Be a Windows Phone 7/Imagine Cup Rock Star!

To be a Windows Phone 7 rock star, you could use your favourite rock and roll instrument to promote it like I did…

Red Silvetta piano accordion with "I Love Windows Phone" sticker

…or, if you’re a student, you can build a Windows Phone 7 application and submit it as an entry for Imagine Cup 2010. They’ve just announced a new award – the Rockstar award – for winning apps written for Windows Phone 7, using either Silverlight or XNA.

What Sort of App Submission are We Looking For?

The app needs to be designed with the “consumer” in mind and should be both useful and visually compelling. You’ll need to be able demonstrate your app entry up and running, either in the emulator (which comes with the Windows Phone development tools) or on an actual Windows Phone 7 device. Windows Phone 7 is a completely new phone operating system, which means that it’s a golden opportunity for you to become one of its first developers.

According to the competition site, applications submitted will be judged based on:

  • Originality
  • Consumer appeal
  • The unique mobile-oriented features integrated in to your app. Don’t just blindly port a desktop app to the phone – take advantage of the unique characteristics of its mobile, location-aware, always-with-you, connected-in-many-ways nature!

How Do You Enter the Competition?

  • Register and sign up your team (maximum team size: 4 people) before May 24, 2010 at 11:59 P.M. GMT.
  • Read the complete Rules and Regulations for this award competition. Make sure you carefully review and understand the unique entry requirements, and judging criteria.
  • Your team will submit an ‘XAP’ application package when you’ve completed your application in Silverlight or XNA.
  • Submit your entry before May 24, 2010 at 11:59 P.M. GMT. Use these helpful guidelines and plan to begin the upload process for your entry at least 24 hours prior to the deadline in case Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head.

What Can You Win?

  • First prize:
    • US$8,000
    • A trip to the Imagine Cup Worldwide finals in Warsaw, Poland (July 3 – 8, 2010)
    • A Windows Phone 7 for each team member
    • Serious bragging rights
  • Second prize:
    • US$4,000
    • A Windows Phone 7 for each team member
  • Third prize:
    • US$3,000
    • A Windows Phone 7 for each team member

How Do You Get the Windows Phone Developer Tools?

Go to the Windows Phone 7 Series page, where you can get:

For More Details…

Check out the Windows Phone 7 Rockstar Award page on the Imagine Cup site.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


The “FTW!” Ultimate PHP App Throwdown

For the Win! For the Web! FTW: Ultimate App Throwdown -- Professionals vs. Students

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Wait a Minute…Microsoft and PHP?

You probably wouldn’t be surprised that Microsoft is holding a development contest that pits professional developers against student developers. You might be surprised that Microsoft is holding a development contest where the challenge is to build a PHP application.

You read that right: PHP. Microsoft’s web server, IIS (Internet Information Services) can run PHP as well as ASP.NET; in fact, it can even run both on the same site at the same time, so you can have apps like WordPress along with your ASP.NET-based apps.

Think of ASP.NET and PHP running on the same server as the great jam session with Spock and the space hippie from that old Star Trek “hippies in space” episode.

Spock and a space hippie, jamming on their instrumentsSee? We’re not Herbert!

Even more unexpected is that the beta for the 2.0 version of the Microsoft Web Platform Installer doesn’t do a “couple-of-clicks” installation of the expected stuff like IIS and SQL Server 2008 Express, it also provides a “couple-of-clicks” installation of PHP and WordPress.

The FTW! Throwdown

"Goopymart" comic of a dog holding a trophy: "FTW!"

That’s “FTW!” as in “For the Win” or “For the Web”, by the way.

The contest is pretty simple: the idea is to show the best application written in PHP and deployed on Windows. The app can be either:

  • A new application developed by you in PHP and running on IIS in Windows
  • An existing application or framework written in PHP and ported by you to run on IIS in Windows

That’s right: if you’re pressed for ideas or time to make a new application, it’s all right – you can take a PHP application that already exists, make the necessary changes so that it’ll run on IIS (and hey, for bonus points, make it tie into SQL Server instead of MySQL), and submit that as your contest entry!

