A Couple of Hours with Azure Maps

I’m having a random ‘pick a Channel 9 video and blog from there’ session; the subject of the day is Azure Maps and the inspiration came in the form of this video.

The plan is to see what I can achieve in an hour or two, so here’s my quick rundown to wet your whistle. Firstly, a quick resource list to get you going which gives an idea of the product itself as well as details on pricing and the core API:

  1. Azure Maps
  2. Pricing
  3. Quick Starts

I’ll be (partly) following this quick start guide, but I may break away a bit and engage ‘rebel’ mode as that’s my style. 😛

Within the Azure Portal start by creating a new resource, searching using the keyword ‘Maps’; nice and simple for starters. Click ‘create’ as shown below:

Creating a Maps Resource.

Creating a Maps Resource.

For our next course of yumminess, simply fill in the mandatory fields specifying a Name, selecting a Subscription, an existing Resource Group (or creating a new one, which I did here for some clean separation) and finally selecting a Resource Group location that makes sense for you. I’ve opted to pin this resource to my dashboard for easy access later.

Create a Maps Account.

Create a Maps Account.

Once created, like many resources, we then just need to obtain the access key by going to ‘YOUR_MAP_RESOURCE’ in the Azure Portal > Settings > Keys. The sample application referenced on the demo resources page is doing a wonderful 404 trick at the time of writing, so I’ll see what I can put together as a basic sample myself, as I have the key in tow.

At this point I engaged ‘full nosiness mode’ and poking around further lead me to some step-by-step samples; this looks like a good starting template. Using this template to generate my own code example (and throwing in some ES6 concepts for good measure) I came up with this lightweight, ‘one-shot’ HTML page in VS Code (I really need to use VS Code more as it’s going great guns now and is getting excellent traction in the development community from what I can gather):

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8" />
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, user-scalable=no" />
    <title>Azure Map Test</title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://atlas.microsoft.com/sdk/css/atlas.min.css?api-version=1.0" type="text/css" />
    <script src="https://atlas.microsoft.com/sdk/js/atlas.min.js?api-version=1.0"></script>
        body {
            width: 100%;
            height: 100%;
            padding: 0;
            margin: 0;

        #mapContainer {
            width: 100%;
            height: 100%;
    <div id="mapContainer"></div>
        // Encapsulation class that is a holding container for search parameters
        class SearchOptions {
            constructor(subscriptionKey, searchTerm, startLatitude, startLongitude, searchRadius ) {
                this.subscriptionKey = subscriptionKey;
                this.searchTerm = searchTerm;
                this.startLatitude = startLatitude;
                this.startLongitude = startLongitude;
                this.searchRadius = searchRadius;
            // Utility function for generating a search url based on the class properties
            generateSearchUrl() {
                return `https://atlas.microsoft.com/search/fuzzy/json?api-version=1.0&query=${ this.searchTerm }&subscription-key=${ this.subscriptionKey }&lat=${ this.startLatitude }&lon=${ this.startLongitude }&radius=${ this.searchRadius }`;

        // Function for generating a map (using the mapContainer element reference provided and subscription key)
        function getMap(mapContainer, subscriptionKey) {
            return new atlas.Map(mapContainer, {
                "subscription-key": subscriptionKey

        // Function for preparing the pin layer on the targeted map using the provided layer name
        function prepareMapPins(map, searchLayerName, pinType) {
            map.addPins([], {
                name: searchLayerName,
                cluster: false,
                icon: pinType

        // Function that processes the data from 'fetch' and adds pins (POIs) the the map using the returned json data
        function processMapData(data, searchLayerName, map, cameraPadding) {
            if (data != null && data.results != null && data.results.length > 0) {
                // Initialise a searchPins array and limit the returned json data to those that are marked as POIs
                let searchPins = [],
                    poiResults = data.results.filter((result) => { return result.type === "POI" }) || [];

                // Extract features from the returned data and add it to the searchPins array (this contains location-based information)
                searchPins = poiResults.map((poiResult) => {
                    let poiPosition = [poiResult.position.lon, poiResult.position.lat];

                    return new atlas.data.Feature(new atlas.data.Point(poiPosition), {
                        name: poiResult.poi.name,
                        address: poiResult.address.freeformAddress,
                        position: poiResult.position.lat + ", " + poiResult.position.lon

                // Add POIs discovered to the appropriate search layer
                map.addPins(searchPins, {
                    name: searchLayerName

                // Set the map camera to be fixed on the 'searchPins'
                let lons = searchPins.map((pin) => pin.geometry.coordinates[0] ),
                    lats = searchPins.map((pin) => pin.geometry.coordinates[1] ),
                    swLon = Math.min.apply(null, lons),
                    swLat = Math.min.apply(null, lats),
                    neLon = Math.max.apply(null, lons),
                    neLat = Math.max.apply(null, lats);

                    bounds: [swLon, swLat, neLon, neLat],
                    padding: cameraPadding

        // Function that is triggered on 'mouseover' of a pin element to display extra information
        function createMouseOverPopUps(e, popup, map) {
            let popupContentElement = document.createElement("div");
            popupContentElement.style.padding = "5px";

            let popupNameElement = document.createElement("div");
            popupNameElement.innerText = e.features[0].properties.name;

            let popupAddressElement = document.createElement("div");
            popupAddressElement.innerText = e.features[0].properties.address;

            let popupPositionElement = document.createElement("div");
            popupPositionElement.innerText = e.features[0].properties.name;

                position: e.features[0].geometry.coordinates,
                content: popupContentElement


