Sunday, November 18, 2007

Television Coverage of the Tennis Masters Cup Final

It's a little past 3:00am Eastern Standard Time (when I started this blog entry). Being the tennis fan that I am, I stayed up late with the hopes of watching the Tennis Masters Cup final between Roger Federer and David Ferrer.

In theory, it was a great plan, until to my utter dismay, I realized there was no live television feed of this match on any Canadian channel. TSN and RDS had the rights to cover the Tennis Masters Cup final, but both channels were showing it on tape delay. Investigating further, the only US station that had this match live was ESPN Deportes, the Spanish version of ESPN. There was no live tennis on ESPN, ESPN2 (or any of its HD feeds) or even the Tennis Channel. With absolutely no offence to any Spanish viewers, surely there must have been other English and even French speaking tennis fans in North America who would have wanted to watch this match live!

What is more astonishing is to see what these stations were carrying instead of the Tennis Masters Cup final. Here's a list of what these stations, which had rights to carry singles action, ended up showing:

  • TSN - 2007 Montreal Supercross, an event that happened in late September 2007;
  • RDS - Sports 30, which is essentially the French version of SportsCentre;
  • ESPN - ESPN College Football Primetime, a repeat of the Saturday night college football game;
  • ESPN2 - Ford 300, a repeat of a NASCAR race that occured Saturday afternoon; and,
  • Tennis Channel (which didn't have the rights to the singles matches anyways) was showing infomercials.

Granted, with the Tennis Masters Cup being held in Shanghai, it is not the most ideal location in terms of time difference to match up with the North American TV viewing schedule. That said, surely the ATP's prestigious year-end event, which is suppose to showcase the best in men's singles tennis (I promise I'm not forgetting about doubles either), deserves to be shown live on at least one English speaking channel. Instead, all these North American channels (with the exception of ESPND) showed repeats and highlight shows. Yes, repeats and highlight shows!

To me, this is a clear demonstration of what is wrong with television coverage of tennis. When repeats and highlight shows are deemed to be more important than the Tennis Masters Cup finals, what hope does tennis being a 'must-see' live sporting event? Don't get me started on the US Open Men's final, which doesn't start at a specific time (e.g. 4:15 pm), but rather, starts when the television coverage of the NFL game ends (such that CBS can then switch over to tennis). If that NFL game goes to overtime, guess what event has to wait? It is really a shame that there is great coverage of tennis tournaments in the US Open Series over the summer, which is then followed up by tape delayed coverage of what is suppose to be the big year-end event.

Perhaps when the Tennis Masters Cup (to be renamed to the ATP World Tour Final) tournament moves to London in 2009, the live coverage situation for North American viewers will be more ideal. Surely, the ATP must have had this consideration in mind with this move.

Some will say that my rant is irrelevant because you could watch this match on ATP Masters Series TV, a site that streams some ATP tennis matches live for a fee. To me, while with TV broadcasting of live sports being in its infancy, it cannot be considered a replacement for what we can get today; a high or even a standard definition television feed over 'regular' television broadcast mediums, whether it is cable or satellite. Going the pay-per-view route, whether it is through the Internet or television is another move that won't win over too many tennis fans. Broadcasting sporting events over the Internet is definitely in our future, but let's not forget about about what we are capable of doing with television today.

That said, congratulations to Roger Federer, who defeated David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to win the Tennis Masters Cup for the fourth time in five years. In addition, congratulations are also in order for Mark Knowles and Canadian Daniel Nestor, who won the doubles final over Simon Aspelin and Julian Knowle 6-2, 6-3 in what was the final match together for the winning team.

Hopefully, next year brings even better tennis and better television coverage for the ATP Tour.


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Monday, November 12, 2007

EA Donates SimCity to "One Laptop Per Child" Initiative

Electronic Arts announced in a press release on November 8, 2007 that they would donate a copy of the game SimCity to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.

SimCity, a game that was first released in 1989, allows its player takes on the role of mayor of a new municipality—responsible for building and maintaining a place where citizens can work and live happily. Doing so requires laying out essentials such as housing, employment areas, transport links, schools, and commercial uses. The job also requires an ability to choose wisely—for example, some power sources pollute, while others do not but are more expensive. Players must also be financially savvy—raising taxes enough to guarantee an income that can be allocated to public services such as policing and road repair, but not so high that business growth is hampered or that citizens revolt. The mayor must always be prepared for emergency situations as well, as earthquakes, floods and fires can wreak havoc on the town and require an immediate response so that fallout can be contained.

The OLPC is a not-for-profit humanitarian effort to design, manufacture and distribute inexpensive laptops with the goal of giving every child in the world access to modern education. OLPC will begin distributing laptops in countries such as Uruguay, Peru, Mexico, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Haiti, Cambodia and India by the end of 2007. By gifting SimCity onto each OLPC laptop, EA is providing users with an entertaining way to engage with computers as well as help develop decision-making skills while honing creativity.

I think the OLPC is a great initiative, as long as basic living conditions are already available for people that they are targetting. For example, it makes no sense to give out these laptops, if things like shelter, food or water are not available. This falls along the lines of what Bill Gates talked about during his last MVP Summit keynote that I attended (details here). Once those basic living conditions are met, then the OLPC becomes a really compelling initiative with great potential.

Since SimCity was one of the things that eventually pushed me toward my current career as an urban planner, coupled with my on-going interest in computer technology, I think this was a great move by EA to partner with the OLPC. Hopefully the inclusion of a game like this will help children learn about the complexities of city building, the role of government and the effect of land use planning decisions that have social, economic and environmental implications. Who knows, maybe some of these children will end up making a career out of this like I did!

For more information, see the EA press release "EA Donates Original City- Building Game, SIMCITY, To "One Laptop Per Child" Initiative".


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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tevlin Challenger Wrap-up

I was back at the Tevlin Challenger tennis tournament this weekend (see here for a blog entry about the tournament and my first weekend).

Similar to the Rogers Cup, and most other tennis tournaments, the final weekend is usually not very busy compared to earlier in the tournament. Many of the players, unfortunately, have left to go onto their next tournaments. During the first weekend, you have all the qualifying players (up to 32 singles players) and some main draw players around. Contrast this with the second weekend where you only have the 4 singles semifinalists and 4 doubles team semifinalists left.

