Scott Hanselman

Teaching Kids Electronics, Computers, and Programming Fundamentals with Snap Circuits

September 13, '13 Comments [33] Posted in Daddy | Parenting | Programming
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I'm not particularly interested in my kids being programmers or computer people. I'd rather they be interested in life and totally geeked about something. If that's  computers, fine. If that's ballet, also fine.

That said, I think if they are going to be effective users (If not builders) I think they should have a basic sense of how electronics work.

I bought them a basic set of Snap Circuits, specifically Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100, which is just about US$20 on Amazon.

These are brilliant. Check this picture, as it's worth a thousand words and you'll get its genius immediately.

Snap Circuits SC-100

The 5 year old loves the motor and fan, as well as the speaker and noise makers. The boys have made doorbells, a light-controlled fan, lit-up LEDs and made an AM radio. Here's an Instagram Video of the 5 year old explaining his creation:

The pieces snap onto the grid with little buttons. The pieces are plastic and the wires run through them. They're not extremely resilient, in that they can break, particularly the capacitors, but it's actually nice to be able to see the resistors and other parts exposed through the plastic. It strikes a reasonable balance between being friendly to little hands, being sturdy, and actually working reliably as electronic components.


The 5 year old is no prodigy, to be clear, but he's already getting a general sense of electrical movement. He'll say that the resistors "slow down the electricity" and that the capacitors "store it up." He knows positive and negative, and how to use a multimeter to measure voltage. (I recommend a $10 multimeter as well for debugging your projects.) He's starting to look at doorbells and remote controls differently now, which means these little projects have already achieved my goal in just a few weeks. I anticipate they'll play with them for some months, forget about them, and then rediscover Snap Circuits every few years. These toys are great for a 5 or 6 year old, but even a 12 to 14 year old could totally appreciate them. I'm even running through some of the experiments and using the millimeter to remind myself of long-forgotten concepts.

We quickly outgrew the 30 parts in the Snap Circuits Jr. Even though it has 100 projects, I recommend you get the Snap Circuits SC-300 that has 60 parts and 300 projects, or do what we did and just get the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 that has 80+ parts and 750 projects. I like this one because it includes a computer interface (via your microphone jack, so any old computer will work!) as well as a Solar Panel.

The Snap Circuits SC-750 is a bargain at prices like US$75 if you can find it, especially considering how many tablets, Kindles and iPads some kids have.


The next Snap Circuits kids we're considering are either Snap Circuits "Light" that includes LEDs and Fiber Optics, although the 5 year old is pressuring me for the Snap Circuits Robot Rover. It'll likely be the Rover for the holidays around here.

I have no relationship with Snap Circuits, I bought these kits on my own and am reviewing them because they are awesome. If I could invest in Elenco Electronics, I would. The links here are Amazon affiliate links. If you use them, I can buy more Snap Circuits! ;)

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Trying a Nokia Lumia 1020 - A Camera with a Phone Inside

September 10, '13 Comments [50] Posted in Reviews | WinPhone
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My current Lumia 1010 tile layoutI've had an iPhone since the iPhone 3G. My main personal phone is an iPhone 4S. I'm always checking out new phones, however, most recently the Blackberry Z10. The last time I tried a Windows Phone was a Lumia 800, where I made a list of apps I would need before I would ever consider switching from iPhone. I also checked out one of the first Windows Phones in 2010.

My family is a mixed one, with two iPads, my wife's Lumia 920 phone, my iPhone 4S, the kids' iPod touches, a Surface RT, an Xbox and a PS3. I'm also spending a month testing a Samsung Galaxy S4.

However, last week a buddy loaned me a yellow Nokia Lumia 1020 running Windows Phone 8. A good friend recently switched to the 1020 solely for the camera. Let me repeat that. He has been #teamiphone since the beginning but he decided the camera was good enough to switch. That got my attention as my 4S camera kinda sucks. It's fine for Instagram but not for capturing two growing kids.

I swapped the SIM card from my iPhone and customized the crap out of my home screen. I can't stand defaults. Live Tiles really are the star of the Windows Phone.

I'll do a full review when I've spent time with this phone, but I can talk about the camera now. Insane.

