Archive for the ‘Clubhouse Posts (Computers, Software, and Internet)’ Category

I was recently included on a thread with a high school student considering programming as a career. Fellow developers at Eleven Fifty were sharing their insight. I liked my pre-caffeinated contribution. I hope you enjoy as well.

I echo Tiffany’s sentiment. I’d be delighted to be more interactive with you on questions. Funny – I think I went to school with a Rickleff.
Anyway… I *loved* computers growing up. Still, until I was in high school, I didn’t want to be a programmer, which I later learned was really a “software engineer.” I thought they were just unhealthy, unsocial slobs that worked long, grueling hours, with pizza their only food group. Well, that was television and movies, at least. I found programming and problem solving came easily, and I liked making the computer do whatever it was I wanted, if I only spent the time. I didn’t start out with programming as a career – I started with technology, being an analyst and writer at a consumer electronics research firm. It wasn’t until my friend [and employer] challenged me to write a program for the company, and I accomplished it by putting my hobby to good use, that I started thinking programming could be a career. I learned I could make a living with my favorite hobby. That’s fun, and freeing. It’s like not working, even when it feels like work.
So what will your career look like? Software engineering makes you somewhat of a white collar worker – the pay is higher, and you’re always working with intelligent people – not that you’ll always admit that. It’s more of a “white collar t-shirt” job, because you’re required to be both a thinker and a creator at once, which can be messy. Ask yourself if you like to make things better, and if you think about how to actually do it. Even if you don’t have the skill yet – that will grow over time, and you’ll have to fail… a lot – that two-punch thinking combination is what will get things done, and make you enjoy your job. Did I mention failing? It happens all the time. You’re always building things that don’t exist, based on ideas written in a few sentences by people who don’t know how to do what you’ll be able to do. Like the beautiful buildings you see when walking, to paintings at shows, to jokes you hear for the first time – all those are the final result after all the failures to make them reality before. Building designs start with an idea out of thin air, go through a billion revisions, and finally get built. Jokes usually start from trying variations that don’t get a blink, to the final one that makes an audience laugh. But the comic started the line of thought, from thin air, from inspiration, and from thinking about how people think. The same goes with programming.
The lesson: Fail quickly, then move on to the next approach.
That being said, I’ve found the best parts of programming are the community, and what it leads to.
First, Community. Software engineering is like medicine. You’re not going to know all the practices. You’ll be good at one, or a few, but can never be good at all. Yet, you’ll meet brilliant people that can fill in the gaps in your knowledge, and you feel even better when you do the same. As engineers, we inspire other engineers. Look at Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Nicholai Tesla, Sergei Brin, Larry Page – all their bios mention influencers. Nobody did it on their own. They all had help.
Second, What it Leads To. Coming up with ideas all the time has its side effects. The most prevalent? A constant stream of ideas on how to make those cool computers, whether they have a keyboard or not – phones for example – do more stuff. You’ll have ideas. Lots of them. And you have the power to make your ideas real. You’ll fail in bringing them to reality, often. Like medicine, or any career really, you’ll get better over time, tuning your craft. You’ll release your ideas, maybe as apps, maybe as web sites, maybe just making your own projects millions of people use – like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and countless others you think of having the best and brightest. Those companies are full of people who aspired, as you do, to become software engineers at some point in their lives. Those companies were also started by software and hardware engineers. Heck, Apple practically invented the personal computer, and the software engineer that wanted to program it.
Gosh, that’s a lot, and I need another refill of coffee. I hope to discuss further, if you’d like.
Thanks and Best,
Appending what a fellow developer and instructor answered to the same student:
What your career looks like in 5 or 10 years is a very personal choice.  If you are a guy looking for a desk job with great benefits in a big company, that’s going to look very different than if you have an entrepreneurial spark that leads you to develop your own products or freelance.  I can tell you that you need to talk to all types of software professionals to get this knowledge and find out what excites you most.  The best way to do so is to attend networking events.  Verge is a fun one for entrepreneurs.  I believe Auri can refer you to a few great .NET networking groups.
After 5 years of MY career, I found myself climbing a technical corporate ladder inside of Motorola and being very content with that.  But after 10 years (still at the same company), I grew restless and started my own freelance firm on the side while also transitioning from test to architecture within the big company.  And after 15 years, I found myself appreciating the big picture of software (sales / pm / business dev) more than I did the nitty gritty code and new technologies.
As far as highs and lows in a coding career… that’s a bit more finite.  There’s a huge high when you can point at something and say, “I did that! And it’s AWESOME!”  And an ever bigger high when your peers and mentors do the same.  And for every coder, there’s a dark dark low when you run into a problem that you just CAN’T figure out.  You feel alone, you feel stupid, and you feel like a failure.  As a coder, you’re going to need to expect those situations, not fear them, just grow and learn from them.
Hope this helps.  Feel free to find me & Auri at Eleven Fifty and chat about this stuff during the time you’re here.
Tiffany Trusty

