Microsoft Future Decoded 2018

The Event

Last week featured the 2018 installment of Microsoft’s annual Future Decoded event, hosted at the Excel in London (Whether they did this for the Office pun is as yet unconfirmed). To quote Microsoft themselves :-

Microsoft Future Decoded provided two days of top-level keynotes, breakout sessions, networking and an action-packed expo, giving the information and practical advice needed to help grow your business in the changing world of Digital Transformation and AI.

That means both technical and business people head down to catch up on the latest from Microsoft and their partners. We all speculate on what the future might hold while showing off what we’ve got to offer today.

For those who don’t know me so well, I work for a Microsoft Mixed Reality Partner called VISR doing all kinds of technical wizardry. As you can expect, we showed off lots of shiny HoloLens tech we’ve been working on.

A picture of VISR's stand for Future Decoded

VISR’s Stand the day before the show!

FUSE

One of the demos we were running provides a guided maintainence platform in MR, giving frontline workers access to deeper information without the need for their hands. You can check out a video on YouTube or find more info on the product at VISR’s website but essentially it adds information about the device being repaired such as status of internal components, and twins it with info on the last repair, notes left by previous maintainers, etc. It also provides step by step instructions to ensure you complete the repair safely if you need them, overlaying holographic animations and instructions, and verifying each step has been completed successfully. If you ever put the device into an unsafe state, warnings are shown to guide you back.

My role in this application in particular is in the IoT tech inside the applicance itself. In this demo, we’re using a UPS Mains panel, leftover from our datacentre. The maintainence guides you through replacing a fuse in the applicance itself, and each of the switches, the fuse itself, the door and the lock are all rigged with sensors. An embedded device inside the applicance keeps a track of these sensors at all times, reporting status back to our PaaS solution, for others to keep an eye on. In our demo, an app inside Microsoft Teams keeps an eye on the Applicance, and if things go wrong, it prompts the users to create a maintainence job for the device. An engineer can then head onsite with a HoloLens and perform the maintainence, and the Appliance will mark itself as repaired, and notes saved for next time.

FUSE Tech

The tech inside for this example all runs in .NET Core running on an embedded Linux device. It’s surprisingly performant, and we’ve had no issues with it so far. It gets a little shaky with the WiFi connection inside a conference venue (especially with it’s antenna locked inside a steel box!) but most people made it through the demo and could appreciate the value of the solution.

It aims to cover the “Head up, hands free” approach that Microsoft is targeting in this space, replacing the need for manuals or tablets for repair guides, and freeing up the hands of our engineers and front line workers. This app is packaged ready to go, with just a couple of config changes to meet client needs, so we’re pretty happy with how this rolled out.

An image of the FUSE UI

A slightly older build of FUSE

Talks

As always there was a wealth of technical talks and knowledge available, and I managed to miss all of them!

Instead, I was lucky enough to catch a keynote given by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE and Sir Michael Caine CBE.

Dr Aderin-Pocock’s talk was an inspiring tale of a journey through life, working against her Dyslexia and a raft of naysayers to become a renowned scientist. She has worked on the James Webb Space Telescope, appeared on TV as an Astonomy expert, and given a number of talks and presentations, among many other achievements. Hearing her speak was a truly inspiring experience, and her tale is one I won’t forget in a hurry.

Sir Michael Caine also offered an insighful journey through his career, highlighting decisions and events that have impacted his life. He has many interesting stories to tell, and a host of life advice that even the more experienced of us would be mindful to listen to.

Finally, the second day hosted a talk by Satya Nadella himself, covering the future of technology both from Microsoft and the industry alike. He highlighted the role of Cloud in the future of technology, and the role AI is playing in day to day life as more companies begin to integrate it into their businesses. It was an interesting view on the technical landscape, and we’ll see how his predictions play out.

Networking

I love attending these events, as it gives me a chance to meet some incredibly interesting people. Last year I managed to have a long discussion with the guy who created Paint 3D on the Windows team, before moving on to an interesting chap who put Cortana inside a robot dog!

