Archive for May, 2009

You know what? That’s a little creepy.

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I couldn’t even tell what I was looking at when I first saw this.  Is it ‘half of a person’?  What’s going on here?

Oh.  It’s the Hug Me Pillow.

Looks creepy to me.

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Introducing the… Zune HD!

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Zune HD info page

As expected, Microsoft has announced the Zune HD – the next iteration in the Zune lineup.  The “HD”, of course, stands for “High Definition”, which is in reference to this player’s capability of playing both hi-def radio as well as outputting to hi-def TV (via a dock).  Perhaps more notable, are the facts that this player features a 3.3” OLED touchscreen, Internet browser, on-screen keyboard, and ultimately competes head-to-head with the iPod Touch.

The big issue, of course, is inherent “value” of the Zune over other brands.

I’m a Zune user, I like the hardware, I think the software is great, and I’m absolutely sold on the Zune Pass subscription service.  Where Zune has really struggled these past few years, if you ask me, is with their value proposition as compared with the competition – namely Apple.  Being “as good as” the competition will rarely get you market share.  You have to be better, and it needs to be noticeable. 

For instance, I would love to see…

  • Zune hardware that is less expensive than the competition
  • Zune Marketplace to feature less expensive music… like the Zune Pass 🙂
  • Zune hardware to feature better storage than comparable devices
  • Zune hardware to feature slightly bigger screens or sharper resolution
  • Zune hardware/software to tightly integrate with Xbox Live
  • Xbox Live content compatible with the Zune platform
  • XBLA Games ported to the Zune hardware

It may just be the little things that begin to win people over. 

If Microsoft it getting anything right in the PMP marketplace, it’s in their focus on software instead of hardware.  They are a software company, after all, and that’s their specialty.  The Zune Marketplace software is really great, and their ability to roll-out great new features in the Zune hardware updates has been wonderful as well.  It also looks like the Zune experience will soon be bundled with Windows Mobile phones, which is an interesting, if not critical, move for Microsoft.  Also, it does look like the Zune software platform will be coming to Xbox Live, which is great.  I’m interested to see how that rolls out.

I would love to see the Zune platform really excel with this latest iteration – if anything, just to keep the competition fierce.  Windows has needed the MacOS nipping at their heels for years, and I believe that the iPod world needs a competitive force pushing them as well. 

I’m looking forward to the Sept. 5th, 2009, launch of the Zune HD!

REDUX: upgrade your T-Mobile Dash to WM6.1

This time last year (or so), I posted an article on upgrading your T-Mobile Dash phone to Windows Mobile 6.1 – the latest WinMo build available for these phones.  While that article is still very valid and useable, I thought it best to revisit this topic with more current information, including the WM6.1 ROM that I’m now using.

I’ll be rehashing much of the info from my previous post (no sense reinventing the wheel!).  That said, this article should be able to get you from your current state (WM5, WM6 or WM6.1) to the Windows Mobile 6.1-based “EnergyROM”, which I’m liking very much.  Even better, many of the tweaks that I posted in my previous article are no longer necessary – they’re built right in!

Here we go…

First of all, this write-up assumes that you have a fully-functioning T-Mobile Dash phone operating on the U.S. network.  It also assumes that you know how to use your phone fairly well, as not everything is spelled out for you.  Lastly, this procedure may void your warranty, so please be aware of that.

What you’ll need:

  • A functioning, usable T-Mobile Dash phone (aka HTC Excalibur) on the T-Mobile network
  • Windows PC (XP, Vista or Windows 7 –> what I use)
  • USB sync cable to connect your phone to your PC
  • To download this ROM file and unzip it to a local folder on your computer.  The desktop works fine.
    (Note: you will need a RAR compatible unzip program like WinRAR.)

If you’re already confused, then this upgrade isn’t for you.  Otherwise, please continue…

UPGRADING THE ROM

  1. Turn off your phone, remove any MicroSD card you might have, and boot the phone back up again.  When the phone is fully booted (and usable), connect your phone to your PC via your USB sync cable.  Windows should recognize your phone and either 1) launch ActiveSync/Windows Mobile Device Center (pictured), or 2) see it as a removable drive.  Fine.  Things are working normally.

