Congress may be lame duck but our new voting app is not!

 Netizen is a Windows 8 app (available in the Windows Store for free) that brings the voting record of your congressional representative to your finger tips, directly from your Windows 8 device. Simply select the member of Congress you want to follow and “flick through” their voting record. Information about each member’s voting record is stored in Windows Azure Storage and is updated daily.

But don’t just follow how your representative is voting in Congress, make your voice heard. By clicking on the “Like It” button on the mobile application, you can influence your friends and neighbors about the bill through the power of social networking. For each bill, Netizen automatically provisions a Facebook page[1] dedicated to your member of Congress. This page acts almost as a virtual ballot for a bill as well as a community hub where fellow constituents can gather to express their support. Read on for more, plus some screenshots from the application:

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“Utility billing” or “only pay for what you use” are often cited as cost-saving benefits of cloud computing. All that is fine and dandy, but it is still the consumer’s responsibility to turn any unneeded stuff, such as virtual machines, off. In fact, as most of you already know, turning virtual machines off is not enough. Unless you delete them, you will continue to accrue charges.

One way to make sure you don’t leave stuff running unnecessarily is to periodically check your current bill to make sure it is not out of line. Unfortunately, this means logging on to the billing portal, navigating to the page that displays the current balance etc., and doing so on a regular basis. Let’s be honest…we all know how likely that is.

Fortunately, products designed to alleviate the aforementioned challenge are beginning to be appear on the market — even though the market for cloud management tools is still fairly nascent. However, these solutions tend to be “enterprisy” (i.e. targeted towards enterprises that are running large cloud-based applications). We were looking for a simple tool that allowed us to keep an eye on the outstanding Windows Azure balance.

Enter Azure Ticker App.

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Windows 8 Desktop

Microsoft has been a busy company this year with refreshes on most of its biggest solutions. Not only has SharePoint gone through a massive update, but so has Windows. If you’re still unfamiliar with the changes in Windows 8, then be prepared for a shocker. In the new UI, applications have been stripped of chrome and are full-screen solutions. Windows 8 was designed with touch as a first-class input method.

SharePoint 2013 brings several new features, but the two that will empower client application development the most are the greatly expanded Client-Side Object Model (CSOM) and the REST APIs. While the maturity of these features is important for Microsoft’s push to SharePoint Online and client-side development, it also opens up complex functionality for Windows, mobile, and external web applications. Read More…

We recently started working on a new iOS project.  As part of this adventure, I asked the team if we could build a case study around XCode and TFSPreview.com. TFSPreview, if you’re not aware, is Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server 2012 as a service, hosted in Azure.

This isn’t your normal pairing.  Mac developers aren’t exactly flocking to the Microsoft stack and the Microsoft development tools haven’t exactly catered to the predominantly OSS community working on Macs.  In recent years, though, that has changed.  ASP.Net is now OSS, first class Azure tools ship for the Mac, even the Nodejs for Azure tutorials feature Chrome on a Mac.  It’s a brave new world out there!

Starting with this post and continuing over the next few months, I’m going to be sharing some of our experiences building iOS/XCode apps on TFSPreview using the cross-platform (yes, they used Java – who are these guys?!) git-tf plugin.

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Video has become an integral part of our web experience.  This, coupled with the pervasiveness of connected and video capable devices, calls for an easy-to-use, flexible, reliable and scalable platform for hosting, processing and distributing media to anyone, anywhere, on any device.  The availability of Windows Azure Media Services (WAMS) Preview lets us explore a promising new platform which aims to bring us closer to that goal.  

Since WAMS is still in the preview release stage there are a few wrinkles in the platform that early adopters need to be aware of.  These issues should be corrected in upcoming releases but until then, there are a few alternate approaches that will help you get your media solution up and running with as little frustration as possible. In this post I will show you how to get video content hosted, encoded and delivered using the WAMS SDK and how to work around some of the quirks with the June 2012 Preview version.

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One of the tasks we are beginning to explore at AIS is developing and distributing mobile applications for our corporate clients. One common scenario will be for these apps to be available only for their employees, or a select group of their clients. So distribution through Apple’s App Store, for example, may not be an acceptable solution.

There are several options for distributing enterprise iOS applications, if we can’t (or don’t want to) go through the App Store:

1. Ad Hoc distribution. This involves building the distribution files, distributing them to the clients (via email or posting them to a server), and having them drag the files to iTunes and then synchronizing their devices. That’s a little messy. And it requires repeating the process every time there is an update to the app.

Again, this is a messy process, and will have to be repeated for each update and new app.

2. iPhone Configuration Utility. Apple’s iPhone Configuration Utility (Mac version; Windows version; documentation) is another option. This leaves the task to the system administrator, and is labor intensive. The SysAdmin will either need to attach to each device, and install the provisioning profiles and the apps, or email the configuration profile to each user. A generic profile can be used across the organization, but if username and password management are a part of the profiles, then it gets very complicated, very quickly. Again, this is a messy process, and will have to be repeated for each update and new app.

3. Mobile Device Management. The SysAdmin can install apps through MDM (Mobile Device Management, requires sign-in). Again, device management is required, but MDM allows for remote management once the device has been initially configured. When a new or updated app is available, the administrator creates a new payload, sends a push notification (through Apple’s Push Notification Service) to the appropriate client devices, and the devices execute the command (in this case pulling down and installing the app in the payload). If MDM is already a feature in the organization’s administration processes, this is a viable option.

4. Distribute apps wirelessly, using the Over the Air (OTA) process. This is the route I’ll discuss in detail, as it seems to be the most straightforward and easiest to implement of the available options, especially if MDM is not applicable. There are some wrinkles, too, which can automate the process of updating/upgrading the apps transparent to the users.

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CensusMapper is a Windows 8 app that retrieves U.S. Census Data using the recently released Census API and displays that data on a map using Microsoft’s Bing Maps API. The application is built using XAML and C#. The intent of this version is to establish a proof of concept as well as introduce a design and user-experience direction to be explored and evolved going forward.

Upon startup, the app retrieves the population counts for each U.S. State and displays those counts in a marker positioned in the geographic middle of each state.

CensusMapper - Initial View

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Awhile back, we wanted to create demo videos for clients, showcasing some of our iPad Web Application work. One of the challenges was how to show the interactions — the touches and gestures — when working with the application. There is no mouse, like on desktops. A screenshot, or a video of the application, will simply show things happening as if by magic. And taking a video or photo of a user interacting with the device is just clumsy and laborious: You need a camera, the user’s hand covers the content, you have to get a manicure, all that.

With the programming expertise of Xiyuan Shen and our good friend Ian Gilman, I set out to do something about this. I knew from having seen the awesome yet thoroughly creepy Phantom Limb (demo) that it was possible to inject a mouse-marker using a bookmarklet. This would allow us to run our code on almost any webpage, without the author having to include our script on their page. It could be injected on an as-needed basis by the presenter.

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One day, not so very long ago, Kevin and Tom stopped by for a visit and asked me, “Can we build a low-cost Content Management System (CMS) on .NET that serves up audio and video content? The site also needs to sell access to the A/V content, and oh…the CMS users will be non-technical and it has to work on the iPad too.” I replied that of course we could build such a system and would get back to them with a plan.

Then I thought: What did I just promise?

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