This year was spent chatting to some awesome people, including several architects from BJSS, the ever amazing guys at Transparity, and more Microsoft employees than I know what to do with.

Huge thanks go to the team that spend months preparing for this event on the Microsoft side, and to VISR for bringing me along for the third consecutive year. I can only hope the trend continues!

NASA Space Apps Challenge

This weekend, 4 members of HullCSS and I headed over to the C4DI to take on the Space Apps Challenge, a two day Hackathon focused around building applications with a space theme. We had very little idea of what the event was or what we wanted to do heading into it. Nonetheless, bright eyed and bushy tailed, we fought over the 4 plug sockets for our 5 laptops.

The Challenge

Our first step was to filter through the list of challenges, removing any challenge that we lacked the skill set for, or we found no interest in. This left us with 10 remaining tasks for consideration. Each member then ranked their top 4 choices, and we quickly came to a winner. “Do YOU Know When the Next Rocket Launch Is?” was to become the theme of our project.

This left us in an interesting spot. Building information systems is something we all had some degree of experience in, but how do we present our data in an engaging and interactive way to our users? We toyed with the idea of web pages, flow charts, etc, but finally settled on the idea of using a 3D planet, with all of our launch locations marked, for the user to explore. We selected PlayCanvas as our tool of choice, as I’ve got some prior experience with it, it’s easily embedded on the web, and Adam was willing to learn some JavaScript.

Getting to work

With that, Dan, Alex and Nathaniel set to work on the .NET Core MVC side of the application, and Adam and I set to work on the PlayCanvas section.

By the end of the first day, we’d created something quite impressive. Our basic MVC site held the embedded PlayCanvas app, showing a fully interact-able globe, but no rockets yet. The basics of our embedded Calendar option were also present, but it wasn’t being populated with data. Dan & Alex had built tools to scrape launch data from the web, but we were yet to connect these up.

As we made our way into the second day, our morning scrum was held in the nearby Cafe Nibble. Following a hearty breakfast by all, we rolled into our tasks for the day, translating our latitude and longitude into positions on our 3D globe, connecting up and displaying our data sources, and finalizing graphics for our presentation.

Judging

3pm marked the beginning of Judging Time, with Rob Miles stepping up to replace one of the judges who was unable to attend. After a round of presentations from each team, many of which showcased fantastic and creative solutions to their given problems, the judges headed off to deliberate.

After what felt like an eternity, they returned to announce the People’s Choice winner, Team Starflower followed by the overall winner, Team HullCSS. We’re incredibly happy to be named the winners of the event, and we’re really proud of the solution we created.

More Info

Thanks goes to C4DI for hosting us at their office, providing Pizza and refreshments for the weekend.

We’re looking to host our solution live in the coming week, and I’ll pop a link here when that happens.

If you want to check out more about our solution, there’s some more screenshots and video over here.

Want to know more? Have more questions? Head over to the Contact page to get in touch!

Humber Care Tech Challenge

On the 6th and 7th of September, fellow HullCSS member Dan and I travelled to Bridlington for the first Humber Care Tech Challenge. The event was hosted and sponsored by East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the University of Hull, Amazon, C4DI and the One Point, presenting us the challenge to come up with a technology to create solutions that help the elderly, infirm and others in care with their daily lives.

As we entered as a team of two, the organisers contacted us several days prior to pair us with another group of two, from the City Health Care Partnership. We’d never met before, but we welcomed these two guys to work with us on the solution. As it turned out, the guys weren’t Developers, so we used them as a great source of inspiration and ideas, due to their experience in the healthcare industry.

The idea we pitched in the first day was essentially Amazon Alexa for Care Homes, providing residents with information about their meals, activities, visitors, etc, and access to their nurses. It twinned this with a range of Smart Home and Smart Health tech, to allow staff and relatives to monitor the patients in terms of weight, blood pressure, etc, and to check they’ve closed doors, windows etc. This also allows our bed bound patients more control over their environment, allowing them to open curtains, turn off lights and more. The app also ran Intent Analysis across all requests, to pickup key words which might flag up signs of depression, dementia, etc, which can be used to flag a patient for a review with the Mental Health teams.

