Thursday, March 29, 2007

Vista Media Center Recording Conflict Resolution Feature

Here's one new feature in Windows Vista's Media Center that I don't think most people know about that I learned about at the MVP Summit (thanks Jessica).

Some of you may notice that some stations schedule popular programs so that it ends at an irregular time. For example, Station A schedules Program A between 9:00 pm to 10:02 pm, while Station B schedules Program B between 10:00 pm and 11:00 pm. This scheduling tactic is one that typically affects PVRs that schedule recordings based on Electronic Programming Guide data so that other shows don't record due to a scheduling conflict. This is due to the scheduled programming times overlapping and there are not enough tuners to record both of the scheduled shows in its entirety.

In previous versions of Media Center, unless you had multiple tuners, attempting to record both shows would result in a conflict, and Program B would not be recorded.

In Windows Vista's Media Center, there is an 'enhanced conflict resolution' system that will overcome this scheduling tactic. When such an overlap between two programs falls within a small duration (five minutes), the first show will be recorded to the end of its scheduled time before the recording switches over to the second program. If the overlap is greater than five minutes, then a conflict would be shown on the second program. Using the example above, Program A would be recorded between 9:00 pm to 10:02 pm, and Program B would be recorded between 10:02 pm to 11:00 pm.

This new feature ensures that you still get most of the shows that you wanted to record, rather than losing out on one show in its entirety, when stations resort to this type of scheduling skulduggery in tuner-constrained systems. As such, this feature will be most noticed by those who have only one tuner in their system. Those with multiple tuners will be less likely to run into a scenario where this new feature is utilized (though it is possible, depending on what combination of shows are recorded).


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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ATI Catalyst 7.3 Drivers and new TV Tuner drivers

ATI has released the Catalyst 7.3 drivers for Windows XP and Vista. For all the details, see the ATI Catalyst Software Suite Version 7.3 readme file.

New features in this release include:

OpenGL CrossFire Support Under Windows Vista
Catalyst 7.3 introduces OpenGL CrossFire support for the entire ATI Radeon X1000 product series under Microsoft Vista. Users will see significant performance gains in a number of applications when running in CrossFire mode under Windows Vista.

CrossFire™ Enhancements for Windows Vista
Catalyst 7.3 includes CrossFire enhancements for Windows Vista that enable the Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) CrossFire rendering mode by default, enabling performance benefits for all AFR compatible applications immediately (including newly released applications that have not been officially profiled for CrossFire). Future Catalyst releases will add further CrossFire performance gains once new applications have been profiled specifically for CrossFire.

Here are download links, please pick the appropriate operating system

ATI has also updated its Theater 550/650 drivers for Windows XP (all variants) driver version 6.14.10.232. The Vista version of this driver has not been updated yet.


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Xbox 360 Elite details announced

Microsoft has finally released the details of the much anticipated Xbox 360 Elite on their Xbox.com website.

Xbox 360 Elite is now the premier Xbox 360 console package that includes a massive 120GB hard drive, a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port, a high-definition cable, and a premium black finish. The Xbox 360 Elite also includes a black wireless controller and black Xbox Live headset.

Components of the Xbox 360 Elite package will include:

Elite Console
Xbox 360 Elite is equipped with a premium black finish and three powerful core processors capable of producing the best in high-definition entertainment, full surround sound, HDMI output, and DVD playback with upscaling capabilities right out of the box.

120GB Hard Drive
The huge 120GB detachable hard drive is the largest available on any console. It lets you save your games and store television shows, movies, music, pictures, trailers, extra game levels, demos, and other content available from Xbox Live Marketplace.

Black Wireless Controller
The sleek black finish of this high-performance wireless controller matches the style of the Elite Console. It has a range of up to 30 feet and a battery life of 30 hours on two AA batteries.

A HDMI cable will be included in the box, both component and composite cables, an audio adapter for use with HDMI, Xbox Live headset and a 30 day Xbox Live Gold membership. There will be no rumoured HD-DVD drive, in-built wi-fi capabilities, nor will the console use the smaller 65nm chips.

For those of you looking to ensure the best quality Gaming/Video/Media Center Extender output, this is the package that you will want, as the HDMI output is a digital output, unlike the current analog VGA/Component option. The larger hard drive will also bode well for the Xbox 360/IPTV platform that was previously announced at CES 2007.

Retail availability of the Xbox 360 Elite is scheduled for April 29, 2007 in the US and Canada markets.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Letter published in the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star published a letter that I had sent to the editor today. However, they exercised their right to edit the letter and made a few changes to my original submission.

Here is a link to the letter as it was published in Today's Toronto Star, which was given the title, TTC needs to get its act together.

