MICROSOFT SyncToy

 

I came across this really cool little piece of freeware in PCMag the other night – SyncToy:

SyncToy is a free PowerToy designed by Microsoft that provides an easy to use graphical user interface that can automate synchronizing files and folders. It is written using Microsoft’s .NET framework.

SyncToy can manage multiple sets of folders at the same time; it can combine files from two folders in one case, and mimic renames and deletes in another. SyncToy can keep track of renames to files and will make sure those changes get carried over to the synchronized folder.

I run 2 big machines for media. One is running 24X7 and holds a copy of all files, serving up media to other machines and the 2 XBOX extenders. The other machine is RAID protected, runs 4GB RAM, a big processor and is the workhorse for doing video/photo editing, etc. It is also holds the master copy of all data (In other words, nothing external touches it).

This is a really handy piece of kit.

  • SyncToy 1.4 Download
  • SyncToy 2.0 Beta Whitepaper
  • SyncToy 2.0 Beta Download

    I also found the Photo Info powertoy. A quick and easy way to edit photo metadata right from Windows Explorer in Vista or XP. I wonder what other powertoys are lurking out there?

  • SANDISK CLIP

     

    I bought an Apple Shuffle a while back for one simple reason – the clip. There is nothing more annoying that having an MP3 player hanging around your neck or awkwardly attached to your arm while at the gym. But I always found it annoying – the proprietary Apple formats, lack of playlists and iTunes (not a fan).

    Well, now it is gone thanks to someone finally putting out an alternative – the Sansa Clip. Playlists, a clip AND it does MP3, WMA, Audible, WAV, and FM radio at a throw-away price of $60. FANTASTIC. Anyone want to buy a shuffle cheap?

    CAN IT BE SIMPLE? CANON 40D

     

    It seems like very few purchases these days are simple. There is so much choice. Discerning between what will actually provide value and what is just a marketing exercise to create perceived value is not for the faint of heart.

    Take for example my recent camera purchase. If you look at this web page and compare products, they begin to all look the same. Do I really need 6.5 fps versus 3 fps? Will the E-TTL flash system result in a better picture?

    How do you find the right web site that can be trusted for a recommendation? Is it sponsored by a vendor which impacts their review?

    In the end, I ended up getting my best advice by putting together an opinion based on comments on web forums; people’s candid opinions and experiences, highly influenced by their statements of what they were upgrading from (i.e. upgrading from a point and shoot to their first DSLR or from an old DSLR to a new one). In the end, this was a laborious process where I spent many hours trolling the web. But it did allow me to get a balanced view (lovers and haters) and make an informed decision that in the past, would have been heavily reliant on the 16 year old ‘expert’ salesperson (NOT a winning proposition).EOS 40D

    And in the end I changed my mind. I moved up the food chain to the Canon 40D due to the magnesium alloy, water/dirt resistant chassis (after all, I know that I broke the other one by banging it around). Right choice choosing resilience over size? (The other is a lot smaller). We will see. Review to be posted after we get back from Egypt.

    But it was painful. Maybe I need a personal shopper (smile).

    THE DEATH OF A CAMERA

     

    Not sure how this happened, but my two and a half year old Canon Rebel died. It will not turn on and so I am left with the big question: Do I spend $100 to have to ‘assessed’ (with a high probability of it being very costly to fix) or do I simply buy a new one.

    After much deliberation and a few conversations with various camera shops, I have decided to buy a new one. This leads to a whole new process of which to buy? This can be quite the confusing process – so much information, so many choices and so many different reviews. As I now have two lenses, do I stay with Canon or go with Nikon and abandon my investment?

    In the end the best web site for reviews appears to be the Digital Camera Review web site. It is amazing with up to 30 pages of reviews per camera covering every nuance.

    I stated the journey doing a like for like (Canon 400D). Then I moved to the unit one level up (Canon 40D), but was hesitant as it is bigger. I also questioned, why is it 2X the price of the 400D? A little research uncovered that the 400D is being discounted because a new model was announced a few weeks ago with most of the 40D features and a smaller size: The Canon 450D. Confused yet? I was. Now I am not. That is the one … I think?

    On an even sadder note, I was forced to take Barcelona with a tiny little point and click, what a travesty (smile).

                  

    15 EUROS EVERY 24 HOURS

     

    There is nothing more annoying to me than going into a hotel and having to pay for an internet service. To me that is like the lights, the bathroom and the bed – it should be part of the price. What is even more irksome is the wide variance in price. At my latest European hotel they want 15 euros for 24 hours (6 euros for an hour).

    So for the first time I did not pay. Instead, I hooked my handy 3G ready device to the laptop via USB and off I go. I just won’t be downloading huge files – and it is fast enough (especially when Outlook is in cached mode, as I will not be surfing the web).

    It did make me reflect on how easy it is via wireless … for a short moment. Then the network started giving me ‘Waiting for network errors’ and timing out.

    I paid the 15 euros.

