Scott Hanselman

Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are an ABSOLUTE JOY

March 12, '17 Comments [26] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I bought a Nintendo Switch last week with my allowance and I'm utterly smitten. It's brilliant. It's absolutely brilliant.

The Nintendo Switch is FAB

Now, to be clear, I'm neither a hardcore gamer nor a journalist. However, I am someone who grew up on Mario, enjoys Retrogaming and my Xbox One, and most of all, I know genius when I see it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a wonderful example of the very best that video games can offer as an art form in 2017. - Me

It may be the best video game ever. And it is because it borrows so much from the decades of refinement whose shoulders it stands upon.

Let's break this down into two halves. First, Zelda (which is available on WiiU and Switch), and later, the Switch itself.

If you don't feel like reading this, just trust me and buy a Switch and Zelda and bask in the hundreds of hours of joy and wonder it will bring you. It's the most fun I've had with a video game in recent memory. I also profoundly recommend the gorgeous hardcover The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Complete Official Guide Collector's Edition. The maps, the art, and the gentle walkthroughs are more fun than googling. The kids and I have enjoyed exploring the wilderness with the giant map unfurled in front of us.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It's HUGE. It's estimated at 360 square kilometers. They are saying it's 1.5x the Skyrim map and may be larger than Witcher 3. A cynic could call Breath of the Wild derivative, but an optimist like me says, well, they stole every game mechanic that was awesome over the last few decades, and made the near-perfect game. I love that this is a console launch game that is polished and has at LEAST 100 hours or more for the completist.

Zelda is gorgeousWhat is Zelda like?

  • Just Cause - Fly off a cliff with a paraglider, fly over a raging river and land on an elk, tame it and ride it. Because you're awesome and you can.
  • Witcher 3 - Massive map, armor sets, crafting and more.
  • Assassin's Creed - Climbing because...it's fun. Getting maps by unlocking towers and jumping off.
  • Grand Theft Auto - The first massive sandbox without loading. You enter a new area and get a brief subtitle announcing you're in a new "neighborhood" and then you wander.
  • Skyrim - The Elder Scrolls was the first video game I played where I climbed mountains "because they were there" and really had a sense of wonder when I got to the top. Draw distance!
  • Shadow of the Colossus - There's amazing HUGE boss fights that involve climbing the enemy, racing after monsters with horses, and sometimes going inside them.
  • Bard's Tale - Because I'm old.

Complaints? Honestly, if I had to truly nit. And I mean really nit I'd say the durability of weapons, particularly swords, is annoying. I would make them last maybe 50% longer. Also, moving in and out of Shrines has a load screen that takes 10-15 seconds. But really, that's like saying "I wish Beyoncé was 5'8", not 5'7". I mean, REALLY. Beyoncé. Shush.

The Nintendo Switch

It's portable. Just like in the ad, you can pull the Switch out and leave. In my video below I also switch to portable AND have to re-sync the controllers, so there is one additional ceremony, but it's easy.

It feels like a console when it's plugged in. I've got it plugged into my TV and from my couch it looks as nice as any of my devices. Sure, it's not an Xbox One playing Tom Clancy: The Division. But it's a brilliant tradeoff for a device I can simply pick up and go outside with (which I've done, with considerable appreciation.)

I'm surprised that folks are complaining about the gaming resolution, frame rates, battery life, older processor, or said "it's just like an iPad with an HDMI cable." Here's why:

  • Resolution - Zelda runs at 720p (the native res of the touchscreen) at 30fps. It's just 6.5" and 720p is just fine when it's a foot or more from your face.
  • Battery - I got an easy 3 hours out of it. If you're on a plane, carry a cable and extra battery. If you need to portably game more than 3 hours, take a break. ;) Seriously, though, given my appreciation of it's portability and power and experience this is reasonable. One can always complain about battery life.
  • Frame Rate - When you dock the Switch and run Zelda over your TV the resolution is 900p and sometimes it lags. If you're in the forest, and it's raining, and there's a bunch of enemies around there will totally be moments of 20 fps. But it passes. And it's still gorgeous. A small price to pay, and we don't know if it's fixable with a software patch. Given that launch titles rarely use the new hardware in an optimized fashion, it's more than reasonable to give them a break on this.
  • Older Processor - The Switch is using the older Nvidia Tegra X1 processor. As a business person this makes sense. It's a $300 device. It's not reasonable to expect all day battery life and 4k gaming on a device that weights two-thirds of a pound.
  • Innovation - Yes, you can plug your iPad into your TV. But most folks don't. And the iPad and iOS clearly haven't tried to optimize for this scenario. Apple has scandalously under-supported their MFi Controller Spec, even though the SteelSeries is brilliant. Frankly, Apple handed Nintendo a huge opportunity by not making a proper controller and supporting MFi better with Game Devs. The Switch might not exist if I could BlueTooth Pair any controller to my iPad and play Skyrim on an iPad. Oh ya, I'd have to have an iPad with expandable memory or a cartridge slot. ;) The Switch is a new category of device. It's not an iPad.

