Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Community Interview: Dale Lane

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

1) Can you introduce yourself?

Photo of Dale Lane and his daughter GraceMy name is Dale Lane. I live in the south of England, in Eastleigh. My job is a Software Engineer for IBM working in the R&D lab at Hursley Park, near Winchester.

I’m currently working in development for IBM WebSphere Process Server on the z/OS mainframe operating system – a different world to mobile development work!

2) When and how did you initially become involved with Windows Mobile based PDAs? And leading on from this how did you become interested in developing custom applications for this platform?

I have been an owner and fan of Palm OS PDAs for years – starting with the Palm III. My favourite Palm was the Sony Clie UX50 – a small clamshell PDA that looked like a minature laptop. When the Clie started to die and Sony stopped making PDA’s, I struggled to find a replacement, until the O2 XDA Exec (HTC Universal) was released. Despite meaning a shift to Windows Mobile, I loved the form-factor and bought one the week they came out. I’ve been a fan of Windows Mobile ever since.

I came across the free developer kit for Windows Mobile by chance – I was investigating Microsoft’s Windows Mobile webste, and saw a link to the page to order the dev kit. I am a software developer and a geek – so any chance to tinker with something new is always fun. But this was entirely an impulse thing – I hadn’t considered doing Windows Mobile development before that, and had I not stumbled across the offer of a free SDK, I might not have gone looking for how to get into it.

When I got the kit, I was amazed at how easily you could access so much of the device – intercept incoming messages, get system info like battery level or mobile signal strength, read the data stores used in core Outlook apps like your Calendar or Task list, and more. It meant I could start playing quite easily without needing to write a whole standalone application from scratch. The more I played, the more interested I got… until I got hooked.

3) What is your favourite development environment?

I use Visual Studio 2005 – it does so much of the stuff needed to create a Windows Mobile app for you.

I’m torn between whether my favourite language is managed C# or native C++. The Windows Mobile C# API, and the visual interface development tooling you get in VS2005, makes it very quick and easy to throw together applications. As Windows Mobile development is a side hobby for me, the ability to take a random idea from conception to first prototype in an evening or two is a big bonus.

On the other hand, as an old C programmer, there is a fairly snobby part of me that thinks it’s somehow cheating if you aren’t doing your own memory management, and I like the way writing native C++ lets me do everything myself. The extra time it takes means that the only time I write C++ code for Windows Mobile is when I want to do something not exposed in C# – like adding context menus to existing Windows Mobile core applications or extending the Today Screen.

4) You seem to have developed a number of interesting Windows Mobile applications, how do you come up with some of your ideas?

“Ooh – I wonder if I can do…” is normally where most projects start. The vast majority of projects start and end in an evening or two and never really see the light of day. Once I’ve got the general idea of how something works, or prove to myself that something is possible, that’s pretty much where it ends. Probably 75% or more of these projects never see the light of day – never finished enough to really be usable as an application, but just enough to teach me something about the API or platform. Again, this is a strength of the API exposed in managed code – C# lends itself well to this kind of rapid sandbox experimentation.

Occasionally, something about an idea sticks with me, and I actually develop a project to the point where I can use it as an application. For example, I wrote some GPS tracker code to put my current location on a Google Maps map. It works for me, but isn’t in a state where I could give it to anyone else. The interface could improve, too many bits are hard-coded for my own needs, and there is still too much left to finish. I’ve got maybe a dozen apps like this.

Very very rarely I finish something to the point where it can be shared with other people. This can be because I’ve shown or talked to someone about one of my random ideas and they like it enough to ask for a copy, or just because I think other people might find it useful.

5) Do you carry a Windows Mobile device with you at present?

I always have some PDA with me… either the O2 XDA Exec (aka HTC Universal), T-Mobile Ameo (aka HTC Advantage) or Palm Treo 650. Most often, I carry the HTC Advantage. It’s definitely my favourite – it’s got the mini-laptop form factor that I like, with a full QWERTY keyboard, a huge bright VGA screen, inbuilt GPS, and more. It’s ridiculously powerful for a phone, and if I’m away from my desk for a long while and can carry nothing else, it’s my first choice.

