Scott Hanselman

SharpScript from ServiceStack lets you run .NET apps directly from a GitHub Gist!

August 15, '19 Comments [9] Posted in DotNetCore | Open Source
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I've blogged about ServiceStack before. It's an extraordinary open source project - an ecosystem of its own even - that is designed to be an alternative to the WCF, ASP.NET MVC, and ASP.NET Web API frameworks. I enjoy it so much I even helped write its tagline "Thoughtfully architected, obscenely fast, thoroughly enjoyable web services for all"

ServiceStack is an easy drop-in that simplifies creating Web Services in any ASP.NET Web App, but also in Self Hosting Console Apps, Windows Services and even Windows and OSX Desktop Apps - supporting both .NET Framework and .NET Core. The easiest way to get started is to create a new project from a ServiceStack VS.NET Template.

ServiceStack has released a new and amazing project that is absolutely audacious in its scope and elegant in its integration with the open source .NET Core ecosystem - #Script (pronounced "sharp script.")

Scripts IN your app!

There are a number of .NET projects that simulate REPL's or allow basic scripting, like "dotnet script" as an example or ScriptCS but I'm deeply impressed with #Script. To start with, #Script is somewhat better suited for scripting than Razor and it doesn't require precompilation. #Script is appropriate for live documents or Email Templates for example.

Here's a basic example of embedding a ScriptContext in your app:

var context = new ScriptContext().Init();
var output = context.EvaluateScript("Time is now: {{ now | dateFormat('HH:mm:ss') }}");

Where ServiceStack's #Script really shines is its use of .NET Core Global Tools. They've nabbed two global tool names - web and app (sassy!) and allow one to create SharpApps. From their site:

Sharp Apps leverages #Script to develop entire content-rich, data-driven websites without needing to write any C#, compile projects or manually refresh pages - resulting in the easiest and fastest way to develop Web Apps in .NET!

The web tool is cross platform and the app global tool is great for Windows as it supports .NET Core Windows Desktop Apps.

Your app IS a script!

You can write interactive SharpScripts or SharpApps that uses Chromium as a host.

You can literally run a "desktop" app self contained from a GitHub Gist!

Sharp Apps can also be published to Gists where they can be run on-the-fly without installation, they're always up-to-date, have tiny footprints are fast to download and launch that can also run locally, off-line and cross-platform across Windows, macOS and Linux OS's.

There's also a "gallery" that maps short names to existing examples. So run "app open" to get a list, then "app open name" to run one. You can just "app open blog" and you're running a quick local blog.

SharpApps

Easy to develop and run

The global tools make SharpApp a complete dev and runtime experience because you can just run "app" in the source folder and as you make code changes the hot-reloader updates the site as you Ctrl-S (save) a file!

If you've got .NET Core SDK installed (it's super quick) then just grab the local tool here (app on Windows and web anywhere else):

dotnet tool install --global app

And if you have a existing .NET Core web app you can launch it and run it in a Chromium Embedded Framework (CEF) browser with "app foo.dll" Check out this example on how to make and run a .NET Core app on the Windows Desktop with #Script.

ServiceStack CEF App

Then you can make a shortcut and add it to to the desktop with

app shortcut Acme.dll

Slick!

Code in #Script is done in markdown ```code blocks, while in Razor it's @{ } but it does use mustache template style. Go try out some of their Starter Projects!

#Script and SharpApps is an extraordinary addition to the .NET Core ecosystem and I'm just touching the surface. Do check out their site at https://sharpscript.net.

What do you think?


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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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I miss Microsoft Encarta

August 13, '19 Comments [44] Posted in Musings
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imageMicrosoft Encarta came out in 1993 and was one of the first CD-ROMs I had. It stopped shipping in 2009 on DVD. I recently found a disk and was impressed that it installed just perfectly on my latest Window 10 machine and runs nicely.

Encarta existed in an interesting place between the rise of the internet and computer's ability to deal with (at the time) massive amounts of data. CD-ROMs could bring us 700 MEGABYTES which was unbelievable when compared to the 1.44MB (or even 120KB) floppy disks we were used to. The idea that Encarta was so large that it was 5 CD-ROMs (!) was staggering, even though that's just a few gigs today. Even a $5 USB stick could hold Encarta - twice!

