2016 Microsoft HoloLens Hackathon Boston

2016 Microsoft HoloLens Hackathon Boston

A while back I found out about a hackathon sponsored by the Boston AR and Boston VR groups.  Microsoft had agreed to bring in a bunch of the developer headsets and let us hack up some new apps for them over the course of the weekend.  My coworker and I both applied.  I had almost forgotten about the whole thing until we both got invites the weekend before the event.  I'm so glad we did, because it was an absolute blast.

Friday night we were introduced to the platform and given an overview of how to use them, what the goals of the weekend were.  Shortly after we were turned loose to eat dinner and form our teams - which involved walking around pitching our idea to potential team members.

Scott, a walking, idea pitching, billboard, and myself.

Scott, a walking, idea pitching, billboard, and myself.

Our original idea was to have sort of a virtual therapy animal.  A hologram animal you could interact with, talk to, and play games with to help deal with stress and anxiety.  We started out with the idea of a bird and somewhere along the way added the idea of a jelly fish.

Scottie and I found ourselves working with two incredibly fun artists - Costas Frost and Derek Johnson. And not only were they awesome artists, but they also brought some fantastic ideas to the team. One of which was our final character, Squiddy.  But the other ideas pushed us to adding an emotional reading feature to help autistic people who have difficult time reading emotions.  This was done by taking a picture using the webcam and using Microsoft's cognitive services Emotion API to read the faces.  Squiddy would then act out the emotion in an exaggerated fashion to help convey it to the user.

So that's what we set out to build over the course of the next 36ish hours. There was a lot of laughing, a bit of cursing, and a lot of bad-assery.  The result was a demo that had many people who tried it giggling with delight.

Here's a short demo of our CompAnimal, Squiddy, in action.  Sadly we weren't able to capture the emotion reading; but please take my word for it, it was awesome.

Here is our presentation deck.

If there was any doubt about how cool the HoloLens is check out this video of me playing Robo Raid on it. The robots just bust through the walls!

I Built a Gaming Table!

I Built a Gaming Table!

Ever since I first saw the Geek Chic products at C2E2 a few years back, I've been slightly obsessed with having my own convertible game table. The only problem is that they are expensive as hell.  Convincing Dani that we needed to invest in one just wasn't going to work.

So then I thought, I'm pretty good at making things... maybe I could make my own table.  Oh poor naive Tori, this was going to be a serious project. First things first, I started to research! I scoured the web for resources.  It turns out more than a few other people had this same idea. So like the good crafty person that I am, I started a Pinterest board! In the end, I decided to take the general approach in the nicely laid out plans here: Game Table Project with Step By Step.

First Try:

With my first attempt at a table, I started with a modified size. I felt like the original size was too large.  This first frame was largely an exercise in how things could not go the way I wanted. It was also a good lesson in how inaccurate pre-dressed lumber and hand power tools can be.

Take Two

I was pretty unhappy with the way the first frame came together. the sides were bowed in and in general it just wasn't how I wanted it.  So I took it apart and started over.  This time following the plan dimensions a bit more closely. Since I don't have a table saw, planer, or various other shop tools I had to make a few substitutions.

  1. My arm rails are an inch wider.
  2. I used pre-made table legs chopped down for height in lieu of the tapered legs.
  3. I used pre-made crown molding under the arm rests

Messing up the Top Insert

The insert is, and has been one of the toughest part of this build. Which is why my table currently sits without one. A couple problems came into play building this piece.  The pre-dressed wood from Home Depot (as previously mentioned) is not precisely cut, and is often slightly bowed. So getting the top measured and cut correctly to fit the opening, which is also ever so slightly off from square, turned out to be a large issue.  

I would up with an insert that fit super tight. There was not enough clearance to allow for the wood to swell in the summer correctly.  In attempting to remedy this I managed to really fuck up the insert by cutting it too short on one end.  I then had the bright idea of cutting it in half and doing adding a piece down the center perpendicular to the other boards.  But again, I ran into issues making this happen with imprecise tools and uneven boards. So currently that part is on hold.  I think I may eventually try to build leafs instead of one large piece.

