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Preview: Dr. Neil's Notes

Dr. Neil's Notes

Tales and thoughts from the life of Dr. Neil.

Updated: 2016-05-24T15:39:59.008+10:00


App Development Success


Last night I made a guest appearance on the AppBizDev podcast to talk about some of the work I have been doing to help developers around the world build better software.
It has been a while since I have talked about the work I am doing and it was a lot of fun.
We discussed the way developers can do improve the applications they are delivering as well as improve their business model around the apps they have already delivered.
We also discussed some of the other work I am doing and the great work that nsquared has been shipping in the last few years.
Of course we talked about digitables and shared screen experiences.

Listen to the podcast here 

My question to Satya Nadella at Build


While I cannot be in San Francisco at the Microsoft Build conference this week, I still managed to virtually attend and ask Satya a question in the keynote.

My question was 'what is the vision for Microsoft?', I mentioned that when I started working with Microsoft over 20 years ago the vision was the bold ambition to put a computer on every desk. I was hoping for an equally bold vision statement from the new CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella.

Saya's answer was good, in that I believe it is true. Microsoft is targeted on becoming a significant player in the 'mobile and cloud first' world of technology. However I would say that Microsoft has in many ways already achieved this and is not reaching high enough with this vision. A company like Microsoft has the potential to deliver world changing technology. Technology that fundamentally can shift the way people interact.
Am I satisfied with Satya's answer?
Yes, to the extent that it indicates that Microsoft wants to position itself safely in the space where every large technology business wants to be. It is a low risk answer, which I am sure is considered well by the stock market and shareholders.
At the same time I really wish we could see a company like Microsoft take on the challenge of a far greater aspiration. Very few companies in the world have the ability to achieve the big high risk goals that the world needs in order to move forward and see as much change in the next 30 years as we have seen in the last 30 years. I hope Microsoft can shift it's thinking to pick a bigger goal in the next few years.

MVP Award


I was excited this morning to receive an email notifying me that I had been re-awarded as a Kinect for Windows Microsoft MVP.
I love the fact that Microsoft appreciates the work that people like myself do to help others use and understand the technology.
I am looking forward to many more years of relationship building with Microsoft and developers around the world.

Second Gen Kinect for Windows


Fellow Kinect for Windows MVP,  Tom Kerkhove, has written up a really great blog post on the second generation Kinect for Windows device.
While a few of us have had access to this device and the development kit for a few months now, it is still a preproduction solution so things might change.
It is clearly a big step forward for the device and the capabilities of the new device will bring the reality of vision based technology into more peoples lives.

Face Tracking with Kinect for Windows


The Kinect for Windows development team in Redmond have just posted an excellent article on Face Tracking, along with a bunch of code samples for managed code developers.

MSDN has had an article on Face Tracking for a while now. The code is all native C++, which possibly makes it appear a bit harder than many developers would like.

Providing another managed code introduction can only be a good thing to help .NET developers get started with building a face tracking application with Kinect for Windows.

Just to be clear this is about face tracking and not face recognition.
Face tracking will enable an application to identify the direction a head is facing and match some facial expressions, such as happy (turned up mouth) or sad (lips turned downwards).

Read the article here
Mysteries of Kinect for Windows Face Tracking output explained

Leading Difficult Conversations


We all need to have conversations, every so often, that can make us feel uncomfortable. Yet without these conversations it is hard to maintain interactions with colleagues and business partners.
Learning how to have these difficult conversations is a skill.
A good friend, Lydia Kan, is leading a workshop in Brisbane, QLD in a couple of weeks to help you understand better how to approach these conversations.
If you have the time and are in Brisbane I recommend you attend Lydia's workshop.

Find out more and sign up here

Kinect for Windows expands its developer preview program


The new Kinect for Windows 2 device that I received as part of the alpha kit last month is a big step forward form the previous Kinect for Windows device. The resolution is far better and the opportunity for multiple user applications seems to be better. My favourite feature is the possibly the lest expected, the fact that the device has a standard thread for mounting on a tripod.
Kinect for Windows 2 device

The Kinect team is now expanding the availability of these device in the new year and accepting submissions from developers interested in trialling the new device.
The announcement is on the Kinect for Windows team blog here

If you are interested you will need to get your submission in before the end of January 2014.

