Cloudy and Mobile in Las Vegas

Live 360 Las Vegas 2014I most often find time to write while on flights to conferences. And this evening I’m soaring over a thick layer of clouds, watching the sun’s bright orange and red colors fade beneath, while planning the rest of my week. I’m headed to Las Vegas, and while I’m normally not excited to go to Las Vegas, because I really despise everything that makes Las Vegas what it is, this trip I’ve been anxiously awaiting, and here’s why.

Escaping the Cold

I live between Chicago and Milwaukee. For those that aren’t familiar with this area of the USA, Chicago and Milwaukee are approximately 90 minutes apart, and I live right between them. This region is pretty far North, next to Lake Michigan, and usually has a pretty long winter season. This year has been a brutally cold winter, with a fair amount of snow, and when it snows in November, that same snow will be around until the spring time. When I left, the temps were in the upper 30’s and lower 40’s, and the snow was melting down, but it’s not going to be an overnight disappearing act. I’m sure when I get back, there will still be snow. But I’d love to be surprised. As a result, of all of this cold, the mid 70 temps and sunshine in Las Vegas sound really appealing.

Teaching others about My Technology Passions

I get really excited about innovation and technology. Two major innovations that I spend a lot of time deeply involve in are mobile and cloud. These two innovations have and will continue to drive changes in the way we do even the most basic things, like communicating with others, playing games and sharing media. Right now I’m on my way to Live 360 which is a group of conferences all going on simultaneously at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. These conferences include Visual Studio Live and SQL Server Live, and I’m truly honored to have been invited to speak at Visual Studio Live in Las Vegas for the past three years. This year, I’m getting to teach developers about some of the things that are most interesting to me, which include mobile and cloud technologies. My four sessions at Live 360 will be on Tuesday and Wednesday and the details on each session are below.

SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines

The introduction of IaaS and stateful Virtual Machines in Windows Azure has expanded the workloads that fit in Windows Azure. One of the most common workloads is SQL Server. In this session, you will learn how to get started with SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Next, Eric will show you how to architect your SQL Server VMs to be highly available and fault tolerant in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Then you will learn how to optimize and tune the performance of SQL Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Finally, Eric will walk through some tips and things to consider like database migrations, security, management and when to use SQL Server over Windows Azure SQL Database.

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 at 2:30pm – 3:45pm in Celebrity 5

Overview of IaaS in Windows Azure Virtual Machines

Windows Azure is a great cloud platform for scalable, on-demand computing power. However, there are scenarios that are not supported by Windows Azure’s Cloud Service web and worker roles. In this session, we will explore the traditional Windows Azure web and worker compute roles and walk through the common challenges encountered when using these. We will explore the architecture and internals of Windows Azure, and then explore Virtual Machines and the scenarios that are enabled with a statefull OS in the Cloud. We will walk through the lifecycle of installing, configuring and deploying a Virtual Machine to Windows Azure and we’ll consider the tradeoffs and alternatives to using Virtual Machines vs. Cloud Services. Finally, we will take a look at what’s new in Virtual Machines and how to get started.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 9:15am – 10:30am in Celebrity 8

Mobile App Development for the Web Developer Using PhoneGap

Developing mobile apps is very attractive for many reasons, but the cost and time investment to get started is intimidating for most. However, if you are a web developer with HTML, JavaScript and CSS skills, you can repurpose your existing knowledge and tools to create great mobile apps using PhoneGap and Apache Cordova. In this session, you will learn about Apache Cordova/PhoneGap, how it works and how to get started from a Windows PC using Telerik’s Icenium. You will learn how to build native experience mobile apps using HTML5 and how to accelerate your development by utilizing JavaScript libraries like jQuery Mobile, Kendo UI Mobile, Knockout. Throughout this session, Eric will also share some of the lessons he and his team have learned building real-world, production mobile apps using PhoneGap.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 2:45pm – 4:00pm in Celebrity 2

Debugging and Monitoring Windows Azure Cloud Services

Windows Azure Cloud Services is an awesome platform for developers to deliver applications in the cloud without needing to manage virtual machines. However, the abstraction that gives you this simplified deployment and scale, prevents you from attaching a Visual Studio Remote Debugger. Sometimes you need visibility into the execution of your production applications. What if you could replay the real production usage with the exact call sequence and variable values using the Visual Studio Debugger? What if you could collect production metrics that would help you identify performance bottlenecks and slow code?