Finishing it Up

Please excuse the pun, I couldn't help myself.  This was also my first attempt at applying finish to a piece of furniture.  And it taught me a few very valuable lessons.  The first being always try to do your sanding before final assembly. The second lesson was in how messy staining is.  I choose a dark stain to match our other furniture.  I then followed that up with a couple coats of a hybrid oil/water based polyurethane for the arm rests and the inside vault walls.  You can see the finished project below.  Well, I'll say it's finished until I get a table saw and can build the insert leaves.

Always looking to break out some dice. Let me know if you want to come over and play some games!

First time at PAX East

This past weekend was my first foray into the phenomenon that is PAX East. I was, thankfully, able to snag a Saturday ticket right after they went on sale. And got to attend with a few friends and coworkers.  We had fun, played a lot of board games, and I walked the insanely crowded show floor.  I picked up a new board game (Krosmaster Quest) and a couple of ships for X-Wing, which I finally learned how to play.

I was coming down with a cold, so my day was unfortunately a bit subdued. And I failed hard at taking pictures of all the awesome stuff. I think next year I'll try to get a three day pass so I can experience more of the panels and other things going on.  In the mean time, here are the few pics of the fun insanity I took.

Geek & Sundry's Table Top Day - Nerd Block Unboxing

Warning - Spoilers below if you haven't received your block and want to be surprised - turn back now!

Being a huge fan of both Geek & Sundry and table top gaming, I was pretty excited when the themed box finally arrived at my door. Note: This was also my first box from Nerd Block.

So lets take a look at what was inside:

  1. International Tabletop Day T-Shirt
  2. Funko Legacy Magic the Gathering Action Figure (I received Liliana Vess)
  3. No Survivors Note Pad
  4. Felicia Day "Embrace Your Weird" Pencils
  5. Geek and Sundry Bumper Sticker
  6. Dungeons and Dragons Comic Book
  7. Wil Wheaton's D6
  8. Geek & Sundry Tabletop Day themed playing cards
  9. Geek & Sundry RPG Player tokens w/ Bag

Verdict? I'm actually pretty disappointed with this box. The cost on this box was 39.95 plus shipping, which brought the total investment to almost $50.  I have a hard time finding anywhere near that value from this box.  

The t-shirt isn't a high quality shirt. It's just your standard, heavy weight, cotton.  I would have much preferred a Funko POP to the legacy figure.  This particular figure barely sell for $5 on eBay.  Didn't really need another set of playing cards. The tokens, comic, and notepad are ok, and rest of the items are just meh. 

Being as this was a tabletop day box, I was expecting more game type stuff.  Most of this is just game adjacent swag. They could have included a card game like Flux for the cost of the figure. Or even some of the items they include in the tabletop day kit they shipped to retailers last year.

Well, lesson learned here.  I won't be picking up any other Nerd Blocks anytime soon.  Hopefully you will find more value in your box than I did.

Pathfinder - A New Journey

I was not one of the "cool" kids that played D&D when I was younger.  Not that I wouldn't have, I was just never friends with anyone who played.  I tried to get a campaign going a few years ago with some friends, but it never really took off.  Flash forward to nearly 36 years old. I found a group of friends/coworkers who want to get something going, including an exceptionally creative person who graciously agreed to be our DM.

I've been working up a character for a while for this game we should be starting soon.  I've gone so far as to write up a back story and design a custom miniature using heroforge.com. And I wanted to share those here.

My character's name is Sylrora Wysamaer - a Half-Elf Ranger.  And this is her story:

Sylrora’s story starts with her father Beneger, a wealthy Ealdorman, calling for an healer when the Countess of Sterleigh, his wife, fell mysteriously ill. In a Elven village a couple days journey away Jhanandra Wysamaer, a beautiful, naieve, young elven healer, heard word of the humans need. Being of little means, she saw this as an opportunity to strike out on her own and and make a name for herself. Beneger, incredibly grateful that anyone had responded to his pleas, welcomed her into their home.

Over the weeks that followed the Countess showed little improvement.  Beneger spent many nights along side Jhanandra caring for his wife. It looked bleak for the Countess and all the while Beneger fell more and more infatuated with the young elven healer. Thinking his wife was not long for this world, he allowed himself to act on these feelings. Jhanandra was reluctant at first, but Beneger’s charm and compassion won her over. It wasn’t long before the two of them would start sneaking off to spend time alone together.