I found it incredible that the TTC did not consult with merchants in the district or tell area councillors of its proposal to turn a stretch of King St. W. into a streetcar-only route. In a democratic society, the TTC needs to do a significantly better job of consulting with the public.

If the TTC cannot get the community to buy into the King transit zone, what hope does it have of guiding the newly announced Toronto Transit City Plan through to completion?

Here is my letter as it was originally submitted.

In response to the article 'Critics assail King transit plan' published March 23, 2007, I found it incredible that the TTC did not consult with merchants in district or tell area councillors of its proposal. In a democratic society where the public participation is a major component of the planning process, the TTC needs to do a significantly better job of consulting with the public, especially when these proposals directly impact the livelihood of those in the community.

If the TTC cannot get the community to buy into the King Street transit zone, what hope do they have of guiding the newly announced Toronto Transit City Plan through to completion?

The point I'm trying to make is that the public needs to be given an opportunity to participate in the planning process. Ideally, a project proponent should, whenever it is possible, consult those that may be affected by the project to find out about concerns that may arise in order to address them as early in the planning stages as possible (though sometimes, I can appreciate the fact that this isn't always possible).

Whether it is an Official Plan review, an Environmental Assessment, Re-zoning or even a Committee of Adjustment application, attempting to sneak things through without consultation only generates ill-will in the community, and only makes the proponent's task to implement the project more difficult once the community does finds out about it. People are already resistant to change as it is, if they think something is being forced upon them, you can bet they will be further opposed, even if the plan is, in the end, good for them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Remembering When You Were Young...

Back when I was in grade seven, I switched schools, to one that was outside the attendance area of my home, that being St. Andrew's Junior High School. The change came pretty suddenly, as I had already attended my first day of class of grade seven at Milne Valley Middle School prior to switching. Looking back, I would have done that all over again, but one thing that never sat right with me was that I never got a chance to stay in touch with friends of mine from both Milne Valley and Three Valleys Public School (the MV feeder elementary school that I attended). Years and decades have gone by, and as much as I've tried, I was not able to really reconnect with anyone, except for a few isolated cases. This finally changed this year.

Thanks to Facebook, I was able to start reconnecting friends from back in the day. Starting with Karen, the people that I reconnected have since has snowballed to a point where a reunion event was organized for this past Saturday. Since I had not seen many people for over fifteen years, I really wanted to see how everyone was doing.

While I didn't know everyone there, it was nice to see the ones I did know again. We all got caught up on what we are doing today, and spent a lot of time reminiscing about the good old days.

There was one sobering moment when I found out about what happened to my friend, Daniel Tallon, about four years ago. Despite the troubles that he went through since we last spoke, I still treasure the time that we had together when we were young. The summer days long past when Damien, Justin, Daniel and me would play basketball outside my house, or all the interesting discoveries that we made with cable television, telephone and computers. I think in a way, Daniel was perhaps the first person I knew who was willing to share his knowledge to others, thus giving me my start with the more interesting side of computers. I remember that he was the one who hooked me up unlimited Internet access, back when Internet access even over dialup was considered a rarity. Daniel, it was a privilege to have been your friend; wherever you may be, I hope you are resting in peace.

Thanks to Melissa who along with some others that I don't know, for organizing this event. I definitely know how difficult it is to get such a large number of people to come together.

To those that I knew in elementary school, Damien, Ryan, Melissa, Anna (sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to you), and to those that I knew in middle school, Wilfred and Alan, and to those that I met (Sarah, Mike, I'm sure there's more, but I'm terrible with names), it was great seeing all of you again. To those that couldn't make it, I'm sure there will be a next time in the near future. It certainly won't be another fifteen years, that's for sure. Until next time!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Subway tunnel reconstruction done 3 weeks ahead of schedule

The subway service revisions that allowed for Lower Bay station viewing (something I blogged about in the posting 'TTC service revisions allow for Lower Bay station viewing') was completed three weeks ahead of schedule.

Originally, the revised service was scheduled for Saturdays and Sundays from February 18 to March 31, 2007. However, it seems that they finished the necessary tunnel repairs so fast, that regular service on weekends had resumed starting on March 17.

If you missed your chance to see Lower Bay station, you have one more chance in the immediate future. See my blog posting 'Why see Lower Bay station when you can walk through it?' for details and mark down May 26, 2007 on your calender. You definitely won't be the only person there, that's for sure.

Now, I know that TTC repairs and highway repairs are done by different companies, face different construction-type considerations (including the weather) and obviously fall under the jurisdiction of levels of government, but wouldn't it be nice to have construction on any of our 400-series highways done ahead of schedule?

