Microsoft Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share some tips and tricks.

Be sure to check out my non-technical blog at www.bobsbasement.net.

Month List

Adventures With Proxy Servers

One of the things about being an ubergeek is setting up a full Active Directory Domain to manage all of the computers in my house and running my own proxy server to provide Internet access for our home network. I am currently using Microsoft's Threat Management Gateway (TMG), and before that I was using Microsoft's Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server - both of which have allowed me to do some fun things.

For example, for one whole year I intercepted all requests for the Google website and sent them to a website which I had created that looked and acted like Google but used the Bing API to provide the results. (No one could tell the difference, and I eventually wrote a blog about my experiment called Fun with Search Engines.)

At other times I would intercept my kids' Internet requests and send them to a "Your Internet is Turned Off" page when they failed to complete their chores; this was often met with much grumbling on their part. (Although one of my daughters learned how to pirate a neighbor's unsecured WiFi connection, and I was too proud of her ingenuity to get upset at her for skirting around the house rules.)

Running my own proxy server was good for accountability, too: I created a program which crawled all of the proxy server logs and created detailed reports that were dumped in a public share so everyone in the family could see where everyone else was browsing. (I'm a parent - so there is no such thing as "Private Browsing" in my house.)

That being said, I recently ran into a situation where I felt it necessary to interfere with the Internet for a few days. I had seen too many people post spoilers on Facebook about who died on The Walking Dead, and my wife saw too many spoilers about what was happening on Downton Abbey. With that in mind, when Star Wars VII  was hitting the theaters, I decided that I needed to block Facebook for a few days.

But I couldn't just "block" Facebook, I needed to have fun with it... so I did this - I sent all requests for Facebook to the following page until my wife and I had a chance to see Star Wars:

http://www.microsoftbob.com/star-wars-warning.htm

Yeah, it's a really simple script - but it did the trick. ;-)

Posted: Feb 11 2016, 00:08 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Some Thoughts About My 20th Anniversary At Microsoft

At the risk of gratuitous self-aggrandizement - today is my actual 20th anniversary. My 20th anniversary crystal arrived the other day, so I added to the collection on a bookcase in my office. (Although to be honest, they didn't hand out anniversary crystals when I reached my 5th and 10th anniversaries, so I had to buy those after the fact.)

20thAnniversaryCrystal

Things I'm Most-Proud Of...

Disclaimer: Yeah, I realize that I'm definitely bragging here; hence why I labeled this section "Things I'm Most-Proud Of."