        // Function to actually create the map
        function createMap() {
            // Alter the query parameters here for testing, add a subscription key, search term (e.g. 'hairdressers' or 'pubs'), 
            // the latitude/longitude to begin the search from and the radius to search (in metres)
            const subscriptionKey = "INSERT_SUBSCRIPTION_KEY_HERE",
                  searchTerm = 'pubs',
                  startLatitude = '52.630181',
                  startLongitude = '1.297415',
                  searchRadius = 1000,
                  // The 'search layer' that will contain the discovered 'pins' and will tie to mouse over pop-ups
                  searchLayerName = "search-results",
                  // Use this to switch out the pin type on render (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/javascript/api/azure-maps-javascript/pinproperties?view=azure-iot-typescript-latest)
                  pinType = "pin-red",
                  // Had issues when searching a small radius and having this value too high (overlapping pins???) - but adjust as necessary
                  cameraPadding = 1;

            // Encapsulate the search constants into a utility class which containts a function for calculating a 
            // search url. Also, generate a map/popup object pre-search to get us started
            let options = new SearchOptions(subscriptionKey, searchTerm, startLatitude, startLongitude, searchRadius),
                popup = new atlas.Popup();
                map = getMap('mapContainer', subscriptionKey);

            // Initialise the pin layer for the targeted map
            prepareMapPins(map, searchLayerName, pinType);

            // Use fetch to call the generated search URL and process the response to add data points (POIs in this case) to the map
                .then(response => response.json())
                .then(data => processMapData(data, searchLayerName, map, cameraPadding));

            // Add a popup to the map which will display some basic information about a search result on hover over a pin
            map.addEventListener("mouseover", searchLayerName, (e) => {
                createMouseOverPopUps(e, popup, map);

        // Create the sample map!

I’ve added inline comments to try and explain the core workings of the objects on show. In essence, you just need to:

  1. Ensure the atlas.min.css style sheet is in scope.
  2. Ensure the atlas.min.js script is in scope.
  3. Create a div with a selector (using an id in this instance) so it can be targeted.
  4. Call atlas.Map specifying the container (div you previous created) you want to render the map within, along with a valid subscription key.

In this example, I create a SearchOptions class that acts a way of encapsulating configurable parts of a search and provides a way of generating a dynamic search URL using a template string (template literal). The createMap function is called first and creates a SearchOptions instance up front, this function is where you can modify search parameters as you see fit. When using this sample code be sure to switch out ‘INSERT_SUBSCRIPTION_KEY_HERE’ for a valid subscription key. You can specify a latitude/longitude as a linchpin for the search, a search radius in metres and a search term to target specific points of interest (POIs).

Along with a SearchOptions object, a ‘popup’ utility object (to handle how popups are rendered when a map pin is ‘moused over’) and the physical map is created, using the getMap function. This is where atlas.Map is called, for reference.

To render pins on the map for POIs a named ‘layer’ must be created against the map object in scope. This is handled via a call to prepareMapPins. There is some ability to customise how a rendered pin looks so see the URL listed against the pinType constant, in the sample code, for more details.

I use ‘fetch’ to call the API with a generated URL/embedded query and then process the returned JSON data using the processMapData function. This is where the physical pins for POIs are added. Each POI discovered has a latitude/longitude, which is extracted in the form of an atlas.data.Feature (for each POI discovered). These are added to the map via a call to the addPins function, specifying the search layer to attach the pin to (so I’ve inferred here that you can indeed have multiple layers rendering different information which is awesome).

Some calculations are then performed to generate values to set the ‘camera’ location so that it focuses in on the area of the discovered POIs. All in all, it is actually pretty simple and is easy to get fully up and running within the first hour or so.

Lastly, a small mouseover event listener is added to provide a popup (using the previously created popup utility object) for each pin. The createMouseOverPopUps function takes care of this little monkey for us.

The only difficulty I had was that large padding values on the camera didn’t seem to play ball when using a small search radius, it took me a while to figure out that results were a) inaccurate when doing this and b) pins were overlapping and looked as if they were missing, so this is something to watch out for! Not sure why this knocked on to the pin locations, as it appears to be a camera setting. I’ve left this as 1, but a value of around 5 appeared to work fine.

So….what does it look like I hear you ask. Here’s the first results set for pubs which, for anyone who knows me, is most likely not a surprise! 😉

Brewdog Location.

Brewdog Location.

The accuracy here, being from Norwich is….a little mixed. The location of Brewdog is near enough and another pin for Gonzos is on the mark, although the returned metadata lists this as ‘Havanas’, which is out of date. Some of the other listed POIs are flat out wrong (or omitted, perhaps as they are listed as ‘bars’ or ‘restaurants’, for example, even when I know they are in range based on radius). I did a follow-up search for hairdressers which seemed to be much more on the mark:

Anglian Hair Academy Map.

Anglian Hair Academy Map.

Anglian Hair Academy Street View.

Anglian Hair Academy Street View.

I had no idea that the Anglian Hair Academy even existed and thankfully my wife was there to set me straight, it’s in the right place apparently. From what I know, the other pins are pretty accurate (in this instance Google Maps looked a little out of date this time around). I tested this one last time on supermarkets in the area and it was reasonably accurate in the majority of cases.