While I was primarily driving again, it was a really slow couple of days, which was actually okay, because it gave me a chance to actually watch tennis; something I usually don't get to do during the Rogers Cup because it is so busy. It was also great to catch up with many of the Tennis Canada staff, officials and some of the volunteers whom I've worked with during the Rogers Cup.

On Saturday (Nov 10), there were only two matches played; one singles semi-final (the second semi-final was a walkover), and the doubles final. In the singles semi-final, Sabine Lisicki defeated Renata Voracova 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. The second semi-final was a walkover with Maria-Jose Argeri earning her berth in the championship after her opponent Naomi Cavaday could not play due to a high ankle sprain. In the doubles final, Canadians Sharon Fichman and Gabriela Dabrowski defeated Maria-Fernanda Alves and Christina Wheeler 6-3, 6-0. This win is the first professional doubles title for both players, with hopefully many to come.

On Sunday (Nov 11), there was only one match, the singles final. Sabine Lisicki defeated Maria-Jose Argeri 6-4, 6-4. It was a very well played match by the winner. Following the match, there was a awards ceremony where it was announced that next year's edition of the Telvin Challenger would be a $50,000 tournament, a step up from its current status as a $25,000 tournament, thanks again to the generosity of the Tevlin family.

All in all, it was a great couple of weekends. It was definitely a different atmosphere compared to the Rogers Cup, one which I could definitely say that I enjoyed as much, if not even more than the Rogers Cup itself. While there is a vast difference between he prize money that was available and the player rankings between the two tournaments, you can't help but to gain a new perspective and appreciation for all these players who are fighting tooth and nail for ranking points that will get them to the next level in their tennis careers. I hope that I'll see many of these players next year at the same tournament, or even in two years when the women are back in Toronto for the Rogers Cup.


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Friday, November 09, 2007

The Police Reunion Tour

I am not usually one to write about concerts. I have been lucky to see many, with huge majority in near past being ones where I have been working, either through production work, or through ushering.

I have always been a fan of Sting (Fields of Gold, Desert Rose and Fortress Around Your Heart are probably my favorite songs by him), and I knew prior to his solo career, that he was part of The Police along with Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland. As everyone probably knows, The Police broke up in the mid-1980s, but reunited in early 2007 with the announcement that they are undertaking a world tour from the middle of that year on until mid-2008, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their hit single "Roxanne" and also, to a lesser extent, that of their formation as a group.

Originally, there were only going to be two shows in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, which took place earlier in July of this year. Due to high demand, two additional shows were added, one last night, and one tonight, and as a result, I pounced on the opportunity to get these tickets. One night removed from the show, I am glad that I had a chance to see them live.

The Police Reunion Tour at the Air Canada Centre - November 8, 2007

While I did not know all the songs that were performed, all the songs that I did know (Message in a Bottle, Walking On The Moon, Don't Stand So Close To Me, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, Wrapped Around Your Finger (fav song of the night), De Do Do Do De Da Da Da, Invisible Sun, Walking In Your Footsteps, Roxanne, King Of Pain and Every Breath You Take) were done in a familiar, yet slightly updated manner. I really liked the songs where Copeland alternated between his primary drumkit and a secondary percussion kit of kettle drums, xylophones, chimes, suspended cymbals and some other 'stuff' (Wrapped Around Your Finger and King of Pain). See the below video clip (from an earlier concert) for an example of Copeland at work.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yfRP8Lt_C8">Video Link</a>

The stage setup was pretty simple split oval design, ringed with lights. It was nothing fancy compared to other stages that I have seen; no doubt the band let their music be the highlight of the show, as it should be. The production of the concert was also pretty straight forward. Video screens above the stage showed close ups of the three performers most of the time, but there was some pretty interesting footage during some of the songs, particularly during Invisible Sun (the photo image montage of children dealing with war, conflict, natural disaster, abuse and displacement, see 'Invisible Sun - The Story behind the Pictures' for more details and the video) along with video footage of The Police in their younger days during their final song of the night.

Tickets to the concert were not particularly cheap but for the experience of seeing The Police live, it was worth it. Part of the proceeds of the concert will be going to Wateraid, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people escape the poverty and disease caused by living without safe water and sanitation.

Of course, what concert could I go to without running into somebody I know. I ran into Raya, a fellow volunteer at Tennis Canada in the same Transportation Committee as me. It seems that a lot of volunteers in my committee saw one of these Police shows based on conversations I had over the summer. Lastly, thanks Liz, for coming to the concert with me, even though you were not feeling very well. Hope you had a great time, and hope that you get well soon!

Set List - November 8, 2007, Toronto - Air Canada Centre

  • Message in a Bottle
  • Synchronicity II
  • Walking On The Moon
  • Voices Inside My Head
  • When The World Is Running Down
  • Don't Stand So Close To Me
  • Driven To Tears
  • Truth Hits Everybody
  • Hole In My Life
  • Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
  • Wrapped Around Your Finger
  • De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
  • Invisible Sun
  • Walking In Your Footsteps
  • Can't Stand Losing You
  • Roxanne

First Encore

  • King Of Pain
  • So Lonely
  • Every Breath You Take

Second Encore

  • Next To You

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tevlin Challenger Tennis Tournament

This past weekend, I helped out at the Tevlin Challenger Tennis Tournament, held at the Rexall Centre's Compass Centre of Excellence in Toronto. Prior to agreeing to helping out, I honestly did not know too much about this event. Now that I have had the opportunity to learn more about the tournament, here is my chance to share what I have learned about the tournament.

The Tevlin Challenger is a women's tennis tournament that is sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). It is classified as a $25,000 tournament, which means that the total prize money (purse) for the tournament is $25,000. It is a 32 player singles main draw tournament, a 32 player singles qualifying draw and a 16 team doubles main draw.

Where does this tournament lie in the tennis hierarchy? The following chart shows the levels of tennis tournaments for women.

WTA Tour Events

  • Grand Slams (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open)
  • Tour Championships
  • Tier I (sub-divided by both prize money and 96, 56 or 32 player singles main draws)
  • Tier II (sub-divided by both prize money and 64 or 32 player singles main draws)
  • Tier III (sub-divided by both prize money and 64 or 32 player singles main draws)
  • Tier IV (32 player main draw)

ITF Pro Events

  • $100,000 (with or without Hospitality, 32 player singles main draw)
  • $75,000 (with or without Hospitality, 32 player singles main draw)
  • $50,000 (with or without Hospitality, 32 player singles main draw)
  • $25,000 (32 player singles main draw)
  • $10,000 (32 player singles main draw)

At first glance, it would be easy to say that this event is quite a step down from the Rogers Cup, which is a Tier I (56 player main draw) event. I wouldn't dispute that at all. However, it was a real eye-opener to see many of these players competing with the hopes of acquiring ranking points to help them move up to the next level of the professional competitive ladder. With the lack of media coverage for these lower tier events, not many people see the plight of players at this level, working up the ranks, attempting to live out their dream of becoming an elite tennis player.