Students vs. Professionals

Another twist to the FTW! Throwdown is that we’re getting student developers and professional developers to challenge each other. The pros have experience and resources on their side; students have youthful energy and fewer distractions going for them. Not since “Pirates vs. Ninjas” has there been a challenge like this!

One application developed or ported by students and one application developed or ported by professionals will be chosen from the submissions for the Ultimate Challenge, which will be a final bout at Microsoft’s Make Web, Not War conference. In that last match, it “Two apps enter! One app leaves!”. Simply put, one of the apps – either the student one or the professional one – will be declared the Ultimate Champion.

As they said in Highlander: “There can be…only one!”

The Booty

Stuffed animal prizes at a carnival

We want to reward the best contestants for their efforts in the FTW! Throwdown, and we plan to do so with some pretty nice prizes, which include:

  • The grand prize: $5000 for the winning entrant.
  • The runner-up prize: $3000 for the runner-up.
  • The SQL Server prize: $3000 for the finalist whose app showcases the best use of PHP with a Microsoft SQL Server database.
  • The PHP/.NET Mash-Up prize: $2000 for the finalist whose app showcases the best of PHP with .NET-based code working together in a single application.
  • The student finalist prize: The student developer who makes it to the last match will also get an interview and resume critique from Microsoft and a $200 Petro-Canada gas card.
  • The professional finalist prize: The professional developer who makes it to the last match will also get a chance for a published case study, enrollment in the MAPS or EMPOWER program and a $200 Petro-Canada gas card.

Hosting Options

Naturally, the apps that you submit for the FTW! Throwdown need a place to live. If you don’t already have IIS hosting, our partners at myhosting and RackForce are offering a 60-day free hosting promotion.

Deadlines and Details

The deadline for entering the FTW! Throwdown is Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009. Finalists will be announced on Friday, June 5th, 2009, and the main event where the student finalist faces off against the professional finalist happens on Wednesday June 10th, 2009.

If you’d like to know more about the FTW! Throwdown, visit the FTW! Throwdown site. I’ll be posting regular bulletins about the FTW! Throwdown on this blog, and you can follow the FTW! team on Twitter as the user @PHPOnWindows and the hashtag #FTW09.


“Lunacy” at the FIRST Robotics Competition

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Robots competing at the finals of the FIRST Robotics Greater Toronto Regional Competition

The FIRST Robotics Greater Toronto Regional Competition took place last Friday and Saturday, and I had the opportunity to catch the finals on Saturday afternoon. The organizers invited me as representative of Microsoft Canada and were kind enough to give me a VIP pass, which gave me access to places that the regular audience couldn’t go, including right up to the edge of the playing field and “the pit”, where competitors tuned up their robots prior to the competition.

team_wheres_waldo_carrying _robot

The “Where’s Waldo?” team takes their robot onto the field for a match.

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, and like the Segway, it’s the creation of inventor Dean Kamen. Its purposes are:

  • To inspire high school students to go into engineering and technology studies
  • To promote a philosophy of collaboration and teamwork among techies
  • To encourage a sense of gracious professionalism, fair play and helping each other out even during intense competition


Crescent School’s robot.

While on the surface FIRST would seem to be about building robots, Kamen says that what it’s really about is getting young people interested in engineering in a fun and interesting way.


The Robots and the Game

All robots in the FIRST Robotics competition are built from a standard “kit” of parts and must fall within a set of specifications – no taller than 6 feet, a “footprint” of no more than 3 feet by 2 feet and a weight limit of around 120 pounds. Here’s one of the robots from the competition:


The game played by the robots changes each year. This year’s game, called Lunacy, is inspired by this year being the 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon. The video below explains the rules of the game:

As mentioned in the video, the surface of the playing field – called “The Crater” – is covered in a polymer called regolith (the term for loose heterogeneous material covering solid rock, like that on the moon). Here’s a closeup of that surface:


The robots’ wheels, shown below, are made of a material that offers only a little traction when used on regolith. The combination of the wheels and regolith simulate the low-traction conditions of driving a vehicle in lunar conditions — on fine moon dust in one sixth of Earth’s gravity:


One of the technical hurdles that the students had to overcome was dealing with the traction problems that come with piloting a robot with these wheels running on regolith. Some teams wrote traction control code that would detect if any wheel was spinning faster than the others (meaning that it was slipping) and then compensate for it.