Full sized images are 7712x4352 and about 10 megs. The deal, it seems, isn't that you necessarily want to  keep the 34 megapixel images, but rather that you can zoom and crop them and still see thing clearly. Phrased differently, rather than an optical zoom, you take a super super high res image then digitally zoom. It's amazing. You can zoom in on a license plate from 100 feet away.

Here's an example (I've blurred these people as I don't know them).

A picture at a cafe

Now, zooming in on the red car, digitally.

Zoomed way in on a license plate

That's just a silly example. A more significant one is taking a picture of a group, then wanting to crop a shot of just some of the people and having it NOT looking like a crappy crop. These kind of operations are trivial.

If you want to download the full 10 megabyte version of this image, I put it up on Azure Storage here and if you like, zoom around it on Zoom.It.

Here's the original file, copied straight off the Lumia 1020 via a USB Cable.

Lego Jabba

Let's zoom in - only by cropping.

Jabba's buddy close up

Seriously, I could do this all day.

LEGO Hobbit

And then cropping.

LEGO Hobbit close up

I also tried the Camera Grip for the Lumia 1020. It's an extended battery, grip and a button that makes the phone act more like a camera. You get the whole half-button press to focus" then "full press to snap" behavior. This also speeds up the shutter actuation feel to instantaneous, since the half-squeeze starts the focus. The continued full press is instant. It really feels like a Point and Shoot.

Disclaimer/Disclosure: I do work for Microsoft, in the Azure division. However, I am not my job. I review lots of tech and gadgets and I stand on my record of impartiality. I use what I like. This review (and future and past) is my own, and done on my own, outside of work. No one reviews or edits these. Misspellings and errors are mine.

The Nokia Lumia 1012 Camera Grip

I'll keep trying it out and explore the actual phone features, but I am deeply impressed with the camera. In order to consider switching though (and I assume you'd feel the same way) I would need:

  • 95% of the apps (or equivalents) that I use in an average week.
  • Reliable Bluetooth phone and audio in the cars my wife and I have
    • Streaming audio works fine in my Prius. Having some trouble with the phone, but working on it.
  • Good battery life
    • It's OK, but the camera flash definitely hurts the battery if you spend all day taking pics.
  • Support for Google Mail and Calendar (personal) and Outlook (work)
    • Check.

More review and details to come as I explore. Your thoughts?

Sponsor: Big thanks to Infragistics for sponsoring the feed this week! Download Your Free HTML5/jQuery Grid:  Prepare to launch eye-popping, performance-driven HTML5 applications with Ignite UI. Believe your eyes - you can download the world's fastest, most reliable jQuery Grid now - no strings attached!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Visual Studio 2013 RC for Web Developers - One ASP.NET, Browser Link, and our Direction

September 9, '13 Comments [80] Posted in ASP.NET | VS2013
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Browser Link connects the IDE and Browser

ASP.NET and Web Tools for VS2013RC is out today. You can feel free to install it over the top of VS2013 Preview if you like. That's what I did.

Be sure to check out for release notes and docs, as well as updated tutorials. There will be a lot more docs and videos coming, as well as details on how to extend and use everything. Since this is the Release Candidate (rather than the final release) there's still some work to be done.

One of my favorite features, and a feature that I think is the most representative of the direction we are going, is Browser Link and best of all, its extensibility model.

For example, you remember how you can select Browse With, and set multiple browsers as your default browser? (Some folks haven't noticed that feature yet) Here I've made a regular side and selected IE and Chrome as my defaults with the Browse With dialog (hold Ctrl for multi-select within Browse With).


Now, Ctrl-F5 to launch both browsers:


Notice that Bootstrap is the default template now. We'll have Bootstrap 3.0 for the final release.

I'll change some text in the Index.cshtml. Hover over the Browser Link button in the toolbar:


It knows two browsers are talking to VS using SignalR and JavaScript. No magic, just web standards.

Now, you can type code and html and press Ctrl+Alt+Enter to refresh all connected browsers, or you can click Browser Link Dashboard:


Here's the dashboard. I've clicked on IE:


Even more interesting, is that Browser Link is itself extensible.