There was a large mix of players at this event, from young juniors to more veteran players. Some of these players even played at the Rogers Cup earlier this year. While there were a lot of Canadians in the qualifying draw, I was especially surprised to see the number of players who came from overseas to play in this event (the entry list can be found here).

One of the duties that I assisted with was driving the players to and from their hotel. This was quite the change from my duties at the Rogers Cup, where I would be co-ordinating various transportation related requests and managing volunteers who do the driving. It was also nice to not have to be in charge for once; just being able to help out was really refreshing. Because of this, I had the opportunity to talk to the players about their experiences. With the common bond of tennis aside, it was nice to see the human aspect of these players. Everybody had their own story to tell, whether it was a first or a repeat visit to Toronto, the joy of participating in tennis camps all around the world, life as professional player after completing college, travel adventures and/or nightmares or even talking about their home city/countries. Who knows what the future holds for these players. Maybe in two years, I hope to see some of these players again at the Rogers Cup.

The Tevlin Challenger was founded by Tevlin family of Toronto as part of a generous $500,000 donation made to Tennis Canada's High Performance Development Strategy in 2005. Qualifying play started on Sunday and concluded on yesterday (Monday). Main draw play will begins on today (Tuesday, November 6) and concludes with the finals on Sunday, November 11. The event is open to the public, with no charge for admission or parking. If you are interested in tennis, you should really consider coming out to watch this event. Matches begin at 10:00 a.m. during the week, 11:00 a.m. on Saturday and the finals will be played at noon on Sunday.

For more information about this event, see the Tennis Canada news article 'Tevlin Challenger to Begin Next Week'.

If you are not in Toronto, take a look at the ITF website to see what tennis tournaments are being held (see the Mens Circuit, Womens Circuit, Juniors, etc). Perhaps there might be one of these tournaments happening in your area.


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Friday, November 02, 2007

End of an Era

On the afternoon of October 28th, the end of an era came with the removal of the basketball net from our driveway.

This basketball net had been up for 16 years, and I remember all the great times that we had playing basketball in my driveway.

In the last few years, the basketball net wasn't used much. Instead it served as a wayfinding device for people looking for my house. My brother and I would always tell people to 'look for the basketball net' as part of the directions we gave.

While the basketball net is gone, the pole remains. I suspect it'll be used to hang some sort of a floral arrangement off of it. We'll see what happens. Either way, don't look for a basketball net anymore if you are looking for my house. If you do, you'll never find my house!

Before

After


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Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Halloween

Yesterday was Halloween. I actually had a couple of Raptors tickets for their season/home opener, but I wasn't really in the mood to go. Gave them up to a couple of friends of mine, and decided to stay at home.

It's been a while since I've been at home during Halloween. I always remember Halloween as being one of my favorite holidays. Being at home, it was amazing to see the work that some people put into getting into the Halloween mood. I took a walk around the neighbourhood to see what people had done, and was amazed by the lengths that some families took into decorating their houses for the occasion. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, so I couldn't take any pictures.

While my parents weren't the biggest fans of the candy distribution, I decided to give out candy to the kids once I got home. We didn't really have any candy at our house, but it was a good thing that Gary had a lot of junk food around, so I 'borrowed' some of that supply. While not too many kids came up to our house, those that did were probably happy with what they got.

Later that night, Shima messaged me asking for help securing a highly sought after gift (hint, it is something I appeared in a newspaper for last December). Luck must have been upon us, because I found one for her pretty quickly. I don't think I've ever secured one of these items with about one hour's notice.

The Raptors ended up winning their home opener against the 76ers by a score of 106-96. My friends enjoyed the game, I got to enjoy Halloween, and I was able to help a friend out. I think everyone won that night.


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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista (Re-release)

Due to some issues that people had with the original release of the October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista, Microsoft has re-released this update.

You can download the latest update from Microsoft Downloads. Look for the v2 in the filename to confirm that you are downloading the re-release. For those that are experiencing issues after installing the initial release, you should download and install this update.

Download links as follows:

For more information, visit the October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista KB article (KB941229).


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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Andy Murray's Car Accident in Paris

Andy Murray, a competitor at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, was with coach Brad Gilbert on Monday in heavy traffic when another car crashed into the back of their car.

"I've never been in car crash before," Murray said. "There was a lot of traffic, the driver just broke and somebody driving at about 20 kilometres per hour bumped into the back of the car. There was a pretty loud bang. My back is a bit stiff, but it's nothing serious."

Since I am one of the people in charge of event transportation for tennis tournament in Toronto, in the back of my mind, this is one of the scenarios that I fear most during the two weeks that we provide transportation services to tournament guests. Car accidents happen. You just hope that it doesn't happen during your watch, and if it does, you hope that no one is hurt. Thankfully nothing like this has happened in Toronto over the last 11 years that I've been involved with the tennis tournament (knock on wood).

Hopefully, Andy Murray is ok, and he can continue his pursuit of a berth for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.


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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Planning decisions and their consequences

Ronald (Bo) Ward, from Clarksville, Tennessee and owner of Bo's Barber Shop, submitted an application to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Map of the City of Clarksville, for a zone change on a property at Madison Street and Liberty Parkway from R-1 Single Family Residential District to C-2 General Commercial District (Ordinance 29-2007-08).

Ward told Council that his business would go under if he could not have his home rezoned as commercial. Ward said the rezoning would increase his property value, allowing him to secure a loan to offset debt he incurred when he expanded his shop.

This application passed first reading on September 6, 2007. On October 1, 2007, the item was before Council for second reading. Council members voted to deny the second reading. This meant that Ward's application was unsuccessful. After the vote, Ward stood, walked toward the council members, told them that he was 'done' and 'out of here' and shot himself in the head with a small handgun.