Tablet PC to Surface


If you know me then you know I have been a fan of the Tablet computing form factor for over 10 years. I started working with tablets in in 2001 and have built software for these devices for over 12 years.I wrote a book to help developers to get started building software for the Tablet PC in 2002. It received a lot of attention in the little community of tablet PC enthusiasts that existed at the time and I ended up working with the Tablet PC team in Redmond for a few years.This is the first convertible Tablet PC I owned, the Acer C100. It was a great little device and I wrote Getting Started with Tablet PC Development on this device. I also wrote most of eXtreme .NET using this Tablet.Once I started working with the Tablet PC team at Microsoft I was able to get my hands on the Toshiba M200, pictured below. This was a amazing convertible table for its time and provided the main platform for my work with Tablet PCs for the first few months of my work.I then discovered the joy of a pure slate tablet. The Sahara tablet from TabletKiosk that I next acquired was my primary mobile device for a couple of years. I still have it on my desk in my home office and it works great. It was a beautiful writing experience in a form factor that just made a lot of sense. The screen is approximately US letter (or A4) sized and applications such as OneNote are an absolute joy to use with the rich inking capability of the active stylus.Then the hiatus began, In 2006 I got involved in other projects that required some different thinking, and while my heart was still longing for an amazing tablet experience, the hardware didn't keep up with what I needed to achieve on a tablet. My trusty Sahara kept going and I did get a Toshiba M400 that I used for a while. I found the combination of smartphone and laptop was doing enough for me. Smartphones had got smarter and acted as better mobile devices than a tablet and the laptop was my machine for getting 'real' work done.Then in 2010 Apple unveiled the iPad, I saw the potential but was disappointed by the lack of stylus support.I still bought one and started filling in the gaps for some of the missing functionality I wanted.The iPad is still really a companion device. It is not my full-time work device. Yet is is clearly possible for a tablet to be your full time work device. The new Sahara Tablet PC from TabletKiosk is an amazingly powerful PC, supporting touch and active stylus. This is more than powerful enough to do everything you can do on PC and work as a tablet. The screen is a decent size and it supports an external monitor for when you are at your desk.I am sure you a now thinking about the new Surface product from Microsoft.I bought the first generation Surface Pro device and found it painful to use, the screen is just a bit too small. I love the active stylus support but find that while Windows 8 has had the shell redesigned for touch I still need to spend a lot of time in Outlook, Excel and Word and these applications on the desktop are far from touch optimized. I am also not a fan of the keyboard.In my opinion if a tablet requires a keyboard to make it useful it is not in fact a tablet at all, but some type of laptop.Saying all that, I purchased a Surface 2 device earlier this week and have been using it for the last few days while attending meetings. It is light and much faster than the Surface RT. I also got a keyboard for the Surface 2, but I have thrown it away. I want a tablet, not a laptop. The keyboard experience is useless, and if I wanted to use a keyboard I would take a laptop to the meeting.One of the main differences of using a tablet in a meeting vs. a laptop is the fact I can lay it down flat on the table. It then doesn't act as a physical barrier between me and my colleagues in the meeting. A slate laid down flat on the table will change the social dynamics of the meeting. It is cle[...]

HANSELMINUTES - discussing vision based computing


Last month I had a conversation with Scott Hanselman about vision based computing. This conversation is now available for your listening pleasure here.


Developing for the Kinect


In November I sat with Carl Franklin and explored some code to help you get started with Kinect development. Carl has broadcast this on DNRTV.
You can view it here

Talk on Seamless computing


This video was taken recently at a talk I gave, at a WiseTech Forum, on how we can build futuristic technologies today.

Creating Seamless Experiences, MSDN UK


I met with the MSDN UK team recently to discuss the work we have been doing to create seamless computing experiences. Sara Allison has posted on the UK MSDN team blog about some of the topics we discussed.

This is the original video that has triggered this conversation.

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Seamless Computing, bring the future to life.


I am heading back to Sydney in a few days and some friends at WiseTech have asked me to come and spend an hour at UTS talking about Seamless Computing scenarios.
the details can be found here
Hope to see you there.

