Windows Commands App

I’m really enjoying Windows 8 on a Samsung Series 7 Slate, but there are a few commands that I want to have quick keyboard, mouse, and touch access to – without cluttering Start or my Taskbar with a whole bunch of them.

I’ve created a simple HTML Application, or HTA, to provide what I’m looking for without too many lines of code.

Here’s what it looks like:

Commands App

(You’ll notice that I’m no usability or design expert! Feel free to update the graphics and colors as you see fit – they are URLs and color names in the script.)

HTA’s are effectively local HTML files that include VBScript or JavaScript which can operate on your computer’s resources. HTAs have the full power of an EXE – they can do anything to your system, good or bad.

For this reason, you should pay close attention to what an HTA does (it’s written in clear text, like a script) and be sure to download it from a trustworthy source. If you’re not sure, don’t use it. It could easily contain a “Format C:” command somewhere within.

Several anti-virus scanners stop HTAs from being run regardless of their purpose.

Installation Instructions

  1. Grab this Commands.HTA file from my SkyDrive and open it.
  2. Put Commands.HTA on your Desktop or in a folder.
  3. Open it in Notepad to see what it does.
  4. Create a shortcut to it with a target like this:
    C:\Windows\System32\mshta.exe C:\Users\<username>\Desktop\Commands.hta
  5. Give the Shortcut a cool icon, if you like. I use:
    %SystemRoot%\System32\OpenWith.exe
  6. Give the Shortcut a Keyboard Shortcut Key if you want.
  7. Right-click the Shortcut to Pin it to Start and the Taskbar.
  8. Launch Commands.HTA from your Shortcut, a pinned location, or by double-clicking the HTA file itself.

MSHTA.exe is the Windows program that knows how to interpret an HTA script, and is required as the first part of the Shortcut Target.

The first time you run the application, it will download several images online and cache them locally – this may take a few seconds.

You can edit the HTA file to change the colors and images used, the names of buttons, and the code used when each button is clicked. Have fun making the script do what you want it to do!

If this is your first time playing with an HTA, there are several pages online with more information about them.

Usage Instructions

Hover over each button to see the keyboard shortcut. You can also tab through the buttons and press Space or Enter to activate.

If you press the Help button, you’ll notice that the HTA also accepts a single digit argument as well, in case you want to create shortcuts that do specific things like Lock, Hibernate, Shutdown, etc.

I like to pin Commands.hta to the very beginning of the Windows 8 Start page. This way, when I press Enter on Start, it launches into Commands.hta. Then, when I press Enter from within Commands.hta, it returns me to Start. I’ll go back and forth between them like this for hours.

Testers Appreciated

If you do download and use the app, please let me know how it works for you in the comments. Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions too.

I haven’t tested this script on that many PCs – I’d be interested to know if it works for you.

Cheers,

Derick

Advertisements

Dude, Where’s My Windows 8 Start Menu?

Introduction

I’ve been reading lots of feedback people are giving online, about how they want the Start Menu back.

I’ll be honest, when I first started using the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I felt the same way. I would have something I needed to do, go into the Desktop, and then sit there for a minute or two trying to figure out what to do – because I couldn’t click on the Start menu and start looking around. Where’s my Control Panel? Where are my programs? It was frustrating.

But then things started to change…

I played and learned, wrote this Win8 Shortcut Guide, and played some more. Eventually, I started to realize that the Win8 Start page has some fantastic improvements that are far better than the old Start Menu – zooming out in particular I find quite a bit faster for managing and seeking through a large number of apps and shortcuts, and Charms make it easy to find and do other things.

A Charming Start screen

Shortly thereafter, the Start Menu started to look old and clunky to me. Why do I have to click on all of these folders to get someplace? Needless to say, I was a little shocked when this shift started to happen!

The Start Menu now reminds me of this. Tons of people yelled and complained when Windows lost Program Manager:

Windows 3.1 Program Manager

I also remember teaching my mother in law how to use Windows 7 and how challenging and finicky the Start Menu was for her. Could it be that there is a better alternative for a power user like me that also works for the “digitally un-inclined”?

I believe there is.

Don’t get me wrong here, there are definitely things that can be improved, and there is a new learning curve for a billion Windows users ahead – but after playing around a bit and getting over the initial hump, I can honestly say that the new Start page is making me more productive for my common tasks, and even my not-so-common ones.

