Monthly Archives: January 2012

Microsoft supports Imagine Cup 2011 student projects with $75,000 grants

Even though winning the Imagine Cup 2008 worldwide finals was already a life changing experience for me, I only wish something like this had existed back then. No doubts it would have had a big effect on taking ideas to market.

Today at the World Economic Forums in Davos, Microsoft announced the first ever four winning teams of the the Imagine Cup Grants program introduced just last year. The program “is one way Microsoft is helping to create tangible connections between young people and job, career and life opportunities that will help them succeed“.

The student teams: Team Apptenders of Croatia, Team Falcon Dev of Ecuador, Team OaSys of Jordan, and Team Lifelens of United States each received $75,000 in grants as well as a combination of software resources and ongoing assistance to help transform their projects into a startup.

This grants program is very much the replacement for the Innovation Accelerator program which I participated in 2009. The goal of that program was to educate and coach us on the different paths to take the next steps. No doubts the contents of that week was extremely valuable and insightful, but the economic slump of 2009 wasn’t the best timing for investment funding.

Now, Microsoft has said it will commit $3 million over a three year period through this grant which is a mind-blowing opportunity for any aspiring entrepreneurs. Of course with the 2012 worldwide finals to be hosted in Sydney, Australia in a couple months, I can’t help encourage any eligible students to participate.

Razorfish raises the bar for Microsoft-based connected retail experience

The last time I wrote about some of the cool work the creative agency Razorfish were doing on the Microsoft platform – specifically Surface, they were owned by Microsoft. Even though they’ve since been sold by Microsoft, it appears they still have a soft spot for Microsoft platforms.

Yesterday, Razorfish announced a beta version of its Retail Experience Platform codenamed “5D” at the National Retail Federation (NRF) conference in New York. At the heart of its interactive retail experience is a synergy of Windows Embedded, Microsoft Surface, Microsoft Tag, Windows Phone and Kinect for Windows.

The 5D platform connects digital devices such as kiosks, large-screen displays, tablets and personal smart phones to better attract consumers into the store, drive product engagement and arm store associates with more contextualized digital tools.

In the fashion scenario demo above, a user is seen browsing a large-format catalog using the Kinect, transferring the catalog to a phone with a Microsoft Tag, shortlisting the catalog on the Surface and even virtually trying on products with the Kinect. At the same time, a store assistant is able to assist the customer with a tablet application.

Even though many components of the technology has been demonstrated before, this is by far the most polished and fluid applications of such technologies I’ve seen so far. The fact that this is now a shipping product means the “retail future vision” is now that much closer.

“Cicada 3301” cryptographic puzzle game played out on 4chan & reddit: best job hire in disguise?

What does the Caesar Cipher, a picture of a duck, Mayan numbers, King Arthur, 2143909608, 845145127.com, GPS coordinates in Warsaw, Paris, Seattle, Seoul, Arizona, California, New Orleans, Miami, Hawaii and Sydney have in common? They’re all pieces of an online cryptographic puzzle game that began earlier this January.

It all began with a seemingly generic image uploaded to the 4chan community boards with a simple message which reads

Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test.

There is a message hidden in this image.

Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through.

Good luck.

3301

Not before long, groups of people from 4chan and Reddit pooled their collective intelligence with the goal of solving these puzzles which has included secret messages hidden in images, decrypting cypher-text using base-20 Mayan numbers, calling a US-based phone number.

The last major development of the puzzle stems from 14 GPS coordinates. Participating players who visited the locations found a piece of paper taped with an unique QR code. No surprise that these codes led to more cryptographic puzzles which takes the puzzle to the darknet with TOR.

Progress may seem to have come to a halt but that’s because the puzzles have become personal. One participant by the name of “vacant” on a community IRC channel explained the participants have since been asked to solve the puzzles in private, suggesting the end is close for a few lucky ones.

Although no individual or company has yet to claim this ARG (alternate reality game), the complexity of some of these puzzles, including the diversity of locations around the world, suggests this could be backed by a technology company or intelligence agency looking for a few smart hires.

