My wife’s post

imageI don’t blog personal stuff all that often, that’s mostly the realm of my wife’s blog. There’s a lot of reasons that I don’t including that I like to separate my work and personal life to some degree. I live a fairly public life and am in the community all the time and I like for my family to have a little bit of privacy occasionally. But it’s my own rule so I get to break it occasionally and this is one of those times.

My wife, Phoebe Holmes, is a fantastic and prolific blogger. She recently posted a word that sometimes cuts deep in the Holmes household in a post titled “Being Retarded”. There are a lot of reasons that I decided to break my normal protocol and post about this.

  • She’s had well over half a million hits on this post
  • It’s attracted the attention of celebrities such as Pink, Alyssa Milano and more
  • It’s attracted the attention of some interesting press outlets such as CNN (article to be posted tomorrow sometime)
  • It’s a topic that resonates deeply with us here at the Holmes household
  • It’s obviously a topic that we thought we were more alone than we are on

She’s an amazing writer and captured the subject extremely well. My short recap of the post can’t do it justice but here it is.

People use the word “retarded” (and really many words) all the time in casual use not realizing the implications of the word on those around you. The word “retarded” has a clinical definition which accurately describes my daughter Maura. Maura is 8 years old but mentally she’s roughly 3. She’s got global delays and an seizure disorder but that’s as close to a diagnosis as we’ve got. She’s most likely going to live with us forever but that doesn’t get us down. She’s an amazing girl in her own way and makes me giggle and shine every day. We’re blessed to have her in our lives.

But casually using the word “retarded” as in “that’s so retarded” cuts deep as it trivializes her condition and the condition of millions of others.

The Special Olympics has a campaign about the proper use of the world. As some of you know, I’m a big supporter of the Special Olympics and will continue to be so. This is just one more reason to do so.

Please read Being Retarded and be considerate to all…

Missing Codemash this year

CaptureI’m really sorry to be missing CodeMash this year. This is the first CodeMash that I’m going to be missing. I was one of the founders before I joined Microsoft and it’s been on of the things that I’ve been extremely proud to be involved in in a small part and has grown far bigger and better than I could have ever imagined. The fantastic board (Jim Holmes, Jason Gilmore and Brian H. Prince) have been true visionaries and have done an amazing job of walking the balance beam between guiding and pushing CodeMash and letting it remain something of and from the community. It’s inspirational.

The meme with CodeMash is that people are to mash, not to bash. Developers of all sizes and religions are invited from .NET to PHP to Python to Ruby to Java. And everyone is pushed to learn something new. It’s where I learned, as a .NET guy, about Ruby, Python and PHP. That’s in the spirit of CodeMash. Get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. It doesn’t mean that you will be doing that new thing in your everyday job but learning something new will make you better at your full time job.

One of my favorite talks that I did at CodeMash was that I, as a .NET guy, did a talk on Dynamic Languages such as Ruby and Python. My demos were in Ruby. It didn’t matter if anyone in the crowd was ever going to do Ruby for the full time job, learning more about it will make them better C#, Java, PHP or whatever.

Some of the great outcomes of CodeMash were that all of the community has grown stronger and more inclusive throughout Michigan and Ohio in particular. The Ruby guys are going to the .NET user group and the .NET guys are going to the Ruby user groups and so on. 

imageOh yeah – and it was at the first CodeMash that I shaved my head (well, Jennifer Marsman did it actually) for the first time. I bet the audience that they couldn’t get 600 posts up on Technorati by the end of the conference and they not only did that but we crashed Technorati and were the number one topic for two weeks outranking the announcement of the new iPhone and Hillary Clinton announcing that she was running for president.

Oh yeah – and I met some of my best friends in the industry at CodeMash. I’ll miss all of you this year…

I’d love it if something like CodeMash started up here in Ireland.

Small poll on social networks

primaryImage[1]I’m working on a mobile app to take fun pictures. I’ve released a v1 of the app called Tiny Photo Fun – Christmas Edition. I’m planning to build a lot more with it including giving the option to upload the photos to social networks, new photo packs and much more. But as I’m trying to decide what to do first, I thought I’d put up a simple poll and asked this question:

Writing a mobile app to take photos and then share them on a social network and offload auth to that network. Which one should I do first?

It was interesting to see the responses. I first put it up on twitter and immediately, Daniel Cousineau spotted a flaw in the questioning.