Incidentally, I use Windows in three primary environments today – on a desktop (HP), a laptop (Lenovo), and a new tablet (Samsung), which is often docked with keyboard and mouse.

I use the keyboard and mouse far more than I use touch today. Throughout this walkthrough, I’ll explain how to do things with the keyboard, the mouse, and touch. If you want to know even more Shortcuts beyond those in this walkthrough, please see the Windows 8 – Ultimate Shortcuts Guide.

I hope you learn something, and begin to find the Start page as useful as I now do. Enjoy!

Feedback

I’m open to feedback, suggestions, and questions:

· https://twitter.com/derickatms @DerickAtMS

· https://www.facebook.com/derickc

Disclosure: I work for Microsoft (currently in Microsoft Research), but I have not been involved in shipping Windows or Metro design.

“Start”ing Principles

After working with the Start page and the Apps page within it and understanding their differences, this has led me to notice some guiding principles in play. Understanding them will help you take better advantage of the Start page. If you can make this leap ahead, you won’t miss the Start Menu anymore.

But first, there are two group introductory videos you should watch. Go check them out if you haven’t already seen them:

Start is all about you. What do you want to see first? What apps do you want to have handy? What tiles have useful information you want to see at a glance? How might you group things together to find them quickly and be more productive?

Start is the most important subset of your former Start Menu – it’s the stuff that matters to you most. It provides access to your Apps, important shortcuts, and live tiles that bring useful information right up front for you.

Apps is about the PC. What Metro Apps and Desktop Apps are installed? What Start Menu folders did your Desktop Apps create? It provides an alphabetical listing of all main applications, followed by shortcuts grouped into their Start Menu folders.

Apps are a superset of the Start page. Apps are what used to be on your Start Menu. You pin items in Apps to Start to make them easier to reach. You unpin them from Start, but they are still waiting for you in Apps if you need them later.

This means we’re going to use Apps to store all of the Desktop Apps, Metro Apps, and Shortcuts that you ever might need – everything – and then pin some of them to Start for easy access.

Yes, even shortcuts to your Desktop environment that you need should be in Apps, and on Start as you see fit. This gives you fast access to everything you care about, regardless if it is Metro or an app from your rich Windows past.

We won’t store files in Apps – they belong in a Library, the Documents folder, on Skydrive, or similar – but we will create shortcuts to files and folders that are important to us, put them in Apps, and pin some of them to the Start page.

Both Start and Apps use side-to-side, zooming, and grouping metaphors rather than a vertical files and folders metaphor for navigation. It takes a while to get used to, but once you do you’ll find that your programs aren’t hidden behind a cascading wall of Start Menu folders anymore. They’re really easy to see and find.

Moving through the Start and Apps pages with your mouse and keyboard is really fast – much faster than hunting around through the Start Menu ever was.

Start

To get to the Start page, use one of the following options.

Keyboard

  • Press the Windows key, which I will call Win, or
  • Ctrl + Esc.

Mouse

  • Click the bottom-left corner, or
  • Hover to the top-right corner -> move down -> click Start, or
  • Hover to the bottom-right corner -> move up -> click Start.

Touch

  • Swipe from right edge -> tap Start, or
  • Press the hardware Win key on a tablet.

When you are already on the Start page, the above step will take you to your last running app.

The Start screen looks something like this:

Start Screen

Tip: If you have a laptop or tablet that you dock with a second monitor, you will notice that when your screen resolution changes the Start page automatically adjusts to it. This means that top-to-bottom tile placement may look different (with more or less room for tiles). Your groups will still be in the same left-to-right order.

In the previous screenshot, I’m using the native resolution of a Samsung Slate. In the following screenshot, I’m using a higher resolution monitor with the same Slate.

Start Screen, high-res

Navigating Start

While you are on the Start page, there are several options for navigation:

Keyboard

  • PgDn and PgUp will move you right and left a page at a time. Notice that one tile will always be active, with a box around it when you are using the keyboard.
  • Arrow keys will change the active selection.
  • Home and End will take you to the beginning and end.
  • Tab will change the focus between the tile area, items on the command bar (if it is showing), and your name and account picture.
  • Enter will launch the active tile’s App.
  • Space will select the active tile, show the Command bar, and make the Command bar active.
    • Caution: Pressing Space again will Unpin this tile from Start. This is super-handy if there are several tiles in a row that you want to unpin quickly.
  • You can select multiple tiles with Space, but you must Tab off of the Command bar after the first selection to do this.
  • Win + Z will show/hide the Command bar. Hiding the Command bar will deselect any selected tiles.
  • Ctrl + – will zoom out, allowing you to see more. From this view, you can move and name your Start groups
    • There are only two zoom levels: normal and out. You do not need to press this key combination more than once.
  • Ctrl + = will zoom back in
    • Caution: Win + = starts Magnifier, which offers a very different type of zooming that is less useful on the Start page.
  • Note: I still haven’t figured out how to move tiles with the keyboard. If you know, please ping me! (Not that I want to move tiles this way, I just want to be complete in this article.)