In this session, Eric Boyd will walk you through debugging and monitoring real-world Windows Azure applications. Eric will show you how to collect diagnostics like Event Logs, Perf Counters, IIS Logs, and even file-based logs from running Windows Azure compute instances. Next, Eric will also show you how to debug your production Windows Azure services using IntelliTrace’s black box recording capabilities. Lastly, you will learn how to collect CLR-level diagnostics and performance metrics without instrumenting your code using tools like AppDynamics and New Relic. If you feel like Windows Azure Cloud Services are a black box when debugging issues and solving performance problems, you will leave this session feeling like Windows Azure is radically more transparent and easier to debug than the applications in your own data center.

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 at 4:30pm – 5:45pm in Celebrity 8

Collaborating with Others

I have always really enjoyed conferences, both as an attendee and over the past several years as a presenter. In addition to learning during sessions and workshops, conversations outside of sessions are extremely valuable. I love to discuss new and old technologies, exciting and painful projects, and the challenges that other developers and presenters are struggling with. There’s so much you can learn from others and their experiences, and it’s as simple as chatting over a meal, cocktails, or in Vegas maybe at a blackjack or craps table. I anticipate many fun, intriguing and inspiring conversations while in Vegas this week. If you see me around and would like to chat, feel free to get my attention and fire up a conversation. This is one of the things I enjoy most about being a consultant, trainer and developer.

I’m also looking forward to collaborating with Lenni Lobel while I’m in Vegas. If you don’t know Lenni, Lenni (http://lennilobel.wordpress.com) is a developer, SQL Server guru and MVP and if you can, you should attend one of his sessions because he’s a great presenter. Lenni is also my co-author on a new Microsoft Press book titled Step-by-Step Windows Azure SQL Database. We are at the end of finishing up this project and it’s expected to hit the shelves (or eBook readers) in June. Right now you can pre-order the title on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Windows-Azure-SQL-Database-Step/dp/0735679428.

There are a number of reasons I’m excited for Live 360 in Las Vegas, warm weather is certainly one of those, smoking cigars with Miguel Castro (http://www.dotnetdude.com) is another, but spending time with other software development practitioners tops the list.

Next Time

If you aren’t attending Live 360 in Las Vegas, but the sessions and conference sound interesting, there are additional opportunities in 2014.

May 5-8, 2014, Visual Studio Live! will be making it’s way to my area of the world in Chicago. You can still register and there’s a great lineup of speakers and sessions coming.
http://vslive.com/events/chicago-2014

November 17-21, 2014, the multi-conference Live 360 conference will be in warm, sunny Orlando, FL. And as the date gets closer, there will be more details at http://live360events.com.

If you are just interested in exploring Cloud, Windows Azure, Mobile Development and PhoneGap further, my company does customized private training events and we’d be happy to explore that with you. To learn more or contact responsiveX, visit http://www.responsiveX.com.

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Storing and Access Data in Windows Azure

If you are currently developing web or mobile apps, you have likely spent a significant amount time planning where and how to store and access your data. You probably want your data to be highly available, scalable, easy to manage and access, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind if it were affordable too.

If you’re considering or interested in using the cloud as a potential solution, I can show you how to easily get started and how to get rewarded for doing so.

eSeminar

CodeGuru.com has put together a number of resources that will help you get started storing and accessing your data in the cloud in no time—and they’ll reward you every step of the way.

I had the privilege of working with CodeGuru to create an eSeminar that walks through using Windows Azure SQL Database. In the eSeminar I walk through how to get started with Windows Azure SQL Database by creating a database, setting up the schema and populating it with data. I then show you how to build an OData service that connects back to your SQL Database. And lastly, I walk you through how to setup a simple website that pulls in data from your SQL Database and displays it in an ASP.NET MVC Web App.
You can watch the eSeminar video here at CodeGuru.

Step-by-Step Articles

If you’d like to follow a written guide, in addition to watching the video, I’ve written the following two articles for CodeGuru detailing the process and steps that I walk through in the eSeminar.

The first article will outline the steps to store your data in Windows Azure.
Click here to read the Storing Data in the Cloud article.

The second will show you how to access your data with an OData service and a simple ASP.NET MVC web site.
Click here to read the Accessing Cloud Data using an OData Web Service article.

Activities and Prizes

Upon completion of this tutorial (and successfully storing and accessing your data in the cloud) you will have completed Activity 1 and 2 and you are eligible to pick up some pretty cool prizes.
See Activity 2 and the prizes you can win here.

In Activity 3 you will be taking your new knowledge of the cloud and data services to build a database in Windows Azure along with an OData service and a website to display your data. You will be following the same guidelines you learned in Activity 1 and Activity 2, only this time YOU will be create creative and unique data set. After you have completed Activity 3 you will be entered to win one of several gift cards.
See Activity 3 and the prizes you can win here.