That menu in the Browser Link Dashboard where we're talking to a specific browser? You can add things to that. Mads Kristensen has done just that with Web Essentials and added extensions to Browser Link (Make sure to get the VS Web Essentials 2013 RC build, or you can build it from source!)

Here's what the Browser Link Dashboard looks like with a Browser Link Extension installed. See the added menu items?


Aside: Note also the Error List, we can add a new class of error in VS and even fix them with a double-click.


If I click Design Mode, check out what happens. The "Design Surface" potentially moves to the browser itself, using JavaScript, but with bi-directional communication between VS and the browser.

Remember that Web Essentials is open source, so I can get an idea of what's going on by reading the source. Without getting too deep, I can look at Inspect Mode and see it's using MEF.

[BrowserLinkFactoryName("InspectMode")] // Not needed in final version of VS2013
public class InspectModeFactory : BrowserLinkExtensionFactory

And that is a list of actions:

public IEnumerable<BrowserLinkAction> Actions
yield return new BrowserLinkAction("Inspect Mode", InitiateInspectMode);

And that it's using SignalR to talk to injected JavaScript:

private void InitiateInspectMode()
Clients.Call(_connection, "setInspectMode", true);
_instance = this;

And I can see in the browser's JavaScript that as I hover over elements in the browser, I can select the source in VS and even bring VS to the front:

inspectOverlay.mousemove(function (args) {
inspectOverlay.css("height", "0");

var target = document.elementFromPoint(args.clientX, args.clientY);

inspectOverlay.css("height", "auto");

if (target) {
while (target && !browserLink.sourceMapping.canMapToSource(target)) {
target = target.parentElement;

if (target) {
if (current && current !== target) {

current = target;
}); () {

This is just a taste of what's coming. One ASP.NET is a journey, not a destination. We'll have more refinements, more scaffolding, and continued improvements as we head in this directions and in future updates (Update 1, etc).

Browser Link is just one feature, be sure to check out (and subscribe to) the Web Dev Blog where ASP.NET and Web Tools lives on MSDN. Today's post talks about:

  • One ASP.NET
  • Authentication
  • The new HTML5 editor
  • Azure Web Site tooling
  • Scaffolding
  • MVC5, Web Forms, SignalR 2, Web API 2
  • Entity Framework 6
  • OWIN Support and Self-Hosting
  • ASP.NET Identity
  • NuGet 2.7

Remember, even though it feels like a lot, these are almost all additive changes that you can take or leave. You can still make and develop ASP.NET 2 apps in VS 2013. You can use your own View Engine, your own ORM, your own Identity, you own Scaffolding, your own components. You decide.


We'll have docs and updates soon for scaffolding, modifying and customizing File New Project to add your own, as well as a list of what's new and released as NuGet packages. Watch and the Release Notes for lots of details and any breaking changes.

Sponsor: Big thanks to Infragistics for sponsoring the feed this week! Download Your Free HTML5/jQuery Grid:  Prepare to launch eye-popping, performance-driven HTML5 applications with Ignite UI. Believe your eyes - you can download the world's fastest, most reliable jQuery Grid now - no strings attached

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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A month with an Intel Haswell prototype

September 6, '13 Comments [19] Posted in
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Intel sent me a Haswell Developer Prototype Ultrabook to review a little over a month ago. In order to effectively review this, given my experience, I need to separate the Haswell Chipset and Processor from this specific machine that they send folks to review.

I did not receive a very good unit - definitely not one ready for production.

Now, to be fair, it's marked as an "Intel Software Development Platform" prototype. This is not a machine that will ever be built, and it's also (they tell me) still getting drivers developed. It's a fairly regular looking gunmetal Ultrabook with no markings other than the Intel and Ultrabook logos. It's a lot like my Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch except it has a 1080p (vs. 900) screen and it's a Haswell. This review platform is a new i5 vs. last year's i7 in my X1.