My kids can't possibly intellectualize the scale that data exists in today. We could barely believe that a whole bookshelf of Encyclopedias was now in our pockets. I spent hours and hours just wandering around random articles in Encarta. The scope of knowledge was overwhelming, but accessible. But it was contained - it was bounded. Today, my kids just assume that the sum of all human knowledge is available with a single search or a "hey Alexa" so the world's mysteries are less mysterious and they become bored by the Paradox of Choice.

image

In a world of 4k streaming video, global wireless, and high-speed everything, there's really no analog to the feeling we got watching the Moon Landing as a video in Encarta - short of watching it live on TV in 1969! For most of us, this was the first time we'd ever seen full-motion video on-demand on a computer in any sort of fidelity - and these are mostly 320x240 or smaller videos!

First Steps on the Moon

A generation of us grew up hearing MLK's "I have a dream" speech inside Microsoft Encarta!

MLK I have a Dream

Remember the Encarta "So, you wanna play some Basketball" Video?

LeBron James from 2003

Amazed by Google Earth? You never saw the globe in Encarta.

Globe in Encarta

You'll be perhaps surprised to hear that the Encarta Timeline works even today on across THREE 4k monitors at nearly 10,000 pixels across! This was a product that was written over 10 years ago and could never have conceived of that many pixels. It works great!

The Encarta Timeline across 3 4k monitors

Most folks at Microsoft don't realize that Encarta exists and is used TODAY all over the developing world on disconnected or occasionally connected computers. (Perhaps Microsoft could make the final version of Encarta available for a free final download so that we might avoid downloading illegal or malware infested versions?)

What are your fond memories of Encarta? If you're not of the Encarta generation, what's your impression of it? Had you heard or thought of it?


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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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The PICO-8 Virtual Fantasy Console is an idealized constrained modern day game maker

August 8, '19 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming | Hardware | Open Source
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Animated GIF of PICO-8I love everything about PICO-8. It's a fantasy gaming console that wants you - and the kids in your life and everyone you know - to make games!

How cool is that?

You know the game Celeste? It's available on every platform, has one every award and is generally considered a modern-day classic. Well the first version was made on PICO-8 in 4 days as a hackathon project and you can play it here online. Here's the link when they launched in 4 years ago on the forums. They pushed the limits, as they call out "We used pretty much all our resources for this. 8186/8192 code, the entire spritemap, the entire map, and 63/64 sounds." How far could one go? Wolf3D even?

"A fantasy console is like a regular console, but without the inconvenience of actual hardware. PICO-8 has everything else that makes a console a console: machine specifications and display format, development tools, design culture, distribution platform, community and playership. It is similar to a retro game emulator, but for a machine that never existed. PICO-8's specifications and ecosystem are instead designed from scratch to produce something that has it's own identity and feels real. Instead of physical cartridges, programs made for PICO-8 are distributed on .png images that look like cartridges, complete with labels and a fixed 32k data capacity."

What a great start and great proof that you can make an amazing game in a small space. If you loved GameBoys and have fond memories of GBA and other small games, you'll love PICO-8.

How to play PICO-8 cartridges

Demon CastleIf you just want to explore, you can go to https://www.lexaloffle.com and just play in your browser! PICO-8 is a "fantasy console" that doesn't exist physically (unless you build one, more on that later). If you want to develop cartridges and play locally, you can buy the whole system (any platform) for $14.99, which I have.

If you have Windows and Chrome or New Edge you can just plug in your Xbox Controller with a micro-USB cable and visit https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php and start playing now! It's amazing - yes I know how it works but it's still amazing - to me to be able to play a game in a web browser using a game controller. I guess I'm easily impressed.

It wasn't very clear to me how to load and play any cartridge LOCALLY. For example, I can play Demon Castle here on the Forums but how do I play it locally and later, offline?

The easy way is to run PICO-8 and hit ESC to get their command line. Then I type LOAD #cartid where #cartid is literally the id of the cartridge on the forums. In the case of Demon Castle it's #demon_castle-0 so I can just LOAD #demon_castle-0 followed by RUN.

Alternatively - and this is just lovely - if I see the PNG pic of the cartridge on a web page, I can just save that PNG locally and save it in C:\Users\scott\AppData\Roaming\pico-8\carts then run it with LOAD demon_castle-0 (or I can include the full filename with extensions). THAT PNG ABOVE IS THE ACTUAL GAME AS WELL. What a clever thing - a true virtual cartridge.

One of the many genius parts of the PICO-8 is that the "Cartridges" are actually PNG pictures of cartridges. Drink that in for a second. They save a screenshot of the game while the cart is running, then they hide the actual code in a steganographic process - they are hiding the code in two of the bits of the color channels! Since the cart pics are 160*205 there's enough room for 32k.

A p8 file is source code and a p8.png is the compiled cart!

How to make PICO-8 games

The PICO-8 software includes everything you need - consciously constrained - to make AND play games. You hit ESC to move between the game and the game designer. It includes a sprite and music editor as well.

