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June 11, 2011

Comparing the Big Three

Filed under Gadgets, Software, Web, Xbox 360

Apple, Google and Microsoft are the the only companies that have the products and services to go head-to-head. There are many components to consider for this next-gen battle. I threw together a table to see how they match up. There is no clear winner: this is going to be fun to watch over the next few years.

 

Apple

Google

Microsoft

Smart Phone OS

iOS

Android 2.X

Windows Phone

Smart Phone OS Market Share

26%

36%

1%

Number of Apps for Smart Phone

~400,000

~200,000

~20,000

Tablet OS

iOS

Android 3.X

Windows 8

Tablet OS Market Share

73%

22%

0%

Number of Apps for Tablet

~100,000

~30

0

Phone/Tablet Programming Language

Objective-C

Java

C#/Visual Basic/any .NET Language

Phone/Tablet Programming Language Owner

Apple

Oracle

Microsoft

Phone/Tablet Programming Language is "write once, run anywhere"

No

Yes

Yes

Desktop/Laptop OS

OS X

Chrome OS

Windows

Desktop/Laptop OS's market share

7.4%

0%

86.3%

Number of Apps for Desktop/Laptop

Few

0

Many

TV OS

Apple TV

Google TV

Xbox 360

TV OS's sold

2 million

? (sales are lower than expected)

55 million

Number of Apps for TV

Few

Few

Many

Web Browser

Safari

Chrome

Internet Explorer

Web Browser Market Share

(from Wikipedia)

6.3%

14.6%

43.2%

Search Engine

None

Google

Bing

Search Engine market share

0%

64.42%

30.0%

Instant Messaging

iChat

Google Talk

Windows Live Messenger/Skype

Instant Messaging market share

Low

~4%

~70%

Web Mail (includes calendar and contacts)

None

Gmail

Hotmail

Web Mail Market Share

0

16.2%

24.6%

Desktop Word Processor

Pages for Mac

None

Word

Desktop Word Processor Market Share (not based on  data)

Low

0%

High

Desktop Spreadsheet

Numbers for Mac

None

Excel

Desktop Spreadsheet Market Share (not based on data)

Low

0%

High

Desktop Presentations

Keynote for Mac

None

PowerPoint

Desktop Presentations Market Share (not based on data)

Low

0%

High

Web Word Processor

None

Google docs

Word Web App

Web Spreadsheet

None

Google docs

Excel Web App

Web Presentations

None

Google docs

PowerPoint Web App

Mobile Word Processor

Pages for iOS

Google docs for Android

Word Mobile

Mobile Spreadsheet

Numbers for iOS

Google docs for Android

Excel Mobile

Mobile Presentations

Keynote for iOS

Google docs for Android

PowerPoint Mobile

Music/Video Store

iTunes

None

Zune

Music/Video Store Market Share (not based on data)

High

0%

Low

Music Subscription

None

None

Zune Pass

Maps

None

Google Maps

Bing Maps

Cloud Storage

iCloud

Google Docs

SkyDrive

 

 

Key

  • Competitive Advantage
  • Competitive Disadvantage

 

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March 13, 2010

Goodbye Tabbed Browsing

Filed under Software

I really like the new taskbar in Windows 7.

One of the byproducts of the new taskbar: tabbed browsing is obsolete.

Tabbed browsing was great when your window manager was overwhelmed with large numbers of internet browser windows. However, the Windows 7 taskbar works great with large numbers of open windows.

Tabbed browsing is actually worse than Windows 7’s taskbar application management. Why?

  1. With each browser window in a separate application, you can quickly ALT-TAB between the last two important apps. With tabbed browsing, you cannot use ALT-TAB to move between web browser sessions because all the tabs happen in a single app.
  2. Similarly, holding down ALT-TAB shows you thumbnails of all the open applications so you can quickly go to the application you want via a mouse click. This doesn’t work with tabbed browsing for the reason above.
  3. Tabbed browsing takes up extra screen space for the tab row. You can disable tab browsing and see more content.
  4. Windows 7 makes it easy to see applications side-by-side via Aero Snap. This works great if you disable tabbed browsing, doesn’t work at all with tabbed browsing.
  5. With tabbed browsing disabled, you can adjust the window size per browser session. Only use the screen space you need! Also, using different sizes for different session makes finding a session easier via Aero Peek.
  6. If you change Windows 7’s default taskbar setting to “Combine when taskbar is full”, you can glance down at your taskbar and select the browser session you want by the title text, just like you can with tabbed browsing. To change this taskbar setting (which I recommend changing): right click start button->properties->taskbar->taskbar buttons: [Combine when taskbar is full]
  7. For developers: You get Aero Peek for free if you do not use tabbed browsing. If you do use tabbed browsing, you must write a Windows 7 plug-in to make Aero Peek work for all the open tabs (IE had to do this, all web browsers that support tabbed browsing *should* do this if they want to function correctly in Windows 7).
  8. To quickly open another web browser session, just middle mouse click on any browser button in the taskbar. This option is available even when you are not currently working in a web browser (i.e. no need to switch to web browser and find the “open new tab” button).
  9. To quickly kill browser sessions, just hover on a browser button in the taskbar, then middle click on any thumbnail. As a visual queue, you get thumbnails of all the open browser sessions. Once you mouse over the session you want to kill, you see the web page in its entirety before making a decision to kill it.
  10. Tabbed browsing is partially duplicating what the taskbar already does…why learn two different ways of doing essentially the same thing?

To disable tabbed browsing in IE: Tools->Internet Options->General->Tabs->Settings->[ ] Enable Tabbed Browsing (requires restarting Internet Explorer)

For Firefox, use: Tools->Options…->Tabs->[ ] Open new windows in a new tab instead

January 10, 2010

Windows 7 Customization

Filed under Software

image

I kept track of all the changes I made after I did a clean install of Windows 7.

  1. Install Microsoft Security Essentials
    • Virus software works without getting in the way
  2. Move the recycle bin to taskbar.
    • Gives you a completely clean desktop
    • The recycle bin is always visible and can be used to drag and drop files you don’t want
  3. Pin Sticky Notes to the taskbar
  4. Pin Snipping Tool to taskbar
  5. Change “Shutdown” button to “Restart”: Right-click Start->properties->Start Menu->Power button action: [Restart]
  6. Switch taskbar to “combine when full”: Right-click Start->properties->Taskbar->Taskbar buttons: [Combine when taskbar is full]
    • More obvious if an application is active or not (big == active)
    • Active applications include text description
    • Active applications are 3 times larger than non-active: easier hit target
    • Progress bars (shown in taskbar when downloading files or installing software, for example) have more space and are more meaningful
  7. Install Windows Live Essentials: Live Writer (updating blogs), Photo Gallery, and Movie Maker
  8. Install Zune Software
  9. Set power option to high performance (for my desktop): Start->Control Panel->Hardware and Sound->Power Options->High Performance
  10. Install Adobe Flash
  11. Set up black screen saver: Start->Control Panel->Appearance and Personalization->Personalization: Change screen saver->
    • [Blank]
    • Wait [10] minutes
    • [X] On resume, display logon screen
  12. Setup daily backup: Start->Control Panel->System and Security: Back up your computer
    • Every day at 2 a.m.
    • Only backup my home directory
  13. Turn on check boxes for selection: Explorer->Organize->Folder and search options->View->[X] Use check boxes to select items
    • You can select multiple files using the mouse-only (without this, you must hold down the shift or ctrl keys)
  14. Turn on Zune toolbar: Right-click Start->Properties->Toolbars->[X] Zune
    • When Zune is minimized, it shows as a mini-player in the taskbar
  15. Change pictures folder to:
    • Detail view: right click file area->View->Details
    • Set columns to Name, Size, Date, Date Modified: right click column heading to modify
  16. Install Visual Studio C# 2008 Express Edition and Visual Studio C++ 2008 Express Edition
  17. Install Windows 7 SDK
    • Contains *lots* of helpful sample code
  18. Change account picture to match Facebook profile picture: Start->Control Panel->User Accounts and Family Safety->User Accounts->Change your picture
  19. Install Maya 8 Unlimited
    • 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects software
  20. Install Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3) Production Premium
    • Contains…
      • Photoshop (image editing)
      • Illustrator (vector editing)
      • Premier Pro (video editing)
      • Soundbooth (sound editing)
      • After Effects (video compositing)
  21. Install Quicken Deluxe 2009
    • Finance software
  22. Closing Internet Explorer closes all open tabs: IE->Tools->Internet Options->General->Tabs->Settings->[ ] Warn me when closing multiple tabs

*Now* I am ready to go!

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October 11, 2009

Windows 7: Linux Has Something To Worry About

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

image

Windows/DOS has had a *bad* command shell for a long time…but that is about to change with the October 22nd release of Windows 7.

Windows 7 ships with PowerShell 2.0…and it is *really* good.

PowerShell 2.0 features:

  • Unlimited output buffer (command prompt had 300 lines by default, and a max of 9999)
  • Easy text selection (command prompt could only do “screen space” selection, which made selecting multi-line text virtually impossible…no more!)
  • Aliases for standard Unix shell commands (pwd, cp, man, rm, rmdir, mv, ls, cat, grep, ps, kill, tee, clear)
  • Aliases for standard cmd.exe commands (cd, cls, copy, help, del, rmdir, rename, dir, type, find, findstr, tlist)
  • Support for paths with either forward or backward slashes
  • Support for network resources *without* mapping a drive (i.e. can do this: cd \\share\mypics)
  • All commands follow a consistent verb-noun naming convention (get-childitem, write-output, etc.) which makes the commands self descriptive and easy to learn
  • Can use standard file system commands (cd, dir, rm, cp, etc.) on…
    • The Registry
    • Environment Variables
    • Variables
    • Aliases
    • User supplied custom data
  • Command and parameter tab completion
  • Really good documentation, with examples via get-help (or help/man)
  • Script debugger with support for breakpoints, stepping, call stack, and hover over variables to see values
  • Commands are chained together via *objects* instead of text. Nice example of this powerful feature here.
  • Can output your results in rich text format to out-gridview. I *love* this feature. Read about it here.
  • Supported on Linux/Mac via Pash

Here is a nice table that compares all the different shells and their features. PowerShell comes out as the most advanced shell.

Windows 7 marks the first time Windows has had a better default shell than Linux or Mac.

Other Linux advantages that are no more with Windows 7:

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3D Cities

Filed under 3D, Computers, Software

image

This is impressive. C3 Technologies creates 3D cities. To do Stockholm took less than 3 days!

Check out the intro video on the home page.

Here is a demo of Las Vegas.

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September 11, 2009

First Windows 7 Ad

Filed under Computers, Software

Microsoft released their first Windows 7 ad a couple of days ago. It features super cute kid Kylie, previously seen here.

 

This put a smile on my face. Well done Microsoft!

 

Meanwhile, in the Matrix…

Mac’s don’t crash

You can’t get a virus on a Mac

What exactly is Apple advertising here? Have they actually used their own products?

Time to take the red pill, Apple.

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September 7, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #9

Filed under Computers, Software

Creating a new folder is easier in Win7 with a new keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-N.

I use this one all the time…and it makes me mad when I go back to Vista and can’t use it.

 

image

July 2, 2009

PowerShell Gem #1

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

PowerShell is a replacement for the Windows command prompt (a.k.a. CMD).

I ran into this feature today: accessing network shares.

With CMD, you map a drive letter to a network share in order to access it. Trying to access the share directly (via the UNC name) does not work.

For example, here's what happens if I try to list the contents of a share called \\ivory\users\public directly (fails) and then via a mapped drive S: using CMD...

image

PowerShell supports UNC! No more mapping drive letters!

Check out the same task via PowerShell...

image

 

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June 28, 2009

Teaching Windows about Files Without Extensions

Filed under Software

Files that don't have an extension (like "makefile") do not work well in Windows.

  • In Vista, these files are not even searched! If you see a file called "makefile" in a directory and type "make" in the search box, Vista will report no files are found! NOTE: Windows 7 doesn't have this problem.
  • Also, these files are not indexed, so searching for the contents of an extension-less file will return zero hits. I expect this works in Windows 7, but I haven't tested.
  • If you try to open a file without an extension, you will always be asked which application should open this file. The "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file" checkbox is disabled, so you are constantly asked the same question, even when you open the same file over and over. This happens on Vista and Windows 7.

There is an easy fix for all of this:

Tell Windows that files that do not have an extension are the same as text files.

Here's how:

  1. Start->Search->regedit
  2. Go to Computer\HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.txt
  3. File->Export->txt.reg
  4. Open txt.reg in notepad
  5. Replace every ".txt" with "."
  6. Save the file
  7. Open the new txt.reg to import the settings into the registry

The extension-less updated txt.reg should look similar (depending on what you have installed on your OS) to this...

