Facebook for all and a Happy Birthday to my brother Alan!

So my brother had a birthday yesterday and I had been racking my brain trying to think of something useful that I could get for him.  He has MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and also had a stroke a few years ago that have left it difficult for him to communicate.  He now lives full time in a residential care home.  So for his 58th Birthday I decided to set him up on Facebook – but with a difference.

 

AlanJohnWalkerI know that Alan will struggle to manage a standard Facebook experience – he has never been technically minded and his MS makes it harder to do things than when he was younger so my idea was to provide him with a “read-only” experience of Facebook so that he can see what his family and friends have been posting and feel like he is more a part of what is going on in the outside world!

I began by setting Alan up with his own Facebook Account – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100014462405710

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The first thing that occurred to me is that there is a lot of noise on a typical Facebook Page/App.  The content that I would anticipate that Alan will be interested in is that within the red dotted border above (the timeline) – and so one of the things I am looking at going forward is how we might be able to focus on the timeline element itself.  But for now he will have access to everything and I will have to manage it as best I can. 

I only spoke to the Manager of the care home yesterday to sort out any potential issues (internet access being an obvious one and yes he does have potential for access) .  My thinking in terms of how this might work is different to the way that most people would use Facebook::

 

So how might this work in the first instance?

I envisage Alan being able to see the Facebook display at all times from his bed and that it is permanently set to show the above page. (At this point I don’t see Alan being able to make use of hands on access – the home is soon to be running an iPad trial which Alan will be a part of – stage 2!)

If someone comes in to Alan’s room they will then have the option of using the Facebook display as a conversation starter with Alan, perhaps spending a few minutes reviewing the most recent posts from his family and friends?

It would also be great if we (friends and family) posted occasionally items on our own Facebook that reflected things that Alan might be interested in (An example is the YouTube posting of someone playing Chopin’s’ Military Polonaise – something that my brother would always request that my Mother played for him on the piano at every available opportunity!)

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This is also a good example that highlights the importance of the role that visitors to Alan’s room can play as the piano piece will only be heard if someone touches the play button!

Going forward I can see a number of improvements to this idea which I/we may look at implementing if this initial idea proves to be a success: 

Perhaps a  larger display that was able to focus solely on the timeline and could be operated by Alan using a simple two button remote (“up page”, “down page”’). 

In an ideal world the Facebook display would exist on Alan’s TV as a default channel that he can look at whenever he isn’t watching his TV.  This would need to be a super friendly implementation that goes beyond the current Facebook apps that are often a part of modern smart TVs (although I will take some time to investigate the current generation of Smart TVs to see just how suitable they might be to this purpose).

 

What does it look like?

Facebook Tablet Idea

 

Initially I have re-purposed a tablet that was originally part of our home monitoring system (we have just re-jigged our home security so this was freely available).  It isn’t a perfect choice as the screen is a little small though on the positive side the App seems to have a little less noise than the typical Facebook web page and the device itself is quite sturdy (it has a stand built into it’s base) so I am hopeful that I will be able to find a suitable spot in Alan’s room for it.

I drafted up the message to go along with it so that anyone entering Alan’s room (cleaners, social workers etc.) will be able to see what it is about and hopefully be encouraged to highlight any interesting items with Alan.

If you have read this far then thank you.  If you have stumbled on this post on the web and have any ideas for improving this scenario please comment below or email me at rd3d2@hotmail.co.uk.

 

Many thanks.

Asus T102 – first impressions – Review

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As one of the first budget ‘Surface Pro lookalikes’ the ASUS has the dubious honour of being directly compared to a product costing over twice as much – so how does it measure up?

First impressions are good, the keyboard action is pleasing with solid feedback on every keyboard touch.  Likewise, attaching and detaching the ‘surface like’ keyboard is reminiscent of the confidence inspiring ‘clunk’ of a car door.  The overall feel of the product is reminiscent to that of the Surface itself – it feels like a well crafted product, perhaps a little thicker than Surface but with the same overall solidly made feel to it – at least at this early stage it doesn’t feel like it is something that will begin to fall apart after six months of use!

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Sideways on the ‘surface look’ continues – happily ASUS have benefited from a few generations of improvements of the Surface design itself and the T102 adopts both the more solid ‘folding back lip’ for the keyboard and the ‘any angle you like’ positioning of the stand – nice!  (As such it will feel like an upgrade to owners of the earlier Surface units that do not posses these features).  And the addition of multiple choices of colour for the keyboards will please those who want to match it with their décor (I am assured such people exist!)