Mouse

  • Scroll wheel down and up moves you right and left quickly.
  • Pushing against the right edge and left edge of the screen will also move you right and left.
  • Click a tile to launch that App.
  • Right-click a tile to select it, and show the Command bar
    • You can right-click several tiles to Unpin then all at the same time.
  • Click the bottom-right corner (icon Mouse Magnify) of the screen to zoom out, or hold Ctrl and Scroll Down
    • Right-click a group to name it.
    • Drag and drop groups to move many tiles at once.
    • Click anywhere to zoom back in again.
  • Drag a tile to move it somewhere else
    • Navigate as usual if you like (scroll, left, right, up, down) to a new location.
    • Drag the tile to the top or bottom of the screen to zoom out, then drag back to the middle to move it quickly to a different group.
    • Drop to relocate the tile in the new location.

Touch

  • Slide left and right to move right and left.
  • Tap a tile to launch the App.
  • Swipe a tile down to select it and show the Command bar
    • Swipe several tiles to Unpin them together.
  • Drag a tile to move it somewhere else
    • Use a second finger to slide everything else left and right, or drag the tile to the edge of the screen.
    • Drag the tile to the top or bottom of the screen to zoom out, bringing it back into the middle exactly near the tiles you want.
    • Let go to place the tile in a new location.
  • Pinch to zoom out.
    • Drag and drop to move groups.
    • Swipe a group to name it.
  • Tap an open area or reverse-pinch to zoom back in.

The Start screen, zoomed out:

Start Screen, zoomed out

Grouping Tiles

Start groups are helpful ways to keep tiles together, and can each have a name if you like. If you have a growing Start page, groups can inject some helpful structure.

To create a new group, drag a tile to the left or right of the group it is in until a vertical shaded bar appears. Drop the tile in that area, and it is now part of a new group!

To name a group, zoom out, select the group and use the Name group feature on the Command bar.

Start Screen, name group

Apps

The Apps page is available from the Start page in several ways.

Keyboard

  • Just start typing, and this bring up the Apps page with a Search bar containing what you’ve typed
    • Press Esc once to clear your search. Press Esc again to leave you in Apps, without a Search bar. I’ve found this view of Apps quite helpful.
    • If you press Esc a third time, Start will close and you will return to your previous App.
  • Win + Q also brings up Apps with a Search bar. Note: Win + Q is app-sensitive. If you use it from a Metro App it will default to search that App.

Mouse

  • Right-click an empty part of Start, then click All Apps on the Command bar.

Touch

  • Swipe the right edge and touch Search. Tap outside of the Search bar area to remain in Apps, or
  • Swipe from the top or bottom and tap All Apps on the Command bar.

Now you should see a page called Apps, with lots of icons and App names. For purposes of the next exercise, I’ll be using Apps without the Search bar.

Apps

Navigating Apps

Use the same controls for navigating Apps as you do on Start. Remember that Apps are sorted alphabetically, followed by folders that exist on the Start Menu.

As you can see, there are far more Apps installed than you will likely include on your Start page.

This makes zooming really helpful on Apps. When I’m moving around with my mouse, I find it particularly helpful to zoom out, find the Start Menu folder I’m looking for, select it to zoom in, and then select the App I’m looking for.

Here’s a specific example. I have Visual Studio 11 installed, but I haven’t pinned it to my Start page. I go into Apps, zoom out, click on the Microsoft Visual Studio 11 group, and then start the app.

Apps, zoomed out

One of the cool things you’ll notice is that when you click on a letter or group (i.e. Start Menu folder name), the tile location will be in the exact same column as your mouse – a simple visual scan up and down will help you find exactly what you were looking for. I like it that Windows doesn’t move your mouse, but rather moves the page to you.

