Monday, November 26, 2007

Math Add-in for Microsoft Word

Here is a little goody for all of you out there (especially you math teachers) who are always struggling to add mathematical things (formulas, graphs, etc) into Word documents.

The Microsoft Math Add-in adds computational and graphing capabilities to the Equation Tools Ribbon of Word 2007.
With the Microsoft Math Add-in for Word 2007, you can:

  • Plot a function, equation, or inequality in 2-D or 3-D
  • Solve an equation or inequality
  • Calculate a numerical result
  • Simplify an algebraic expression

I tried this out and it is very easy to use with lots of helpful explanations and "how to" instructions. You have to have Word 2007 of course but the add-in itself is a free download. More information and the download are here.

WiiMote (Wii game controller) and Microsoft Robotics Studio

I've written before about the Wii controller with links to software that allows a programmer to use a WiiMote with a Windows computer over at Coding 4 Fun. (Note that the code has been updated since that original post.)

The latest cool thing I have seen that involves the WiiMote is Zeddy Iskandar showing off his sample code that uses Microsoft Robotics Studio and a WiiMote to control a robot remotely. The demo uses a Lego NXT based robot but I'm sure the code sample could be used to run other kinds of robots as well.

Over at Channel 8 (this post) there is a video demo and step by step instructions including code examples that Zeddy used. Check it out!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Visual Studio Express 2008 is out

Visual Studio 2008 was released to manufacturing this week and there is a lot of news about it around the Internet. Almost lost in the excitement (well geek excitement anyway) is that the newest versions of Visual Studio Express have also been released. You can get them here.

One of the blogs you'll want to look at though is Dan Fernandez who lists the 15 things he likes best about the newest Visual Studio Express products. And he includes my favorite thing - they're free. If you are into game programming in C++, as a lot of people are, Dan introduces the new Game Development Kit for C++ that works with Visual C++ Express. And much more.

The Beginning Developer Learning Center has been refreshed as well. There are a lot of brand new and updated learning resources there. Take a look.

Channel 8 at European TechEd

The Dutch Microsoft Student Partners (MSPs) have been at the European Teched event interviewing attendees and presenters. These interviews are appearing on Channel 8 and they are pretty good.

Yesterday an interview with Rob Miles who is a lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Hull showed up. Rob has a blog which is one of the first ones I read when ever it is updated. He's also working on an XNA textbook which looks very good. I should warn you though that Rob is well known for bad jokes and he tells a couple during the interview.

A couple of days ago an interview with Caroline Philips who is the Microsoft Academic Lead for Western Europe. Caroline talks about her own time as a student and what it is like to be a woman in what is sometimes thought of as a man's world. Caroline is a great person who does an amazing job with Microsoft's European academic and student programs.

So visit Channel 8 and check out the most recent additions.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Let's Find a Reason It Can't Work

The Internet is hard on ideas. It's hard on people who express ideas. OK maybe I mean people who participate in conversations (and rants and flame  wars and stuff like that) on the Internet are hard on ideas. And it is not enough that they don't like something - everyone must dislike it. If the idea doesn't work for them it should be destroyed completely least it find a foot hold with people it does work for. Internet forbid that other people's needs/wants/desires should be met.

OK now you're wondering what I am talking about. Let's take an example from current events. Have you been following the discussion about Amazon's Kindle - electronic book reader? (Take a look at some of the comments over on Scoble's blog here and here or this review that makes the Kindle look like the second coming of 1984) The venom that is coming out is amazing.

Now I can see problems with the device (I'd like to be able to give away a copy of a book when I am done with it for example) but I also see opportunities (I talk about some educational possibilities in my other blog) as well. Its a version one product after all so there are bound to be issues that need work and things that will change and even unexpected consequences that will have to be dealt with. But are flame wars the best way to respond? Apparently on the Internet they are.

My wife doesn't like the idea of the Kindle BTW. She loves here books in paper. And that is fine - no one is going to stop printing books anytime soon and they probably never will. But shouldn't people have alternatives? Shouldn't there be more than one way to read a book? Well not on the Internet apparently.

On the Internet if someone disagrees with out they are not just wrong, misunderstanding or someone with different needs. On the Internet someone who disagrees with you is either an idiot or evil. The last time I attracted the critical eye of a big name blogger his fans called for my firing because anyone with my opinions was obviously too stupid to hold a job. Yeah that convinced me I was wrong.

What is it about the Internet that makes flame wars, insults and over the top arguments so attractive? Is it the pseudo anonymity? Is it the lack of physical connection? Or is it just that so many people are able to jump in on your side that starts an avalanche of negativity? Probably a combination of things I guess.

But it doesn't have to be that way. People could jump into a discussion and add positive comments, make suggestions for improvement perhaps even find common ground that relationships and improvements can be built upon. That seems to take more work though. Sometimes you have to look a little harder to find the good things in products, companies, ideas, and people who initially turn you off. You have to think about things. You have to make an effort. Jumping up and down on an idea and calling people evil idiots is just so easy.

