For the past 6 years, or just over 2300 days, I have had the incredible opportunity to work as a Technical Evangelist for Microsoft. And for all of those days, it was awesome. I spoke at over 150 conferences, organized 3 others, wrote over 500 articles on this website, published a book, created more than 25 apps, gained 20 pounds, drove over 50,000 miles, flew on over 120 airplanes, and most importantly, had the opportunity to meet and work with THOUSANDS of the most talented and passionate software developers anywhere. I couldn’t possibly list every single person that has had an impact on me both personally & professionally during this time. The developer community that I have been a part of for the last 7+ years is absolutely amazing.
Even something you enjoy this much has to come to an end at some point, and December 2 is that day for me.
I’m not leaving Microsoft, though. In fact, I’m moving to a new position, with a new set of challenges and adventures. I will be a Senior Program Manager in Worldwide DPE. The team is based in Redmond, Washington, but I have the good fortune to continue working from my home in Ohio. This means I can continue to participate in the developer community I’ve been a part of for so long.
In my new role, I will be working with several large ISVs (independent software vendors) who are building Windows Phone and Windows 8 applications. My job will be to help them architect, plan, build, and deliver their software to the market. This will include expanding my moderate knowledge of Windows Azure, and sharing my expertise of the Windows platforms with my customers and teammates. I’ll still be traveling from time to time, but I expect it to be less than what I am currently doing. I’ll still be writing articles, in fact I might even do another “31 Days” series again. We will see what kinds of things come to mind.
As I dive into this new gig on December 2nd, I’ll have more to share about what I’m learning, what the job is like, and all of the other random anger and curiosities you’ve come to expect from me. In the meantime, keep working on what you’re passionate about. Get started on that pet project, or just try learning a new language in 2014. Don’t wait to build something until you’re asked to. Invest in yourself. It pays huge dividends.
Finally, I need to help my almost-former team find a replacement. Ever considered a career in evangelism with Microsoft? Let me know. I’d be happy to pass your name on.
Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve been using Microsoft’s PubCenter to publish ads in my app, King Poker. It’s made me a decent amount of money (I’m averaging about $200/month right now). Three days ago, however, my revenue stopped, without explanation. I haven’t had much time to look into it, until today.
If you are using PubCenter, you need to update all of your existing Windows Phone Ad units by September 12th, or you will stop receiving ads.
In order to fix this, it’s pretty simple. Just go into your PubCenter account at http://pubcenter.microsoft.com, and update the app that each of your ad units is assigned to. (This might also be a great opportunity to update your categories, as each of them pays a different eCPM. There’s a great Windows Phone app, PubCenter Adviser, that will tell you, each day, which category is paying the highest eCPM.)
There’s an excellent blog post from the guys that run PubCenter explaining exactly what you need to do:
Remember, you need to do this by September 12, and this does NOT require any updates to your app, thankfully.
Almost two years ago (has it really been that long?) I wrote an article titled, “What’s In Your Laptop Bag?” It contained an exhaustive list of things I carry with me everywhere when I’m traveling to conferences or out-of-town meetings.
Today, I was looking around my home office and realized that it might be useful to do another one documenting all of the gear I have at my desk. (I work from home, so this is the dedicated space in my house where I work every day.) There’s another reason I’m writing this, though, and it’s because I received so many great responses and recommendations from the last article. I’d love to hear what’s important enough to keep on your desk, as well as your recommendations for the “weak spots” in my setup.
Let’s start with a picture (click to enlarge):
With the exception of the books on the bookshelves (though I might add a few of those as well), here’s the list:
When I decided to work from home 6 years ago, I decided to invest in a good chair. In my days working for advertising agencies, I had fallen in love with the comfort and durability of the Herman Miller Aeron Chair, and splurged on one for myself. No regrets whatsoever.
Under the chair, I started with plastic chair mats, but they ended up cracking and chipping away. I recently picked up an Anji Mountain Roll-Up Bamboo Chairmat, and couldn’t be happier. It’s gorgeous, durable, and is much easier to move than a giant plastic mat.
I’m currently using a Dell Studio XPS 8100 that I’ve had since March 2010. Three years is usually my limit on hardware, but I loaded this one up when I bought it, and it’s still going strong.