The judges were impressed with the idea, but we didn’t win the first day’s prizes, instead picking up the Peoples Choice Award for our concept. We’d developed a strong presentation showing the idea, and an Alexa Flash Briefing with some of the information that would be available.

The second day allowed us to commence with actual development, with us choosing to build an ASP MVC Application, on .NET Core, running on AWS. This provided a web interface for Care Home staff and Relatives to monitor the patients, and update information about activities and meals. This app also featured an API for use by Alexa, to retrieve information, pass data back etc.

The finished product came out looking really smooth and polished, despite us only taking the one day to work on it (we have the commit graph to prove it!). We managed to win both People’s Choice Award and the Best Solution prizes, taking home the first ever Care Tech Trophy, and an Echo Dot each to boot!

We’re not certain what the future holds for the solution we developed, but Dan and I continue to work on it. Who knows what the future will hold!

Overall the challenge was great fun, and I’d recommend you check out the next one in 2019! I went in with pretty much no knowledge of the inner workings of the healthcare sector, and all 13 teams produced a fantastic solution, several of which are progressing to full roll out!

Microsoft TechDays Online 2018

Last Tuesday I was given the fantastic oppertunity to speak at the Microsoft TechDays Online event, talking about the Vertx project that I work on for VISR. It’s certainly not my first Microsoft Event, but it’s the first in which I’ve found myself in a speaking position. I met up with some fantastic people, who work with MR and AI for Microsoft. The event was great fun, and I’d like to thank those involved in getting me there!

Quick Update – TechDays Online

Tomorrow I’ve been given the chance to talk at Microsoft’s TechDays Online as part of London Tech Week. You can find the info and itinerary here if you’re interested. I’ll be talking on Mixed Reality and the role it played in building Vertx!

https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/uktechnet/2018/06/08/the-techdays-online-schedule-is-here-dont-miss-out/

What I’ve been up to – Microsoft Exams and Summer Camps

May 2018

It’s been a while since I posted anything of note here, so I thought I’d give an update on what I’ve been up to. Aside from exams and coursework, I’ve been working to bring the VISR Summer Camp to life, and studying to further my Microsoft qualifications. We’ve added a bunch of hardware to our infrastructure, including a 10Gbps backbone network and a HP C7000 Blade system, which has been keeping me occupied!

 

I’ve previously completed the Installation, Storage and Compute with Windows Server 2016 to achieve my MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional), and I’m looking to take it further. I’m working to complete the other two exams, to complete the MCSA in Windows Server 2016, and as such I’ve been brushing up on my Identity with Windows Server. This is the third exam of the set, skipping over the Networking exam. I’ve done this as my Active Directory skills are much better than my Networking ones at the moment, so I figured I’d get the easier exam out of the way first.

I’m in the final stages of exam prep now, running through the practice exams and getting ready for testing, running through labs, and generally brushing up my knowledge.

If anyone was considering completing a Microsoft certification, I’d strongly recommend them, especially if you’re a student. The exam is particularly cheap if you’re a student, at just £65. They’re a valuable cert to have, and any Microsoft Partner needs certified employees to maintain their ratings!

I’ll be back soon with some more updates on what I’m up to. If you’re curious about anything, let me know and I’ll see if I can write something up. I’m hoping to write up some more about the work I’ve been doing recently, but avoiding the NDA barrier can be difficult! See you all soon!

Getting started with Azure for students

I’ve had quite a few students tell me that they’d like to use a cloud platform, but they’re complex, hard to get started with, or expensive. I agree they can be quite confusing to a new user, but I’ve set out to make a simple ‘Getting Started’ guide for Microsoft Azure.

I’ve worked with the Azure platform for a couple of years now. As such, I’m starting to get an idea of what all the buttons do, and where all the settings are. However, Azure is a constantly evolving platform, and by the time you read this, it is very possible options have moved. Take these instructions as a guide, and maybe a search engine can help you find the rest.