It’s a bit big, so if I’m just going to the shop or going out to meet a friend, it is useful to have something smaller like the Treo.

6) You seem to have had the opportunity to play with a range of interesting PDA type devices recently. How do these devices compare to your Windows Mobile device(s), and is there anything these devices could teach Windows Mobile?

My biggest Windows Mobile bugbear is it’s responsiveness. Sometimes (and especially, it seems, when I’m in a hurry!) it feels like I spend half my time staring at the spinning wait cursor that is our equivalent of the Windows hourglass. For all the iPhone’s limitations (and it has a *lot*), it does at least seem to be a snappy little device. The same goes for skypephone, or any other mini feature phone I’ve played with – it’s limited, I can’t do most of the things I want to be able to do… but at least whatever it does do, it does fairly quickly.

My Palm devices (a Treo 650 and a Clie UX50) are both much quicker at the most common PIM tasks – I can look up a calendar event or contact’s phone number in a fraction of the time it takes me to do the same in Windows Mobile. I’ve said this before if I have some time on the road to sit down to some serious work, the power of Windows Mobile is fantastic. But for quickly retrieving some key information on the run, the (admittedly fairly old) Palm OS PDA’s still have their place.

The OpenMoko on the other hand… isn’t really ready for use. It’s a development sandbox that only rarely gets disconnected from my Linux desktop. It’s immature both in hardware (very short battery life) and software… but the ability to open a terminal and SSH to your phone still makes me smile. I’d love it if we could get a decent remote command-line access to Windows Mobile phones. I know the demand for this would be small… but I’m so much quicker at stuff like file management at the command line. I wrote a little SMS utility that lets me send text messages at the command line on my desktop and I use this several times every day. It’d be great if I could do more things like this.

7) You are also involved with youth charity work. Would you like to tell us a little about what your charity does etc?

My charity is called “Solent Youth Action” – and is a youth volunteering organisation. We work to encourage and facilitate positive voluntary contributions to the community from young people.

Introducing Community Interviews

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Photo of a person holding the earth between a pair of handsThe internet has helped make the world a smaller place, but has also had a tendency to anonymise people. People are attracted to Windows Mobile development for a number of reasons, and although involved with them via their blogs, forum postings and presentations etc it can be difficult to put a face to the name, or place them within the Windows Mobile community.

I am aiming to have a new type of semi-irregular blog post on this blog in the form of interviews of interesting people within the Windows Mobile development eco-system that I have had the pleasure of communicating with.

To get the ball rolling I have interviewed Dale Lane, a professional IBM z/OS mainframe programmer by day, a Windows Mobile enthusiast by night. His interview is timely since he touches upon a number of general feelings held by many users within the Windows Mobile community at present with regards to the usability of the Windows Mobile platform and importance of cheap development tools.

If you would be willing to be interviewed, or would like to recommend some one to be interviewed please contact me via the newly configured contact me page on this blog.

2008 Summer Road Trip – Book your seat now!

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

summer-road-trip.png2008 heralds the release of the next wave of technology in the main pilliars of the Microsoft development platform i.e., Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008.

The New Zealand .NET User Group is organising a national road trip to help spread the word and showcase the latest features and advantages of these products.

Chris Auld and Jeremy Boyd (New Zealand’s two Microsoft Regional Directors) will co-present with a local presenter in each region, a presentation that builds a live enterprise level web application utilising Windows Server 2008, ASP.NET, SQL Server 2008, WCF, .NET Framework 3.5 and Live mapping in under 2 hours, right in front of your eyes!

This event is traveling to the following locations:

I’m very excited about this event as I am honoured to be the local presenter for the Christchurch leg of this event. It should be a valuable and exciting experience to present along side Chris and Jeremy (thanks Dan for getting me involved).

