# Monday, 20 June 2016
# Friday, 22 April 2016
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MadHacks is an annual weekend hackathon hosted at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI. The organizers decided to move the hackathon from the spring to the fall, which left a gap of nearly 18 months between events. To maintain interest, they decided to host a smaller, 1-day hackathon on April 16. The event was billed as MadHacks Spring Fever.

85 students formed teams and submitted 18 projects.

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MadHacks organizers

I served as a mentor and a judge at this hackathon.

I also delivered a 1-hour presentation on Microsoft Cognitive Services.

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Presentation on Microsoft Cognitive Services

4 judges evaluated all the submitted projects and chose the top 3. The quality of the projects made this difficult and we had to ask several of the teams to show their project again in order to make a selection.

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The judges

Many of the projects were Microsoft branded, such as Xbox games, Azure books, and Microsoft sleeping bags.

The winning projects were:

  1. UniTravel: A mobile application that mapped a route to a destination and calculated not only the time and distance, but also the estimated cost using various transportation options.
  2. Chemical Reactor: A web app that visualized atomic motion and formed new molecules if atoms collided with a force that exceeded the enthalpy required to bond.
  3. Cellular Automata Plant: A web app that visualizes the growth of plant cells over time in a given environment.

 

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The UniTravel team
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The Chemical Reactor team

The event was organized by University of Wisconsin Microsoft Student Partner Katie Anderson.

The projects created were particularly impressive, given that they were all created in 12 hours or less.

A much larger hackathon is planned at UW-Madison in the fall semester.

Friday, 22 April 2016 13:46:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 02 April 2016

At the beginning of this semester, Microsoft hired a new Student Partner at Indiana University. A Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) is a college student responsible for helping promote the Microsoft platform on campus. Part of that responsibility involves hosting technical events.

This new MSP invited me to campus to co-present with him. He reserved a room, ordered pizza, invited students, and brought some giveaways. We decided to present on Project Oxford - a set of web services that use machine learning to analyze images, videos, and voice. A day before the presentation, Project Oxford was renamed to Microsoft Cognitive Services, so I had to rush to update my slides and re-test all my demos.

The event was a success. Students studying computer science and related fields attended, students who were curious about the technology attended, and one Informatics professor attended.

For me, it was a rewarding experience - in part because it was a chance to connect with students and to share a cool technology that Microsoft is offering;

But more importantly, I was excited to work with the new Indiana University MSP - Tim Giard.

Tim is my son and a junior majoring in Informatics at IU. This was our first chance to work together professionally and it was one of the highlights of my year.

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Saturday, 02 April 2016 14:59:41 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, 11 March 2016

The auditorium darkened. The music began and a small light appeared at the front of the room; then more. Students on stage danced and waved lanterns on ropes for an impressive musical light show to kick off the 2016 SpartaHack hackathon.

 

Students came from all over the world to attend this hackathon on the East Lansing campus. Over 200 universities were represented among the applicants. In addition to a number of international students studying on American campus, I met students who traveled to the hackathon from India, Russia, Germany, and the Philippines.

AnnaMattDavidBrian My colleague Brian Sherwin arrived in East Lansing the day before the hackathon to host an Azure workshop for 30 students - showing them how to use the cloud platform to enhance their applications. Ann Lergaard joined us a day later and we did our best to answer student questions and help them build better projects. Late Friday night, I delivered a tech talk showing off some of the services available in Azure.

Microsoft offered a prize for the best hack using our technology. It was won be 2 students who built an application that allowed users to take a photo of text with their iPhone and, in response to voice commands, read back any part of that text. The project combined Microsoft's Project Oxford OCR API with an Amazon Echo and its Alexa platform, an iPhone app, and a Firebase database.

A couple other cool hacks were:

  • ValU, an app that used Microsoft Excel to analyze historical stock price data using Excel VBA scripts.
  • Spartifai, which modified a driver, allowing a Kinect device to be used with a MacBook.

JazzBand A hackathon is an event at which students and others come together and build software and/or hardware projects in small teams over the course of a couple days. I attend a lot of hackathons and SpartaHack was one of the better organized that I've seen. Over 500 students spent the weekend building a wide variety of impressive projects - often with technology they had not touched prior to that weekend. The organizers also did a great job of providing fun activities beyond just hacking. A jazz band and a rock band each performed a set for students to enjoy during a break; a Super Smash Brothers tournament was scheduled; and a Blind Coding Contest challenged students to write code without compiling or testing to see if it would run correctly the first time in front of an audience. 

Snowman As sponsors of the event, we tried to provide some fun as well. We gave away prizes for building a snowman and for tweeting about open source technology. We also provided some loaner hardware for students; and we spent a lot of time mentoring students, which resulted in a lack of sleep this weekend.

The MSU campus has changed a great deal since I earned my undergraduate degree there decades ago. It has even changed since my son graduated from there 4 years ago. But it still felt like a homecoming for me.

 

 

Friday, 11 March 2016 16:42:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 18 January 2016
# Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Recently, I interviewed Jeawy Jang and Tae Tongnussock, two students from Thailand who built Den-Lin  - a mobile application designed to test the composition of soil. The application placed in the Imagine Cup competition last year.

Here is that interview on DevRadio.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 10:39:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 07 May 2015

Throughout this past semester, teams of Purdue University students built projects with controllers, circuit boards, and other hardware. On Friday May 1, the teams gathered at Wang Hall on Campus to show off their finished projects. I was invited to be one of six judges to select the best projects.

