The Crazy World (tm) of Rob Miles

Friday, May 19, 2006

Where's Rob?

Rob is moving about a bit. He is in the middle of sliding his blog and just about everything else over to The reasons for this are many and varied, mainly that he can put resources and tags and feeds and things into his new home. For the last week or so he has been triple blogging and the strain is beginning to tell. Bottom line, for the latest in Rob's Bloggy Goodness you should head over to the mother lode above.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Heading Home

Will I ever stay anywhere as posh again?

Well, today I packed up all my stuff ready for the journey back. Every time I go abroad I end up buying a new bag to take stuff home with me. This trip was no exception. I got a rather racy red number (should show up well on the luggage belt) for 14 dollars into which I can put all the presents that I bought for the folks back home. Just to make sure that they are sincerely pleased to see me.

Then, having purchased the jelly beans for number on daughter, it was off to the airport.

This is the 'Vegas arrivals. Note how there are slot machines so that you can gamble even as you wait for your suitcase to appear.

I took me a while to time this photograph correctly, but take a close look at the screen at the far end and....

Imogen Heap is playing 'Vegas!

Very surprised (and impressed) to see that Imogen Heap is playing 'Vegas. We saw her live in York a few weeks back and she was jolly good. If you are in 'Vegas you should drop by. Or you could save the travel and just buy the album "Speak for Yourself".

After that surprise it was onto the plane for the journey back. I've found a way to survive long journeys. It is called the Archos AV500 and Veronica Mars technique. I managed to watch five episodes whilst waiting on various planes and in airports. If you have not seen it before, I'd advise you to take a look. Take a bit of Buffy, a pinch of OC and add just a smidgeon of Twin Peaks and you have Veronica Mars. Snappy, sassy and set in a High School campus. More stereotypes than an advertising excutives handbook, but quite fun nonetheless.

And then back home for blessed sleep.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bus Trip

Being on top of a bus does have its advantages...

On the final day of my visit to 'Vegas I thought I'd take a trip around. Now, I always try to make use of public transport when I go abroad. In the 'states this is usually a good deal because taxis can be expensive and you do see a lot more of the local life by catching a bus. So I did. I bought a five dollar ticket which entitled me to a day's worth of travel and set off to take in the sights. And the Las Vegas Outlet Mall where I planned to buy some trousers. What a jet set lifestyle I have eh?

Anyhoo, I got on the bus, driven by someone whose nametag said was called "Jimmy". Jimmy obviously went to the "Attilla the Hun" school of customer relations. He contrived to be rude, unhelpful and unpleasant in around five words and three gestures. Then someone on the bus took a bit of a turn and had to go and sit down for a while at the stop. Jimmy first ignored the problem, then went outside and shouted at them for being unwell, then, when the person had wandered off in search of a cool drink, called for an ambulance, stopped the bus service called and threw us all off onto the pavement. Nobody liked Jimmy. His replacement, who was so efficient I've forgotten his name, turned up in a virtually empty bus a couple of minutes later. And the really good news was that I got to sit on the top deck, in the front, with a wonderful view of the strip. And a camera. I took loads (and I mean loads) of pictures. There are a bunch on my Flickr site. Didn't buy any trousers though. Such is life. When evening came I went out again with my cameras, just to get a few final snaps.

The view outside my hotel at night

I made it as far as the Harley Davidson Cafe before I caught a bus back. Not driven by Jimmy.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sumo Loser

Clean Pair of Heels

My robot doing what it does best: running away.

For the last couple of days I've been working away on my Sumo robot. I got the kit on Monday and tonight we had the finals. The robots are really neat. You can program them using C# and they are powered by the rinky dink .NET Micro Framework. I wasn't sure about winning on the performance front, so I thought I'd go for style. A moving graphical display looked like it might hit the spot and so I got one and strapped it on the top of my competitor.

Turned out that style was the only point on which I had any chance of scoring. In the competition my robot did something that it had never done in the many seconds of intensive testing that I did before the event. It developed a taste for just piling out of the circle as quickly as possible. Perhaps it was obeying some higher "survival" programming which I was unaware of. At any rate it meant that for me, the game was over very quickly. It is perhaps just as well, some of the competitors looked to be deeply scary, pouncing on their prey and forcing them out of the ring.

The good news is that I got together with a bunch of fellow "second placers" and we set up a kind of "off piste" fighting arena where we just turned them loose. This was great fun to watch, even though my robot never actually won anything, it did manage to lose with a certain style…..