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  2. With your phone connected to your PC, double-click on the “auto.bat” file from the EnergyROM .rar file that you downloaded/extracted in the earlier steps.winmoUpgrade02
  3. The ROM update utility will start.  You should be greeted with a command prompt box telling your to “remove SD card and reboot…”.  We’ve already done this, so hit Enter (any key) to continue.  The ROM will be copied to your phone.winmoUpgrade03
  4. The screen should read “execute SPL now…”  Hit Enter one more time.winmoUpgrade04
  5. Now, hit the middle (silver) button of your phone d-pad.  The screen on your mobile phone should turn white.
  6. Back at the CMD prompt (DOS box), hit Enter once more to continue.winmoUpgrade05
  7. The GUI for the ROM updater should launch.  Keep the defaults and select any “I agree” statements when prompted.  The ROM update itself takes about 5 minutes or so.winmoUpgrade06

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  8. Update successful!  After the update, your phone will reboot by itself and run some behind-the-scenes configurations, which might take awhile.  This is normal.
  9. Upon rebooting again, you will see the Windows Mobile desktop, which is followed up shortly by the “Connection Setup” dialog.  Choose your cellular operator and hit OK to apply those settings.
  10. For whatever reason, this ROM update sets your time, date and time zone quite strangely, which may adversely affect some program installs.  So, go ahead and set those settings now.  Go to START > SETTINGS > Clock & Alarm > Time & Date.
  11. Finally, your phone should be ready-to-go with the WM6.1 EnergyROM.  Congrats!!!  You can re-insert your MiniSD card, if you like.

INSTALLING THE ‘MINI OPERA’ BROWSER

Although this ROM comes with a newer version of the mobile Internet Explorer browser, it leaves some things to be desired.  I’ve found that the (free) Opera Mini browser is very nice to use on these phones, can browse most any website, and is really quite fast – even over the Edge network.

Here’s how to install Opera Mini, if you like.

  1. On your phone, select Start > Internet Explorer
  2. Click the right soft button for the Menu, and select Go To Web Address
  3. Hold the backspace arrow to delete the current text.
    (Note: to disable the XT9 predictive text, hold the Alt key + Space Bar to bring up that menu.  Choose ‘ABC’ from the list.)
  4. Type in mini.opera.com and hit Enter
  5. When the page loads, choose the bottom most option that says “If this version fails to install…” and click the center button on your d-pad
  6. On the next page, select the top option for “Download Opera Mini! (English, Multiple Certificates)” and hit the center button.
  7. Click the left soft button to Continue.  Click OK at the <root> option prompt.  Click Continue again.
  8. Click OK at the warning screen
  9. Click OK at the Security screen
  10. Opera Mini will download and install.  Click YES to launch when prompted.
  11. Click YES at the initial Permissions screen for Opera Mini.
  12. At the Permissions screen, select “Yes, always.  Don’t ask again” and hit OK to continue.
  13. Opera Mini will finish its install.  Click “Accept” and you’re done.
  14. Finally, within Opera Mini, choose Menu (left soft button) > Tools > Settings.  Deselect the “Auto-complete address input” and “24-hour clock” options.  *Highly recommended*.  Hit the left soft button to Save.
  15. Opera Mini is ready-to-rock!  Enjoy 🙂

Note: Opera Mini is a java application, so you won’t see an ‘Opera Mini’ link on your Start Menu.  Instead, launch the Java application, and then launch Opera Mini from within it.  You can assign a hotkey to the Java app, or use MortScript to make Opera Mini its own “program”, so to speak.  More on that in the near future.

PARTING THOUGHTS

The T-Mobile Dash  continues to surprise me with how well it performs after all these years.  Hey… this sucker was originally released in late 2006!  The continuing dev support, especially at XDA Developers, is nothing short of astounding.