  • IIS Express - I came up with the idea for IIS Express one afternoon after writing an SDK sample where I showed that it was possible to create a mini version of IIS which could be used for self-hosting applications and debugging. After I proved that it could work, I faced a huge uphill battle trying to sell the idea for a miniature version of IIS to my bosses, (e.g. ThomasD, VijayS, Mai-lanB, BillS, etc.) Once I had convinced all of them, then I had to convince the Visual Studio team to dump Cassini in favor of IIS Express. (That was no small task, believe me.) Shortly after I had everyone on board, Vijay took over the project while I changed teams for the next year, and Vijay grew my rather simple idea into a full-fledged application. (Kudos to Vijay - I had more modest plans originally.) A few years later I changed teams again and I took over IIS Express, where I added some more cool features to it. Now IIS Express ships everywhere, so it's pretty cool to see how far you can take an SDK sample. Smile
  • Being a PM on the IIS team - This was a dream come true for me. Oh sure, that dream was more of a nightmare in the days before shipping a product, but being a PM for IIS was pretty much everything I thought it would be. By way of nostalgia, here’s what the IIS Product team looked like in 2009. (Note: I took the picture, so I'm not in the picture. I prefer it that way.)
    IISTEAM2009
  • RFC 7151 - It took me eight years to get this Internet Standard published, and I wrote most of it as part of my IIS PM work. As I have mentioned before, I get to honestly say that I helped create part of the Internet. (It's a very small part of the Internet, but I still get bragging rights.)
  • Technical Writing - Between my ten years in product support and my years as a writer in this organization, I have written thousands of how-to articles, samples, walkthroughs, blogs, reference topics, and KB articles. It has never ceased to amaze me how much of what I have written has been used by customers; I love seeing code that I wrote in an article show up in customers' blogs or forum posts. It's especially amusing to me when they're passing it off as their code even though it's 100% copied from my samples. (Hey, I always can tell.) If I combined every article which I have written during my tenure at Microsoft, I could create a whole series of books. (Although that would be a really boring books series.)
  • FTP Service for IIS 7 & IIS 8 - There's lots of good stuff in there; our feature team discarded the old FTP service (which no one wanted to use) and we created a first-class service from scratch, for which we received a lot of positive feedback.
  • Being a Customer Advocate - I started in technical support, where I spent 10 years speaking with customers, and I have always hosted my own websites and run my own servers so that I could face many of their same frustrations. For instance, I run a full Windows domain in my house, where family members have individual accounts, and all Internet access goes through my proxy server, and I could use group policy to set restrictions for my kids when they were younger, etc. By using Microsoft's products as a customer, I made countless discoveries from a customer-point-of-view. But that being said, some of the people with whom I have had to work still don't understand their customers; I ran into that situation a lot when I was a PM. For example, when you make something easier for you which is harder for the customer, you have just failed your customer. (Sigh.Sad smile)
  • WebDAV for IIS 7 & IIS 8 - I loved this technology and I was a huge advocate for it. I hated the old version of WebDAV on IIS 6 and earlier, so when I was a PM on the IIS team I helped create a version from scratch which customers would like. Most people don't realize that Windows ships both a WebDAV service and WebDAV client, so you can map dives and share files over HTTP thanks to WebDAV.
  • MetaEdit - This utility was like Regedit for IIS settings and shipped with the Windows Resource Kits. This was a very popular tool in its day, and it was cool to see classes being taught at ATECs for something which I had created. Eventually MetaEdit was replaced by another tool, and IIS 7 made both tools obsolete, but in its day MetaEdit reigned supreme.
  • FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE) - Customers both loved and hated FPSE, and I knew FPSE inside and out from my days in technical support; for years I was arguably the most-knowledgeable person about FPSE the company. (No exaggeration.) So when I became a PM for IIS, I was able to get them to work in all sorts of scenarios where they weren't designed to work, which helped to create new versions of FPSE which resolved thousands of customer problems for Visual Studio and other Enterprise-level customers. (Seriously - the lack of FPSE was an adoption blocker for thousands of Windows Server 2008 customers.) Then a few years later I got to be the PM who finally killed FPSE as far as Microsoft was concerned. (Or as one customer gratefully remarked as he reached to shake my hand, "So you're the guy who's driving the stake through the heart of FPSE!")

Embarrassing Microsoft Moments...

Here is a collection of amusing stories with which I have been involved over the years:

  • Due to a simple programming error, (which wasn't my error - I swear), one of my servers managed to register "localhost" in the company's name servers, and it started responding to all TCP/IP requests for "localhost" across the entire network. Within a few hours, this mishap had taken down several mission-critical services across the company, so my office was kicked off the network and I received a call from a corporate president asking me to never turn my server back on. (Note - I found the error and fixed it. But I swear it was in someone else's code. Really. Why would I lie about something like that? Smile)
  • I mentioned MetaEdit earlier, and one of my greatest embarrassments was when I famously messed up the version checking dialog box.
  • When I designed the extensibility APIs for the IIS 7 FTP service, I realized later that should have added an extra parameter to one of the method prototypes. I couldn't get approval to change the method in subsequent versions of the FTP service, so I have to live with that for the rest of my life. (Darn. Darn. Darn.)
  • I didn't cause this error, but I helped diagnose it back in my technical support days: Windows has several built-in reserved filenames which go all the back to DOS, such as PRN, CON, NUL, LPT1, COM2, etc. Back in the earliest days of IIS, most companies only had one server for everything - domain, web server, proxy server, file shares, print sharing, etc. So you could connect to the FTP service and start uploading a text file filled with nothing but page feed commands while using a destination filename of LPT1; if the company had a printer attached to their server, it would spit out all the paper and then pop up a dialog message asking the user to reload the printer. However, this was a modal dialog box, so IIS would hang until the user had completed the task. We called this the "Denial of Paper" attack. Smile

Weird Microsoft Traditions...