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.]
"PerceivedType"="text"
@="Notepad++_file"
"Content Type"="text/plain"
"Notepad++_backup"="txtfile"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.\OpenWithList]

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.\PersistentHandler]
@="{5e941d80-bf96-11cd-b579-08002b30bfeb}"

[HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.\ShellNew]
"ItemName"=hex(2):40,00,25,00,53,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,52,00,6f,00,\  6f,00,74,00,25,00,5c,00,73,00,79,00,73,00,74,00,65,00,6d,00,33,00,32,00,5c,\  00,6e,00,6f,00,74,00,65,00,70,00,61,00,64,00,2e,00,65,00,78,00,65,00,2c,00,\
2d,00,34,00,37,00,30,00,00,00
"NullFile"=""

With this fix, files without an extension...

  • Have filenames that are searchable
  • Have contents that are searchable
  • Are associated with the application that opens your text files

P.S.: If you are using Notepad/Wordpad for text editing, please checkout Notepad++...I *love* it and you will too.

May 12, 2009

C# vs. C++

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I am reading this document about the C# language.

Here are a list of features in C# that improve on how C++ works…

C++

C#

Reference to a class in another file of a project requires an include file No include file needed
Reference to a class in an external DLL requires an include file and the DLL’s .LIB file passed to the linker No .LIB file needed.
Add a reference to the DLL in the build(example: csc /r:external.dll helloworld.cs)
Exported symbols must use declspec or .DEF file No declspec or .DEF file.
Public symbols are exported, private/protected are not.
”internal” symbols are only available within module.
Referencing a class/structure before it is declared requires forward declaration Forward declaration not needed.
Declaration order is insignificant.

Switching to Unicode/16-bit text requires:

  • Different entry point (main/wmain)
  • Prefixing text with “L” or “_T”
  • New string manipulation functions

Unicode is the native string format

NULL is a concept, not part of the language. It is typically defined as 0 and thus is the equivalent of 0. null is a keyword. It is not equivalent to 0.
Basic data types (int, float, char, etc.) cannot accept a “null” value. Only pointers can have a “null” value.

All C# types can accept null as a value

  • For type T with null support, use type T?
  • For example, int with null support is int?
No support for “foreach” foreach keyword for iterating over a collection
Support for try and catch.
No support for "finally”
try-catch-finally support.
finally is always called, regardless of exception or not
No notification of overflow operations.
For example:
unsigned x = UINT_MAX;
x++;
// x == 0 now, no exception thrown
Using checked/unchecked you can get overflow or exception thrown behavior
No native support for critical sections lock keyword for critical sections
For switch statements, break is optional. break is required (to prevent bugs from accidentally forgetting to add break)
No built-in documentation XML documentation via “///”- prefixed comment. Used by IntelliSense in Visual Studio
Cannot split the definition of a class across multiple files Partial classes allow breaking up a source file (useful when multiple people are working on a class or when part of a class is auto-generated)
No support for mixing versions of libraries Can mix library versions without breaking existing code.
Developer must manage deletion of memory and potential issues from reading/writing to invalid memory

Garbage collection:

  • No memory leaks
  • Can’t read uninitialized variables
  • Can’t index past array boundaries
Types do not share a common root All types derived from base “object”

 

April 26, 2009

New Feature in Windows 7 Revealed: XP Mode

Filed under Computers, Software

image

The above screen shot looks straight forward enough, but there is something special going on.

Look at the window decorations. The application on the left is IE 6 running under XP and the application on the right is IE 8 running under Windows 7.

On Friday, XP Mode was announced as a new feature for Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise. XP Mode is basically Windows XP emulated within Windows 7, with the added ability to run the XP applications side-by-side Windows 7 applications.

This is a big deal.

One of the reasons companies are slow to upgrade to the latest version of an OS is fear that applications designed for their current OS won’t work in the new OS.

Any company thinking of upgrading to Vista should keep this in mind…

  • Windows 7 runs better on low end hardware than Windows Vista
  • Windows 7 is more compatible with Windows XP than Window Vista

I hope this means we see a very quick adoption of Windows 7…I think it will.

March 27, 2009

Microsoft Attacks Apple!

Filed under Computers, Software

This is fun…

<br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=0bb6a07c-c829-4562-8375-49e6693810c7" target="_new" title="Laptop Hunters $1000 - Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion">Video: Laptop Hunters $1000 - Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion</a>

 

March 21, 2009

I’m a PC

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

I really like this ad…

 

Here are two more “I’m a PC” ads: Alexa and Adam. All Microsoft ads are here.

From an advertising standpoint, I’m impressed with how Microsoft dealt with the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads.

It is interesting to compare the contrasting styles of the ads:

  • Hollywood actors vs. real people
  • White background set vs. real places
  • Attacking the competition vs. showing how your product works

By embracing the “I’m a PC” catchphrase and putting a positive spin on it, Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads are now connected to Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” ads.

Is this why we haven’t seen a new “I’m a Mac” ad since Christmas 2008?

March 1, 2009

UI…from the Future

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

Microsoft posted a *very* slick 2 minute video of user interface concepts they imagine will be in use 10 years from now…

 

A longer (5 min) version with more focus on the UI’s is here…

 

Exciting stuff!

Things that jumped out at me:

  • The “transparent” wall conversation between the kid in the US and and the kid in India
  • The single credit card that contains all of your cards
  • The interactive newspaper
  • The arrow on the ground at the airport that leads you where you need to go
  • Zooming in and out by bringing a device closer/further from you
  • The “transparent” coffee cup that shows the liquid level and temperature
  • Devices that are completely wrapped in a screen so the the entire device is a drawing surface

February 1, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #8

Filed under Computers, Software

Burn Disc Image

burn disc image

 

I found this today after I downloaded the Windows 7 SDK Beta. The download comes as an .ISO disc image file that must be burnt to a DVD before using.

In the past, you needed a separate utility to do this…but not anymore.

Just double-click on the .ISO file and you get the above dialog box…easy!

January 26, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #7

Filed under Computers, Software

new appAfter you install an application, how do you start it?

Some apps place a shortcut on your desktop (NO! My desktop is messy enough!)

Some apps add a shortcut to the quick launch toolbar or Start Menu (NO! How dare you think you are important enough to be part of my frequently used apps!)

Some apps ask you if you want to run the app after installation is finished (NO! Just install the software and let me run the app when I want to!)

In the Start Menu, Vista will highlight “All Programs” and the newly created program folder so you can find your recently installed app easier.

Windows 7 adds an additional mechanism: The newly installed application shows up highlighted in the Start Menu’s recent program list. Nice! A standard place to look for software you recently installed.

Hopefully this will signal an end to installation software that…

  • Pollutes the desktop and the Start Menu with shortcuts to apps we don’t want
  • Asks us if we want to run the app after installation is finished

 

January 25, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #6

Filed under Computers, Software

Windows 7 includes new windows management shortcuts that have already changed the way I work. The internal names for the new functionality are Aero Snap, Aero Shake, and Aero Peek.

“Aero Snap”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Maximize Drag window to top Drag window down Win key-Up Arrow Win key-Down Arrow
Fill left half of screen Drag window to left Drag window to right Win key-Left Arrow Win key-Right Arrow
Fill right half of screen Drag window to right Drag window to left Win key-Right Arrow Win key-Left Arrow
Maximize vertically Drag window border to top or bottom Drag window down None None
Minimize None None Win key-Down Arrow None

By far, the feature I use the most is dragging windows to the left and right. It makes it really easy to work in one application while referencing another.

image

“Aero Shake”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Minimize all but this Drag window back and forth rapidly Drag window back and forth rapidly Win key-Home Win key-Home

This is just nice when your desktop gets filled with lots of windows and you want to focus on the task at hand.

 

“Aero Peek”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Temporarily show desktop and gadgets Move to bottom-right corner Move mouse out of corner Win key-Space Release Win key
Show desktop and gadgets Click bottom-right corner Click bottom-right corner Win key-D Win key-D

I think the main reason you would want to see your desktop temporarily is to check the status of gadgets (check weather, news, sports, system status, etc). In Windows 7, the Sidebar is gone and all gadgets go to the desktop.

I didn’t use the Sidebar in Vista because it took too much screen space. In Vista, you could also place gadgets on the desktop, where they were easily forgotten. Because of the ability to quickly peek at the desktop in Windows 7, I expect I’ll use gadgets more.

Here is a video that shows most of this functionality in action.

 

January 20, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #5

Filed under Computers, Software

The start menu power button.

 

Here is how things work in Vista…

image

Vista’s Power Button

The power button is actually three buttons: power, lock, and a popup menu that shows 7 options:

  • Switch User
  • Log Off
  • Lock
  • Restart
  • Sleep
  • Hibernate
  • Shut Down

You can configure what the power button does by going to:

Start->Control Panel->Power Options->Change Plan Settings->Change Advanced Power Settings->Power buttons and lid->Start menu power button->Setting:

You have the following choices:

  • Sleep
  • Hibernate
  • Shut Down

 

 

Windows 7 improves/simplifies several aspects…

 

power button - popup

  • The lock button has been removed (which makes the power button bigger and thus an easier hit target)
  • The power button now states what it does explicitly via text instead of a symbol
  • The hibernate option was removed from the popup
  • The duplicated function is removed from the popup. In the above screenshot, “Shutdown” is not in the popup because you can access it by clicking on the power button “Shutdown.”

Configuring what the power button does is much easier. Right-click on the power button and select “Properties”…

power button - configure

The power button has 6 options:

  • Switch User
  • Log off
  • Lock
  • Restart
  • Sleep
  • Shutdown

 

start - restart

In Vista, there was no way to map “restart”, “switch user”, or “log off” to the power button.

I welcome “restart”, since I never turn off my computer. No need to click on the popup menu because I can click on restart directly: one less mouse click.

One less button, 2 less menu items, easier configuring with more functionality. I like.

January 19, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #4

Filed under Computers, Software

Vista introduced buttons that “glow” outside of their boundaries with the minimize/maximize/close buttons in the upper-right corner of a window.

Windows 7 adds another button to the glow-club: the “Start Orb.”

 

start orb normal

Normal Start Orb

 

start orb glow

Start Orb with mouse-over

 

Buttons usually have a different look when you mouse-over them so that the user understands they can click on them.

The glow effect is the same, except it spills out of the button’s boundaries. I supposed the spill-over effect makes it more clear that this is a system button instead of an application button?

…or maybe it just looks cool.

January 18, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #3

Filed under Computers, Software

image

The Windows Memory Diagnostic tool verifies your RAM is functioning as it should. It is not something you need very often, but nice when you suspect your hardware is malfunctioning.

This tool was initially included in Vista, but I never noticed it. In Windows 7, it lives in Control Panel->All Control Panel Items->Administrative Tools->Windows Memory Diagnostic.

Windows 7 Gem #2

Filed under Computers, Software

sticky notes

Sticky Notes…the virtual version of Post-it Notes.

Vista had Sticky Notes, but they were for pen or voice input only. The version in Windows 7 is keyboard-based…which means I’ll actually use it.

It is very simple. The only options are:

  • Create new note (+)
  • Delete this note (X)
  • Enter the text of your note
  • Change the color of your note

Windows 7 Gem #1

Filed under Computers, Software

notification - all white

The most obvious change in Windows 7 is the new taskbar (a.k.a. “superbar”).

There are a lot of changes with the new taskbar. I’m going to focus on the notification area of the taskbar (the lower right) with this post. The notification area for Windows 7 is pictured above.

The notification area now has a color scheme…

  • All normal information is in white
  • Problems are in red
  • Successful operations are indicated in green

The “sound waves” for the volume indicator were green in Vista, but now they are white in Windows 7 (Vista notification area below).

image

The net result: if there is something red/green in the notification area, it really gets your attention.

Another nice touch: the network connection indicator shows your Wi-Fi signal strength instead of the two monitors that light up green on send/receive…much more useful!

If you click on the network connection indicator, you get a popup menu list of networks you can join…

network notification

Previously, clicking on the network connection indicator took you to a dialog…

image

The popup in Windows 7 saves you from opening a dialog. One less mouse click for everybody. 

All problems that need your attention go with the white flag (“Action Center”). This means the notification area will stay minimal, even with many applications running (if they all use the Action Center like they should).

I turned on virus software monitoring and this is what the notification area looks like now…

image

If you click on the flag, you get this…

action center notification

The clock now has the date! Previously, you had to hover over the time to get the date.

safely remove

Safely Remove Hardware is hidden under the popup menu on the left end of the notification area.

Instead of opening an additional dialog (which requires pressing “Close” when you are done), you now get a simple popup menu. Again, a UI change that reduces the number of mouse clicks to accomplish a task.

The list is much easier to read now since each item has unique identifiable names (previously, everything was called “USB Mass Storage Device”). The old Safely Remove Hardware dialog is here…

image

All very subtle changes, but they add up to improve your experience.