    XBOX AND DIVX / H.264

     

    In December the XBOX team announced that the 360 would support DIVX and H264. Much to my chagrin, I could not get it working for the last month and so I reached out for some help. Turns out, they are supported through the XBOX360 dashboard – not the Media Center Extender interface. All the details are in this FAQ.

    It works great – although it was PAINFUL to figure out. I would expect to see Media Center interface support soon (I hope). It still works GREAT for my music, pictures and home videos.

     

    Scenario

    Supported Codecs

    From USB storage device to Xbox 360 Dashboard Video Player

    WMV(Unprotected),

    Mpeg4,

    H.264,

    AVI

    From Windows Media Player 11 to Xbox 360 Dashboard Video Player

    WMV(Protected),

    WMV(Unprotected),

    *Mpeg4,

    *H.264,

    AVI

    From Zune Software to Xbox 360 Dashboard Video Player

    WMV(Unprotected),

    Mpeg4,

    H.264

    From Windows Home Server to Xbox 360 Dashboard Video Player

    WMV(Protected),

    WMV(Unprotected),

    AVI

    From Windows Media Center to Xbox Media Center Extender

    WMV(Protected), WMV(Unprotected),

    Mpeg2

     

    GADGET ROUNDUP

     

    As I round the web I have tallied a few gadgets that caught my eye:

    • The Jawbone: Their site calls it the highest rated Bluetooth headset every. Described as:
      • Jawbone is the world’s first adaptive Bluetooth headset for mobile phones. Its revolutionary Noise Shield technology combines the latest innovations in acoustics, audio processing and product design to produce a quantum leap in headset performance.

        Not only does the Jawbone technology virtually eliminate all background noise from your call, but as your background changes it also seamlessly adjusts the speaker output so you can hear your caller’s voice better. Jawbone’s intelligent system of sensors, software, and ergonomic features allows you to use your mobile phone in any environment without shouting or straining to hear. The result is a clear, uninterrupted, and productive conversation.

        Jawbone identifies your speech: A proprietary voice activity sensor identifies precisely when you are speaking, in any noise environment. Unlike other headsets, Jawbone can easily separate your speech from other sound nearby.

        Jawbone eliminates noise: Jawbone uses highly directional microphones and powerful signal processing algorithms to remove background noise from your ongoing speech signal. This allows you to be heard clearly in any environment without the need to shout and disturb others around you.

        Jawbone automatically enhances incoming audio: The volume and frequency content of the incoming speech is dynamically adjusted to maximize intelligibility in any noise environment. No matter where you are, Jawbone will adapt to your environment.

    • The evolution of the SSD cards is very interesting. For boosting a laptop or grabbing a fast, low power drive – this is very interesting technology. I also find the pricing quite interesting – in the sub $400 price range for a monster 32GB.
    • The Nvidia 8800 series of video cards is getting rave reviews. Low price, amazing performance. Already ordered (smile).
    • The boys are loving Asian Dynasty – Age of Empires III. Amazing game continues to expand.
    • Have been playing with Adobe Lightroom which seems to be a nice middle point products between the entry GN9350 Product shotlevel and professional products. It is amazing what you can do with a picture.
    • I have been using the Jabra GN9350 with Office Communicator in my home office. Amazing flexibility and a dramatic impact on my performance. I plug it into my laptop and instantly I have full access to our corporate back end voice network. This is the next big leap in productivity – that is for sure.
    • Check out the Mimobot series. Halo, Star Wars memory stick. If nothing else, they made me laugh.

     

     

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    JOBY GORILLA POD

     

    After taking a shedload of bad pictures in Brugge thanks to poor lighting/evening walks and no tripod, I realized I needed to put something into my travel bag. I refuse to lug around a tripod as pictures are a byproduct of our trip – not the goal. I was contemplating a monopod, which looked pointless.

    Until I came across this wonderful little invention, the Gorilla Pod. Not only does it solve the stability issue (A key tip for night shooting that I recently read was to use the timer on the camera to avoid the shaking when pressing the button if you do not have a remote), it allows me to get into a few more pictures AND is a second tripod for our every important Lego movie shoots. Cool – and very compact.

                  Joby Gorillapod SLR                          Gorillapod with a webcam      

    Interesting positioning …. watch me 3 putt this ….

    HAVING FUN WITH AN APPLE: 2 HOURS OF FUN

     

    The time it took me to get a printer working on a Apple over Christmas.

    The problem? The Apple required me to install multiple files to function and the driver did not sense that one of the ink wells was depleted. Reinstall. What is this file? Well install it too. Still not working? Where is the frigging print center on this thing? So many big logos .. so little functionality. Why do things keep popping up and down and bouncing? Making me nauseous and unleashes a strange desire to return to kindergarten.

    I plugged it into my handy dandy Lenovo laptop – downloaded 1 file and realized what was wrong in a grand total of … (insert drum role) … no more than 5 minutes.

