Thursday, July 31, 2008

MSDN Virtual Labs


I always try to find new ways to learn stuff. I don’t like what’s ordinary so as any rookie I used only introductory books to learn about new technologies and thought that I had it all then I saw tutorials. Actually for quite some time my culture about learning new stuff was “tutorialic”- when I found new technologies I got a tutorial that talked about it and that was it. Later on I got to find that that alone isn’t enough (Now all I do is reading as any of you). Along the way I started using some "on the fly" ways like Eclipse help which leads you through each step showing what was done right and what wasn’t, it was really great when I was learning about RCP. It helped me both get things done and learn fast at the same time. Two days ago I found a new Microsoft tool that I really liked; it’s really innovative and time and software resources saving. What I am talking about is –as you already know- is MSDN Virtual Labs. MSDN virtual labs is a new tool that helps a developer build applications with Microsoft’s latest technologies without having to install any application on your machine. When I used it what I really liked about it that it helped me learn about new technologies in a very interactive and interesting way. I tried it the first time just to try a new thing but I found it could be put in real use.
When you open the web site you’ll get to choose what technology or product you want to use and then choose what scenario you want to experience. After a long and boring registration phase you’ll get to use it (there is an express version if you want to try it without registration. You can find the link on the top left side of the main page). When you are done with that phase the web site will ask you to install a certain ActiveX add on. Then you’ll get to start using you session of the virtual lab. Every session is about 90 minutes (those are the ones I’ve seen I don’t know if there are any longer or shorter sessions). Through each session you will be provided with a certain exercise to do. I found that downloading the lab’s manual and reading the steps from it is better than reading the exercise from the lab’s window.
I found the experience of using that lab so amusing and educating- that’s the way I think learning should be “fun”. That lab also has some downsides which are the long and boring registration phase. Also if you don’t have a fast DSL connection, don’t even think about using it. One last thing is that you can’t get the result of your work on the exercise on your machine but if you only want to learn about a technology or a product that won’t matter to you.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Sun SPOT

Have you ever dreamed of having a project that produced a chip that did something real, something that you can make then use in the real world, instead of the digital projects that come from wonderland were people use some switches to play a game! Well, I had that dream. I love to program chips to make stuff like telling me when someone turns the light on in some room and to react to it according to some program I've already put in it. Though our beloved FPGA can do a lot of really great stuff but it's programming is frustrating. VHDL is one great-extremely-low-level language and it can teach us a lot about digital design but again if I want something to use something in a robotics project would I choose VHDL over Java?! I guess not. Sun has done it people. A programmable device that could be programmed directly using J2ME technologies. With high processing power and a lot of cool features that could be put in real use easily, I think it's everything that a programmable board should be. I was told about Sun SPOT(Sun Small Programmable Object Technology) by Juan Ramon Sun's Education & Research Manager during Wikimania. He told me -as you can find on SPOT's home page- that SPOT is not available in Egypt yet and it's really expensive but it's also kind of new so I'll keep dreaming about having SPOT somewhere in our labs maybe not for digital courses but for embedded courses. I'll list some of its features and you can also check it on Wikipedia.
Sun SPOT Processor Board:
180 MHz 32 bit ARM920T core - 512K RAM/4M Flash
2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4 radio with integrated antenna
USB interface
3.7V rechargeable 720 mAh lithium-ion battery
32 uA deep sleep mode
General Purpose Sensor Board:
2G/6G 3-axis accelerometer
Temperature sensor
Light sensor
8 tri-color LEDs
6 analog inputs
2 momentary switches
5 general purpose I/O pins and 4 high current output pins
Software:
Squawk Virtual Machine
Fully capable J2ME CLDC 1.1 Java VM with OS functionality
VM executes directly out of flash memory
Device drivers written in Java
Automatic battery management

I copied those features from SPOTs home page where you can find a lot more about it.
If you know about anything else like it please leave a comment about it and if you like this post -or not- please leave a comment.


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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wikimania 2008

Four months ago I was told by a friend of mine "Abdel Rahman Gamal" that there will be a Wikimania here in Alexandria, Egypt and it will be hosted by the BA (Bibliotheca Alexandrina). He was thinking about joining the volunteers who are going to organize the event. I thought about that event for a while then forgot all about it due to all the things I had to do. About two months ago I found Abdel Rahman leading a group of volunteers and promoting for the big Wikimania conference. They had 2 awareness sessions to tell people about Wikipedia, Wikimedia and Wikimania. I loved the idea and I registered for the event I thought that it wouldn't hurt to attend some talks which I thought at the time would be all about the big online encyclopedia.
The conference ended yesterday and it was really great. I loved every single thing about it. The sessions, the people and the organization. I got to know a lot about the site I took for granted. I got to know a lot of great people and have really fruitful conversations.
I got to talk to some people I never dreamed of talking to and got to take a lot of new ideas home with me. I found out who the people behind the Arabic Wikipedia were and how the big Wikimedia foundation worked. I also got to talk to some academic people who came to show some of there results and research about wikipedia related stuff.
The research that I really like -mostly because it's all about my major- is the Semantic MediaWiki (SMW) which is done by two german researchers Markus Krötzsch and Denny Vrandecic which I got the chance to talk to both of them. Their sessions were mainly to tell people about SMW which I already knew about so I got to talk to them after the sessions about the technical parts and I found out that they didn't use an Ontology for that project and I got a general idea about the DB implementation they used. That conversation really made my day.
Today when I look back at the past three days I feel excited about the future and proud of the my friends who made that great Wikimania possible.
I choose that subject to be my first post because I think it's the biggest event I'll have this summer I hope you like it and if you do -or don't- please leave your comment.

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