Attention Live Sync Team: You touted all the great reasons I should move from Live Mesh. So I did. But what gives with all the great Mesh features seemingly being dumped?

Case in point, I can’t sync the same folders as before because now they’re “too big!” Why would you replace a service that let users store more information to the Cloud with one that stores less to the Cloud, and then leave that fact out in the upgrade process?

Lesson in Software Development: If you’re going to promote an upgrade, don’t make it a downgrade.

A few other issues to consider (and I don’t gripe all the time – but this is feedback you need):

  1. I’m sure as I use Live Sync more I will get used to it. The problem is, I want to be excited about using it. I want to promote it to my friends. At this stage I can’t do that. Immensely useful features and a fantastic UX are now gone.
  2. We can no longer tell which folders are synced unless we bring up the Live Sync interface. The blue highlight Mesh added made a lot of sense – you knew that was the synced folder. In User Experience design, this is called a “hot color.” Now I don’t know which folders are synced. I’m sure the software works fine, but what feedback did you get when running this by your users. My guess is little to none.
  3. Live Mesh let you see a feed of what was added/updated simply by visiting the system tray icon. Why is this feature gone? I can no longer see what people have updated in my shared folders. I guess I could call, message, email them, but … why get rid of that feature?
  4. If this is beta, why isn’t there a clear way to leave feedback on the product?
  5. Why can’t I sync Firefox bookmarks? I know, IE is your product, and you can’t support Mozilla and other third party apps. But is there an API for plug-ins? I didn’t see an obvious way, but if you send me a link to an API, I’ll write a sync plug-in for a few other services.
  6. I had seemingly no file count limit with Live Mesh between machines. However, there is one with Live Sync. Why? Can’t you talk to the Mesh team and kill that hurdle? I understand a limit on the Cloud storage, but why would you limit my own machines??? Why would you even care?
  7. Kudos on finally adding smart LAN synchronization – but with the file size limit, how do I know all my files will be updated? Won’t that leave me vulnerable to synchronization issues? Have you noticed how many computers have 500GB+ storage these days? That’s not all music and video… even with non-power-users.

What gives?

I’m happy to help test and provide more feedback – just ping me on Messenger Smile



Windows Live Movie Maker (WLMM) is a great product. But with the latest version, Microsoft removed many profiles that were included with the “old” Windows Movie Maker product. In this article I will show you how to modify the existing output “profiles,” turning WLMM into an even more flexible and powerful video production tool. Using this knowledge, you will be able to create your own profiles for uses not included in the core WLMM product.

idea, light buld, tip iconTIP: If you would like to use a CableCard with Windows Media Center, you either need Windows 7 or a special version of Windows Vista. You will also need a CableCard tuner, such as the ATI Digital Wonder CableCard tuner.

Getting Started

Before you begin, there are some requirements:

  • Windows Vista, Windows 7, or higher (future-proofing this blog post, I hope)
  • Windows Live Movie Maker – why would you be doing this if you didn’t have it, anyway? <grin>
  • Patience – to test your profiles

A Bit of Background

My search for how to do this started after I had encoded my Superbowl DVD and BluRay videos from my CableCard capture in Windows Media Center. While the trimmed video looked pretty good, I wanted a higher bitrate for higher video quality, and wanted to keep the 5.1 surround sound Media Center records, instead of the 2-channel stereo WLMM uses. Since I was creating a BluRay version of my Superbowl disc this year, I couldn’t live without the surround sound and highest bitrate available on BluRay, now could I! 🙂

Unfortunately, WLMM doesn’t have a built-in function to let users tune its built-in profiles. Thankfully, Microsoft’s WLMM team chose to use the same profile format as other applications that use Windows Media Encoding, and the idea for this article was born.