Now it’s time to do something big—bring your new skills together and find out how useful the cloud can really be! In Activity 4 you will be creating your own project that uses Windows Azure to store data, utilizes a service to pull that data down and then displays that data in an app. The project can be anything you like but you need to make it useful—more than just storing data; find a way to actually use the data! Upon completion of the 4th and final Activity you will be entered to win one of two Windows 8 Tablets!
See Activity 4 and the prizes you can win here.

After you have finished these activities you will understand how to easily and effectively store your data in the cloud and with any luck you’ll have some sweet prizes to go along with your new knowledge.

Along with the prizes mentioned above, everyone who completes an Activity will have access to use CodeGuru badges showing off their new Cloud knowledge and skills.
You can review all of the awesome prizes here.

Roundtable Discussion

Still not convinced that the cloud and Windows Azure is the right fit for your applications? Check out the following Video Roundtable where other cloud experts and myself discuss advantages to using Windows Azure and discover if the cloud is right for you.
Check out the Video Roundtable here.

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The Self-Inflicted Death aka Suicide of the USPS

United States Postal Service - USPSI heard on the morning news that the United States Post Office is struggling financially. I know what you’re thinking, this isn’t breaking news, it’s been a topic of conversation for years. The core problem is the USPS operates like a government agency and thinks about itself like a social service that’s tax funded instead of competing to win with its private sector competitors. It doesn’t innovate and satisfy customer needs, it just repeatedly increases prices, much like a tax. They are expecting a 40% drop in first-class mail by 2020. But people aren’t communicating and delivering things less, quite the opposite, we have significantly more communication than ever before, we have significantly more deliveries than ever before. But the post office can’t stop thinking of itself as the government agency that sells the stamp.

There are a number of value-add services that I’d pay the USPS additionally to provide. And they wouldn’t be a huge stretch for them to offer. They might even save them lots of money in operational cost.

Post Office Boxes

As a PO Box customer, there are lots of things I’d like to have differently. I don’t like to check my PO Box and find nothing there. I also don’t like to delay checking only to find tons of mail filling it up.

Notifications
I would love to get email or text notifications when mail arrives in my PO Box. The system isn’t terribly complex, all of the mail is bar-coded and scanned anyway, just tie in a notification system to that. Supposedly this service exists and is called “Real Mail Notification Service” (http://about.usps.com/news/state-releases/fl/2012/fl_2012_0208.htm), but I can’t find any mention of it on USPS.gov and can’t find anyway to sign up. But I’d pay more for this service.

Forwarding
I’d also like PO Box mail to get forwarded to my physical address. The USPS offers a mail forwarding service, but for some reason this service isn’t offered for PO Boxes. I’d pay additionally for this service too. https://www.usps.com/manage/forward-mail.htm

Mail Delivery

Packaging Services
Whenever I do have to ship something, it would be nice if I could leave it for the post office to pickup at my home or office with delivery instructions, and I’d like for the USPS to package it up for me, ship it and handle it turnkey. I don’t want to go to the post office so I can get an envelop or box, and then wait in line to ship it.

Opt-Out Junk Mail
I’d also pay a monthly subscription fee if the Post Office would eliminate all of the junk mail that I receive. Please stop filling up my mailbox with ads, coupons, etc.

Electronic Mail (not Email)
I would actually like to never receive another piece of paper mail, junk or otherwise. If the USPS would open all of my mail, scan it, send me a notification and let check my mail from a web or mobile app that would be ideal. There are private sector startups in the space like Earth Class Mail (https://www.earthclassmail.com/), but it’s an opportunity for the USPS to innovate.

Other Services

Bill Payment
I’m terrible with paper mail, and often times I don’t even open paper mail that comes to my home. So if there’s a check for a refund or over payment or something like that,  I might never see it. Mail often gets stacked or discarded. This also applies to bill payments for me, if there isn’t an automatic debit or online payment option for a bill and I have to mail a check, oh geez, good luck. Along with providing my mail electronically, it would be nice if the post office would just mail payments on my behalf. Open my mail, if it’s a bill, let me pay it online and send the check. I know banks offer these kinds of bill pay services too, but it would also be possible for the USPS to get into this game.

There are likely other services the USPS could provide, maybe secure, delivery confirmation, electronic messaging services that could be offered in a SaaS based way for companies to incorporate into their applications instead of building these services them selves. They could offer email marketing services too and compete with the Constant Contact and ExactTarget’s of the world.