@dcousineau: @joshholmes taking the poll on twitter leads me to believe the results are going to be biased towards twitter :P”

So I posted it on Facebook, Live and Linked In as well. I still thought that the results were interesting to watch unfold.


Twitter won out overall. Live only got 2 votes overall. But the more interesting bit was the geographic spread.


The US was 73% for Twitter and 25% for Facebook whereas Ireland was 50% for Facebook.

This doesn’t prove anything and I’m drawing no conclusions other than Twitter is probably my first social network integration.

Dublin Gamecraft

tumblr_lw9gj1MrmG1r2bsum[1]I’m looking forward to Dublin Gamecraft on Feb 25th. It’s not a traditional conference, it’s an 8 hour coding marathon. The idea is that you have 8 hours to build a game, either by yourself or on a team.

  • Yes, you have to start from scratch.
  • Yes, you can build for platform X (where X is XBox, PC, iPad, WP7, iPhone, Android, or any other platform that you can write games for).
  • Yes, you can bring a team.
  • Yes, you can join forces with someone on the day.
  • Yes, there’s a need for coders, designers, storyline folks and more.
  • Yes, it’s free.
  • Yes, you should come.
  • Yes, it’s being organized by cool folks like @roundcrisis

On hand will be some of the up and coming games studios in Dublin such as Open Emotion Studios.

If you’re interested in learning to write games, there’s not a whole lot better of a way to do it than jumping in the deep end. At the very least, you’ll get to meet and hang out with some of the most fun folks in all of Ireland’s tech scene.

Any question? Ask them at

Anyone can write games for Kinect with Scratch

imageThat’s a bold statement but it’s true – any kid even can write games for Kinect with Scratch. Scratch is a programming language for kids out of the MIT Media Labs. Steven Howell saw the potential of combining this with the Kinect and connected them together. Kids all over the world can now write natural user interface games with the Kinect.

This project is not for you to write XBox games at the moment but rather it works with the Microsoft Kinect SDK BETA 2. There are a lot of awesome projects that are using Kinect for the PC. I talked about the stuff that Von Bismark is doing the other day. I’ll dig into that more in an upcoming post.

imageI love this because it captures the imagination as to what’s possible if you can quickly and easily create a natural user interface by dragging and dropping code snippets.

Scratch and Kinect from Stephen Howell on Vimeo.

Full instructions on how to set it all up and get started writing games is on Steven’s site at

For lots of information about the Scratch project:

Educators – Information for educators using Scratch

News – Stories about Scratch in the media

Research – Papers and presentations about Scratch

Donate – Support the Scratch project

Voice Control with Amulet Devices

logoOne of the things that gets me excited is working with new forms of user interaction. Or rather old forms of user interaction that humans use being used with our users.

Amulet devices are doing just that. They are a BizSpark startup based in Dublin, Ireland. They are a device and software company. The software does voice control of Windows Media Center which can be the hub of your home entertainment.

Amulet_Detail_0246[1]Their remote is a universal remote that has a very clever microphone that is activated by a gyroscope. When you tip up the remote, it activates and allows you to control your media center by voice. It means that the remote won’t accidently pick up your voice and start changing channels on you right before the winning goal or the bad guy gets the bad guy. It also means that it’s you can use it in a crowded and noisy room as the mic is right next to you.

They are, unfortunately not available for sale in Europe but they are available all over North America.

Glancing ahead in 2012…

Welcome to 2012! This is the time of year that everyone sets new resolutions and prognosticates about the future. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what 2012 brings. I’m excited about the promise of the year though and I’ve got a few things that I’m looking forward to.

We are at an interesting juncture in technology where truly the only limits are our imagination.

kinect[1]I look at movies like Minority Report and how advanced we thought the technology was when he was traversing the computer with his glove. Here we are less than 10 years later and the Minority Report is old school because he had to wear a glove. Technologies like the Kinect are revolutionizing how we interact with technology. There are some companies doing some remarkable things with it. For example, VonBismark is one of my great Irish startups and is doing amazing things with Kinect. They have been working on a prototype. They placed their prototype at Liffey Valley Mall and had 15k interactions in the first 3 days.

Nobody needed instructions or to be pushed into trying it. It was just there and people interacted with it. I’m looking forward to a near term future where I walk into my living room and my computer not only recognizes me but sees that I’m in a good mood so puts on a little progressive rock or that I’m in a bad mood so fires up the metal.