Step 1: Download Necessary Software

In order to create your profiles, you will need the Profile Editor, available in the free Windows Media Encoder utility. You can download the installers by following the appropriate link below:

arrow, down, download icon Windows Media Encoder or
arrow, down, download icon Windows Media Encoder x64 Edition – Get the x64 version if you are running a 64-bit version of Windows.

Step 2: Install Windows Media Encoder 9

After you have downloaded the appropriate installer, simply double-click it and follow the instructions to install. It shouldn’t take very long.


Figure: The Windows Media Encoder 9 setup wizard. Yours may look slightly different if you downloaded the 32-bit version.


Figure: After a few minutes, the software should be successfully installed.


Figure: FYI, you can find the Windows Media Encoder tools under Windows Media in the Start menu.

caution, exclamation mark, sign, triangle, warning icon CAUTION: According to Microsoft, you should not install both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the tools on the same machine.

Step 3: Back Up the Existing 1080p Profile

In this example, we will make a backup of the built-in 1080p output profile, and then modify its video quality setting to 100% instead of 95%.

1. Navigate to the WLMM video profiles folder:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Live\Photo Gallery\Video Profiles

NOTE: Your drive letter may be different.

2. Make a copy of the PublishToFile1080p file by selecting the file, then pressing Control-C, and then Control-V.


Figure: The copied file.

3. Rename the copy from PublishToFile1080p – Copy to PublishToFile1080p – Backup. If you are showing file extensions, do not remove the .prx file extension!

caution, exclamation mark, sign, triangle, warning icon CAUTION: Always back up the profiles you are modifying!


Figure: The renamed file.

Step 4: Modify the New Profile

Double-click the original PublishToFile1080p file and the Windows Media Encoder Profile Editor will load, as shown in the figure below:

There are a lot of settings here, and I will leave it up to you to experiment and learn more.

idea, light buld, tip iconTIP: The Windows Media Encoder Profile Editor comes with a help system so you can learn more about how it works.

Now, we want to change the audio and video quality. Next to Audio, change the Audio Mode dropdown to Quality VBR and the Codec to Windows Media Audio 10 Professional. Then, next to Video, change the Video Mode dropdown to Quality VBR. This video setting automatically determines the best bit rate to use based on a percentage scale.


Figure: Changing the Audio and Video modes.

Now, change to the Quality-based tab on the top and change the video quality from 95 to 100% and the audio format to VBR Quality, 98, 96 KHz, 5.1 channel 24bit VBR, as shown below.


Figure: Changing the quality settings.

Save and close the profile by typing clicking Save and Close.

Step 5: Test

Launch WLMM and you should not receive any errors. Find a video to encode, and save it using the High Definition 1080p profile.


Figure: Encoding the video. Note that this may take a while, since encoding video takes a long time anyway, and you just increased the quality settings!

idea, light buld, tip iconTIP: You can also use Windows Media Encoder to test your profiles before you use them in WLMM, although this someone defeats the point.

idea, light buld, tip iconTIP: Remember the rule of Garbage In, Garbage Out (GIGO). If your source media is low quality, a higher quality encode of a low quality source will likely not yield better results. In fact, it’ll probably make it worse.

That’s it! You’ve successfully modified your WLMM output profile settings!

Moving On

It would be nice if we could create our own profiles and have them be included. I haven’t tinkered with this yet, but I plan on playing around with accomplishing such a feat.

I encourage you to experiment – just make a backup before you do. Please post your results in Comments.

‘Til next time, enjoy!



64x64at96dpiI’ve updated the Help Haiti Windows Mobile app to support both Red Cross and Clinton Bush funds. It’s a free download and you can help the Haitian people today!

How it works:

  • The app texts the word QUAKE to 20222 (Clinton Bush fund) or HAITI to 90999 (Red Cross fund) and tells you the progress of your donation, automatically replying YES when asked for confirmation. No donation is made unless you confirm you actually want to donate, so just running the app will not donate. (never fear!)
  • The app also provides access to the People Finder tool, and additional information about Haiti from Wikipedia.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go do a good thing!