Innovate or Die

At the end of the day, there is likely lots of innovation the post office could offer around messaging, mail, deliveries and notifications, but they have to think like a business and not a government agency that is entitled to exist.

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My Windows Azure Data Services Session at WPC 2013

This afternoon, I have the privilege of joining Scott Klein and Joanne Marone on stage at the 2013 Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. If you are wanting to learn more about key Windows Azure scenarios that we see with our customers and how Windows Azure Data Services help you drive more opportunities in these key scenarios, you will not want to miss this interactive session. You will have the chance to get involved, ask questions and get involved in this interactive session. The when, where and what for this session is below.

Drive Opportunities with Windows Azure Data Services

When: Monday, July 8th @ 4:30 PM
Session Code: SC27i
Room: GRBCC: 372 A

Create new business opportunities with Windows Azure, which enables partners to mix-and-match cloud-based data management services to reimagine application design and IT solutions. In this session, you will be exposed to a variety of real-world scenarios that can be used to solve today’s real-world challenges and, based on Microsoft experience, you’ll see where the hidden revenue potential lies.

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Keynote and Great Talks Tomorrow at GR DevDay

If you’re not from the Midwest and haven’t been to GR DevDay, you’re missing out. GR DevDay is a great one-day software development conference in the Midwest with quite a range of great sessions and content. Right now I’m riding on an Amtrak train, sipping a massive latte, and headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where tomorrow morning I’ll be keynoting and kicking off GR DevDay. I am really excited to be kicking off GR DevDay tomorrow and am excited to share my observations of the rapidly moving tech industry, some lessons from my experiences, and some actionable items that I hope will contribute to career and personal growth.

Transportation Sidebar
For those of you that are wondering why I’m riding an Amtrak train and not driving or flying to Grand Rapids, you likely haven’t experienced Amtrak. I love Amtrak. Now if I needed to go a long distance, like to one of the coasts, or even far south, Amtrak wouldn’t be my first choice. But a four hour Amtrak train ride is great! With Amtrak you can arrive minutes before your train leaves, instead of the 90 minutes that airlines suggest. There are a couple of power plugs at each seat for your laptops and phone chargers. However, in the car I’m currently in, the power plugs are not behaving. The Amtrak trains are rarely packed full like most of the flights I’ve taken recently. For example, the train car that I’m in has 4 people for 12 seats, and yes I have an entire row to myself. Compared to an airline, the comfort of the seats are significantly better. They have good cushions, are wide, probably wider than business class seats on your favorite airline, and I have the legroom of the back seat of a Maybach or Rolls Royce Phantom. The Amtrak is a lot more conducive to getting stuff done than a flight and doesn’t take much more time than driving, which is why I like taking the Amtrak to Michigan. My four year old would be jealous right now.

Interesting Sessions at GR DevDay
Now lets get the post back on track and direct our attention back to GR DevDay! I present at a lot of conferences, but I rarely attend sessions when I’m at a conference. Generally, that’s because I’m familiar with the material being presented, however the lineup of sessions and presenters at GR DevDay has captured my attention and I plan to attend some sessions tomorrow.

I’m not suggesting these are the best sessions at GR DevDay or that these are the sessions that you should check out, but these are the sessions that look interesting to me.

Heather Buchel‘s session on SASS and Compass titled “Better, Cleaner, Front End Development with SASS and Compass” sounds quite interesting to me. If you are doing a lot of work like I do with massive and unruly web applications, this session resonates with you too.

I’m guessing I’m not alone when I say I’m familiar with Git, I’ve used Git, but I typically use centralized version control systems like Team Foundation Server and other solutions like Subversion or SourceGear Vault. However, the buzz around Git is very intriging to me, which is why Dave Brondsema‘s session on more advanced Git features titled “Git – beyond push and pull” is interesting to me.

Much like Git, all the cool kids are doing server-side JavaScript using Node.js. Jay Harris is presenting how to create and distribute Node packages, in a session titled “Make Node.js Package. Become Famous.” I don’t much care about fame, but the Make Node.js Package part is kind of interesting.

It seems like I spend just as much time helping customers create great user experiences as I do helping them solve their deep technical challenges. As a result, Eric McKee session title “The Science & Art of UX”, as well as, Matt Fletcher’s talk titled “Visualization is for everyone” is quite interesting.

And since I’m planning to spend some time hanging out with all the cool kids, I’ll probably check out Brandon Keepers session on how they use Ruby at GitHub, which is appropriately named “Ruby at GitHub”.

