• Silverlight Learning Resource: .toolbox

    Sep 14, 2010

    Lately in preparation for Imagine Cup I've been scouring the internet in search of decent tutorials and guides for Silverlight. Microsoft provide these, high quality, resources free of charge and they don't require much effort to find thanks to the Learn Section of silverlight.net and Expression's Blend Training.

    On the Expression Blend Training site I found a link to .toolbox, which I initially thought was Microsoft's expansion to Silverlight the Silverlight Toolkit. But upon further investigation I've been finding it to be a useful resource for learning. Not only does it teach you how to utilise MS Expression Blend, but it gives more than just an incite into design principles; thanks to some lecture style videos.

    .toolbox, doesn't just have tutorial videos. It has the assets you need to get started too; be they presentation slides, or project elements.

    Now for the learning path. Most tutorials, I find, don't give you much to track your progress, you only have yourself to say: Yes I feel confident with that, or, I need to go over that again. They don't really give you anything to test yourself on and see where you're at, how much has sunk in, and so on. .toolbox does.

    These evaluations occur at the end of each module in the progression, they assess how well you've done learning the content of each module. They consist of a multiple choice test, sometimes identifying areas of the screen, buttons and controls, testing you on what each of these do.

    For the Scenarios path, Blend, this is extremely useful - as blend has many controls which, to me, are all new, but intuitive. Testing on these is vital as it will save time hunting for the control you wish to use later on.

    For the Principles path, these image questions are often snippets of the presentation, which represent some content that you identify. Testing on both the content and terminology you'll soon notice how much/little has been taken in.

    Where these paths meet is a final test, which combines content from both the Scenarios and Principles modules in a final evaluation. This test I did quite a while after viewing some of the content and I soon realised how I'd forgotten some of it. But not to worry, in the evaluation you see which questions you didn't do too well on to revise those sections.

    These evaluations aren't 'complete' until you meet the required points for them. The questions weigh differently from 10 points to 20 points. You are required to reach a certain number of points to say you've 'completed' that.

    Bellow you can see a picture of a training path. You'll notice there's an 'achievement' section to see where you are in the progression.
    My .toolbox Profile

    You might also notice that image, yep, that's my avatar, it's how people on .toolbox see me, and see how I've progressed, there's sort of an announcement section, which updates the community with your module completions. You have a range of customisation choices for it adds a bit of fun to the experience.

    You can also see some modules aren't available yet, as you complete the previous modules these unlock, for example as I completed both Principles and Scenarios for level 1 it unlocked the merged evaluation.

    So why not give it a go today, whether you're interested in design or making applications with Silverlight I think it could be a useful tool. I'd be interested to know what you think too. So if you'd like to drop me a comment that'd be awesome.

  • Imagine Cup

    Sep 10, 2010

    In recent years Microsoft has run a worldwide competition for students called Imagine Cup. It's a great opportunity to turn dreams and ambitions into reality; by creating something that really can change the world.

    For me the decision to take part was quick and easy to make. How often is it you are presented with such a great opportunity? I'd been thinking about taking part for a while, be it this year or in the future. It was thanks to a tweet that I took the step towards joining a team in which to work - Inspiratech.

    We don't have a logo as yet, but we are registered and will be starting work on the Software Design competition very shortly. This is the first project that I will take part in, which is collaborative. This year at University I will have another number of projects, which are also collaborative. So it will be a steep learning curve, but a good one.

    The team consists of Josh Homerston (Blog, Twitter), Dan Parker (Blog, Twitter) and myself. We're looking at embracing some of the latest and soon-to-be latest technologies in order to imagine a world where technology helps solve the world's toughest problems.

    I find our project idea very interesting, ambitious and exciting. I really think it's awesome motivation to be helping out charities. I hope to blog my experiences of teamwork, problem solving and tips/resources that I find useful throughout.

    Can't wait to get started!

  • Moving in

    Sep 9, 2010

    Well, its been almost 3 weeks since I moved into my first rental property in Reading. Immediately upon opening the door I set of the house alarm, which my house-mates had failed to tell me about. So after 20 minutes of trying to contact people I was told the code - not the first impression I wanted to give to my neighbours. The first few days I was alone, with no internet connection and only SOS signal on my phone. I explored and bought a little food - being a novice cook initially only things I knew how to cook.

    A few days later 2 of my house-mates (Steph and Alex) came up; brilliantly timed to arrive with all the festival business. Alex bought the router with him so it wasn't long until I was back in touch with people without having to hang out the window or walk out onto the street for phone signal. It wasn't long either until I had my phone on the Wifi connection and using UMA as a gateway to my mobile network, so now I have full signal at home (I have heard that this will be on WP7 soon too). The connection itself is pretty good. ~18Mbit down and 1.2Mbit up. Which on it's own is fast, but considering it will be shared 5 ways, with frequent video watching I can see it becoming a little slow at times.

    Living on my own hasn't been as bad as I thought. Essentially coping with it is all about finding things to do, doing them well and seizing opportunities to go out when they arise. Looking forward to the rest of the year. Glad to settle in before the start of term too. Should give me more focus in the coming year at University.

    More tales will probably appear here again at some point!

  • My First BlackBerry App development screenshots

    Aug 6, 2010

    Just thrown these screens together to show some of the user experience (and the look of the BlackBerry Torch, along with OS6)