It's a fantastic device for the price and the promises, for the most part, were kept. That said, a few gentle warnings if you do get a Switch.

  • If you put the joy-cons on backwards they might get stuck and you could perhaps damage the system.
  • The joy-cons have these little wrist straps as well, and to be clear if you put these on backwards you're in trouble. Make sure you line up the plus + signs. There's a + on the right joy-con and a - on the left one. Use the correct strap for the correct joy-con.
  • If you slam the Switch into the dock it's possible you could scratch the screen. I always treat $300 equipment like it cost $300. Be somewhat careful.

My Recommended Nintendo Switch accessories (I own each of these)

These accessories are by no means required (the Switch has everything you need out of the box) but these are all 4+ star rated and I've purchased them myself and appreciate them. Yes, I've gone overboard and my $300 Switch is now a $500 Switch BUT I HAVE NO REGERTS. ;)

  • Some kind of Carrying Case. I have the Zelda Special Edition case, but all the cases that are official Nintendo are excellent.
  • The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. If you're going to hook your Switch up to the TV you might consider the pro controller. The Switch does come with a quasi-controller that has you pop the two joy-cons into a harness to simulate a typical Xbox/PS Controller but the ergonomics are exact by any stretch. The Pro Controller is fantastic. It's 99% the same as an Xbox Controller and includes (quietly) the full 360 degree gyro support that (I believe) Switch Games will be known for (see the second above on gyro in Zelda.)
  • Joy-con Grips. This was a frivolous purchase but a good one. I've got big hands and the Joy-Cons are NOT comfortable when turned horizontally and used for any period of time. These little holsters turn them into tiny Pro Controllers and make two player a LOT easier.
  • Compact Playstand. The Switch has one major hardware design "flaw" in that it can't be charged while it's using its kickstand. This little folding playstand is nice because it's 3-in-1 and can also perfectly fit a 3DSXL.
  • Large 128g EXTRA-FAST microSDXC SD Card. The Switch has only 32gigs of internal space and if you (theoretically) downloaded Zelda you'll use 13gigs. I can see myself using up a LOT of space in the next year so I got this 128G SD Card. And it's FAST.
  • 6 pack of Microfiber Cleaning Cloths  - I can't stand a dirty touchscreen. Can't. I have two dozen of these spread around the house, my car, my backpack. Can't have too many given laptops, TVs, and iPads.
  • USB C cables - Both the Switch and Pro Controller use USB C (finally!) so pick up a few USB C cables that you can use to charge in a pinch from your laptop, existing car charger, or portable battery. I only buy Anker Batteries.
  • A Zelda Amiibo - Amiibos are these little figurines with an RFID/NFC dealie inside. They are registered to you and they can "light up" features in all kinds of games. In Zelda specifically you can (a little later in the game) use them to get daily food and other bonuses. Plus they look nice on your desk.

My Predictions for the Nintendo Switch in 2017

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Nintendo Switch can become. I think/predict we'll see this on the Switch in 2017.

  • A thrilling Indie Game Community. Yes, the launch titles are weak. There aren't a ton of launch games. Call it a soft launch. But give it a few months.
  • Virtual Console - The ability to play SNES/NES and other games via some kind of emulation from Nintendo. We have already seen NEO-GEO games show up in the last few days! I can imagine we'll see a Mario Collection going back 30+ years.
  • Video Apps - If they add Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, then I'll be taking my Switch with me to
  • A USB-C to HDMI cable - I don't want to take the dock with me on trips, so I'd love a USB-C to HDMI cable from Nintendo (It'll need their magic box/chip) to free up my bag.
  • A great balance between AAA Games and "classic" games. If Zelda and Shovel Knight are any indication, the future is bright.
  • Continued updates to the online experience. I suspect we'll get firmware and store updates quarterly.

But at the same time, what's the nightmare scenario? Nothing happens. No games come out and I have a $500 Zelda-specific device. I'm totally OK with that give the joy of the last week. So between the worst-case scenario and the best case, no matter what happens it's awesome and I'm a satisfied customer.

* I've used Amazon referral links here. Please use them and you'll support this blog and my Amiibo Habit.