The fates had other ideas for this trio though, as one day the Countess finally started to respond to the treatments. Within days she was vastly improved. Beneger was panic stricken with the position he was in. Thinking he could loose everything, he quickly sent Jhanandra away before his wife could learn about his indiscretion. Jhandandra left to return to her people, heartbroken and unbeknownst to Beneger, pregnant.

Being half-elf, Sylrora was never accepted into the elven world. Raised mainly on the outskirts she spent nearly all of her time in the woods. She preferred nature to people, particularly her best friend - a young forest fox she calls Arrow. Because of her half breed status, she was often a object of torment by the other young, full breed, elves.  By necessity she learned to fight to survive and to hunt to provide for her family.

Growing restless as a young adult she started to press her mother to find out more about who her father was. Reluctant at first, Jhanandra eventually gave in and told her the story of her time with Beneger and the Countess.  Youthfully excited and blind with dreams of a father she never had, Sylrora set out to find Beneger.  Thinking he would be happy to find he had a long lost daughter, she naively ignored the potential danger of showing up unexpectedly.

The meeting with her father did not go as expected. He immediately denied her as a daughter and rejected her story. Beneger grew paranoid that this young girl would destroy his marriage, his title and everything he had worked to build. So when Sylrora left dejected, he sent an assassin to follow the young girl and kill both her and her mother.

A few nights later, the assassin quietly slipped into the unlocked door their home. Finding Jhanandra asleep in her cot, he slit her throat without a sound. Moving silently he located Sylrora in another part of the home. Raising his blade he moved to kill her as well. Just before he could finish the job though, Arrow awoke and alerted his companion of the threat. Groggy with sleep Sylrora managed to just dodge the assassin's killing blow. She reached behind her cot pulling a small knife from it’s hiding pace and plunged it into her attacker’s side, just below the arm pit.  They struggled for a brief moment, but the attack had hit it’s deadly mark and the dark figure crumpled to the ground.

Finding her mother dead, Sylrora realized that her father was behind the attack and the horrible mistake she made when she set out to find him. Racked with guilt and sorrow for the loss of her mother, she and Arrow fled their home.  She knew that Beneger would eventually realize that the assassin hadn't returned and would send more.  Sylrora and Arrow set off to find a new home elsewhere, knowing that one day she would return and kill the father she never knew for what he had done.

Force Friday Midnight Event at Toys "R" Us

I'm not much of a person for midnight releases... of anything; movies, black Friday stuff, etc.  But when I heard that every Toys "R" Us was going to be doing a midnight release event for the new Star Wars Force Awakens toys, I was intrigued.  I had already planned on taking Friday off to spend the Labor Day weekend at the cape, and I discovered there was a Toys "R" Us store about 15 minutes away in Hyannis.  So I thought, why not, and headed over there around 11pm.

I was a little afraid that since this is a smaller town/community they wouldn't be doing the event, but when I rolled up I saw the ropes out and a small crowd of 12 or so people waiting.

By the time the doors opened there was 50 or so people in line.  Luckily since I was near the front I got first dips on the goods.  They did a bit of people management so not everyone rushed in at once.  The manager came outside about 15 minutes before to let us know how it was all going to work.  I was really impressed by how organized it all was.  When we walked in we were handed some nice freebies:  Kylo Ren poster, a Hasbro toy guide poster, and a Force Awakens Lego piece.

The store and aisle were all decked out in the new Star Wars identity.  I wanted to get pictures of the aisle itself, but as you might guess it was pretty crowded with 50 people vying for space.  It looked fantastic and it was hard not to get very excited.

I wanted that 50" talking Storm Trooper so badly, but I feared for my marriage.  So it stayed on the shelf. I didn't see anyone else buy it either, but everyone loved it. Because of limited quantities and fairness and all of that good crap, they placed a limit of three on any item line number. That, which I found out, did not mean any one particular item but instead any line.  So I was only able to pick up three of the five new 6" Star Wars Black figures. Boo!  I did, however, find my 20" Captain Phasma.  I only wish they had done her in vac metal instead of that swirly grey plastic.

All in all, it was a very fun experience and I'm glad I went.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention Geoffery the Giraffe was there!



