Technical Conference, WiT

A new way to teach math

What if math were taught differently to middle-school aged kids? How did you learn algebra?  Do you remember?  Wasn’t it something like this: “Find the common factors of 4x + x^2  and then solve it for y?”  How about your kids?  Are they learning the same way? Are they enjoying it?

Now imagine something like this: “Take a look at this drawing of your city and tell me how much it would cost for gasoline in the car for your mom to drive you to school and then herself to work for one month.  Also, tell me how she might pay less money to get you to school and herself to work, i.e. by taking the train, carpooling.

Yes, experience-based algebra.  Math in, from and for the real world.  Is this some kind of dream?

Well, I used to think so, then, much to my delight, I happened on this type of math education in Bangalore, India at a new start-up called BrainStars.

BrainStars India
BrainStars India

During my recent speaking trip there, I wanted to connect with local, open-source developers.  I have discovered through my travels, that visiting a co-working space or two is a great place to connect.  To that end, I located in Bangalore and noted a launch event for a new, educational startup called BrainStars there. - a co-working space in Bangalore – a co-working space in Bangalore

I contacted the organizers and asked if I could visit their offices in order to understand what they were launching at the event. At the offices, I got introduced to their first product.  It’s called Number Nagar.

In the heart of ‘old Bangalore’ I spent a day with the founder of BrainStars and his team.  Ravi Shankar Ramalingaiah explained the theoretical concepts behind BrainStars, then he spent some time taking me through the model classroom on site for Number Nagar.


Welcome to the world of 'Number Nagar' with founder Ravi
Welcome to the world of ‘Number Nagar’ with founder Ravi

He led me through many of the core activities that he and his team have developed to teach math to children in grades 3 to 8.

Here’s what I learned….

Ravi is creating courseware that is hyper-local – ‘Nagar’ means city in the local dialect (Kannada) and one of his many activities starts with a cool map of ‘mathematical’ Bangalore, from a child’s perspective.

Nagar means 'city'
Nagar means ‘city’

The classroom space is a filled with an activity areas with items, such as a history wall, with the zero suitcase and more.  These items are designed to spark experiential mathematic conversations and activities.  Here are some pictures of the classroom.  First up is the city map.

Mathematical city map of Bangalore - as a basis for hyper-local mathematical thinking
Mathematical city map of Bangalore – as a basis for hyper-local mathematical thinking

Here’s the Pi pillar – used for teaching / understanding how the concept of Pi has evolved over time.

Pi pillar - to explain the evolution of understanding of the value of Pi
Pi pillar – to explain the evolution of understanding of the value of Pi

The teaching tree extends into 3D space – even using the ceiling to teach!

The teaching tree uses 3D space - including the ceiling!
The teaching tree uses 3D space – including the ceiling!

In addition to spending time with Ravi and his team, Llewellyn and I also did attend the Number Nagar launch event at the co-working space later in the week.  It was enlightening to be led through activities with other interested adults and kids by BrainStars-trained teachers.  I found all of the teachers to be engaging and well-qualified.  The audience responded with delight too!

Learning from the BrainStar teachers at the Number Nagar launch event in Bangalore
Learning from the BrainStar teachers at the Number Nagar launch event in Bangalore

Ravi’s model is for-profit and Number Nagar is the first set of curriculum, teacher-training and classroom environments that his start-up (BrainStars) will offer to schools, after-school programs and homeschooling parents.  Ravi advised me that his team is already at work on applying this experience-based approach to teaching and learning to other domains – next up is science.  I can’t wait to see what they will build next.

Probably the strongest endorsement of BrainStars that I can give is that I am working to bring it my daughter’s own school.  If successful, we will be the first school in the US to use this innovate approach.  I’ll keep you posted.

If you’d like to learn more here is the main BrainStars site and here is the contact information.

I’ll close with a bit of fun – in additional to innovation and excellence, NumberNagar also has a theme song – it’s cool and catchy and local (mostly in the Kannada language – the local Indian dialect of Bangalore).

