The HoloLens and Holographic Academy Experience

I consider myself extremely lucky, part of the future, special and being in the right place at the right time.

This is the HoloLens website.

As part of attending the Microsoft Build conference I got a chance to attend the Holographic Academy. I was one of the first few hundred developers to try developing an app for HoloLens. It was four and a half quality hours in a hotel hall with a big Microsoft team and magic all around. No cameras or recording devices allowed- so I don’t have photos to share. It’s still a lot of secrecy and unanswered questions but what a spectacular unveiling of the technology of the future!

Personal Setting
Somebody came with an optician tool to measure something about my eyes. I don’t understand it all but I believe it measures the space between the pupils. I got 60 as a number and I think it was the smallest number from the people around me- go figure.

The HoloLens customizations and deployments can be done wirelessly but in our with unreliable network, we had to connect the HoloLens to the computer through an USB cable. As a first step, I needed to access the device through the browser with an IP address & port number. You access a website where you plug in the number to customize your HaloLens.

The Development Tools
The tools you need are Unity for the 3D work (https://unity3d.com/) and Visual Studio 2015 for the compilation of the code and deployment.

I opened an existent application, built it in Unity and compiled/deployed it from Visual Studio. When compiling it, I had to look at the spot where I expected to see my hologram. Once the deployment finished, I disconnected the cable and I was free to move around with my hologram – a small race toy car. With a small tab in the air, I was able to move it around.

Space Recognition
HoloLens have space recognition- you see the space around so my car would fall from the edge of the coffee table and get stuck on impact with my backpack.

Building Apps
I started with a new project in Unity. Microsoft provided us with assets to use for the app. There are 3 main components/sensors you code for – gaze, tap and voice commands! We would add C# script for gaze, tab and voice recognition and attach them to objects.

Gaze
The little ring cursor will point at the object when your eyes/gaze reach the object.

Tap
The little tap with the index finger in the air will trigger a command.


Voice Recognition

I was able to implement in the code my personal commands. I was impressed how good the voice recognition was. It was easy to implement my commands for reset and drop the object. I think HoloLens actually interpret my accent better than the people around me.

The App
With the provided assets and code, my app had a small board with objects in it. There were two balls in the air that I was able to drop with a tap or a voice command. When the first ball dropped, an exposure would happen and the underground world would get exposed. I would place my gaze on the second ball and tap/give a command and the ball will drop in the underworld and I would be able to follow with my eyes the ball.

Interaction
I would be able to give my HoloLens to somebody else and they would experience my world. We were not able to interact with each other in one augmented reality. This functionality will be there in the future.

The Summary
When I saw the press release video from Microsoft in January, when I saw the demo at the keynote of //Build, my reaction was- no idea how this can be real. The experience with my hands on the HoloLens and the SDK surpassed my expectations by far! The augmented reality is very real, the HoloLens are comfortable and writing an app for HoloLens was not as hard as it sounds. I probably cannot explain the extent of my excitement and fascination. I have dreams now how to use the HoloLens, how to build apps for it. And after dreams and vision, now it’s the time to roll my sleeves and learn Unity…

The //Build conference 2012

The Build conference is the biggest Microsoft developer conference. It’s famous for the fact that every attendee gets the newest and the coolest hardware. Last year it was the Samsung tablet (before being available on the market). This year it’s a 32GB Surface RT, 100GB of Sky Drive space and a Nokia Lumia 920 (not available on the market yet). Microsoft is giving developers an edge so they can bring the technology to live.

I was extremely lucky and very fortunate to attend the Build conference this year. It was in Redmond, Seattle on the campus of Microsoft. It sounds extremely cool and like a dream come true but the campus is just not made for an event this size. When you get to use the portable toilet before the keynote you kind of realize the problem.

The event had about 2,500 attendees and the online registration lasted only 50 minutes. The developers didn’t need convincing to pay $2,000 to attend the conference. The first 500 (the first 2min of the registration) got $500 discount. In my calculations with some of the expo sponsors that’s around $5,000,000 sold out in an hour without any marketing.

Even with all the popularity not everything is perfect in the World of //Build. The experience started with event registration. The Build conference barely has a website www.buildwindows.com . In August when the conference was announced the site consisted of one web form and that was it- no ‘about us’, no session catalog, no conference directory. We managed to register but 9 out of 10 registrants experienced website errors, including me.

The conference approached and we still didn’t have a real website. We received an email with bare bone schedule for the conference. Later the same was posted on the build website- it’s a one page website. I find it funny that we are talking about a developer conference and probably any one of us would’ve build the website or the app for free if we could’ve gotten a free ticket to Build :). I really wonder how many people are actually working on organizing the conference?