Last year I looked at the 3rd gen "Ivy Bridge" ultrabooks and was impressed. So impressed that I eventually bought a Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch:

First: This particular Haswell Reference Platform device

This year's Haswell review unit has been nothing but trouble for me. Such trouble, in fact, that they've sent me THREE separate laptops as the first two both were unacceptable for different reasons. The first laptop had the SSD fail completely within a week. The second laptop had a bad Synaptics touchpad where only the right side worked. While the third one is workable, it turns off randomly, doesn't want to support standby/sleep and has a wonky keyboard with an unreliable "A" key.

Again, they're reference review laptops, but let's just say they aren't production quality Lenovo X1s or MacBook Airs. To be very frank, these not-ready review/prototype laptops and the experience I have had with them actively do the product a disservice. I'm sure Haswell as a platform is lovely and I would like to see how a Haswell-enabled system makes my life as a developer better. However, in order to do that I expect the mouse to work, the Bluetooth to be reliable and for the screen to stop rotating to the left without warning (even though I keep setting auto-rotate off.)

With the Ivy Bridge reference platform I saw constant and consistent improvements in system behavior with regularly updated drivers. With this Haswell reference platform I have seen just one driver drop, been told to not upgrade to Windows 8.1, and only updated the BIOs once. I have no idea if this device will ever become usable in the future because I have no communication or indication when new drivers are coming.

Second: Using Haswell every day...and the power promise

Ok, now that that's over. I've been using this every day running Windows 8 and have presented at two conferences with this device. I've run both VS2012 and VS2013 on it.

Even though Windows 8.1 does away with the WEI (Windows Experience Index) and I think that's a shame as it's a totally useful and built-in way to get a sense of how a computer will perform, I'm running Windows 8 on this Haswell machine and can still run it.

Surprising new device gets almost an identical WEI as my Lenovo X1 differing significantly only in memory ops/sec. I've heard this elsewhere that an i5 Haswell can perform as well as an Ivy Bridge i7 *and* with a much improved power profile. Haswell isn't (to me) about pure speed, it's about speed, power, and lightness.


This is very light laptop. As my second laptop around 3lbs it's cemented my conviction that I'll never own a big heavy luggable laptop again. There's just no reason for a 10 pound device anymore.

Performance, however, does seem dramatically different when on batteries. It appears to be extremely aggressive trying to saving power. This is definitely a laptop where changing Power Profiles makes a huge difference.

The greatest difference in how long this device will last has been screen brightness. When I'm on Power saver on the lowest brightness, I could get a full work day out of this device. However, the lowest brightness is just not feasible. I got between 6 and 7 hours with brightness at about one-third.


Switching to the Balanced Profile with the brightness at the level where Windows warns you it might be a problem, I got about 5 to 6 hours of typing.


It's getting to around half-battery where you start getting uncomfortable and wondering if you're going to make it. Changing brightness and profile can get you an easy extra hour on Haswell, where it's just been a matter of 15-20 minutes (in my experience) on other devices.

power-balance power-power

Does Haswell deliver the all-day battery laptop?

  • Yes, if you write prose for a living.
  • Yes, if you aren't running at full brightness.
  • Yes, if you work in SSH or VIM and a remote Linode machine is actually doing the work while your Haswell waits.
  • No, if you're writing and compiling a 3D game locally.
  • No, if you're playing Steam and running TorchLight II.

Should you get a Haswell machine? Absolutely. If you're in the market for a machine and there's a Haswell version of your favorite coming soon, wait. You'll get the same speed and better battery life. Maybe not all day, but 50% more than before. I'm looking forward to the refreshed Lenovo T and X series to have Haswell on board.

All day power? My expectations perhaps aren't reasonable. Haswell and aggressive power management is the future, no doubt. I think, however, that it will be a combination of this plus improvements in battery density that will finally give me a 24 hour device (or 8 hours working hard at full brightness).

ASIDE: From a reviewer perspective, while it's always fun to answer the "what laptop is that?" question with "it's an Intel prototype," the folks at Intel should, when possible, loan reviewers machines that are closer to production that don't have all these driver quirks and hardware quality issues. Why? Well, I really value the opportunity to to review new and prototype hardware, the question always comes I reviewing the keyboard and mouse and screen or am I reviewing the chipset and processor. Of course, there's drivers to hold it all together. This review unit has a loud fan, and iffy construction. But, it has great speed and I didn't think about memory once even though I was running only 4 gigs. I was able to run multiple instances of VS, Outlook and many browsers without even a thought. Even two Virtual Machines and it still felt fast.