This is an interesting little API to experiment with and please feel free to take this code and play around with it as you see fit. Also, please get in touch if the inaccuracies I saw here are due to some kind of error on my part, I’d love to hear how you all get on.

Thanks all and keep coding!

Experimenting with Azure CDN

With the gradual piecing together of the Lego bricks forming the slow move over of the Frog & Pencil website to a more managed approach (building of a custom CMS and an all-around better ASP.NET MVC architecture) I thought it would be interesting to document the move over of Frog & Pencil images to a CDN. I was inspired to give this a go after watching Scott Hanselman make the switch for his podcast site images and other Azure Friday videos, as documented here:

Scott Hanselman lifting and shifting images over to a CDN.
Azure CDN with Akamai.

It seemed like a relatively painless process and is a step in the right direction for our site as a whole; so, let’s give it a go!

NOTE: A short way into this post I realised that I was making a few missteps. This is cool, I think, as I would rather document the journey I took with the mistakes listed, to be honest – #KeepingItReal! However, for sanity (mine and yours) I’ll specify the ‘correct’ order of events that you should follow here that you can marry up with the ramblings below:

  1. Sign in to the Azure Portal.
  2. Create a storage container, if you don’t already have one.
  3. Download and utilise a storage explorer application (such as Azure Storage Explorer).
  4. Create a CDN Profile and CDN endpoint (that ties explicitly to your storage container, in this instance).
  5. Go to your DNS settings and generate a CNAME property, mapping a custom domain to your CDN if you wish to.
  6. Optionally, learn how to programmatically interact with your storage container.

Azure Portal – First Steps (documenting the journey)

First things first, we must hop on over to the Azure Portal. I searched the marketplace for ‘CDN’ and clicked create in the right-hand pane, as shown:

Creating a CDN

Creating a CDN.

The next phase involves configuring a CDN profile. The profile needs to be given a name and should be attached to an Azure Subscription. I’ve created a new Resource Group, by specifying a name for it, but it is possible to select an existing one for use here. There are some guidelines surrounding Resource Groups, such as items within a group should share the same lifecycle; more details can be found within this handy documentation article, read away!

The Azure CDN service is, of course, global but a Resource Group location must be set, which governs where resource metadata is ultimately stored. This could be an interesting facet to consider if there are particular compliance considerations regarding the storage of information and where it should be placed. I’m going with West Europe either way; a nice, easy choice this time around.

As for pricing, I have decided to head down the Akamai route, using the Standard Akamai pricing tier. I will have to see how this ultimately pans out cost wise over time, but it seems reasonable:

Azure CDN Provider Pricing

Azure CDN Provider Pricing.

At this point, we can explicitly create a CDN endpoint (where resources will be ultimately exposed). The endpoint has a suffix of ‘.azureedge.net’ and I’ve simply specified the first part of our domain, ‘frogandpencil’ as the prefix.

This is where I hit a bit of a revelation with the ‘Origin Type’ drop down. You can select from Storage, Cloud service, Web app or Custom origin (which is cool!), of which I want to use Storage. After selecting this I can pick an ‘Origin hostname’. The light bulb moment here, for me, is that I should have created a storage container first! I’d watched enough videos to have dodged this little problem, but I still managed to stumble…all part of the learning process 😉

So… Let’s Create a Storage Container

Back to the market place then. The obvious pick seems to be ‘Storage account – blob, file, table, queue’, so I’ve gone ahead and clicked create here:

Setup Azure Storage.

Setup Azure Storage.

When creating the storage account there are a fair few options to consider, a good number that read as if they will impact pricing. I had to use the documentation found here to make choices. I settled on the setup described here (for images, and as the site isn’t yet using https, I’ve gone with the secure transfer feature being disabled – one for review in the future):

As an overview, the guidance suggests the use of the ‘Resource manager’ type of ‘Deployment model’ for new applications. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty for using the ‘StorageV2’ ‘Account kind’, which extends the types that can be stored outside of just blob data, so that is what I am going for.

Performance wise, the ‘standard’ option seems like an acceptable setting at the moment and for the kind of data I’ll be storing (images for now, and possibly other static content later down the line) I can opt out of any geo-redundant replication options. In the event of resource downtime, I can easily switch to the use of resources local to the website. Plus, there will not be any data being lost really, all easily rebuilt and recoverable.

As for the ‘Access tier’, I’m heading down the ‘Hot’ route as images will be accessed quite frequently (we have the CDN to consider here so I might tinker later on down the line).

I then pick a Subscription, give the Resource Group a name and select my region of choice before continuing.

I then get a new blade on the dashboard (which took a minute to create) and, on accessing, am presented with the following:

Storage Setup.

Storage Setup.

Managing the Storage Container

The first and perhaps most obvious choice for managing and actually getting some content up into the storage container is the Azure Storage Explorer, which I’ll be downloading and using.

After a painless install process, you should see the following, where you will be asked to connect to Azure Storage:

Connect to Azure Storage.

Connect to Azure Storage.

I simply used my Azure account sign in details here. I did notice however that the Azure Portal does expose, under ‘Access Keys’ (within the storage container dashboard), keys and connection strings. I’m assuming this is for other kinds of, including programmatic, access; which I’ll give a go I think as part of this post (as a wee bonus).

I used the right-click context menu to create a new container called ‘images’ and then used the upload button to push up a test image:

Azure Storage Explorer Upload Image.

Azure Storage Explorer Upload Image.