Here’s what Windows 8 thinks of my machine:
I’ve been running some kind of dual monitor setup for almost ten years now, so when I’m forced to just work on a laptop natively, it’s painful. That being said, monitors seem to last forever anymore, so I’ve had these two for 5-7 of those ten years. The first one is a Dell 2408WFPb 24” monitor. The second is a Dell E228WFPc 22” screen. I’ve held on to this smaller one for a while, only because it supports much higher resolutions than most of the monitors on the market right now.
I’ve also been using this for several years now (probably 4), and it’s on my list of things to replace. Not because it doesn’t work, because it’s excellent, but mostly because of the microphone. I’ve been doing more conference calls and podcasts, and it just picks up way too much ambient machine noise from around my desk. In general, however, it’s an excellent webcam for a reasonable price. This is the Microsoft Lifecam Cinema.
The Smart Card Reader
As part of the security measures at Microsoft, I need a smart card to access our internal network. The Omnikey 3021 Reader gets the job done, without being very large or inconvenient. It fits nicely under my primary monitor.
The USB Hubs
On each side of my monitors, I have installed in-desk USB hubs. Underneath the desk, they’re powered, and connected directly to the desktop machine. They’re only USB 2.0, but for everything I’m currently doing, I haven’t seen the need for USB 3.0 yet. There’s also space on either side of the ports to run cables through the desk. Excellent design. While this one is no longer manufactured, you can get the similar Belkin In-Desk USB Hub for about $35.
I am also running an iHome 7-port USB hub behind my monitors for the webcam, keyboard, smart card reader, and other USB accessories that find their way to my desk.
The Power and Networking Hub
I’ve also added a Sunway PowerTap into my desk’s surface. It adds three power outlets, and two wired network connections, making it easy to plug a machine in temporarily on my desk without having to run a bunch of wires underneath.
This is one of the most recent additions to my office, the Logitech Performance MX Mouse. I love it for several reasons. First, it’s very accurate. Some of the cheaper mice (even wired ones) that I’ve used in the past have been difficult to use for precision work like Photoshop. This is top-notch for that. Second, it is super comfortable in my hand. Finally, it has solved the problem that so many wireless mice in the past have been plagued with: it has a rechargable battery that can be charged while you’re using it. Just plug in a micro-USB cable to the front of it, and you’re back up and running. An exceptional mouse.
I have tried literally dozens of keyboards over the past few years, but none of them have justified the price. I’m actually still using the default keyboard that came with my desktop machine. It’s nothing fancy whatsoever, and I’m still looking for the keyboard that will change everything for me. Until that time, however, I’ll stick with the Dell SK-8165.
A few weeks ago, my headphones broke. They still worked, but the part that goes over the top of your head snapped, making them unusable. I spent a few weeks looking around for a replacement, and fell in love with the Beats by Dre Studio Over-Ear headphones. They’re the first noise-cancelling headphones I’ve ever owned, and the sound is excellent. (Not to mention they come in obnoxious colors, like the orange ones I got.) They also completely surround my ears, which means I can wear them all day without my ears starting to hurt from the pressure of them pressing down.
Sometimes, you want more than headphones can offer, and you want to listen to music without wearing headphones. For this, I’ve had a trusty set of speakers/subwoofer for years. They’re not for sale anymore (the speaker business seems to churn quickly), but the Creative Inspire 2.1 2400 are plenty to fill my office with enough sound to get my wife to knock on the door and tell me to turn it down.
The Audio Switch
Because this is my home office, and I’m super lazy and averse to wires laying everywhere, I’ve also grabbed an audio switch to jump back and forth between the headphones and the speakers. I actually mounted it right under my desk, so when I reach down to toggle the button on the switch, I feel like a Bond villain reaching to open the trap door. (OK, maybe not.) It also has a volume dial, so it’s easy to modify the volume of my system without having to jump to some menu on my system. One of the best purchases I have made for my office, and it only cost $15.
The Mobile Phone Stand
I do a bunch of mobile development, and in many cases, I need to test my software on a physical device. This little stand can often be found as a giveaway at conference sponsors booths, but you can also pick one up on Amazon if it works for you. It’s the Blue Lounge Milo Phone Stand. It uses “micro-suction” to adhere both to the desk and to your device, and it really works. When I was writing this section, it took me about 5 minutes to get it off of my desk. The only real downside to this stand is that my Nokia Lumia 920 needs to be plugged in to transfer my software to it, and the USB port on the phone is on the bottom. Getting it plugged in and sticking to this stand can be tricky, but it can be done.