Select tiles (don’t launch them) on the Apps page to Pin or unpin them on the Start page using the Command bar – the same way you select them on the Start page.

Desktop Apps

Ok, now you know how to navigate the entire “Start Menu” made up of the Start and Apps pages.

In addition to some cool new Metro apps you’ve downloaded from the Store, you have “legacy” stuff all over the place (in the Desktop environment), and you want to get to it easily.

No problem – let’s pin some Apps! I say Apps, but really they can be shortcuts to anything you need to get to. I wanted to have Start tiles that get me to Minecraft, Skyrim, my old Internet Explorer Favorites, Recent Documents, and my Win8 Shortcuts Word document – none of these are Metro, and they are all going on my Start page.

But first – you should check if what you are looking for is already available on Apps. Everything that was in the Programs folder of your Start Menu is already there! Dive into Apps, zoom-out and in to the Start Menu folder that was created (or just type and search), and pin your App.

If there’s something else in your non-Metro environment that isn’t already in the Start Menu folder that you want in your Apps or pinned to Start, we’ll need to go find it the traditional “Windows 7 way”.

(Oh, and if you are looking for all of the Control Panel options, they are now called Settings in Windows 8. You can search Settings by typing, the same way you search Apps. You can also pin the Control Panel to Start if you like, or access it and other useful tools via the helpful Desktop shortcuts below.)

Getting to the Desktop

There are plenty of ways to get to the Desktop. Here are some of my favorites.

Keyboard

  • Win + D takes you to the Desktop. If you are already working on the Desktop, it alternates between minimizing and restoring running Desktop Apps.
  • Win + E runs Windows Explorer on the Desktop.
  • Win + X opens the Desktop quick menu, where you can arrow up/down to start Control Panel, Disk Management, and several other useful Desktop Apps.
  • Win + R opens the Run dialog on the Desktop, where you can type in the name of a specific program to run, folder to open, or even a web page to visit.

Mouse

  • Click the Desktop tile on Start or Apps.
  • Click the Windows Explorer tile on Start or Apps.
  • Right-click the bottom-left corner to pull up the Desktop quick menu. Without moving the mouse, left-click to open the Desktop.
  • Right-click a tile that runs a non-Metro App and select Open file location from the Command bar.

Touch

  • Touch the Desktop tile on Start or Apps.
  • Touch the Windows Explorer tile on Start or Apps.
  • Swipe down on a tile pointing to a Desktop App and select Open file location from the Command bar.

The Open file location command is a really handy way to get to the Desktop with Explorer running, already pointing to a Start Menu Programs folder, which we will use for adding Apps below.

Start Menu Programs Folders

As mentioned above, you can use the Open file location command to go directly to your Start Menu Programs folder. This is incredibly useful if you have lots of shortcuts that you want to add to Apps or you want to organize it a little with your own folders. Remember, top folders in the Start Menu Programs folder become groups in Apps.

Note: There are two Start Menu Programs folders that combine to create your Apps page (in addition to your installed Metro Apps). Open file location may take you to either one, depending on where the Shortcut for that tile is located:

  1. Your Start Menu Programs folder, usually at: C:\Users\<yourname>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
  2. The Start Menu Programs folder for Windows, usually at: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Program

Shortcuts in these root folders will appear in alphabetical order on your Apps page. Folders here will appear as groups on your Apps page.

If you want to browse to these folders without using the Open file location command, you’ll want to select Hidden items in the Show/hide section of the View ribbon in Windows Explorer, as these folders are normally hidden:

Explorer View ribbon

Pinning New Apps

Now you know how to get to the Desktop, and you know where to put Start Menu Shortcuts to have them show up on your Apps page.

Now we need to make some Shortcuts!

Use Windows Explorer (Win + E) on the Desktop and browse to the file, folder, or application you want as a tile.

Right-click it and select Create Shortcut. A shortcut will appear next to it in the same folder.

Rename the Shortcut to something meaningful, and then drag and drop it into one of the Start Menu Programs folders described above, as shown in the following picture:

Adding an App

(I like to use Aero-Snap from Win7 to put the two Windows Explorer windows next to each other, for easier drag-and-dropping between them. To use Aero-Snap, click and drag the title bar of a classic Window to the far right or left edge of the screen, and Snap, it fills half of the screen.)

Now you can visit the Apps page, where you’ll see your new Shortcut. Remember that it will be alphabetically located (if in the root folder), or in the group (top folder) you dropped it in.