So are there any downsides?  Well I can overlook the lack of Windows hello integration at this price point (and the fingerprint scanner tucked away on the reverse of the device does a similar job).  The device is also a little heavier than I would like, though not so much as would prevent the average person from using it.  It also “maxes out” at 4GB RAM so this is never going to be a power users or developers device (and why would it be – this isn’t the market that Asus is aiming at)

When I looked at this device it struck me as the perfect replacement for my wife’s’ now aging first generation Surface RT device, the price is good, the specifications quite generous for an entry level device and the style draws strongly on the hard work done in the Microsoft camp over the preceding years.

When I say I want a C# developer what I actually want is an ASP.Net developer?

So putting all the XAML stuff to one side (sure that can be web but it is usually referred to as “XAML”) this is an attempt to quantify what it might mean to be a C#, ASP.Net developer today – this is actually an impossible job as these requirements are specific to individual roles and are also in a constant state of flux with prevailing technology changes! (Click on the headings for wider definitions from Wikipedia)

The following five items are probably the “pillars” in terms of requirements to be an Asp.Net developer. In addition a rudimentary understanding of a back end database such as SQL SERVER is a common requirement.

 

1. C#

“C# is a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language.[9] Its development team is led by Anders Hejlsberg. The most recent version is C# 6.0 which was released in 2015”

2. ASP.NET

“ASP.NET is an open-source server-side web application framework designed for web development to produce dynamic web pages. It was developed by Microsoft to allow programmers to build dynamic web sites, web applications and web services.”

3. MVC

MVC (Model-View-Controller) is a software architectural pattern for implementing user interfaces on computers. It divides a given software application into three interconnected parts, so as to separate internal representations of information from the ways that information is presented to or accepted from the user.

4. HTML

Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) is the standard mark-up language for creating web pages and web applications. With Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and JavaScript, it forms a triad of cornerstone technologies for the World Wide Web. (ASP.Net commonly renders it’s output as HTML)

5. JavaScript

JavaScript is a popular, high-level, dynamic, untyped, and interpreted programming language dating back to the dawn of the web.

 

 


 What else am I likely to be expected to know about?


CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

Cascading Style Sheets is a style sheet language used for describing the presentation of a document written in a mark-up language most often used to set the visual style of web pages.

NODE.JS

Node.js is an open-source, cross-platform JavaScript runtime environment for developing a diverse variety of tools and applications. Although Node.js is not a JavaScript framework,[3] many of its basic modules are written in JavaScript, and developers can write new modules in JavaScript. The runtime environment interprets JavaScript using Google’s V8 JavaScript engine.

ANGULAR

Angular is a complete JavaScript-based open-source front-end web application framework mainly maintained by Google and by a community of individuals and corporations to address many of the challenges encountered in developing single-page applications.

TYPESCRIPT

Typescript is a free and open source programming language developed and maintained by Microsoft. It is a strict superset of JavaScript, and adds optional static typing and class-based object-oriented programming to the language.

ADO.NET

ADO.NET is a data access technology from the Microsoft .NET Framework which provides communication between relational and non-relational systems through a common set of components.  The Entity Framework and Linq to SQL are common aspects of this framework where a basic understanding of operation is a common requirement.

 


Which tools am I likely to utilise?


VISUAL STUDIO

Visual Studio is an integrated development environment (IDE) from Microsoft. It is used to develop computer programs for all common platforms, as well as web sites, web applications and web services.

GITHUB

GitHub is a web-based Git repository hosting service. It offers all of the distributed version control and source code management (SCM) functionality of Git (command line tool) as well as adding its own features.

 

 


Buzz Words


Each role you undertake is likely to have it’s own preferred libraries and methodologies.  Some of the more common requirements are:

(TBA)

Privacy Policy

Policy

This App does not collect, store or share any personal information, or anything related to your device.  We do not collect any statistics, trends or track user movements.

Sharing Data

The app provides share functionality through the O/S that allows you to share newsworthy information with any third party application. The App allows you to open Web URLs from the application.  The internet urls might be saved by the web browser on your device.  For further information on this consult your web browsers own documentation.

NB This Privacy policy covers your use any app  from “Web Surfaces”

Comparison of Photos with Lumia 950lx vs Lumia 1020 vs Lumia 1520

This is a very simple test comparing the basic snapshot capabilities of these three phones.  All phones were set on maximum resolution and auto shoot using the basic camera app.

Compare

So all produced good results with my personal preference being for the 1520 (though I find it difficult to tie down my reasoning?)

Zoomed Compare

Zoomed in to the Daffodils in the first picture the clear winner is the 1020 – that might surprise some as it is such an old device – although those ‘in the know’ will already appreciate the benefits of it’s superior hardware.  (Notwithstanding there is a downside to the higher resolution achieved as the file sizes produced by the 1020 are considerably larger should you wish to shoot at this resolution).

 

Summary

So I was curious to know how well the newer Lumias stack up against the  older 1020 with my personal conclusion being that for straight snapshots the 1020 still has the crown.  Of course it benefits from having more time for the engineers to perfect the cameras’ algorithms and I would expect the 950lx to only improve over time.