The Desk Phone
Working from home, I don’t want to have to use my cell phone for all of my calls. (Yes, this means I still have a home phone number, don’t judge.) I wanted a phone that was cordless, took up minimal space, and offered a speakerphone function because I hate holding a phone to my ear. The VTech DS6321-3 DECT 6.0 Cordless Phone package did the trick. It comes with 3 handsets which don’t require a phone cord (except for the primary base, which is elsewhere in the house.) It has a tiny footprint on my desk, but gets a ton of use. It also has a nice feature (which I don’t use) that allows you to connect your mobile phone to the primary base via Bluetooth, so that when you’re home, you can answer your mobile phone from any of the handsets. It even uses a different ringtone, so you know which phone is ringing.
I seem to constantly need to scan in a business card, a signed document, or just a photo, and I don’t want to have to walk across my office to the big print/scan/fax/copy combo. I picked up the NeatReceipts Scanalizer Pro a few years ago to catch up on all of the business cards that were cluttering up my desk. It comes with some great software that does OCR, and imports that data directly into my Outlook contacts. Very convenient. It sits vertically on a stand behind my monitors, but is in easy reach when I need it.
As you can tell from the length of the list already, I have tons of cables on my desk, and I’d rather have none. To contain the chaos that is the wiring at my desk, I’ve been using Blue Lounge’s CableDrop cable clips. They’re adhesive, so they’ll stay where I want them to, and they grab and hold the cables I put in them. They’re great for keeping my keyboard wire in one place, my smart card reader in easy reach without moving all over the place, and even for running the wires directly under my desk instead of just hanging everywhere. Highly recommended. They come in a bunch of colors, but the ones I’ve been using are white, brown, and orange.
The “Other” Desktop
As I mentioned earlier, I do a bunch of mobile development, and this includes all of the platforms: Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android, and iOS. In order to build apps for iOS however, you actually need a Mac to do it. This is why I picked up a Mac Mini (with 8GB of RAM), which lives behind my monitors, and is a simple input toggle away. Visual Studio (with Xamarin) connects directly to it, which makes development a snap thus far.
Accessories for the Mac
I also picked up a Magic Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard for the Mac, mostly because they’re convenient, but also because I haven’t had much luck with KVM switches in the past, and for as rarely as I’ll actually need to use them, that seemed like significantly more work. They work great, but the Magic Mouse really doesn’t compare the mouse I’m currently using, and the keyboard is a little small for my everyday use.
The Surface RT
I’m accumulating quite the collection of tablet devices in this office, but there are three specifically that have a permanent place on the desk. First is the Microsoft Surface RT. I added the white Touch Cover, but mostly I use this device to test my Windows 8 apps that I’m building. Visual Studio can connect wirelessly to the device for debugging, so I never need to move it.
In addition to the Mac Mini, I also have an iPad with Retina Display. This serves several purposes for me. First, it has a retina screen, so I can see what my websites look like at this resolution. (Usually not great.) Second, I can deploy my iOS apps that I’m working on to this device for testing. Finally, as a dedicated Microsoft guy, it has become a research tool for me. I now have the ability to see what all the hype is about with certain apps I hear about that might only be available for iOS. So far, the apps have been the only differentiator from my Surface RT.
The Android Tablet
A mobile development environment wouldn’t be complete without an Android device, and while I acknowledge that there are literally hundreds of Android form factors out there, I picked the Google Nexus 10 32GB to be my reference device. Thus far, it’s been the tablet I’m least likely to pick up, but I’ve only had it for a few weeks, so time will tell.
The Tablet Stands
For the iPad and the Nexus, I wanted a simple way to make the accessible while charging. That’s where the Belkin FlipBlade comes in. It’s a strong but lightweight tablet stand that adjusts to several different angles. It also folds up flat for when you want to throw one in your laptop bag.
When I’m working from home, I rarely touch my laptop, but I’ve made a place at my desk for it simply so that I remember to update it, install software when I need it, and so it doesn’t just gather dust in my bag. This is the machine that goes everywhere with me on the road, however, so it needs to be up-to-date. This is the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch.