From their site, the specifications are TIGHT on purpose because constraints are fun. When I write for the PalmPilot back in the 90s I had just 4k of heap and it was the most fun I've had in years.

  • Display - 128x128 16 colours
  • Cartridge Size - 32k
  • Sound - 4 channel chip blerps
  • Code - Lua
  • Sprites - 256 8x8 sprites
  • Map - 128x32 cels

"The harsh limitations of PICO-8 are carefully chosen to be fun to work with, to encourage small but expressive designs, and to give cartridges made with PICO-8 their own particular look and feel."

The code you will use is LUA. Here's some demo code of a Hello World that animates 11 sprites and includes two lines of text

t = 0
music(0) -- play music from pattern 0

function _draw()
cls()
for i=1,11 do -- for each letter
for j=0,7 do -- for each rainbow trail part
t1 = t + i*4 - j*2 -- adjusted time
y = 45-j + cos(t1/50)*5 -- vertical position
pal(7, 14-j) -- remap colour from white
spr(16+i, 8+i*8, y) -- draw letter sprite
end
end

print("this is pico-8", 37, 70, 14)
print("nice to meet you", 34, 80, 12)
spr(1, 64-4, 90) -- draw heart sprite
t += 1
end

That's just a simple example, there's a huge forum with thousands of games and lots of folks happy to help you in this new world of game creation with the PICO-8. Here's a wonderful PICO-8 Cheat Sheet to print out with a list of functions and concepts. Maybe set it as your wallpaper while developing? There's a detailed User Manual and a 72 page PICO-8 Zine PDF which is really impressive!

And finally, be sure to bookmark this GitHub hosted amazing curated list of PICO-8 resources! https://github.com/pico-8/awesome-PICO-8

image image

Writing PICO-8 Code in another Editor

There is a 3 year old PICO-8 extension for Visual Studio Code that is a decent start, although it's created assuming a Mac, so if you are a Windows user, you will need to change the Keyboard Shortcuts to something like "Ctrl-Shift-Alt-R" to run cartridges. There's no debugger that I'm seeing. In an ideal world we'd use launch.json and have a registered PICO-8 type and that would make launching after changing code a lot clearer.

There is a more recent "pico8vscodeditor" extension by Steve Robbins that includes snippets for loops and some snippets for the Pico-8 API. I recommend this newer fleshed out extension - kudos Steve! Be sure to include the full path to your PICO-8 executable, and note that the hotkey to run is a chord, starting with "Ctrl-8" then "R."

Telling VS-Code about PICO-8

Editing code directly in the PICO-8 application is totally possible and you can truly develop an entire cart in there, but if you do, you're a better person than I. Here's a directory listing in VSCode on the left and PICO-8 on the right.

Directories in PICO-8

And some code.

Editing Pico-8 code

You can export to HTML5 as well as binaries for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It's a full game maker! There are also other game systems out there like PicoLove that take PICO-8 in different directions and those are worth knowing about as well. There is a rich tiny game development community out  there, and you'd do yourself a favor to explore sites like https://pigame.dev.

What about a physical PICO-8 Console

A number of folks have talked about the ultimate portable handheld PICO-8 device. I have done a lot of spelunking and as of this writing it doesn't exist.

  • You could get a Raspberry Pi Zero and put this Waveshare LCD hat on top. The screen is perfect. But the joystick and buttons...just aren't. There's also no sound by default. But $14 is a good start.
  • The Tiny GamePi15, also from Waveshare could be good with decent buttons but it has a 240x240 screen.
  • The full sized Game Hat looks promising and has a large 480x320 screen so you could play PICO-8 at a scaled 256x256.
  • The RetroStone is also close but you're truly on your own, compiling drivers yourself (twitter thread) from what I can gather
  • The ClockworkPI GameShell is SOOOO close but the screen is 320x240 which makes 128x128 an awkward scaled mess with aliasing, and the screen the Clockwork folks chose doesn't have a true grid if pixels. Their pixels are staggered. Hopefully they'll offer an alternative module one day, then this would truly be the perfect device. There are clear instructions on how to get going.
  • The PocketCHIP has a great screen but a nightmare input keyboard.

For now, any PC, Laptop, or Rasberry Pi with a proper setup will do just fine for you to explore the PICO-8 and the world of fantasy consoles!


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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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Good, Better, Best - creating the ultimate remote worker webcam setup on a budget

August 6, '19 Comments [4] Posted in Remote Work
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I've been a remote worker and an occasional YouTuber for well over a decade. I'm always looking for a better setup because the goal is clear - how can I interact with you and my co-workers in a way that has high-enough fidelity that I don't need to drive to Seattle every week!

