Imagine Cup is coming, to town…

Ok, I know its been a while since blogged last, but as a 21- year old developer working in Microsoft, I think I have earned the right to say, I have been busy.. ūüėõ

So of the many things I have been doing this past week, which involves submitting about 10 Apps, finishing off my game App, I have been busy working with the DPE team helping them organize the Imagine Cup UAE finals.

I’m pretty sure quite a few of you have heard of this competition, but for those of you who do know what Imagine Cup is, here is a brief overview:

Imagine Cup is an annual competition hosted and sponsored¬†by Microsoft Corp, where in they bring together some of the brightest developers. The challenge thrown at these young technologists, is to “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems”.

The competition has various challenges. This year’s challenges include:

1) Software Design

 

 

 

2) Game Design: XBOX/Windows

 

 

 

3) Game Design: Phone

 

 

 

4) IT Challenge

 

 

 

5) Kinect Fun Labs Challenge

 

 

 

6) Windows Metro Style App Challenge

 

 

 

7) Windows Azure Challenge

 

 

 

8) Windows Phone Challenge

 

 

 

The Competition is quite exciting and challenging. Participants are expected to use Microsoft technology and they get a change to showcase their talents, first at the regional (country) Finals. The top team from each country, then progresses to the worldwide finals. The worldwide finals have always excited me. I have never been to one, but I have seen videos, and I must say, I have never seen any event organized in such a grand scale. The ideas presented here are quite innovative. The common misconception is that Imagine Cup is all about creating Utopia with technology. While some may consider this as a delusion, others take it up as a challenge, the truth is that most of the team who win, have simple, but elegant solutions to the very simple problems what the world faces. And that is what I love about Imagine Cup. Innovative minds from around the world, come together and present a cool new perspective to facing problems.

This year, the finals are going to be held in Sydney, Australia. The regional finals have started all over the world. It’s really exciting for¬†me considering that I am a part of the team representing¬†my college in this competition for the UAE regional finals.¬†A couple of weeks¬†back,¬†Microsoft Gulf announced the 5 teams which had qualified for the UAE finals. The team¬†that wins¬†here,¬†get a shot at the worldwide finals in Australia.

The project topics for each of the teams is quite interesting. One of the teams will try to cure Sleep Apnea using the Windows Phone, another team attempts to solve piracy issues, while 2 teams focus on optimizing standards for EMR (electronic medical records) and its ease of access, and the last one tries to convert waste into bio-fuel using technology.

The Imagine Cup UAE finals will be held at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (Meyana Auditorium), from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm on 23rd April 2012.

Honestly, I think it is a brilliant opportunity for people to come, relax at a brilliant venue, eat good food, have a good time, play with the Kinect, and watch each of the 5 teams present their ideas. If you havent registered already, click here.

For those of you who have a Windows Phone, you can now download the imagine cup app, “Imagine Cup Live“. I published the app a few days back. It gives you twitter updates, blog feed, lets you view the competition count down clock and has all the important links. For those of you reading this on your mobile phones, Click here, to download the app.

So, hope to see you guys at the Imagine Cup UAE Finals. Till then, chao.

Feel The Force.. You are the Controller

Long time ago, In a galaxy far far away…..

To be precise, about¬†6 days ago, at the Address Downtown Hotel right next to the towering Burj¬†Khalifa, I witnessed Microsoft unveil Star Wars for the Kinect. In 2 words, “I’m impressed”.

a) Microsoft knows how to throw a party.

b) After being a Star Wars buff for almost a decade (which includes wishing some luck by saying “May the force be with you” instead of “Good luck”¬† even now…), I must say, this was one game ¬†I have been eagerly waiting for ever since the Kinect launched in the later half of 2010.

Did the game live up to its hype?

Hell yeah!!

If I had to Rate the Game on a scale of 10:

Graphics : 8

The developers have paid minute attention to details in this game. If you slash a droid with the light saber, one can notice the molten metal right where the player cuts the droid. A lot of effort has been put into making the player believe that they are really playing in the Star Wars Universe. So Kudos to the team for that.

Gameplay : 8

Now, I have mixed feelings with regards to the gameplay. Most of the modes, are just brilliant and addictive, while a few others could use a little improvement. But on the whole, I think the development team must take a bow. To give a brief description:

Jedi Destiny: Dark Side Rising (10/10)

This is easily the best mode in the game. You can use the force push, force speed, force jump. One can relive their childhood dreams by actually performing the same light saber moves and see the character in the game replicate those moves. It is simply beautiful to see one’s childhood fantasies come to life in this mode. ūüėÄ This mode gets a perfect score from my side. To quote my fellow colleague Radhakrishna¬†Sanka¬†( aka Sanka aka Krishna ),¬† “It was EPIC!!! It actually feels like you are in the movie. The cinematic keeps one’s interest alive. It takes a little playing to get used to, but once you do, its brilliant.”.