The Laptop Stand
Finally, for the last item in the list, there’s the laptop stand. This is where my laptop lives when I’m home. I use the Griffin Elevator Laptop Stand because it creates a place my laptop should go, it’s beautiful, and it leaves plenty of space for things below it.
So that’s pretty much everything on my desk. At least, that’s everything related to technology that’s on my desk. I’d love to know what you’ve got on yours, and how it makes your work as a software developer easier. Link to your article in the comments, or just send me an email if you’d rather not share it with the world.
Yes, that’s not a typo. This article should have been published 10 years ago. It’s about DHTML, and apparently Netscape 4.7.
Today, I was cleaning my office and found an old journal that I had created in the summer of 2000. It was a set of specific workaround for the different browsers at the time, like Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape Navigator 4.7.
Here’s a look at a few of the pages from this journal:
Browser compatibility was so bad that I actually kept a journal of all of the workarounds I had discovered.
Scrolling in Netscape 4.7 with <DIV>s
If you have a <DIV> that extends outside the viewable browser windows, the scrollbars will not show up in Netscape 4.7, if you have
in your <BODY> tag.
Referencing <DIV>s in IE 4.0+, Netscape Navigator 4.7, and Netscape 6.0
First, each <DIV> should be an independent element whose direct parent is the <BODY>.
IE 4.0+ document.all.divName.style.attribute
NN 4.7 document.divName.attribute
NN 6.0 document.getElementById(“divName”).style.attribute
Radio Button Backgrounds
If you have a radio button in a table cell which has a different background color than the <body>, Netscape 4.7 will apply the background color of the body to the radio button.
To prevent this, apply a CSS class directly to the radio button tag.
<input type=”radio” name=”radio2” class=”whiteRadio”>
date = new Date();
day = date.getDay(); //returns 0-6
number = date.getDate(); //returns 1-31
month = date.getMonth(); //returns 0-11
year = date.GetFullYear(); //returns 2000
Operating System Detection
if (navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“Mac”) != –1
if (navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“Win”) != –1
if (navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“X11”) != -1
if (navigator.appVersion.indexOf(“Linux”) != –1
Referencing <IMG> inside a <DIV> in NN 4.7 et. al.
Each <IMG> must have a unique name.
<IMG NAME=”imgName” SRC=”img.gif”>
IE 4.0+, NN 6.0 document.imgName.src
NN 4.7 document.divName.document.imgName.src
Underscores in <DIV> names
Netscape 4.7 does not allow this. Instead of “this_container,” use “thisContainer” or some other variation.
I recall having aspirations of putting a published book together with all of these tips. Here’s a few observations I made about ME as a developer 12 years ago.
1) I had absolutely no business being employed as a software developer.
2) Browser compatibility, for all we complain about it, is nowhere near as bad as it was.
3) Apparently, I capitalized all of the tags and their property names in HTML.
5) I remember treating this book like Henry Jones Sr. treated his grail diary. It held all of the secrets to unlocking the power of the web.
Do you have any silly old stuff like this laying around? I’d love to hear your stories about old development practices you employed.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t load data like this, in fact, I’m all for it. What I am saying, however, is that we need to treat the user experience as a first-class citizen. Clicking on an item, only to click the Back button seconds later, should not require me to re-load all of the content I loaded moments ago. Save it. Restore it. Remember what I was doing. Please.
Some of you will argue that those clicks should instead have been accompanied by pressing Ctrl so that it opened in another tab, or perhaps even right-click on the link and choose “open in new tab” from the menu. Yes, you can do that. But that is a solution to interacting with a BAD user interface, nothing more. My mom is not going to do those things, and neither is every other non-technical user your application is meant for.
We, as developers, rarely take the care that is necessary to make our interfaces intuitive, familiar, and helpful. Instead, we wrote the code that met the requirement.
Who will think of the users? What other examples of bad async have you encountered?
How much cash and/or coins do you have in your pocket/purse/wallet right now? My answer to that question, almost 100% of the time, is $0.00.