Again, against the container I used the right-click context menu to select ‘Set Public Access Level…’, which I’ve set as follows to allow public access to the blob data but not the container:

Container Public Access Setup.

Container Public Access Setup.

I now have a blob container with a single image in it with appropriate access rights configured. The question is can I access the image in its current state? We’re looking pretty good from what I can see.

Successful Access.

Successful Access.

Adding a custom domain

Next up, I plan on adding a custom domain to the storage account. To do this, I access the ‘Custom domain’ option as shown here:

Register Custom Domain.

Register Custom Domain.

I followed option 1 as listed here and created a CNAME record to map frogandpencilstorage.blob.core.windows.net to images.frogandpencil.com (I’m happy to wait for this to propagate).

Register images.frogandpencil.com.

Register images.frogandpencil.com.

Once the CNAME record is created you simply have to place your target URL in the text box provided and hit save.

New CNAME property.

New CNAME property.

Lastly, let’s take it for a spin and see whether we can access the image in the storage container via the custom URL…and voila:

Custom Domain Active.

Custom Domain Active.

Back to the CDN bit!

We’ve come full circle! With a storage container in place I can now use that to feed a configured CDN. Consequently, I backtracked and followed the previously listed steps being sure to select my ‘Origin hostname’ to point to the newly created storage container:

CDN Profile & Endpoint Configuration.

CDN Profile & Endpoint Configuration.

On clicking create it takes a short time for the CDN to be configured.

So, what do I do now

Looking through the videos I made another discovery. This is where I want to adjust the previously created CNAME property (that I setup for the storage container) and hook this up to the CDN endpoint instead. The portal exposes custom domain mapping for a CDN much like for a storage container:

Change CNAME to map to CDN.

Change CNAME to map to CDN.

Portal CDN Custom Domain Mapping.

Portal CDN Custom Domain Mapping.

Again, I had to wait a short time for the CNAME property change to propagate but, after that, I was all set. I then spent a little time verifying that the CDN was up and running. There are quite a few optimisation options including the ability to set a custom ‘Origin path’ (such as ‘images’) but I’m leaving these be for the time being.

The Bonus Section – Programmatically Add Items to Azure Storage

As promised, this next section discusses (in a very bare bones fashion) what is required to write to an Azure storage container. I’ve created a stub Console Application to get running with and the process itself is simple (not considering errors, existence checks and threading, of course!).

You need to:

  1. Reference the WindowsAzure.Storage NuGet package.
  2. Add a reference to System.Configuration (if you want to put connection strings, folder paths and container names in configuration files and read them out).
  3. Then simply follow the code outlined below to get started.

In my test setup, the ‘SourceDirectory’ is looking at ‘C:\test-files\’ (contains just images) and the ‘TargetContainer’ is called ‘images’, as per my earlier configuration. The connection string can be obtained from the Azure Portal, under ‘Storage Account > Settings > Access Keys’.

Test Files ready for upload.

Test Files.

Storage Access Keys.

Storage Access Keys.

The App.config for the test application is structured like this, with the connection string being set to the correct value as per the information found in the Azure Portal.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
        <supportedRuntime version="v4.0" sku=".NETFramework,Version=v4.6.1" />
    <add name="FrogAndPencilStorageConnection" connectionString="[OBTAINED_FROM_THE_AZURE_PORTAL]" />
    <add key="SourceDirectory" value="C:\test-files\"/>
    <add key="TargetContainer" value="images"/>

Then, finally, the actual test code which…

  • Attempts to connect to the storage container creating a CloudStorageAccount object, based on the connection string information supplied.
  • Then uses the CloudStorageAccount object to get create a new CloudBlobContainer object (based on the container name stored in the configuration settings).
  • Finally, utilise this CloudBlobContainer, along with information about the files to process, to actually perform the upload.
using Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Storage;
using Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Storage.Blob;
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Configuration;
using System.IO;
using System.Linq;

namespace WriteToAzureStorageTestApp
    /// <summary>
    /// Test application for writing to Azure Storage.
    /// Basic, test code only (throwaway code).
    /// </summary>
    internal class Program
        #region Main (Entry Point) Method

        /// <summary>
        /// Main entry point method for this console application.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="args">Optional input arguments.</param>
        private static void Main(string[] args)

        #endregion Main (Entry Point) Method

        #region Private Static Methods

        /// <summary>
        /// Private static demo method illustrating how to upload to Azure Storage.
        /// </summary>
        private static void DemoWritingToAzureStorage()
            // First use the FrogAndPencilStorageConnection connection string (for Azure Storage) to obtain a CloudStorageAccount, if possible
            CloudStorageAccount.TryParse(ConfigurationManager.ConnectionStrings["FrogAndPencilStorageConnection"].ConnectionString, out CloudStorageAccount storageAccount);
            if (storageAccount != null)
                // We have a CloudStorageAccount...proceed to grab a CloudBlobContainer and attempt to upload any files found in the 'SourceDirectory' to Azure Storage
                Console.WriteLine("Obtaining CloudBlobContainer.");

                CloudBlobContainer container = GetCloudBlobContainer(storageAccount);

                Console.WriteLine("Container resolved.");

                Console.WriteLine("Obtaining files to process.");

                List<string> filesToProcess = Directory.GetFiles(ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["SourceDirectory"]).ToList();

                UploadFilesToStorage(container, filesToProcess);

            Console.WriteLine("Processing complete. Press any key to exit...");