This is a stark reminder of outcome of planning matters can really affect the way people live their lives. Choices that planners make, at any level, will naturally have consequences. This could hypothetically mean that a house(s) might not be built as originally designed, or that a land use(s) is not permitted (or vice versa). That said, these consequences usually do not result in people shooting themselves in the head.

For more on this story, please visit the following links:


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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Intellipoint 6.20.182.0 released

Microsoft has released Intellipoint 6.20.182.0 for its mouse products. This software is for both 32 and 64 bit versions Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Download links (English):

Supported products in this release are the following:

  • Basic Optical Mouse
  • Basic Optical Mouse 2.0
  • Comfort Optical Mouse 1000
  • Comfort Optical Mouse 3000
  • Compact Optical Mouse
  • Compact Optical Mouse 500 v2.0
  • Intellimouse
  • IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0
  • IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0
  • IntelliMouse Explorer for Bluetooth
  • IntelliMouse Optical
  • Laser Mouse 6000
  • Mobile Memory Mouse 8000
  • Mobile Optical Mouse
  • Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000
  • Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 7000
  • Notebook Optical Mouse
  • Notebook Optical Mouse 3000
  • Optical Mouse
  • Optical Mouse by Starck
  • SideWinder Mouse
  • Standard Wireless Optical Mouse
  • Trackball Explorer
  • Trackball Optical
  • Wheel Mouse
  • Wheel Mouse Optical
  • Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0
  • Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer for Bluetooth
  • Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer with Fingerprint Reader
  • Wireless Laser Mouse 5000
  • Wireless Laser Mouse 6000
  • Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 v2.0
  • Wireless Laser Mouse 7000
  • Wireless Laser Mouse 8000
  • Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000
  • Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 7000
  • Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse
  • Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000
  • Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 4000
  • Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000
  • Wireless Optical Mouse 2.0
  • Wireless Optical Mouse 2000
  • Wireless Optical Mouse 5000

For other languages, visit the Microsoft Hardware Download Page.


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October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista

Microsoft has released the 'October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista'.

Fixes include the following:

  • Several issues that are related to the Media Center Extensibility Platform
  • An issue that affects digital cable card components when you use Scientific Atlanta cable cards
  • Interaction issues that occur between Media Center PC and Microsoft Xbox 360 when Xbox 360 is used as a Media Center Extender
  • Autolaunch issues that occur with video CD (VCD) media
  • All fixes included in prior Cumulative Updates for Media Center for Vista (June 2007 and April 2007)

Download links as follows:

The update is also available via WindowsUpdate.

For more information, visit the October 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista KB article (KB941229).

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Media Center Extender streaming content workaround if your router is dropping UDP packets

For Vista Media Center, Microsoft introduced some changes to how Extenders communicate with the host computer. One of these changes is the use of UDP data packets for Extender communication with the host computer. Some routers drop these packets, leading to the inability of the Extender to properly communicate with the host machine.

If this was what happened to you, up to now, there really was no real workaround except to hope that an updated router firmware version would fix this. With the new Extender software update, there is now a new workaround which will get around this issue.

  1. Download the appropriate Extender software update (KB938126) for your system (32 bit or 64 bit)
  2. Click Start, type regedit in the Start Search box, and then press ENTER.
  3. Click Continue when prompted for permissions to run reg edit
  4. Locate and then click the following registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MediaCenterPeripheral\
  5. Click on the MediaCenterPeripheral key.
  6. On the Edit menu, point to New, and then click String Value.
  7. Type MFNETSOURCE_DISABLE_UDP and press Enter.
  8. On the Edit menu, click Modify.
  9. Type 0 in the value box, and then click OK.
  10. Quit Registry Editor.

The usual caveats apply with the registry editing. Before you modify the registry, it is recommended that you back it up and understand how to restore the registry if a problem occurs. If you use Registry Editor incorrectly, you may cause serious problems that may require you to reinstall your operating system. Use Registry Editor at your own risk.

Thanks to Todd Bowra, a member of the Microsoft eHome Team, for posting this information in the Media Center newsgroup.


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Updated Extender software for Vista Media Center

Microsoft has released updated Extender software for both x86 and x64 versions of Vista Media Center.

This looks to be the RTM of the new PC side extender software that is needed for the upcoming Extender devices that are expected to be released for this holiday shopping season.

A brief description of the software can be found at the the respective download pages for both 32 and 64 bit Vista Media Center platforms, which simply states that one should "Install this update to enable new types of Windows Media Center Extenders, such as digital televisions and networked DVD players, to connect to the Windows Media Center PC."

While there are no v2 Extenders that have been released yet, there may be some benefit to those who are currently having connection issues with the Xbox 360, as I would expect some bugs to have been fixed via this software. Therefore, if you have an Xbox 360 and are experiencing issues, try installing this to see if it helps. If you plan on purchasing an Extender (Xbox 360 or one of the new v2 Extender devices), the choice is yours as to whether you want to install this update now, or wait until you actually have the Extender in your hands. If you don't have any plans to purchase an Extenders at all, then obviously, this update will be of no benefit to you.

Download links as follows:

Unfortunately, further information has not been released about this update via its associated KB number (KB938126), but when it is released, more information will be available there.


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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mercedes-Benz and ATP partnership to end after 2008

Mercedes-Benz will be ending their sponsorship of the men's ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tennis tour at the conclusion of their current three year contract, which is set to expire at the end of 2008.

Mercedes has been a sponsor of the tour since 1996. Against the background of a revised brand positioning concept and changes in communication structures, the focus in the sponsoring activities of Mercedes are changing as well. Mercedes plans on shifting its sponsoring emphasis to activities such as golf, equestrianism and soccer as well as fashion and lifestyle. We have already seen evidence of this with Mercedes sponsoring the 2007 Presidents Cup, held this weekend in Montreal.

The 12 year partnership between Mercedes and ATP has been a fruitful one, with the luxury brand present at over 40 tournaments per year. To date, more than 35 million tennis fans came into contact with Mercedes-Benz during the sponsorship, while over a billion people (accumulated) watched ATP tournaments on television.

I wonder who the new sponsor will be in 2009, for either the ATP Tour or the men's tennis tournament in Toronto? I am hopeful that with the changes coming to the ATP Tour in 2009, including new tournaments (combined events), mandatory player participation (i.e. suspensions for missed mandatory events) and record prize money, the ATP will have no problems attracting a new vehicle sponsor.


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Too many events within a weekend?