I found this an interesting comparison and I might follow up with a similar comparison using some common Android and iOS phones (should I be able to get my hands on!)


NB Full Res images can be downloaded from here:

https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=E8560F926A112380!551222&authkey=!AHdC8VZJjRJykTw&ithint=folder%2cjpg

HTC Vive Hands On

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So I was lucky enough to try out the Vive this morning, working my way through several ‘experiences’ and ‘hands on demos’.

First things first.  If you have ever looked at a great watercolour or oil painting and thought ‘wow, that is so lifelike’ then you are not far from the same feelings generated by any good VR Headset.  (you might say ‘close but no cigar’). That said, for me, the Vive has come the closest to providing a ‘real life like’ experience.  The unit I tried was connected to a high end PC – which goes a long way to ensuring this like like experience.  For one thing I didn’t feel like I was ‘looking through a mesh windows’ which is the common experience with the otherwise excellent Oculus Rift (DK2).  However, I ‘felt the wires’ a couple of times which also takes one a little out of the experience (one of the advantages of the completely wireless Gear VR Headset from Samsung).

After putting on the headset and headphones I was given the two paddles which consist of a button device and trigger on the underside.

Demo 1

 

The first demo allowed me to create balloons (colours of my choosing via a spin wheel on the ‘virtual’ button) and launch them off into the surrounding space.  I could hit the balloons with either paddle and their behaviour was very lifelike (I wasn’t able to pop one but maybe that was just because I didn’t have enough time!)

 

 

Demo 2

 

With this demo the paddles became a pallette and brush and I was able to ‘draw in space’ and create what appeared to be solid structures that I could look around and augment from other angles. There were various pens,pencils etc and numerous options to change colours, line thicknesses and textures similar in many ways to those available in a normal 2d style paint package.  The process was very intuitive and I wondered about the possibilities of 3d printing the results (though I am not sure the 3d printers are sophisticated enough to create something that wouldn’t simply fall down in gravity!) 

I’m also not sure what the immediate use of this functionality might be but it proved to be great fun!

 

Demo 3

This was an amazing undersea adventure in which I could walk around the deck of a sunken wreck while viewing the undersea world around me.  This was the demo that for me highlighted a feature of the Vive that I haven’t seen elsewhere as when I walked over to a physical wall in the real world – a virtual wall appeared within the virtual world to stop me going further.  (For this to work in a home environment you would need to set the sensors – the small boxes shown in the first image – around the ceiling/walls of your own home space).  The whale swims majestically towards you and my immediate inclination was to reach out and pat it (Goodness knows what the people watching thought I was doing!)

 

Demo 4

 

This was an interactive demo that required you to pick things up and push various buttons to simulate a typical office environment.  To begin with you are invited to make a cup of coffee which involves picking up a mug, taking it over to the coffee machine behind you, plugging in the coffee machine and selecting your brew!  You then progress to switching on your PC and typing in a simple pin to log in and star work.  Again, a fun demo that suggests the useful potential of simulating real world interactions.

 

 

Update: September 2016 – Microsoft stores in the US are currently offering a 15 minute demo of the HTC Vive – I tried it again and found the demos to be even slicker than those I tried back in March – well worth a trial if you get the chance!

Amazon Prime 4K, Triax THC 22 and the Hisense LTDN65K680M3D 65 Inch 4K UHD TV

Following on from these posts dating back a couple of years the Hisense is well and truly bedded in and in use every day.  As explained previously I really bought this TV (strictly speaking a ‘monitor’ as it doesn’t have it’s own TV tuner) for it’s size rather than as simply a 4K TV – the wow factor came from seeing high definition video on a 65” screen – and that still looks fantastic to this day!  That said, I finally got round to getting a regular streaming source for 4k in the shape of the latest Amazon Fire TV Box .

 

 

Having used the box in 1080p mode for a couple of weeks I decided to see what was on the market to allow me to stream 4k to the Hisense (which, being a little long in the tooth, only supports HDCP 2).  I found the Triax on the CPC website for under £50. 

 

 

 

The Triax is simplicity itself to set up – simply connect the standard USB Power,the output to the HDMI 1 input on the Hisense and the Input to the Fire box and away you go!

Most of the content made by Amazon is available at no extra cost as a part of their PRIME subscription service including the excellent “Bosch” which is one of my favourites.  As luck would have it season 2 is being made available in 4k tomorrow (11/3/2016) and I am looking forward to binge watching this in 4k!

Picture quality is fantastic – but as I said the wow factor for me was really the 65” screen at 1080p – sure it looks better in 4K but for me 4k is simply a ‘nice to have’.

Netflix?  I haven’t tried the Triax with Netflix but would be confident that it would work just as well as it does with the Amazon streamed 4k content.