What I love about this is that technology is disappearing into the background and just working for us rather than us working for it. I really hope that this is a glimpse into the future.

And then combine that with the ability to launch a startup with global reach and the ability to scale to all size customers in practically no time.

zartis_tag[1]For example, take a look at a Zartis – another great Irish startup. They went from concept to customers in 10 weeks. They are 6 months in and they have 500+ customers and the vast majority are not from Ireland. They were able to do that with almost no capital investment due to technologies such as Azure. Through BizSpark they were able to start on Azure for free and then as they scale, with revenue tied directly to traffic, they pay for overages when they go beyond the free benefits.

So unlimited computing power combined with unhindered and amazing user experiences speaks to a very bright future to me.

Happy New Year!


Getting Started with Windows Phone

prod_nokia710colors_page[1]There’s a lot going on with Windows Phone development these days and the great news is that you’re not out in the cold on your own here. There are a ton of of great Windows Phone resources that will give you thoughts, ideas, code, sample images and much much more. This blog post is going to be a growing repository of resources that I have that are available to Windows Phone developers specifically in Ireland but many of these resources are available to anyone.


Windows Phone Ireland LinkedIn Group – this is the best way to stay informed about all of the events and promotions in Ireland!!! For example, we’ve got a number of testing sessions coming up as well as tons of training events.
Windows Phone Developer Users Group in Ireland – coming soon…

Windows Phone

Consumer site

Windows Phone YouTube Channel (Watch Social, App and Web videos)

WP Central – Independent Source on everything Windows Phone


Believe it or not, the tools are free.

Windows Phone Tools

Now, there are more complete versions of the tools (that do more than just phone stuff but everything that you need is free).

If you are in BizSpark or have MSDN – you get these more complete versions of the tools for free already as well. If you are a startup, sign up for BizSpark at

If you are a web consultant in a shop that’s less than 10 people, you can get these tools for free as well through WebsiteSpark at

Twitter Accounts you should follow

Windows Phone
Windows Phone Design Team
Arturo Toledo – UX Designer Developer Experience
Corrina Black – Windows Phone Design Lead for Developer Experience
Josh Holmes – yes, shameless plug
Jeff Blankenburg – Developer Evangelist in the US
Susan Todd – Design Research Developer Experience
Windows Phone Design Twitter List
Mike Kruseniski


Jeff Blankenburg has a fantastic couple of series on Windows Phone development.

31 Days of Windows Phone
31 Days of Mango

Design Resources

Windows Phone UX Guide MSDN

Design Templates for Windows Phone 7

Windows Phone Grid 

Silverlight Windows Phone 7.1 (Mango) Toolkit

Microsoft Design .toolbox Tutorials

Microsoft Design .toolbox Courses

Windows Phone Geek – UX Resources

Jeff Wilcox’s “Metro” design guide for developers, v1.00


Full Day Event Windows Phone Design Sessions

BUILD 2011

Windows Phone User Experience Design


All Thumbs: Redesigning an Existing UI to Suit Windows Phone 7

Analyzing and Improving Windows Phone Application Performance

Application Design for Windows Phone

Windows Phone UI and Design Language (MIX10)

Design Talks

Mike Kruzeniski: Personal, Relevant. Connected: Designing Integrated Mobile Experiences for Apps and Web

How was CocktailFlow Designed? Creating a Beautiful Windows Phone 7 Application

Albert Shum Talking about Windows Phone

ReMIX South 2011 Keynote with Albert Shum and Arturo Toledo

Channel 9

Silverlight TV 81: Four Great Windows Phone UX Tips

Silverlight TV 69: UX and Perceived Performance of WP7 Apps

Silverlight TV 83: Using Wireframes to Visually Communicate a Windows Phone Experience

Silverlight TV 75: Quick and Dirty UX Testing (Design Tips Mini Series)

Silverlight TV 78: Designing Tiles and Splash Screens for Windows Phone (Design Tips Mini Series)

Inside Windows Phone #24 – User Experience for Windows Phone Apps

Windows Phone Design Studios Tour Decks

Windows Phone Design Deck
Metro Design Deck
Refine Design Deck
Think Design Deck

Meet the Windows Phone Design Studios team

Two quick updates – first, this is happening on 9 Nov, 2011. Second, we’re holding this at:
The Venue, the Hub
DCUCollins Avenue

We are privileged to have two of the folks from the Windows Phone Design Studios coming to Ireland to present on how to design for Metro with Windows Phone.