Rancor Rampage: ( 9/10)

I loved this mode. It’s funny, its satisfying in its own way. Here you play as a Rancor and go about destroying a city, tossing people around. My friend and fellow Microsoft Student Partner Sweekriti¬†(aka Sweeky)¬† loved this mode. It was funny watching her play that game like a 5-year-old kid… which she is anyway. She described the mode as “Very thrilling and satisfying”. Its funny when the Rancor emulates the weird hand movements that you do.

Podracing: (8/10)

Not bad at all. In this mode, I would assume that they have used the same gestures as the racing game in Kinect Joy Ride. Its fun. Ashok another fellow Student Partner thought of the mode as pretty awesome, but felt that perhaps the sensitivity could be worked upon a little more. But on the whole, he loved it.

Galactic Dance Off (8/10)

Inspired by Dance central, this mode is quite innovative. I realize that many die-hard Star Wars fans were offended by this mode. But let’s remember one fact. Not every single game is made for just a specific niche of gamers. Star Wars like all other Kinect¬†games is supposed to be a family game to be enjoyed by all, and not just the few “Chosen Ones”. I liked the concept of this game with Han Solo and Princess Leia as the lead dancers. I thought as the game mode to be very innovative and it was fun to watch my friends face off in the dance competition. Sweeky brought in her best dance¬†moves, and Ashok did well to keep up (he even beat her in one dance duel by about 200,000 points).

Duels of Fate (7/10)

Now this game mode was ok. It was a little slow. It was fun to play at first. But it gets a little boring after a while. This may be unfair on my side considering that all playable characters were not unlocked. So I will still give it the benefit of doubt.

All in all, I think the game is brilliant. I read reports which claimed that the game was a big disappointment, and I disagree. Yes, the game can be improved. But this game represents something totally different to the Kinect community. It brings life to the characters we all have loved for decades. It transports you to a whole new plane. Most importantly, I can finally see myself as a Jedi Knight using the force and fighting the dark side. It is a beautiful experience, and¬†I’m sure many Star Wars fans would agree.

Now I havent played the full game. But if I’m not mistaken, the story is set sometime during the Clone Wars Era, at least quite a few of the game modes.

What I loved best about the launch was a few guys dressing up as Darth Vader, Storm Troopers and Boba Fett and making a dramatic entrance. It had a localized touch to it with the unveiling of quite a few posters showing Darth Vader in Dubai. Quite hilarious if you ask me. Click here to view all the pictures.

There even was a showcase which had the special limited edition Star Wars Kinect & XBOX 360 console which had been customized to look like R2D2 and C3P0. It is also interesting to note that these are the only set of consoles where the Kinect sensors have a White body.

I guess that’s it for now. Hope you guys had a great week.¬†And till we meet again,¬†May the force be with you…

If you guys would like to read more, visit: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/msgulfcommunity/

Apple > L.O.D.M.I.U ?

Yeah. LODMIU. The time-ticking bane of any product. The greatest fear any Sales team has as time passes. Also, the reason why I cant eat more than 7 pizza slices at one go.

There is a cosmic force that links LODMIU with everything we use. For those of you inquisitive compulsive quizers or Scrabble addicts, who may have already “Googled”… Oh wait. my bad. Who may have already “Binged” what LODMIU is (you really should switch to Bing. Its pretty cool), you may have figured out by now that there is no such thing as LODMIU. Thats because, I just came up with it. ūüėõ

LODMIU, is actually an acronym I use for the “Law Of Diminishing Margin In Utility”. (coming up with the acronym would perhaps be my only contribution to the field of Economics)

To briefly give you an idea of what LODMIU is, we first need to understand what Utility of a product is. Utility is best defined as “the amount of satisfaction to be derived from a commodity or service at a particular time”. What is interesting to note is, that Utility of a commodity has nothing to do with its usefulness. Now the reason I’m spewing out theories of Economics on a Sunday morning is simple. I’m bored. So I had to make an observation.

As a developer, if I have to be good in my field, I have to have an open mind. So even though I may sound biased towards Microsoft products ( as my mother pointed out after reading my previous posts), I must point out here, that I do respect the innovations made by Apple. What I simply do not understand however, is the consumers¬†who don’t mind paying through their nose for a product they do not seem to understand.