 

NB I have all my sources, including the output from the Triax routed through an Onkyo A/V Amp (built in 4k support)

Where have your apps gone?

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I was surprised to find that the tally of apps I have developed over the previous 5 years or so is close to 300 – an average of an app a week over the period.  I have been asked why I spent so much of my time developing these Apps and although I have touched on this elsewhere in my blog I thought it worth revisiting and explaining why I have taken the decision to remove these apps from the store.

After a lengthy period as a contract developer I made the decision for personal reasons, to close down my business.  This gave me the opportunity to learn about App development and at the same time to consolide my existing web and desktop skills.

Having now made the decision to return to a more traditional role I want to clear the decks and focus on the next stage of my carreer. Correspondingly it no longer makes sense to support the many Windows and Windows phone Apps which I am now in the process of retiring from the store.

Of course that doesn’t mean that if you have one of these apps it will suddently stop working and there is certainly no reason why you shouldn’t continue to enjoy any apps you have for years to come!

As ever you are free to email me about any aspect of any apps that you own!

 

 

Ian

Ian.Walker@WebSurfaces.co.uk

New revenue opportunities for Windows developers?

So I was in two minds as to what the make the title for this blog post but having received the email below from microsoft this morning my immediate take away wasn’t about the ‘new opportunities’ but about the decreased cut of app proceeds imposed on developers.  here is the email:

Adding new revenue opportunities for you is a key priority for Windows Store. To attract more store customers, we recently launched new Windows Store and Xbox gift cards. Gift cards are now available at thousands of new retail locations and online stores in 41 markets. Windows and Xbox gift cards work interchangeably and can be used on both Windows and Xbox stores. Sales associates will promote gift cards to customers who want to give gifts, buy apps without a credit card, or fund a child’s account without the worry of overspending.

With the recent expansion and because gift cards have higher costs due to packaging costs and revenue sharing with channel partners, a Commerce Expansion Adjustment will be added to app and in-app product purchases made with gift cards. The Commerce Expansion Adjustment is an additional percentage on top of the normal Store Fee (percentage of Net Receipts) that is deducted in calculating the App Proceeds payable for apps or in-app product transactions using gift cards.
The Commerce Expansion Adjustment for gift cards will take effect in
specified markets in March 2016 at a rate of 2.24%. Details about how the Commerce Expansion Adjustment is calculated and deducted from App Proceeds can be found in the App Developer Agreement.
Windows Dev Center allows you to choose which markets you publish your apps and how you price them in each market. In doing so, you may want to consider if the Commerce Expansion Adjustment applies in a specific market and factor that into your market pricing strategy going forward.
For further details about the Commerce Expansion Adjustment and the list of markets where it applies see your
App Developer Agreement and Windows Dev Center.
Thank you,
The Windows Dev Center Team

I am sad to see that there is a need to cut developer proceeds in this way.  I have found it difficult to justify the development of apps for Windows and Windows Mobile (in spite of the fact that I have found the process enjoyable and the tooling excellent) and have felt forced into looking at reducing (if not completely eliminating) the time I am able to devote to developing apps for the Microsoft store.

Sad times.

 

Update

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It is with some sadness that I have decided to withdraw all my apps from the Windows Store.  I felt this was necessary in order  to clear the decks and prepare for future projects.

NB My understanding is that this process will take some time before it is reflected in the non availability of some 300 or so of my apps in the Windows and Mobile Store.

(Easy) Custom Web Tiles for Microsoft Band

My wife leaves for work quite early in the morning and a few times every year has to turn back and take a different route as a result of flooding.  Now that she has joined me in the ranks of ‘Band Wearer’ I thought I would look to see if I could set up any kind of flood notification for her so that she wouldn’t get so delayed.

Here are the steps I took:

 

Having previously come accross this site:

http://www.gaugemap.co.uk/

which covers flooding points accross the whole of the UK.

I picked out the particular point of interest (Haw bridge), which has it’s own twitter site here:

 

https://twitter.com/riverlevel_0030

 

Now, in the good old days getting an RSS eed from Twitter was a straightforward affair but now you have to go around the houses as the API requires a unique identifier for the feed.

I did some searching on the web and came accross this which looked to fit the bill:

 

http://www.labnol.org/internet/twitter-rss-feed/28149/

 

Following these instructions and substituting the above twitter feed I was able to end up with my own RSS feed of Haw Bridge Tweets:

image

Perfect!  Now it was just a question of running through all the steps of the web tile maker here:

https://developer.microsoftband.com/WebTile/ChooseLayout

(Reproduced below)

image

image

badgeIcon(Icon)

… and i was good to go!

 

NB I have submitted the tile to Microsoft, if it passes muster (not sure if the google bit will) then you should be able to load it direct from the gallery using the “Microsoft Health” App on your device.

(See previous web band article here for another ‘getting started’)