Darryl has been able to organise some very cool spot prizes and give-aways for the event. Also by registering and filling out an eval form on the day you can go into the draw to win 1 of 3 Windows Home Servers available nationally. To register for the road trip click the link above for your region to obtain venue and registration details. When you register you will notice that you can also nominate friends to invite along. If you invite a friend and they attend you will get another entry into the draw. This works like a multi level marketing scheme, if your friends then go on to invite further friends, you will also receive additional entries in the competition and so on.

So help spread the word, register and make sure your friends and work colleagues come along!

World’s Greatest NERD?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Photo of World's Greatest NERD medalI’m defiantly not the world’s greatest nerd, but today I found out that I passed the last paper needed to complete my Computer Science degree. I got an A+ for the Declarative Programming paper I did extramurally via Massey University.

All going according to plan, this should mean I can finally graduate from Canterbury University early next year.

To celebrate completing my degree my partner bestowed the following medal on me. Below the medal is the description:

“World’s Greatest Nerd – How does someone with biceps like knots on cotton, 3 inch thick glasses, 14 pencils in their pocket, and a laugh that could curdle like milk, become so popular? Perhaps it’s because you’re the only one who can fix all our computer problems.”

It’s good to finally have this degree completed. Having stopped a couple of years ago to pursue full time employment I really underestimated how long it would take me before I took the initiative and completed those last couple of points…

ARANZ Medical presentation

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

On Thursday I did an internal presentation for the company I work for and it’s related siblings under the ARANZ umbrella.

The presentation introduced the Windows Mobile platform used by ARANZ Medical Limited to some of the other groups within ARANZ which do not have a mobile (or even Microsoft orientated) development focus. It also highlighted some of the themes I picked up upon while attending MEDC 2007 earlier this year, with an emphasis on those that had relevance to our medical products.

I thought some of you might be interested in the slides, so have made these available via slideshare.net.

Code Camp Boot Camp summary

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Sponsors of Code Camp Boot CampIt’s now a couple of days since Code Camp Boot Camp finished, and I finally have some time to summarise the event, having completed my last university exam (ever?) earlier today.

This was the first .NET code camp event I have been directly involved in organising. Peter Jones and Simeon Pilgrim have already posted some good summary posts on the event.

Overall the general consensus was that the event was a great success.

It was good to see encouraging comments on the catering for the event, since this was my primary responsibility and my first time performing such a task. Subway sandwiches seemed to go down a treat.

Unfortunately helping to organise the event I didn’t get to see all the presentations I would have liked to. The ones that I did see were just as good as those at “professional” events such as MEDC which cost significantly more to attend. We are lucky to have a number of excellent speakers in New Zealand, who don’t mind travelling at their own expense to events around the country, and this generosity is a large part of why we can make such events free for attendees.

Over all I came away with a better appreciation of LINQ, and in particular technologies around LINQ and SQL (such as SQL to LINQ and ADO.NET Entities). I liked the ASP.NET Dynamic Data Controls presentation by Andrew Tokeley and can see some personal projects where this could be a useful framework.

The Morse Code puzzle challenge only had a couple of entries but as Simeon mentioned the 4 solutions we obtained had taken quite different approaches to solving the problem. I was quite impressed by the solution of Simon Green (who was the eventual winner of the Zune MP3 player). Simon had solved the problem not once, but twice, and his LINQ based solution was just a tad slower than Simeon’s hand coded radix tree based model solution.

Personally I found the event a great way to develop some personal contacts and future opportunities. Hopefully I’ll be presenting at the Southland .NET User Group and a yet to be formed Mobile and Embedded Developers User Group as a result of conversations I had at the event.

I would like to take the oppertunity to thank the sponsors who really made this the event that it was…

We out these sponsors the event wouldn’t have been possible.

Code Camp Boot Camp later today!