I want to get my hands on a device like a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro or a Thinkpad Yoga. These Haswell devices are going to rock. I have extremely high hopes, but rest assured, your next machine is a Haswell.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Intel sent me this Haswell Ultrabook in the hope that I would review it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I would use and think you would find useful. This opinions are mine and mine alone as is this entire post. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Broken Windows Theory of App Stores

August 30, '13 Comments [31] Posted in Musings
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Imagine that the web itself had an app store, and your clicked "New Releases" to see the latest websites that the web just published. It would be 99% crap. And that's being generous.

Having a section in your App Store called "New Releases" is always going to make your store look bad, just like it would the web. Most of the web is random garbage. It's curation - both professional and social - that makes the internet great.

  • Professional curation are sites like BoingBoing that have a team of folks that go looking for awesome. If you only hang out at BoingBoing, the whole internet is awesome.
  • Social curation are sites like Reddit that have a mob of anonymous strangers that go looking...for stuff. If you only hang out at Reddit, the whole internet is...different.
  • Another kind of Social curation is discovery by hanging out with your tribe. Your friends on Facebook and Twitter, even those crazy links your parents insist on emailing you (while including the cc: list from the previous 15 forwards.) We see the internet through these filters: our friends, and our trusted news sources.

Notice that the Chrome Web Store doesn't have this "latest" or "newest" section. The whole thing is curated. You can't find garbage on that store unless you go searching for garbage. Nothing makes it to the front unless it's picked, selected, loved.

The same is true for the iTunes/iOS App Store. It feels high quality because only high quality apps are ever put in front of you. You have to actively LOOK for crappy apps (there's a whole iceberg of them). The larger the iOS store gets, the more "Hall of Fames" and "Best of the Best" collections are created by humans who work there, thereby increasing the general sense of awesome.

These Halls of Fames and Recommended Apps are the App Store equivalent of preferred shelf placement at a physical store. Awesome stuff, popular stuff, or influential stuff is at eye-level or on an end-cap. Crappy stuff is buried - you have to look for it. I don't want to see an aisle at the grocery store that's "newest releases." It would be totally random and likely not give me a good impression of the store.

Intense curation is good and bad. First, it is exclusionary by its nature. Curation is filtering. You're counting on humans to basically check out every app there is and decide what's awesome. There's likely also some "who you know" type stuff going on. That's gotta stress the indie developer out. How do you get noticed? Word of mouth sometimes works, but not until there's some critical mass. It's not like Angry Birds would submit a new app and then cross their fingers and hope it gets noticed. For every discovered gem that the iTunes store declares "New and Notable" there's surely ten that are "Knew Someone at the App Store" or "Had a PR Person."

Without solid curation, nearly every list sucks. NetFlix works so hard on their recommendation engine -even giving $1M prizes to anyone who could make recommendations better - and I still end up going to more than I go to NetFlix. Why? Curation.

Certainly if you go looking for crap, you'll find it, but if you're an App Store, try to hide your shame.

iPhone Fart Apps

In the take no prisoners (new) world of App Stores, good curation is perception management. It also sets publishers up for success. Read about the story of the iOS app "A Beautiful Mess" and how they have been playing Whack-a-Mole with evil copy-cat apps. Apps with the same name and icon trying to get downloads on the back of A Beautiful Mess's success. With a more aggressive policy on this kind of stuff, the iOS App Store could help the folks at A Beautiful Mess focus on their app, and not an endless defense of their own online brand.

A Beautiful Mess - Clones and Grifters

That's a mess, even with the victim actively trying to fix the problem. It's worse if the brand in question isn't paying attention. Look in fear at the Windows 8 App Store when you search for "Facebook." Every single one using the Facebook name and Facebook icon. And every single one likely sucks.


Remember Broken Windows Theory, with my modifications.

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring [App Stores] in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

You gotta fix those broken windows before your App Store turns into a bad neighborhood.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.