Now there are a lot of other great sessions and speakers at GR DevDay. There are sessions on things like Windows Azure, SignalR and JavaScript, but I already know a little about these things. And there are sessions from some friends and great presenters like David Giard, Jennifer Marsman, Michael Perry and many others that I’m sure will be awesome. This is what makes a great conference like GR DevDay challenging for attendees, the menu is difficult to pick from, because there’s so much awesome going on! Thanks for all of the sponsors and organizers who make this possible, and thanks to Chris “Woody” Woodruff and J Tower for inviting me!

If you are registered for GR DevDay, I’m excited to spend the day with you tomorrow. If you are not registered, unfortunately, GR DevDay is sold out. It sells out quick, however, this is a conference you don’t want to miss, so be sure to follow @GRDevDay on twitter to stay in the loop for next year.

I just crossed the Michigan border! Hello Michigan! See you soon Grand Rapids!

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I Lost My iPhone 5 in Chicago! Thank you Apple iCloud!

If you were to gather a random group of consumers in a room, provided they don’t work in tech, and asked each of them to define the Cloud in 30 seconds or less, I’d bet money that you’d get a very diverse range of responses. You’d hear things like email is the Cloud, the internet is the Cloud, I store files in the Cloud, I make phone calls using the Cloud, I stream music from the Cloud, and on and on. Actually, now that I think about it, I’d also bet the same would be true if you gathered a random group of technology professionals. The Cloud is a little confusing, and tech companies don’t simplify it with their vague and misleading marketing trying to capitalize on hype and buzz.

Apple does an incredible job consumerizing technology. They simplify technology and provide great experiences that consumers can consume. Consider what they did for the smartphone with the introduction of the iPhone. And then the tablet with the iPad. They didn’t create a brand new technology, they just made it consumable for the masses. I remember seeing TV commercials when I was a kid that ended with the tagline, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better”. For me, Apple is the DuPont of the technology world. Apple doesn’t blaze the trail innovating bleeding-edge technologies, they just make them better and very usable for the masses. The Cloud is another great example of this. I would bet that random group of consumers that I mentioned earlier would provide a range of diverse responses defining what the Cloud is, but I’d also bet they have a common thread, and that would be the mention of Apple iCloud.

Where’s Microsoft?

Now you may be wondering why I’m talking about Apple, the iPhone and iCloud here. You might be thinking something like, aren’t you a Microsoft guy and a Microsoft MVP? Shouldn’t you be talking about Windows Phone and Microsoft’s Cloud? Shouldn’t you be talking about services like SkyDrive, Office 365 and Windows Azure? And those are great questions and thoughts.

While I’m a big fan of Microsoft products and services, and lovingly use them daily, including Windows Azure, SkyDrive, Office 365, Windows 8 and many more. I don’t use the Windows Phone daily. Now in full disclosure, I have a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone. The Lumia used to be my daily phone. Before that I had a Samsung Focus. The Focus used to be my daily phone. I was one of those guys who had a spot in the front of the line on launch day, and at the top of the pre-order list to ensure I had one as soon as they were available. And I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the Windows Phone, I think Microsoft did a great job creating a phone that I love to use, but there are practical reasons why I use an iPhone every day and not a Windows Phone. I’ll save that controversy for another day and another post. But if it rights and wrongs, I am writing this post in-flight on my way to Microsoft’s Global MVP Summit in Bellevue, WA using Word 2013, in Windows 8 on my Microsoft Surface RT. I even had a great conversation with one of the flight attendants about Windows 8 and Surface. The Surface is a great device to use on flights with the constraints of tiny tray tables, especially considering my other machine is a massive Lenovo W520, but my W520 is a work horse.

The Incident, Disaster or Whatever You Want To Call It

So having said all of that, this past Thursday, I lost my iPhone in Chicago. I didn’t loose it in the sense that I didn’t know where I left it, I just unfortunately left it on a Chicago Metra train. So the location of where I left it, was sort of a moving target, similar to the goal line of most technology projects. I realized about 10 minutes after I got off the train in downtown Chicago, that I didn’t have my phone, and quickly realized I left it on the seat of the Metra train. I hurriedly went back to the tracks of the Ogilvie train station where they informed me that the train I just got off of has already left, loaded with new passengers on a new journey. They reassured me that it would be back in a few hours, as if that made me feel any better. You have likely misplaced and lost something, and no matter what it is, or what the value of the item is, you know that feeling you get when you lose something. I don’t think it’s so much the act of losing something that creates that feeling, but more likely the thought of someone else taking and keeping whatever it is that you lost, the violation of it and the hassle of replacing it.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Chicago and specifically to the Ogilvie and Union train stations, you know that Chicago transit is not a small thing. In fact it’s a massive operation, with lots of folks managing and coordinating the movement of many, many trains. In Ogilvie alone, there are 15 tracks, with trains going in all directions. So at this point, I’m not panicing, but I’m a little worried and here’s why. I wasn’t really concerned with losing the phone, but I was a little concerned with data on my phone getting into the wrong hands. Yeah, it still sucks to lose a $650 device, but at the end of the day, it’s replaceable. The data and access that could be obtained from any of my mobile devices, would be a nightmare to deal with.