I seem to find myself living in two completely separate worlds most of the time. In the first world, every store, website, and vendor I patronize accepts my credit or debit cards. (Don’t get me started on the reason some places don’t take American Express.) Despite the fact that the credit card companies have made transactions impossibly expensive (especially for small businesses), these stores still accept them because otherwise I might not shop at their store.
The second world is a seedy underworld where chaos reigns. It’s the world of cash-only purchases. In 2012, it’s my experience that if a business only accepts cash, they should be audited every year for potential tax evasion. Why, in this technological age, don’t you accept electronic payment?
- I can tip the pizza delivery guy on my credit card receipt.
- I can tip my waiter at the restaurant on my credit card receipt.
- I can tip my barber on my credit card receipt.
- I can tip the barista at the coffee shop on my credit card receipt.
In some cases, when tipping someone that I didn’t have another transaction with, I don’t currently have a better option. This is an EXTREMELY limited list of people.
- The luggage guy at the airport when I’m in a hurry.
- The hotel bellman that helped me take my luggage to my room.
- The homeless man that convinced me to help him.
- The kid that cleans my clubs up after a round of golf.
For every other cash-based situation, why aren’t we moving these transactions to the credit card I already used? For example: Why can’t I tip the hotel maid ON MY BILL when I check out of my hotel room? I’ve flatly been told that it’s not possible.
I don’t want to carry cash. Ever.
It’s dirty. It’s messy. It makes my wallet gigantic. I don’t even have a place to keep coins. It is easily stolen or misplaced. It requires change. Have you ever tried to buy a bottle of Pepsi from a vending machine, only to discover you only have a $5 bill? It’s maddening. Credit cards, or the real point of this article, electronic payments, seem like a bright future to me. Sure, there’s the possibility someone is going to be shaving fractions of cents from my transactions, and there’s always the possibility that the bank will have a software error that “erases” my bank balance.
Except that we already live in that world, whether you realize it or not. The entire financial industry is not moving piles of cash or gold around to each other when money changes hands…only a series of bits are moved electronically. So, for those of you that are leery of doing your banking electronically…you already are.
But in order for our civilization to be able to move to an entirely electronic system, we need to be able to accommodate every possible transaction, especially the ones I’ve listed below. This is where Near Field Communication (NFC) could be the solution to all of our problems.
Imagine a world where every single person has the ability to receive information, music, messages, and payments from any other person in the world. You’re probably thinking that we already live in that world, but it’s clunky. Services like PayPal and Square are working very hard to make this idea possible. But their current solutions still require you to have someone swipe a card, or give you their email address.
NFC + one of the many wallet solutions that are coming from the likes of Google, Apple, or Microsoft might just be enough to bridge this gap to becoming seamless. You’ll be able to store all of your payment methods inside your smartphone, and when you want to give someone money, be that a person or a vendor, it’s as simple as a wave of your device to do so. You enter a PIN, type in the amount you want to pay, and you’re done. No receipts, no fumbling with your wallet, and NO CHANGE to load into your pocket.
Maybe we’ll start seeing bellmen wearing devices like these:
Wave your phone near their hand, and the payment is made. I think I’m going to love NFC.
P.S. Here’s an entertaining little video on why we should stop making money, as well. (Well, OK, at least stop making pennies and nickels.)
I am a social person. I tend to invite people to my home, my golf course, or even just to lunch because I enjoy spending time with people. I also recognize that not everyone is like me. Many people aren’t crazy extroverts who want to be surrounded by others all the time.
We’ll get to why this matters in a moment.
First, I want to understand a social problem that only seems to be getting worse: the RSVP. When putting together a large get-together, you tend to invite a large number of people, with the understanding that some of them either won’t be able to, or just don’t want to attend. If you look around at an invitation site, like evite.com or even Facebook Events, nearly every event I’ve ever been invited to looks something like this:
Invited: 55 people
Attending: 6 people
Declined: 7 people
Maybe: 42 people!
Should the organizers of the example event above plan for 6 people to attend? Probably not. There will likely be many more than that. What keeps people from making a commitment?
Question 1: Why do so few people respond to electronic invitations?
The second part of my thoughts on the “invitation” is arrival time. Every event has a distinct start time. It’s the time that the host is planning on their guests to begin arriving. In my experience (I’m guilty of this too), the average arrival time is nearly an hour after the event has begun. Is this an attempt to be “fashionably late?”