We’ll start with how to get signed up for an Azure subscription as a Student. Azure has several layers of privilege behind its billing system. The main thing to know is every resource you create (VMs, App Services etc) is linked to a Subscription. Subscriptions have payment details linked to them, and determine how much you pay. If you use Azure in a professional capacity, you may use a Subscription setup by a CSP (Cloud Solution Provider) or some other entity. For our purposes, we’ll be setting up our own Imagine Subscription (Mine is called Dreamspark, yours may well be different too. As long as it’s not Pay-As-You-Go or Free Trial, you should be OK).

If you’re not a Student, or your School or University doesn’t have a partnership with Microsft (This is rare but it happens), you can sign up using the Free Trial here. Microsoft will give you $200 (at time of writing) to play  with. You can still use all of the free services, but if you’re not careful, you might end up paying for Standard Resources! Student subscriptions have a payment cap of £0 to stop them accidentally spending money!

Signing Up for Microsoft Imagine

First things first, you need to sign up for Microsoft Imagine, the Microsoft Student program. Imagine gives you access to a whole range of Microsoft services, and it’s worth having a browse around to see what’s available This will give you a link to use to sign up for Azure. If you wish to keep using your Imagine account, you’ll need to re-verify your Student status once a year. If you have done this already, you can skip ahead, otherwise read on to find out how to sign up.

  • Head over to Microsoft Imagine
  • Sign In in the top right corner (If you haven’t already) and click Imagine Account
  • Microsoft Account Menu
  • Next, you’ll need to verify your Student status using the pane  on the left. If you’ve already done this, no need to do the next step.
  • Student Status panel
  • Select how you’d like to verify your Student status. This will vary based on your institution (I used my Student email address)
  • Finally, complete your verification (In my case, using the email from Microsoft)

Get your link to the Azure Sign up

Now we’ll get signed up for Azure using our Student status. As of writing, this link will get you $100 of credit, and access to a bunch of Always Free and Free for 12 Month services.

  • Head to this Microsoft Imagine page
  • Click the ‘Register Now’ button. If you don’t see it, you may not be signed in, or you may not have verified your Student status
  • Register Now button
  • You will then be redirected to Azure to complete the process.
  • Complete the Identity Verification presented
  • Then. complete the Card Verification. If you use any chargeable resources, this is the card they will be charged to!
  • Finally, complete the Agreement
  • You should then be left in the Azure dashboard
  • Azure Portal

Now what?

Feel free to explore the Azure dashboard and the resources available. Be aware that if you create any, they may cost money, and be charged to your card.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a few guides for projects you can do to get started on Azure. These will only use Free resources, so you can try them out too!

 

How’d it go? Has anything changed? Ran into issues? Got an idea for a project you want to build in Azure?

Leave me a comment, or Contact Me!

ImgBot – A Discord Machine Vision project using the Azure Vision API

I’ve started a project this week called ImgBot. He’s a little Discord bot that uses the Vision API from Azure to recognise images posted to our HullCSS Discord server. As of now, he’s not super clever, only using the basic image APIs to gather data about a given image, but in the coming months I’m hoping to expand into a full Custom Vision model, for more advanced recognition.

For some idea of how it works, I’ve included a screenshot of the current version. In future, I’m hoping to allow users to give the bot feedback, to improve the model.

Discord Screenshot showing ImgBot recognising Nicholas Cage

ImgBot recognising Nicholas Cage

It’s also possible to get more advanced information from the bot, having it return the full JSON object representing the image.

Discord Screenshot showing ImgBot giving a full JSON object for the Nicholas Cage image

ImgBot giving more detail on Nicholas Cage

 

I might look to Open Source this project later down the line, once the code is cleaned and organised. It’s currently fully functional however a little messy.

Let me know what you think and how you think I could improve the bot. Interested in testing it out? Drop me a message!

Cyber Security Lecture – HullCSS 2018

This week, I presented a lecture on Cyber Security for HullCSS. It covered Personal security, securing Applications you build, and organisation security. This was part of the HullCSS lecture series.