    It goes both ways oh ye Apple bigots. Oh yah .. and this is a gamer family. We have 4 kick butt PCs with big processors and video cards sporting a minimum of 512MB RAM. Although I will admit I used to LOVE Swashbuckler on the Apple IIe. Left key, left key, SPACE BAR, left key, left key, SPACE BAR …

    The swashbuckler in combat.   The title screen from Swashbuckler.

    SOCIAL NETWORKING

     

    Sick of reading about it? Or hearing how it is going change the way that people live and work, change the world? I am.

    The Economist had a great article in their ‘The World in 2008’ issue called ‘The rediscovery of discretion’. The tag line is ‘Older people, too, will extend their social networks online without feeling awkward’. From the article:

    In 2007 things got more complicated for the Xs. Thanks to Facebook, many middle-aged office types were expected to join in. But there was no rule-book for how to reject the “friend” request of a boss, or whether doing so was permissible at all. If not, should he be allowed to see the naked baby photos? While some Ys became more cautious after their excesses in 2006, many Xs began squirming in new forms of awkwardness in 2007.


    This will change in 2008, as social-networking technology changes to fit human nature, rather than forcing human nature to fit the technology. The industry leaders in 2007 were really old-fashioned “walled gardens”. They came in generic templates, with the crucial sociological aspects—what sort of information to give on a profile, for instance—pre-determined by programmers. Yes, they allowed users to customize their start pages, but so did the walled gardens of the early 1990s, online services such as AOL or CompuServe.

    They point to a service called Ning which is co-founded by Marc Andreessen (Who built Netscape, which AOL will finally decommission February 1st) which morphs social networking from a static web page to ad-hoc networking. Looks interesting (but again, will it hit critical mass?).

    A newsletter from the Fox Group states:

    Technology that will make a difference

    Development of social networking technology – Next generation Internet applications such as Facebook and YouTube are, and will continue, to change the way people work, play and communicate together. 

    What we find interesting is the fact, that like many other new technologies such as chat and blog services, these applications started at the consumer level, and are now moving rapidly into the enterprise. 

    The user communities pressure to move these applications into the enterprise is driving IT, network and security professionals to adapt at an ever increasing pace. They continue to struggle with how to support these type of cross-over applications, combined with pressure to maintain or reducing corporate network and IT operations budgets.

    New technologies such as these with their ease of use and ability to instantly communicate with millions of people in real time on a global level will have a long-term impact on our financial, political and social environment  beyond what we can imagine.  

    Here are a few of my thoughts:

    1. The biggest problem with social networks are that they are a walled garden. I have been invited to no less than 5 different ‘social networks’. The most common are Linkedin (Corporate market focus) and Facebook (broader). If I were to join each – I would have to maintain and use each – discreetly. So which do I choose? I don’t have enough time and as the Economist article points out – how I discern between family, friends and business if people start sending me invites?

    • Personal observation: Social networking will have an impact on business, but not in the way that the Fox Group thinks (i.e. I don’t think it will happen ‘rapidly’). I think that social networking technology will impact the enterprise by forcing companies to improve their collaboration technology focus. A few focus areas: Tighter links between the directory and HR data (Please, if a corporation cannot deliver an automated org chart out of Active Directory, how will they be able to move to the next stage?), implementation of applications like SharePoint where employees are allowed to host their own page (with their shared documents, data) and richer collaboration though the unification of communications (Where Active Directory/Exchange contact information, mobile phone, internal voice and data network, instant messaging and presence are combined to allow people to communicate with others whenever, wherever).

    2. How connected do I really need to be? I have Outlook for contact management, I have Live Messenger for chatting and I blog with clear knowledge that anyone could be reading the blog. As you will note, there are no pictures of my family on the blog – a personal choice. But I have lots of friends keeping in touch through the blog and have had more than a few reach out and contact me after many years.

    3. I share pictures with family through a Live Spaces account that is tightly controlled. I transfer boat loads of pictures and videos to family and friends via the amazing folder sharing feature in messenger. Simply take the folder, drop into the shared folder and VOILA they can be copied to that person’s local machine. Handy.

    4. I am sick of reading about how it will revolutionize everything – it will not.

    In a nutshell, I am not joining in. The technology is seeing commercial application by encouraging business software providers to implement features which make corporate collaboration easier. But, enterprises have been doing that for a while and one could argue that this isn’t that new of an idea (Think of monster.com – that is, in the simplest of terms, a social networking site linking employers and potential employees).

    In the end, just like Instant Messenger became Office Communicator, the enterprise will adopt the things that make sense.

    But on the consumer end I wonder, will it last? The consumer is a fickle beast. Instant Messenger remains but blogging has now become hardcore only (Like social networking, it was a ‘big’ thing a few years ago but many have abandoned for social networking). YouTube remains strong but has many, many competitors. And as for social networking we are now starting to see people write about the death of Facebook. Facebook, Ning, mySpace, Xiaonei, Geezeo, Wesabe,Yodlee and on and on …. Personally, I don’t have enough time to be interested.

    Maybe it will be like corporate blogging, the consumer trend that would revolutionize corporate communication in 2005-2006. Where did that go?