Select the App (don’t launch it), and Pin it to the Start menu if you like. This will place it on the far right of the Start page (see following picture), where you can drag and drop it into exactly the right group.

New Pinned App

There are other ways to create Shortcuts, and Windows Explorer occasionally offers a menu option to pin items to the Start page directly, which will create a Shortcut for you, put it into your Start Menu Programs folder, and pin the App to your Start page.

(These didn’t work for me consistently, possibly Win8 CP bugs or user error, so I wrote the process above that worked repeatedly for me.)

Now it’s Your Turn!

I hope this walkthrough has given you enough information to be dangerous – and to really enjoy the new Start experience in Windows 8.

Have fun!

Shopping Excitement!

It’s Thursday Jan 20 in Pune, India. Around 5:30pm.  It’s around 4am at home in Bellevue, WA. I’ve just finished an exciting shopping adventure.

About one hour earlier…

I’m staying at the Westin – which seems to be a very new, upscale hotel for the area. 

DSCF0958

The tub has an open glass window to the rest of the room, which I find a little strange.  Whatever turns you on I guess!

DSCF0932

People everywhere in the lobby – saying hi, there if I need any help. The lobby is immaculate – nice art, very modern.DSCF0926

I ask where I can get some money converted into rupees. 

I convert $40 US into Rupees – got ~1,700 of them.  (Note to future self, at this point I should have asked for some coins.) I ask the concierge for a map and a recommendation of where to go shopping.  I need to get something interesting for Dawn, and the kids. He recommended a mall across the bridge – it has McDonalds and Subway he says.  Ok – not quite what I’m looking for, but I’ll check it out anyway.

DSCF0938

The map comes inside a massive bundle of advertising. I pull out the map, and look for a garbage to put the ads.  Nothing in sight – ok – I’ll hold on to it until I find something.

I exit the building, through the metal detector, and walk down the road to the front gate. Past the armed guard and through the security gate attended by three or more other guards (not armed). Everyone is very polite. Smiles all around.  One of them presses his hands together in front of his face and combines this with a little bow.

First area of land on the right next to the hotel – oh – it is a cemetery.  It looked like that from my room window, but I wasn’t sure.  There are some people within – I don’t take a close up picture out of respect.

DSCF0942

I turn right on the road ahead, as directed by the concierge. It’s busy, but not insanely busy.  Here’s a distant shot of the intersection – also from my hotel window.

DSCF0945

Delicacies await at this junction.  Chinese food?  Some local plant life or curios?  I decide to press on instead of browsing these wares for too long.

DSCF0952

DSCF0953

The bridge is ahead.  Honking regularly occurs all around me – much more frequently than back at home.  Honking seems to be done much more proactively – “hey, I’m here, just sayin’.” The honk back says, “there’s plenty of room for four cars wide in these two traffic lanes!”"

DSCF0956

At this point I realize that I’m still holding the ad/trash from the hotel.  I haven’t seen any trash containers.  I look over the side of the bridge, and I notice where other people are putting their garbage.

DSCF0955

I continue walking across the bridge – towards my shopping adventure!

Almost half way across the bridge, I snap the photo of the Westin that you see above. I look down in the water – what is that?  A water buffalo, I think.

DSCF0960

I consider getting closer to the animal for a close up shot.  This darn camera only has 3x zoom. I look ahead and see a path that goes down to the water. Unfortunately, the path goes through what might be considered a residential area. 

I stop for a moment to consider the stark contrast of the buildings and shopping of the left, the tin and tarp homes on the right, and the hotel I just came from less than ten minutes away.

DSCF0961

A short distance ahead, I notice a dog by himself.  I’ve seen stray dogs several times on this trip – usually crossing a road.  This dog wants to cross, but the road is too busy.

‘Come here puppy,’ I think to myself. Then another smarter part of me thinks, ‘please don’t come here – I really don’t want to get to know you any further.’

DSCF0962

Finally – I reach my destination – the mall!

DSCF0963

I walk through the metal detector, and beep.  I’m carrying a camera in my pocket after all. The guard approaches me and waves his magic wand over me quickly – beeping on both pockets – he doesn’t care.  He waves me through.

I notice that the Indian family that went through right before me has been pulled aside and is emptying their bags on the table.

The mall is half food court, with a few other shops – books, electronics, gift shops. I wander through looking for anything that catches my eye.  What am I supposed to get again?  Hmm – I don’t see any of those things here.