Download link:

Help Haiti - Donation Successful Help Haiti - Donation ConfirmationHelp Haiti - Additional Resources (2) Help Haiti - Additional Resources  



I was in Japan visiting the CEATEC 2009 technology trade show this week and had a chance to visit Intel’s booth. There was an enormous display of netbooks running Windows 7. Now, small computers have never been a rarity in Japan. We just call them netbooks in the U.S., but they’ve had super small systems for years now. Anyway, Intel was showing some very cool designs for netbooks, and I’ve posted them here for you to enjoy 🙂 Some of these will be available Stateside, like the Disney Netbooks. Others may never see the light of day, such as Sony’s OLED flexible notebook concept.

Intel's cool netbook display.

I know people who would want this Acer Aspire One, but wow…

Intel's cool netbook display.

Dynabook with cool design… I’m pretty sure that’s custom paint

Intel's cool netbook display. This is a Disney netbook.

Disney Netbook

Sony's flexible-screen Vaio laptop concept.

Sony’s flexible OLED notebook concept

Intel's Windows 7 display.

Windows 7 display at Intel’s booth



My screen broke yesterday. Company was in town and they needed to reach me. Uh-oh, I needed to get my phone fixed, and wipe out my sensitive data before I do. That means I’d also have to go re-sync my phone at the office, lose my text messages and call history, wouldn’t recognize incoming calls, and would basically lose the “state” of my digital life. Or… would I?

Thanks to Microsoft My Phone, a free service that’s in beta right now at, I was able to wipe my phone and have it repaired with no worries. Once I got my phone back, I simply installed My Phone, signed with with my Live ID, and presto – my contacts, calendar entries, text messages, settings and more were transferred to my phone. No computer connection needed. Communications tragedy averted.

Microsoft My Phone

If you haven’t heard already, Windows Mobile Marketplace is coming out sometime in the next few months. Building upon the craze of an all-inclusive “App Store,” akin to what Apple has had tremendous success with the iPhone and iPod Touch, the Marketplace is going to bring such to Windows Mobile phones. It is quite possible this strategy will be extended to Zune, XBox, and other Microsoft platforms.

While you cannot submit applications at this time, you can sign up for the Marketplace today. This gets you approved for the Marketplace now, meaning you won’t have to wait [hopefully] for account approval when the Marketplace officially starts accepting application submissions.

It’s not surprising that Microsoft has taken many pages from Apple:

  • $99 entry fee (same as Apple’s)
    • Note this is for the first 5 apps, then $99 per app thereafter (a policy that is subject to change)
  • Developers get 70% (so 70 cents of a 99 cent app)
  • A developer dashboard (similar to Apple’s)
  • Built-in to every Windows Mobile 6.5 phone (Apple’s iTunes App Store is built-in on every iPhone and touch-screen iPod)
  • Having the built-in App Store gives way to impulse purchases, especially 99 cent applications

The Windows Mobile Marketplace will be different in many ways as well:

  • More devices by many manufacturers expands the breadth of your distribution, and increases potential revenue
  • Target devices with capabilities suited to your application’s needs
  • Rely on Microsoft as a development company to make development and deployment easy
  • Businesses tend to use Windows Mobile, opening up a great market segment to independent developers
  • Use Visual Studio to write killer apps in a simple-to-understand framework – .NET
  • No reason to code in Objective C (seriously)

There Are Hurdles, Of Course

Now, to be fair, Microsoft faces a few hurdles Apple doesn’t, namely:

  • Multiple device types, formats, screen resolutions, processor speeds, keyboard capabilities (Apple only has one format, basically)
  • Development time constraints for 12 screen resolutions
  • Much less control over what’s already included on phones, and how OEM software will conflict with built-in applications

Hopefully the market will work out the two issues above. I posted a Wish List on the Windows Mobile Marketplace forum, hoping Microsoft will help us developers out when it comes to deployment. To be fair, Microsoft is selling operating system licenses, not phones. The more manufacturers, the more licenses. However, it’s a chicken and egg problem – getting developers to write applications for the devices running the operating system.

There are already tens of thousands of Windows Mobile applications out there. It is likely many of those will already be available in the app store, and they already run on the majority of Windows Mobile devices, especially those with touch screens (the ones I hope will win out in this “format war” of sorts). So, it’s good to see Microsoft can start with a vast library.

Of course, the downside to this is it’s not a new library, and developers may be turned away after seeing so much competition; especially entrenched competition with a potentially unfair lead into inclusion. Microsoft also faces the risk that of those thousands of applications that are already out there, many of them may be written for older Windows Mobile devices, and thus have compatibility issues, or very outdated interfaces. There is something to be said about iPhone apps – they look pretty – with special thanks to Apple’s UIKit extensions, which provide transitions, flips, acrobatics, shine, and panache with practically a click of a button. Let’s hope Microsoft provides the same.