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Code Camp Boot Camp shirt and dog tagsI have just got back from a speakers dinner held for the speakers who are speaking at the Code Camp Boot Camp event happening in Christchurch later today (I must be there in under 7 hours time in fact…)

The event promises to be a great series of exciting presentations by some really skilled developers. Even if you haven’t registered or can’t spare the entire weekend, it would be worth your while comming along to atleast a session or two and you’re more than welcome to do this.

This has been the first .NET User Group event I have helped organise, and hopefully it isn’t the last as it’s been loads of fun. If you’re at this event please do say hi, it would be great to put a face to some of the people I’ve only met online.

MCTS welcome kits arrive

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

MCTS: Windows Mobile 5.0 Application Development logo

Last week I received a package from Microsoft Singapore. It was my charter member certificate for the MCTS: Windows Mobile 5.0 Application Development certification. I sat the beta exam for this about 12 months ago, so it was good to finally receive the certificate, even if it was only a token piece of paper (the real value in certification lies elsewhere).

The interesting thing is that yesterday I also received a mass email sent out by Lutz Ziob, General Manager for Microsoft Learning. Due to the delays in shipping (some) welcome kits over the last few months Microsoft decided to provide each affected MCP with a free exam voucher.

I’ll probably use my free voucher to sit the 70-500: Windows Mobile Designing, Implementing, and Managing exam later this year, or should I hold out for the Windows Mobile 6 and/or Windows Embedded CE exams? I wonder how long it will be before these become available?

I was surprised when I looked on the MCP website that there are only 107 MCTS: Windows Mobile 5.0 Application Development certification holders as of October 2nd 2007.

Neat custom controls, comming your way soon…

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

For the past few days I have been working on a University assignment due Monday, as well as helping organise the next .NET User Group Code Camp being ran on November the 3rd and 4th. As such progress has been slow on my personal projects.

As mentioned earlier I have started work on improving my .NET Compact Framework Notification wrapper to support arbitrarily complex soft key menus. Progress has been quite good, with custom menus now largely working. Along the way however I have learnt a number of interesting things about the implementation of SHAddNotification (and SHCreateMenuBar). I’ll discuss some of these later and their impact on the wrapper, which hopefully I will be able to complete once my assignment is submitted.

Another project I have toyed with this week is porting SWI-Prolog’s text console window (plterm.dll) to Windows Mobile as part of improving the editor window within PythonCE. Rainer Keuchel has ported an older version of SWI-Prolog, so I took the source code for the latest version of SWI-Prolog and applied a similar set of changes. Initial progress looks good, the console widget has really been designed for easy reuse in other applications. I might even try to create a .NET Compact Framework wrapper for it, as being able to chuck up a text prompt can be a handy debugging interface at times.

Today I also noticed that João Paulo Figueira has provided an initial demonstration of a list-based form control library he has been working on. This library for native C++ developers is designed to give a user interface similar to the Pocket Outlook UI seen on Pocket PC devices. I took his code and compiled it for Windows Mobile 6 Standard edition (i.e. a smartphone). It seems with a little work this control could also work on smartphones. The main issues were reasonably minor ones such as lack of support for using the keypad to interact with some of the controls, which look like they would be reasonably easy to resolve.

Code Camp Boot Camp 2007

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

New Zealand Code Camp logoAs part of the New Zealand .NET User Group I am helping organise a Code Camp event in Christchurch later this year.

The theme is “next generation, back to basics”, i.e the 2 day event will be filled with presentations looking at the upcomming releases of C#, VB.NET, .NET 3.5, ASP.NET, and SQL Server, with a focus on how to get up to speed on them quickly.

More details can be found on the NZ .NET User Group website at www.codecamp.net.nz. The exact date has not yet been determined, but will be a Saturday and Sunday during November (depends upon venue availability). In the mean time it would be helpful if people who are interested could pre-register on the website to allow us to guage the likely number of attendees.

Further details can be found on Peter’s blog.