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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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Solved and Fixed: StreetPass stopped working on Nintendo 3DS XL

January 25, '17 Comments [3] Posted in Gaming
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Nice to meet you! says my MiiYes, this is kind of a silly blog post but it's been bugging me for months so I wanted to get it out there in case it helps someone who is googling for the answer!

I have a little Nintendo 3DS XL (the "new" one) that I bought for long trips. It's a great little device with a large library of games, plus it plays SNES classics like Super Metroid. All in all, I'm thrilled with the purchase.

It has wifi, and both Netflix and Hulu in a pinch for the kids, but it also has some really cool social features using a proprietary wifi connection called "StreetPass." The nutshell is that if you pass by someone (within 30-40 feet in my experience) their "Mii" avatar will jump into your game console and bring with it data from other games.

There's simple stuff like Puzzles, there's mini games like Find Mii, and StreetPass enhances more complex games like Mario World or Resident Evil: Revelations by adding in whole new components. In Resident Evil you'll get communications and weapons drops from your colleagues who are apparently fighting zombies at the same time as you. In Shovel Knight you can race the "ghost" of another player. It's safe and anonymous.

If you travel it's even cooler as you'll StreetPass people in airports and collect their countries or states of origin. I carry my 3DS to conventions and all over the world. It's a hoot.

BUT. A few months back it stopped StreetPassing. Nothing happened, ever. I made sure everything was updated, turned it on and off, but nada.

Recently I fixed it and I'm sure it will fix StreetPass for you also.

  • Go into Mii Maker and design a secondary Mii. Doesn't matter what it looks like. I did it quickly.
  • Switch to that secondary Mii. You won't lose anything.
  • Exit Mii Maker, then go back in and switch back to your original Mii.
    • I surmise that this clears things out and re-writes some settings for you.
    • I also changed my Mii's hat and outfit just to make sure it was re-written completely.
  • Head over to Mii Plaza and you should be all set.

My system started StreetPassing within a few hours.

Photo Jan 24, 9 59 42 PM

I hope this helps someone because as a traveller who really digs StreetPass, having it not work was really harshing my mellow. By the way, I REALLY love this "DreamGear" rubber case I got for my 3DS. It changes the shape of it, makes it larger, almost like an Xbox controller. That's an Amazon link that you can use that will help me get more 3DS games. ;)


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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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Awesome, legal, wireless retrogaming with a Hyperkin Retron 5 and 8bitdo's nes30pro

December 8, '16 Comments [11] Posted in Gaming
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Hyperkin Retron 5 is amazing with an 8bitdo nes30pro!My kids and I are big fans of retrogaming. We have a whole collection of real consoles including N64, Dreamcast, PS2, Genesis, and more. However, playing these older consoles on new systems often involves a bunch of weird AV solutions to get HDMI out to your TV. Additionally, most retro controllers don't have a wire that's long enough for today's 55" and larger flatscreens.

We wanted a nice solution that would let us play a bunch of our games AND include a wireless controller option. Here's the combination of products that we ended up with for retrogaming this Christmas season.

Hyperkin Retro Console

There's a company called Hyperkin that makes a series of retro-consoles. They've got the Hyperkin Retron 2, Hyperkin Retron  3, and my favorite (and the one YOU should get) the Hyperkin Retron 5. You'd think the Hyperkin 5 would let you play five consoles, but it actually lets you play NES, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Famicom, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and GBA (Gameboy advance) cartridges on one system. It has five slots. ;)

Everyone's talking about how they can't find the NES Classic Edition. I'd spend that money on a Hyperkin and then go out and buy a few actual game carts from your local retro gaming shop.

I like the Hyperkin Retron 5 over the lesser models for a few reasons.

  • It outputs HDMI natively for all it's emulated consoles.
  • It's got great firmware that is updated fairly often.
  • Its firmware has video features like adding fake CRT scanlines for authenticity (we like playing that way)
  • It supports cheats ;)
  • It's got multiple, real ports that support your existing console gamepads
  • You can use one system's controller for another. For example, a SNES gamepad on an NES game.

The only bad things about the Hyperkin Retron 5 is that the included controller kind of sucks and with all console games, you need to be fairly careful inserting and removing the cartridges.

8bitdo NES30 Pro Game Controller

You might assume the 8bitdo NES30 Pro Game Controller would be a cheap overseas knockoff controller but it's REALLY well made and it's REALLY more useful than I realized when I got it!