The NumberNagar Song

Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Auto hatkond, meter haakond, Archimedes circleninda
Pythagoras Palyag hogi, Full meals hodeyoNa.
Guass galeeli toorikonDu, Ramanujan series kanDu
Gandhi Bazaar dose tindu lekka haakona
Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Chakradalli circles yella |gaalipatadal angles yella
Paani puri gaadiyalli Quadrilateral haaduthaithe
Beralal saavra gatle number| Zero story on a paper
Clocksnalli centuries and millennia haaduthaithe
Nodu baa NumberNagar| Aadu baa NumberNagar
Mathadi math aadi Everybody

Here’s a link to the song – enjoy!


Agile, Technical Conference

ApprovalTests at Agile 2012

Woody Zuill and I are presenting on the open source unit testing library ApprovalTests at the Agile 2012 conference this week.  Below are the slides.  The presentation will also be recorded and I will link that recording here after it’s posted.

Are you using ApprovalTests?  How’s it going? Let me know on the comments in this blog.  Also, if you are a .NET developer, there is a new release of ApprovalTests for .NET (v.20) with a bunch of new features.

Happy testing!

Technical Conference

Preview of the Agile 2012 technical talks

I’ll be speaking at the annual agile conference (Agile 2012) in August in Dallas, TX.  Can you spot me in the video linked below?  It’s a short preview from many of the technical speakers at this year’s conference.  This is a fantastic conference to learn the what, why, when, where and, most importantly, HOW of agile development practices.  There is still time to sign up – join me!

Technical Conference

Harnessing the Good Intentions of Others for Your Open Source Project

Llew and I will be speaking at OsCon 2012 later this month.  We’ve prepared (practiced!) and posted the slides and some of the very short videos that are part of this new talk up on SlideShare – enjoy!

We are very interested in your opinion of our talk.  Was the information we shared helpful to you?  In particular, did you try anything that we suggested out? i.e. did you volunteer, pair program, ask for specific feedback on your project, etc.. how did it go?  What did you try and how did it go?  Let us know via comments on this blog post!

google, noSQL, Technical Conference

A former Softie on Google IO -> Mind = blown

As I wait in for my “ride home” at SFO, I am trying to process all that is Google IO.  Have recently emerged from many years in Microsoft ecosystem, and I am am feeling like I in the right place at the right time.

Top Line – Google hits all competition – hard.

Even through the lens (the bubble?) of the converted (and Google IO is full of them), it’s a stark reality that all of former Softies have to face, the world is changing and we have to as well if we want to stay relavent (and employed).  What does this mean exactly?

1) Tablets and phones – it’s a war and Google pulled ahead with the release of Jelly Bean for Android here at IO.  Of course they gave every attendee a Nexus tablet and phone on the first day, so that we would use them at the conference.  Contrast this to the old-school PR show that MSFT ran last week to preview Surface.  No one was allowed to touch their device.  Amazon will fire back with a new Kindle Fire shortly and there are rumours that Apple will release a 7″ iPad as well. Shown below is the ‘swag haul’.

2) Android is developer-friendly – more than 50% of this conference content was aimed toward Android developers.  There were additional giveaways for those attendees who were lucky enough to actually get into the Android sessions.  Not being an Android developer myself (yet), I just watched the huge lines for all of the Android sessions with surprise.  I sat in one session for about 15 minutes, but the screens filled with code bored me silly.

3) Look out Amazon – Google has some serious offerings in the cloud.  The big announcement here was the beta of Google Compute Engine (or IaaS).  Also Big Query quietly came out of beta shortly before IO.  It’s essentially a massively distributed query process (Hadoop-like) that allows you to use SQL queries, rather than MapReduce.  Cheap, simple and powerful – are you paying attention yet?

4) Google gets geeks.  From the conference sell-out (28 minutes), to the sky-diving  Google glasses stunt (repeated and EXPLAINED the next day by Sergey himself), to the massive amount of swag, google speaks in a language that attracts the best and brightest technical talent world-wide.  Lest you think that the open source world has dibs on the geek nirvana that is IO, I heard lots of hallway conversations like this one “This is my first IO, I felt that it was time to look outside of Microsoft, and, I’m stunned.”

