Archive for December 2007
Well it’s that time of year again – and I wanted to extend my ‘seasons greetings’ to everyone out there (and you families too). I wanted to also thank readers out there for all the fantastic support + feedback on this blog throughout the year – and while I’ve been unable to blog as much as I’d have liked this year (due to heavy work load) – user participation has kept it going. (and have had over 200,000 views since this time last year).
The big screen guy unfortunately doesn’t get to take break these holidays – but he still found some time to do a number with those elves – and showed that whilst there’s still lot’s of coding to do – he’s still got some swift moves.
As of this morning – Big Screen Photos v2 ‘Final Version’ (aka R10) was finished from a ‘functional’ point of view.
The current release has been fully tested with Vista 32bit, Vista 64bit and XBox360 Extenders - and works for both Widescreen (16:9, 16:10 etc) – and Letterbox displays (Widescreen is highly recommend for the optimal experience).
There’s still a couple of changes outstanding (before I will make it completely public) – namely :
- Refining the non-english languages for the new MultiLingual UI (the English is perfect – translations are still very incomplete in some areas and being ‘looked at’ still by some very helpful folk). The language files can easily/quickly inserted into the current version once these are ready (so no code changes to be had).
- testing on new ‘PIKA’ extender devices (no – I <sob> don’t have one yet – other than a XBox360 – and aren’t completely sure when one will arrive..). If you’ve been following some of the news about extenders – you’ll know that although they are ‘equal’ – some are ‘more equal’ in regards to how they handle things like Animations and 3D (and have a number of other differences from the XBox360). Just how ‘unequal’ they are remains to be seen – and I’ve included some new ‘device’ specific settings in the addins to try to handle this ‘in advance’ (and at least give XBox360 users the chance to make use of all the glorious 3D/Animation they have to offer – rather than ‘disabling it’ on all extenders).
How Much… When…
Ok – as you’ll see from a screen below – the full version of Big Screen Photos 2 will be a measly USD$24.95. how cheap is that..8). Unless any bugs are spotted in the next few days – those who actually want to purchase a copy (and don’t have a new extender – or want perfect multilingual translations) – will be able to do so in the next couple of weeks (and of course will be able to upgrade to any new versions which address these issues).
A 30 Day Trial period will be offered for those not yet wishing to make a purchase (and are at the ‘just checking it out – seeing if it fits their needs’ phase).
In the very short term – I will simply rig up the paypal system for payments – and in the next few weeks – will have a much better solution in place (with fully automated license activations etc – initially I may need to go in and flick a switch on my website after a purchase is made).
Can I have it now?…
Ok – one other thing of mention is that there is a whole new (sophisticated?) membership/registration system on my website (currently hidden from the public). So this is also being given a workout over next few days (before everything launches).
So if you’re willing to be a ‘crash test dummy’ - and want to help simultaneously test the online registration/signup process (which might be wobbly too!) – and get access to the final release of Photos 2 (and the other new v2 titles very soon) – please do the following – and I’ll hopefully send you an email in next couple of days with the info/links –
- Send me a direct email (if you have my email address) – or use the Spaces Messing system here to send me online mail.
- Please ensure you include a ‘valid reply email address’ (and the same one you want to sign up with) – so I don’t have to email you back on Spaces – and can recognize who you are when you’ve logged in (and maybe even give you some discounts, freebies if you’re well behaved).
Whats new for the final Release
I’ve added a bunch of new things (there was a huge amount of really great – ‘can you add feature x’ requests – which have fed into this) – and hope to continue to add some of the more complex requests in future (like local content support with full metadata/geotagging capabilities). So a big thanks to everyone who participated/contributed to this. (and hope to reward you with early access, discounts, freebies – well lets see what I can do there..)..
Some New features/fixes/enhancements that made it to the R10 release :
- Multi Lingual Support. Currently 5 languages are supported (rather poorly right at this moment … but will be substantially improved for release). Please keep in mind that I’m only "MonoLingual" – so this is a pretty challenging task – and would appreciate patience from end users (that’s if you don’t include ‘geek’ plus the 40 or more programming dialects I’ve picked up over the years).
Screenshots below show some different screens in different languages. The Keyboard has an alternate charset toggle (like a symbol mode) – which brings up all the latin/euro letters you could possibly need (until I add the Scandinavian languages that is).. Of course a lot of content on flickr is in English (titles, tags, descriptions won’t be translated of course) – but there’s still lots of multilingual content (apart from your own) that you can look at.
