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 Difference between Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS

At the end of 2013 Microsoft became a visible cloud provider and Amazon was already leader. In July 2014 the two leaders in the market of public Cloud are Amazon and Microsoft. In the future Google and IBM are probably going to join the hyper scale cloud providers (Amazon and Microsoft).

AWS Free Tier vs. Azure Free Trial

An Amazon AWS free tier and a Microsoft Azure free trial are offered. It’s easy to sign up for both– you need only an email, phone number and a credit card. You will have limited instances and resources but it’s great for training or a test. You will have a basic support and access to resources like forums.

The AWS free tier is a monthly recurring program. You can use EC2, ELB, EBS, S3 for up to 12 months. It allows for Micro server (with Windows and Linux, EBS, Cloud watch, billing alerts, ect.). The charges over  the free trier will be automatically charged to the credit card.

The Azure free trial is a 30 day trial of $200 worth of services for 30 days. When you exceed $200 you will not be charged automatically, the resources will be decommissioned but they are not gone. An MSDN subscription includes $100+/month Azure services and a discount on VM’s.

Features

The naming of features is different but here is the mapping.

AWS EC2 = Azure Virtual Machines
AWS VPC = Azure Virtual Network
AWS RDS = Azure SQL Database
AWS ELB = Azure Traffic Manager (load balancer)
AWS Route 53 = Windows Azure name resolution (DNS service)
AWS EBS/S3/Glacier = Azure Storage
AWS Direct Connect = Azure ExpressRoute
AWS IAM With MFA = Azure Multi Factor Authentication
AWS Security Groups (more advanced than Azure EndPoints) = Azure EndPoints
AWS SNS/SES = Azure Service Bus
AWS EC2ConfigService = Azure VM Agent
AWS SQS (simple queuing services)/Auto Scale (more advanced than Azure) = Azure Scheduler
AWS CloudFormation/CloudWatch/AutoScale (more advanced than Azure) = Azure Automation

Both support license mobility (bring your own license)- except the OS license. Both support Puppet and Chef integration from automation and scripting perspective.

AWS RDS vs. Azure SQL Instance

Both provide hosted managed database; both simplify management, deployment and automatic snapshots/backups. Both provide multi availability zones alternatives. Both have the option to BYOL (bring our own license). AWS provides MySQL, PostgreSQL and Oracle, Azure SQL is only one.

AWS VPC Peering vs. Azure Site-to-Site

AWS allows connection between two VPC using private subnets. No transitive peering allowed. Azure security is done through ACL and Windows Firewall, uses VPN to connect.

AWS Reserved Instances vs. Azure Commitment Plans


AWS Reserved Instances (EC2)
are in three tiers (Low, Medium, and High). There is an upfront fee with a discounted rate per hour. Offer 1 to 3 year term with upfront fee. You can sell them on the Marketplace.

Azure Commitment Plans are based on a monthly pay commitment. The minimum is $500/month on Pay Monthly Plan- discount between 20-32%. It applies to all resources except Storage. It’s simple to use compare to the AWS reserved instances. They are non-refundable.

Cost Structures

You need to compare the AWS reserved instances with Azure Commitment Plans. If an instance doesn’t fit you- change it! Monitor your cost and usage.

You need to approach the Cloud- it’s not enough to be a technologist, you need to be a business analyst too. The benefit of public cloud is a known cost. You need to calculate in minimum and maximum, not at an exact cost. Both Amazon and Microsoft will provide you with calculators. AWS is slightly cheaper but it depends on your commitment plan and your MSDN subscription.

AWS will bill you per hour; Azure will bill you per minute (but cash per hour is not your main factor). You should look at discounts & features.

Monitoring and Alerting

AWS offers CloudWatch:
– free monitoring with up to 7 metrics, every 5 min
– paid 10 alerts, 1 million API requests per 1 min
– ELB have active service monitoring
– Metrics for Billing
– Notifications using SNS, SES
– Provide Phone app for basic monitoring and management

Azure Monitoring:
– Basic monitoring included (CPU, Data In/Out, Disk Read/Write Throughput every 3 min)
– Verbose monitoring pulls performance metrics from server instance every 5min, 1h and 12h

Support

Free Support
27x7x365 AWS customer service (not tech. support). Technical support – some with AWS, none with Azure.
Developer Tier Support
AWS $49 per month, Azure $29 per month but you get different thing. AWS will give you Architecture Support, Best practice guidance, Client Side Diagnostic Tools- you don’t get that from Azure.
Medium Tier Support
You get Architecture Support and IAM & API for support access with AWS but that feature is not available for Azure.
High Tier Support
It’s comparable between the two.