        /// <summary>
        /// Private static utility method that obtains a CloudBlobContainer
        /// using the container name stored in app settings.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="storageAccount">The cloud storage account to retrieve a container based on.</param>
        /// <returns>A fully instantiated CloudBlobContainer, based on the TargetContainer app setting.</returns>
        private static CloudBlobContainer GetCloudBlobContainer(CloudStorageAccount storageAccount)
            CloudBlobClient blobClient = storageAccount.CreateCloudBlobClient();

            return blobClient.GetContainerReference(ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["TargetContainer"]);

        /// <summary>
        /// Private static utility method that, using a CloudBlobContainer, uploads the
        /// files passed in to Azure Storage.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="container">A reference to the container to upload to.</param>
        /// <param name="filesToProcess">The files to upload to the container.</param>
        private static void UploadFilesToStorage(CloudBlobContainer container, List<string> filesToProcess)
            // Process each file, uploading it to storage and deleting the local file reference as we go
            filesToProcess.ForEach(filePath =>
                Console.WriteLine($"Processing and uploading file from path '{ filePath } (then deleting)'.");

                // Upload the file based on name (note - there is no existence check or guarantee of uniqueness - production code would need this)


        /// <summary>
        /// Private static utility method for deleting a file.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="filePath">The file path (full) to delete based upon.</param>
        private static void RemoveFileFromLocalDirectory(string filePath)
            // Only attempt the delete if the file exists
            if (File.Exists(filePath))

        #endregion Private Static Methods
Test Upload Application Running.

Test Upload Application Running.

Test Files Uploaded.

Test Files Uploaded.

There you have it; a rather around the houses and off the wall tour of setting up an Azure storage container and then linking this to an Azure CDN. Plenty of images still need to be brought over into the new storage container (and a few code changes to boot), but I feel like I am on a pilgrimage to a better place. I hope this proves useful nonetheless and, until the next time, happy coding!


After a further play I realised that the C# example I’d knocked up was not setting the content type correctly on upload, as follows:

Incorrect Content Type.

Incorrect Content Type.

To this end, I adjusted the UploadFilesToStorage method to set the content type on a CloudBlockBlob before the upload is triggered, as illustrated here:

/// <summary>
/// Private static utility method that, using a CloudBlobContainer, uploads the
/// files passed in to Azure Storage.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="container">A reference to the container to upload to.</param>
/// <param name="filesToProcess">The files to upload to the container.</param>
private static void UploadFilesToStorage(CloudBlobContainer container, List<string> filesToProcess)
	CloudBlockBlob blockBlob;

	// Process each file, uploading it to storage and deleting the local file reference as we go
	filesToProcess.ForEach(filePath =>
		Console.WriteLine($"Processing and uploading file from path '{ filePath } (then deleting)'.");

		// Upload the file based on name (note - there is no existence check or guarantee of uniqueness - production code would need this)
		blockBlob = container.GetBlockBlobReference(Path.GetFileName(filePath));

		// Correctly configure the content type before uploading
		blockBlob.Properties.ContentType = "image/jpg";



You should then see items with the correct content type in the container:

Correct Content Type.

Correct Content Type.

To access images via the custom domain, essentially my CDN, I had to ‘purge’ it also at this point.

Again, happy coding.

Future Decoded 2015 Play-by-play

Hello beautiful people!

It’s a fantastic, gorgeous Saturday morning (it’ll be Monday by the time I hit the publish button, such is the enormity of the post!); the birds are chirping, the sun is shining through the balcony windows (and there is a bloody wasp outside, STILL!!!) and my wife has left me…………to go on a girly weekend (that probably sounded more alarming than intended; hmmm, oh well, it stays!). Whilst she is away fighting the good fight, this gives me the opportunity to go over my thoughts on the recent Future Decoded 2015 event that took place at ExCel in London.

The links to outline this event have been posted before on my blog, but just in case, here are the goods again:

Future Decoded 2015
Future Decoded 2015: Technical Day Highlights

Before we begin, it’s worth pointing out that I attended this event a couple of weeks ago, so apologies if any inaccuracies pop up. I’ll do my best to stick to the facts of what I can remember and specific points that interested me; other commitments ended up preventing me from getting to this particular post sooner. You’ll all let me off, being the super gracious, awesome folks you are, I’m sure :-).

So, FIGHT!!!!!

Sorry, I had a dream about Mortal Kombat last night and upper-cutting people into the pit – What a great stage that was! Ah, the memories….Let’s begin/start/get on with it then.

Morning Key Notes

The morning Key Notes were varied and expansive in nature. I won’t discuss all of them here, only the takeaway points from the talks that struck a chord with me.

1) Scott Guthrie. EVP Cloud and Enterprise, Microsoft (Azure).

I was particularly looking forward to this talk being a keen follower of Scott Guthrie (include Scott Hanselman), and I normally try to catch up with Channel 9 features and Azure Fridays whenever possible (I’ve linked both, although I’m sure most of you, if not all, have come across Channel 9 before or heard of Azure Fridays).

The talk did have primer elements as you would expect, i.e. here’s the Azure Portal and what you can expect to find (in relation to resources, templates you can access for applications, services, Content Distribution Networks (CDN), etc). The next bit really caught me cold, who was expecting a giant image slide of a cow! I certainly wasn’t…

Estrus in Cows

What followed was a full example of real-time data recording and assessment surrounding the monitoring of cows in Asia. I’ve provided a link below that sums up the concept of Estrus (being in heat) nicely enough, but it laymen’s terms it relates to cows ‘being in the mooooooood’ (wife insisted I added that joke). Obviously, a farmers’ ability to accurately detect this, urm, state of being in a cow is an incredibly important factor in the ability to produce calves.