In this session Dr. Neil Roodyn ( will discuss how scenarios, that a few years ago would have been science fiction, are now becoming achievable with the technology we use every day. Taking some small leaps and pulling together technology from different platforms, enables us and our clients to now achieve tasks that would have seemed to be magical a mere 5 years ago.

In this session you will learn how some key technologies are likely to become the core components of experiences that seamlessly connect devices, people and software together.

Hardly any agile left in Agile


This is something has been nagging at my mind in the last couple of years. When I started getting interested in eXtreme Programming in 1998 it represented a step up from some of things I was already doing with software development teams. We were using techniques best classified as Rapid Application Development. First eXtreme Programming and then the Agile manifesto represented lightweight methods to get software shipped.
There are two important parts of that last statement:
1. lightweight methods
2. software shipped

The concept of doing the simplest thing to achieve a goal, is an important part of eXtreme Programming. Traveling light (or not carrying baggage from previous experiences) is an important part of being agile. One of the aspects of agile that I always found attractive was the objective of enabling the development team to deal with change in short time frames.
While it may not be fully apparent, from the behaviour of many software development teams, the objective of developing software is to ship a product, a finished piece of working software. This desire to find better ways to get software shipped is clearly not something everyone in the industry shares. that is why we have collections of rules that appear to do nothing than keep people in jobs. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that in certain situations we need 5 people analyzing the business rules in order to determine how to build software that manages a complex business process. The reality I often see is that the business process is not that complex and the reason the team has 5 business analysts is because the career path for developers in that company is to be promoted to a business analyst role.
I digress...
The reason for this post is to try and make you think about how the actions you are taking are really making you more agile (small 'a'). If your objective is to be able to handle change with as little pain as possible then following a hard set of inflexible rules is not going to help you too much.
Shipping software is a art that is not easy to teach by laying down a set of rules, in many ways it is much more like a creative activity than an engineering activity. Decisions have to be made that are not pure engineering decisions, they are not pure business decisions, nor are the decisions purely design oriented. It is a combination of all of these things and more.
Questions that need to be answered include; is the software aesthetically pleasing to the user, is the software functional, is the time right to release this to the market, etc..
There seems to be this constant flow of software with rules designed to help people become Agile, there are also more and more people professing to have the ultimate rule book for Agile software development.
In my opinion this is 90% bogus, the number of people that have a career telling other people how to ship software and have not actually shipped software in years (or ever!) amazes me.
If you want to be truly agile then drop as many tools as you can, learn to do more with less rules and restrictions, and most of all practice shipping software by actually shipping software!

Cloud and Client chat on CodeCast


In this episode of CodeCast, Ken Levy interviews Dr. Neil Roodyn discussion the differences and scenarios around cloud and client computing. Topics includes applications running in the cloud, documents hosted in the cloud, and rich/smart clients that use the cloud as part of the solution, with more and more of a mixture of client and cloud within applications rather than one versus the other.

Another week of wonder


The last few weeks have been action packed, and each week seems to have more than the last.
In the last month while in Sydney I have been to the Hotel, Hospitality and Design expo and the EduCause expo, both in Darling Harbour at the Sydney exhibition and convention center.

The nsquared team in Sydney has been working on optimizing the nsquared education pack for Windows 7 touch. This has been done on a range of devices; HP Touchsmart desktops, Tegatech TEGAV2 and the 3M 22 Inch touch screen.

The Managed Chatrooms website and service has been revamped and updated. Microsoft is among our customers of Managed Chatrooms, and our customers have stated using Managed Chatrooms for more events this month than ever before.

You may have noticed that Apple released a new product in March and the iPad app I wrote to help manage tasks on Exchange and SharePoint, ntask, has had an update to work better with Exchange 2003. Also on the iPad nsquared released coin swap, a game to teach children the value of money.

Enriched Customer Engagement at the Table


The February issue of Cutter IT Journal published an article I wrote on the experiences nsquared had building a table top solution for Telstra.

Telstra bought Microsoft Surface units to run the nsquared business pack and some custom software that the nsquared team built specifically to engage the Telstra small business customers.