     

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    COOL DEVICES

     

    I have been playing with a range of devices recently and am amazed at the innovation. My tried and true mobile companion for the last few years has been the PALM TREO 680 running Windows Mobile. It is a great device – great battery life, touch screen (which I like) and a great keyboard (keyboards are all about feel and personal preference).

    But there are a few new devices that are really catching my eye:

    • PALM 500V: The device I am currently carrying. A smartphone (no touch screen) but great battery, slim, full functioned and another great keyboard. Really like the design and color choices also.
    • HTC Touch Dual: You can really see the innovation in this device as they built out the GUI and added some slick features on top of the OS. Look forward to lots of innovation like this.
    • HTC TyTN II: A derivative of the Dual, this device is a bit thicker but has some interesting options – specifically the idea that it can be used as a GPS and the keyboard is amazing for the ‘fatfingered’ among us. In England I see most taxi drivers with a GPS enabled PDA instead of a true GPS device like a Tom Tom.

       

    • Samsung has a few interesting phones on the way as business/consumer hybrids like the i760 and the i620.

    Samsung SCH-i760 Touchscreen Smartphone (QWERTY Mode)

    • And my last cool device, the Ultra Mobile PC the OQO. Now what intrigues me about this device when I was playing with it is a few things: pop your mobile card into it and it runs full HSDPA (very cool). The keyboard is functional (And tucks away nicely) and it is a full function PC. If you get a decent internet connection then VOIP is definitely an opportunity. Very interesting new device form factor ….

          

    So many choices ….

    I NEED A LASER

     

    Our son’s birthday is coming up and the question always arises, what to do with 10 energetic boys that results in our house not being turned upside down? We were pondering taking the boys to a laser tag place when I came across the Laser Challenge Pro in Costco.Image of Laser Challenge Pro

    I am always skeptical of these types of toys. My ‘inner child’ wants them to work but my adult logic knows that there is a very low probability that they will work as promised. Often, they are very breakable or the quality is poor or they just do not work as advertised and quickly end up on a shelf to await the next garage sale.

    So I bought 2 boxes (Each box contains 2 lasers) to test. The logic being that if they work we will take the money that we were going to spend on laser tag, buy more of these and run the game around the park. This also lets us keep the lasers (smile).

    It was Saturday afternoon, an overcast day, threat of rain (But no snow!). Out we went, drawing the neighbor boy into our game so the teams would be even. Will they work?

    After about 10 minutes, a resounding yes:

    • We tested distance and the 75M range is real (This involved me standing away from the 3 boys and each of them shooting me, they quite enjoyed it)
    • The tracking system is brilliant. If you get shot 10 times, your laser shuts down.
    • It allows you to play free for all or in 2 teams (The lasers are orange and white, so you can split it up by teams)
    • There are multiple shooting options, single shot or full auto. When your ‘magazine’ of 25 shots is empty, you have to stop and press the recharge button. Every detail is covered.

    I am sure that the neighbors found it funny watching me running around with the kids and a laser, but who cares. That is what life is about and it was a ton of fun (and good exercise). 

    A very cool toy. A definite step up from what my brother and I used as kids – a stick. Oh, to be a kid again …

    FOLDERSHARE

     

    So how do you share pictures and videos with friends? You can do it with MSN Messenger folders (easy for sharing with an individual) or with FolderShare, a new LIVE service.

    Very cool service:

    Keep important files at your fingertips – anywhere. All file changes are automatically synchronized between linked computers, so you are always accessing the latest documents, photos, and files.

    OH NO? CAN IT BE SO?

     

    I have a few friends who are Apple bigots and I know that this news must be particularly painful for them, which is why I post it (smile):

    Apple’s Leopard rejects the latest version of Java.

    Dreaded Blue Screen of Death mars some Leopard Installs.

    Microsoft Reports 27% Revenue Growth; Fastest First Quarter Since 1999 (And selling BOAT LOADS of Vista).

    Enjoy your Leopard install while I play one of the 5,000,000 copies of Halo 3 ($300M) that Microsoft sold in the first week.

     ‘I shoot …’

    MEDIA CENTER EXTENDERS

     

    Now that the house is settled, I can finish those last tasks – specifically finalizing the media configurations in the house. One significant frustration has been broadband access through the house. In the UK, they build houses the old way (our townhouse is 10 years old) – with plaster. The pro to plaster is that the house is sound proof and from room to room you get very little noise. The downside – good luck with wireless.

    So I have been futzing around with wireless extenders and various options but my DSL provider does not like if you have a 3rd party router on the system and adding a wireless router attached to the DSL router has been complex to say the least (adding it to the DMZ did not work and on and on).

    FINALLY I came across broadband over power. Very cool stuff. Plug the one end into a power adapter and the router, plug the other into the remote device and VOILA we have a network that is running at 200 Mbps and it is very reliable. This is key to me for streaming content from my Windows Vista Ultimate box (Where I keep all media – pictures, videos, etc.) to my living room where the XBOX 360 acts as an extender (Watch the video – it is very funny).