- 5 x Slideshow Effects. Horizontal/Vertical Slides, Fade, Continuous Zoom and 3d Flip. I need to actually make a video (or you need to try it out) to see what they look like. (pictured below is the options screen).
- Enhanced GeoBrowser and Digital Frames with 2D support (Extender Friendly). Via the new device settings menu – you can disable the 3d panning in the geobrowser (and it adjusts the UX to provide 2d zooming/scaling/panning instead).
The screenshots below show some of this in action. The Config page allows you to quickly set these parameters (those no way yet to auto detect this information as yet – but I’m still hunting..). The digital photo frames below is almost identical – except you don’t get the rotating carousel (the small thumbnails) without 3D enabled (the rest is actually 2d ‘dressed’ as 3d so isn’t impacted).
When you disable 3d support – the Geo Browser uses 2d mode instead (screenshot on right).
- Lots of Usability fixes. Namely anything to do with scrollers/browsing of lists, changing sizes/groups etc has now been sorted. Before – if you were at end of a list and you made it smaller (by changing the tile size) – it would scroll of screen. I’ve now sorted out proper management – and made work a whole lot better (and not have this issue).
- Registration/VersionCheck/Upgrade/More.. Wizards built in. Similar to new UX found in Big Screen Headlines2/Weather2 – instead of the crappy click through boxes in R9 – this provides a much nicer experience for configuration.
The screens below show off a couple of these wizards. The Reverification Wizard also allows you to instantly update the registration details on your current version (without any reinstallation). This is useful for users who are using a trial version and purchase the full release.
There’s even a lovely Nag screen that will randomly appear on some loads – to remind you to purchase the full version (while you are a trial user). You might find this amusing the first couple of times – but trust me – it might in fact be an ‘annoying nag screen’ by the time you’ve been using the trial for a while (what better encouragement huh).
Unfortunately – I can’t yet accept any transactions via the MCE interface (and am not clear whether users would feel comfortable entering sensitive payment information in MediaCenter anyhow – and not using a trusted providor). However if you pay online- you can quickly ‘reverify’ your current install (nothing to do) – and it will transform into the full release.
- Supports up to 5 flicker user accounts (I may even remove the limitation completely).
- Fast Loading/Bootup time (no OK dialogs / Clickable splash screens anymore). The first time you boot you will be taken directly to language selection and the activation wizard. Once you’re done – loading the addin and getting to the main menu is very fast (a couple of seconds normally if the DLL has been preloaded). If you’re a trial user – as mentioned above the nag screen will bug you every few boots.
Nice quite/subtle Splash Screen (no more loud productions or vertigo at the start) and is only visible for a second or two.
- Faster/Easier installation. Combined with the simplicity of registration from the new mobilewares online site – things like entering the serial number are done during the MSI Setup phase (rather than the user needing to launch it afterwards in R9). There’s also some new smarts which allow you to perform activation and other startup tasks directly from the extender (without needing to first run it on the console due to security issues).
- Lots of other minor bug fixes. (Too many to mention)
I will make some more announcements over the coming days – and hopefully open up the online registration/trial system to everyone.
As mentioned previously on this blog – the Australian TV Networks are starting to launch breakaway ‘HD’ channels (rather than just simulcasting HD + upconverted SD content) – and this Saturday the 16th Network Ten (10) will be launching their own channel.
Some details were released about a week ago (sample Guide included) – and it’s looking like this new offering from Ten will be really worthwhile for Australian viewers. (with over 50+ hours of unique HD content per week)
Some of the highlights include :
- Time shifted News from 5:00pm to 5:30pm (this is actually really useful for me as we quite often eat at 5:30pm – and have to wait until 6pm otherwise).
- Breakaway programming during the weekday afternoons (HD documentries) at 10:30pm each night – HD movies plus drama series like Veronica Mars (previously taken off air down here) – Over There and The Shield.
- Sci Fi Thursdays (was going to be Saturday initially). This includes new episodes of Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood, The 4400, etc.. Breakaway viewing will start at 7:30pm on this night (normally 10:30pm). Hopefully the HD Movie they show on Thursdays will also be Sci Fi as well…
- When simulcasting – TEN HD claims to have HD versions of nearly all the latest US/Imported shows – plus will simulcasting all home/away footy matches next year in HD.