Question 2: Why doesn’t anyone show up at the time an event is scheduled?
Before anyone reaches out to call me a “whiny child,” I want to be clear, here. Yes, this stuff bothers me, because I think about crap like this all the time. No, I don’t cry myself to sleep when someone doesn’t RSVP. I’m sincerely interested in the social dynamics of an invitation, and I’d love to hear your perspectives, my dear readers, on these topics.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced the future of Windows Phone, and it looks amazing. Multicore devices, multiple resolutions, native code, NFC (near-field communication), and a remarkable digital wallet solution that I’ve been begging for from ANY mobile platform for 10 years now.
In the meantime, yesterday was an announcement. Devices aren’t available yet, and the SDK won’t be available until later this summer. So how do you get on this bandwagon today?
By building apps for Windows Phone 7.5.
Any apps you’ve built today will run on Windows Phone 8. Heck, they’re even going to compile them in the cloud for you, so that they start and run even faster. You’ll be able to take advantage of the new features of Windows Phone 8 in your v2.0 app. You’ll have all of the fundamentals you need to build apps for Windows Phone AND Windows 8 at that point.
I know what you’re thinking: “Jeff, why would I build an app today, when the Windows Phone 8 SDK will be available this summer?” Because you’ve waited this long already. The Windows Phone 7 SDK was available 2 years ago, and you haven’t gotten started. What suddenly changed your mind?
Oh, and I’ll give you a free Nokia Lumia 710. That’s unlikely to happen for Windows Phone 8.
Before you jump the gun, there are a couple of restrictions on who I can give these phones to.
- You must live in one of the following states: Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin
- You must be willing and able to build 2 real apps for Windows Phone before October 1, and get them published in the Windows Phone Marketplace. (If you miss the deadline, you will have to send it back to me.)
- You can’t have already received a free phone from Microsoft. (Yes, I have the list.)
If my list of requirements doesn’t seem overwhelming, and you’re interested in getting a free device, email me at jeblank [at] microsoft [dotcom] and I’ll be happy to discuss it.
Finally, I’d had many people ask me what “qualifies” as an app. My quality bar is simple:
If you truly believe that people you’ve never met would use it, it qualifies.
So what are you waiting for? Send me an email, and we’ll get this started!
As many of you may know, I’ve been a HUGE advocate of Dropbox over the years. You get a free 2GB of offline storage, which can be upgraded if you ever need more space. The greatest benefit of the service, however, is that it is automatic. I save files on my local hard drive, and they are automatically synced to my online Dropbox storage. That’s huge. I’m currently subscribed to get 100GB of storage from them, and it costs $199 a year. We store our entire collection of family photos, videos, files, etc. in there, with the confidence that if something terrible happened to our computers (or our house), our data would be safe.
Now, some of you just balked at that price. $199 annually seems like a big chunk of cash for 100GB of storage. Take a step back from it now. If your house burned down last week, how much would you be willing to pay to get all of your children’s photos back? I’m betting that price is higher than $200.
Anyways, this article is actually a discussion of Dropbox vs. Skydrive. Last week, I would have told you a story about how Skydrive is this service that Microsoft has had for years, and it gives you 25GB of cloud storage for free. In fact, if you have a Windows Live ID, you already have a SkyDrive account. But, there wasn’t a great way to sync with it. There were some workarounds, like mapping your SkyDrive as a drive on your computer, but it was awkward, and wasn’t automatic, which is without question the greatest feature of Dropbox.
Yesterday, however, that story changed. Skydrive now has an application that is available for Windows 7, Vista, and Windows 8, in addition to Mac. It provides all of the functionality of the Dropbox that I’ve known and loved, plus some surprises I wasn’t expecting.
- All of the functionality of Dropbox, but it starts at 7GB, instead of 2GB.
- If you log in this week, they’ll let you keep your 25GB of storage for free.
- Upgrade prices are SIGNIFICANTLY less expensive than Dropbox. Remember that 100GB I was paying $199 a year for? Skydrive offers an additional 100GB for $50 a year.
- By linking your computers to your Skydrive account, you not only get online access to all of the files you stored in your Skydrive, you also get online access to all of the files on your computers that are connected.
- On Windows Phone, all of my files are already synced to my Skydrive account, so now I don’t have to manually move them to my Dropbox for backup.