Even better, the EnergyROM has breathed additional life into this phone, which is really cool.  It looks great, is a bit faster, handles low-memory situations better, and incorporates a lot of the tweaks I really love.  Very nice work, NRGZ28!!

I hope you enjoy it too 🙂

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Lyrics o’ the day

I’ve been listening to Neko Case a bit lately, and I’ve been quite impressed with some of the imagery that she’s able to paint with words.  In fact, I’m always a bit jealous when an artist is able to convey something so powerful within the constrains of a few verses, choruses, and (perhaps) a bridge.

I’m talking about songs here, of course.

On her latest album ‘Middle Cyclone’, Neko kicks off with a strange “love song”, of sorts.  The object of affection is unnamed, unknown, and perhaps irrelevant, but the giver of affection is none other than a tornado.  Yes… a tornado.  Neko’s thought process, evidently, was “What would it look like it a tornado loved you?  Probably pretty dangerous.”  Strange and interesting, to say the least.

This Tornado Loves You”, from Middle Cyclone

My love I am the speed of sound
I left them motherless, fatherless
Their souls dangling inside-out from their mouths…
But it’s never enough
I want you

I carved your name across three counties
And ground it in with bloody hides
Broken necks will line the ditch
Til you “Stop it! Stop it! Stop the madness!”
I want you

I have waited with a glacier’s patience
Smashed every transformer with every trailer
Til nothing was standing
Sixty-five miles wide

But still you are nowhere, still you are nowhere,
Nowhere in sight
Come out to meet me, run out to meet me,
Come into the light

Climb the boxcars to the engine
Through the smoke and to the sky
Your rails could always outrun mine
So I picked them up and crashed them down
In a moment close to now
Cause I miss, I miss, I miss, I miss
How you’d sigh yourself to sleep
When I’d rake the springtime across your sheets

My love, I’m an owl on the sill in the evening
But morning finds you
Still warm and breathing
This tornado loves you
What will make you believe me?

Cool stuff.

Now that I think about it, is the “object of affection” here a train, perhaps?  Hmmm…

Now Playing: May 2009

Mid-month and I’m anxiously awaiting the latest release from mewithoutYou.  Here’s what I’ve been listening to in the meantime…

  • Band of Horses, “Cease To Begin
    • Feeling pretty late-to-the-party with these guys, but this album is really good.  A Neil Young vibe to it, I suppose, but really good soft, alt-rock, indie tunes with an occasional ‘bite’ to it.
  • Neko Case, “Blacklisted
    • Last month I was turned on to Neko Case’s latest album, “Middle Cyclone”, which is really good. I’ve since stumbled upon an earlier release of hers, “Blacklisted”, which I’ve been spinning quite a bit.  Can this lady belt it out?  Check out her song ‘Deep Red Bells’. Whoa.
  • The Working Title, “About-Face
    • I don’t know a whole about these guys, but this album offers some good tunes.  It borders on the “emo” sound, but (in my opinion) doesn’t go too far into that camp.
  • Metric, “Fantasies
    • (Emphatically!) suggested by a co-worker of mine, this is their latest release, and is somewhat more commercial than their previous efforts.  On the other hand, it’s also really, really good.  (Warning: swears on track #3)
  • The Last Town Chorus, “Wire Waltz
    • Perhaps the anti-thesis of the previous band (Metric), though both feature female vocalists.  The Last Town Chorus is unashamedly mellow, tender, and moving.  The Bowie cover “Modern Love” is a bit of a standout track.
  • The Hives, “The Black And White Album
    • Upbeat music that almost feels like a frat album.  Still, this is an obviously talented group of guys, and a very good release.  (Note: awesome album cover too!)

‘Tis all for now.

Wow! It really is “Comcastic”!

We’ve been using Verizon DSL at home for the past 6 years or so.  They’ve been good, quite reliable, and reasonably priced.  Recently, though, we’ve had the “need for speed”, and Verizon just couldn’t come through.  We were paying for 3mbps (down) / 768k (up), but only really realized about half of that speed.  We were too far from the CO to get any faster.

