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  • File → New Project

    Sketch Styles without SketchFlow

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    SketchStyles

    The new release of Expression Blend 3 comes with a great new feature called SketchFlow. SketchFlow allows you to rapidly create a prototype of your application that can be used to get buy-in from clients, and to get feedback on the design of the system without worrying on the details like which fonts you chose and the exact shade of blue your logo should be. One of the tools in the arsenal of SketchFlow is the Sketch Styles, formerly known as wiggly controls. The Sketch Styles give a real back of the napkin feel to your application, and really convey the idea of the fact that what you’re showing them is not complete. It helps to avoid those moments where you show your client your design, and get the response, “Looks great, let’s ship it.”

    When I first saw SketchFlow, I fell in love with the sketch styles. I wanted to use them in the Silverlight applications I was already working on, and had taken beyond the prototype stage. If you look in the User Guide inside of Blend, you can see an entry that shows you how to convert a SketchFlow application into a production project, but if you’re just interested in getting the Sketch Styles into your application, it is possible. For this example, I’ll be using a Silverlight application in the full version of Expression Blend 3. The process was a bit more difficult with the Release Candidate, but you should have upgraded by now anyway.

    The first step in getting Sketch Styles into your Silverlight application is to open a new Silverlight 3 SketchFlow Application, and the Silverlight 3 application you want to add the Sketch Styles to. If you don’t have an application you’re already working on, you can just start a new Silverlight 3 Application + Website.

    Prototype and Application 

    In the SketchFlow application, you’ll need to copy over the Fonts directory with the three fonts contained within, and the SketchStyles.xaml file. You’ll also need to add references to the Microsoft.Expression.Prototyping.SketchControls.dll and System.Windows.Controls.dll. By default they’ll be in your C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Expression\Blend 3\Prototyping\Libraries\Silverlight and C:\Program Files\Microsoft SDKs\Silverlight\v3.0\Libraries\Client directories, respectfully.

    Required Files and References

    Once you’ve got those over, you’re done! Have fun with your Sketch Style enabled Silverlight application.

  • File → New Project

    Geekifying my kids

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    My wife and I have different jobs when it comes to raising my kids. I try to give them the kind of experience I had growing up, and she makes sure they stay well rounded. For example, the kids and I played Castle Crashers last night. She let them play with Play-dough and draw pictures. I bought a Spiderman shower curtain to replace the Superman one we had at our last apartment, and read them comic books before bed. She lets them watch Disney cartoons.

    IMG_0253 So far my kids have amazed me at how quickly they learn. My four year old daughter was whistling in the car the other day. I asked her who taught her how to whistle, and she said that nobody taught her. She just tried and tried, and then she could do it. She can already read Japanese hiragana and katakana, and she’s picking up English really quickly. I can show her a word, and most of the time, she can read it. And she’s surprisingly good at photography. At my brother-in-law’s wedding, she went around with my wife’s camera and took pictures of the cake that were better than the ones I got, and went around to every table asking to take a picture of the group. She ended up with great shots of almost everyone at the wedding. I took her out yesterday to take some pictures. I told her that if she has a good time taking pictures, and her pictures turn out well, I’ll buy her her own camera. I’ve already started looking online for it.
    My middle son has picked up my love for super heroes. I’m a DC man myself, but I’m fine with him thinking that Spiderman is awesome. There was a period of a couple of months that he would only pick out his Superman t-shirts to wear for the day. If they were both dirty, he’d wear something else, but as soon as they came out of the dryer, he would change. The coolest thing is that he picks stuff up when I’m not around, and then tells me all about them. He watched a Justice League cartoon, and when I came home from work, he told me about a guy who wears a red suit, and runs like this, and waved his hands really fast past his head. Now he likes the Flash. IMG_0363
    IMG_1028 My youngest still hasn’t done anything amazing beyond what a 10-month old would normally do. I’ve got high hopes, though. After all, I still need a bassist on Rock Band.
  • File → New Project

    Deep Linking and Search Visibility in Silverlight

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    At last night’s meeting of the Learn Silverlight group I’m a part of, the topic of search visibility of Silverlight pages was brought up. I had heard a few times that one of the advantages of XAML being made up of text, and of the Silverlight .xap container being a standard zip was that it was supposed to make things easier to parse and search, but I hadn’t seen an actual example of this. There was quite a bit of interest in figuring out how to index a site that was made up primarily of Silverlight with the content accessed through the container, so we began poking around.

    As with many of the questions that are asked in our group, we started looking for answers by seeing how Vertigo did it. I remember that you could share links to specific pieces of memorabilia on the Hard Rock site, so we went there. I grabbed a random piece of memorabilia and grabbed it’s permalink.

     ShareLink

    From the link, we could see that they were just passing in an argument to the base page. Loading this page, we could see that the title and meta tags had changed, but it was basically the same page. It made sense, but how were they exposing this to the search engines. I navigated over to their robots.txt file, and there was the answer: they had defined a site map, which contained links to every item on the page. Each item was just an argument to the same page, but the search engine was seeing them each as a unique page. It didn’t need to read the Silverlight control at all. The Silverlight control was able to show the item based off of the page argument, and the page prettied itself up with a title and some meta content to make itself relevant to the search engines. The same thing could be done inside the Silverlight page, but they were removing the necessity to do so. They were basically taking the same approach as they would for any site with dynamic content. Well played, Vertigo.

  • File → New Project

    Bing – Microsoft’s new decision engine

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    soon

    If you head over to Bing.com, you’ll see a landing page with a coming soon message. If you click on the “Find out more” link, and you should, you can watch a short video on the features that make me excited about the new search engine.

    Some of these features have been available through separate tools, but this looks like it’s a lot better integrated. They’re calling it a decision engine, rather than a search engine. By categorizing their results, they give you the ability to find what you’re looking for. I could have used something like this when I was searching for books on technical evangelism, and kept getting information on religious evangelism on the web.

    They broke down the key features of the new decision engine into four groups: local search, travel planning, health search, and shopping.

    Shopping integrates their Cashback features with some great looking product reviews, ratings, and discovery features.

    Health results come from some top medical sites, like the Mayo Clinic, giving you confidence in the results. It looks like a lot of effort was done in identifying common topics, and giving some customized search features for those topics.

    Travel brings in the features from Farecast, which I use whenever I travel, although I’m still waiting for them to implement fare prediction between San Francisco and Narita, which is the most expensive trip I take.

    Local search gives you some qualifiers you can add in to filter your results based on things like parking, price, reservations, and atmosphere. This sounds great for finding a place I can take my kids, or finding a place where we can go without them. They also give you reviews, hours, and contact information.

    I’m not completely sold on the name, but with sites like twitter and digg, I guess it’s really the product that defines the name. I’m also not sure what we’re planning on doing with the Live Search page, or whether this is going to end up being something like Microsoft Live Bing. I’ll just have to wait and see what comes next.

  • File → New Project

    You've Got Game Sweepstakes for Game Developers

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    game

    You still have time to get your game into the You've Got Game Sweepstakes before the February 29th deadline. For every game you create and publish a to the Windows Phone Marketplace, you get another entry for a chance at winning a Dell Alienware M18x laptop or an Xbox LIVE Gold Card.

    Head over to http://aka.ms/ygg to find out more about the contest, how to enter, and what you can win. Rules are at http://bit.ly/YGGRules

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