I have enabled the PIN lock and secured my phones for a few years now. I started enabling security on my mobile devices after someone stole my backpack full of multiple laptops, mobile devices and gadgets, from the backseat of my car, by busting out a window in the parking garage at Chicago’s Soldier Field. But you know how it is when years pass and you get over an incident like that. You start to get comfortable, complacent and ignore the lessons learned. Well that’s how I had gotten with my phone. The convenience of not having a PIN lock was nice, and since purchasing an iPhone 5 in October, I have left it unlocked and unsecured.

So my first mission was to determine what, if anything, I could do to secure my iPhone. Once I got to the location of my 8am meeting, I immediately pulled out my Surface, connected to Wi-Fi, and went to www.iCloud.com. I logged in and found some really comforting features.

First, I was able to put my phone into Lost Mode, which allowed me to setup a PIN for my phone and lock it remotely, which I did immediately. At this point, I was much less concerned with my phone just being wide open and accessible to whomever picked it up.

Second, I was able to create a custom message to display on the lock screen of my phone, which started friendly and polite. But as I was creating it, I could already envision this message getting less friendly and polite as time passed, and with my phone not being on the train car where I left it. With the message, you get to provide a phone number for the person who finds your phone to call. And from the lock screen, the only thing they can do is click a Call button that will call the number provided.

So with my phone now locked, and a custom message and callback number on the lock screen, I started to track the movement of my phone. As the morning became the afternoon, I had watched my phone travel all over the Chicago area, but it still seemed to be on the train, since all of the movements were on the train tracks. Right before 1pm, I noticed the train had arrived back at the downtown Chicago Metra station and my phone was sitting still on the tracks. The precision of the location was so great, even underground in the train station, I could even tell which track the train was on. Now on my ride into the city, I had used my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot with no regard to battery life, knowing that as soon as I got to my destination, I would be able to plug in and recharge. So when I got to the city, about half of my battery had already been consumed. As you can imagine, I didn’t expect to leave it on the train. Another really nice feature of iCloud Lost Mode is that you can see the remaining battery life on your device. The Lost Mode feature that continuously reports status and location seems to rapidly consume the battery, and at this point my remaining battery life was at 1%. I knew that if I was going to have a chance of recovering my phone, this was the moment, Carpe Diem. So I called the Metra lost and found folks at Ogilvie, explained the situation, and asked if they could go check the train to see if my phone was still there. And in a matter of minutes, I saw my phone was moving and stopped at the Ogilvie ticketing window. And shortly thereafter, the callback number received a call from my iPhone, and it was safe and sound.

Now those of you who are software developers, and especially those of you building mobile apps and complex messaging services realize that what is occurring under the covers isn’t really rocket science. But Apple delivered a very useful and delightful experience with the Cloud. They made is possible for me to communicate with my mobile device miles away, enable and configure security, and provide some instructions for the person who found it. They also enabled me to put my device into a state that reported its current location and kept track of the history. And my phone also made me aware of its remaining battery life, which in this scenario was very useful input that guided my decisions and the actions that I took to recover it. And all of this was enabled by the Cloud, via messaging technologies and location-based services.

Three Takeaways

Now I tell you this story of my mistakes and errors to help be most effective without having to go through the challenges and pain that would cause you to learn these lessons the hard way. And with that, I want to leave you with the following three takeaways.

One, as you create applications, find ways to delight your customers with amazing user experiences using readily available technologies. This will go a long way to boost customer satisfaction, loyalty and will create raving fans that blog about their awesome experiences and influence those they know towards your product or service.

Two, consider how the Cloud can enable new user experiences that haven’t been readily available to companies of all shapes and sizes. Things like messaging, continuous experiences across devices and platforms, file storage, collaboration, single-sign on, scalability for application performance and geographic reach, and even offloading intensive compute operations.

Three, SECURE YOUR MOBILE DEVICES. Don’t wait to learn the hard way like I’ve done.

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Rock, Paper, Azure at Chicago .NET UG was a BLAST!