As with previous HD transmissions – shows will be broadcast in 1080i (with 5.1 DD).
Rival network Seven’s HD channel (already launched a couple of months ago) hasn’t been too impressive so far (for some reason HDTV has meant showing a whole bunch of episodes of ‘The Grid’ and ‘That 70s Show’ – which isn’t even widescreen – and the odd matinee movie). This channel however seems to be evolving – and by looking at this weeks guide – they seem to be adding a lot of extra content. (maybe now that there’s some impending competition).
Channel Nine ("Me Too" HD) are still yet to reveal their hand – but promise it will be "everything everyone else’s is and then better" – (ok these weren’t the exact words but was something vaguely along those lines)… no known launch date for this one as yet. If Channel 9 actually pulled all those really great shows they are sitting on out of the closet (as TEN are doing) – and treated viewers with respect for a change (so they have some comfort that the show won’t suddenly be pulled, shown 2 hours late without warning, or moved to 3:00am etc) – they could actually have a winner.
A new product that’s been keeping me busy is an update to Big Screen Weather for Vista Media Center (‘v2′) – and this time around - it’s been designed with global users in mind. (The past 2 incarnations of this product : Big Screen Weather v1 + Big Screen Portal were for Australians only).
As with the other ‘v2′ products from the ‘Big Screen’ Range – Weather v2 started off as a simple update – and then as it developed – turned into something completely new (with most of the original v1 code being ‘shown the door’)..
A quick summary of what ‘Big Screen Weather v2′ provides :
- Latest Detailed Global Weather Observations (for over 5000 locations worldwide – including Europe, Asia, Africa, N/S America, Australasia)
- Forecasts (3-7 day) for over 4000 locations worldwide
- Satellite Imagery, Animated Radar Loops (US + Australia only) and Charts - with a preset catalog of over 1400 images.
- ‘TV Weather’ style Geo Browsing of worldwide observations - with panning and zooming to locations (Continent, Region, Country and State levels).
- MultiLingual UI and Weather data (9 languages) : English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish + Danish. (DBCS + RTL Language support such as Hebrew + Japanese are planned for Q1 next year).
Since a picture tells a thousand words – here’s some screenshots (and a thousand words)..
click on these to zoom to large versions >>
The main menu (below x2 screenshots) – features a similar main menu system to Big Screen Headlines 2 – and allows you to scroll left/right to reveal different data (without leaving the main menu) – and then click through to more information. (if desired). As with ‘TV Style’ weather reports – the animations and various transitions are a highlight (but I really need to do a videocast of this so you can see how this looks) – and in the main menu below the waves/clouds appear to be rolling towards you (and looks like a video is being played).
Clicking through to the Observation (below left) or Forecast (below right) reveals much more detailed information. The actual data/sections and # days displayed in these screens is determined by the source/type of the data (some locations may only provide 3+1 days forecast).
Big Screen weather displays both Imperial (US) and Metric (SI) measurements (your choice) – and this includes not only temperatures (Celcius <> Fahrenheit) – but all other types of measurements that get displayed (ie. HectoPascals <> Inches/Mercury, MPH<>KPH<>KNTS etc ).
There’s lots of new imagery available for global users (in form of charts/satellites etc). However – US + Australian users also get a bunch more to look at – such as animated radar loops (rainfall and more).
The ‘Geo Browsing’ features allow you fly/zoom/pan around the world to view latest observations – to create a ‘TV Style’ experience. This is similar to the one found in Big Screen Photos 2 – except that its Content/Region/Country/Zone/State based selection/zooming rather than being a grid system).
As you zoom in and out more/less locations are revealed (so that you don’t get a screen full of clutter). This part took quite a significant amount of effort to get going (ie. in some counties like US there was 2000+ locations – so some various algorithms, and a manual editor was used to refine the lists down to know at what point to reveal what location – and to know how to position/rotate the label so it didn’t overlap with other locations).
One of the big new features was support for 9 different languages. Initially – just a basic translation of the UX was intended (ie. Buttons/Headings) – but as things progressed – it was clear more was needed. In case of Weather v2 – the actual descriptions of Conditions (for Observations + Forecasts) needed to be translated – as did the names of continents, countries, states and Cities (which all have different variations depending on where you are). There’s still a little bit of work to be done on the translations – but most of it is now sorted (Thanks to some help from some friends/associates around the globe – plus some really great resources/databases on the internet).