Nice thought while it lasted. Back to reality

Thursday, March 22, 2007

v1 Extenders - No rebate program

We finally have closure on this issue. Many of you remember that Microsoft made the following statement (something which I blogged about in the posting 'Additional Information on v1 Extenders/Vista'):

When we get closer to the Windows Vista timeframe we will announce a program to make sure that early adopters who purchased a v1 Media Center Extender (from Linksys or HP) are accommodated.

Jessica Zahn, a Program Manager on Microsoft's eHome team, announced the following on thegreenbutton:

People can continue using their V1 Media Center Extenders with an XP-based PC, but for those who plan to buy Windows Vista compatible extenders in the future, there will not be any rebate program for the V1 devices.

Time to put your v1 Extenders on eBay as Extenders have been going for upto around $160-170 USD lately.

ATP abandons round-robin format

After the Blake/Korolev fiasco at the Las Vegas Open, it was only a matter of time before the ATP took action on the round-robin formats for its tournaments. The ATP Board voted to end its experimentation with the round-robin format on the ATP tour.

Originally seen as an opportunity to give fans more opportunity to see local and favourite players in action, in addition to allowing tournaments to showcase marquee players into later rounds and creating more predictable tv scheduling, the round-robin format was found to have caused confusion when it came to deciding who would advance from the round-robin stage, and ultimately, both the media and fans had difficulty following the results/standings. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, no format or rule could address the overwhelming player concern that their destiny was not in their own hands as a result of dead matches or withdrawals (as was the case in Las Vegas).

All remaining events that had volunteered for the round-robin format will revert back to the traditional knock-out format.

ATP Chairman and President Etienne de Villiers summed it up best by saying:

It was a good experiment and we learned a lot from it. Some experiments will work and others won’t, but we will keep trying to find new and better ways of growing the appeal of men’s professional tennis.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Hawk-eye Technology and Grass Tennis Courts

This blog entry builds upon two previous Hawk-eye postings I made, those being 'Technology in Tennis: Hawk-eye ' and 'Hawk-eye use at the Australian Open'. One of my questions about about the feasibility of Hawk-Eye on grass courts has been answered.

The Queen's Club in London, the host of the Artois Championships, will be the first grass court tournament to use Hawk-eye technology later this year (June 11-17). Complementing this technology, two large screens will be erected on the Centre Court to allow spectators to see line calls being questioned. Now, understanding that the Artois Championships is not on the same level as Wimbledon, the Tennis Grand Slam tournament that is also held on grass courts, it remains to be seen if Wimbledon will use Hawk-eye. I doubt it will happen in the immediate future (i.e. this year), but who knows, if they are willing to accept a retractable roof over Centre Court, Hawk-eye could very well be incorporated into the upcoming stadium upgrades, including the inclusion of video screens. Of course, traditionalists may balk at this!

I now wonder if any of the clay court tournaments will decide to use Hawk-eye. One commenter to one of my previous Hawk-eye postings correctly points out that the chair ump can inspect the ball mark on the clay court. Arguably there's more payoff for the audience, both in the stands and on television, to see the results through Hawk-Eye to be shown on a big screen. Ultimately that choice to use Hawk-eye will be up to each of the clay court tournaments.

Also, in response to some questions about Hawk-Eye and ball skid/compression that were asked on previous blog entries, the Hawk-eye manufacturer makes the claim that 'Hawk-Eye takes the skid and compression of the ball into account'. You can confirm by viewing the flash file on Hawk-Eye's manufacturer's website by going to the Tennis link (as an aside, this is one reason why relying on flash to present content isn't necessary a good idea, people can't always link to the content directly). If there are more questions on this topic, the best source of information would be through info@hawkeyeinnovations.co.uk.


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Friday, March 16, 2007

MVP Summit Wrap-up

I'm back home now after a pretty uneventful flight between Seattle and Toronto. I'm still not feeling 100% as I made a beeline straight for my bed after getting home. Hopefully I feel a lot better after a bit more rest.

The MVP Summit has now come and gone. It was great meeting a lot of people from all over the world who are as passionate about technology as I am, no matter what their award category was. I got a chance to meet with people whom I've had correspondence with over the years either via the community or through e-mail. I also got a chance to meet with many of the other Media Center MVPs, many of whom I haven't seen in over 18 months (the exceptions being Gary, whom I see everyday, and Peter Near, whom I see at some local Microsoft events). Of course, the Media Center MVPs also had the opportunity to have candid one-on-one conversations with various members of the Media Center product team.