    Personally, this is one of the coolest technologies I have. Complete access to my music, pictures and home videos from the living room. We will often sit there with music in the background and our pictures playing on the TV. People are always amazed and want it when they see it.

    The next evolution of that is streaming video content which I am ripping to the machine – the problem? No DIVX support. Well – no more … Engadget writes about Media Center support for DivX and XviD here and here. ZUNE software already supports it which means XBOX can’t be far behind and a rumor is that it is before Christmas (wink).

    If you are interested in the extender idea, you can read about it on the XBOX site or here. Dead simple and totally cool … and yes, it actually looks like that on my 52" Aquos (smile).

    PHOTOSYNTH

    I had the opportunity to see this technology demo’d about a year ago and it appears that it has come a long way. From Microsoft’s Live Labs, Photosynth is a technology that papers together pictures to create a 3D view.

    From their site:

    The Photosynth Technology Preview is a taste of the newest – and, we hope, most exciting – way to view photos on a computer. Our software takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next.

    In our collections, you can access gigabytes of photos in seconds, view a scene from nearly any angle, find similar photos with a single click, and zoom in to make the smallest detail as big as your monitor.

    You can now download the technical preview and play with it here.

    For the photographer this creates a whole new world. Imagine going to a place and taking photos with a camera that records GPS based location data and then walking home and having the software patch together a 3D viewer. Very cool.

    THE LOGICAL STEPS TO A FULL SYSTEM UPGRADE

          

    Being male, one of the first logistic thoughts to come to mind when the move was decided was that I can’t take over my old electronics gear. It is time for an upgrade.

    Now I know, if you are not male, you are saying to yourself ‘Why are they interconnected?’ And as they say, if you have to ask the question … Well, you just won’t understand the answer.

    STEP 1: So I started doing a ton of research (which, I have to admit, is a very fun part of the acquisition) and began with the plasma versus LCD. After much reading, I came to the following conclusion:

     

      • In a darker room a plasma is superior due to picture quality, depth of colour (blacks look better) and maturity of technology. But, in a bright light, they look washed out (Even the wicked Pioneer I was eyeing). And the arrival of the first kick butt 1080P plasma (Panasonic) is very interesting. The downside being that there are frequent write ups on the gas leakage causing a decline in picture quality over time (I don’t know if this is myth or not – was unable to determine) and the constant write ups about burn in (This is where the screen keeps the ghost of an image after it is gone. For example, put up a video game that has a static picture along the bottom and it could burn that image into the screen). This was a bigger issue a few generations ago but the concern in the industry remains. That being said, one must love the new price points.
      • LCD DLP was coming along and is an interesting lower cost technology if you have the room (it is not quite flat screen, about 14" deep). But, it is only 2nd generation and the first generation was plagued with problems. Pass.
      • LCD offers a brighter picture (which some see as a bit artificial because of the higher contrast) but in the past, was plagued with ghosting (i.e. The image moves too fast for the TV, so you get a bit of ghosting). What is interesting is that just as I prepared for the purchase, the new Sharp Aquos (Seen as the leader in the market)

        came out with their new DLP that supports 1080P AND has a 120HZ refresh rate (2X old LCDs) which completely eliminates the ghosting issue. Furthermore, LCD does not suffer from gamer burn in. Last was the price drop, the 2 52" LCDs I was looking at started at $4200CDN but were down to the $3600 range by the time I bought. You have to love competition.

    So after much thought, going between a Samsung which had a higher contrast rate but a lower refresh rate and the Sharp, I decided on the Sharp. It is sitting in a box, waiting to head over to the UK (A true delayed gratification test).

     

    STEP 2: This lead me to my next logical challenge: the Sharp has HDMI and if you want to watch true 1080P on the XBOX 360 HD DVD drive (Which I do, because I also bought the new BBC Blue Planet DVD), then you have to hook it up via the monitor (VGA) input cable or get a new XBOX 360 Elite and use HDMI. Of course the logical approach is an upgrade so off to search for a XBOX 360 Elite (they are sold out everywhere). I found one at a Blockbuster in Alliston.

    STEP 3: Which lead to another problem. I also bought a multi region HDMI DVD player, I was going to quickly run out of HDMI slots! Plus, I would rather run everything through my receiver to make it simple with the Harmony remote. What to do? Upgrade the receiver to one that does HDMI switching and will convert a component signal to the HDMI cable. Now this is a tricky one, there are units that have HDMI switching but not all of them will allow you to take the component signal and ship it to the system via HDMI. So, I had the Future Shop guys plug in receivers and prove that it

    works. Interestingly enough, the first 2 that they tried which they thought would work, did not. I landed on the Harmon Kardon 247. Can you imagine if I would have just trusted them, boxed it, shipped it to the UK, opened it up and it did not work? Strike one for taking the tie to make them prove it!

    STEP 4: Realizing that a shiny new receiver really needs friends and our new townhouse is not like our current home where I have monster Infinity speakers that can break the windows, thanks to the room, it was clear that I needed to conserve space. And for that task, there is only one choice, a nice set of Bose speakers.