 

I covered three main topics, Personal Security, Developing Secure Solutions, and Organisational Security. The overall presentation is highly top level and basic. It covers common vulnerabilities and issues, but doesn’t go into too much depth as to how to protect and mitigate.

Personal Security focuses on the topic of using Password Managers, Two Factor authentication and other practises to develop good habits, and keep your online activity secure.

Secure Solutions covers the top vulnerabilities in applications, and how to mitigate them. It also covers how to spot vulnerabilities and encourage developers to build good habits.

Organisation security covers possible flaws where staff may expose information. It suggests some ideas to reduce the chance of this happening.

 

If you want to check out the slides from the event, you can find them below. If you’d like a full copy of the presentation (Available as a Keynote or PowerPoint) including notes, let me know. If you’d like to use this in your own presentation, please ask first.

Presentation Link

Google HashCode @ Hull 2018

Yesterday (1st March 2018), a number of HullCSS students got together to compete in Google’s HashCode competition. Everyone managed to submit a solution and gain points, and great fun was had by all.

The Event

HullCSS (The Hull Computer Science Society) ran a HashCode Hub in the Fenner SuperLab, where teams from all over the University came together to compete. It was the first time HashCode was run at the University of Hull, and all students were welcome.

All teams managed to submit a working solution, with the lowest point total being 10 Million, and the highest being 45 Million. All were impressive solutions, with each taking a different approach to solving the problem. Everyone relished the challenge, and it was interesting to see all skill levels working together.

All teams were eagerly watching the scoreboard throughout the event. Everyone wanted to make it above the top 1000 teams (top 25%).

My team consisted of Josh Taylor, Alexander Rossa, and myself, and was named Gravity Gun. We kicked off at 5.45pm with the release of the problem (which you can find here), and got to work planning out our algorithm.

The Solution

We decided to take a Supervisor/Worker approach, with our main program acting as a coordinator of rides, and the cars doing much of the route finding/calculation themselves.

A basic set of properties were given to the car, to allow it to know about itself, such as its position, the rides it has completed, and the current global step it is on. This allows the supervisor to ask the car how long it will take to complete a given ride. The car is capable of calculating at what points it will pick up the customer, and arrive at the destination.

The supervisor knows more generalised information about the problem, such as the size of the grid, the list of cars and rides to complete, and the number of steps in which the rides have to be completed. It prioritised the list of rides, then asks each car how long it will take to complete the ride. In this version the prioritisation is very basic, and is only ordered by the end step in ascending order. It then gathers the results, and immediately removes any result that will complete after the maximum finish step of the ride. If the ride won’t complete the ride in time, we don’t even want to attempt it, as we could be using this time to get more points.

Next, it will check to see if any of the cars can achieve the bonus points. If they can, it will pick one of these cars, otherwise it will pick any car. It will then pick the car that reported the least number of steps to complete the job. This provides a fairly optimal path for completing rides (though clearly not the best!).

Conclusions

This model is fairly good, achieving 45 million points, though not without its faults. The top team managed to achieve over 49 million points. Given more time (there was a fair amount of time finding and fixing silly logic errors), we’d look to improve the prioritisation algorithm, looking at balancing the choice of going on a long journey, vs doing multiple short ones.

The competition was great fun, and I’ll certainly look to do it again next year. I’d encourage any student who wants experience with a real world, complex programming problem to compete! It offers something drastically different from  a University module, and it can be really rewarding to build a working solution. As a student, the challenge was really engaging, but not too difficult as to be unsolvable.

I’ll definitely be encouraging HullCSS to run the event again next year. If you’re in Hull and want to get involved, let me know. If there is enough interest, it may be that the Hub is opened up to the whole city!

Links

Want to know more about HashCode or get involved? You can find some info here:

https://hashcode.withgoogle.com/

 

Want to see my solution? Check it out on GitHub! (We were really tired, and were rushing when we wrote this, apologies in advance!)

https://github.com/HarryGwinnell/HashCode2018

 

Want to have a go yourself? Find the PDF problem here! And the inputs are here.

 

Why not check out my other projects?

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