There were offers like a hackathon and a dinner with the Windows Phone team sent by email- any RSVP was done through an email, no website, no app. Not much is scalable- space was filling out very fast and if you saw the email 2h after it was sent, you were too late. Two days before the conference we still didn’t have a session catalog (I mean not one session listed). One day before the conference the session catalog was released on the channel 9 website. It was great they gave us a print out of the catalog when we were in line to register for the conference. I had more than enough time to choose my sessions when I waited 1.5h to register. Yup, the line for registration was ridiculous.

The sessions were great- truly honestly great and everybody can watch them for free on channel 9. I’ll be watching them myself (in the late evenings) as I spent most of my time at the hackathon. The channel 9 website is a true gift to developers. I should give credit to the organizers for posting the 150 videos pretty fast on channel 9. Great job!

The keynotes were awesome. It felt so good to have people like Steve Ballmer talking to us. It’s a real religion to most of us to come to the holy land and to spend a week between a crowd of brilliant people. Looking back, I would tell you this is probably the highest concentration of high IQ I have ever been in contact with. Unfortunately people were not thinking to network until the last session ended.

After the last session there was a phenomenon – people were starting a conversation everywhere and about anything. Unfortunately it was too late. Microsoft tried to make sure we are out of the campus as soon as possible. There was no hanging around the buildings after the end of the last session- you needed to be on your way.

When I have gone to other conferences the breakfast and lunch time has been the usual time to talk to new people. This time was different. The meal time was a pain. You had to walk to a big tent outside (it rained the whole week) and the food was not what I expected (Probably I’m spoiled from the TechEd food choices. The SharePoint conference meals are like a presidential gala compared to the Build meals). So after the first breakfast and portable toilet experience I kind of avoided the breakfast on campus- and ate breakfast at the hotel. The lunches I had to do but I never got to meet new people at lunch.

There was a Mixer on Monday night for the lucky people who got to finish their registration on time. I went and it was funny. I walk in and head for the different tables. In the sea of male faces I see a beautiful woman smiling at me. The biggest smile you can imagine- I smile back. We sit together and she tells me: I’m so happy you are here. There are no women and the guys don’t talk to me, they only talk amongst themselves. OK, that’s funny (especially because she is a very attractive woman and a speaker at the conference). So we have an interesting thing happening- maybe women not only get paid less but get send to conferences less as well.

The transportation… oh my. For the first time I go to a conference, I register for a hotel that’s on the conference website registration list and I need a rental car. Even at the conference party I had to take a taxi back from a different hotel. I don’t know why you list a hotel as a conference hotel if you don’t offer transportation to the hotel.

There were breaks of 45 minutes between the sessions which meant a lot of time wasted in transportation between building 33 and 92.

The popular sessions were not so easy to attend as well. Part of the problem of not having a website with the session catalog and people not building their schedules in advance is you don’t know which sessions are going to be the most popular. The most popular sessions were not in the biggest rooms. I had such a frustrating experience of being kicked out of session at the last minute because 20 of us were sitting on the stairs and the staff realized that’s a problem the moment the session started.

I didn’t go to the Beer Fest because I was at the hackathon. I heard I haven’t missed much and people were posting photos on Twitter of a deserted tent. The Beer really doesn’t make it a Fest- it’s the atmosphere.

The Conference party at the Armory… we spent long time on the bus to Seattle. I actually got to meet some interesting people (but I was an exception to the rule). Somehow developers don’t find it necessary to talk to the person next to them on the bus.

We arrived at our destination at the Armory. I’ve never seen so many bored people in one place. I know some people came and left after the first drink. It was a big tent looking building with probably 20 fast little bite food stands. The food ranged from junk to ridiculous with several exceptions (there was one sea food that was really nice). And like the whole week experience- for every bite you had to line up and wait sometime up to 10 minutes (for the sea food). I saw many people standing alone and staring at the ceiling. My advice is next time make it a hackathon event. This is concentration of brain power, excited brains that just learn new technologies and are itching to use them. Group them in teams- make them socialize and meet at least 5 new people. Make them brainstorm for some non-profit organizations and come up with brilliant ideas.

One interesting thing I noticed about Build is the high concentration of Europeans. I really love that. It was a truly international conference. The people I met were extremely bright and interesting. I regret not meeting more people. We were all so busy making the best of the knowledge base and learning.

The Expo! There was no expo floor. There were some desks around the session rooms in one of the buildings. Very small selection of sponsors were present and there was not much swag being given. I cannot believe this conference I came home only with one t-shirt!

No hands-on lab. Nothing Nada Zip Zero Zilch.