January 17, 2009

Greetings From Windows 7

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

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I installed the public beta of Windows 7 this week.

If you have any interest in giving Windows 7 a test drive or providing Microsoft feedback on improving Windows, I recommend you download it now (and write down the activation key). The public beta will close on January 24th. Here is where you get the free download.

My initial impression…I *love* it.

I love Vista, so it should come as no surprise that I love Windows 7 even more. Windows 7 is basically Windows Vista with some polish.

I’m shocked at all the positive press Windows 7 is getting from people that hated Vista. If you hate Vista, you should hate Windows 7…period (I’m looking at you PC Magazine).

I’ve been jotting down notes about new things I like in Windows 7. I’ll start posting my Windows 7 Gems soon.

_____________________________
Sent from Microsoft Windows 7

December 16, 2008

OpenGL R.I.P.

Filed under 3D, Computers, DirectX, Programming, Software

opengl_rip

I have been an OpenGL developer for more than 10 years. OpenGL was *the* 3D API for computer graphics since 1992…but not anymore. Direct3D has left OpenGL in the dust…and this is a big deal.

It has been clear for several years that OpenGL is struggling to keep up with Direct3D and every year the gap gets wider. This article does a great job detailing OpenGL’s problems.

If your OpenGL app competes with a Direct3D one…you need to be worried. It is not a fair fight. Direct3D is pushing the envelope for hardware features, which means a Direct3D app can run faster or look better than an OpenGL app on equivalent hardware.

Currently, managing shaders in OpenGL and Direct3D is painful. The next version of Direct3D (DirectX 11) dramatically improves how you combine small shaders into into larger, more complex shaders. This change alone will make OpenGL seem antiquated from a developer’s point of view.

OpenGL is the only cross-platform 3D API. As OpenGL falls further and further behind Direct3D, you’ll see less 3D apps on platforms that depend on OpenGL (like Linux and Apple Mac’s).

In the beginning, SGI was pushing OpenGL…until they got out of the graphics business. Then 3DLabs pushed OpenGL to create its shading language (GLSL)…until they got out of the graphics business.

Who is pushing OpenGL now? Nvidia? ATI? Both of those companies have more interest in Direct3D than they do OpenGL.

Without a major corporate sponsor, I don’t see how OpenGL will carry on. I’m actually surprised Apple hasn’t been a bigger supporter of OpenGL considering how important it is to them.

It was fun while it lasted…we’ll miss ya.

December 14, 2008

What I Use

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software, Web

Here is a list of software, hardware, and web sites that I use at home.

Software

Operating System Vista Ultimate SP1
Programming C++/C# Visual Studio 2008
Debugging Utilities Dependency Walker
Process Monitor
Blogging Windows Live Writer Beta
Web Browsing Internet Explorer 8 Beta
Music Manager Zune 3.1
Email/Calendar/Contacts/To Do’s Outlook 2007
Word Processing Word 2007
Spreadsheets Excel 2007
Personal Finance Quicken 2007
3D Package Maya 8.0
Image Editing Photoshop CS3
Video Editing Premiere Pro CS3
DVD Authoring Encore CS3
Vector Editing Illustrator CS3
Video Compositing After Effects CS3
Sound Editing Soundbooth CS3
MP3 Purchase Zune Marketplace
Amazon MP3
Printing Utility FinePrint
Text Editor Notepad++
Diff Files/Folders Araxis Merge
FTP SmartFTP
Web Hosting 1&1
Weblog Publishing System (for creating davidlenihan.com) Movable Type

 

Hardware

MP3 Player Zune 120 GB
Sansa Clip (for jogging)
PhatBox (for car)
Computer Dell Dimension E520
Monitor/speakers Dell 24” LCD 2407WFP
Laptop Lenovo Ideapad U110
Printer/Scanner/Copier HP Photosmart 3310 All-In-One
Keyboard Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 6000
Mouse Microsoft Explorer Mouse
3D Mouse 3Dconnexion Spaceball 5000

 

Web

Home Page iGoogle
RSS Reader Google Reader
Search Engine Google
Social Networking Facebook
Linkedin
Micro-blogging Twitter


Book Review: Designing Interfaces

Filed under Programming, Reviews, Software

image

I recently finished reading “Designing Interfaces” by Jenifer Tidwell.

I think of this book as “Design Patterns” for user interfaces.

If this book was required reading for everybody that builds software, we’d have *much* better software and happier users. It has really changed how I approach creating user interfaces.

Before reading this book, I could point to an application and tell you if it looks professional and polished or not. Now I can tell you why.

This book deals with many subtleties and attention to detail that can have a huge impact on the user’s impression of your software.

Here is an example pattern, “Center Stage”…

image image

A “preview” of the book is available online (with large chunks missing so you still need to buy it) here.

Highly recommended!

November 28, 2008

WinSxS Disk Space Usage: It’s Not What You Think

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

One common complaint about the winsxs folder is that it takes up too much space.

My winsxs takes up almost 9 GB!image

Or does it?

According to this post by Microsoft, WinSxS has many duplicated files. The files are are *not* copies, but are instead “hard links” that point to the same data, and thus do not take up any extra space. Microsoft says a typical WinSxS folder contains around 400 MB of data.

The problem is that DIR and Explorer are not aware of the difference between an actual file and a hard link to a file. The disk usage reported by these two programs is as if each hard link *is* an actual file.

I did my own test to verify Microsoft’s claim. I created a small file called “original.txt” that uses 10 bytes. Then I created 10 hard links to the original file via the command line:

mklink /h hardlink<NUM>.txt original.txt

As expected, both DIR and explorer report that I’m using 110 bytes instead of just the 10 bytes of the original file:

 

image

image Symbolic links, on the other hand, work as expected and are recognized by both DIR and explorer.

I created symbolic links using this command line:

mklink symboliclink<NUM>.txt original.txt

Here are the results of DIR:

image Notice that only the original file reports any disk usage. The total directory size is only the original file, even though 11 files are detected. Also note that all the symbolic links are listed as “<SYMLINK>” and have a reference to the source of the symbolic link in []’s.

Here is what explorer looks like with symbolic links:

image

Explorer does the right thing and lists that the directory only contains 10 bytes. The symbolic links have “shortcut” indictors on top of the source icon. The file size for symbolic links are listed as 0 KB.

November 12, 2008

Kernel Panic is the New BSOD

Filed under Computers, Funny, Software

image Here is an iPhone window display in an AT&T store in Boston. The display is running on a Mac…that crashed.

image

That’s a Mac kernel panic, which is like a BSOD, except it doesn’t give you any information about why your computer locked up.

Here’s a Mac kernel panic caught on video…

This one is interesting…a Mac guy talking about working on a Mac…

 

I thought Macs didn’t crash! Where would I get that idea? Hmm…

Also, next time you visit an Apple Store, notice that they have no cash registers! Instead, employee’s have a wireless checkout device…that runs Windows.

 

November 3, 2008

Windows 7 New UI

Filed under Computers, Software

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At PDC last week, Microsoft revealed some major UI changes in the follow-on to Vista, Windows 7.

I watched two videos today that demo'ed the redesigned Taskbar and Explorer.

There is a lot to like. If you are interested in this stuff, definitely check out the videos.

WinSuperSite also has an overview of both the Taskbar and Explorer. The photos don't do the UI justice...you need to see the demo videos to appreciate the changes.

image

Things I liked about the new Taskbar:

  • Quick Launch Bar, Running App's, Application Notification, Toolbars (like Windows Media Player) all integrated into a single UI with large icons
  • Can rearrange order of icons
  • Jump Lists: without opening an app, you can pick the recent files or perform common tasks (like continue a playlist in Media Player)
  • When you hover on an app that is running, you get thumbnails of *all* the open documents for that app (not just one like Vista). If the app uses tabs (like web browsers), you can see complete views of each tab (see above photo of 3 tabs of IE).
  • Peek: When you mouse over one of the thumbnails, the actual window on your desktop becomes visible and all other windows fade away. This is better than other app switchers because the size and location of the app are unchanged and thus more quickly identifiable.
  • Thumbnails can have custom controls. For example, Media Player has play/fast forward/rewind buttons that you can press without switching to Media player (replaces functionality of the Media Player Toolbar)
  • App's can change their Icons for notification. For example, prior to Windows 7, Outlook used a notification icon in the bottom right to indicate a new mail message. With Windows 7, the Outlook icon for the running app can show the new mail icon.
  • Windows 7 icons are larger than Vista icons, yet take up less space because no text is shown.
  • Progress bars are integrated into the app icon...no need to keep track of an extra window dedicated to a progress bar
  • No "classic" Taskbar...this *will* be the Taskbar for Windows 7

image

Things I like about the new Explorer:

  • Search (in the upper-right corner) still uses properties (like "tag:SIGGRAPH" or "name:*.jpg"). Most people don't know about using properties for search. With Windows 7, a *super* slick UI helps you choose properties and shows you how to type the search directly as text (see the demo video for picking a date range)
  • Libraries: Libraries are a collection of locations with a common data type. For example, if you add a 2nd hard drive for video storage, you just add the 2nd hard drive to the "Video Library" and both hard drives appear as one in Explorer's views of the video library and search results. Libraries looks like the way Windows will move away from drive letters finally.
  • Search results highlight the matching content (both in filename or file contents).
  • Order of search results is more logical with filename matches before file content matches.

PDC has a *ton* of information on upcoming software from Microsoft and all of the presentations are available online here.

October 24, 2008

And Then There Was One...

Filed under 3D, Animation, Software

Wow! Autodesk purchased Softimage.

There was a time when there were 3 companies that battled in high-end 3D animation software. The competition was fierce and every year brought new features meant to outdo the other packages.

No more...all three software packages (Maya, 3ds Max, and Xsi) are now owned by Autodesk.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It seems silly for one company to keep all three packages since they have so much overlap.

My prediction: Maya will become the only 3D package Autodesk sells, with features from the other packages integrated into Maya.

What are your predictions? Post your thoughts in the comments. First with the correct prediction wins a prize!

September 21, 2008

Vista Gem #8

Filed under Computers, Software

Yesterday I ran into a photo that I've had for over a year that was corrupt...half the picture was missing...

image

 

What to do?

Use "Previous Versions," a new feature in Vista.

How? Just right click on a file/folder, choose "Properties"  and then click on the "Previous Versions" tab...

 

image

Previous Versions found a backed up copy of my picture. I clicked on "Restore..." and got this dialog...

image

I choose the last option "Copy, but keep both files" so I could compare the files after the restore.

image

It worked! I got my file back. And I didn't have to switch to the backup/restore utility to get it...I did this all from Explorer.

I run a nightly backup, which is how Previous Versions rescued my file. If you haven't run a backup, then Previous Versions uses "Shadow Copies" of your files. Shadow Copies are done daily and at "restore points." It looks like backups reset shadow copies, so I don't have any.

September 7, 2008

Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2

Filed under Reviews, Software, Web

image

I tried out Google's new Chrome browser a few days ago. I downloaded Internet Explorer 8 (beta 2) today.

Initial reaction: everything I like about Chrome is already available in IE8.

What I like:

  • Passes the Acid2 test
  • Related tabs are kept next to each other with color coding. For example, when you open a link from another tab, both tabs will have the same color (see below)
  • The address bar highlights the name of the website in bolder text...nice touch (see "arstechnica" in graphic below).
  • Typing in the address bar will automatically search your history, or setup a search for the item...no need to go to Google to search for something.
  • Searching for text on the page is *much* improved. Just do "Ctrl-F" and type what you are looking for. All matches are instantly highlighted. Press "Enter" to move forward to the next search item or "Shift-Enter" to go back. Nice!
  • New tab has a list of last closed tabs...easier to get back to places you've already been (although I prefer Chrome's new tab screen because of the thumbnails and also the most frequented web page list).
  • Each tab is a separate process...a web page that crashes the browser doesn't hurt the other tabs.
  • Compatibility mode! Web sites that are not "web standard's compliant" may not work correctly in IE8...so there is a button next to the address bar that allows you to switch back to IE7 rendering. *Many* web sites do not follow the web standards (instead they are designed to work with the most popular browser...IE)...so this is a *very* important feature. This is my biggest gripe with Chrome...glad to see IE8 can work will all web sites. For example, I could not login to purchase an item on walmart.com via Chrome, but IE8 could do it.

image

Tab Color

This update puts IE in the same league as Chrome and Firefox. That being the case, I don't see a reason to jump ship.

After a brief flirtation with Chrome, I'm back to IE (8, beta 2) as my default browser.

 

September 2, 2008

Google Chrome

Filed under Reviews, Software, Web

image

Wow! Google released a new web browser today called "Chrome."

That should certainly make IE, Firefox, Safari, and Opera take notice.

I downloaded it tonight and have made it my default browser.

What I like...