Depth vs. Breadth vs. Value


After some recent conversations I thought I would jot down some thoughts on how different companies position their brands through the way they target their audience.I have recently been involved in a number of conversations regarding breadth marketing, essentially this means going for more customers over a wider range of vertical markets. On the other hand depth marketing means targeting a small number of (often already known) customers and spending more time making sure they are incredibly happy with your product.Given a limited amount of resources (every company in the world has its limits, just some are bigger limits than others) the breadth approach means a lower level of engagement per customer than a depth approach.The question in my mind is how does the approach taken to marketing impact on the perceived value of the brand.and can making the right choice of approach combined with a price point help a brand become more successful.The question about perceived value seems like it might be a no-brainer. Yet the question might be better asked this way; in order to be successful does the marketing approach effect the perceived value or does the product value determine the marketing approach ?Surely an approach that encourages a deeper level of customer engagement will increase the perceived value. Take for example the custom built super car industry. Here the customer is cherished and their hand is held through each step of making choices about the car, including fittings and extras. This is clearly a high value product and nearly always perceived as high value brand; you don’t go to Citroen in order to get a customer super car built, you go to Ferrari or Lamborghini. Yet we could flip this on its head and say that because this is such a high value product it dictates that the customers be given a better service. If you look at it this way it would then suggest that the higher the value of the product the deeper you would want your customer engagement. I also wonder if deciding to position your product for a breadth marketing campaign actually lowers the perceived value of your product. The more people that use your product the less exclusive they feel.Some products are clearly well positioned for breadth-marketing examples include; soft drinks such as Coke or Pepsi, consumer electronics such as iPods or televisions, and mainstream movies such as Spiderman or Harry Potter. These are all low value products and have mass-market appeal, or so their producers would like us to believe.Lets focus on technology for a moment and consider the entire experience, not just hardware and not just software, but the end-to-end experience. Clearly Apple has a lot of passion in this space, they have built a strong brand on the user experience of their products. Yet the Apple products are themselves not that expensive and are certainly targeting the mass-market space. Apple is clearly going for breadth marketing, and it seems to be working out pretty well for them. Microsoft has done well in this space with Xbox and recently incredibly well with Kinect, again a low value, consumer focused device with mass-market appeal.So why all this pontificating?Recently I have come across a few products that are clearly high value propositions, not targeting consumers but rather specific verticals and small numbers of clients (in the big scheme of things) and yet they are taking a breadth marketing approach. They are twittering like crazy, putting their products to be touched by consumers that will never be able to afford the products and trying to drive what appears to be a consumer facing m[...]

The Hotel Room of the Future


This week I have been at the Hotel Hospitality and Design Expo in Sydney. The nsquared team released the nsquared hospitality pack for Microsoft Surface. This includes three applications designed specifically for the hospitality industry, nsquared concierge, nsquared room service and nsquared tourist table. Each of these applications helps the hotel up-sell services that they offer directly or through affiliations. included an interview with me in their video about the hotel room of the future

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VIDEO: Future visits

It is not cloud or client


With so much discussion recently about moving your computing solution to the cloud as opposed to building a rich client application I thought I would make some observations.Step back 30 years (1981) to the days when the mainframe was being positioned as a computing solution for business via thin client terminals. At the same time a new type of computer was starting to become popular, the personal computer. The personal computer was a low powered device by comparison to the mainframe, but it was all yours,.There was no sharing of resources or concerns of your personal and private data getting into the wrong person's hands. Microsoft made it their mission to put a computer on every desktop, it was a noble cause, a democratization of computing power. As personal computing power increased and with it the software for personal computers, the dream has become a reality. Now the modern day personal computer is often more powerful than many of the mainframe devices. The personal computer has also become so cheap as to be considered a disposable item by large companies. Place a large number of personal computers together and you can create an immensely powerful shared computing resource. In many ways, this stacking together of large numbers of computers provides more redundancy than a single large powerful computer. When a part of it fails it is really disposable and can be left as a dead component in the array of computers. The operating systems that these personal computers run is not considerably different from the operating system that runs the modern day laptop or the desktop computer.This has lead to a shift in the dynamics of the industry. The manufacturers of the personal computer operating system (let's face it, I am talking about Microsoft here in the main), is now the same company that is producing the operating system for the shared resource computing accessed through the modern day terminal (the browser). This now means the same company that has lead the charge to bring computers to the desk and into your hands is motivated to create large online shared resource centers, centers that run their operating system. The interesting thing is that over the last 20 years Microsoft's Windows operating system has matured into a far superior server technology than client technology. Consider the Vista issues that clients reported and compare that to the lack of issues reported for Windows Server 2008. Windows Server 2008 is a really solid operating system and yet at its core is the same operating system as Windows Vista. It should not be surprising then that a company like Microsoft would play to its strengths and be motivated to sell more of its server operating systems. Windows 7 has done a lot to regain credibility for Microsoft as an operating system on the personal computer yet it is clear that market share is being lost to other products.Many of these other products are no longer the traditional 'personal computer' and Steve Jobs in his announcement of the iPad2 referred to these computers as 'post PC' devices. Clearly your phone, slate computer or TV are not quite the same as your personal computer, yet these devices all harness the same (if not more) computing power as the personal computer of 5 years ago.These post pc devices are often designed for richer media consumption such as movies, video chat, music and games. In order to optimize the experience for the consumer the software running on the devices is getting increasingly complex.This clear movement to richer and richer experiences on client devices lead[...]