8bitdo controller

There are a number of these controllers from this company. The NES30 is nice but the NES30 Pro includes two analog sticks while still keeping the classic style. Think of it as almost a portable Xbox 360 controller! In fact, when you plug it into your PC with a USB cable it shows up as an Xbox 360 controller! That means it works great for Steam games. I've been carrying it in my bag on trips and gaming on my laptop.

for-pcThe build quality of the pad is great, but it's the extendable firmware that really makes the 8bitdo NES30 Pro shine. It has support to act as a Wiimote and even custom firmware for a...wait for it...Retron 5 mode! This means you can use this controller as a replacement for the Retron and play all the consoles it supports.

Even better, the 8bitdo NES30 Pro Game Controller also supports iOS, Android, etc. It's really just about perfect. My only complaint is that you have to turn it on while holding certain buttons in order to start in the various modes. So there's Bluetooth mode, iOS mode, Xbox mode, etc. Not a huge deal, but I've printed out the manual to keep it all straight.

8bitdo Controller Wireless Receiver

Here's where the magic happened. Because the 8bitdo NES30 Pro is a Bluetooth device, there's wireless receivers available for it for most consoles! If you have an NES or you managed to find an NES Classic, there's an 8bitdo Retro Receiver for NES.

However, I recommend you get the 8bitdo Bluetooth SNES Retro Receiver and plug it into the Hyperkin Retron 5. This, for us, has been the sweet spot. It works great with all games and we've got HDMI output from the Retron while still being able to sit back on the couch and game. You can also get two if you like and play multiplayer. As for power, the receiver needs just 100mA and leeches that power from the SNES port.

Even better, this Retro Receiver lets you use existing controllers as wireless controllers to whatever! So you can use your Wii U or PS3 controllers (since they are Bluetooth!) and retrogame with those.

If that wasn't awesome enough, the Retro Receiver can act as a generic "X-Input" controller for your PC or Mac. You plug an included Micro-USB cable into it and then pair your PS3, PS4, or Wii Remote into your computer and use it!

To be clear, I have no relationship with the 8bitdo company but everything they make is gold.


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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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FIXED: Xbox One losing TV signal error message with DirectTV

September 28, '16 Comments [21] Posted in Gaming
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Your TV signal was lostI've got an Xbox One that I love that is connected to a DirectTV HDTV Receiver that I love somewhat less. The setup is quite simple. Since I can control the DirectTV with the Xbox One and we like to switch between Netflix and Hulu and DirectTV we use the Xbox One to control everything.

The basic idea is this, which is quite typical with an Xbox One. In theory, it's amazing.

I fixed my Xbox One losing Signal with an HDMI powered splitter

However, this doesn't always work. Often you'll turn on the whole system and the Xbox will say "Your TV Signal was lost. Make sure your cable or satellite box is on and plugged into the Xbox." This got so bad in our house that my non-technical spouse was ready to "buy a whole new TV." I was personally blaming the Xbox.

It turns out that's an issue of HDMI compliance. The DirectTV and other older cable boxes aren't super awesome about doing things the exact way HDMI like it, and the Xbox is rather picky about HDMI being totally legit. So how do I "clean" or "fix" my HDMI signal from my Cable/Satellite receiver?

I took at chance and asked on Reddit and this very helpful user (thanks!) suggested an HDMI splitter. I was surprised but I was ready to try anything so I ordered this 2 port HDMI powered splitter from Amazon for just US$20.

ADDING AN HDMI SPLITTED WORKS - TOTALLY SOLVED THE PROBLEM

It totally works. The Xbox One now does its "negotiations" with the compliant splitter, not with the Receiver directly and we haven't seen a single problem since.

I fixed my Xbox One losing Signal with an HDMI powered splitter

If you have had this problem with your Xbox One then pick up a 2 port HDMI powered splitter and rejoice. This is a high quality splitter than doesn't change the audio signal and still works with HDCP if needed. Thanks internets!


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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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Easy accelerated 3D Games in a browser with JavaScript and WebGL using Three.js or Babylon.js

June 11, '14 Comments [12] Posted in Gaming | Javascript | Open Source
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Let's ignore that we haven't got a web-agreed-upon way to do just about anything, much less basic line-of-business apps with data-bound text boxes over data, and just revel in the fact that we can do hardware-accelerated 3D graphics in our browsers with WebGL. This works today in all the latest browsers.

I noticed this fantastic mini-game promoting Assassin's Creed over at http://race.assassinscreedpirates.com that uses WebGL via a library called Babylon.js. On my Windows machine it runs perfectly in IE11, Chrome 37, or Firefox 30. (Yes, in retrospec, the version numbering for browsers is getting out of hand.)

Some folks on Macs have reported issues with WebGL. Check out https://www.browserleaks.com/webgl for YOUR browser's capabilities.

This Pirate Ship game is really worth checking out and it's fun for the kids. You can also check out the Developer Teardown and learn how they built it.