It's a really busy weekend in Toronto. With so many events happening at the same time, I really wonder if there was any thought by all these event organizers to deal with conflicts between all these well publicized events.

First off, we have Nuit Blanche, a 'a free all-night contemporary art thing'. As described by the website, Torontonians, 'for one sleepless night, experience Toronto transformed by artists. Discover art in galleries, museums and unexpected places. From alleyways and demolition sites to churches and squash courts, explore more than 195 destinations. One night only. All night long.'

Then we have the 16th annual Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure on Sunday morning. This event is part of a fund raising event held all across Canada that generates millions of dollars of donations to fund innovative and relevant breast cancer research, education, and awareness programs.

If that wasn't enough, we also have the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. This marathon, which takes place entirely in the downtown area, is one of two Toronto marathons (the other being the Toronto Martahon) to act as a qualifying marathon for the Boston Marathon.

All these events are large events in their own right. While some people might only have interest in one of these three events, I feel bad for those who would have been interested in doing more than one of these events. Either they would have had to make a choice to do only one of these events, or have a less optimal experience at two events, in order to get something out of them (i.e. perhaps do half of Nuit Blanche on Saturday night, and then be tired during their runs early Sunday morning).

Perhaps I am over-estimating the number of people who might have been interested in doing more than one of these events. If so, I am complaining about nothing. But in case I do raise a valid point, I hope that next year, the organizers of these events plan it such that they don't fall within the same weekend. Everyone (the participants, the event, the causes and the host city) will win from this.


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Monday, September 10, 2007

10 things I learned from my US Open trip

The 2007 US Open came to an end yesterday night with an amazing men's singles final match won by Roger Federer.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend this event during the Labour Day weekend, and now that I have had a week to reflect on this great trip, here is a brief list (by no means complete) of some things I picked up:

  1. Matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium are not always the best matches (compare the Del Potro/Djokovic match on Ashe vs Moya/Kohlschreiber and/or Robredo/Gulbis lineup on the Grandstand late Sunday night). Know the order of play on all the courts, and move around as necessary to catch the best matches;
  2. Want to buy US Open merchandise? Purchase them during a match, not in between matches, and certainly not in between day and night sessions, otherwise be prepared to wait. On that note, if a booth doesn't have what you want, walk around the grounds or even inside Ashe to see if what you want is available. But don't leave it until the end of the night session, at this point, even the vendors are ready to go home.
  3. Same goes for food. If you are hungry during the second night match, there might not be any food left, so plan accordingly.
  4. Got an American Express card? Take advantage of what they have to offer to their cardholders. They had free radios and portable TVs (loaners) available, as well as free souvenir pins for those who spent over $75 on the grounds using their AMEX credit cards.
  5. The $7 Unlimited 1 day MetroCard for New York City Transit is a great deal. Do your 'touristy' stuff during the day, and then use it to get to USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center all on one fare. If you don't mind splurging, the Long Island Railroad is another option for $8 (round-trip). Taxi? Costs much more (at least $30 from Manhattan)and takes just the same amount of time. Driving? Good luck finding cheap parking.
  6. If you are travelling in a group, make sure everyone has their ticket in their own possession. Don't hold someone else's ticket for them. If you were ever to get separated from your group without your ticket, trying to find one person amidst 23,000 or more people is not an easy thing to do.
  7. Hate the long line-ups at the East Plaza Gate (especially if you take the subway/train)? Take a walk down to the South Plaza Gate and you will find a significantly shorter line. While you are there, take a little detour and check out Unisphere and/or the rest of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
  8. We all remember Pong. Essentially you get an overhead view of the two 'players' with the ball and net across the middle. If you want to see real players from a similar view, go to the mid-level of Louis Armstrong Stadium, and then walk over to the bridge over the west side of the grandstand. You will get a near-overhead view of the action, one that is much closer than those shots from the Goodyear blimp that we are all fond of on television.
  9. Leave your backpack at home or at the hotel. You won't be able to get on the grounds with it. If you are bringing that much stuff to the grounds, chances are, you are bringing way too much. Carry your stuff in, and find a bag inside the grounds, as many sponsors have bags you can get for free while supplies last. If you must bring a bag, make sure it is no larger than 12″ X 12″ X 16″ (your bag will be subject to search, which involves another longer line-up). See the 'Security Information Page' at the US Open website for further information. My personal suggestion to avoid all this hassle is to wear pants/shorts with lots of pockets (i.e. cargo style) and if necessary, hand-carry a jacket.
  10. The US Open isn't the only game in town in this city that never sleeps. For example, we ran into Brazilian Day festivities on the Avenue of the Americas. Enjoy New York and all it has to offer, with friends, family or loved ones. Who knows, maybe you will be the next to write about your experiences online.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Microsoft releases new details about v2 Extenders

Move over Xbox 360, Microsoft has just announced details about a new generation of Media Center Extenders soon to be available for Media Center platform on Windows Vista.

New devices from Cisco Systems’ Linksys division, D-Link and Niveus Media to bring the ultimate audio/video experience to any room in the home. Additional information about price points and the variety of innovative form factors, including both stand-alone set-top boxes and integration with other devices such as DVD players and televisions will be unveiled later this month.

In addition, these new Extenders have the option of being enhanced to allow support for popular video codecs such as DivX and Xvid, along with continued support for Windows Media Video HD files. They will also allow for streaming of protected HD content, such as content from Cable Card tuners or movies and/or music from CinemaNow, MovieLink or Napster.

It's about time that we see these devices come out. Hopefully they are still on-tap for availability this holiday season as I had blogged about in the entry 'MVP Summit: Media Center take-aways'. I just hope that they will be no more expensive than the Xbox 360 Core, otherwise, it might be a tough sell to get these devices in multiple places in a given home. We shall see what happens.

For more information, visit the Microsoft Presspass release, "Microsoft Shatters the PC-to-Television Barrier, Releases First Details on Extenders for Windows Media Center".

Sunday, July 01, 2007

$1800 Data Backup Lesson

Last Saturday (June 23), a really funny thing happened. Out of the blue, for the first time in about a year, I decided it'd be a great time to backup my Tablet PC's hard drive.

Halfway through the backup process, I heard the drive make two distinctively (bad) clicking sounds, and my Tablet PC froze up. I tried rebooting, and was greeted by a 'NTLDR not found' error.

Wonderful!