  • Faster - pages pop up quicker than IE 7
  • Smaller - takes up a lot less memory than IE 7
  • Tab UI - you can rearrange the tabs as you please, drag them off to become independent browsers, or drag independent browsers back to make them tabs...very sleek!
  • New Tab page shows you thumbnails of most visited pages, bookmarks, recently closed tabs...easier to get to pages you want to go to.
  • Address bar is also search engine bar...I rarely need to go to google to find anything, I can go directly from the address bar
  • Each tab is an separate process...if one page locks up, the rest continue to run (coming in IE 8, also)
  • Passes the Acid2 test
  • Find (Ctrl-F or F3) is much better than IE...highlights every match, F3 to go next match, Shift-F3 to go to previous
  • Downloads show up at the bottom of your page as an icon you can drag to a folder or open directly
  • More screen space for web pages than IE (uses some of title bar for top UI, no status bar at bottom)

image

So far, the only issue I see is with iGoogle (how ironic)...when I shrink the window, one of the widgets does not know how to resize correctly and keeps changing size which causes the whole page to start flashing. Then again, Google uses their almost permanent "beta" status on this software so they can say "what do you expect, it is beta software!"

Oh! Found another one. You can only look at about 47 facebook photos before it refuses to let you look at anymore...hmmm.

I'm going to keep using this as long as I don't run into too many websites that have problems. For now, I think Google has a competitor in its hands.

August 28, 2008

Mojave Update

Filed under Computers, Software

The guys behind the Mojave Experiment have updated the site to address some of the biggest concerns. New to the site are interviews with the guys that ran the experiment, the demos they showed, and the hardware they used.

There is also a new web site called the "Windows Vista Compatibility Center" that lists hardware and software that will and won't work with Vista. Very helpful!

Here is a good interview with the guy that thought up the Mojave Experiment, David Webster. Expect the Mojave Experiment to move from the web to TV soon to reach a larger audience.

Also, the new Seinfeld Vista ads should hit TV Sept 4th.

image

July 29, 2008

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Vista a Zero

Filed under Computers, Software

image

This is pretty interesting...an ad campaign by Microsoft to combat the uninformed opinion that Vista is crap.

It basically echoes what I run into constantly: the people that have the strongest opinions against Vista have never used it.

Click this link to watch the "Mojave Experiment."

The fact page is worth checking out, too.

Don't be an iSheep...use your brain.

Vista Gem #7

Filed under Computers, Software

The Resource Monitor is a new tool for Vista that helps track down performance issues.

image

To start the Resource Monitor...

  1. Right click on an empty part of the taskbar and select "Task Manager" (or press Ctrl-Shift-Esc)
  2. Select the "Performance" tab
  3. Click the "Resource Monitor..." button at the bottom right

 

image

Resource Monitor tracks your CPU and memory like Task Manger does. But, it also tracks disk and network activity.

If any of the charts are pegged, click on it to get more detailed information.

I sort by the following columns to see who is responsible for the resource use:

  • CPU: CPU column
  • Disk: Either the Read or Write column
  • Network: Total column
  • Memory: Hard Faults

I found this tool *very* helpful...I will be using it more in the future.

 

Motion Tracking

Filed under Animation, Software, Video

image After I saw the new TR2N trailer this weekend, I thought it might be a fun project to see if I could clean up the video (and learn how to use Adobe After Effects CS3).

The first step was getting the bootleg video. I wasn't able to get the source from the link above. I followed the advice from this Yahoo! Answers and used the trial version of Moyea SWF Kits to extract a youtube.com version of the video (which is no longer up). The extracted source video is here (24 MB).

I used After Effects to do the rest.

Look at the source video and you will see lots of problems. The video...

  • is small
  • is not centered
  • is rotated
  • changes size as the camera is zoomed
  • has a youtube time-slider and youtube logo
  • has erratic motion from handheld video recording
  • is missing parts of the trailer

I didn't worry about fixing the last one...too much work.

The first issue I fixed was the erratic motion, which made the other issues *much* easier to fix. I used this page for directions on how to do video stabilization.

In the source video, you will notice a couple of lights above the movie screen. I told After Effects to track the lights. It did a really good job. I only had to help with the tracking at around 0:43 because of the zooming. The rest of the tracking was done automagically.

After the motion tracking was finished, the video was very steady. I had to rotate the image several times to keep it aligned correctly. I also scaled the video to make it fit the full frame width. I translated the video to put it in the center of the frame.

Then I added masks to give the video a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, which is what I'm guessing the teaser was filmed in. I also added a mask to cover the youtube time-slider and the youtube logo.

The final video is here (5 MB).

I'm *very* impressed with how easy it is to do motion tracking and how steady the final version is compared to the original.

June 11, 2008

Vista Gem #6

Filed under Computers, Software

Resizing a partition used to require PartitionMagic...but no more! Vista has shrinking/growing partitions built into "Disk Management."

I bought a new laptop this past week and it came with the hard drive broken up into a C: drive and a D: drive. I *hate* multiple drive letters, so I deleted D: and extended C: to take up the extra space using Disk Management. Works great!

To bring up Disk Management:

Start->Control Panel->Search->partition->Create and format hard disk partitions

image

Right click on a drive letter and you should see two new menu options in Vista:

  • Extend Volume (if you have unallocated space)
  • Shrink Volume

This is the dialog box you get with Shrink Volume...

image

May 27, 2008

Vista's Natural Language Search is *EVIL*

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

image Vista has a *much* improved search engine over XP. As soon as you create a new file, it is instantly indexed and ready for fast searching.

I found an interesting setting for search called "use natural language search", which is off by default.

You can find it via Start->Control Panel->Appearance and Personalization->Folder Options->Search->Use natural language search.

Sadly, there is no documentation on this page for what exactly natural language search (NLS) is.

This page explains it (about mid-way down).

Basically, NLS applies all your search terms to any possible property without explicitly indicating the property. NLS also does not require capitalization of boolean filters like "AND", "NOT", and "OR."

Here are a couple of example searches without and with natural language search:

Without natural language With natural language
kind: music artist: (Beethoven OR Mozart) music Beethoven or Mozart
kind: document author: (Charlie AND Herb) document Charlie and Herb

The documentation says this about NLS...

Even with natural language search turned on, you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way. If you want to use Boolean filters or introduce filters with colons and parentheses, you can. In addition, you can use all the same properties to fine-tune your searches. The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way. Here are some examples:
  • email today
  • documents 2006
  • author Susan
  • pictures vacation

Note Some searches might give more results than you expect. For example, if you search for "email today" you will see all messages sent today as well as any messages with the word "today" in the contents.

Let me give some background before I tell you why the above lines are highlighted red.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why Vista's search could not find a file I have in my documents folder called "music to get.txt." Other files in the same directory could be found, but this one was problematic. I tried rebuilding the search database several times and narrowing the searchable directories down to just one folder with "music to get.txt".

It didn't matter...Vista's search could not find the file.

Then, I happened to turn *off* NLS today and guess what? Vista easily can find "music to get.txt"!

The issue appears related to the spaces in the filename. If NLS is turned on, then I have to search for:

"music to get"

...instead of...

music to get

NLS would not even match...

music

...I had to start with a quote to get a matching file...

"music

Those lines in red above are *LIES*!!!

you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way.

With NLS on, you must remember to put a filename in quotes if it contains a space. I didn't have to do that with NLS off.

The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way

I don't considering having to add quotes to my search more casual than not using them at all.

Some searches might give more results than you expect

And in the case of filenames with spaces, some searches won't give you *any* results when they should.

My advice:

TURN OFF NATURAL LANGUAGE SEARCH!

May 18, 2008

PowerShell 2.0 CTP2

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

The newest version of PowerShell came out a couple of weeks ago. You can get it here.

The command name tab completion now works (it didn't in CTP1) in the Graphical Windows PowerShell...which is the main reason I stayed away from CTP1.

There is a really cool new feature in CTP2's... Out-GridView.

Out-GridView takes console table data and displays it in a GUI that has these features:

  • Search (lines that don't match are removed as you type)
  • Sort by columns
  • Group by columns
  • Filtering

Here's what it looks like when I asked for a list of running services by typing "get-service | out-gridview"...

image

I like that *way* better than the traditional/non-interactive console output that looks like this...

image

Filtering is very helpful for getting to the data you want. Here it is in action:

image

I'm *really* excited about Graphical Windows PowerShell.

With this release, I'm going to start using it as my standard shell on my home PC and once the final version comes out, I'll probably start using it at work. This is software that will make you more efficient the better you know how to use it. Start learning it now!

Highly recommended!

April 2, 2008

Vista SP1

Filed under Computers, Software

I tried to update to SP1 last week via Windows Update, but I kept getting an error:

Some Updates were not installed

Failed: 1 update

Error(s) found:

Code 80070246

I tried using Dell support, but none of their suggestions worked and they told me I should work with Microsoft and gave me an 800 number.

My brother pointed me to this article that says Microsoft is giving free support to anybody having problems with installing SP1. I could have used the 800 number Dell gave me, but I prefer email, so I used this support page suggested by the article.

Microsoft had me run the System File Checker tool (SFC.exe). It is supposed to repair system files.

To run SFC.exe...

  1. Start->All Programs->Accessories
  2. Right-click "Command Prompt" and choose "Run as administrator"
  3. At the command prompt, type "sfc /scannow"

When I ran it, the scan quit before it reached 100% with an error...

clip_image002

Microsoft then suggested I do the following:

Given this situation, I suggest we continue the following steps to troubleshooting:

1. Click "Start", click "All Programs", click "Accessories", right-click "Command Prompt", and then click "Run as administrator". 
2. In the User Account Control dialog box, click "Continue". 

3. Input the following commands in the DOS Prompt window and press ENTER at the end of each line:
REG   ADD   HKLM\COMPONENTS   /V   STORECORRUPTTIMESTAMP   /T   REG_SZ   /D   "0"   /F
REG   DELETE    HKLM\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\CURRENTVERSION\CHECKSUR\
Note: You can copy the above commands, right click in the opened command window, and then choose Paste. Press ENTER and you will receive a message "The operation completed successfully". You may receive an error message indicating that the related registry key does not exist. Please continue to perform the remaining steps.
4. Please download and run CheckSUR tool from the link below according to your System Type:
CheckSUR tool for Windows Vista 32-bit
http://download.microsoft.com/download/5/0/4/504c8468-9e77-4331-9327-1dba0b43ccd1/Windows6.0-KB947821-x86.msu
CheckSUR tool for Windows Vista 64-bit
http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/e/b/4eb4efa7-a893-4fb7-aac7-2db2003972d5/Windows6.0-KB947821-x64.msu
5. Double click on the downloaded file to run the CheckSUR tool and restart the computer to check the results.

Can we install SP1 now?

After I did these steps...I was able to install SP1!

image

I tried running sfc.exe again, and it now completes successfully...

image

I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful Microsoft was. When I initially submitted my request for help, I got a response the next morning. I went on vacation and could not try their suggestions for a few days. I got an email everyday asking how things were going and what my status was.

I'm not sure what caused my system to be non-SP1 friendly, but all is well now.

*UPDATE 1/3/08*

Here is more information about CheckSUR (the tool that fixed my problem). From the link...

What is CheckSUR?

System resources, such as file data, registry data, and even in-memory data, can develop inconsistencies during the lifetime of the operating system. These inconsistencies may be caused by various hardware failures or by software issues. In some cases, these inconsistencies can affect the Windows Servicing Store, and they can cause a Windows Vista update to fail. When the update fails, it blocks the user from installing updates and service packs. CheckSUR addresses this issue.
When Windows Update detects inconsistencies that are related to system servicing in system files or in the registry, Windows Update offers CheckSUR as an available update package. The package titles are as follows:

  • Update for Windows Vista (KB947821)
  • Update for Windows Vista for x64-based Systems (KB947821)

Note This Windows Update or Automatic Update package will only be offered if such inconsistencies have been detected on the system. CheckSUR should run automatically after it has been installed from Windows Update.

What does CheckSUR do?

Currently, CheckSUR verifies the integrity of the following resources that can affect Windows Update in Windows Vista:

  • Files that are located under the following directories:
    • %systemroot%\Servicing\Packages
    • %systemroot%\WinSxS\Manifests
  • Registry data under the following registry subkeys:
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\COMPONENTS
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Schema
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Component Based Servicing

Note This list may be updated at any time.


When CheckSUR detects incorrect manifests, files, or registry data, CheckSUR may replace the incorrect data with a corrected version.

 

March 18, 2008

SIGGRAPH 2008

Filed under 3D, Animation, Computers, SIGGRAPH, Software

image

I registered for SIGGRAPH 2008 this morning. This year it will be in Los Angeles August 11-15.

Registration opened yesterday. Register before July 4th for the best rates. Become a SIGGRAPH member and save $50.