3D Assassin's Creed Pirates in my browser

I wanted to get a better understanding of exactly how difficult it is (or easy!) to get in to WebGL in the browser. I found this article over at SitePoint by Joe Hewitson and started with some of his sample code where he compares two popular WebGL libraryes, three.js and babylon.js. The Assassin's Creed game here is written using Babylon.js.

Three.js seem to be  a general layer on top of WebJS, aiming to make scene creation and animation easy. Using Joe's sample (that I changed a little) along with a texture.gif, I was able to make this spinning 3D cube easily.

There's a live example running at http://hanselstorage.blob.core.windows.net/blog/WebGL.html you can see in your modern browser. Below is just a static image.

I would have animated it but that would have been a meg. ;)

Three.js is on the left and Babylon.js is on the right. It doesn't really matter given the static image, but one think you'll notice immediately if you run the live sample is that you can zoom in and out, pan, grab, and manipulate the babylon.js cube. I could have hooked up some events to the three.js cube, or perhaps added a physics engine like Physijs and made it interact with the world, I suppose. It struck me though, that this little example shows the difference in philosophy between the two. Babylon seems to be more of a game engine or a library that wants to help you make games so there's interactions, collision detection, and lighting included.

Three.js supports many renderers, cameras, and lighting. You can use all WebGL capabilities such as lens flares. It supports all the usual objects and geometries as well. Their examples are extensive with over 150 coding examples covering everything you'd want to know from fonts, models, textures, to sounds. There's even an in-browser Three.js editor.

Babylon includes a lot including a physics engine from cannon.js built in, full scene graph, offline mode, textures, special effects and post processes, many cameras including Oculus Rift (!) lots of meshes. Babylon.js even supports standard Gamepads via like the Xbox One controller natively via the Gamepad API spec.

Anyway, here is the cube on the right from Joe's code that I modified slightly, using babylon.js:

// Babylon.js 
var canvas = document.getElementById('babylonCanvas');
var engine = new BABYLON.Engine(canvas, true);
var sceneB = new BABYLON.Scene(engine);
var camera = new BABYLON.ArcRotateCamera("camera", 1, 0.8, 10, new BABYLON.Vector3(0, 0, 0), sceneB);

var light = new BABYLON.DirectionalLight("light", new BABYLON.Vector3(0, -1, 0), sceneB);
//light.diffuse = new BABYLON.Color3(1, 0, 0);
//light.specular = new BABYLON.Color3(1, 1, 1);

var box = BABYLON.Mesh.CreateBox("box", 3.0, sceneB);
var material = new BABYLON.StandardMaterial("texture", sceneB);
box.material = material;
material.diffuseTexture = new BABYLON.Texture("texture.gif", sceneB);

sceneB.activeCamera.attachControl(canvas);

engine.runRenderLoop(function () {
box.rotation.x += 0.005;
box.rotation.y += 0.01;
sceneB.render();
});

I also commented out the lighting but you can see how easy it is to add lighting to a scene if you like. In this case there was a diffuse red light along with a specular white.

With babylon.js I could change the size of the scene by changing the size of the canvas. With three.js the width and height are pulled in programmatically from the enclosing div.


Here is the near-same box created with three.js.

// Three.js 
var div = document.getElementById('three');
var height = div.offsetHeight;
var width = div.offsetWidth;

var renderer = new THREE.WebGLRenderer();
renderer.setSize(width, height);
div.appendChild(renderer.domElement);

var camera = new THREE.PerspectiveCamera(70, width / height, 1, 1000);
camera.position.z = 400;

var sceneT = new THREE.Scene();

var cube = new THREE.CubeGeometry(200, 200, 200);

var texture = THREE.ImageUtils.loadTexture('texture.gif');
texture.anisotropy = renderer.getMaxAnisotropy();

var material = new THREE.MeshBasicMaterial({ map: texture });

var mesh = new THREE.Mesh(cube, material);
sceneT.add(mesh);

animate();

function animate() {
requestAnimationFrame(animate);

mesh.rotation.x += 0.005;
mesh.rotation.y += 0.01;
renderer.render(sceneT, camera);
}

Both libraries have amazing Examples Galleries and you should check them out.

Also note that there's a contest running until June 20th, 2014 over at http://www.modern.ie/en-us/demos/assassinscreedpirates where you'll create your own shader within the browser and submit it for judging. Contestants must be over 16 years of age and from one of the following countries: United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, or Australia. The contest starts here and the grand prize is an Assassin’s Creed Collector’s Black Chest Edition and an Xbox One.

Create your Shaders in the browser

Even if you don't win, do check out the in-browser shader editor. It's amazing.


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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.