The Twitter #bldwin was probably my favorite. Build encourages every attendee and speaker to use Twitter. I love it. I met great people on Twitter #bldwin and some of them I met in person. Some of my favorite #bldwin people: ‏@ghowlett2020, @cwoodruff , ‏@noopman , @attilah , @TechMike2kX, @henriksen, @HammadRajjoub, ‏@aafvstam, @mangesnet, @kenstone, @samsabri.

On the last day of Build guess what? There was a Windows 8 and Windows Phone app released! Just in time for the last several sessions. This is truly funny. Duh… we were at THE conference for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone apps!

Would I do it again? Of course I would. My reasons? I got gadgets, I got to experience the technologies at the hackathon and I got to spend time around brilliant people.

What technology did I get excited about? Windows Azure mobile services and (Windows Phone 8) NFC.

Was it a good conference? Somehow Microsoft didn’t have any problem getting the people together- presenters and attendees but it looked as little organization went into it. Do you blame them? If it takes you 50 minutes to get 5 million dollars out of 2,500 people with one form website and no efforts to write even a page about the event- you know you can get away with anything.
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Other blog posts on //build/ 2012:
A blog post by Dennis Vroegop “It’s just badly organized, something I am not really used to in my 20 years of experience at Microsoft events.”
A blog post by Dennis Doomen “Whether or not this trip to Build 2012 in Redmond was worth the time and money”

Binder full of Parties – The Build Conference

Do you think of the stereotype of a geek that doesn’t get invited to parties? Oh well, the most geekiest conference gives us a binder full of parties. I like to think I’m a veteran at attending Microsoft conferences but I’m being surprised by the jewel of the Microsoft development World- the Build Conference. I’m going to Seattle in 2 days and I have my binder full… of parties!

I tried to attend the Microsoft Build conference in 2011 and it was a lesson to learn. When the conference was announced, I submited my request to my manager and I waited for approval from manager after manager. It took several weeks. I was so proud and happy but it wasn’t for long. I was on the Build waiting list. I thought a waiting list is good, there is a chance. There was never a chance. Don’t believe a waiting list when it’s about Build.

This year I didn’t take any chances. I waited for the first sign of the Build conference- it was a message on Facebook with the date the registration will open. I didn’t wait for approval. On that date at 8AM I was on the website refreshing the page.

If I tell you Microsoft makes no advertisement, gives no details, puts a one form website and asks for $1,500 from the first 500 people and $2,000 from the rest and the conference is sold out in 40 minutes, would you believe me? There is more to it- you had to be very fast and persistent to escape the website errors and pay on time to secure your spot. So many people were registering at the same time, the website was erroring out constantly. I managed to get the early bird discount- and that’s early- it was sold out in 2 minutes! I was fast and furious and I learned from the previous year’s fiasco.

Do you know what amazes me? There is no session catalog yet. If you go to the website right now- you will see minimum information. And this was actually updated 2 days ago. You learn to be thankful if you know the address.

Let’s talk now about the parties. I won’t lie to you – I’m a reasonably looking woman and I actually get invited to a lot of parties for the sake of balance- the geeky crowd is mostly male. But this time I couldn’t rely just on my charm. Oh boy, I had to click fast and dig at twitter feeds.

Thanks to a friend of mine from TechEd I got to register at the Deep Fried Bytes BUILD Party at Lucky Strike.

For every hit you have a miss… I missed to register for the Build Blogger Bash Party. I still don’t know even the link for it. Ironically I’m writing in my blog about it.

There was an invitation for the Windows Phone Dinner Party sent to all the Build registrants. I was too slow and I felt very much uninvited. It’s these precious 2 minutes you have after the email hits your inbox. Blink and you are too late.

I really applaud DevExpress for posting their party on Twitter #bldwin. I’m going to DXTREME Party at //Build/ 2012 @ K1 Speed.

I managed to register for the Hackathon! It’s miracle in itself. It was the 2 minute rule.

I get to go to a dinner cruise because I’m extremely lucky.

There is the Build conference official party which is sold out too but at least every attendee gets to go.

I’m sure there are many more parties that I don’t have in my binder.

I miss something big from the Microsoft TechEd Conference. I’m a proud member of theKrewe. At TechEd we have an amazing leader Michael Bender who organized a support structure around the conference party system. #TheKrewe is an open group of people that makes you feel part of the conference networking system (the parties). TheKrewe keeps you updated on parties and you never have to feel alone.

The bottom line here is… I’m packing for Seattle. I have a binder full of parties and I think most of the Build attendees do too. I guess only the organizers at this point have a binder full of sessions.