I got to see some amazing projects. For example:

  • 2 robots playing soccer controlled via multiple users on the Internet.
  • An unmanned tank-like vehicle with sensors to map out walls and terrain (this could be sent into a disaster area that is too dangerous for people).
  • An electric car that automatically followed a light path and stopped and whistled at any object that interrupted that path.
  • A motorized reclining chair for the lazy person on the go.
  • First place ($1000 cash)went to a student who created a custom keyboard as a controller to play his game "TagPro".

Much of the funding came from General Motors, but Microsoft Recruiting sponsored as well.

I didn't see a lot of Microsoft technology but I saw some very clever ideas for both hardware and software.

This was the first Spark Challenge and the organizers were confident that it was successful enough to justify planning more.

Overall it was a great opportunity for me to see the potential of these college students.

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Robots playing soccer

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A car that follows a beam of light

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The winners are announced

Thursday, 07 May 2015 14:33:19 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 16 March 2015
Monday, 16 March 2015 15:00:55 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 12 March 2015

March 6-8, I attended Hack The Anvil hackathon at Purdue University. About 350 student hackers - all from Purdue - attended this hackathon. I was joined by my colleague Brian Sherwin for most of the event and by Sarah Sexton on Sunday.

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Following the opening ceremony, I delivered a 30-minute tech talk describing cloud computing and Microsoft Azure I showed how to use Azure Web Sites, Azure Virtual Machines, and Azure Mobile Services. Although we didn’t offer a prize (as Microsoft often does at these events), a number of teams decided to incorporate Azure into their projects.

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We spent much of the weekend helping people debug their code. In addition to questions about Kinect and Azure, students asked questions about JavaScript and interfaces and HTTP, updating the Java SDK on a MacBook. 3 different teams set up node on Azure used Brian Sherwin's blog post (http://briansherwin.com/blog/2015/03/hack-tools-1-node-js-on-azure-with-linux-vm/) as a reference.

  • The best projects I saw using Microsoft projects were:
    An application that used Kinect to change the color and intensity of lights based on the user's hand gestures. This project integrated Python code with the C# code using the Kinect SDK. Brian Sherwin this team use the Kinect SDK and requested a copy of their source code. David Giard recorded an interview with the team.
  • A portal that allows video game enthusiasts to find other players with similar interests and to schedule multi-player games with one another. The portal was built on Azure Web Sites, the data was stored in SQL Azure and exposed via Azure Mobile Services
  • A Tampermonkey Chrome plugin built on Azure web sites that displays the text of a linked page below the link.

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Some other interesting projects were:

  • "ShotBot" - a robot bartender
  • Gloves that interact with a Wii remote to allow users to control mouse pointer movements from across the room.
  • "SmartFridge" - an Android application that allows users to scan the bar codes of the items in your refrigerator and keep track of when each item expires and when it is time to buy a new item.
  • A Java-based app to assist Dungeons & Dragons "Dragonmasters" to create the environments used in D&D.

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Many students integrated .NET or Azure into their application because we were there to help them.

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Purdue will be hosting a multi-school hackathon (BoilerMake) in the fall and I hope to attend this as well.

HackTheAnvil Photos

Thursday, 12 March 2015 14:07:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Microsoft sponsored the HackIllinois hackathon held at the University of Illinois February 27-March 1, 2015. Approximately 900 students attended. The following people from Microsoft worked on site:

  • Bill Fink, Technical Evangelist
  • David Giard, Technical Evangelist
  • Martin Schray, Technical Evangelist
  • Sarah Sexton, Technical Evangelist
  • Paul Sledd, Recruiter

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Of course, students love free stuff, so we came armed with some prizes: We gave away a t-shirt to anyone who completed a brief survey. When we ran out of t-shirts, we gave away books, stencils,mugs, and stickers. From those who completed the survey, we drew a name to win a Surface Pro 2.  William Su of Ga Tech won this drawing. We offered a HoodiePillow and a free Azure pass to anyone who wanted to incorporate Azure into their weekend hack. 42 people took advantage of this offer.

Throughout the weekend, the four evangelists answered questions from teams using Azure and other Microsoft technologies.

On the final day, we offered a Dell Venue 8 Pro to each member of the team with the best use of Azure. 18 teams completed an application with an Azure component.

It was a difficult choice and we debated for some time. One team hosted an impressive translation application on Azure; another created a GPS application that displayed the location of the user's dog and whether it had left their yard.

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We awarded the prize to a team from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for their Flock application - a system built on a Pebble watch to communicate restaurant recommendations to friends. Most of the application logic was in an Azure web service that called out to APIs exposed by Twillio and MailJet. The Pebble watch called to the Azure API. This team spent some time at our booth asking questions of Bill and Martin. You can watch an interview with this team at Technology and Friends.

Bill Fink brought his Kinect Photo Booth and it was a big hit. Many students were drawn to our booth when they walked past and saw themselves in front of a dinosaur or live volcano on the giant monitor at our table. The Photo Booth sent out 102 emails over the weekend.

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Overall, the event was a great success - Students came away with a positive impression of Microsoft and many used Azure and Kinect that probably would not have had we not been there. Many students were unaware what Azure even is. They were excited when they found out how it could help them and their projects. One team planned to use IBM for their back-end data storage; but after struggling with the IBM service and talking with Bill, they switched to Azure and completed their project successfully.

HackIllinois Photos

Wednesday, 11 March 2015 13:48:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)