Developers – Make Money!

The draw to these application stores isn’t just for consumers looking for games to show off to friends at a bar. The revenue possibilities for independent and commercial developers are huge. Impulse purchases are a gimme – 99 cents to try an app, just tap to get it. That’s easy money for the store provider, the phone company (they get a cut of that 30%), and especially the developer. Most independent developers could never afford this type of exposure, and commercial distributors are likely salivating over getting their apps in front of so many people through such an outlet. If you’ve read the stories of people making hundreds of thousands of dollars with Apple’s App Store, you can see why.

Microsoft is really the only other game in town when it comes to serious platform availability. Given that they are incredibly popular in the business arena, and business applications are super easy to write with .NET, independent developers should be flocking to their Marketplace. I hope they do – but then again I’m biased as a Windows Mobile developer who’s done WM dev since the beginning.

Can Apple Be Beat?

Apple exudes iron-fisted control over their platform in a way no other provider can, and they can get away with it, since they own both the hardware and the software. Heck, to some extent, they even control the carrier (for now). Microsoft, Google (Android), RIM (Blackberry) – they are all operating system manufacturers with multiple devices on practically every carrier.

It is likely Apple will want to extend the iPhone to other markets. This could mean different-sized screens and device capabilities. If they release a netbook or tablet-like device, they’ll probably want to use the iTunes App Store to monetize it. So, Apple may end up getting dragged into this device format and software compatibility issue as well. Time will tell.

Moving Forward

At the end of the day, though, it’s all about you. If you’re a developer, you win all the way around. For $99, you get distribution to millions of devices, no matter which store you choose. If you have .NET development skills, you can start writing applications for Windows Mobile devices today, and get them distributed easily. Release a great game, entertainment or business application for 99 cents and maybe make thousands of dollars in a single month. The tools are free, and $99 isn’t too bad, especially since you only have to pay it once, not per application. If it doesn’t do well, at least you can brag to your friends that your app is available phones all over the world 🙂

In the mean time, why not sign up for the Marketplace and prepare yourself for a potentially great revenue stream?

Some helpful resources:


Updates to article:

  • Corrected Android reference
  • Updated fee information to include 5 app limit on $99

I noticed these “test updates” in Windows Update today (Patch Tuesday, which occurs on the second Tuesday of every month):


The updates are:

All three updates have the same description:

This update is a test update to validate Operating System servicing. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer. This update is provided to you and licensed under the Windows 7 Prerelease License Terms.

According to Microsoft’s site, these are simply used to test updating in Windows 7 and, since they’re based on the same underlying operating system, Windows Server 2008 R2 Beta. If you’re interested in the technical details, click the links for each knowledgebase article above.

After installation, it does not appear these updates affected my system.

If you had any issues, I’d like to know! Lovin’ Windows 7!



Intel’s Atom processor is an ULV (ultra-low voltage) processor making strides in the netbook market. Often teamed with wireless networking and a mediocre to decent graphics solution from Intel, ATI or nVidia, these systems make great budget PCs. Most of the time they come with Windows XP and a gig of RAM, although Windows 7 may change that game.

Compaq offers a $249 desktop PC with a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, Windows XP, and a gig of RAM. It’s a nice looking box that likely has a very small power footprint. It even has a DC adapter (although I actually don’t know much about what that means)! I can see them bundling it with a monitor and printer for $299 soon… Nice for the budget market. I’m curious how Windows 7 will affect it, and I’m hearing good feedback that Windows 7 accomplishes Microsoft’s goal of running well on netbook-grade devices.

For those of you looking for an affordable all-in-one desktop, check out Asus’ EeeTop PC – $549, wireless, and a touchscreen. That beats Dell’s StudioOne 19” and HP’s TouchSmart on price if you’re just looking for an auxiliary PC for the kids or kitchen. It isn’t a high-powered machine – so pay the extra money if you need performance for gaming, business applications, and the like.

If you’re in the market for a budget PC, you can also save on software by checking out my post Finding Free Software For Every Task.

If you want to see these in person, they have ‘em at Fry’s. You can get more information on each product’s respective Web site – click the images below to visit each product’s page.