I believe if my camera is clear and my audio is clear than I can really have a remote relationship with my team that is effective and true.

Everyone has a webcam these days and can just get on a video call and have a chat - but is it of sufficient quality that you feel like you're really having a good conversation with folks and truly connecting!

Here's a shot of my setup during a meeting I'm in here at Microsoft:

My setup - webcam and camera

Here's my thoughts on Good, Better, add Best set-ups for remotes and YouTubers without spending thousands.

Good

  • High quality video for Webcams and RemotesThe Logitech C270 Webcam can be gotten for as little as $20 or less! It's wholly adequate with enough light.
    • It only does 720p and it's USB2 so I can't enthusiastically recommend it but it's OK again, if you throw light at it. In the dark is just a webcam.
      Logitech C270
  • The Logitech USB Headset H570 is decent, as is the lovely Jabra UC Voice corded headset. I prefer the Jabra because it only covers one ear and doesn't give me the "two covered ears" claustrophobic feeling.
    • To be clear - audio quality matters. Any crappy headset (or quality one as above) will ALWAYS be better than your webcam's default or your laptop's default. Always. Mics need to be closer to your mouth to sound good.
      31kFcFWgIL
  • Small webcam Ringlight.
    • Light light light. Webcams, especially cheap ones NEED LIGHT. It feels weird and I get it but the quality is SO MUCH BETTER with some decent fill light. Get a ring light that's powered by USB and use it on calls. Yes, it looks ridiculous but it WORKS.
      Ringlight

Better

Logitech BrioHow can we improve on the GOOD setup. Clearer videos and better sound/sound feel.

Some folks feel the Logitech Brio is overhyped and I think that's fair. It's a "4k" camera that's not as impressive as it should be. That said, it's a solid camera and arguably the best Logitech has to offer.

If I could suggest a middle of the road solid "BETTER" setup for a remote worker, I'd recommend these

The lights are the magic.

Now, moving beyond USB headsets, I love adding speakerphones - not for the mic, literally for the speaker. I love the Plantronics Portable USB Speakerphone. Requires no drivers, it just shows up as a mic and speaker automatically. I have it front and center in front of my monitor and I use it every day. It makes me feel like my Home Office is a real Office somehow.

Plantronics Calisto 610-M Portable USB Speakerphone

If conversations are private I'll use the headset above for the audio but when I want the sound to "come from the monitor" I'll SPLIT the audio. This is a pro tip. You can set up the Mic input as the headset mic and the Speaker output as a Speakerphone (or your main speakers). I like using the Speakerphone for voice and keeping the computer's output as the main speakers. Having this separate of voice and computer sounds is a small trick I play on myself but it helps to create a sense of location where the remote video person comes out of separate speakers.

Selecting Output Speakers

Best

Let's spend a little bit of money, but not so much that we break the bank.

I'm going to make my own webcam. Rather than a plastic of the shelf single webcam, let's take an actual mirrorless camera - the kind you'd take to a photography class - and make it a HIGH QUALITY webcam.

We need a great camera and it needs to support HDMI out. The camera also needs to be able to stay on all day long, not overheat, and it needs to run on AC power (not on battery).

Here's a list of cameras that have clean HDMI out and can stay on all day. You might have one of these cameras in your closet! I like the Sony A6000 and here's its characteristics.

  • Sony A6000 - I found this on Craigslist for $300.
    • Max resolution: 1080p and a buttery smooth 60fps
    • Clean HDMI: Yes
    • Unlimited runtime: Yes
    • Connection type: Micro HDMI
    • Power: Dummy Battery
    • Verified by: Elgato
    • Notes: Requires dummy battery for power (sold separately) Retains full autofocus with clean HDMI output
      Sony A6000
  • I need a "dummy battery" for this camera. Turns out this is a whole class of thing you can buy. Who knew?
  • This camera has micro-HDMI so I need a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable.
  • Now this is just a loose camera, so how I will mount it on my monitor?
    • I like mounting it INSIDE the Ring Light. If you don't want the light you can just get this clamp mount.
    • Or you can do what I did - get the CLAMP then the LIGHT and then put the CAMERA in that like a sandwic
      Flexible Jaws Clamp Clip Mount Holder
  • This camera and cameras like it output HDMI and I need that HDMI to be inputted into my computer and I want the HDMI output of the camera to look like it's a regular Webcam. The magical device that does this for us is the Elgato CamLink 4k. It's literally a little stick with HDMI input on one end and a USB3 on the other side. It took 5 minutes to install.
    • This device also has the added benefit of being a generic "capture card" if you want to record or broadcast your gaming consoles OR other computers!