Needless to say, this is the first time that I’ve ever dropped a service or product that I absolutely loved. But the price and functionality of Dropbox just got destroyed by Skydrive. I’ll be switching today.
To read more about the new features of Skydrive, you can check out the full article by Steven Sinofsky.
For those of you that know me personally, you’ve probably noticed my steadily growing collection of (and addiction to) board games. I’m not talking about games like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders, mind you. There’s definitely a place for those, but those aren’t the type of games this article is about. The games I love involve a rich layer of strategy spread over a game thick with replayability, with a side of geekery, if possible.
Instead, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite games, with a little explanation of each. I’m publishing this article today, in celebration of (evil?) Wil Wheaton’s new online show called Tabletop. (You can read all about it on the Geek & Sundry website.) I have no idea which games they’re going to be covering in the show, but I’m looking forward to it.
Finally, if you’re attending the Stir Trek conference on May 4th, don’t forget that there is a Nerd Dinner the evening before, on May 3rd. We’ll be camping out in a mall food court to meet the speakers and organizers, as well as play many of the games listed in this article.
OK, the wait is over. Here’s my current list of favorite board games.
Settlers of Catan ($37)
Up to 4 players, expandable to 6. My 8-year old daughter mastered the game mechanics at 6 years old, and is getting stronger on the strategy side of the game. This is a great family game.
Settlers of Catan was probably the “gateway drug” for many of you that have ventured into board game land in the past 10 years. The basic idea behind this game is that you are settling on a new island, and are trying to expand your civilization by collecting the five different resources that the island possesses: sheep, ore, brick, wood, and wheat. Because the game encourages players to trade, and even create “alliances,” you’ll likely hear the phrase “I have wood for sheep” more than once.
In order to collect these resources, you build your settlements at the intersections of hexagonal tiles. Each tile is assigned both a resource type, as well as a number between 2 and 12. Each player’s turn begins with a roll of two dice, and the resulting roll awards the specific resources to the players that have settlements on the appropriately numbered tile.
Settlers of Catan, is, without question, one of the best combinations of strategy, game play, and ease of learning (which you will find becomes very important when teaching your friends how to play) It’s easy enough to pick up and play that you can teach your friends very quickly.
Ticket To Ride ($38)
Up to 5 players. Recommended age is 8 – 12. Haven’t played this one with my daughter yet.
My wife and I love this game, and it has become a family event favorite when our parents come to visit. The basic concept of this game is that you are an up and coming railroad tycoon looking to expand throughout the United States (there are also excellent variations on this game for Europe, Asia, India, and even the Nordic Countries.)
With a randomly selected set of route cards, you have to connect all of the cities those cards indicate. You do this by collecting sets of rainbow colored train cards, and trading them in to capture routes across the map. You’re competing with the other players, however, and before you have a chance, the route you were hoping for gets taken. You’re constantly balancing between having enough trains and capturing routes quickly enough, and since you have new routes every single game, it’s a completely new experience every time.
Of all of the games on this list, this is probably the easiest one to learn. There’s little to no math, and there’s almost no reading either. In fact, the most challenging part of this game for newcomers might just be their personal strength in geography. It is increasingly valuable to know where cities are on the map, without having to scour it for your city.
2 – 4 players. Once you explain the simple game mechanics, I’ve seen 6 year olds grasp the concept and strategy of this game pretty quickly.
Dominion is one of the most popular new games available right now. The entire game is based on a large set of 300 cards, and really introduced the concept of a “deck building” game. In short, you start with a small set of 10 cards that is identical to your opponents. Dealing 5 cards on each turn, you use these cards to acquire even more cards, without ever actually discarding any of them permanently. They end up in your personal discard pile, and when you run out of cards, you reshuffle your discard pile and keep on rolling.
Cards you can aquire might give you more money, more cards in your current hand, or even the ability to buy more than one card on this turn. Ultimately, you’re trying to acquire as many of the “Victory” points you see in the photo below (they are the green ones with the numbers 1, 3, and 6.)
Your deck accumulates many more cards quickly, giving you a completely random hand of 5 powerful cards each turn. What makes this game great, much like the rest of the games on this list, is that it is constructed to be a completely different game each time.