This mall is a little depressing for me – most things for sale are cheap or junk quality trinkets.  Most people are here to eat or have a coffee with their friends – but there aren’t too many people here. The lighting is very low, signs and garbage are all over the place. Imagine the worst mall you’ve seen in the US, and you’re not quite there.

I notice that all of the shops with anything of value also have guards and metal detectors at the door. I think I’m the only white guy here.  Most people watch me as I walk by.  I’m invited into several shops personally.  I don’t visit many.

Determined to keep up the search, I exit the mall and plan to continue to try the stores in this area.

Across the way is a hotel or apartments – they seem quite nice.

DSCF0964

I walk about a block.  People are everywhere – all classes, based on the clothing I see.  People are cooking on the side of the road, teenage boys are hanging out on their motorcycles and talking.  Several other teenagers join them, still wearing clothes from their jobs at restaurants and elsewhere.

Ahead on the sidewalk – there is a huge emptyness – nobody is there, except a single little boy – he looks to be 3 or 4 years old. People are walking around, giving the boy a large space to play in.

I walk with the crowd, but I don’t squish in with everyone, and the boy notices me.  He approaches me.

Where are the pens and candies I brought with me?  Darn it – in the hotel room, useless.

He shoves a metal dish at me, smiling, and motioning his fingers to his lips – a pantomime of eating. He is speaking rapidly at me, but I do not understand the words.

I should stop and think about this a moment, but I am taken with how cute and forthcoming this kid is.  I feel impulsive. He seems really bright – talkative. I stop and pull a bill from my pocket.

He squeals with joy, and yells out to others.  Others?  I didn’t see anyone else when I walked here. 

But there are others. Many others.  It’s like a zombie movie – I’m literally surrounded in seconds by little girls and boys – grabbing my shirt, pushing their metal bowls towards me.

I’m trapped.

I look around at the adults nearby.  A young woman smiles and laughs a little – a knowing smile. She’s no help what-so-ever.

I walk forward a little.  The swarm stays with me.  They move out of my steps, but they stay in close.  They are grabbing my shirt and holding on.  They try to hold my hands and take me for a walk.

I look around for advice.  Anyone?  Any ideas here? Some of the people I make eye contact with are clearly disgusted. What an idiot you are, their eyes say.  How could you be so clueless?  Why are you letting those kids touch you?

I think of the term ‘untouchables’ that we discussed at lunch. The Indian caste system is alive and well, though officially illegal for hiring, etc. I notice that these kids are filthy.  Some have burns on their arms.  The smell is intense.  My shirt is getting covered in little dirty fingerprints.

A nice young couple approaches – they take pity on me.  They put some coins into the bowls, and talk to the children, firmly but nicely. I don’t know the words, but it is clear they are paying to ask the kids to leave.

They smile at me as they do this.  Silly foreigner – don’t you know any better?

Some of the children take the hint, and leave. Two stay with me – determined in their approach.

I briefly consider taking a photograph of the kids – but then I imagine the squeal they might make when they see a 3D camera.  No, better not risk it.

I wait at the intersection – red light.  Can’t cross yet.  If I run across through traffic, would I be responsible if these children followed me and were hit? I decide not to chance it, and wait instead.

People on bikes, in rickshaws, and in cars are watching me – interested in what happens next. The light takes FOREVER.

Finally – the lights turn, and I continue across the street.  There is another shop – clothing and housewares.  Looks pretty cool.  I bet they won’t let these kids through the metal detector.  At least I’m hoping that.

I continue forward, and the kids leave as I approach the store entrance.

I beep in the detector, and this time the guard waves me through.  No pretense of waving the magic wand over me this time.

The store is like an Indian Kmart.  It is well kept. Bright and clean. Household, clothing, toys, etc.  On the second floor, I hear the squeal of childish delight and footprints.  I pause a moment, sweating from the heat, frightened by the sound of children…?  Come on Derick – get over it!

These kids are playing with toys, and having fun.  One of them has a NERF gun that my son likes. I do a quick calculation, and notice that this gun costs about $40 US. My son likely paid about $17 for it at Walmart. Considering the class diversity outside, that most of these guns are likely made in China on this side of the world, I’m a little shocked at the price. The video monitor shows happy Indian children playing with many expensive toys, in nice clothes.