Mass Brawl

Robot Brawling

The Hand of Fate


I've always found probability interesting. Last week in the paper someone was writing about the way that things always even out, but over the very long run. You would expect that if you toss a coin 100 times you would get 50 heads and 50 tails but apparently this is very unlikely to be the case. In fact, you could find that you get many more heads than tails. And yet, just because you've had more tails this does not meant that the next toss is more likely to be heads (because it is "their turn") or tails (because they are popular at the moment).

I've been thinking about this and it makes a kind of sense. If you could use the fact that there have been 50 heads and 49 tails to predict that the 100th coin toss will definitely produce a tail then the coin toss is not random, and therefore something is wrong with fate. I even got to thinking that some part of the universe keeps track of the ups and downs of randomness and makes sure that things level out over the long run. Actually, this is unlikely to be the case, in that what is really going on is that stuff is just happening, and we are trying to draw conclusions from what we see. At the moment I'm in Las Vegas, a town built on probability, and it is interesting to see that all the roulette wheels have displays which show the most recent results to "help" the player decide which number is going to turn up next. As if.

Anyhoo, I got an even bigger does of probability today when I picked up a raffle ticket for a prize draw at one of the events here. I loudly told everyone around me that I might as well tear the ticket up right now because I never, ever win raffles. A fact that struck me as particularly unfair as the prize was a pretty good one – a shiny mobile phone. Of course, I ended up winning. The only snag is that the phone doesn’t actually work properly back home in England, but there is always ebay……

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rob Speaks

Do you have those "What on earth am I doing here?" or "How did I get into this?" kind of moments very often. I don't have too many and fortunately, being of a literal frame of mind, I can usually answer the questions with "Giving a talk" and "Via the lobby". I had one of those today though, just before I gave my presentation. I've met people who say airily "Oh, I never get nervous before I give a talk". Well I do. I regard it as part of the preparation process. I reckon that a certain amount of concern about the way that things are going to turn out does tend to improve the final product. When I fly home on Friday I want the pilot to be fretting to some degree about the success of the take off and landing parts.

So there's nothing wrong with getting nervous, although I have found that if you turn into a quivering wreck on stage this can cause the audience to lose some of their respect for you. I reckon the key to nailing presentation nerves is preparation. If you have confidence in your knowledge of what you are going to speak about, have tested all the props and demos, and have contingency plans if they don't work, then you can just get on and do the job. So, after some pacing of the stage, the appointed time comes and off we go. And just about everything works. And the audience seem to like it. And I finish on time (always a plan if yours is a session immediately before lunch). And they even clapped at one point. Thanks folks.

MEDC 2006 Gets Going

Went to the keynote of MEDC 2006 today. The first thing that caught my eye was the way that Platform Builder has now been tied very neatly into Visual Studio 2005. Platform Builder is the tool that you use to buld platforms (well - duh). More specifically, it lets you create a custom version of Windows CE for the particular target device. You use it to select which features (Media Player, Compact Framework etc etc) and it then builds the stuff that you put into your device to make it work. Previously this has been a slightly mysterious affair, with strange incantations and tools being required. But now it is looking a lot simpler with a new project option for studio (is there nothing this tool can't do) that does most of the grunt work and some very nice editing tools to help you with the rest of the job.


Startup Slide

Then it was on to a demonstration of how easy it is to build embedded systems these days, with a Point of Sale cash till being created on the fly out of various components. The next thing they mentioned was pure music to my ears. The .NET Micro Framework was announced. This is not going to be micro. Quite the reverse. It is a continuation of a development which started a couple of years ago, when a small company took the technology that makes the Spot watch work and then deployed it as a general purpose controller that you could program in C#. At the time I got very excited about this technology, but they unfortunately it all went quiet. But now it is back with a whack and Microsoft properly behind it. They were even giving away robots powered by .NET micro (I managed to get one and it will be taking part in the robot sumo competition on Wed. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this technology is going to be very big indeed and will be super for teaching.


Camera's eye view of the keynote

After that, the stuff about the new Mobile Patterns and Practices was a little less exciting, but it is none the less very useful. One of the things that it provides is a set of libraries which allow you to create completely different layouts for different screen sizes and orientations. These are selected automatically as required, and should mean the end of things on the screen getting into a mess when you change the orienation of your device from landscape to portait.