I want to start by thanking everyone who came out last night and attended the Chicago Cloud User Group and the Chicago .NET Users Group. The attendance was great and the room was packed! I also want to thank Microsoft for providing the space and the local Microsoft DPE guys (Dave Bost) that stayed late to give us access to the facility. Lastly, I want to thank last night’s sponsor, Avanade. The great companies who sponsor events like this make it possible for us to enjoy great food and drinks, and last night’s pizza was great!

Adam Hoffman (stratospher.es) and I really enjoyed presenting Rock, Paper, Azure last night. This is an exciting topic because it’s a lot of fun, while making use of really cool, emerging technology, like the Microsoft Cloud, Windows Azure. Like I mentioned last night, as a Windows Azure MVP and as someone who runs a consultancy (responsiveX) that works with really cool customers building web, mobile and traditional client applications on Windows Azure, I’m a big fan of Windows Azure.

WIN BIG
The Rock, Paper, Azure, Re-launch Your Coding Strategy contest is going on until January 25th. This means you have two more opportunities to be one of the lucky $50 BestBuy gift card winners and you have two weeks to get into the Top 10 to win a Surface, XBOX 360 or $150 BestBuy gift card. Get a bot into the contest by tomorrow, Friday, January 18th at 1pm CT and you will have a chance to be one of the five (5) randomly selected winners to receive a $50 BestBuy gift card. It doesn’t have to be a great, winning bot either, you just need to have a bot in the contest. You will get another shot at another $50 BestBuy gift card on Friday, January 25th at 1pm CT. Make a competitive, intelligent bot that gets into the Top 10, and you will have a shot at the Surface, XBOX 360 and a $150 BestBuy gift card.

To get started with Rock, Paper, Azure, you will need to do the following:

  1. Setup a Windows Azure Subscription. You can get a FREE 90 Day Trial at http://aka.ms/Azure90DayTrial
  2. Download the Windows Azure SDK and Tools at http://aka.ms/AzureSDK
  3. Download the Rock, Paper, Azure code at http://www.rockpaperazure.com/getstarted.aspx
  4. Upload BotLab to your Windows Azure service, browse to it, and set your password
  5. Create a profile on the Rock, Paper, Azure site at http://www.rockpaperazure.com
  6. Code your Bot
  7. Upload your Bot to your BotLab
  8. Submit your Bot to the contest

HAVE FUN
Along with the chance to win some great prizes, this contest is a lot of fun. It’s fun to try to create logic that anticipates your opponent’s next move and then beats him or her to the punch. That is the strategy of building a winning bot. If you have a few minutes to watch a couple of videos from YouTube, these are a couple of great examples of this strategy.


Once you get your bot into the competition, the next step is to tweak your logic to get into the Top 10 or maybe to the top, if you view second place as the first loser. In 1999, Darse Billings organized The First International RoShamBo Programming Competition. In this competition, Dan Egnor created a bot that crushed the competition based on the strategy of anticipating your opponents’ next move and staying a step ahead. He called his algorithm and strategy IoCaine Powder, based on the scene above from “The Princess Bride”. You can learn more about his strategy and download source code for IoCaine Powder to help you get started at http://ofb.net/~egnor/iocaine.html. IoCaine Power is a great way to learn about and consider more complex strategies.

DISCLAIMER
DUE TO THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF ROCK, PAPER, AZURE, AND THE HUMAN NATURE THAT DRIVES US TO WIN, ROCK, PAPER, AZURE CAN BE VERY ADDICTIVE AND YOU MIGHT SPEND LOTS OF LATE NIGHTS BUILDING ROCK, PAPER, AZURE BOTS.

One of the things that I failed to suggest last night was to use source control. I discovered the hard way, early on in the contest, that source control is extremely valuable. Imagine having a bot that is performing OK in the contest, and in an attempt to make it better, you make some changes that cause your bot’s ranking to fall like a rock. And then you can’t remember exactly what you changed to get back to your previous bot. This is where source control comes in really handy. If you don’t have a good source control solution available to you, you can check out Team Foundation Service at http://tfs.visualstudio.com and signup for a free account.

If you would like the presentation from last night, you can get it here.

If you are really good, you might be able to build a bot that can’t be beaten like this one.

Good luck with the contest and I hope you WIN BIG!

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NORAD Tracks Santa with Windows Azure, Bing Maps and Windows 8

It’s Christmas Eve and children around the world are anxiously waiting for Santa Claus to slide down their chimney’s with presents from the North Pole. Since a Sears advertisement misprint in 1955, children have tracked Santa’s current location and progress around the world by contacting NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). For more information and the history of NORAD Tracks Santa, check out the NORAD Tracks Santa Wikipedia article.