I take the drive out of the Tablet PC, and hook it up to my computer (via a 2.5 inch drive enclosure), hoping I can finish off more of the backup. Sadly, this attempt ended in vain too. I selected all my valuable files to backup, but the copy process died again after about 5% of the copy, and now the drive was completely dead. None of the files I really needed finished copying over.

I was screwed. All my e-mails and Tennis Canada files were on that hard drive. I needed these files back badly, so I took my drive to a local place (in Toronto) that specialized in data recovery (Kroll Ontrack).

Fast forward a few days, and they sent me a quote for the data recovery after doing the initial assessment. It cost me a mere $1800 to get everything back. Why did it cost this much? The answer is due to the following work that had to be done.

  1. The electronic circuitry, chips, or other electrical components have failed. Proprietary techniques are required to overcome the failure and access the data.
  2. The file system was structurally damaged preventing access to the data. The file system has been repaired to point to the file data.
  3. The device needs a temporary repair to access data/fix structures and back up.
  4. The media should be replaced.
  5. Ontrack Clean Room expertise was required to access the data.

Items 1 and 5 were what contributed greatly to the cost, as essentially, the platters from my hard drive had to be removed and placed into a recovery unit to retrieve my data. Fortunately, all the files were recovered without an issue, and the folks at Ontrack gave me a 10% discount and an 80 gig external hard drive to hold the recovered files.

Was it worth it for me to pay this amount of money to get my files back? Unfortunately, I'd have to say it was. It would have taken me about 7-10 days to re-create all the Tennis Canada planning information (and all this, without any of the historical data that I had maintained). With the tournament fast approaching, coupled with my full-time work status, this was time that I could not afford. As for my e-mails, I can't even begin to determine how much important data I had within them (Tennis Canada, Microsoft MVP/Beta testing info, all my contact information, etc).

The lesson here is to back up your data religiously. Some might say that if I had not bothered to back up my drive that fateful night, the resultant failure may not have happened. Well, given the way the hard drive failed, failure was very likely imminent.

For most people, backing up data files (your Word/Excel/PowerPoint/etc) ought to be easy. Outlook mail files might be a bit more difficult.

Here's a cool tool for backing up your Outlook PST files. Microsoft produced an Outlook Add-in called Personal Folders Backup during the Outlook 2002/2003 days. Don't be fooled by the listed description of the tool, as it continues to work with Outlook 2007. This tool will back up all the PST files of your choosing (both your Personal Files and your Archives). I'd recommend backing up all of those PST files to a separate hard drive, or better yet, a separate machine.

The PST files will contain all your e-mails, contacts, and calender items. Unfortunately, it will not have things like your Rules, Account information, Junk Mail Options and so on. Does anyone know an easy way to back these up? I remember with Office 2003, there was an included utility (Save your Office Settings Wizard or something similar sounding) to backup your settings in all your Office applications which would have included the abovementioned settings, but I can't seem to find this same utility in Office 2007. Perhaps Microsoft should create a one click easy method to backup all of the Outlook PST/settings into one file, rather than resort to multiple settings exports to get everything back up and running.

Anyways, this is a very expensive way to learn a lesson. I think it is safe to say that I'll never make this mistake again. Review your backup procedures and make sure all your vital files are covered by this procedure. Learn from my mistakes, and you'll be better off for it.


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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista

Microsoft has released the June 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista.

Included in this update are previously released update files, such as the following:

  • 929011 Windows Media Center does not correctly configure a combo TV tuner that supports both ATSC and NTSC signals on a Windows Vista-based computer
  • 932753 When you resize the Windows Media Center window in Windows Vista, video playback may stop
  • 932818 April 2007 Cumulative Update for Media Center for Windows Vista
  • 931967 You cannot hear the audio in Live TV or on a DVD in Windows Media Center after you wake a computer that is running Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows Vista Ultimate

Additional issues resolved by this update in addition to the above include:

  • Several fixes for the Media Center Extensibility Platform
  • An update to the Digital Cable Card component to provide better support for interaction between the digital cable tuner, the CableCARD, and Media Center

To download the updates, you can either visit Windows Update or manually download the files here:

For more information, see the Cumulative Update's Knowledge Base article (KB935652).


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Monday, June 04, 2007

Ride for Heart 2007 Personal Stats

Here's some Ride for Heart numbers for me (perhaps more for my own records, but if anyone is interested...):

  • Start to Finish time (50 km) - 1h 47m 39s (~ 27.86 km/h average speed);
  • Time spent waiting for parking - 7:13 am until 7:54 am (41 minutes);
  • Start to Gardiner/DVP ramp (approx 7.2 km)- 15m 07s (~28.7 km/h average speed);
  • Start to York Mills (25 km) - 57m 30s (~ 26.0 km/h average speed);
  • York Mills to Finish (25 km) - 50m 9s (~ 30.0 km/h average speed);
  • Maximum recorded speed - 48.1 km/h;
  • Total number of pedal rotations - ~6260 +/- 10;
  • Total Donations - $240 ($175 online, $65 offline); and,
  • Team Members (including myself) - 11 (10 bikers, 1 rollerblader).

Based on these numbers, I don't understand how I did the second half of the ride about 2 minutes slower than in 2006, especially since Warren and I were clipping in the high 30 km/h range on the Gardiner (at times, we were even maintaining 40-41 km/h). Despite this, I was happy that I made it to York Mills about 15 minutes faster than last year. Looking ahead to next year, I hope to improve my time to at least the 1h 40m mark, and perhaps even get it closer to 1h 35m. Alternatively, I might try the 75 km route.


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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ride for Heart Toronto 2007

I just got home from the Ride for Heart, the annual event held by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Luckily the rain held off, so despite the overcast skies, I think most people enjoyed the ride. I was able to complete the 50 km course in 1:47:39 or so, which was in-line with my goal that I had stated in a prevous blog entry (Anyone interested in forming a Ride for Heart group?). Thanks to Warren, who set a good pace for me (even though I know he was holding back) and also for waiting for me at the York Mills rest stop (he had beaten me there by about 10 minutes).

I hope everyone on my team had a great time (Andrew, Neil, Leon, Vince, Joe, Warren, Irene, Greg, Michael and Crystal). Also, last but not least, thanks to everyone who helped me make it to my fundraising goal of $200 (Alfie, Annie, Catherine, Elizabeth, Gabe, Kate, Laura, Lindsay, Nixon, Polly, Shawn and Tiff). I actually ended up raising $240 so once again, thank you to all of you.