It turns out that a cow tends to move more when in the Estrus state; something that can certainly be measured. So, with pedometers attached to cows to measure steps taken and an Azure based service receiving and providing feedback in real-time, the farmer in question was able to take action to maximise calf production. Further to this, analysis of the data gathered was able to identify trends against how long cows have been in the Estrus state, and the gender of offspring. Crazy stuff, but all very interesting. Feel free to read further to your hearts content:

Cow Estrus Detection

The Internet of Things (IoT) was briefly touched on and another brief, live coding example ensued.

Scott produced a small, bog-standard heat sensor (apparently, just a few pounds, I was impressed he didn’t say dollars!) and proceeded to demonstrate a basic WinForms application passing a JSON payload to Azure in real-time (measurements taken a few times a second). This strikes me as exciting territory, and I have friends who do develop applications working in tandem with sensors already, backed up by technologies such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, for example. The talk closed with the conceptual idea that the majority of data, in the world today, is still largely unmeasured, and hoped that Azure would be an important platform in unlocking developers potential to measure previously untapped data.

2) Kevin Ashton. Inventor of the “Internet of Things”.

Kevin coined the term the Internet of Things (IoT), and gave a very good talk on what this means, as well as identifying certain ‘predictions’ for the future. For instance, that we, as a species, would survive climate change for one. He quickly noted that calling ‘BS’ on this particular one would be tricky should we suffer a doomsday style event at the hands of climate change (I don’t imagine the last thoughts of humanity to be, ‘oh, Kevin Ashton was so bloody wrong!’). Another interesting prediction; we would all own a self-driving car by 2030. Prototype examples already exist, such as Googles (and Apples) efforts, and the Tesla:

Google/Apple (Titan) Self Driving Cars
The Tesla

Self-driving cars being one of the cases in point, the IoT relates to how a whole new host of devices will now become ‘connected’. Besides cars rigged up to the internet, we are all aware of the hooking up of internal systems in our homes (heating, etc) and utility devices (the washing machine), as to always be online and accessible at a moments notice. This world isn’t coming per say, it’s essentially already here.

Pushing past this initial definition, Kevin was keen to stress that the IoT was not limited in its definition to just ‘the connecting of hardware to the internet’ only. Wiki sums this up quite nicely on this occasion, but software (services and analytics) that moves forward with hardware changes will ultimately change the way we live, work, shop and go about our daily lives. Whether this be data relayed from the fridge to google glasses (yes, you are out of milk!), or perhaps a self-driving car ordering ‘click and collect’ shopping and driving you to the collection point after work (not to mention triggering the heating x miles from home!). Software, and the analysis of the new kinds of data we can record from interconnected elements, will be a huge driving force in how our world changes:

Internet of Things (IoT)

Lastly, before I forget and move on, a key phrase voiced several times (although I cannot remember the exact speaker, so apologies for that, it was probably David Chappell) was to reset your defaults. Standard client/server architecture was discussed, and for those of us that are part of long running businesses this is what we are exclusively, or at least partially, dealing with on a daily basis still. However, the change to the use of mobile devices, tablets, etc, as clients and the cloud as the underpinning location for the services these clients communicate with is becoming the norm. For start-ups today, mobile first development and the cloud (Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS)) are probably the initial go-to.

For some of us (speaking from a personal standpoint only), a major factor in our success as developers could simply be determined by understanding the cloud and getting the necessary experience to make the transition (for those who are not actively taking part in this world of course).

So, now we have the IoT, let’s talk security…

3) Graham Cluley. Security Analyst, grahamcluley.com.

Graham delivered a funny and insightful talk surrounding everyones’, ‘Oh my God, the horror, please kill me’ subject, the wonderful world of security.

In a nutshell, he argues (and certainly proves his point as you’ll read next) that the IoT will bring wonders to our world, but not without issues. We now have a scenario whereby a breadth of new devices have suddenly become internet connected. However, are the driving forces behind these changes the people who are used to dealing with the murky world of malware, viruses and hacking attempts (such as OS developers)? Probably not, is the initial answer. This is, of course, just a cultural divide between those used to trans-versing the security world and protecting devices from such attacks, and those tasked with bringing new devices to the interconnected world.

The hacking of self-driving cars (big topic it would seem) was discussed:

Fiat Chrysler Recalls

Also, the potential of hacking pacemakers was covered (bluetooth/wifi enabled), famously featured in the TV series Homeland and which actually lead to Vice President Dick Cheney’s cardiologist disabling the wireless functionality of his device:

Pacemaker Hacking
Could Pacemakers Be Hacked?

Although funny, the talk did indeed bring up a very serious issue. The ramifications could be catastrophic, depending on the types of devices that ultimately end up being exposed to the masses via the web. Essentially, as the IoT age develops, extra care must be taken to ensure that security is right on up there, in the hierarchy of priorities, when developing software for these devices.

4) Chris Bishop. Scientist and Lab Director, Microsoft Research.

The last talk I would personally like to discuss briefly was by Chris Bishop; there were a few great nuggets here that are well worth covering.

The idea of Machine Learning (not a topic I was overly familiar with for starters), Neural Networks and Pattern Recognition laid the foundation for a talk looking at the possibility of producing machines with human-level, or even super-human, intelligence.