If an idea survives all this then it goes on to great success I suppose but I worry that a lot of ideas with potential never get the chance to be fine tuned and improved but are killed in the early stages of life. Sigh.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tomorrow's Book Today

Amazon has a new electronic book called Kindle. It looks pretty good and has good battery life and can store a lot of books. The wireless Internet (limited to buying and downloading reading material) with no extra costs is a huge benefit I think. I like that they backup your data for you as well.

The one question I have that I don't see is if you can give a book to someone else when you are done reading it. I could live with it not being on my reader afterwards as that only seems fair.

It is expensive though and I wonder if the $400 price will be a show stopper. Time will tell I guess. But you know there was a time when I didn't think I would pay several hundred dollars for headphones and then I discovered the Bose Quiet Comfort II and a sale was made. This could do the same.

I love the idea of carrying several days reading in one neat little electronic package. And of course being able to download a new book in a minute is pretty cool as well. It's sort of like a DVR for books. Get it when you think of it and read it when you want.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Carrot, Stick, Attract, Retain, Boys, Girls

Is the shortage of women in computer science caused by a failure to attract women or are women being chased away? That seems to be at the heart of some recent discussions I've been following on the subject.

Recently one educator talked about using games as a carrot to attract women into the field. While some debated the effectiveness of this method another educator objected to the use of the term "carrot" and the idea that women needed to be attracted to the field. That educator teaches at an all female school which gives a different perspective of course. No one disputes that the number of women in the field is at a low that is not healthy but the cause is clearly up for discussion.

On the "we're chasing them away" side I submit a list of "10 Programmers you'll encounter in the field" that I came across recently. While I don't think the list is intended to be all inclusive I find it telling that there are no types on the list that I can picture many people, let alone women, aspiring to be. Those are common stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and I fear by some people in the field and they describe a very uncomfortable atmosphere. The popular media is not particularly helpful here either.

To overcome some of that uncomfortable atmosphere, especially in education, there are resources available for teachers. Recently in the CSTA blog, Leigh Add Sudol posted a link to a practice guide from the National Center for Education Research. This guide lists five recommended strategies for encouraging girls in Math and Science. Leigh Ann has a great summary of the guide which I recommend reading if you make time for anything at all.

Several years ago I attended a training event at Carnegie Mellon (where Leigh Ann is teaching these days) that included a lot of great information about how not to to scare girls away from CS classes once there were in them. I learned quite a lot and found that these techniques helped me with a lot of the boys in my class as well.

One of the things we forget is that in the range of attitudes, confidence levels, and learning styles there is real overlap between boys and girls. Things that make some girls uncomfortable can make boys uncomfortable as well. Likewise some girls will like the same things that some other boys like. We have to make sure we don't lose site of the fact that stereotypes are not a sound basis for categorizing all students.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Your way, Your play, XNA: Modify a 2D Game in 10 minutes

Short attention span? No problem. Hilary Pike has created a short quick moving demo/screen cast on modifying an existing 2-dimensional XNA based video game. In just 10 minutes she walks the viewer through some key gaming concepts and then adds Collision Detection and Score Keeping to the game.

Also at her blog post you will find links to other XNA resources and of course the sample code for the game used in the demo. This demo will give a good overview of what one can do with existing game code for XNA projects. And of course collision detection and score keeping are important things for just about any good computer game. Share it with your friends.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Computer Technology, Agriculture and Africa

My friend and co-worker Philip DesAutels is in Africa this week. Philip has a wide range of experience including some time in the Peace Corps bringing technology to farmers and other agriculture programs. So he was invited to participate in the Zambia Workshop Workshop II: Delivery Systems. The conference runs November 11-16, 2007 and is in Livingstone, Zambia. (Some people get all the good trips!!)

The purpose of this conference "is to identify possible transformative approaches, both technological and non-technological, to the creation and distribution of agricultural information." I have heard Philip and others talk about the ways that technology, including computer and communications technology, can help people in rural areas become more fully engaged - to their advantage - in the global economy.

Philip is blogging about his trip and the conference and I look forward to reading more about the trip, the conference and the ways that technology is making a difference in Africa and around the world. web stats analysis

Creating An Install Project and More

This is sort of a two for one post. The first thing that happened is that Clint Rutkas created a little program to delay the start up of all the applications he had running when his computer booted up. While the program is useful for itself I think it is also useful as a way to see how things are done. Things like reading files, setting up configurations and of course starting processes. You can read about the program and get the source code here.

Well the next thing you know Clint's manager (Martin Schray) said "how about an installer to make it easier to install?" The obvious reply was "great ideal Martin, let me know when it's done." We're a casual group here. The other thing about our little group is that we seldom miss an opportunity for take advantage of the "the teachable moment." In this case that means that Martin recorded a screencast that demonstrates step by step how to make an installer project. You can see the screencast here. So if you have wondered how to create an install program using Visual Studio 2005 now you have a place to go.

I of course have just jumped in to tell others about it. I love work. I can watch it for hours. :-)