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.

Aaron,
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,
-Auri
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.
Thanks,
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

Thanks!

-Auri

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.

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Best,

-Auri

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: http://aurigroup.com/HelpHaiti

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

Best,

-Auri

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

Enjoy!

-Auri

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 http://myphone.microsoft.com, 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