My robot, ready for action.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Getting Started at MEDC

Today I got my conference bag. One of my rituals is to empty it out and see what swag I've got


Not bad. Of course only a really sad person would post a picture of their entry badge as well...


Now promise that you won't copy it and take over my identity.


In 'Vegas even the lifts have chandeliers in them.


I'm not sure if they had one of these in Venice. But they have one here.


At the end of this beautiful corridor there are some slot machines. A lot of slot machines.


A view of my hotel from the walkway.


The only way to get in or out this hotel is via the moving stairway. Apparently this broke down last month and twenty people were trapped on it for two days. (I have used this gag before, but I still like it).


I got this lovely sumo kit. You get to make a .NET Embedded controlled robot, which you can program in C#. Wonderful. On Wed. we get to make them fight each other. But first I have to build it.


I'm doing session 2. Scary eh? More tomorrow.

Venetian Luxury


Neat view. I wonder if I could hit the pool from here.....

But now I am in 'Vegas, and staying at one of the poshest hotels in the city thanks to a Microsoft discount deal (I dread to think how much this place would cost if I was paying full price). I'm here to talk at the Microsoft MEDC (Mobile and Embedded DevCon) 2006. My talk is on Tuesday about casual game development (the games are casual, not the development).

My luggage has found me. I gave the case a serious telling off. I went and fetched it from customer services, and was comprehensively snubbed by the chap that I saw in the lift. I think he was of the opinion that anyone actually carrying a largish item of luggage must be staff, and in my case not even very well dressed staff.

My goodness this place is posh. Last time I was in the 'states I had room at a Howard Johnston motel in San Jose. This worked fine for me, although when I was talking to one bloke I mentioned where I was staying and he said "How interesting.." in a way which made me think that I'd just told him I was recently released from prison.

However, posh as this place is (and it is very posh – I'll post some pictures later) Howard Johnson does have the edge in several important respects.

Mirrors: the Howard Johnston bathroom contained precisely one mirror, which was easy to avoid. In my current bathroom there are five. Five. That means that when I stagger out of the shower feeling particularly fragile (as I just have) it is impossible to turn so that I can't see the lanky, white, pot-bellied creature which has just emerged. And to make things worse, some of the mirrors are on opposite walls and reflect each other, so that I can actually see hundreds of pasty me's, disappearing off to into the distance. Must do wonders for the recruitment at the fitness spar. Does nothing for me.

Shampoo: in the Howard Johnston there was a single soap dispenser in the bathroom which dispensed a multi-purpose concoction good for cleaning your hands, face, hair and shoes. In the Venetian there are a number of different bottles which contain different lotions, most of which involve cucumber for some reason. However, they are all very similar in colour and all very hard to use. I had to squeeze the conditioner bottle so hard that it flew out of my hands and then proceeded to ricochet around the shower cubical for a few noisy seconds. Later I found I have conditioned my hair with body balm.

Coffee: in Howard Johnston's a room contains a percolator and enough bits and bobs to make a few drinks (it also contains a fridge – which was so efficient in Warren's room that it froze his can of Pepsi rock solid – but we'll pass over that). In the Venetian there is nothing of the sort. Instead there is a well stocked minbar which is squatting in the corner daring me to take something off its sensor laden shelves so that I can make even more money for the establishment. I'm going to make precisely one purchase (a jar of Venetian banded jelly beans ($9.00) on the last day for number one daugher. So there.

WIFI: Howard Johnston had free WIFI. True, I'm not actually sure it was operated by them, but it did work and was free. The Venetian seems to have nothing of the sort. There are a bunch of networks with enticing names but nothing that seems to work. The room guide talks about internet access but no details are available. Then again, perhaps people who come to 'Vegas and then have an urge to surf the web would be regarded by the resort operators as a lost cause from a profit point of view.

Access: I could get to my Howard Johnston room straight from the car park. As could lots of other people I suppose, but at least entry was quick and immediate. To get to my room here I have to use two lifts and pass a bunch of security guards. Actually, I quite like this, as in the HJ I had to put things into the little floor safe all the time, which meant kneeling on the area of carpet which was damp when we arrived and never stopped smelling funny. I did wonder if they had been cleaning off the chalk outline that is drawn around dead bodies in CSI. Or perhaps it was a dropped jar of pickles. Anyhoo, I reckon that the Venetian wins here, as I've looked around carefully but I've found no evidence of such things. Or any pickles for that matter.

However, having said all this, I do really like this room. I just wished I earned enough to be able to afford it properly.