I recall another conversation we had a lunch.  Someone suggested that the researchers in MSR-India likely make 20x times the salary of the security guards at the same location.  It would be hard to find a similar 20x wage comparison in the US, we agreed.

Unfortunately, this shop turns up empty for me as well. Anything that looks interesting is familiar – I’m sure I can buy all of these items at home.

As I leave the store – I have friends waiting for me outside!  Isn’t that great! Karma for me being an idiot, I guess.

This time, I avoid eye contact, and keep moving.  One of the kids follows me across the street, and stays with me for about three blocks.

Should I reward her enthusiasm?  Ummm, no – perhaps not. I’d be ok if I didn’t see any more kids on this trip. Winking smile

I see the residential area I was looking at before – this time from a different angle.  You can see the Westin hotel in the distance behind it.

DSCF0920

I continue back across the bridge.

DSCF0944

Ahead at the intersection, it looks like there was some kind of traffic incident.

DSCF0923

Back inside the relative safety of the Westin, I grab a few more photos.  Another nice building next to the Westin, plus construction right next to us, between the two buildings.

DSCF0950

DSCF0948

Finally, I’m back in my room.  I take of my grubby shirt – noticing the fingerprints all over. I wash my hands – extra soap and hot water.  Purell, then wash again.

I have to tell someone about my adventure!  Dawn will want to hear about this.  Ring – whoops – oh yeah, it’s 4am back at home.  Sorry family if I woke you!

Perhaps I’ll post it on the blog instead.  Grab a soda from the mini-bar, and settle in to share the tale…

DSCF0934

Guess what, I still have the junk I carried with me from the beginning.  I didn’t see any (useful) place for garbage on the entire adventure.

Wait – darn – I still have to pick up Dawn and the kids something. This time I’ll remember to bring the pens!

Smile

Our Introduction To The Wonders of 3D

A Sony-Centric 3D Setup

I’ve been keeping my eye on deals for 3D televisions for a while (via one of my favorites sites, SlickDeals) and reading reviews and information about 3D for the last several months.  I’ve also been checking them out in stores, trying on the glasses, seeing the differences, and generally learning about 3D technology.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge – and really try out 3D to it’s fullest.  After significant reading and a little bit of soul-searching (the Sony PS3 competes with the Microsoft Xbox 360 – which we own and love) I decided to go with Sony for the bulk of our 3D environment.  Sony has taken an aggressive approach towards 3D – as an electronics company they’ve had an opportunity to build 3D into many product lines, and there are several interop scenarios between their products that I wanted to experiment with.

Including past and recent purchases, here’s what we now have in our 3D entertainment center:

The Sony 3D package also included:

Also in our living room we have an Xbox 360 with Kinect (which is awesome – we all love it!), and the kids have a Wii.  I haven’t seen any real 3D games for the Xbox 360 or Wii yet, other than those that use the cardboard red-blue glasses or similar complementary color anaglyphs.  If you have – let me know!

Incidentally, everyone in the house agrees that Kinect + 3D gaming would be an amazing combination.  Come on Microsoft – let’s go!

Many Types of 3D Content to Enjoy

Here are the types of 3D content we’ve been able to enjoy so far:

  • 3D Blu-Ray Movies. 3D Blu-Ray works out of the box with the PS3 (after upgrading the firmware to 3.5 – which took a while). There’s not much available yet – we’ve watched Alice in Wonderland and Monster House so far. We’re waiting for more movies to be available – here’s a list of several coming to Amazon.com.
  • 3D Playstation Games. We’ve tried all four of the PS3 3D games and they are really fun – extra fun in 3D.  I’m excited about the new TRON Evolution game coming out with support for 3D on the PS3.
  • 3D Photos. Using the Sony 3D Sweep Panorama feature and the free Playstation PlayMemories download for PS3. (You can also use the NVIDIA 3D Vision Photo Viewer – but I didn’t like this software as much – didn’t work well through the PC->TV connection in full screen mode.)  You can also take better 3D photos with dual lens digital cameras – but I haven’t seen one with great reviews yet. I’m hopeful that several 3D digital camcorders will be on the market soon for a reasonable price. I might make one myself
  • 3D YouTube Videos. This is easy to do by connecting the PC to the TV, setting the YouTube 3D player to Parallel in full screen, and setting the TV to Side-by-Side 3D. It would be really cool if the Sony Bravia YouTube video widget supported 3D out of the box.  (FYI – How to Create 3D YouTube Videos in 3D.)
  • 3D NVIDIA Videos. Done with their 3D Video Vision Player while the PC is connected to the TV – several video samples are available. This also requires configuring the player and TV to side-by-side 3D and watching in full screen.
  • 3D NVIDIA Videos Live. This cool site has about a dozen videos and a embedded player that can also be configured to full screen, side-by-side 3D – with the TV configured to match.