    Interestingly enough, the toughest thing was trying to get a straight answer on whether the TV would work in Britain due to the PAL/NTSC difference in standards. Thank goodness that I have TV guys on my team and that Sky has a HDMI set top box.

    Now, it all sits in a container, waiting for me. Logical right? 

    VIRTUAL EARTH: NIAGARA FALLS

     

    Somehow I found myself on the Virtual Earth blog and found the post on ‘Microsoft corking the bat’ quite interesting:    

    If you think applications like Virtual Earth and Google Earth are simply fed raw data from remote sensing systems and manage to present the experiences they do you’ve been watching Minority Report too many times 🙂 Tweaking doesn’t even come close to doing justice to the enormous production process to get data from sensor to web. It’s understandable that most of us are completely unaware of this process; there would be a lot more vegetarians if we all had to kill what we eat. In the same way we are insulated from the gory details of the journey from farm to grocer, we don’t need to understand how to process imagery and data models of the Earth’s surface if all we want to do is cruise around in Virtual Earth and enjoy the experience. To appreciate this beautiful image of Niagara Falls we don’t need to be aware of the image processing that went into creating it:

    1. UltraCam is flown and captures the imagery with a prescribed set of overlap
    2. Pre ortho processing – ingest formatting, pan-sharpening (mutispectral brought to panchromatic resolution), radiometric normalization (images brought to similar spectral range)
    3. Orthorectification (surface and camera distortions removed from imagery and images are geographically referenced to a coordinate system)
    4. Orthomosaic (individual ortho images seamed and color balanced together)
    5. Final radiometric look up table (final spectral adjustment applied to entire mosaic)

    The Virtual Earth team employs lots of people whose job is to make the sensor data collected represent the Earth as best as possible where automation breaks down. Rob Waterman is one of these guys. I asked Rob what goes into creating elevation models of the Earth’s surface:

    My goal is to make the data represent real life as best I can. Specifically for Niagara I used three different input DEM sources and some well placed breaklines etc. to generate a single improved DEM for the area.  There is nothing "fake" about it.  I combined the best of all the data sources available to me to come up with the most realistic representation of the area (including ortho imagery for breakline placement and many oblique photos to help determine the most accurate/representative layout of the area).  I think we are here to generate the most accurate/realistic Virtual Earth we can and that means using the all the data available in an attempt to arrive at the "truth".

    Read the full entry here. Check out the Niagara Falls pictures here. Beautiful.

                  image

    VIRTUAL EARTH 3D

     

    An article crossed my inbox about the latest Virtual Earth application so I went to the site to try it out. Upon installation, it also prompted me to download the Outlook add-in which adds the following features:

     

    • Send your Microsoft® Office Outlook® meeting requests with maps you can see in road, aerial, bird’s-eye, and amazing 3D views!*
    • Use real-time traffic updates to help avoid accident or rush-hour delays and find the best routes.*
    • Print driving directions "to go", then save the details for viewing when you’re offline.
    • Receive meeting reminders based on the estimated travel times

    The new interface it pretty impressive:

              

    Then I started playing with the map. If you have not tried it, you have to. Moving around the world, zipping in to see an island up close then zipping out and flying across the world to see the north pole. Not as a map point, but as an image. Amazing. I know this has been around a while, but the new interface makes it much more fun.

    Then I started to play with to the full 3D view, Toronto is below. Makes the globes and maps that I used to use as a kid completely useless and the future options very interesting (think of ad sales). You can zoom right down to street level.

               

    Then I tried out context. I typed in ‘Apple Fanatic Headquarters’ and it took me to the below, even circling a building. Odd, but intriguing?

           

    Interested, I carried on. Next, I added some infrared imaging and what do you know? Interesting stuff …..  (wink)

           

    DELAY OUTLOOK SEND

     

    Have you ever sent an email and then wanted to rewrite something seconds later or maybe make a quick change? I have and it ALWAYS happens 2 seconds after as you watch the Outbox move from (1) to (0) – too late.

    Well, not anymore. Just follow this simple process (copied from Outlook Help).

     

    1.     In the main Outlook window, on the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.

    2.     In the Rules and Alerts dialog box, on the E-mail Rules tab, click New Rule.

    3.   Under Step 1: Select a template, under Start from a blank rule, click Check messages after sending, and then click Next.

    4.     Click Next again, and when you see the message This rule will be applied to every message you send, click Yes.

    5.     Under Step 1: Select action(s), select the defer delivery by a number of minutes check box.

    6.     Under Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value), click a number of.

    7.     Enter a number between 1 and 120, and then click OK.

    8.     Click Finish, and when you see the message This rule is a client-side rule, and will process only when Outlook is running, click OK.

     

    SAMSUNG LED DLP

    I was in the Future Shop looking at TVs and found it very interesting. The prices of LCD and Plasma TV’s keeps dropping but Plasma, for me, remains a challenge due to potential burn in (As I use Media Center and the XBOX 360).