This year, NORAD is powering their Santa tracking operation with Microsoft’s Cloud Platform, Windows Azure. As a Windows Azure MVP and running a consultancy (responsiveX) that helps customers build applications with Windows Azure, it is fun when the technology makes it into our non-tech, home lives like this. The massively scalable Windows Azure cloud makes it possible for millions of children around the world to track Santa on Christmas Eve using the web site and the many mobile applications. As you can imagine, the NORAD Santa Tracker has lots of usage on Christmas Eve when millions of children are tracking Santa’s location, but very little usage the other 364 days in the year. Before the Cloud and Windows Azure, handling this kind of spike and load was very costly and difficult to manage. Now with Windows Azure, NORAD and Microsoft can scale this up on-demand, pay only pennies per hour for each server they use, and then scale it back down once Santa is back in the North Pole on Christmas Day. Along with the use of Windows Azure, the NORAD Santa tracker uses Bing Maps, and you can download native Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps from the Windows Store’s. If you are using an iPhone or Android, you can download iOS and Android apps too. Windows Azure not only scales up and down to handle massive numbers of simultaneous users, but it is also a Cloud platform that makes it easy to scale across many platforms and devices, like Windows, iOS and Android.

Check out the NORAD Tracks Santa web site at http://www.noradsanta.org.

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Join me tomorrow on Channel 9 at Windows Azure Conf

Tomorrow, November 14, 2012, Microsoft will be hosting Windows Azure Conf, a free event for the Windows Azure community. This event will feature a keynote presentation by Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Scott Guthrie, along with numerous sessions from Windows Azure experts.

Windows AzureConf will be streamed live on Channel 9. This event will allow you to see how other developers are using Windows Azure to develop applications in the Cloud. Community members and industry experts from all over the world will join Scott in the Channel 9 studios to present their own inventions and experiences developing apps on Windows Azure.

At Windows Azure Conf, I will presenting the following two sessions:

Building Cross-Platform Media Apps using Windows Azure Media Services
Applications with rich video and audio are increasing popular, but preparing and delivering this media to consumers has historically required lots of costly infrastructure and setup. Windows Azure Media Services enables you to outsource your media management to the cloud to let you focus on developing your applications instead of this costly infrastructure. In this session, Eric will walk through building a cross-platform HTML5 media application for the web, Windows 8 and other devices you may use day-to-day.

Solving Security and Compliance Challenges with Hybrid Clouds
When considering public clouds, many industries and companies have concerns about security, intellectual property and regulatory compliance challenges. The good news is a hybrid cloud can often solve these challenges. In this session, Eric D. Boyd will teach you how to use Windows Azure and still protect sensitive information and achieve regulatory and compliance mandates, like PCI compliance, by combining on-premise data centers and private clouds with the Windows Azure public cloud. There are a number of ways to achieve this using messaging and networking technologies and during this presentation Eric will walk through the options and provide you with guidance on when to choose each.

Whether you’re just learning Windows Azure or you’ve already achieved success on the platform, you won’t want to miss this special event.

Register and Join Windows Azure Conf
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
10:30am-7:00pm CST
http://www.windowsazureconf.net

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One Day of VS 2012 & Windows 8 with .NET Rocks!

Get ready to dive in and immerse yourself deep in Visual Studio 2012 and Windows 8! .NET Rocks is traveling across the country teaching developers how to use Microsoft’s new development tools and will be in Palatine, Illinois, tomorrow, September 29th. Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell are the heart and soul of .NET Rocks and they are traveling across the country stopping in major cities hosting events on Visual Studio 2012 and Windows 8. Tomorrow’s event has several great speakers lined up and will be a one track event focused on Visual Studio 2012 and Windows 8. For more information about the speakers, session and registration, check out http://oneday.thatconference.com.

As Carl and Richard travel across the country, they are staying in their RV for the duration of their road trip. Surprisingly, this is the second time they’ve done this! Two years ago they hopped in a different RV and made their way across the country holding live .NET Rocks events. And with the release of Visual Studio 2012 and Windows 8, they decided it was time to hit the road again.

Tomorrow’s event is completely free and will include lunch. Registration begins at 8:30 AM and presentations start at 9:00 AM. The day will conclude between 5:30-6:00 PM with questions and giveaways. Following the event, everyone is invited to join the speakers at the Ram Restaurant and Brewery in Schaumburg, Illinois to continue conversations about development, tech and whatever else becomes a hot topic.

When:
09/29/12
8:30 AM to 6:00 PM

Where:
Harper College
Wojcik Conference Center
1200 West Algonquin Road
Palatine, IL 60067

For more information and registration, check out http://oneday.thatconference.com.

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