Surface 2.0 chat on CodeCast



I recently had a chat with Ken on CodeCast about Surface 2.0, Kinect and a bunch of other Microsoft technologies.

It has been difficult in the last few months to discuss what we have been working on and there are still areas that we cannot discuss. Yet the cover has been lifted on the surface 2.0 project and I am proud to have been involved in the new software development that the team at nsquared has been creating.

Grab your headphones and listen to this easy going chat between Ken and myself.

Mix'11 Sessions Proposed, please vote now


Las Vegas will host Mix again this year, between April 12 and 14. As always I expect there will be a wide range of interests around Microsoft technologies represented at the event.I proposed a total of nine talks for the event, sadly only three were accepted for the community voting. If you would like to attend any of these presentations please will you click on the link in the title and vote for them.Wave, Touch, Pen, Speech, Mouse and KeyboardIn the last decade we have seen a variety of new interfaces popularized. With Microsoft Kinect you are the controller. There are screens that can see like Microsoft Surface. We have touch screens that can feel you and pen interfaces that provide rich digital inking capabilities. Speech technology to control an computer has existed for over a decade now. Yet we still are using the mouse and keyboard almost daily.In this session you will explore how the different input technologies can be applied to different categories of engagement. You will learn why the mouse and keyboard is here to stay and when you should take advantage of the other input technologies. This session will also provide you with some insight into how you can apply combinations of input to enhance your applications further.How to build a great Microsoft Surface applicationMicrosoft Surface represents a new category in computing. Vision based screens enable unique interactions and they present fantastic opportunities for innovative software to be created. In this session you will learn what makes Microsoft Surface unique and how you can use that to build great software for Microsoft Surface. This session will cover the user interfaces and concepts that you need to apply in order to take advantage of the technology in MicrosoftSurface. With the imminent release of Microsoft Surface 2.0 this session will cover everything you need to build really amazing experiences for MicrosoftSurface.The company Dr.Neil works for has more applications certified for Microsoft surface than any other company in the world. This session will provide some insight into how they conjure up the magic that enables them to repeatedly build awesome Surface experiences.Building Really Social SoftwareTechnology can be both an inhibitor and an enabler of social engagement. This session presents a discussion on how technology can be used to enrich the dialogue between users. When you consider many forms of computing today you think of users staring into a screen and yet the most successful systems, such as twitter and Facebook, are really about how people converse with each other. In the last few years new categories of technology, such as Microsoft Surface and Kinect, have emerged that truly bring people together. This session will discuss the way these new technologies (and others) will change the way we can use technology to enhance human interactions.Then with the other Surface MVPs we are proposing a discussion on all things relating to Natural User Interfaces.The Microsoft Surface MVPs present: Natural User Interfaces, Today and Tomorrow; an interactive discussion and demonstrationJoshua Blake; Neil Roodyn; Dennis Vroegop; Rick Barraza; Bart Roozendaal; Josh Santangelo; Nicolas CalviThe Natural User Interface (NUI) is a hot topic that generates a lot of excitement, but there are only a handful of companies doing real innovation with NUIs and most of the practical experience in the NUI style of design and development is limited to a small number of experts. The Microsoft Surface M[...]

ntask, another win for the nsquared team


Over the weekend a new iPad app became available in the Apple App store; ntask.


