building apps and automotive technologies of the future. Connected-device scenarios featured in the car incorporate Kinect for Xbox 360, Xbox 360, the Windows operating system, Windows Phone, Windows Azure, Bing, Ford Sync and more.They had the Boxing Bots from Coding for fun (thank you Clint for helping me beat @GeekTrainer not once, but twice). This brings Rock’em Sock’em robots to a whole new level and controlled by Kinect! Coding4 Fun does some very cool stuff!

Battling Bots with Kinect

Not only that they had a whole section of classic arcade games. (Galaga!) Vijay destroyed me at air hockey, but I retained some Canadian pride by subsequently beating him at bubble hockey.

The Kinect just makes everything more fun, they even had a Windows 8 app on a massive screen where you could zoom in and out with Kinect on a flight tracking application!

I had some great discussions, including one with a developer from the company that built the Hunger Games and Prometheus websites using HTML5.

There were also  opportunities to check out Windows Phones including the Nokia Lumia 900 which was reviewed and recommended by Playboy magazine?!  Sure Consumer Reports recommending the Titan as a good buy, but Playboy!

I also had fun showing off my own Samsung slate running Windows 8 to lots of curious developers showing them some of the features that I think make developing for Windows 8 unique (Share Contracts rock!)

Oh yeah, there were some good sessions too Smile, I particular recommend the exam cam on the 70-599 Windows Phone exam, but I’m biased.

Revenge of the Nerds

IMG_5205Last weekend I attended Comicon in Ottawa, proof that the geek is strong in this one.

I have never attended a Comicon before, but I will admit I have always wanted to. So when I heard Comicon was coming to Ottawa, how could I stay home. My son (a bit short for a Sith Lord as you can see from the picture), his friend Theo (dressed as Link from Legend of Zelda), and I (dressed as Lady Deathstryke from the X-Men series in case you wanted to know) set out for the day along with another female engineer and her daughter who were dressed as vampire slayers complete with homemade stakes.

If you have ever felt like no-one around you understands you because they don’t know a tribble from a Dylek. If you were the only person in the theater yelling out ‘hey that’s not right’ when Bane died in the first round of Batman movies. If you sometimes find yourself empathizing with Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj. Rejoice for there is a place for all of us who once owned (or still own) 20 sided dice and have a wardrobe of shirts that include computer and Star Wars jokes.  (I like the many faces of Darth Vader shirt…happy vader, sad vader, angry vader)

It was a day to discover and rejoice in being a geek. We admired trading cards and classic toys in their original packaging, we agonized over which nerdy t-shirts to buy (I’m wearing mine today: Schroedinger’s Cat Liberation Front!), we took pictures of people dressed as characters from comic books, video games, commercials, movies, and tv series. We stood in line and paid $40 to get our picture taken with Brent Spiner (Commander Data from Star Trek for those of you not as geeky as me). We stood in lines having  conversations with complete strangers about our disappointment that Patrick Stewart cancelled and they brought in William Shatner instead.

The entire crowd was kindred spirits, it was kind of like attending Teched or TechDays, but this was an event for all ages, geeks of past and future unite! A sell out of 12000 people attended this year’s comicon in Ottawa so I don’t think there’s much doubt it will be back and so will I.

A technical conference is a great place to geek out with co-workers, but Comicon is a great place to geek out with family! Sorry Darth, you are not that boy’s father, that’s my boy, and I may be a geek, but at least in his eyes for now I’m a cool geek! Comicon rocks, come with me next time we can play Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock while we wait in line!

The world needs more geek girls

IMG_5169Yesterday I had the pleasure of being involved at an event that exposed grade 5 & 6 girls to science and technology, the event was fun but it does address a serious issue: the shortage of girls in computer science and engineering.

My son covered his ears as the girls screamed, cheering on their teacher and classmate competing in the 50 metre sprint in Kinect sports on the Xbox. My son was seriously outnumbered yesterday as 218 girls from grades 5 & 6 descended on McGill university for the 4 girls event organized by Clumeq and GenInc and sponsored by Microsoft. The girls spent the day going to different sessions to learn about science and technology.

The day was kicked off by Marie-Jo Leroux of Ubisoft who talked about life as a video game producer. I think I may have enjoyed that presentation more than the girls as she gave us a behind the scenes look at making games like Driver: San Francisco and IronMan. She delivered a great message: my job isn’t easy, but I love what I do, so I don’t mind! Find what you love, your career will choose you!

So why doesn’t the technology career path choose more women? I don’t know the answer, they were asking that question when I went to university years ago as well (I won’t admit how many years ago). Maybe events like this will help. Some of the girls may have been surprised by how cool and fun science and technology can be hopefully they will come to love technology as so many of us do.

McGill student Genevieve L’Esperance, former Microsoft Student Partner and intern, did a workshop using SmallBasic that gets kids to explore programming. She has delivered this workshop at many Teaching Kids Programming events outside of Canada and was very happy to finally have a chance to do it in her hometown! Quoted in the Montreal Gazette she says “I have one or two girls in my classes, I have no biases toward anybody, but’ it’s nice to have like a sister in class”

In my workshop I talked about the different ways to interact with computers, and we discussed how programmers have many tools to choose from and you have to figure out which tool is right for each solution. The kids compared drawing with a mouse to drawing with touch on Windows 8 and Windows Phone, they compared using calculator with a keyboard vs a mouse, we tested the accuracy of voice recognition on the Windows phone and of course they thoroughly enjoyed testing the motion recognition of Kinect. We finished on a more serious note talking about how these new capabilities of voice and gesture open up new possibilities and truly give those of us in the technology field a chance to change the world for the better.