One notable difference this year: no Electronic Theater viewing day selection in the registration. I actually can't find any mention of the ET. The closest was this quote about Computer Animation Festival changes:

Computer Animation Festival
For SIGGRAPH 2008, the festival has adopted a new format. Each day of the conference, it presents competition screenings, showcase screenings, and panel discussions with filmmakers, instructors, and artists involved in the creative process. The traditional Animation Theaters will not be available for SIGGRAPH 2008.

I hope this doesn't signal an end to the ET...it is one of my favorite parts of SIGGRAPH.

Sounds like several things have changed (or at least changed names).

Here's a list of future SIGGRAPH's...

Year Location
2008 Los Angeles
2009 New Orleans
2010 Los Angeles
2011 Vancouver (first time held outside of the US)

This will be my 12th SIGGRAPH in a row! It never gets old!

March 15, 2008

ObjectDock

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

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I noticed a co-worker had some cool Mac-effects on his Windows box. He was using ObjectDock, a free utility.

I've tried it on my work XP box and my home Vista box, and it works equally well in both OS's.

Above is a screen shot of my current Vista desktop. I turned off the Windows taskbar and I'm using ObjectDock exclusively now.

It's definitely fun to play with.

The one thing I wish it could do is show the taskbar notifications AND open windows. The property page only lets you do windows OR system tray (notification area)...not both:

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As a work around, I added a system tray dock at the top of my screen. You can see it "hidden" in the top photo and expanded below. It will suffice, but I'd like to have all this in the same dock at the bottom of the screen. The ability to add extra docks is part of ObjectDock Plus, which cost $20.

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March 1, 2008

XML

Filed under Programming, Software

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is a standard way of storing data. It became a W3C recommendation in 1998.

If you aren't on the XML bandwagon yet, you should be. XML is a good thing and it makes software better.

XML is confusing at first, but it is worth the time spent understanding it.

I found a great resource that explains XML concisely, quickly and with many examples.

Here is the section I read to understand the XML format (.xml files).

After that, I read this section about how to "design" an XML file format using XML schema (.xsd files).

In less than a day, I have learned a lot about XML. I highly recommend the above two links to anybody doing software development.

The next issue is how to author XML.

Visual Studio 2005 comes with really good XML tools. Here's more info on what Visual Studio can do with XML.

I use Visual Studio 2005, but some of the people using the software I'm writing may not. I needed a free XML editor for these people.

I looked around and tried out several free XML editors. Many of them did not support .xsd files (which ensure the XML data is in the format you expect).

I found out that Microsoft's *free* version of Visual Studio *does* include the XML tools! These tools are great for creating XML schema, authoring XML, among other things. I'm going to recommend anybody that needs to edit/author XML use Visual Studio C# Express Edition or Visual Studio C++ Express Edition if they don't already have Visual Studio.

 

The Last Lecture

Filed under 3D, SIGGRAPH, Software

Randy Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He is losing his battle with pancreatic cancer and is expected to live for a few more months.

CMU has a lecture series entitled, "The Last Lecture." It is supposed to be your chance to talk about things that matter deeply to you. For Randy, it really may be his last lecture.

I first watched his 10 minute reprise of his lecture as a email forward...

 

After watching it, I wanted to see more. Here is the full video (76 min) from his original talk, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams..."

 

The second video is more sincere and drawn out and I recommend viewing it.

Also, I was surprised to see a co-worker in the second video, Tommy Burnette. Tommy got a nice shout out from Randy for following his dreams to work on Star Wars.

I've seen Randy's work at SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technologies. He's worked on a VR project called "Alice."

Randy was involved in the Aladdin Magic Carpet Ride ride at DisneyQuest, which I tried out during SIGGRAPH '98 Orlando.

In his "last lecture," Randy announced one of his childhood dreams of "being Captain Kirk"...since then, J.J. Abrams gave him a role with a line in the upcoming Star Trek movie.

February 12, 2008

InkSeine

Filed under Computers, Software

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Here is some cool new UI research from Microsoft Research for tablet computing called "InkSeine" (rhymes with "insane"). Very cool stuff! Makes me want a tablet PC!

February 7, 2008

Inbox Zero

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software, Work

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Merlin Mann stopped by today to give us his "Inbox Zero" talk about controlling high volumes of email.

I picked up some useful tips:

  • Don't use your inbox as a "to do" list...it is only for unread mail.
  • Your inbox should be empty most of the time. Leaving email in your inbox slows down your ability to process new email and forces you to revisit old email over and over.
  • When you have email in your inbox, you should go through it quickly and do one of the following:
    • Delete it
    • Delegate it - forward to someone that can handle the email, then remove/archive the email
    • Respond, then remove/archive the email
    • Defer (move it to a folder for things you don't have time to figure out an action for just yet, but will later)
    • Do what the email asks now, then remove/archive the email
  • Turn off email notifications...they just stop you from being productive by interrupting your current work.
  • Check your email less frequently: You will process 20 new emails at once more quickly than 1 new email 20 different times.

I am doing this both for my work and home email. I moved all my email out of my inbox into a "To Do Email" folder (a "defer" folder). I have empty inboxes now!

Merlin is a great, entertaining speaker. I highly recommend this program. It should be required viewing...you will spend less time in email and more time doing what you want after you watch this.

This 1 hour video is the same talk we got today, but this was recorded from Merlin's visit to Google:

January 16, 2008

Synergy

Filed under Reviews, Software

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If you have multiple computers on your desk and want to control them all with a single keyboard/mouse...you got to try Synergy.

I have a Windows box and a Linux box at work. I had both systems setup next to each other. I was constantly using the wrong keyboard/mouse when I would switch systems.

Now I use Synergy and just a single keyboard/mouse. When I want to switch to my Linux box from Windows, I simply drag the mouse cursor on Windows in the direction of the Linux monitor and the mouse pointer magically appears on Linux and all keyboard input now goes to the Linux box. When I want to go back to Windows, I just drag the mouse cursor back towards the Windows monitor. It looks like a dual-monitor setup because the mouse just slides back and forth between the two computers as if it were the same mouse.

How does it work? One system is a server (in my case, my Windows box) and one is a client (my Linux box). The server has the keyboard/mouse attached to it. When you move the mouse to an edge, Synergy redirects keyboard/mouse output to the client over the network connection. It works like a software-based KVM switch (but doesn't do the video).

It even supports copy/paste between systems! And when my screen-saver kicks in on Windows, my Linux box does the same...and they both wake up when I touch the mouse.

It is definitely better than a desktop filled with keyboards and mice for multiple systems.

And best of all, Synergy is free!

Highly recommended! Give it a try!

January 8, 2008

Windows PowerShell 2.0

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

Graphical PowerShell Script Output

Linux/Unix (and Mac since OS X) have always had much better shells than Windows. But that is about to change.

Windows PowerShell 2.0 looks very impressive. It should make the Linux/Mac/Unix world scramble to come up with something that matches the features of PowerShell 2.0.

The feature I'm most excited about is called the "Graphical PowerShell." It is pictured above and replaces the pathetic "Command Prompt"...

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You can see from the top picture that the Graphical PowerShell is broken into three parts.

  1. The top part is used to store scripts. It has syntax highlighting and debugging (set breakpoints).
  2. The middle section is output from the above scripts or from the interactive console.
  3. The bottom section is what most shells look like. This is where you can interactively type in commands.

One of the things that drove me *nuts* about Windows' Command Prompt was that you could not select a multi-line command. Selection worked in screen space, which is terrible!

For example, below I wrote a command that I want to copy. Because selection is in screen space, the best I can select is 'more *.cpp | find' instead of the whole command 'more *.cpp | find "include"'.

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Graphical PowerShell doesn't have this problem. You can select by line now (finally!)...

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You can also resize the window which doesn't work very well with Command Prompt.

The PowerShell command language itself is well thought out and very consistent. All commands are made up of verb-noun pairs like Set-Location, Copy-Item, Write-Output, etc. (with aliases that work as shortcuts). It looks to be very competitive with all the other shells out there in terms of shell features.

Passing data between commands in Unix/Mac/Linux involves sending text from one to command to another (like "more junk.txt | grep lenihan"). PowerShell passes *objects* between commands.

This article shows a quick example of the power of passing objects instead of just text. A list of directories is passed to a move command. If this were done with text, the text would need to be formatted in such a way that the move command would recognized the text as file names (like removing the date information). PowerShell already knows what type an object is so you can skip any of this formatting! Very nice!

PowerShell 1.0 is out now. It still uses the old Command Prompt for input/output. The Graphical PowerShell (replacement for Command Prompt) is part of PowerShell 2.0, which is available in alpha right now.

I can't wait for PowerShell to replace the Command Prompt in Windows!

January 6, 2008

Windows Mobile 7

Filed under Gadgets, Software

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This blog apparently got access to some internal documents detailing the next version of Windows Mobile. In short, it is a pretty dramatic UI makeover designed to compete with the iPhone. WM7 is scheduled for 2009.

November 25, 2007

Windows Live Writer 1.0

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

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I've been using Windows Live Writer for publishing blog posts for over a year now. It has been beta software...until now. You can get the 1.0 release version here.

Highly recommended!

November 20, 2007

Crayon Physics

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I love natural user interfaces like this...very cool.


October 19, 2007

User Interfaces (UI)

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I love studying well done/efficient UI's. Here are some great articles on UI I recently read:

September 23, 2007

New Version of Windows Live Writer

Filed under Blogging, Software

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A new version of Windows Live Writer is out. It is Beta 3, the last beta before the final release.

If you are blogging...get this software! It makes everything *much* easier.

New in this version...

  • Insert videos using new 'Insert Video' dialog

  • Upload images to Picasaweb when publishing to your Blogger blog

  • Publish XHTML-style markup

  • Use Writer in 28 additional languages

  • Print your posts

  • Justify-align post text

  • Better image handling (fewer blurry images)

  • Resolved installation issues from last release

  • Many other bug fixes and enhancements

Download it here.

September 19, 2007

Vista Gem #5

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

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Just learned about this one today.

Windows Vista supports both hard links and symbolic links. The command line option to do this is called "mklink." It doesn't appear that the GUI (explorer) supports creating symbolic/hard links. Once they are created, the GUI can modify and delete the symbolic/hard links.

A symbolic/hard link is similar to a Windows shortcut, but more powerful. A symbolic/hard link acts just like the file/directory it points to. If you are writing an application that will open a file, you don't a have to do anything special to read a symbolic/hard link...just read the file normally. A shortcut is just a text file with information about the file/directory it points to. In Windows, shortcuts work effectively as symbolic links. From the command line, they don't.

For example, you have a text file named "happy.txt" with a shortcut called "happy.txt - Shortcut.lnk" If you double-click on the shortcut, Windows will open happy.txt as you would expect. From the command line, type "more happy.txt - Shortcut.lnk" and you will see the contents of the shortcut and not the contents of original file happy.txt. If you tried the same thing with a hard/symbolic link, you would get the contents of happy.txt in each case.

Probably not that interesting to Windows users, but *very* interesting to people bringing software over from the UNIX world where symbolic/hard links are commonly used. Now that it is a standard part of the console on Windows, I would expect more people (especially software developers) to start using it.

This article has a couple of nice pictures that describes the difference between hard links and symbolic links. Basically, a hard link points directly at the data and a symbolic link points at the filename that points at the data. It's a subtle difference. This website does a nice job of comparing the two types of links. A symbolic link can exist when the data has been removed, a hard link can't. You can use a symbolic link on your hard drive to point to a file on your USB flash drive. If you remove the USB flash drive, the symbolic link will point to nothing until you return the USB flash drive. You can't make a hard link from your hard drive to a USB flash drive.

Windows has actually had hard link support since Windows 2000, but it was only available through an API call (CreateHardLink), had no command line option, and it only worked on NTFS. Back in 2000, most systems used FAT, so hard links were of little value.

September 9, 2007

Notepad Replacement

Filed under Computers, Programming, Reviews, Software

I spend much of my time editing text in Visual Studio. I love their text editor...but Visual Studio is too big to load just to edit an occasional text file. For that, I use Notepad or Wordpad.

I ran into an issue where I needed to look at a specific line number in a text file. Visual Studio lets you jump to a line number, but Notepad/Wordpad don't.

I could load Visual Studio and then jump to the line number...but I decided to look for a Notepad replacement...and I found a great one!

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It's called Notepad++. It is *exactly* what I was looking for...a free editor that gives you all the functionality of Visual Studio in a text editor that loads very quickly.

Things that I like about Notepad++:

  • Line numbers/go to line number
  • Free
  • Quick to load
  • Bookmarks
  • Ctrl-F3 Search (searches for the word under the cursor without opening a dialog box)
  • Uses the same keyboard shortcuts that Visual Studio uses
  • Regular Expression Searches
  • Tabbed Document Interface
  • Syntax highlighting for C++, HTML, XML, Python, Lua, JavaScript, C# (and many others)
  • Support for Windows, UNIX, and Mac line ending
  • Macro recording/playback
  • Plug-in Support
  • Spell Check
  • Alt-Left Mouse Button select (great for selecting a single column of text)

You can download Notepad++ (npp) here. I used npp.4.2.2.Installer.exe.