I was comparing phones the other day with a colleague, and he happened to mention a very relevant point. From a normal, non-technical customer point of view, Apple made a badass product a few years back, and hence, they have never had to improve it much. Now, I get that. But this is what worries me. When I ask Apple users what they like about their Apple product, or potential Apple users, why would they buy an Apple product, the standard reply I always get from 9 out of 10 people is: “Coz, Its Apple!!”.

Very few Apple users¬†can tell me what is so unique about an iPhone. Almost every single WP7 user confidently mentions that they love the way they have personalized their phone to the way they want it. Also every WP7 user knows what Metro UI or Lives tiles are. But when it comes to Apple products, nobody really knows why they want it, other than the brand value that Apple has created for itself. So much that a friend of mine¬†once asked a cute girl why she wanted an Apple product, and she replied, “So that I can play Angry birds on it. *blushes*”. After hearing that, I guess¬†Obi-Wan’s scene from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (3rd Movie),¬†kept playing in¬†his head:

Jumping back to where LODMIU comes in. Any product, no matter how exciting, after a certain point, gets old, annoying, or boring. That is one of the main reasons why people switch to some other product which can give a better utility value.

Let me jump back to the pizza reference at the start of this post. Imagine a scenario where you are really hungry and haven’t had anything the whole day. You finally order a pizza. When you munch through the first slice, you don’t even bother savoring the taste. At that point, the utility of that pizza slice is relieving you of hunger. Now when you reach the 2nd or the 3rd slice, you start enjoying the way the cheese melts in your mouth. At this point, the utility is taste. Now, have you noticed how the speed at which you eat the last few slices is considerably lower than the first 2 slices? This is the concept of LODMIU. The same thing applies to all commodities. Have you observed how you eventually start losing interest in a game you were once completely addicted to? Even Apps. You get bored of them eventually.

Apple however seems to have found a way to brainwash people and break the Laws of LODMIU somehow. People who own Apple products, struggle using it (quite a few of them at least), and yet when Apple comes up with the next release, they stand in huge lines and pay A LOT of money for the product in that line. To be honest, if I had to look at the iPhone from what it is now and what it was a couple of years back, I really dont see too much of a change. Yes, functionality wise, a lot has changed, but how many non-technical people actually know this? AND HOW IS IT THAT THEY NEVER SEEM TO GET BORED OF IT???

Now looking at these phones, can anyone tell the difference between the iPhone 1st generation and the present iPhone 4s other than the icons looking slightly different?

Again, don’t get me wrong. I really respect Steve Jobs, and I think he was a brilliant innovator. But more than being an innovator,¬†I respect his¬†marketing skills, with the way he managed to sweep the minds of the people all over the globe. May his soul rest in peace.¬†I respect the iPod. I think it was a brilliant innovation. It was infact¬†what made Apple a¬†titan.¬†I may think that any model of the Windows Phone 7 is way better than the present iPhone 4S, but the iPhone is by itself a brilliant product.

The MacBook however, I don’t understand and personally, I find it irritating to use. And what‚Äôs even more irritating, is when I am woken up at 1 AM in the night, by a 4th year Computer Science student who just recently bought a MacBook, and asks me to help him change his IP address, because he can’t find it. At this point, I *facepalm*.

When I ask him, if he is finding it difficult to use the Mac, why he bought it, he replies, “I was finding it difficult to cope up with virus problems and more importantly, I wanted to be a part of the fad”. At this point, I go *facedesk with a cape*.

I guess my point is this. If you are going to pay an exorbitant amount for any product, at least learn how to use it. Learn its features. If you are going to buy an iPhone, consider other options too. See what a Windows Phone has to offer. See if you like it better. Don’t switch to another product simply because “it is so cool to have”. See if what you are going to buy can really help you or is suited to your needs. Its OK¬†to be buy something costly and sophisticated.¬†But if you do end up buying a product you dont understand, and find no real use for, but bought it just because you thought it would be “cool” , please, DO NOT WAKE ME UP AT 1 AM in the night!! ūüėõ

In other news, my research paper got published in the international journal Engineering Review. For those of you interested in Steganography and Encryption techniques, you can read the paper by clicking on this LINK.

Guess that’s it for now. Cya soon folks.

DISCLAIMER: The examples and incidences I use in the blog post are not targeted at any individual. I may have changed some details just to make sure that any person does not feel targeted. Do understand that this is to make a point based on certain observations and not to insult any user.