Even Microsoft has dabbled in ARGs with the critically acclaimed “I love bees” campaign for Halo 2 and “Vanishing Point” campaign for Windows Vista which even included a trip to space.

Unfortunately for the winner of the Vanishing Point never had the opportunity to go as the space-travel company appear to have ceased its operations. Hopefully the winner of this ARG gets a much more tangible prize.

Skype hiring both C# and HTML5 devs for Windows 8 Metro app

It looks like if you can’t make your mind up about building a Windows 8 Metro-style application using either C# or HTML5, Skype seems to think you should just hire to build for both and let them fight it out. In either case, Skype seems to be readying a Windows 8 app for launch day.

The two Skype Jobs listings titled “Software Development Engineer – Skype for Windows Metro”(1)(2) are almost identical. They both start off teasing a fantastic opportunity. “The Consumer Engineering team at Skype is looking for passionate, team-oriented and self-motivated developers to help us build Skype client software for new Windows 8 platform.

Although most of the two listings are word-for-word, the difference is in just a few simple keywords. One states,

You will have a chance to build new Skype client software from the ground up using latest Microsoft technologies focusing on C#

And the other,

You will have a chance to build new Skype client software from the ground up using latest Microsoft technologies focusing on JavaScript/HTML5.

Even though I’m quite confident Skype is just diversifying their developer base, I would like to propose an unlikely but humorous scenario where the two teams are kept secret from one another for the duration of the development cycle, only to be forced into a life-or-death rivalry just before the software is launched.

With the reward of “…your work will be used by hundreds millions of thankful users worldwide” on the line, I’m sure both C# and HTML5 developers can put up quite a noble fight. Of course Skype’s Windows Phone developers will be watching with popcorn.

Channel9’s Visual Studio Achievements now available

A couple of years ago I approached Rafael Rivera with an idea – bringing XBOX Live-style achievements to the Windows platform.

There could be achievements for Windows itself – learning keyboard shortcuts like CTRL+SHIFT+ESC for task manager or even BSOD misfortunes. It would have also extended third-party applications to easily integrate achievements for all sorts of scenarios – Photoshop, browsers and Messenger. Regrettably we never pursued it due to lack of resources.

More recently, a post on the developer blog “While True” raised a similar idea, “What if Visual Studio had Achievements?“. This sparked a popular reddit thread which the powers at Microsoft’s developer evangelism group Channel9 saw and decided to put words into action.

Today, the Visual Studio Achievements Beta is launched and the VS2010 extension is finally available for download from the Visual Studio Gallery.

With 32 achievements available today and more to come in the future, there are achievements that reward using Visual Studio features and also specific coding styles, some admittedly unfavorable (ex. “Write a single line of 300 characters long.”) Nevertheless, it’s all in good faith to make programming more fun.

And it works! As a programming novice, I don’t know what half of these achievements meant but it’s definitely encouraging me to explore some of the other features Visual Studio has to offer. Although it lacks the trademark XBOX achievement sound, any novelty badge is better than no badge.

As gamification is proving to be a popular technology trend for online services and communities such as StackOverflow and Foursquare, I’m sure this is only the beginning of the push into everyday software too.

Behind the Microsoft CES 2012 video wall

Like Moore’s law, there should also be a law that determines the rate at which display screens at trade shows grow. For it’s last year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft flaunted a video wall at its booth that stretched a respectable 70 feet (21 meters) long.

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to power such a system, you’re in luck. The folks behind it – Mind Opera, PBJS and Run Studios shared some behind-the-scenes stats along with a nice video of their work for both the exhibition pavilion and the keynote backdrop.

Video Wall in the Microsoft Pavilion

Two Windows 7 server systems running the latest version of WATCHOUT. The main system and backup run 63 – 47″ lcd screens in a 7 channel configuration resulted in a 70 x 5’8″ animated looping wall.

Microsoft Keynote

The 90 minute keynote utilized looping animated backgrounds, scenic background images, and a metro animation that we built to seamlessly tie the visuals together.