Disney Running Coast to Coast

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I thought there was a chance I would run back to back 10k and half marathon, on two different coasts, at two different Disney resorts in consecutive months, you would probably have gotten a blank "what the hell are you talking about" stare.  But that's what just happened.

It's always kind of cracks me up when I get called princess or when I saw princess on this bib.  I like to think of myself more of a Brienne of Tarth than a Princess Myrcella. Anyways, Dani and I wanted to complete a coast to coast and she had been wanting to do this particular race weekend for a while.  So we signed up!

I was sick almost the entire time between the Star Wars and Princess weekends, so I did very little (none) training.  Despite that I managed the following times:

  • Princess 10k: 1:33:38 (A minute faster than Star Wars)
  • Half Marathon: 3:24:22 (8:44 faster than Star Wars)

Besides the racing, we did a good amount of park hoping.  And we were fortunate enough to be put up in a Vacation club property, Sarasota Springs,  this year which was super nice. Other highlights included

  • Destroying Dani at Toy Story Midway Mania... twice.
  • An incredibly awesome Character breakfast at the Ohana restaurant
  • Seeing Beymax!!!!!
  • And finally seeing Fantasmic

And of course... the pictures:

Disney Star Wars Race Weekend

Disney Star Wars Race Weekend

I'm not a great runner. Honestly, I still haven't found that thing about running that many people love.  However, I do love Star Wars, and to an only slightly lesser degree I love Disney. So when they announced the inaugural race weekend in Disneyland, I didn't figure I'd have too much trouble convincing Dani to agree to sign up for it.


Both of us signed up for the newly announced Rebel Challenge (10k + Half marathon). But then Dani "fell on the 5k registration" as well. I was careful not to do the same.

Neither of us had ever been to the left coast Disney parks, so we were excited for that alone. Well that and escaping the sub-ten degree weather in Boston for the mid-seventies in SoCal.


The races were as much fun as you can make running be. The 10k wound through both parks and featured many familiar characters from the Star Wars universe. Unfortunately due to my slow pace (whoops I forgot to train, at all) I didn't feel I had time to stop and wait in the super long lines at the character stop. Hopefully next year I can get my Boba Fett picture.

The half marathon started with a trek through the parks and then out onto the streets on Anaheim for the bulk of it. Along the course was around eight of so high school groups and marching bands, as well as a stretch featuring an amazing group of cosplayers. I think they had a larger and more diverse group of characters than even Disney had. This was my first back to back race challenge, so I was pretty spent from the 10k and two days of walking around the parks, and was dragging ass half way through. But when I saw those ladies with the balloons indicating the back of the pack, I picked it up and pushed through the pain (again cursing myself for not training). I wasn't going to get swept! I had to get these beautiful medals!

Final Times:

  • 10k - 1:34:38
  • Half - 3:33:06
  • Rebel Challenge - Completed

The parks at Disneyland are amazing!  I discovered a couple of the duplicate attractions, like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror from Disneyworld were actually better out here. And the Cars Radiator Spings racers might be one of the best attractions at either location!

One of the great things about the Disneyland resort is how close everything is together. While in Disney World you have to find transportation between the parks and hotels, in DL, both parks and Downtown Disney are pretty much across from eah other with a small plaza inbetween.  And our hotel was right around the corner.

It was a great, and exhausting, long weekend for us. And I really hope we can come back again next year! In the meanwhile, I have a month to get in slightly better running shape before Dani and I head to Disney World for the Glass Slipper challenge and our first Coast to Coast medals!

I took a ton of photos, maybe not as many as Dani, but still... Here's a sample of my favorites.

Groot O'Lantern

I hadn't carved a pumpkin the past few Halloween's.  I thought it'd be fun to resurrect that old tradition with one of my favorite new comic characters. After searching around on the web, I found a nice pattern that I thought I would try of our good friend Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.  You can find that pattern on the sheknows.com website. 

My carving skills were a bit rusty and the pattern was pretty ambitious, but I think it turned out pretty well.  I even used the dirty flat side of the pumpkin to give the Groot O'Lantern a bit more character in the daylight. 

In hindsight, however, I think I would have taken the approach where you etch out the design instead of cutting all the way through the pumpkin.  A couple of days later, Groot is looking pretty shriveled up and pathetic. :(