I hope to do this again next year, and hopefully get even more people involved. I think the event is a lot of fun, and it helps to raise money toward a great cause that many people have been touched by. I know it's early, but if you are interested, let me know!


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Friday, May 25, 2007

Canadian Analog TV Signal shutdown date

Discovered this little tidbit from Peter Near's blog.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has introduced changes to the way it regulates conventional television broadcasters. These measures will ensure Canadians have access to digital and high-definition television programming, and that broadcasters continue to contribute to the production, acquisition and broadcast of high-quality Canadian programming.

Notably, the Commission has decided to:

  • remove restrictions on advertising time limits after gradually increasing the amount of advertising allowed;
  • establish August 31, 2011, as the date by which television licensees will only broadcast digital signals;
  • require English- and French-language broadcasters to caption for the hearing impaired 100 per cent of their programs over the 18-hour broadcast day, with the exception of advertising and promotions; and
  • deny a subscriber fee for the carriage of local conventional television stations on cable and satellite as its necessity has not been demonstrated.

More information is available at the CTRC press release 'The Commission establishes a new approach for Canadian conventional television' as well as Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2007-53.

What does this mean?

In the US, the FCC has enacted a similar analog broadcast shutdown date of February 17, 2009. Beyond this date, any over-the-air television broadcast needs to be in digital format (ATSC). Prior to this announcement, many networks 'dragged' their feet in switching over from the older analog broadcasting equipment to much superior digital broadcast equipment. This shutdown deadline was really what got the ball rolling on this conversion, as sometimes, a deadline is needed to spur one to action. Hopefully, this announcement causes a similar process to occur in Canada, especially for those few stations who still haven't started broadcasting in digital format (cough cough Global TV in Toronto). Now that we have a defined analog shutdown date, there is added incentive for the broadcasters to make the switch.

I've talked about over-the-air HDTV in the past in the blog entries First Foray into HDTV, HDTV Antenna Update, HDTV Antenna Update Part 2, and Media Center in Vista. With the number of digital television broadcasters soon to increase, people will soon realize that they have a free source of high quality programming available to them (obviously Bell and Rogers don't want you to know about it though). Perhaps you may see aerial antennas, currently used mostly by enthusiasts, become more mainstream. Even the media is starting to pick up on this, as seen in this recent canoe.ca article A new life for 'rabbit ears' (Thanks for the link, Laura).

Media Center Implications

Of course, this announcement has Media Center implications! Hopefully with Canada's commitment to over-the-air broadcasting, Microsoft will officially support ASTC tv signal source in Media Center for Canadians. Currently, we need to resort to hacks as described on Peter's blog - ATSC in Canada with Media Center Vista (RTM). Going forward, hacks like this should not be necessary, and I hope that we will see movement on this, even as soon as the next Media Center revision.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sponsor me for the Ride for Heart

As some of you know, I am participating in the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Ride for Heart (Toronto) on June 3, 2007. I think it's a great event that raises money toward a great cause.

If you are interested in sponsoring me for this ride, I would be grateful. You can do so by visiting my personal donation page. If you are interested in joining my team (Team Pedal Faster), as mentioned in a previous blog posting 'Anyone interested in forming a Ride for Heart group?', more information is available on my team page. It's not too late to get the discounted group rate, and what a better way to donate to the event than to plough the savings back to the Heart and Stroke Foundation by way of a donation?

Whatever amount that anyone is willing to donate will be greatly appreciated.


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Hawk-Eye Wimbledon debut confirmed

The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club confirmed today that Hawk-Eye would make its Wimbledon debut.

The move follows the successful completion of recent testing on grass to verify the accuracy of the system on that surface. It was also announced that the Player Challenge system at Wimbledon will allow for three incorrect challenges in a set, an increase from the previous figure of two used at the US Open and Australian Open.

For more information, see the following two press releases:


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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CableCARD and Digital Cable vs Firewalls

Because I live in Canada, this topic doesn't mean too much to me. That said, for those of you that have Vista Media Center setup and have CableCard/Digital Cable Tuners, the CableCARD and Digital Cable FAQ might be useful to you.

In the past, I've written about the ports that need to be open for Media Center to operate in an optimal manner (Media Center Extenders vs Firewalls (MCE2005 and Vista) and Media Center Extender Setup and Windows Live OneCare: Issues and Resolutions). For those of you who have CableCard/Digital Cable Tuners, there are additional ports that need to be opened as per the above FAQ. See the below instructions for your firewall:

Windows Live OneCare 1.5: Use the firewall connection tool to allow the Windows Media Center ports to be available to the Digital Cable Tuner. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Start Windows Live OneCare.
  2. In the left pane, click Change OneCare settings.
  3. On the Firewall tab, click Firewall connection tool.
  4. Click to select the Connect my XBOX 360 or Media Center Extender to my Media Center PC check box.
  5. Click OK, and then close the Windows Live OneCare Settings dialog box.
  6. Restart the computer.

Symantec Norton Internet Security 2007: Run LiveUpdate to install the latest signature files (released after January 31, 2007).

McAfee Internet Security Suite 2007: You will need to manually allow access to the system service port in the Firewall feature.

  1. Right-click the McAfee icon in the Windows system tray and click on SecurityCenter. On the Internet & Network Configuration pane, click Advanced.
  2. On the Firewall tab, click Firewall connection tool.
  3. On the Firewall pane, click System Services.
  4. Under Open System Service Port, select Universal Plug & Play (UPnP).
  5. Click OK.

Other Firewall Programs

If you have a firewall not listed above, try the following steps:

  1. Go to your firewall's settings option.
  2. Look for a list of applications that are allowed or prevented access to the Internet.
  3. Look for the applications listed in the table below. If it's designated as blocked or prevented access to the Internet, change the setting to allow access. If it's not listed at all, manually add it and allow access to the network.
  4. Save your changes and restart your firewall program.

If you configure a firewall after you install and configure your Digital Cable Tuners, you must manually configure the firewall to open the following ports.

ApplicationProtocol/PortDirectionNetwork
ehprivjob.exeUDP 5001-5006InboundLocal Subnet
svchost.exeUDP 1900Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
systemTCP 2869Inbound, OutboundLocal Subnet
ehprivjob.exeTCP 554OutboundLocal Subnet
ehprivjob.exeUDP 5757-5772OutboundLocal Subnet

The procedure that you use to manually configure these ports is different for each firewall model and for each firewall manufacturer. For more information about how to configure your firewall, see its documentation.