Highly recommended!

July 26, 2007

How To Destroy Your Music Collection

Filed under Reviews, Software, WTF

Brought to you by Windows Media Player 11 (WMP).

I started trying to rip some CD's I recently purchased. When I put the CD in, it was labeled as "Unknown Album". If I right-clicked on the blank CD album art, I had the option of "Find Album Info". I tried this option out and it worked as expected...it found the correct album. Clicking "Finish" adds all the album information to the CD....except my CD information stayed blank.

I tried doing this using my guest account and it worked right: I inserted the CD and it immediately had the right song names, album name, artist, album art, etc.

I couldn't find any help online. I did find a solution when I was trying to find where WMP was attempting to store the CD information. I found (on Vista) that WMP stores information in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player. I moved this folder to "Media Player.old" and tried again and everything worked as expected.

WMP does a great job of getting CD information. It also has the same feature for files in your music library. In WMP, if you right-click on an album in your music library, you have the option to "Find Album Info." Even though the album had all the information correct that I care about, I thought it would be interesting to see if it filled in all the missing pieces.

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It asked me how I wanted to search, so I gave it the artist name ".38 Special."

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Next it gave me a list of albums by .38 Special and I picked the correct one. The final screen shows you all the details of the album it found. Just click "Finish" and your information will be up to date...right?

WRONG! DON'T PRESS "FINISH"!!!

If you do, WMP will start searching your music library for music files that are about the right size to match the music file sizes for the songs on the album (Special Forces). I actually only had one song from that album (which it found correctly), but after I was done I had 6 other songs. It took a few Bee Gees songs, a Banannarama song, a .38 Special song from another album, and a Father MC song and relabeled them as songs from "Special Forces." It changed...

  • File name was changed from the correct "artist-song" format to a combination of "38 Special" and an incorrect 38 Special song
  • File location...moved the files from their correct "artist/album" folder to the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder
  • File information...artist, album, song name, etc. were all overwritten with the wrong info

I can understand software getting this wrong, it is not a perfect science. But *if* there is a chance it is going to do the wrong thing, shouldn't it show me it's proposed changes and allow me to decide if I want my beloved music collection mutilated?!?!?!?!?!

Also, I figured it would limit its search to just the album folder that I did "Find Album Info" for, but it looks like my entire music collection was fair game. That is scary! Getting those songs labeled correctly took a lot of time...but just a fraction of a second for WMP to turn it to garbage.

Luckily, I have my system backed up and I just deleted the bad files and restored them from the backup. I use Vista's excellent "Backup and Restore Center" and an external hard drive to back up changes to my system daily.

So everything is back to normal...or so I thought.

I had my Bee Gees folder open to verify the files were replaced correctly by the restore. I went on to doing something else when I noticed one by one the Bee Gees songs disappeared! Where did they go?

They went right back in the "38 Special/Special Forces" folder...and all their information was again changed back to a 38 Special information.

WTF? How did that happen?

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It turns out that WMP stores the album information it used to update files...in case a file needs to be "fixed" again. 

To get WMP to stop changing file names, locations, and song information, I had to disable a few options. These are the options to *avoid*:

    1. "Overwrite all media information"
    2. "Rename music files using rip music settings"
    3. "Rearrange music in rip music folder, using rip music settings"

I figured I was safe, since I used "Only add missing information" with #2 and #3 (I never had #1 on). But I definitely had my information overwritten even though #1 was off!

I'm not sure if it is necessary, but I'd recommend deleting the WMP data folder (C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Media Player) if you ever use "Find Album Info" or "Update Album Info" so it won't even think about renaming your files ever again.

After disabling those options, erasing WMP's memory, and restoring my old music files again...all is well.

Lesson learned:

NEVER USE THE "FIND ALBUM INFO" OR "UPDATE ALBUM INFO" IN WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER!

July 7, 2007

Sleep

Filed under Computers, Software

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We can't have our computers wasting power 24/7...so we should let them sleep when not in use. But sometimes we'd like them to backup our data when we are not using them. What is a green-consumer to do?

Follow these instructions and your computer can sleep whenever you aren't using it *and* will wake-up to do a backup. This is for Windows Vista only.

 

July 4, 2007

Microsoft Research: Shift

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

This is cool. Shift lets you use your finger on a touch screen with pinpoint accuracy. Using Shift, selecting an individual pixel is easy.

June 21, 2007

Seadragon and Photosynth

Filed under Computers, Software

Thanks to my main man E-Dog for keeping me edumacated. This is a very inspiring video...it gives you some ideas about the new directions computers are headed. I love this kind of stuff!

I had some issues with the video playing from its source site, so I switched to the youtube version.

June 16, 2007

Vista Gem #4

Filed under Computers, Software

I was having some problems with Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 locking up under Windows Vista. I tried reinstalling, but it didn't help. I tried various compatibility modes and that didn't help. After running out of options, I decided to just start over and do a clean install of Vista and then install Premiere Pro.

Unfortunately, that didn't help either. Further investigation revealed that Adobe knows that Premiere Pro 2.0 does not work with Vista and has no plans to fix it. The follow on to 2.0, CS3, will work on Vista. I guess I have to upgrade to CS3. :(

BUT...along the way I noticed something different about installing Windows on top of Windows. Previous to Vista, if you did a clean install on a system that already has Windows installed, you had to pick a different folder name for the OS because "C:\Windows" is already used by your previous install.

Then when you pick your user name, Windows can't create a folder (user profile) with the same name as the user because the old one already exists. So instead of using "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave", behind the scenes, Windows would create "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave.COMPUTERNAME." I *hated* my stuff stored in "Dave.COMPUTERNAME" as opposed to just "Dave."

Vista works differently. When I did my clean install, my Windows directory was moved to Windows.old, so the new install went in "C:\Windows." The user profiles were also moved under Windows.old, so my new user profile is the same as the old one..."Dave." Nice! I like this much better!

Another change related to user profiles is the path. Instead of "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave", Vista uses "C:\Users\Dave". That is much better because...

  • More concise
  • Less letters to type
  • No spaces...so no need to use quotes around a path name if you are accessing files without spaces in them (mainly a command line issue)
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June 15, 2007

New Window Live Writer Beta

Filed under Blogging, Software, Web

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I have been using the beta version of Windows Live Writer to write my blog posts for a while now. I love it. A new beta recently arrived with a few new features:

  • Support for tables
  • Spell checking as you type
  • Format text and hyperlinks via right click menu

Get it here.

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May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surface

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

This is amazing (thanks for the heads-up TreyS). Surface is a new "table computer" that uses touch instead of a keyboard or mouse. You really need to see it in action to appreciate it. The Surface homepage has several videos that are all worth checking out.

The part I'm most interested in is the idea of a computer that multiple people can work on at the same time. I can see where a family could sit around their Surface table and plan a trip...one person could map out the activities for the trip while another books the flight at the same time. Or you could play Monopoly or any other board game, where the board is virtual, but the pieces are real. Or work on a photo album together.

Today, computers tend to isolate us from other people (not counting virtual people). I see this as a platform that will bring people together to collaborate.

It will be interesting to see the new applications created for this platform. Will this be a success or a failure? I hope it is the former! I'll be following this closely. Microsoft is going to demo this at SIGGRAPH, so I'll check it out then.

 

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May 29, 2007

Google Street View

Filed under Software, Web

Google Maps added a *very* cool new feature...Street View. Instead of the overhead view you normally get with mapping software, you get the view from the street. You can rotate 360 degrees and move forward or backward along the streets. You can zoom in quite a bit in Street View...the detail is amazing. You can see some of my co-workers if you zoom in on the Presidio sign above.

 

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May 17, 2007

Get Visual Studio 2005 Free

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I saw this today and thought I'd pass it on. Microsoft is doing a special where they are giving away Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition for free (normally $299). The catch? You have to watch a couple of Visual Basic videos. Click here to learn more about it.

My brother did a similar setup to get Microsoft Office 2007 for free, so I know this works and is not a trick.

Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition comes with C++, C#, Visual Basic, and J#. Here is how the Standard Edition differs from other versions of Visual Studio.

I use Visual Studio 2005 at work and at home...highly recommended!

They are only giving away a limited number of the free Visual Studio 2005, so get it while you can.

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May 15, 2007

Any game companies in this town?

Filed under Programming, Software, Video Games, Web

Gamedevmap.com helps answer this question. Just click a red dot on the map to get a list of game companies that call that area home. The site claims it stays current.

I love information like this. I just wish there was the same thing for every work discipline. Very helpful!

 

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May 13, 2007

Vista Gem #3

Filed under Computers, Software

First, some background.

I wanted a graphics card that would let me play around with DirectX 10 programming *and* be quiet (i.e. no fans). I picked up a Gigabyte GV-NX86T256D from Newegg.com for $150, which comes with the new Nvidia 8600 chip.

I downloaded Nvidia's SDK 10, which features demos and sample code for DirectX 10. While playing with one of the demos, the graphics driver crashed.

In Windows XP, a graphics driver crash would show a blue screen and you have to reboot and lose all your work you had loaded.

Vista works differently. When a graphics driver crashes, you get a pop-up message that says "Display driver stopped responding and has recovered." Then you continue as if nothing happened. No reboot!

In the case of the above screen shot, the application that caused the graphic driver to die ("Smoke") no longer works. I'm wondering if you could write your graphics application in such a way that it could survive a driver crash. It seems like you should be able to, but I haven't seen it in practice yet. If you could, then people wouldn't lose their work because of buggy graphics drivers.

Bugs in graphics drivers are the main reason Windows XP would blue screen. With Vista, graphics drivers won't be able to do that anymore.

For more details on the new Vista graphics driver model WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model), see this article

 

April 12, 2007

Vista Gem #2

Filed under Computers, Software

I found another nice feature in Windows Vista...the Snipping Tool! The Snipping Tool is a screen capturing tool. You can find the Snipping Tool at Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Snipping Tool.

In the past, I used the "Print Screen/SysRq" key to copy the screen to the clipboard and then paste the clipboard into a paint program in order to save it as an image. Alt-Print Screen/SysRq will capture just the window with focus to the clipboard.

These keystrokes still work, but the Snipping Tool is much better and faster.

You have 4 options for screen capture:

  1. Free-Form Snip - Captures a lasso selection
  2. Full Screen - Captures the entire screen
  3. Window - Captures a Window
  4. Rectangular Snip - Captures a rectangular selection

Once you have your capture, then the Snipping Tool lets you write on your capture with a yellow highlighter or various pens.

You can save your capture as JPEG, PNG, GIF, or MHT. Interestingly, Microsoft's own BMP image format is not included.

I hadn't heard of MHT before. It is an HTML web page with the data stored *in* the file itself, instead of a pointer to the location where the data is stored. So you should be able to copy a MHT file with an embedded image to a server and open it with a web browser and everything will work...no need to copy an HTML file *and* the JPEG file it points to (which is what I do now).

 

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April 10, 2007

Vista Gem

Filed under Computers, Software

I got a new Dell PC with Windows Vista last week. While checking Vista out, I found a feature I haven't heard about before that is pretty slick if you are a GUI fan (and honestly, who isn't?).

The feature is called "Use check boxes to select items." It is off by default. To turn it on, go to Start -> Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Folder Options -> View and check "Use check boxes to select items."

What this option does is allow you to select multiple items with the mouse, but without using the Ctrl key.

You can see in the explorer window above that I selected three files by clicking the check boxes in the upper-left corner of each icon.

The check boxes are only visible if....

  1. A file is selected (check box is checked)
  2. The mouse is on top of an unselected file (check box is clear)

For non-icon explorer views (like details view), the check box appears at the start (far left) of the row.

You'll also notice a check box in the upper-left by the "Name" column. This is a toggle between select all and select none.

This is certainly subtle, but it is interesting for a couple of reasons.

  • Discoverability. A simple change to the UI has made it so new users can select multiple files without learning about Ctrl-click multiple select or Ctrl-A for select all. It is highly unlikely that a new user would Ctrl-click or use Ctrl-A without somebody explaining it to them. With the check box method, new users will probably figure it out on their own.
  • There is no need to use the keyboard to select multiple files.

I turned it on yesterday and I don't see any reason why I would turn it off.

 

April 7, 2007

Windows Live Writer (Beta)

Filed under Blogging, Computers, Reviews, Software, Web

I had a bad experience with Word 2007 as a blog editor.

During the process of setting up Word to talk to Movable Type, I learned that I needed to configure Movable Type to allow publishing via external programs.

Ever since I upgraded my version of Movable Type from 3.2 to 3.34, I lost my ability to use Windows Live Writer (WLW). I went back to the old, web-based basic HTML editor for posting. It was painful, but it worked.