It is a gorgeous task management application that synchronizes with Microsoft Exchange or Microsoft Sharepoint tasks lists. I have been using it while it has been developed and I am so pleased to see it has been selling like hotcakes now it is available in the App Store.
Earlier today when I checked it was the 32nd best selling business application in the app store! Congratulations to the nsquared team for another wonderful application.


Social networks, sharing and your personal information


The latest wave of social media frenzy is about sharing your location and knowing where your friends are, or have just been.
This is something that I have discussed and presented on many times before. In fact in 2003 I presented proof of concept applications on the Microsoft smartphone platform ( then it was actually called Microsoft Smartphone) and the Microsoft Tablet PC platform. These applications enabled the user to post their current location to a blog or shared feed. I have used a number of variations of this to keep my 'Where was Dr. Neil' page updated.

In the last couple of years the rise in popularity of Facebook and Twitter have lead to an increase of related location sharing services. Services like foursquare or Facebook's own checkin system enable you to share your location with the world. This is great for those occasions where you want everyone to know where you are. These systems are mostly an all or nothing solution, either share with everyone or no one. So when you just want to let a couple of people know where you are located it's is back to the old text message or even resorting to call them.
It is for this reason we built Locus. Locus enables you share your location when you chose and with whoever you chose, including Facebook and Twitter.

I truly believe the pendulum will start to swing the other way now, with private personal information becoming more valuable. This value will start to be realized by the consumer and leveraged by the consumer to their own advantage.

When will you start to take more care of the information you share and who you share it with?

What is a table for?


Let me ask you a question, what is a table for?It may seem like a strange question yet it is not something we typically think about.Furniture is taken for granted, in fact sometimes the word furniture is employed to mean the adornments in or on an object. You could say someone with lots of facial jewelry has 'furniture on their face' or, as I have heard it said, they have 'face furniture'In our everyday lives we utilize furniture to enhance comfort and to perform functions, it is these functions that are worth exploring.Think of all the things you do at a table. Eat food, work on your computer, layout a puzzle game, hold a meeting, and many more 'events' occur at a meeting. Consider which of those events take great advantage of the horizontal surface that is presented by the table. Playing puzzle game with friends, or holding a meeting at a table is something that clearly requires a horizontal platform. The horizontal nature of a table with multiple sides open and available for people to sit, presents the ideal place for holding a meeting. It enables eye to eye contact, allowing all participants to engage in a much fuller conversation. Such a large portion of communication between people is non-verbal and by facing the other parties around a table we can pick up on these subtleties. We can understand from proximity and quick glances of the eyes the nature of personal relationships between people.Many technical solutions ignore the human interactions that are crucial for us to work together and create far shallower modes of engagement. Instant messenger, for example, provides a mode of communication between multiple parties, each siting at their own workstation. The nuances of passion, humor and disgust during the conversation can be hinted at with the use of emoticons. These provide a limited set of clues to hint towards the users feeling as they make a statement. The vocabulary of these is not just limiting but also deceptive. A person may want you to feel they are being jovial while really they are sad. You would only ever pick this up if you actually with the person. The telephone can provide a better medium for judging the mood of someone, through the tone of their voice and through other audio clues.Yet nothing bis better than sitting at the table with someone for truly understanding their feelings and position on a topic. Most digital content is still presented using vertically oriented displays, yet these displays act as barriers to the optimum personal communication.When working with the Tablet PC team at Microsoft in 2003- 2005 one thing became very clear, the slate form factor could radically change the dynamics of a meeting room. In a typical meeting at Microsoft people will bring their laptops and sit around a table, each staring into their own screen. This is incredibly anti social and detrimental to the level of engagement of the people in the room. In a meeting where each participant had a slate device the device did not act a barrier between the individuals at the table. Tabletop computing now has the opportunity to take this to the next level. By sharing the content directly on the tabletop the number of barriers is further reduced. A personal screen can present personal distractions during a meeting (email, IM, etc...), on a shared screen the focus can be on just the content desired.Today I presented these concepts to a potential client showing the nsquared b[...]