    Then I came across this 2nd generation LED DLP. The history is the first generation had a ton of issues, but this 2nd generation is pretty spectacular at a very low cost. The Samsung 57” is $2700 and the reviews are pretty amazing.

    Done.

                              

    THIN SLICE ME

    I have been travelling quite a bit and one of my frustrations remains laptop battery life. Not all Air Canada planes are retrofitted yet, so it is hit and miss if you get power.

    Well, this week a teammate lent me his Toshiba Thin Slice Battery. It attaches to the bottom of the laptop adding about an inch in depth and runs forever!

    On a 3 hour plane ride, I walked off with 50% battery left. He said he flew Toronto to London and still had juice at the end in power saver mode. Maybe there is hope yet.

    KIDS STILL WATCHING TV

    A recent study reported in Decima Reports covered the viewing habits of children aged 7-12. It would appear that TV remains a prevalent form of entertainment – with 92% of children watching TV.

     

            

    TV is interesting in our family. The boys go it spurts. But one thing is for sure, when they are forced to watch a show ‘live’, they get very frustrated with their inability to skip commercials. While kids still watch TV, their viewing patterns have changed.

    FANBOY

    Apple fanboys crack me up. For some reason, they just can’t get enough of talking about how great Apple is and how bad Microsoft is.

    It is like a joke I heard about a place in Toronto called ‘the beaches’. A cool little community where people who live there cannot stop talking about how great it is compared to the rest of Toronto. The joke:

    What is the most annoying thing about people who live in the beaches?

    They won’t shut up about how great it is to live in the beaches.

    Apple fanboys .. we get it. You love the platform. You think it is so much better than Microsoft. You think that everything that Microsoft does is just copying Apple. When Apple has a problem, you don’t care or acknowledge it, because to acknowledge a flaw is to desecrate nirvana. When Apple brings out a product, it is deemed revolutionary just because it is Apple – regardless of whether or not there are some really odd things about it that have been tried before and failed. But, because Apple is doing it .. it will succeed!

    And, when someone comments on the Apple? They must not be enlightened.

    Apple has done many things to be admired, their marketing is brilliant, iPOD? Great product. Creation of a rabid fan base, amazing. That same Apple fanboy group .. tired. Get over yourself – you are not unique because you use an Apple no matter how much you want to be. You are just annoying.

    My favorite Apple parody video. Sorry!

    WISH I WAS AT CES

    I wish I was in Vegas, CES is on and the cool stories are coming out. Gadget nirvana.

    ·         Check out the new Windows Home Server here. Finally, a central simple server to manage files and back-ups. Engadget had their hands on it here.

    ·         Interesting articles on the new XBOX 360V2 here (With HDMI support! Time for a new TV).

    ·         Microsoft announced the XBOX 360 as a set top box for IPTV here. Engadget did a great job of grabbing pictures of the interface here.

    ·         Apple’s iPhone is quite the device. Good work Apple. Interesting write-up on the iPhone versus the LG phone which looks very similar. The Cisco lawsuit is amusing. But I wonder about the keyboard. I have had the touchscreen on a Pocket PC forever, and if you are older than 9, your fingers are too big. From Gizmodo:

    Keyboard: The softkey, on screen buttons are small. Think index finger, not thumb. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right. The keys pop up when I put my finger down on the keys, but do you think the proximity sensor knows when I get close (but before I touch), and if I hover with my digit, it’ll blow up the keys so they’re easier to hit? (Am I making sense?)

    ·         Warner has brought out a hybrid HD-DVD/Blu-Ray DVD. This is  one way to deal with the ridiculous HD-DVD / Blue-Ray fiasco which is a repeat of the VHS – Betamax ways of decades ago but while the consumer gets both versions, it will come at a premium as royalties will be paid to both parties. Hybrid players were also announced like this one from LiteOn. Personally, I am holding off the whole thing.

    MY LIVING ROOM

    Business 2.0 has an interesting article in the December edition called How Microsoft is Finally Taking the Living Room. In it, IDC analyst Marcel Warmerdam says that Vista will drive about $110 Billion in revenue for other technology firms worldwide as it drives computer upgrades, new types of hardware and new applications:

    For example, a Vista feature called Sideshow will make it possible for new laptops to ship with an extra screen on the lid, so users can check their calendar, contacts and email – and even play music – when the rest of the laptop is powered down.

    PC Magazine wrote that ReadyDrive will be one of the biggest performance impacting changes (From the Vista site):

    Windows ReadyDrive enables Windows Vista PCs equipped with a hybrid hard disk to boot up faster, resume from hibernate in less time, preserve battery power, and improve hard disk reliability. Hybrid hard disks are a new type of hard disk, with integrated non-volatile flash memory.

    The hybrid disk is intended for mobile PCs running Windows Vista. Your data is written to the flash memory, which saves work for the mechanical hard disk—saving the battery power. The hybrid disk helps Windows Vista resume faster from Sleep because data can be restored from flash memory faster than from the mechanical hard disk. And since more data is written to the integrated flash memory than to the traditional hard disk, you have less risk of hardware problems with the hard disk when you’re on the move. Windows Vista takes advantage of hybrid hard disk to save battery life, resume use faster from hibernation, and improve reliability.