The Microsoft Kinect was used to demonstrate hand-tracking software that, I have to admit, had an incredible amount of fidelity in recognising hand positions and shapes.

Lastly, a facial recognition demonstration that could estimate, with good accuracy, the emotional state of a person was kicked off for us all to see. Very, very impressive. There was most certainly an underlying feeling here (and as much was hinted at) that his kind of technology has many hurdles to jump. For instance, building something that can consume an image and accurately describe what is in that image is still a flaky concept, at best (and the difficulties of producing something capable of this are relatively vast).

Still, a greatly enjoyable talk! A book was touted, and I believe (please don’t shout at me if I’m wrong) this is the one:

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

After the morning Key Notes, a series of smaller talks and break-out sessions were available to us. Here’s how I spent my time…

Unity3D Grok Talk

Josh Taylor. Unity Technologies.

It’s my sincere hope that, on discovering this, my employer won’t decide to sack me! This was over lunch and was a self-indulgent decision I’m afraid! You’ll know from some of my historical posts that I have a keen interest in Unity3D (and have spent time making the odd modest prototype game here and there), and I was interested to see how Unity 5 was progressing, especially as a greater cohesive experience with Visual Studio had been promised.

In this short, 20 minute talk, we experienced how Visual Studio (finally) integrates nicely into the Unity3D content creation pipeline. Unity3D now defaults to using Visual Studio as the editor of choice, with Monodevelop being pushed aside. Apologies to anyone who likes Monodevelop, but I’ve never been able to get behind it. With wacky intellisense and with what I can only describe as a crash-tastic experience in past use, I haven’t seen anything yet to sway me from using Visual Studio. In fact, it was demonstrated that you can even use Visual Studio Code if you wish and, as it’s cross-platform, even Mac and Linux users can switch to this if they wish. More reasons to leave Monodevelop in the dust? It’s not for me to say really, go ahead and do what you’ve got to do at the end of the day!

In order to debug Unity projects in Visual Studio in the past a paid for plugin was required. This particular plugin has been purchased by Microsoft and is now available to all. Being able to easily debug code doesn’t sound like much, but trust me it’s like having a basic human right re-established – such good news!!!

The new licensing model was also commented on, a massive plus for everyone. The previous Free/Pro divide is no more; now everyone gets access to the lions share of the core features. You only need to start spending money as you make it (fair for Unity to ask for a piece of the pie if you start rolling in profit/expanding a team to meet the new demand). For me, this means I actually get to use the Unity Pro water effects, hoorah ;-).

Following this, I spent a bit of time last weekend watching the Unite 2015 Key Notes, discussing 2D game development enhancements, cloud based builds and Oculus support. Well worth a look if and when time allows:

Unite 2015 Key Notes

Plus, if Oculus technology interests you, then it’s definitely worth watching John Carmacks (formerly of ID Software, the mind behind Wolfenstein and Doom) Key Note from the Oculus Connect 2 event:

John Carmack Oculus Keynote

Very exciting times ahead for Unity3D I believe. Self-indulgence over, moving forward then…

Journey to the Intelligent Cloud

Corey Sanders. Director of Program Management, Azure.

Following the Unity3D talk, I made my way back to the ICC Auditorium (I missed a small section of this particular talk, but caught the bulk of it) to catch up on some basic examples of how the new Azure Portal can be used. This took the form of a brief overview of what’s available via the portal, essentially a primer session.

In my recent, personal work with Azure I’ve used the publishing capability within Visual Studio to great affect; it was very transparent and seamless to use by all accounts. A sample was provided within this particular session which demonstrated live coding changes, made in GitHub, being published back to a site hosted on Azure.

Going into a tangent….

Very much a personal opinion here, but I did find (and I wasn’t the only one) that a good portion of the content I wanted to see was a) on at the same time (the 1:15pm slot) and b) was during the core lunch period where everyone was ravenous, I’m a ‘hanger’ sufferer I’m afraid. C# with Mads Torgerson, ASP.NET 5, Nano Servers and Windows 10 (UWP) sessions all occupied this slot, which drove me a little nuts :-(. This felt like a scheduling issue if I’m honest. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who did (or didn’t) feel the same.

I was so disappointed to miss Mads Torgerson, I very much enjoyed the recent C# language features overview and would have loved to have made this breakout session! I did walk past him later in the day, and I hope he never reads this, but he seemed ridiculously tall (perhaps Godly C# skills made him appear several inches taller, who knows!). It doesn’t help that I’m on the shorter side either, I just wanted to be 5′ 11″, that’s all I ever wanted (break out the rack, I need to get stretching!). I should have said hello, but wimped out!

F# Language Breakout Session

Don Syme. Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research.

This was easily the part of the event that resonated the most with me, and strongly influenced the foray into F# that I undertook recently. Don Syme, the designer and architect of the F# language, took us through a quality primer of the syntax and how F# can be used (and scaled) for the cloud.

All of this aside, the most impressive part of the talk was a live demonstration of F# Type Providers. Again, this is fully covered in my previous post so I’ll just direct you to that, which in turn will aid me in cutting down what is now becoming a gargantuan post. In summary, the ability to draw information directly from web pages, rip data straight from files and databases, and combine and aggregate it all together using minimal code produces a terse, easy to understand and pretty darn good experience in my book. Even the code behind producing visual feedback, in the form of the charting API, is succinct; the bar really isn’t set too high for new starters to get involved.