There are two parts to the day – the lecture portion and the hands on labs portion. Please register for the section(s) that you are able to come to…

Registration at

Still working out the location but we’ll let you know shortly…

Welcome to the day 9:00 – 9:15
metro | the foundation

Understanding Metro

layout, typography and motion

embrazing the phone experience

9:15 – 10:00
think | sketch, wireframe, prototype

creative brainstorming

sketching and wireframing techniques

10:15 – 11:00
design | visual, interaction, motion

visual language and inspiration

application patterns, controls and interaction design

10:15 – 11:00
lunch 12:00 – 13:00
refine | best practices

application design best practices

enhancing percieved performance

leveraging Windows Phone goodness (Tiles, Maps…)

13:00 – 13:45
build | make it XAML

importing assets into Expression Blend

layout, text and animation

UI controls, data binding and code

14:00 – 14:45
workshop | hands on 15:00 – 17:00



Corrina Black is a Sr. User Experience Design Lead in the Windows Phone Design Studio. She leads the developer engagement efforts, and as part of the Studio leadership, she defines strategic programs to help developers around the world build high quality applications for the phone that leverage best practices in user experience and design. Corrina has been a product designer at Microsoft for more than 10 years and has contributed to the definition of the developer experience for platforms including Silverlight, Windows Phone, Windows 8, and XBOX. Corrina studied computer science at the University of Washington, and enjoys running and sports of all kinds, art, science, travel, photography, and fashion.


Arturo Toledo is a Sr. User Experience Designer in the Windows Phone Design Studio in Redmond. Arturo acts as a liaison between the magic that occurs every day inside of Studio H in Redmond and the awesomeness of Windows Phone developers around the world. Arturo has been a Product Manager for Microsoft Expression, Silverlight and Sr. UX Designer crafting exploratory and production quality experiences for multiple platforms like the web, phone, Windows 8, Kinect and XBOX. Arturo studied architecture at La Salle University in Mexico City, did additional media and visualization studies at the University of Arizona. Post graduation, Arturofounded Milton Frank Studio, a boutique interactive development studio.

Registration at

Is that a Rich Web in Your Pocket?

clip_image002I had a fantastic opportunity recently as I was asked to speak at the Google Tech User Group on HTML5. Eoin Bailey, co-founder of Hit the Road and one of the founders of the Dublin GTUG, invited me to speak on HTML5 with some of their other speakers to give a full out HTML5 day at the Dublin GTUG. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak at Google so I rearranged my schedule to make sure that I could make it. 🙂


The schedule was as follows.

1. Ilmari Heikkinen, "Sprucing up your pictures with HTML5" – Ilmari will cover some HTML5 basics – the enhancements that it provides over previous web standards and will focus on how image and video filters can be used, demonstrating some examples.

2. Neil Turner, "Lessons learned with HTML5" – Neil has built some web applications based on HTML5 and will talk about his experience doing this, including browser support issues, compatibility, responsive web design and performance.

3. Josh Holmes, “Is that a Rich Web in Your Pocket?” – A fast moving trend is building for mobile with HTML5. In this talk, Josh Holmes will show what can be accomplished with a mobile browser app and talk about the design considerations for that form factor.

I borrowed some of the slides from Joe Marini’s MIX talk on Mobile and put my very demo heavy spin on it. My slides are at

Slide1I’ve been passionate about mobile and mobile web for quite some time. I’ve been doing on device mobile development for the better part of 10 years now starting back with CE 4 in January 2002. It’s amazing to me, however, how far the mobile industry has come in that time period. It’s been a fast and furious but fun ride in that time…

Slide2Do you remember the pain of trying to develop on for the text based browser? Remember  when WAP (Wireless Applications Protocol) development was all the rage? It seems soooo long ago at this point and so old school. In actuality, the WAP forum who were the main drivers of WAP was actually consolidated in 2002. And I remember when it was such a huge deal that the ASP.NET Mobile Toolkit could produce WAP compliant mark-up which meant that I didn’t have to…


But the mobile web development space has exploded. Smartphones these days, including the Windows Phone, are capable of running some amazing things. To demonstrate I showed HamsterDance Revolution which uses javascript, CSS3, the audio tag and more with some serious performance on a Mango device. Next I showed the FishIE Tank and the Speed Reading in rapid succession and then moved over to the Mango emulator for my demos.