Many thanks to members of the Media Center product team who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to us, including Ben Alton, Jessica Zahn (along with various members of her team), Charlie Owen, Todd Bowra, Jenelle Coberly and Mark Pendergast. We also received some interesting news about the Windows Home Server and IPTV offerings that are coming down the pipe. I will admit, initially, I wasn't too interested on the Windows Home Server product, but after seeing their deep-dive sessions, I think people will be impressed by this product.

I guess it is safe for me to reveal one other tidbit that we learned during the MVP Summit. I've already posted about Media Center and its next update being an 'out-of-band' release (that is, it will not be a release tied to a new Windows or Windows Service Pack version). It would also seem that many people are obsessed with code names given to Microsoft products. On that note, I will give everyone a major clue as to what the code name is for the next version of Media Center. I realize that I could just tell you straight up what it is, but I think the journey of finding this one out for yourselves would be more fulfilling.

If you look at Charlie Owen's blog, you will notice that he has a number of listed posting categories. One of these categories might give you a hint as to what the code name might be. The posting content under this category should make it even more obvious. I will say that the answer definitely isn't 'Front Row' but you are definitely getting very warm if you looked in that general vicinity.

Once again, thanks to Microsoft for a great 2007 MVP Summit, and I hope to be able to do this again at the 2008 MVP Summit, which is scheduled to be held on April 14-17 [2008, not 2007].


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MVP Summit: Media Center take-aways

The MVP Summit ended on Thursday. Unfortunately, since getting back to the hotel, I've been bed-ridden due to not feeling well. I'm glad my flight out of Seattle wasn't on Thursday, otherwise, I would not have been in any shape to get on a plane.

Anyways, my sickness is a mere temporary condition, and I bet you want me to get to the subject of this post. I'll talk about two topics that should be on the mind of most Media Center enthuasists, that being v2 Extenders and the next Media Center 'release'.

V2 Extenders should be out sometime this year (2007). Microsoft has stated this in the 'Windows Media Center and Media Center Extender' page under the Media Center Extender section, in the heading 'Other Media Center Extenders'. Unfortunately, the exact dates/timeframes are under NDA, but suffice to say, that date falls under the target date that I listed above.

As for the next update for Media Center, Charlie Owen has revealed some details on his blog posting 'Mailbag: Can we expect new and/or improved features sooner than the next [major] version of Windows?' He says that all prior releases of Media Center (with the exception of Diamond) were 'Windows Out Of Band Release' projects -- meaning they weren't necessarily tied to a particular shipping date of Windows (or a Windows service pack) and that next version is going to be another out of band release. For a good indiction of when to expect this release, look at the past history of release dates for Media Center products.

Codename - Release Year
------------------------
Freestyle - 2002
Harmony - 2003
Symphony - 2004
Emerald - 2005
Diamond - 2006
(Future) - xxxx


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Proposed Land Use Signs: Redmond, WA

Another day has come and gone at the MVP Summit. As usual, we were treated to some demos of future products, and had great discussion with Microsoft staff, in both a working/meeting environment and a more social environment during dinner. Due to various non-disclosure agreements, I cannot blog about those items now, but only to say that there is some interesting stuff coming down the pipe in the next few months. As more information becomes publicly available, I will blog about it.

Of course, being an urban planner, there were various signs within Microsoft's campus that caught my eye. Microsoft is rapidly expanding their Redmond campus to accommodate their expansion targets. As a result of these expansions, there are many 'Proposed Land Use Signs' all around campus. These signs had a unique item that I had not seen in any Greater Toronto Area municipality before.

While the signs listed all the pertinent information about proposed land use, the nature of the application, the applicant, the assigned planner and contact information, these signs also included a box where one could pick up a handy summary sheet of all the information. This handout sheet further elaborated on the nature of the proposed land use, current and proposed planning designations, required permits, environmental documentation requirements and a site plan.

While I think the whole sign itself could have been posted in a more secure fashion, I found the use of the handout sheet to be something that could really be useful to those that are interested (i.e. geek planners like me). Perhaps weather might play a role in why we currently can't incorporate something like this onto land use change notification boards in the Greater Toronto Area, or perhaps there are other considerations that I am not aware of (any comments?).

When I return home, I'll pdf the handout so that others can see what they do here in Redmond, Washington.

Here is a PDF version of the Notice of Application that is available for the public to take from the above sign.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bill Gates Keynote: Something to think about

This morning at the MVP Summit, we were fortunate to have Bill Gates as our keynote speaker. He spoke on many topics ranging from our technological progress to date, and his hopes for software in the future.