I began shopping around.

Verizon DSL couldn’t do any better for us, FiOS isn’t available in our area, and everything else was either 1) only comparable on speed, or 2) just too expensive.  Who saves the day?  Comcast.  For $19.99/month for the first 6 months (+ $60 install fee), we decided to bit the bullet.  I’ve never been a huge cable Internet fan – fluctuating speeds, rumors of numerous outages, etc. – but I’ve never had cable Internet either. 

We setup an appointment to have them out between 8AM and noon today.

No phone calls or “acknowledgements” of our appointment, and 11:45AM quickly rolls around.  I was ready to lay waste to someone, but then the phone rings a few minutes later.  The technician arrived relatively on-time, and was very friendly.  After about 30 minutes, we were plugging in cables and testing out our service.  The Speakeasy “speedtest” pretty much tells it like it is…

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Yeah… that’s 29mbps (down) / 2.6mbps (up).  Whoa!  I realize that those speeds will change with additional users online in the neighborhood, but still… that’s pretty amazing.

All in all, a pretty good experience thus far.  Here’s hoping that the rest of my “Comcastic!” switchover goes as well. 🙂

Getting to know you, Windows XP Mode “beta”

One of the Microsoft products recently announced and released (in “beta” form) is something called ‘Windows XP Mode’.  Without getting too deep into the product description, this product will allow you to run older, legacy apps within Windows 7 – and presumably the next version of Windows Server.  It may not appeal to the typical end-user, but this functionality is likely critical for corporations looking to adopt Windows 7 within the workplace.

WHY?
It may not be readily apparent to most Windows users, but there is a huge need for legacy application support within any version of Windows.  Microsoft would love for each person and each company to immediately adopt the latest version of Windows, Office, Exchange, and every other product they release, but this is clearly unrealistic – both from a cost and support standpoint.  Upgrading to the latest and greatest software can be expensive, and in many cases the hardware upgrade needs further compound the cost considerations – especially in the current economic climate.  Also, many companies rely upon older, occasionally in-house apps, for the company to function.  Rollouts of new hardware, applications, or operating systems are typically methodically planned out and budgeted for.  Running legacy applications under the newest (more stable, more secure) operating system is a pretty big boon to many companies.  It doesn’t alleviate the increased hardware requirements, but the pricing on state-of-the-art hardware is dropping daily.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
’Windows XP Mode’ is really a tweaked version of the Virtual PC platform that Microsoft has had for years.  Many companies rely heavily upon virtualization for testing, legacy app support, and lower hardware overhead in server farm scenarios.  Rather than a single box running a single OS, which is relatively inefficient, more powerful machines can be running 5, 10, 20 (or more) OSes concurrently – each distinct in and of themselves, but sharing foundational hardware, such as the CPU, RAM, network access, and so forth.  This is just one example.

The difference with ‘Windows XP Mode’ is the ability to install an application in the virtualized environment, but run it on your desktop machine as a (seemingly) normal, standalone product.  For instance, I may have Office 2007 on my desktop machine, but have a need to test against Office 97 upon occasion.  Installing concurrent versions of Office on a single machine typically equals bad mojo.  Don’t go there.  With ‘Windows XP Mode”, however, I can literally have Word 2007 and Word 97 launched side-by-side, though they are technically running on separate operating systems in separate spaces.  Pretty cool, and it will really be a life-saver for many companies – including the place where I work.

FEATURES

  • Windows XP SP3 core
  • USB Support
  • Folder sharing between the Host PC and Guest
  • Clipboard (cut & paste) sharing
  • Printer redirection
  • Appearance of a “native application”
  • More features

LET’S TAKE A LOOK
For starters, head over to the ‘Windows XP Mode’ page, check the system requirements, and then download the necessary installers.  Any new-ish PC running Windows 7 “RC” should be able to support it.  You’ll need to first install a Virtual PC “beta”, and then the ‘Windows XP Mode’ “beta”.  Sadly, running the ‘Windows XP Mode’ installer first didn’t inform me that I was missing anything, so I was a bit confused. 