Slide4Phones these days have the potential to be much more than just a small computer in our pocket. Phones these days know what time it is (clock), where it is (geo-location), what the lighting is like (light sensor), if it’s moving (accelerometer), where it’s going (compass) and can even see (camera) and hear (mic). It’s amazing what they are capable of these days. With all of that knowledge of their surroundings, mobile apps and sites should be augmented by reality. They should geo-locate you to give you directions to the closest train stop (for instance) rather than you having to pick from a list. If the lighting is bad, they should go with a high contrast colour scheme. If it’s loud around you, they should not ask for voice input. If you’re moving, minimize text input. And so on. At the moment, the browser doesn’t have access to all of these sensors but I can’t imagine that that’s that far away.

Slide5In addition, the way that people use devices in a mobile context is vastly different than a desktop development. It’s more than just the screen size that matters here. People who are using mobile are on the go and need immediate information. As part of that, I showed the United Airlines mobile site, Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Slide6When people are sitting at their desk, they are in a controlled, stable and (a lot of the time) comfortable environment. They are able to do sustained browsing and research.

When people are on the go, they need quick, "glance-able” information that will give them the information that they need at the moment. For example, that could be directions to the venue that they are headed to or a phone number or any number of discrete bits of information that they need while on the go.

Slide7Then I moved on to talking about designing for the finger verses the stylus/mouse/keyboard. First of all, the finger is not as accurate as a stylus or mouse. If I turn my finger on it’s side and am very careful, my finger is still at least 40 pixels across and most of the time it’s closer to 80 pixels. And then there’s all of the sites that are so dependent on the mouse and/or keyboard.

As an example, I pulled up in IE9 and showed how fantastic of a site it is and then showed the same site rendering on Mango but talked about the fact that it’s too reliant on the mouseovers and the like to be useful in a mobile context. Same thing with Pacman in IE9 verses on a mobile device. While it renders and plays, it requires a keyboard for navigation.


Mobile sites need to be clean and crisp without a lot mixed fonts, colours and the like. Don’t overuse graphics, gradients and  heavy background images as they can all effect download speed and/or view-ability in direct sunlight. Make sure that you’ve thought about the readability and the usage of whitespace. Obviously you don’t want to go nuts with the white space because you’ve got so little real estate to start with but a little bit of white space can make all the difference.


Work as hard for your user as you can. In other words, minimize the user’s input by providing intelligent defaults and picking up as much from the sensors as you can to make as many decisions as possible. Make sure that you store user’s previous inputs and where possible, use them to help streamline future engagement.s

Slide10Lastly, think carefully about your mobile strategy. It can range from doing nothing to going hog wild with a mobile specific design.

One of the key things here is that you make a deliberate choice with regards to your mobile strategy because almost guaranteed you’ll have users browsing your site from their mobile devices.

  • Do nothing
    • No special content adaptation, result is the desktop site being delivered to the device. Sometimes, this is the right choice. It’s definitely the default choice and the easy one to go with.
  • Basic Mobile Adaptation
    • Content laid out so it will at least be consumable on a device, special META tags indicate that page is ready for mobile. This one is slightly more difficult to pull off as you have to make sure that your content works on both desktop and mobile.
  • Multi-Serving Content
    • Same page is sent to mobile and desktop, styled differently for each. This is not as hard as you’d think. You can accomplish this through the use of the @media tags to reformat the layout dependent on screen width and the like.
  • Mobile Specific Design
    • Parts of site are designed for mobile specifically, kept in separate domain or subfolder, redirected to when necessary. This is a high end strategy that requires a lot more work as you’re effectively building two different sites. On the other hand, it makes the mobile experience fantastic but doesn’t require you to compromise on the desktop experience.


The quick couple of take aways are that mobile web has evolved tremendously over the past handful of years. As a result you should really think about your mobile strategy and consider your mobile user’s context as part of that strategy.

Oh – and in my last moments I threw up to hopefully push out the last bits of IE6 around. 🙂

This was a fun talk to give and I hope to expand on this talk and do a much richer version in the near future.