    A few personal observations:

    1.       Digital Memories & Vista: I personally believe that the best feature of Windows for the living room is the Media Center Extender technology. In many homes, people have reams of pictures on their laptops or desktops, and music everywhere. If they are an iPod home, little docking stations are scattered around the house or attached to the stereo. In our home, we have a single, newly upgraded Vista Home Premium PCsitting in the kitchen that runs 24/7. On that PC is our music library (About 70GB and 8000 songs), our videos (I have been slowly digitizing our home movies) and our pictures (About 10,000 pictures organized by year).

    In the living room, an XBOX 360is attached to the HD TV and an optical cable carries Dolby Digital 5.1 to the stereo. With the simple push of a button, we have access via the TV to all of our music, pictures and videos with a simple and clean remote control based user interface. A few shots of the amazing new Vista interface (Remember, this is what it looks like on a PC or on your TV via the XBOX):

    I love the way it scrolls sideways and how you can show them with a date view.
    The music view encourages you to ensure that all of your albums have the covers .. and yes, that is Bob Marley. Love Bob Marley.

    There is nothing more powerful than having friends over, having instant access to your entire music library – playing in the background while a slide show of our family and life runs randomly on the 57’ inch HD screen. Life is about memories, and when those memories require that you open a photo album, manually attach a video camera or huddle around a computer monitor, they are diminished.

    Of interest, I have noticed that Vista extends this capability with a new feature called Media Sharing.  It allows different computers to share their media, automatically finding each other on the network. A handy little feature that makes it easy for you to get to your music, videos, pictures and TV in a much simpler way, on any PC on the home network, than mapping a drive or by sharing folders.

    2.       Television: The next logical extension of this is TV. During a recent trip to Costco I noticed that every single PC was a Media Center PC. Companies like Alienware, Dell and Sony (The Digital Living Systemis very cool) are all building unique, TV ready Media Center PC’s. I know many people who are running dual tuner PCs and enjoying the PVR functionality built into the system. The real advantage to this system is the flexibility. They can record a show and watch it on the primary TV, on an XBOX or on a mobile phone.

    Personally, my challenge has been HDTV. Until cable cardsupport comes, integrated HDTV can only be acquired via over the air HDTV tuners. What I am wrestling with personally is whether or not I should convert to this. In a recent experiment with these cards, a colleague was able to get 13 over the air HDTV channels with his card, which includes every major broadcaster. It begs the question, if I can get it over the air for free then why pay for it from my cable company?

    In the end, one can see where this is going. Every PC with the ability to integrate TV but more importantly, share that TV experience easily.

    3.       Upgrades: Marcel was right that it drives upgrades. It was the compelling event that has pushed me to start the home upgrade after a 2 year hiatus. A new PC for the kitchen to act as the Media Center hub for the house and upgrades for the boy’s machines to allow them to play Age of Empires III Warchiefswith no lags.

    Exciting times.

    MAD WORLD

    I was watching Rescue Me on the good old PVR on the weekend and the Mad World commercial for Gears of War came up. Watch it here.

    What a great commercial. I had to watch it again. Then I could not figure out who sang it. Was it Crowded House? Nope. A quick net search and I found it, Mad World, Tears for Fears.

    Ad Age has an interesting article on the ad here.

    But maybe the most mind-blowing — and clever — salvo in the game wars comes from the oldest new console on the block. The Xbox 360 camp’s “Mad World” is one of the most drop-dead, gobsmacking and, yes, highly effective ads I’ve seen in a while. The ad/viral touts the release of Epic Games’ Gears of War, which in itself is the best possible ad for the console; the game is the kind of insanely anticipated sci-fi shooter that sells millions of copies and moves consoles in the process.

    A friend told me that the commercial had driven significant sales of the song (But an iTunes search brought up a different Mad World song which was causing some confusion). Sure enough, it is No. 2 on iTunes this week.

                                                             

    A GREAT STEVE JOBS VIDEO

    I have a few friends who are Mac enthusiasts. It cracks me up .. the passion. The culture of ‘I love everything Mac’ .. blah blah.

    I hate my wife’s iPOD (Yes, it is a strong word, but the right word). It is closed. Proprietary. I can’t use anything but iTunes. I detest it.

    Well, for all you Mac guys, here is a great video of Steve Jobs and his screw ups. Guess Bill isn’t the only victim .. I love the game video, that is the Mac experience I expect.  I know, the horror! No one is allowed to make fun of Steve .. string him up! Apple never crashes! No never! Well .. maybe some times but we don’t want to talk about that. After all, the world through rose coloured glasses …. Watch my favorite Apple parody onYouTube.

    A great Bill Gates video  to add on …

    I think the best PC ads in the market are still the Apple ads .. hats off to their creative company. Touche .. LOL.