The pictures below show off the Translations in action (UX, PlaceNames, Descriptions) :
In terms of data/backends etc – one signficant change to Big Screen Weather 2 (in comparison to other Big Screen Products) – is that I am generating/processing/hosting the raw weather data on the mobilewares server. This allows end users to quickly download huge amounts of data in a fraction of the time/effort/data normally required (and the addin does this on each load or preset schedule – rather than continuously needing to load data).
For example – the entire dataset for ‘latest’ global forecasts/observations is less than 40k (after being compressed/encrypted – its about the size of a small jpg) – and is derived from over 100mb’s of raw data (which would be quite a headache for an end user to download/process). The backend processing from the raw numerical data (rather than getting some weather.com xml feed etc) – also gives me the opportunity to easily translate / isolate all sorts of data (which wouldn’t be possible if I just had entire descriptions of conditions).
The other benefit of this is that it serves as a buffer to any backend data sources changing (as happened with some of the image sources in Big Screen Weather v1) – as the backend site in the middle will know about/monitor and adapt quickly to these sort of issues (without any updates for the end user). This mobilewares backend will also be made redundant (so that any outages can be handled by another website hosted in a different location – again without the user noticing/caring).
This part of the project was pretty interesting (and complex) – but I now know how weather forecasts/observations that I see on the telly are made (and now know all sorts of terms/structures such as METARS, TAFS, GRIB etc etc and how to turn raw data into human readable weather information).
So you’re probably wondering – when can I play with/have this (and the other v2 products)? As with the previous v2 product beta’s – I’ll just be keeping it to a very small handful of testers until it’s ready for the public.
There’s a lot of hard work going on down here at the moment – and part of the grand plan is that these v2 products (weather2, photos2 and headlines2) will be launched at same time (early Jan 2008) – and be available for purchase from the mobilewares site. (and trial versions will also be offered to the general public at that point).
There’s some good (commercial) reasons behind these dates (and why multilingual translations are being done) – and hopefully will be able to reveal all this in the coming weeks too.
I’ve been hobbling around in pain like an invalid for the past few days (with the calf on my left leg swollen like a watermelon). I initially assumed it was most likely a muscle injury – or at worst some sort of reaction to a spider/insect bite – but after 4 days it seemed to be getting worse not better- and I finally ended up going and seeing a local GP (Doctor) to make sure.
Luckily I chose to see a GP – and not a Physiotherapist (as originally planned) – as after a quick inspection – it turned out I had a suspected case of ‘DVT’ (Deep Vein Thrombosis – the blot clotting problem traditionally linked with going on long flights etc). After the GP spent a few frantic minutes on the phone trying to get me in for some urgent treatment (and some ultrasound scans) – I was quickly sent to my local hospital – where I received a couple of DVT injections ‘just in case’ (as ultrasound dept was already closed for the day). The Doc looked pretty worried and basically said if it was DVT – without immediate treatment – there was a very high chance of the clot going to my lungs/heart (which would be potentially fatal).
Today – I went back in first thing for the Ultrasound and it was confirmed I did in fact have DVT (and a nice big clot just below my left knee). Noone is quite sure how it occured (as I hadn’t been on any flights or long journeys for at least 3.5 months) – and the only possible cause is the amount of time I spend at my desk working (and not moving much). Although I do try to take a short break every hour or so – I sometimes get lost in what I am doing and the hours can really fly past unnoticed.
So as of lunchtime today – I was officially ‘checked’ in as a patient to the local hospital for the next week and a bit… however luckily for me – I actually get out of staying there – as a nurse will be coming to my house/office daily to give me my ‘shots’ – and perform blood tests etc on me whilst here (so they can monitor my progress). The initial round of treatments will be for approx 7-10 days – however if the clot hasn’t gone after that – I’m told this daily treatment will be extended for another 3 months..and then 8 months… and then.. (well hopefully it’s well and truely gone before then)..
DVT is apparently reasonably common for elderly people – but at my age (34) – its quite unusual – and is a bit of a wake up call for me to get myself healthy (ie. currently I’m a smoker, I work very very long hours, only sleep 5/6 hrs, am underweight etc )..
So this NYE I think there will need to be some resolutions and some lifestyle changes to be made… and luckily I’m still here to make them…