Security Access

MFA is an absolute must for both.  Azure lacks a bit the granularity for the users and roles.

AWS offers IAM with MFA:
– Highly detailed delegation (user, role, federation)
– Security keys for SDK/command tools/PowerShell access
– Use SSL Cert for identification thru SSH or password retrieval
– Built in support for clearing local password on boot

Azure offers Highlights – MFA:
– Admin, O365, SDK
– Federation access
– User account thru PowerShell
– OTP thru mobile app, phone call, SMS – Security reports

Compliance AWS has a lot more compliance than Azure (ex. SOC 3). AWS has a government cloud.

SLAs

It’s measured in 5 min intervals. AWS will not declare an outage unless you designed your platform properly. When the service goes down, you will get a credit for the time the service was down.

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.

She did it again… winning the Windows 8 hackathon

Several weeks ago we went to a Windows 8 hackathon with my 10 year old daughter. We had no plan to compete. We just wanted to learn and be part of this fun event. The event started at 9AM on a quiet August Saturday. Most of our friends were at the beach. We were in the Microsoft office in Irvine and the room was almost full.
I will be honest with you, my daughter Ina was bored. She told me her baby brother is having more fun in the park. It still hurts repeating this unreasonable complain. I’m a hackathon fan, a religiously faithful enthusiast and I cannot imagine anything more fun on a Saturday. But I understand it- she didn’t have a project in mind, she was surrounded by adults and everybody was busy writing code.

Here comes the game changer. Quietly Matt Harrington, a Microsoft evangelist from San Francisco, comes to the podium for a small presentation before lunch. He actually mentions the only 10 year old in the room and he wants to show us something cool. Scirra is a tool. It’s software from the UK… that writes Java Script for you. You can make a game without messing with Java Script code! You create objects and give them properties, you add events and behaviors. Simple and easy. Matt announces you can make your own game with this tool in 2h.

That’s all Ina needed.

She did it. Hard work till 8PM and there it was- the Cyclopes game for Windows 8. You control a guy on the screen by moving the arrow keys and you can shoot with the space key. Cyclopes come from all directions and if they touch you, you lose. If you shoot at one of them 3 times you kill it. The point counter works. The game was functional and fun but she was still not convinced she has enough to present and compete. Microsoft was giving a free Xbox game to every participant and that helped. She just wanted the game. It didn’t cross her (or my) mind she may win the big prize. I asked Daniel Egan, the famous Microsoft evangelist from LA, to talk to Ina and give her some courage. He did – he got to Ina faster and easier than I could’ve done in hours. (I wish I can call him for help this week as Ina is running for school president and has to make a speech.)

Ina gets on the stage and first thanks Matt Harrington “Matt’s presentation really inspired me today”.
Everybody in the room voted- picking 5 best apps. Ina made it to the top- a Samsung Windows 8 slate, a $500 gift card and an inspirational memory to keep in her young heart.

The story speaks for itself. I was speechless, proud and happy. Michael Palermo, a Microsoft evangelist from Arizona, tweeted the next day:
@nia_angelina Thank you Nia! Congrats to that phenom daughter of yours for winning the slate and $500 at the hackathon! #win8appdev

Oh well, I’m full of so much appreciation for the precious Microsoft’s evangelists and the hackathon community! You should’ve been there. There are more to come- be there and get inspired!

I have a dream… I want a Microsoft Store Field Trip

It was at the start of the school year when my daughter went to a field trip to the Apple Store. I happened to be one of those lucky parents to accompany the class. I couldn’t help but admire how smart is of Apple to open their doors to the future buying force. It was 10AM when we arrived. The kids were given yellow t-shirts and split in teams of 4-5 kids and the fun began. One Apple store employee was designated to each team- they took videos of the kids doing faces, poses and having fun… on an iPad.
Than the iPad was connected to a Mac and using the Apple software there was a cute little trailer created. The movies were burned into CDs and each child was given a copy of their own team trailer. The kids were ecstatic. Every child wanted an iPad, a Mac and Apple video software. I saw a parent buy right there on the spot a Mac. This is a level 1 dangerous-to-the-rest-parent. I heard Mommy, I really want to make videos. I really need a Mac.

And the Apple store offers these field trips to elementary schools all the time- our school takes the students every year… this is a great cultivating experience. Children embrace technology and they will be soon of age to buy. You have the cool factor working too.

I have a dream… I want a Microsoft Store Field Trip. I want Microsoft to invite elementary school children and spoil them the way Apple does. I will sign up for this field trip, I will take photos and I’ll probably be a level 1 dangerous-to-the-rest-parent :)

P.S. By the way, I’m ashamed to say but I still haven’t visited a Microsoft Store myself. Waiting for the field trip.