I decided to try WLW again to see if it would start working after my modified Movable Type to support external publishing programs...and it did!

So I'm back to using WLW again and it makes me happy!

I noticed that they have added several plug-ins since I last used WLW, which may be worth trying out.

What I like about WLW:

  • Support for tagging
  • Support for categories
  • Resize images to fit a particular blog width
  • Link to original, full size photo
  • Automagically uploads, resizes pictures
  • Spell checker
  • Very fast/light application
  • Free!
  • WYSIWYG...uses the stylesheet from your blog you know what you post will look like before you publish it.

I did notice that if I try to link to a really big photo (like a 1920x1200 desktop), WLW will fail to post to the server with a error message. Shrinking the image size fixed the problem. This is beta software...hopefully this problem will be fixed!

Blogging in Word 2007

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

My brother was nice enough to hook me up with a free version of Office Pro 2007, which normally costs $499. The free offer from Microsoft is over now.

One of the first things I wanted to try out was Word's new blogging support.

 

What I like:

  • Spell checking
  • Easily create bulleted lists by starting a line with an asterisk (*)
  • In the same fashion, create numbered bulleted lists by prefixing your lists with "1."
  • Add pictures to a post by pasting them into Word…it will automatically convert them to .png and upload them to the server…a big time saver!
  • Lots of nice picture formatting options

What I don't like:

  • Word supports adding categories to a blog post, but for some reason they don't get transferred to my blog.
  • Word supports tagging, but these tags are not included with the post.
  • Images are resized in inches, not pixels. I know my blog works with pictures that are 320 pixels wide, I don't know what that is in inches.
  • Does not have a way (that I could find) to link to the full size image automatically. I believe you have to manually upload the full size picture and then create a hyperlink to the full size picture. This is a deal breaker!

The poor support for image resizing and hyperlinking to full size pictures is enough for me to pass on Word 2007 as a blog editor for now. Hopefully Microsoft will address my concerns in a future release or service pack.

November 10, 2006

Windows Vista: Kills Viruses Dead.

Filed under Computers, Software

According to this article, Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin told a reporter that Vista's...

"new lockdown features are so capable and thorough that he was comfortable with his own seven-year-old son using Vista without antivirus software installed."

That is a pretty bold statement! At first I thought it was crazy, but now that I know about the "lockdown features," I'm very impressed with how Vista deals with viruses.

When you hear about security issues, more often than not the issue is related to a buffer overflow exploit. Basically, this means that software was designed to handle a maximum number of characters, but the exploit sends more than the expected. Once the character buffer is filled, the extra characters start to overwrite areas of memory that were not meant to change. The trick to this exploit is to tell the running program to start executing the data in the newly compromised areas of memory. This is how a malicious web page can take control of your system.

This article explains how to use the exploit. I would recommend that anybody doing software development read this to better understand the problem. I find that most people really don't understand how this works, and just continue making software that can be exploited. This problem is *everywhere*...hence the reason we have security updates on such a regular basis.

Vista has a new feature that could very well eliminate buffer overflow attacks. Using a technique called "Address Space Layout Randomization" (ASLR), Vista shuffles how software is loaded in memory. The Buffer Overflow exploit depends on specific software loaded at a specific location, so that it can jump to an area of memory that gives it the ability run other programs or commands. With ASLR, it is highly unlikely that an exploit will be able to find these locations.

I think this is an amazingly clever solution to a *really* bad problem. I don't have any real world data on how effective it is, but the theory is sound. If ALSR works as advertised, it won't eliminate all security issues, but it will significantly reduce the number we deal with today.

I still believe *ALL* computers should run anti-virus software, even if they have ASLR. How else will you know if your system is under attack unless it is checked against a continuously updated list.

I am planning on moving to Vista as soon as it is released (Jan 30th). There is a lot to like in this new release. Vista's ASLR alone may be worth the price of admission.

An interesting side note: Microsoft is constantly bashed for the security of their operating systems. As of this writing, Apple Macintosh and mainstream Linux distributions do not include ASLR. This means that Vista is more secure against buffer overflow exploits than OS X or Linux.

September 10, 2006

XNA

Filed under Programming, Reviews, Software, Xbox 360

XNA (which stands for "XNA is Not Acronymed") is a new moniker from Microsoft for tools to make video games for Windows and the Xbox 360. The tools are designed to make developing games easier and accessible to more people. This FAQ is helpful to understand what XNA is all about. The home page for XNA is here

About a week ago, Microsoft released a beta of the XNA Game Studio Express (GSE). I downloaded GSE this weekend to find out what it is about.

GSE appears to just be a plug-in to Visual C# Express (VCSE). Since GSE is a plug-in, it requires VCSE in order to install. After you install GSE and restart VCSE, everything looks the same. I had to do some digging to find out where exactly GSE "enhances" VCSE. I found 3 places:

  1. Documentation. The help system has tutorials, a programming guide, and reference for XNA.
  2. New XNA framework. This framework is built on top of the .NET framework. It adds the following libraries:
    • Application Model - game loop, how to pause/exit
    • Graphics - 2D, 3D
    • Math - vectors, matrices, collision detection
    • Input - read the mouse, keyboard, and Xbox 360 controller
    • Audio - associate sounds with events, like a gun shot when a player presses a button on the controller
    • Storage - generalizes where game data is read from and where game save data goes to so the same code will work on a 360 and a PC without modification
  3. Templates. When you start a project in VCSE (File->New Project...), you are given some choices about what type of project you want to create (e.g. Windows Application, Console Application, Empty Project, etc.). GSE adds three more options: Windows Game, Windows Library, and Spacewar Starter Kit. The Spacewar Starter Kit is a rewrite of the classic Spacewar game using XNA. All the code is available so you can see how an actual game is using the XNA framework.

I followed a tutorial in the help called "Your First XNA Game." Basically you just create a project based on the "Windows Game" template, add some code to the update and draw functions, and you have quite possibly the worst video game of all time. To see for yourself, download this and extract it to a folder and run "shadowtest.exe." Granted, the point of the exercise is not to make a game, but to show you how to get started making a game, which it does well. It took me about 10 minutes to go through the tutorial.

Final thoughts...

  • C# has a lot of buzz and is growing in importance in the game industry. I'm going to do my home programming projects in C# from now on.
  • .NET/XNA can/will be used for video games. If you asked me about .NET use for video games 2 years ago, I would have said it is too slow. That appears to be changing.
  • .NET/XNA development is more efficient than STL/OpenGL/OpenAL/etc. Instead of using many isolated libraries, .NET/XNA appears to be a single well organized library with a *ton* of functionality. STL has data types (like a list of strings) that OpenGL does not understand. In order for these libraries to inter-operate, the programmer is required to "massage" data to get it into the proper format. The incompatibilities in data types in .NET/XNA are largely removed since they are built on top of the same data types. Plus, all of the .NET/XNA library is documented in a consistent way, which lowers the learning curve.
  • 360 controller is the only controller supported by XNA. This makes sense since the idea is you use XNA to make games that work on both Windows and Xbox 360. It sucks to make games for a PC and not know what controller to target. Now Microsoft is saying the 360 controller *is* the game controller for the PC. This may be bad news for choice and input device manufacturers, but it is great news for PC game development and ease-of-use. XNA-based PC games will "just work" with a 360 controller.
  • XNA games will work on an Xbox (PowerPC-based) and a PC (x86-based) *without* recompiling. This is a side effect of using .NET. Just like a Java app can be "write once, run anywhere," same goes for .NET. 

There are several forums that discuss XNA. This one is about the XNA framework. This one is about the GSE. This is the parent page that lists forums for different game technologies. I've found a lot of good information browsing through these forums.

Another good place for XNA info is their blog.

XNA is a work in progress and they have a bunch of things coming. This is a technology that I'm going to be watching closely.

September 4, 2006

Back to School (or how I saved almost $9,000)

Filed under Animation, Maya, Software

I am officially a student again! I'm taking a 3D Animation class at El Centro College, which is just 2 blocks from my apartment.

Why am I going back to school? While I was at SIGGRAPH in Boston, I saw a bunch of high end software I'd really like to have...but it is *really* expensive. I talked with a company that had a booth at SIGGRAPH called JourneyEd. They said if I was a student, I could get the full versions of software at academic prices.

Two years ago I bought a 3D animation tool, Maya 6.0 Complete. It cost me $2,000. Maya has a *very* poor upgrade policy. When Maya 7.0 came out last year, it would have cost me around $1,500 to upgrade! No thanks.

So now Maya 8.0 is out. There are two versions: Complete for $2,000 or Unlimited for $8,000. Academic prices are a *bit* lower: Complete for $289 or Unlimited for $399. I decided to "splurge" and go with Unlimited. Being a student saved me $7,600 off Maya!

I've also been looking at moving to Adobe PhotoShop. Corel's Paint Shop Pro has served me well, but it isn't the industry standard like PhotoShop is. I was also interested in moving from Ulead's Media Studio Pro to Adobe's Premier Pro. If you are going to get both software packages, it is much cheaper to get the Adobe Production Studio Premium, which comes with a bunch of interesting Adobe applications:

  • PhotoShop (image editing)
  • Premier Pro (video editing)
  • Illustrator (vector editing)
  • Audition (sound editing)
  • After Effects (video compositing)
  • Encore DVD (DVD authoring)

The regular price for Adobe Production Studio Premium is $1,700, but students can get it at JourneyEd for $649. That is a saving of $1000.

All told, I saved $8,600! The cost to be a student, after my company kicks in some dough, is $25!

I registered and got my student ID in the same visit to El Centro. As soon as I got my ID, I ran home and placed an order for the software. I wanted the software to get here quick so I paid for next day shipping...which turned out to be really stupid since JourneyEd is located in Dallas. Oh well. The software arrived in 5 days (including a weekend).

To prove I was a student, I just sent JourneyEd a picture of my ID. They said I am eligible for student discounts for one year with my ID! I may have to get Microsoft's Visual Studio Pro 2005 next!

Now that I have my software, I could drop out. But I am not going to. I'm going to stick with my 3D animation class. It's fun! I'm self-taught in 3D animation, so it is likely that I will pick up some things in the class. The class is small...just me a girl. The class is using Apple Macs. The last time I used a Mac, they were black and white (and I'm not talking about case colors). So this is good environment for me to learn about how Mac OS X works. We are using Newtek's Lightwave, which I have never used.

August 15, 2006

Blog Posting

Filed under Blogging, Reviews, Software

I normally use Movable Type's default web browser interface for posting. It is very simple...just a text field that takes HTML tags.

Posting via tags is a good skill to have. Many web sites (like MySpace) allow you to use HTML tags to spruce up a comment or an email. If it wasn't for my posts on MT, I probably wouldn't have the HTML tags memorized like I do now.

That said, posting via HTML tags is tedious...and I think I may have found my new favorite way to post to my blog.

Microsoft recently released a free beta of a blog posting program called "Windows Live Writer."

Writer is like a specialized version of Word designed for blogging. It loads the stylesheet from your blog so your new posts have the same look as when the post is published on your blog.

Since Writer runs locally on your computer, it is very fast and responsive. It has a nice spell checker, which I absolutely depend on. You can easily add photos and Writer will automatically upload them when you are finished and ready to publish to your blog.

Writer has an SDK so more features will (hopefully) be created. There is already a Flickr plugin for Writer to make integrating photos from Flickr into a blog easier.

Even though this software is beta, it is very refined and usable. I did notice a bug once with a photo showing up in the background where it could not be deleted. I modified the view a couple of times (from normal to web layout) and the background photo disappeared on its own.

I started using Writer with my previous post, and plan on using it going forward.

August 13, 2006

Must-Have Utility: FinePrint

Filed under Reviews, Software

This is a utility that I can't live without. It is called FinePrint. FinePrint is a "virtual printer." You setup FinePrint as your default printer and then FinePrint will send the documents to your real printer.

Probably the best reason to use FinePrint is you get a print preview before you print. Some applications have a print preview option, but most don't. With FinePrint, you *always* get a print preview. The print preview can save a lot of wasted paper by showing you if a document is going to fit on a page or if it is going to print too much or too little information.

Double-Sided printing! FinePrint will turn *any* printer into a double sided printer. If your printer doesn't come with support for double-sided printing, FinePrint will print one side and then ask you to flip the pages and reinsert them into the printer to get printing on both sides.

Print multiple pages on a single sheet. FinePrint has options for 1, 2, 4, and 8 pages on a single printed sheet. Add double-sided printing and you can turn 16 pages into a single sheet of paper.

A trial version is available for free that prints a small banner on each page. FinePrint costs $49.95. I've used this for about 3 years and depend on it. Highly recommended.

June 28, 2006

The Microsoft PC

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software, Xbox 360

Here is an article about the new Microsoft 22 inch wide-screen LCD. This monitor should be release to go with Windows Vista (probably early next year) and is designed to support some of the new functionality in the OS.