Follow the steps and you should be ok.

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(Note: I had Virtual PC 2007 SP1 already installed on my machine, which it didn’t like.  Uninstalling VPC2007 allowed me to continue, though I don’t know what other functionality I’ve lost at this point.)

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Once you’ve walked through both installers and rebooted your PC, you should be ready to launch ‘Windows XP Mode’ for the first time.  Note that it’s referred to as ‘Virtual Windows XP’ in your Start Menu.  I don’t know what name they’ll eventually settle on.

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You are prompted to provide a password during the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ initial setup.  The username cannot be changed, so don’t try it.  It’ll be interesting to see how security issues are handled in the long run.  Will the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ session make the host PC more vulnerable to malware and/or viruses?  Is it segmented from the host PC?  Questions that I do not yet have answers for.

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Once the setup is complete, you are presented with a typical Virtual PC-type session of a Windows XP desktop.  It is quite simply just Windows XP (SP3) running in a Virtual PC environment.  Nothing fancy here.

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Interestingly, ‘Virtual Windows XP’ automatically maps the drives available on your Host PC.  For instance, our corporate S: drive (containing software installs, etc.) is immediately available within the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ session.

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My test install of Office 2000 ended in a “fail”.  It thought that I was installing from a Remote Desktop session, which is somewhat strange.

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Better yet… let’s try installing Office 97!  The setup launched and completed without a hitch.

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Without really knowing what to do next, I closed the ‘Virtual Windows XP’ window like I would any other application.  A very brief “hibernating” dialog box showed up, and that was that.

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In my Start Menu once again, I now have a listing for ‘Virtual Windows XP Applications’, which was populated automatically after the Office 97 install.  I simply click on ‘Microsoft Word’ like I would any other application, and away I go!

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My initial launch gave me an interesting screen making reference to my previous “logoff” and what I’d like to do next.  I chose the ‘Open Virtual Application’ option and continued.

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The ‘Starting Virtual Application’ dialog.  This seems to be pretty standard when starting your first virtual app session.

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After a brief flash of the Virtual PC desktop (strange!), Word 97 was up and running in its own windows space – just like any other app.  For whatever reason, it started out stretched across my dual-monitors.  After a quick resize, it was fine.

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The ‘Save As’ dialog in Word 97 has access to my same mapped drives.  Also, the ‘My Documents’ folder maps to the same location as my Host PC.  It looks a bit strange in this form, and could confuse some users.  Still, I’ve performed nearly no configuration during this process, and I can save a Word 97 document to my network share.  That’s kinda cool.

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The taskbar icon doesn’t really show me that Word 97 is currently open.  Rather, I have a generic ‘Virtual Windows XP’ icon.  Mousing over the icon, however, gives a bit more information.

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Closing Word 97 is completely uneventful.  It closes like any other application, with no further dialog boxes or adverse behavior.  Is ‘Virtual Windows XP’ off at this point?  I don’t know.  Presumably it hibernates quickly upon closing.

FINAL THOUGHTS
For the most part, ‘Windows XP Mode’ (aka ‘Virtual Windows XP’ aka whoknowswhat) has met my expectations.  Aside from the initial install confusion on my part, everything went pretty smoothly.  This page helped clear things up.  Having installed apps automically show up in the Start Menu of my Host PC was unexpected, but a very nice surprise.  Performance seems reasonable, with initial application start times of around 30 seconds (resuming the virtual OS from hibernate, it seems) and consequent application launches being almost instantaneous.  I have yet to perform any real testing of the virtualized applications themselves.

As I mentioned previously, this functionality is a huge boon for many companies out there, while most home users will either be unaware of this product, or won’t care.  Clearly the product needs polish – especially around the install process and application “launch” strangeness – but is otherwise a pretty impressive outing.  I look forward to testing additional applications and subsequent releases of ‘Virtual Windows XP’.

Thanks for reading.