5) The keynote stunt – if you didn’t already see it

The Detail – First the Good

SWAG – Holy crap, I have never in over 100 technical conferences, got this much useful swag.  I mean a phone, a tablet, a chromebook and a home streaming media player.  That’s just the main stream stuff — I did get a few more things too…

Preview and incredible demo of Google Glasses – You’ve probably seen it (YouTube above), but I was THERE.  And then, they did it again (and explained how it was done), just because, they can.  Damn!  In case, you are wondering, yes, of course I signed up to give Google my $ 1500 for the first technical preview of Google glasses.

The people – really I just spent most of my hallway time listening.  I am utterly convinced based on what I heard that the smartest, most talented developers on earth were all in one place for 3 days.  It was really astounding.  Between what I heard and the NDAs I have with all major companies, I really can’t share anything more specifically here yet unfortunately.

Quiet announcements – amidst all the Android and Cloud fanfare a couple of smaller releases caught my eye – Google Drive SDK 2.0 has some interesting application integration features.  Google Now on the phone, in my initial test, when combined with the improved voice search, work great.

More Detail – The Bad

The venue, although cool, was too small.  There were many long, long lines and huge crowds.  Given the attendance (I think around 5,000), there are venues that can hold a crowd this size more comfortably.  The crowd, as time, posed an actual safety risk.

Getting a ticket was too difficult.  I was actually invited, but I heard many horror stories of people opening multiple browsers routed through multiple continents and automating requests to try to get a ticket before the conference sold out (about 20 minutes after it opened).  I mean, really, with all the bragging about ‘Google scale’ infrastructure, I can’t help but wonder, was this by design?

Why did Google take down all of the exhibits at the end of day 2 in a 3 day conference? #fail

G+ – I know they have to try.  They released Events and Party Mode, but still, it’s just not working for me…

Even more Detail – The Ugly

What, no Java? If you want to work with all of the rich Google APIs, then you better be prepared to code in Python.  All of the session code demos that I attended were delivered only in Python, and, if asked, the presenters seemed pretty clueless about Java capabilities.  I am trying to figure out if I should just give up and start coding in Python, or if I should continue to give feedback to the Google Developer Advocate groups that Java is the preferred (at least over Python) language of the enterprise, and that they’ll get broader adoption there if they make a bigger effort to improve both their APIs and documentation in Java.

What, no women?  The ratio of men to women was, well, appalling.  There were times when I was actually physically uncomfortable because I was the only women for as far as the eye could see.  I spoke to one women attendee, she remarked ‘It’s actually better this year…but, I came with my boss, as last year, when I came alone, I found myself in uncomfortable situations several times.’

Bottom line – Go if you can get in

Great conference, great products, great crowd – well worth it.

Agile, AWS, Azure, Big Data, Cloud, Data Science, google, Hadoop, Microsoft, noSQL, Technical Conference

My SoCalCodeCamp decks – Hadoop, ApprovalTests, BigData and more

I am going to be one busy lady on Saturday, June 23 at SoCalCodeCamp at UCSD in San Diego.  Here’s the schedule.  I am presenting at 5 different talks there all on Saturday.  Here are the decks and sessions:

1) Harnassing the good intentions of others, increasing contributions to open source projects.  Deck TBD – here’s a video talking about the session (which we also present in July at OsCon 2012)

2) Intro to SketchUp  – presented by my 13 year old daughter Samantha (I am just there to smile and say ‘that’s my girl!’

3) Better Unit Testing with ApprovalTests – presenting with Woody Zuill.  Will also be presented at Agile 2012 (national Agile conference in August 2012 – on the Testing Tracks)

4) Intro to Hadoop on Azure – article coming in next month’s MSDN Magazine (publishes July 25, 2012) as well

5) BigData Panel – state of the data industry hosted by Stacey Broadwell.