Hopefully reaching girls early in their education and exposing them to the capabilities of science and technology will draw more girls into the field. For Canada to compete globally we need a strong pool of students entering science and technology. Depsite above average wages the computer sector struggles to fill many positions. There is a decrease in university enrollment in fields such as Computer Engineering, Computer Science, and Software Engineering. Girls are a source of talent that could help fill these gaps.

As a student, or a working professional you can help! Speak at a high school, speak at an elementary school, show them what they are missing. Here are a couple of great resources you can use when speaking to school kids about the computing field: Computers unplugged, Teaching Kids Programming. I may be an evangelist for Microsoft, but we can all be evangelists for a career in science and technology!

Want to learn more about Visual Studio 11 and .NET 4.5 Beta?

I know I’m not the only one curious about the contents of Visual Studio 11 and .NET 4.5 so here are some resources to help you see what’s coming!

Get the beta February 29th!

The Visual Studio team has gone hog wild the past few days releasing lots of great information about Visual Studio 11 and the .NET 4.5 Beta that will be available February 29th. I just wanted to share with you some of the great articles they have posted so you can start geeking out!

And one last link, because betas are great to download and explore but if you haven’t bought or renewed your existing Visual Studio license Get ready with MSDN: Save up to 35% on Visual Studio with MSDN

How do I use HTML5 in Visual Studio 2010?

cadhtml5coaIn this post, I’ll share what I learned about how to get started writing HTML5 code in Visual Studio 2010.

HTML5 seems to be everywhere these days! I started trying it myself a few months back and I quickly decided that if possible, I wanted to play with it in Visual Studio. I’ve been working with Visual Studio for years, it’s got to be simpler to keep working with the developer tool I already know and love rather than moving to a new tool. Besides I want to be able to incorporate HTML5 into ASP.NET applications!  It took me a bit of messing about to get up and running with HTML5 the way I know there will be greater support for HTML5 in Visual Studio 11. But for now I am working with Visual Studio 2010.  I thought I would share what I learned so hopefully it will be easier for you.

Here’s what you want to do:

  • Add HTML5 validation and intellisense
  • Create an HTML5 project
  • Set up for <video> and <audio>
  • Play!

Add HTML5 Validation and Intellisense

You will definitely want to make sure you have Service Pack 1 installed! By installing Service Pack 1 you get both intellisense (can’t live without that anymore) and validation for HTML5. Don’t forget after you install Service pack 1 to go to Tools | Options | Text Editor | HTML | Validation and set the validation to HTML5 or XHTML5 or the HTML5 validation won’t work.

First of all there is a really great blog by Burke Holland on how to use the MVC HTML5 template for Visual Studio 2010 here.

Create an HTML5 project in Visual Studio

You have a couple of choices here.

  • Modify an existing template to be HTML5 or create your own template. There is a great blog describing how to do that here.
  • Download the MotherEffin ASP.NET MVC HTML5 template that Jacob Gable was kind enough to post on the VisualStudio Gallery.
  • Download the mobile ready ASP.NET MVC HTML5 template that Sammy Ageil was kind enough to post on the Visual Studio Gallery

Set up for <video> and <audio>

The first tags I started playing with in Visual Studio were the video and audio tags. I immediately had problems getting an actual video to display on my web page it was really frustrating. Here is what I had to do to get everything working. The basic problem was with the MIME types. When a .avi, or .MP3 file was used on my website, the web server didn’t recognize that those were video and audio files. To get it working I had to edit my web.config file and make sure I had IIS express running in the development environment instead of the development server built into Visual Studio to ensure that my web.config file was being used to figure out the MIME types. You need to do this for the WOFF fonts as well.

  • Install IIS Express
  • Specify the mime types you will be using in your web.config file. Here’s an example:
        <system.webServer>
          <staticContent>
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".mp4" mimeType="video/mp4" />
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".m4v" mimeType="video/mp4" />
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".woff" mimeType="application/x-woff" />
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".webm" mimeType="video/webm" />
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".ogg" mimeType="video/ogg" />
            <mimeMap fileExtension=".ogv" mimeType="video/ogg" />
          </staticContent>
        </system.webServer>

    .csharpcode, .csharpcode pre
    {
    font-size: small;
    color: black;
    font-family: consolas, “Courier New”, courier, monospace;
    background-color: #ffffff;
    /*white-space: pre;*/
    }
    .csharpcode pre { margin: 0em; }
    .csharpcode .rem { color: #008000; }
    .csharpcode .kwrd { color: #0000ff; }
    .csharpcode .str { color: #006080; }
    .csharpcode .op { color: #0000c0; }
    .csharpcode .preproc { color: #cc6633; }
    .csharpcode .asp { background-color: #ffff00; }
    .csharpcode .html { color: #800000; }
    .csharpcode .attr { color: #ff0000; }
    .csharpcode .alt
    {
    background-color: #f4f4f4;
    width: 100%;
    margin: 0em;
    }
    .csharpcode .lnum { color: #606060; }

Change the project settings, by right clicking on the project and changing the settings to Use IIS Express when debugging in Visual Studio.VisualStudioDevelopmentServer

Play!

Once you have it up and running you can start exploring the world of HTML5. There are some great resources on learning HTML5 here. Make sure you read up on feature detection since different browsers will support different HTML5 features and because you will need this for backwards compatibility as well!

If you want to experiment with <video>, I found it handy to just download Big Buck Bunny since you can get it in multiple formats so it’s great for experimenting with the fallback features of HTML5 <video> for different browsers.

Since a big part of HTML5 is the cross browser support, make sure you try it out in different browsers, or use the F12 developer tools in Internet Explorer to test how your code will work in different browsers or older browsers.

Most of all have fun!

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