There are two big features I've heard of in Vista that this monitor will probably support:

  • High DPI Support - Should give you a better looking display using more densely packed pixels.
  • Support for HDCP - HD Movies from HD-DVD may require monitors with HDCP in order to play at their highest resolution. Vista is probably going to be the first OS to support playback of HD DVD's that require HDCP.

I knew I'd need to upgrade my monitor to get the best Vista experience. If the monitor is any good, I'll probably get it when it comes out.

There has been a clear line between Microsoft and PC companies like Dell and HP: Microsoft does the software (Windows, Office, etc.) and Dell/HP make the hardware. But with this announcement, Microsoft makes all the hardware components necessary for a full computer: monitor, mouse, keyboard and CPU (Xbox 360). Watch for this, the Xbox 360 could be a very interesting competitor to the PC if Microsoft wants a bigger chunk of the pie. All they need to do is port Office and Internet Explorer to Xbox 360 and you have a very slick PC. And since it is not open like a PC (you can't get Xbox 360 software from just anybody...only from Microsoft), it doesn't have the security problems that you find in Windows, Mac, and Linux (no need to run a virus checker on Xbox 360).

May 11, 2006

Web Page Icons

Filed under Blogging, Software

You'll notice that most established web sites have an icon. Icons for web pages are known as "favicon's". For example, checkout Yahoo's red "Y!" icon. The icon usually shows up to the left of the web address in your web browser. Favicon's are used in your web browser's favorites list. It is also used as the icon on your desktop if you right-click a web page and choose "Create Shortcut".

To create your own favicon, just place an icon named "favicon.ico" in the root directory of your web site. The Wikipedia article link above mentions a way to put your icon in a different location.

To create my favicon, I used a program called IconXP. This is a really well done program that is loaded with features. Some of the features that really stand out:

  • Screen capturing which allows you to easily paint an icon in another package bring it into IconXP
  • Test your icon quickly on top of various backgrounds. This helps ensure your icon is easily recognizable on different color backgrounds (black, white, and a custom color). It also shows you which pixels will shine through the transparent parts of your icon.
  • Supports custom resolutions up to 3000x3000
  • Supports monochrome, 16 color, 256 color, and 16 million color icons
  • Support for 8-bit alpha transparency (256 levels of transparency instead of just transparent/not transparent)
  • Create icons of various formats from another icon. For example, you can create a 64x64, 16 million color icon and then let IconXP generate a 16x16, 256 color and 32x32, 16 color icon from the original icon.
  • Dither painting! This is a nice feature. When working with 16 colors, you can use a technique called "dithering" to make it look like you have more colors.

An icon file can support multiple representations of an icon. If you don't create the format an application is looking for, it will try to create the one it wants from one of the existing formats. For Windows XP, IconXP suggests an icon file support the following formats:

  • 48x48, 16 colors
  • 32x32, 16 colors
  • 16x16, 16 colors
  • 48x48, 256 colors
  • 32x32, 256 colors
  • 16x16, 256 colors
  • 48x48, 16 million colors, 256 levels of transparency
  • 32x32, 16 million colors, 256 levels of transparency
  • 16x16, 16 million colors, 256 levels of transparency

For my favicon, I used the 9 formats suggested by IconXP. It seems to work well. I did find one issue, though. I noticed that My Yahoo! doesn't work with favicons correctly when it draws the favicon next to web site feeds I'm tracking. It uses the 48x48, 16 color format to generate a 16x16, 16 color icon. This is probably a bug in their software since I am providing the format it is auto-generating. The problem is that my 48x48, 16 color down-sampled to a 16x16, 16 color didn't look very good. To fix this, I took my 16x16, 16 color icon and had IconXP create the 48x48, 16 color icon from it. That way, when Yahoo down-samples my 48x48, 16 color icon, it gives me the correct looking 16x16, 16 color icon. My 48x48, 16 color icon does not look as good anymore, but that is not a format that will be used much, so it is probably OK.

So now I have a favicon for my site. Next up, a cool looking banner! The favicon is a hint of what my banner will be, although I doubt anyone will be able to guess what it is. Yes, my favicon is a stylized "D"...but from where?

May 10, 2006

Highlighting Today in Outlook

Filed under Software

We recently switched to Outlook at work. I am also using Outlook for my home email/calendar/contacts. While I was trying to get it configured just right, I noticed something annoying. In the calendar, today's date is not highlighted. I found in the month view, today's date is highlighted, but not the 5 day/7 day view. I searched for an option to fix this without any success. Notice in the picture above how today's date (with the red circle) looks just like all the other days. Mouse over the image to see how it *should* look with today's date highlighted. I found it hard to believe an application as sophisticated and as established as Outlook would not highlight today's date for you.

My brother found the solution! It has to do with what "style" you are using to draw your windows (Start->Control Panel->Appearance and Themes->Display->Appearance->Windows and Buttons). I never would have guessed that! I found two styles that both have the problem with highlighting today's date: Windows Classic Style (which Windows 2000 uses), and this style I downloaded so I could get the Windows Media Center "Royale" Theme.

I switched my home system back to the original Windows XP style and the highlighting problem was fixed. My work PC runs Windows 2000, so I don't think there is a solution for it. If you know of one, please add a comment.

May 6, 2006

Error Deleting File or Folder

Filed under Reviews, Software

You have probably gotten this dialog box at some point when you were trying to delete or move files. If an application locks a file when it opens it, the file cannot be deleted or moved. Unfortunately, Windows does not tell you which application has the file locked. Sometimes it is obvious why a file is locked, but often times it is not. One technique I've tried is to keep closing applications until the file can be deleted. This is a painful way to do it and it doesn't always work. I have found that the OS itself sometimes locks a file, thus the only way to unlock the file is to logout and then log back in.

I found a better way! This tool is the answer! It is called Unlocker. It adds an "Unlocker" option to the right click menu for a file. It will tell you what application is locking the file and let you unlock it. Works great and it is free!

April 29, 2006

Napoleon Dynamite and Bill Gates

Filed under Funny, Software, Video

This is a video that was shown at the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference (PDC) in LA in 2005. It features Napoleon Dynamite and Bill Gates. Bill Gates has the acting-like-a-dork thing down! You have to give him credit for trying. I especially like Napoleon's ideas for how to improve Microsoft Bob.

April 23, 2006

Character Animation

Filed under 3D, Animation, Maya, Reviews, Software, Video

Endorphin

I played with a very cool application this weekend. It is called Endorphin by a company called Natural Motion. Endorphin is used to generate motion for 3D character animation.

Trying to animate a character by hand (using a package such as Maya) is tedious and likely will not capture all the subtleties of motion. An alternative to animating by hand is motion capture or mocap. Mocap requires a studio with expensive equipment that records the location of positions on actors bodies. This motion data is applied to 3D characters so they behave just like the real life actors.

Endorphin is a new twist on character animation. It uses a different approach. To capture motion, you place a "dummy" into your 3D scene. This dummy has highly tweak-able "behaviors" that make it react in a very convincing fashion. Once your scene is setup, you press the "simulate" button to calculate what will happen. Simulations run in real time, so feedback is very quick.

Here is an example I threw together in about 5 minutes. It is very simple. I applied a force to the chest of the dummy to simulate a gunshot. I also applied a behavior to the dummy called "stagger" that is responsible for how the dummy reacts to the gunshot. Then I pressed play to see what happens.

Here is a more complex example. This was also very easy to setup...probably about 10 minutes. I started by having the dummy jump by giving the dummy a jump behavior. I tweaked the jump behavior until the dummy's hands were close to the pole. Then I added a constraint that locked the dummy's hands on the pole. The hand constraint causes the dummy to rock back and forth on the pole. I added another behavior called "legs kick" that adds a bit more life to how the dummy moves his legs move back and forth. Then I undo the constraint to let the dummy fall to his death. It is really fun killing dummies.

The next thing I tried was posing a character. For example, how do you position a character so that it looks like they are sitting in a chair? With Endorphin, it is very easy. Since the dummy reacts like a real human, you just place him in the seat. His body will collide with the chair (not go through it) until he is sitting. And since the dummy understands how humans move, the resting position of the dummy in the chair is very believable. For example, if you try to place the dummy's arm on the arm rest, the rest of the body will react appropriately without letting you create an arm position that a human cannot possibly have. Positioning a character in Endorphin is very easy and a huge time saver verses doing it by hand.

Several big name video games are using Endorphin for their character animation. The new Indiana Jones video game is one example coming out in 2007. Namco's Tekken 5 also used Endorphin for generating the animations of two players fighting each other.

Endorphin is not cheap. The full version costs $9,495 plus 12 months of maintenance for $2,395. If you can't afford to buy their software, you can rent it for $1,195 a month. If you want to use this app for non-commercial purposes, you can get the student version for $995.

I used the free trial version this weekend. The only difference between the free version and the full version is what you can export. The full version will let you export data (via FBX file format, for example) that can be read by an animation package like Maya. You can also export movie clips. The trial version will only export movie clips.

Since you can do all your work in the free trial version, it may be cheaper to get your scenes setup in the trial version and then rent the software for a month in order to get the motion data out. I'm not sure if their license allows you to do this, so I'd check with Natural Motion first.

Natural Motion has several very impressive video clips on their website that show off much more complex examples. Check them out here.

Final thoughts...very fun program to play with. When I do character animation in the future, I will certainly consider Endorphin as the fastest/easiest/cheapest way to get good looking character motion data. Highly recommended.

April 18, 2006

WHEE!!!

Filed under Funny, Software, Video

The more I watch this, the more I laugh. This video is a battle of the web browser icons: Microsoft's Internet Explorer vs. Netscape's Navigator vs. Apple's Safari vs. Mozilla's Firefox.

I know this is supposed to make Internet Explorer look bad...but I think it makes IE look like the most fun out of the group. I'd love to add a happy face to IE's icon that yells "WHEE!!!" every time I open a new page.

See this entry for my thoughts on the best web browser.

Thanks to my bro Sean for pointing this out.

February 18, 2006

Best Web Browser

Filed under Reviews, Software

My favorite web browser is Internet Explorer (IE). Why? It is the most compatible web browser out there. And since it is bundled with Windows, it is very likely that it will be on any computer you use.
 
For the web pages I visit, IE always works. I like it when things just work. Since IE has the largest market share, it is highly likely that most web pages are tested to work with IE.
 
However, IE does lack in some features that other web browsers have. The most noticeable is “tabbed browsing.” On my Linux box at work, I use Firefox (no IE for Linux…surprise!) and really like its tabbed browsing interface. I open 10+ web pages at any one time, and using a separate window for each can get unwieldy. Also, it is nice to use the middle mouse button to click on links and let them load in the background in a tab while you continue to browse the current page. When you are done, you can move on to the other tabs that were loading in the background…no need to wait on web pages loading!
 
IE 7 will have tabbed browsing. Actually, IE 7 will have better tab browsing than Firefox. Microsoft’s new take on tabbed browsing is called “quick tabs.” With quick tabs, you can see mini versions of all your open web pages, all on a single page. From quick tabs, you can see which pages have loaded (or have loaded enough to be usable) and pick which one you want to view or close. I can’t wait to try out this feature…I’m sure I will use it daily. Read more about the current state of IE 7 Beta 2 here.
 
Unfortunately, IE 7 is not out yet. It is planned for the second half of 2006 (it will also be a part of the next version of Windows, Windows Vista). So no tab browsing for the current IE…or is there?
 
I’ve found two ways to add tab browsing to IE. One is to use MSN’s toolbar. This review didn’t make me want to run out and try it. The review says the performance is slow and integration seems more like and afterthought. To try it out for yourself (it is free), get it here.
 
 
The other way to get tabbed browsing in IE is to use Avant Browser. Avant uses a different approach than MSN’s toolbar. Avant wrote their own web browser. But, Avant uses the IE rendering engine, so the net result is web pages look the same in Avant as they do in IE.
 
The tabbed browsing works just like Firefox. I love it! I would recommend Avant just for the tabbed browsing, but it also has a couple other nice features that I’ll use:
  • Flash animation blocker. I found that some of the advertisements Yahoo puts on my home page are of the flash animation variety. I didn’t worry about it until some of the animations sucked up 100% of my CPU and slowed everything down…especially loading my home page. With the flash animation blocker, this is not a problem any more. Plus, it is easy to turn back on if you do want to watch an animation, just go to the Tools menu and uncheck “Disable Flash Animations.”
  • Ad blocker. Avant will filter out requests for advertisements so you don’t waste time loading ads…makes web pages load much quicker.
Avant is free, but they do take donations. I sent them $15 because I think they did a great job. You can download it here. Highly recommended!

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About Software

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to David's Blog in the Software category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

SIGGRAPH is the previous category.

Sports is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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