Agile, Technical Conference

Real-world Entity Framework

Here’s the deck and sample code from our talk ‘Real-world Entity Framework’ at DevTeach Vancouver, BC.  In this talk we show the mechanics of working with database-first EF, using an order entry system.  Our code examples include both read and CRUD operations.  We also talk about lazy vs. eager loading.  We show patterns (using Loaders), which make your code more readable, reusable and testable too.

Sample code includes sample database set up and sample data and completed demo code files – get everything here.

Technical Conference, WiT

Technical Women–it’s conference submission season!

Among the many professional activities I am considering and doing post holiday, is one that more of my colleagues – particularly women colleagues, should consider doing.  By that, I mean submit to speak at conferences in 2012 around your area(s) of technical expertise.

Because I am stepping beyond my comfortable confines of Microsoft technologies, in particular, I am now working with noSQL databases.  I have decided that it will push me even further to also SPEAK on these new (to me) technologies.  To that end I have submitted to the following conferences already in 2012:

–Agile2012 (on the open source unit testing library ApprovalTests)
–CS&IT2012 (on creating the Intentional Method of Teaching Kids to Program)
–Strata 2012 (on BigData for BI Professionals)
–OsCon 2012 (on harnessing world-wide contributions via smart pair programming to improve open source projects)
–SQLSaturday120 (on noSQL for SQL DBAs)

So, here’s my call to action for you:

1) Make a list of technologies you love (and I assume you are presently working in)

2) Talk to your colleagues about what they have learned from working with you.

3) Start small – 15 to 30 minutes, single topic.  Write your presentation, you can use powerpoint, Prezi, notepad, anything…just get your thoughts down.  Write some sample code or build a small sample application too.

4) Give your presentation to one or more of your technical friends, improve it, based on their suggestions.

5) Give your session again – a user group is a great place to do this.  If possible, also have someone record it.  You may also want to have a co-speaker join you.  They can ‘interview you’ to help keep you on track.  Also they can ‘watch the audience’ for understanding and help to facilitate (translate) questions.  You can also hand out paper evaluation forms or use online evaluations (like SurveyMonkey) – ask for feedback!

6) Post online content, post your slides to slideshare, post some or all of your talk to YouTube.  Blog about it.  Post your code to Git, SourceForge, CodePlex, etc…

6) Submit your session to one or more regional conferences.   CodeCamps are great for this!  Also *Saturdays, such as SQLSaturdays, SharePointSaturdays, etc…Again, make sure to read (and act on) all of the suggestions in your post-event surveys.

7) Get to know your local contacts for any vendor software you may be talking about, i.e. AWS, Google, Microsoft, etc… all have local developer advocates in most major markets.  ASK them to help you get accepted to speak at regional and national conferences.

8) Submit to a national conference. You are ready now, believe me.  I should know. Smile  It is always best if you can ATTEND a conference at least once before submitting, however if this is not possible, then spend quite a bit of time looking at past presentations on the conference website from previous years.  Prepare to get rejected.  I get rejected at over 50% of the conferences I submitted to.  That’s the way it goes, accept it.  If you do get rejected, ask the organizers for more feedback, i.e. what they were looking for that was missing from your proposal.

9) After you have a good track record speaking at national conferences, ASK to be part of conference keynotes.  Again, from personal experience, I will tell you that you will rarely get invited at first.  However, AFTER you deliver one or more successful conference keynotes, then you will have a new problem (and a good one!) you will have more invitations than you can accept.

There is only one way to change the remarkably small showing of technical women speaking at conferences.  I am doing my part, are you?

Good luck and I hope to see you on stage at the next conference.  If I can help in any way, please ping me via this blog.

Big Data, Data Science, noSQL, Technical Conference

Isotope, Hive Connector for Excel and 50% off my SQL BI Book…

I am speaking at the upcoming (FREE) Strata Online Conference on December 7 from 9am to 11am.  Listen in to hear about #BigData AND Enterprise BI.  During this I’ll give you a sneak peak at some new technologies as well…


Also, I’ll be sharing a code during the presentation so that you can get my SQL Server BI book at a huge discount – 40% off for print and 50% off for e-book.  Hope you can join me!