Robots score points by shooting balls – called “moon rocks”, and “super cells”, each worth a different number of points – into trailers pulled by the opposing team’s robots. Here’s what the moon rocks look like:


Robots can start with an initial payload of 7 moon rocks, and if their designers see fit, they can be designed to collect stray moon rocks on the playing field. In the photo below, taken just before a match, the robot is pre-loaded with moon rocks to dump into another robot’s trailer. Note the intake on its front end for collecting stray moon rocks:



Here’s a photo of a student attaching a trailer to a robot: Each trailer has a pink and green marker on top; it’s a target that allows robots equipped with cameras to locate it during the first 15 seconds of the game, when they must operate in “autonomous mode” (that is, under their own control, rather than remote control by a human operator).


After the first 15 seconds, the robots switch from autonomous mode to human remote control. Each team has a standard remote control transmitter to which they can attach control devices of their own choosing. Some teams favoured joysticks and a basic setup:


…while others preferred controllers for modern-day gaming consoles (and even dressing up the standard transmitter in the shell of an XBox 360):


This may have been an engineering and technology event, but it had the atmosphere and energy of a pep rally. The stands were packed with fans:


and cheerleaders:


and there were team mascots, some with more expensive costumes:


and some more economical costumes:


It wasn’t just the fans who dressed up. Many teams had their own uniforms, such as the Theory 6 team, pictured below:


as did the all-girls Where’s Waldo? team – both they and their fans dressed up like Waldo from the Where’s Waldo? series of books:


and one team took its costume cues from the world of professional wrestling:


There’s a buzz that you can feel at certain conferences and gatherings of smart people who are passionate about what they do. I’ve felt it at gatherings like DemoCamp, PDC, RubyFringe and HacklabTO, and I definitely felt it at FIRST. The students there worked for months on a task that most adults would find daunting: building six-foot robots weighing around 120 pounds capable of running both autonomously and under human control.

In spite of being a competition with ambitious participants, there was also an air of good sportsmanship and bonhomie on the part of both the contestants and the officials, which was evident from the big things like the multi-team handshake ceremony…


…to the way the teams interacted when they were side by side at their robots’ controls…


…and even to the way the mascots cooperated to entertain the audience during the breaks between matches:


I had a blast watching the competition and found myself cheering as the robots (and the student pilots) pulled some pretty impressive moods. The experience was even better, thanks to the VIP pass that the local FIRST people gave me, which let me get right up to the edge of the playing field to see the action up close and into the pit where I could talk to the participating.

The students were a bright, ambitious and enthusiastic bunch. When they heard I was from Microsoft, they started peppering me with questions:

  • “Is it true that I can write XBox games and sell them online?” (Yes.)
  • “How do you get a job at Microsoft?” (Hard work and networking.)
  • “Should I learn Visual Basic or C#?” (It depends.)
  • “Can you hook me up with a free copy of Gears of War 2?” (Sorry, but if I give you one, I’m going to have to everybody here one.)

I told them about the DreamSpark for High Schools program, and they got really excited. This is exactly the sort of crowd I’d love to give free copies of Visual Studio and other tools to: smart, passionate people who get excited about building things.

My congratulations to the students at the FIRST Robotics Competition, and my thanks to the organizers for inviting me!



FIRST Robotics Competition

This article originally appeared in Canadian Developer Connection.

FIRST Robotics Competition

I’m going to be at the FIRST Robotics Greater Toronto Regional Competition tomorrow, where I’ll be watching robots built by high school students compete in “high intensity robo-sports”. The robots are six feet tall, weigh 120 pounds and were all built from scratch by the students in only six weeks. I’ll take notes and photos and post my report next week.

The competition started yesterday and runs through tomorrow at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. If you can’t make it there in person, you can catch the live webcast.