This was followed by a Q&A where many questions were asked. There was one particular question about the One Laptop per Child initiative and why Microsoft wasn't particularly taking the lead on a product similar to this. His answer definitely provided me with an insight as to why Microsoft, or his foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, haven't targetted this as something they are focusing on.

In his response, Bill felt that there were more important items to focus on at the moment. Health issues and connectivity were issues that he gave as examples. He had felt that we had not reached a tipping point where health concerns were adequately addressed. In addition, his point about connectivity should have struck a cord with everyone in the audience. He said that at the moment, even us in the Western world pay more for connectivity than we do for computers. Assuming everyone pays roughly $40 a month for their broadband connections, that is about $480 a year. Imagine how much more it would be for people in the Third World to have this kind of connectivity. He wished that it was simply hardware being the restriction point as to getting more computers into the hands of children in the third world, but it really isn't.

I know that this is the last time that us MVPs will have Bill speak to us in his role as the Microsoft chairman as he is transitioning out of that role later on this year. Despite this, I feel that we will hear a lot more from him as he continues to take on new challenges through his foundation, and if he is as successful as he has been at Microsoft, there's no question that he will make a positive mark on society in the years to come.

See here for more details about the keynote that he delivered at the 2007 MVP Summit.


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Monday, March 12, 2007

Greetings from Seattle

Hello from Seattle. My brother, Gary, and I are here for the Microsoft MVP Global Summit. It is always nice visiting Seattle. This will have been the third time that my brother and I have been here for Global MVP Summits.

The flight over to Seattle was pretty uneventful. We didn't take a direct flight to Seattle, as the timing did not exactly work out well; instead, we took a connecting flight through Vancouver. The connection from domestic to US flights in Vancouver was not exactly the smoothest connection; hopefully things will improve when the new Link Building expansion is completed.

Since arriving in Seattle, we have had a great fill of seafood that is available in this area. We had sushi at Marinepolis Sushi Land in Bellevue. They had a pretty interesting setup where chefs prepared many different types of sushi at the centre of the restaurant. They were then placed on plates and placed onto a conveyor belt for patrons to pick and choose from. There were four different plates to signify the different price points of the food.

We also had the opportunity to stop into Salty's, home of the Best Saturday & Sunday Brunch as awarded by voted the MSN-Citysearch.com. I must have had enough oysters to fill Gary's share, in addition to mine, and then some! Unfortunately, due to the rain/fog in the morning, we did not really get a great view of the Seattle skyline (more on this later).

We were also fortunate enough to visit Seattle during their 25 for $25 promotion. This is very similar to Summerlicious or Winterlicious in Toronto. Along with fellow MVP Anando Chatterjee, we had a nice dinner at Ponti Seafood Grill.

Perhaps the only unfortunate thing for us during this trip has been the weather. There has been a lot of rain in Seattle for the last few days, and it is expected to continue for the next few days. This has been due to the 'Pineapple Express', a Pacific Ocean subtropical jet stream that brings warm moist air from Hawaii (where pineapples are grown) to the U.S. West Coast states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia. In some ways, it is similar to the effects that are created by the 'Gulf Stream' ocean currents in the Atlantic.

Many thanks to friends, Vincent Tam and Ivan Huterer for being great hosts during our weekend in Seattle. The MVP Summit events begin on Monday and continue throughout the week. As mentioned in some of my recent posts, I'm looking forward to learning more about future plans for Media Center, as well as reconnecting with many of the MVPs that I have met online.


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Monday, March 05, 2007

MVP Summit 2007 stats

Sean O'Driscoll, General Manager, Customer Service and Support Community and MVP at Microsoft, posted some stats about the upcoming MVP Summit that will occur between March 12-15.

  • The MVP Summit is the largest event held at the Microsoft campus
  • 1889 attendees are registered to attend
  • 88 countries will be represented (based on registrations)...including for the first time: Algeria, Andorra, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Gibraltar, Honduras, Latvia, Morocco, Nepal, Oman, Rwanda, Tunisia, UAE, Uruguay and Vietnam
  • 533 Sessions will be delivered
  • 956 Microsoft employees pre-registered as speakers/attendees
  • 10 Microsoft Executives and 4 Technical Fellows

Definitely looking forward to this.


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Thursday, March 01, 2007

MVP Insider

A few of you pointed this out before I could announce it, but for everyone else who is interested, I am profiled in the Microsoft MVP Insider for the month of March 2007. Click on the logo to see the full piece.

It's a really interesting co-incidence that I was choosen for the month of March. A lot of good things have happened to me in the past during the month of March. Perhaps it is because I was born in the month of March. It has only been one day into March, but there are definitely other things coming up that I definitely looking forward to. I will elaborate on those items as (or if) they occur.


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