In the photo above, you can see that there are 10 “types” of cards you can buy (the two rows of five cards). The game actually comes with 25 different types, which means you’re highly unlikely to play the same game twice.
This is another game that is very simple to learn, but I think that the true strategy of this game comes only after you’ve played it a few times. There are many beginner pitfalls that you will discover, and after a few games under your belt, I think you’ll find your approach completely changes.
This game has exploded with expansions lately, and there are currently 7 stand-alone editions of this game available. While similar, each game has its own theme, but can be combined with the original for even more variety.
2-4 players. My 8 year old daughter LOVES this one.
Quarriors is, in many respects, much like Dominion (above). Instead of collecting cards, however, you’re collecting dice. And instead of buying Victory points, you get to summon spells and monsters to destroy your opponents’ monsters, which ultimately also scores you some points.
Ah, the dice. These richly colored little cubes make the game exciting. Instead of randomizing a deck of cards, you keep your dice in a small bag, and you randomly pull six of them from the bag on each turn. By rolling these dice, you can gain money (referred to in the game as Quarry), monsters, spells, portals, and any number of other fun things.
It has the same concept of a “store” where you can purchase a new die on each turn, which gets added to your bag, and eventually makes its way to the table for rolling.
This is another simple game for you and your friends to pick up, but I will issue a warning on this one: your non-geek friends are not going to respond in a positive way to creating dragons that have a defense of 6 and an attack of 8. It definitely happens, and it’s core to the game. There’s goblins, primordial oozes, wizards, you name it. The moment my wife heard the words “how many defense points does your monster have?,” she was uninterested in playing.
I persevered, and showed her that it’s actually a fun game, and I’m not going to be dragging her down into the graph-paper laden Dungeons & Dragons. She’s definitely a fan now (as she already liked Dominion).
I think there’s a similar level of strategy to Dominion in Quarriors, but I can’t help feeling like the game was designed to be WAY too short. Most games last 30 minutes or so, but it often feels like you’ve FINALLY gotten the dice you need to be successful when the game ends. I can’t recommend playing to 20 every time, no matter how many players you have.
Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot ($22)
2 – ? players. My daughter had no problem playing this game at 7 years old, but there are many pop culture references that are either WAY over her head, or slightly inappropriate.
This is probably my favorite game in the list. Not because of the strategy, though there is some. Not because of the gameplay, because it’s ridiculous. I love this game because the “playing” of the game is far more rewarding than the actual “outcome” of the game. I will tell you up front, that winning this game is the result of shuffling a deck of cards, and hoping one of your cards matches the one on the bottom of this shuffled deck.
The basic concept of this game is simple. You have a gigantic deck of cards, and everyone draws cards from it. You have a queue of two cards that lie face down in front of you, and 5 additional cards in your hand. The two queue cards are referred to as your “top run” and
bottom run” cards. Perhaps a photo illustration will help.
On your turn, you turn over your “top run” card, and do what it says. That’s the incredibly refreshing part of this game that, with expansions, can have over 800 cards in the deck: all of the rules are written on the cards.
By following the instructions on the cards, you slowly try to acquire bunnies, which then unlock your ability to use more and more aggressive cards against your opponents. Not having a bunny makes you a very docile player, because it really limits what you can do in the game. Thankfully, the deck is stocked full of all sorts of bunny cards. On the downside, it’s also full of devestating weapons and devices designed to kill them as well.
You use your cards to acquire as many of the Magic Carrot cards as you can, and once all of the carrot cards have been “gotten,” the game is over, and results in a random draw for the winner.
Along the way, you’ll see every kind of interaction you can imagine, with an inside joke or pop culture reference behind every one of them. You’ll build alliances, only to turn on your friend the moment it benefits you in the slightest.
This game, while good as the base game of Blue and Yellow decks, gets increasingly more fun, interactive, and outrageous as you add in the expansion decks. I can’t recommend getting all of them enough, but start with the original Blue & Yellow first. Make sure you like the game before investing in the rest, because this game will definitely run you up over $100 when all is said and done.
So there you have it. A quick summary of some of the games from my ever-growing collection. If you already own all of these, I might also recommend a few more here, without the exhaustive writeups. In addition, if there are games that you are playing, and you absolutely love, leave them in the comments. I’m always looking for a new challenge.