In the near future, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to play hundreds of PC games in 3D – with NVIDIA’s soon to be released 3DTV Play software and the PC connected to the 3D TV.

We could play PC games in 3D sooner – but I’m not looking into setting up NVIDIA’s own Active Glasses technology. I’d much rather have only one type of active glasses in the house – and playing PC games with an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows on the large Sony TV is really cool – adding 3D to this experience will be awesome.

We enjoy Dish Network – upgraded from DirecTV a long while back, and have loved the better service and prices. Unfortunately, they aren’t talking about any 3D channels just yet.  It’s got me thinking about switching back to DirecTV for their 3D channels.

If you have any questions about how I’ve managed to do any of this, or comments on other 3D capabilities we should be looking in to – let me know.

Installing a New HD/Bluetooth Radio

At first I thought about upgrading my GPS to include Bluetooth, giving me hands-free phone use in the car.

But then, I remembered that the old ‘98 Subaru Forester has a radio with a cassette deck – it’s ancient!

So I did some research on car radios, and came across a nice HD Radio that is Bluetooth capable – with great reviews on Amazon. Here’s what I eventually decided on:

When you order this type of hardware from Crutchfield, they provide a free wire harness for your vehicle and instructions for doing the install yourself.  I hunted around for Crutchfield coupons and found one that gives you a $25 gift card with a $150 purchase. The whole order was $190, plus I have the gift card – almost like spending $165. 

Since this was just a touch lower than buying the parts separately via Amazon, and it included the install directions, I went for it.

The parts came in recently – so this weekend I installed my new radio!

Tai at work suggested that I might have a hard time with the install – in particular getting the trim to look right. Interestingly, I ran into this exact problem as I was doing the install. Turned out I needed to set the receiver a little further back in the harness – not using the same screw holes as the OEM radio. Once I set the receiver back a bit, the trim fit back on fine and the radio looks great!

Here is one picture before the install, and two pictures after install. The third picture was taken after making a phone call with my HTC Fuze.

Before - with Subaru Forester OEM Radio After - Dual XHD6425 HD Radio After - Dual XHD6425 HD Radio in the dark

And here’s a cool picture in the middle of the install, with the brake trim, shift trim, and radio trim removed.

1998 Subaru Forester Radio - During Install

Here’s how it all looks after being put back together.

1998 Subaru Forester Radio - After Install

Why a car radio comes with a remote I have no idea – although the kids are pretty excited about using the radio from the back seats.  Mom and dad aren’t as excited about that. 🙂

Derick’s Favorite Books of All Time

Dawn and I were talking about how different our reading sources and interests are.  She likes crafting, art, real crime, and non-fiction, and I like science fiction,  mysteries (fictional), and horror.
 
We thought it might be cool to read from each other’s book lists on occasion to learn a bit more about each other and what we like to read. But we’re both avid readers – reading tons of books each. Where to start?
 
We agreed to help each other out – by coming up with our Top Five Favorite Books Of All Time.
 
Well, it turns out this is a lot harder to do than it seems. I didn’t think I could even remember all of my favorite books.  Ok – so I guess that means they don’t qualify as my favorites – do they?
 
But what about that book you loved in college – can remember the plot and everything – but the name escapes you?  It’s got a funny name… oh yeah – that’s it! Whew, just needed a couple days in the back of my head to remember that one.
 
Then, once you start to identify your favorites (that you remember), it gets really hard to pick the top five.  I found that the Wish List capability of Amazon was really helpful in managing all of these books and their priorities.
 
Well, I rolled the dice a few times – worked on it for about a week – struggled over final priorities – and finally did it. So here they are for your enjoyment, Derick’s top five favorite books of all time:
Thing is, I can’t stop here.  There’s so many other good books and authors that I like.  So here are my next ten favorite books of all time.
You know what?  I don’t actually own all of these books anymore.  So what’s Dawn going to read?  I guess I’m going to have to be a good husband and go pick up the ones I don’t have these days. Just for Dawn you see.  Wink