      Elgato CamLink 4k

Here's a YouTube video I made that shows you these cameras, before and after - Good, Better, and BEST!

Logitech Brio vs Sony A6000 with Elgato Camlink 4k - No Contest

What do you think? Thanks to John Miller and Jeff Fritz for their help and guidance!

* I use Amazon referral links and donate the little money to my kids' school. You support charter schools when you use these links.


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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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Dotnet Depends is a great text mode development utility made with Gui.cs

August 1, '19 Comments [10] Posted in DotNetCore | Open Source
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I love me some text mode. ASCII, ANSI, VT100. Keep your 3D accelerated ray traced graphics and give me a lovely emoji-based progress bar.

Miguel has a nice thing called Gui.cs and I bumped into it in an unexpected and lovely place. There are hundreds of great .NET Global Tools that you can install to make your development lifecycle smoother, and I was installing Martin Björkström's lovely "dotnet depends" tool (go give him a GitHub star now!)  like this:

dotnet tool install -g dotnet-depends

Then I headed over to my Windows Terminal (get it free in the Store) and ran "dotnet depends" on my main website's code and was greeted by this (don't sweat the line spacing, that's a Terminal bug that'll be fixed soon):

dotnet depends in the Windows Terminal

How nice is this! It's a fully featured dependency explorer but it's all in text mode and doesn't require me to use the mouse and take my hands of the keyboard. If I'm already deep into the terminal/text mode, this is a great example of a solid, useful tool.

But how hard was it to make? Surprisingly little as his code is very simple. This is a testament to how he used the API and how Miguel designed it. He's separated the UI and the Business Logic, of course. He does the analysis work and stores it in a graph variable.

Here they're setting up some panes for the (text mode) Windows:

Application.Init();

var top = new CustomWindow();

var left = new FrameView("Dependencies")
{
Width = Dim.Percent(50),
Height = Dim.Fill(1)
};
var right = new View()
{
X = Pos.Right(left),
Width = Dim.Fill(),
Height = Dim.Fill(1)
};

It's split in half at this point, with the left side staying  at 50%.

var orderedDependencyList = graph.Nodes.OrderBy(x => x.Id).ToImmutableList();
var dependenciesView = new ListView(orderedDependencyList)
{
CanFocus = true,
AllowsMarking = false
};
left.Add(dependenciesView);
var runtimeDependsView = new ListView(Array.Empty<Node>())
{
CanFocus = true,
AllowsMarking = false
};
runtimeDepends.Add(runtimeDependsView);
var packageDependsView = new ListView(Array.Empty<Node>())
{
CanFocus = true,
AllowsMarking = false
};
packageDepends.Add(packageDependsView);
var reverseDependsView = new ListView(Array.Empty<Node>())
{
CanFocus = true,
AllowsMarking = false
};
reverseDepends.Add(reverseDependsView);

right.Add(runtimeDepends, packageDepends, reverseDepends);
top.Add(left, right, helpText);
Application.Top.Add(top)

The right side gets three ListViews added to it and the left side gets the dependencies view. Top it off with some clean data binding to the views and an initial call to UpdateLists. Anytime the dependenciesView gets a SelectedChanged event we'll call UpdateLists again.

top.Dependencies = orderedDependencyList;
top.VisibleDependencies = orderedDependencyList;
top.DependenciesView = dependenciesView;

dependenciesView.SelectedItem = 0;
UpdateLists();

dependenciesView.SelectedChanged += UpdateLists;

Application.Run();

What's in update lists? Filtering code for that graph variable from before.

void UpdateLists()
{
var selectedNode = top.VisibleDependencies[dependenciesView.SelectedItem];

runtimeDependsView.SetSource(graph.Edges.Where(x => x.Start.Equals(selectedNode) && x.End is AssemblyReferenceNode)
.Select(x => x.End).ToImmutableList());
packageDependsView.SetSource(graph.Edges.Where(x => x.Start.Equals(selectedNode) && x.End is PackageReferenceNode)
.Select(x => $"{x.End}{(string.IsNullOrEmpty(x.Label) ? string.Empty : " (Wanted: " + x.Label + ")")}").ToImmutableList());
reverseDependsView.SetSource(graph.Edges.Where(x => x.End.Equals(selectedNode))
.Select(x => $"{x.Start}{(string.IsNullOrEmpty(x.Label) ? string.Empty : " (Wanted: " + x.Label + ")")}").ToImmutableList());
}

That's basically it and it's fast as heck. Probably to be expected from the folks that brought you Midnight Commander.

Are you working on any utilities or cool projects and might want to consider - gasp - text mode over a website?


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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.