Hopefully this helps some people who have run into issues that might be caused by a firewall.


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Friday, May 11, 2007

Boot your Xbox 360 directly into Extender mode

For those of you who have installed the new Spring 2007 Xbox 360 dashboard update on their Xbox 360, there is a new feature that might interest those that use the Xbox 360 primarily as an Extender.

You can have your Xbox 360 load the Extender software directly upon boot-up, which should save a few presses of buttons. To do this, once you have installed the Spring 2007 Xbox 360 dashboard updates, follow these steps:

  1. In the the Xbox Dashboard, goto the System blade;
  2. Select Console Settings;
  3. Select Startup; and,
  4. You will see three options, Disc, Xbox Dashboard and Media Center. Selecting Media Center will bring up the Media Center Extender upon bootup.

This setting primarily affects the power up path when you use the power button on the Xbox 360, or through the Xbox Guide button on your controller or even your Xbox 360 Media Center remote.

Even after selecting this feature, you can always go back to the dashboard through the normal means (by pressing the Xbox Guide button on the Controller or Xbox 360 Remote).


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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Portable Media Center platform demise

Every once in a while, I am asked about what happened to the Portable Media Center. At the MVP Summit, we were given an answer when we asked about it, but since I had not heard about it through official means, I didn't want to blog about it. Now that I've found something public, I can discuss it. Here is an announcement that was posted by David Bono, a Microsoft employee, in the microsoft.public.windows.mediacenter.portable newsgroup.

Microsoft is no longer licensing the PMC software. Here is an announcement that was sent out last year to our PMC partners:

In early 2006, Microsoft released the second version of Windows Mobile for Portable Media Centers to our partners. The second version of the Portable Media Center software enhanced the end user experience and enabled partners to build smaller, less expensive and more competitive devices.

As part of the ongoing review of our product investments, we have decided to take what we have learned from our investments in Portable Media Center and focus our product and marketing resources on building media experiences on connected Windows Mobile powered devices.

With the re-investment of resources in media experiences on connected Windows Mobile powered devices, Portable Media Center 2.0 is the last version of our Portable Media Center software under the Windows Mobile brand. We do not plan any future Portable Media Center software upgrades or marketing activities.

Thank you for all your support- Microsoft is proud of its work, the work of its partners and the devices and services delivered as a result of
those relationships. We will continue to work with existing Portable Media Centers licensees to ensure that devices they are developing come to market.

To summarize, the Portable Media Center platform is dead, but the fruits of the labours of that platform should be visible in future Windows Mobile-based products. This might be old news to some, but I don't recall it being announced with much fanfare (not that discontinued products generally tend to be front page news), so for those that were wondering about Portable Media Center and its future, hopefully this brings some closure to this issue.


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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Linked from CNNSI.com again

It looks like my blog was linked to by Jon Wertheim, a writer for CNN/Sports Illustrated, this time, with regards to, presumbly, my latest Hawk-eye/Wimbledon redevelopment entry.

This is the third time (that I know of) that I've been linked to in Jon's weekly Tennis Mailbag column. Hopefully, readers of his column find some of my tennis related blog entries to be useful, from technology used in tennis, the volunteer work that I do for the Toronto tennis tournament and just my general interest in the tennis world.

Here's some links to some of my better tennis related postings (in order of latest postings):

To the new visitors of my blog, I hope you enjoy reading some of the postings that I have made. Feel free to leave comments if you wish and I will respond where I can.

For those interested, my blog as been linked to from these articles:

  1. Giving Serena her due (pt. 3) - Wednesday May 2, 2007 11:25AM in the Shots, miscellany section;
  2. Is a loss the best thing to motivate Serena? - Thursday January 18, 2007 11:07AM in the Miscellany section; and,
  3. Sudden impacts (pt. 3) - Wednesday July 19, 2006 11:27AM in the Shots, miscellany section.

Jon, if you are ever in Toronto for the tennis tournament, come by the Transportation desk and say hello!

Virtualcity.ca - connect users to their surroundings through online mapping

Shima posted a link to an interesting site from her blog today. This was something that was definitely up my alley, given my interests in Planning, GIS and technology in general.

VirtualCity, a company based in Toronto, has mapped out much of Toronto's major metropolitan areas through street-level photography, as well as implementing a business name search such that one can view their actual storefront, all without any software to download or install.

Built upon Google's mapping APIs, users can either use the built-in search functions to find a point of interest, or drag and drop a viewfinder on the map to begin “strolling” the city. Millions of photographs are seamlessly stitched together for each area, giving VirtualCity users the unique ability to virtually stroll through streets, viewing points of interest before they ever leave their computer. In addition, due to Google's mapping APIs, the site allows users to traverse maps traditionally and find detailed directions complete with time and mileage summaries in a relatively familiar interface.

VirtualCity’s photographs are collected via highly specialized mapping vehicles equipped with high-definition video cameras and the latest in global positioning technology. GIS-grade GPS, accelerometers to sense increases and decreases in acceleration, and gyro meters to sense directional changes, all tie into the vehicles’ computer bus to sense each full rotation of the wheels, while custom software compares these readings 10 times per second to create extremely accurate location data regardless of degraded GPS or "urban canyons". This is typically called "dead reckoning" by navigation systems. Over 4 million photographs were taken of the Toronto area.

I think this is an amazing way of integrating existing technology (GIS, GPS data collection, etc) and improving upon how data is presented to a user. Today, we are accustomed to seeing overhead satellite views on either Google Maps or Windows Live Local. That can be really useful, but it is street level views that people are likely more accustomed to via walking, biking, or of course, driving (unless of course you are an airplane/helicopter pilot).

VirtualCity's product is not exclusive to Toronto. By using geolocation, Toronto users are automatically sent to the Toronto site. However, VirtualCity is also available for those in Montreal. VirtualCity plans to expand into the United States before the end of the year, beginning with Miami and continuing into the New York, Chicago, and Boston markets in 2007.

A couple suggestions I would make to the developers of this product would be the following:

  1. Provide the date that the photographs were taken; and,
  2. Provide an archive of the photographs that were taken over time.

With disk storage space being so abundant, I don't see why this would be too hard to implement. I think that this would be an interesting way to show the evolution (or devolution) of the streetscape over time, and could become a great tool for planners to use.


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