Microsoft Surface: SecondLight

If you know anything about Microsoft Surface than this will probably peek your interest.  Things like this may just be eye candy for now, but you can see in just a matter of years (or less) the way we interact with computers in our daily lives will be drastically different.

I don’t mean the way we all normally use computers, but how we do everything else.  Look at the way people are using phones now.  They play games, text around the world, get driving directions, take videos and pictures, listen to music and a whole host of other things we never though of 5 years ago.  If you went back to just the year 2000 and told everyone what phones would be like today most would never believe you.

That’s where Surface and technologies like it are taking us.  When you’re out and about you’ll be interacting with display technology like this every where.  Whether it’s ordering off a menu at a restaurant, getting plane tickets, adjusting your hotel amenities and upgrading your rental car all during your layover at the airport, finding where stores are and what sales they have at a mall display, etc information will be much richer and more interactive than we have now.

OK, get the point.  🙂

SecondLight is a technology where a second image is literally projected through the first.  It isn’t visible until a translucent item is placed in front of it.  This could be something as simple as a sheet of tracing paper.

that isn’t so special in itself, this easily could have been simulated with the older Surface technology.  It’s the fact that this second image is projected that really beefs things up.  Suddenly displays are becoming more "3D".  Not in the traditional sense but you can hold the paper above the surface for an easier view.  They showed some plexiglass "disks" that were molded with a prism inside.  This allowed the light to bend and display the image on the side.  It’s all simply amazing.

Check out this article and watch the video.  It’s just mind blowing.

As I always say, this is an amazing time to be alive.

Take care all!

Microsoft to include jQuery in Visual Studio

This is absolutely amazing.  If you’ve never used jQuery definitely check it out.  Ever since James Johnson (president of the Inland Empire .Net User’s Group) did a presentation on it last year I’ve been hooked.  It’s is an outstanding JavaScript framework that actuallly makes JavaScript a pleasure to use.

As a classically trained developer I’ve always approached JavaScript as a tool to use only when absolutely necessary and as a last resort.  Dealing with cross browser compatibility and just plain frustration over the language has made JavaScript a tool of evil in my development toolbelt.

With jQuery I not only now consider JavaScript a valuable asset I actually love to develop in it.

Hearing that Microsoft is now including it in their IDE is pretty exciting.  This means that IntelliSense and debugging (while possible with some great workarounds from the jQuery community) will most likely eventually be fully supported for jQuery.  I’ve worked with lots of development environments and Visual Studio is by far one of the best IDE’s around.

Probably even more exciting is that this furthers the strategy that MS is really interested in working with developers.  Some of my friends are probably tired of me bashing the old-school “Microsoft Way”.  Seeing the real encouragement of MS through employees like Scott Gu, Phil Haack and others on projects like MVC and such really make it apparent that MS is offering alternatives for developers who want the ability to code using modern standards.

Actually integrating jQuery into Visual Studio shows that MS is willing to offer alternatives to their own prodcuts such as the ASP.Net AJAX JavaScript framework.  MS is no longer in the “We’re Microsoft.  Our way or the highway” mentality.

SQL Data Auditing

In an ideal world you would design your applications so that your users could never enter bad data.  Well, that’s not always possible for some technical reasons and for 3rd party apps you’re at the mercy of the vendor.


One case in point is our Student Information System (SIS) at the Val Verde Unified School District.  It does a great job and we love it, but as a developer it does have its cons.  The database isn’t as normalized as I would prefer and sometimes their data model just seems weird.  Granted it is a Microsoft Access UI that links to a SQL back end, however, it still doesn’t change the way things are.


In this case we need to perform audits on our data.  Anyone who is in data management knows that if it’s possible to enter an invalid value (such as a 5 digit phone number) some user will do it someday.  In some cases bad data is rare and other cases just plain prevalent.  The other issue is how that impacts your organization.  Sometimes the invalid data will just be informational and not a big impact, however, in other cases this can impact reporting, automated processes, data exports/imports and many other systems.


So, I came up with our current data auditing system.  We started it up back in June, 2006 and it’s been a great help.  We currently have 60 checks on our SIS that run various times of the day.  Each check is really just a simple SQL statement that looks for errors and stores these in a violations table.  After each job a report with the results is sent to the relevant users.  Typically we have only a few jobs, most of which run at night and by the morning staff have the latest error report in their email. 


This has been a real labor saver as data entry errors are caught within 24 hours.  Those who are responsible for the data usually have the information fresh in their minds or the reference paperwork readily at hand.  We have to send various reports to the state several times in the year.  In the past, before we had audits, many of the reported fields were not actively maintained and we would get thousands of errors that needed to be corrected before we submitted our reports.  Now, the errors are corrected by the next day.  When it comes time to submit the reports it’s a much faster and less stressful process.


Currently our audit system is in a very 1.0 stage.  It only runs on our SIS data since that is what it was originally created for.  Also, it’s entire maintained in SQL by our database managers (3 of us).  There is no UI at all.  It works, and is great for a 1.0 venture if I am allowed to say so.  But it’s definitely time for a 2.0 version.


Here are just a few features I’m looking to put into the 2.0 version:

  • Easy to use web UI
  • Make use of ASP.Net security and roles
  • Able to audit ANY data through various data providers:
    • SQL
    • Active Directory
    • Exchange
    • File System
    • IIS logs
    • Etc.
  • Better reporting system
  • Easily setup generic audits on fields such as:
    • Non-empty
    • Alpha
    • Numeric
  • Real-time audits (such as using triggers in SQL)


I’m thinking about putting this on CodePlex once I have the basic framework up and running.  I have no ETA on this project since it’s rare that we get a lot of “free” time to work on things like this.


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