If you decide to give anything a go in the near future, I would give F# the nod (followed closely, just a hair’s breadth away, by jQuery in my opinion). Certainly check it out if you get the chance.

Final Key Note

Professor Brian Cox. Physicist.
Krysta Svore. Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research.

The day proceeded in fast forward and, before we’d really had the chance to gather our thoughts, we were sitting in the main auditorium again faced by Professor Brian Cox, Krysta Svore and a menagerie of confused attendees staring at mathematical formulas outlining quantum theory.

Into the wonderful world of quantum computers we dance, and in my case, dragging my brain along from somewhere back yonder in a desperate attempt to keep up. Thankfully, I’m an avid TED talk fanatic and had, in the run up to the event, brushed up on a few quantum theory and quantum mechanics videos; lucky I did really. The content was dense but, for the most part, well put together and outlined the amazing (and potentially frightening) world of possibilities that quantum computers could unlock for us all.

Professor Brian Cox cruised through the theories we’d need to be intimate with in order to understand the onslaught of oncoming content surrounding quantum computers. In essence, a traditional ‘bit’, has a defined state (like a switch), on or off. However, and this is the simple essence of what they were trying to get to, traditional bits are reaching limitations that will prevent us from solving more complex problems, in a timely manner (you’ll see what I mean in a second). Therefore, qubits, born from quantum theory, are the answer.

Now, I’m not going to insult your intelligence and go into too much detail on a subject that I am clearly not an expert in. So, just in ‘laymen’s bullet points’, here is what I took from all that was said and done across the Key Note:

  • With bits, you are dealing with entities that can have a fixed state (0 or 1). A deterministic system if you will, that has limitations in its problem crunching power.
  • Qubits, however, take us into the realm of a probabilistic system. The qubit can be in a superposition of all of the allowed states, not just 0 or 1.
  • Therefore, the problem crunching powers of qubits are exponential in nature, but the probabilistic nature makes measuring them (and interactions involving them) difficult to get to grips with.

So is it worth fighting through the technical problems in order to harness qubits? What kind of gains are we talking about here?

Krystra Svore outlined an example that displayed that it would take roughly one billion years for a current super computer to crack (more complex than standard) RSA encryption. How long would it take a quantum computer you may ask? Significantly faster is the answer, estimated at around one hundred seconds in fact. This clearly defines for us the amazing problems we’ll be able to solve, whilst simultaneously illustrating the dangerous times that lay ahead from a security standpoint. Let’s just hope cryptography keeps up (I can see a few sniffs to suggest things are in the pipeline, so I will keep an eye out for news as it pops up).

So you want a quantum computer I hear you say! Hmmm, I wouldn’t put it on the Christmas list anytime soon. Due to the fact current quantum computers need to be super cooled (and from the pictures we got to see, didn’t look like you could hike around with it!), we’re not likely to get our hands directly on them in the near future.

Can you get your mitts on quantum simulators today? Apparently yes in the answer (completed untested links, just for you to peruse on your own, good luck):

QC Simulators
Project Liquid

Taking nothing away from the Key Note though, it was a concrete finish to an excellent event. Would I go again? You bet! Should we get the train next time instead of driving? Taking into account the mountains of free beer and wine on offer, of course! To finish up, before summarising the Expo itself, if you haven’t been and get the opportunity (in fact, actively seek the opportunity, enough said) then definitely book this in your calendar, thoroughly brilliant.


Very, very quickly, as I am acutely aware that your ability to focus on this post (if not already) must have completely diminished by this point, I wanted to describe what the Expo itself had to offer. If you’re still reading, give yourself a pat on the back!

One of the more compelling items we saw was the use of the new Lumia phone as a (kind of) desktop replacement attempt. Let’s get one thing straight, you’re not going to be doing hardcore software development using Visual Studio or any other intensive task on this device anytime soon. However, there was certainly enough evidence to suggest that basic productivity tasks would be possible using a mobile phone as a back bone to facilitate this.

The Lumia can be hooked up to a dock, akin to the Surface Pro 4 (the docks are subtly different apparently, so are not cross-compatible), and that allows it to be tied to a display device. You can also get a folding mouse and keyboard, for a very lightweight, on-the-go experience. Interesting certainly, but there is a definite horse-power issue that will prevent anyone working on anything remotely intensive from getting on board. Anyway, for those interested the link below will get you started:

Lumia Docking Station

I saw a few Surface Pros, and wondered whether we could potentially smuggle a few out of the Expo! Only kidding, no need to call the Police (or for anyone I work with thinking I am some kind of master criminal in the making) :-).

An Oculus demonstration booth was on the Expo floor, and displays were hooked up to show what the participants were experiencing. It was noted that a few of the people using the Oculus seemed to miss the point a bit, and kept their head completely still as they were transported through the experience. Once the heads started moving (to actually take in the world) you could visibly see people getting incredibly immersed. Alas, the queues were pretty darn large every time I made my way past, so I didn’t get a chance to experience it first-hand. One for the future.

There was also a programmable cocktail maker, an IoT masterpiece I think you’ll agree. A perfect union of hardware, software and alcohol, a visionary piece illustrating the future has arrived!

The next time an event like this comes around I will endeavour to get a post up in a timely fashion (which will vastly improve the content I hope).

Thanks for reading and a high five from me if you made it this far. Back to coding in the upcoming post I promise, until the next time, cheers from me (and would you believe it, it’s now Tuesday)!