We have done some silly things over the years at Microsoft; some of these traditions are still in practice, while others are long-gone. For example:

  • Togas - Believe it or not, employees used to wear togas to work whenever our stock split. (Yeah, it's been years since that happened. Sad smile)
  • "Fire Me" Emails - Locking one's workstation used to be policed by the community, so if you found someone's desktop computer unlocked, you were supposed to send an email to the team which contained the words "FIRE MY LAME @$$!!!" (Eventually this practice was heavily frowned upon.)
  • April Fool's Websites - Okay, this is mostly just me, but over the years I have created several internal-only websites for April Fool's Day - for example:
    • People for the Ethical Treatment of Software (PETS) - this was a take off on PETA which was advocating for the abolition of the cruel conditions under which software is tested
    • Buugle - It looked and acted like Google, but it wasn't...
    • Technical Support Trading Cards - this website looked like baseball cards, but listed off all the stats for technical support employees, (e.g. SDFC = "Solution Delivered First Contact," MPI = "Minutes Per Incident," etc.)
    • Virtual Tech Lead - I created Virtual Tech Lead back when I was a Tech Lead in technical support, and I populated it with a bunch of innocuous statements which most Tech Leads often said. I sent it out to my team on April Fool's Day with the caveat that it was "90% as effective as a real Tech Lead," and it took off across the company's tech support divisions like wildfire. Pretty soon my poor internal-only webserver couldn't keep up with the web traffic so it rolled over and died; I had caused a denial-of-service on myself.
  • Office Pranks - We used to trash people's offices when they went on vacation. I realize that open space offices have put a dent in certain gags like filling an office with balloons, but how hard is it to wrap someone's desk in saran wrap? Smile
  • Anniversary Goodies - Usually people bring in one pound of M&M's for each year on their anniversary. Once I hit my 10-year anniversary I decided that 10 (or more) pounds of M&M's were simply too many for any team to eat, so I started bringing in rum cakes from the Caribbean. Since I work remotely I don't do that now, but my wife surprised me with 20 rum cakes on my desk this morning:
    20thAnniversaryRumCakes

A Few of the Hardest Things for Me at 20 Years...

  • The Demise of IIS - It has been difficult for me to watch IIS slowly get killed off as a product in an effort to encourage customers to host their websites on Azure. I started working with IIS in early 1996, so it's sad for me to see a product wither away and perish ignominiously after I have I spent thousands of hours designing, developing, and documenting it. But time and tide wait for no man, so the wheels of progress soldier on. However, if you want to see what IIS looked like way back in 1996, see http://www.microsoftbob.com/iis-legacy-screenshots/.
  • Kenny King - I was hired at Microsoft on the same day as Kenny; we were hired within the same hour, to be exact. We quickly became friends and we worked together for years; we bought houses down the street from each other in Texas where our kids grew up together and our wives were like sisters. Kenny was always a rock star with everything he did at Microsoft, and he should be here celebrating his 20th anniversary along with me, but sadly he passed away from cancer shortly before our 19th anniversary with the company.

A Few Manager Anecdotes...

I worked with some great first-level managers at Microsoft - too many to recall - and I worked with some great skip-level managers, too. That being said, here is a list with some of my all-time favorite first-level managers (many of whom are no longer with the company): NancyL, SibhonO, MicheleP, JayV, StaceyC, TerryM, SharonM, BillS, Mai-lanB, EricD, ThomasD, AndrewL, TomW, WonY, and of course - WadeP.

Here are a few small managerial anecdotes - I don't have stories about everyone, so anyone left off the list is not meant as a slight:

  • NancyL was my first manager at Microsoft, and she was on my interview loop when I was originally hired in Arizona. There had been 8,000 job applicants for 100 jobs, so after I was hired I naively asked Nancy why she wanted to hire me when there were so many great people to choose from, to which she replied, "You scared me; I was afraid that someone else would hire you and we would have to compete against you."
  • JayV was one of the best "Big Picture" managers with whom I ever worked; Jay could take a scenario and see how it applied to the company at every level. Yet Jay never lost touch with his individual team members; he would always grab two or three team members and head out to lunch where we'd talk about how things were going. Whenever I have been in a position of leadership during my time at Microsoft, I have actively tried to emulate several of Jay's great qualities.
  • StaceyC was one of my all-time favorite managers; I worked for Stacey on two different teams for a total of six years. Stacey was one of the best "people-persons" with whom I have worked. Even in the hardest of time she had a great attitude, and I watched her successfully manage several teams through some extremely traumatic times.
  • EricD had not had many direct reports when he became my manager, so he called me into his office one day and said, "Look, I'm the guy who makes sure that IIS ships, so I'm usually pretty difficult to work with. So I want you to be my guinea pig - I want to try not to be jerk for you." Despite the ominous sound of that proposal, Eric turned out to be a great manager.
  • JeffH was a really good guy who was in a really difficult position when I worked for him in Technical Support; I had pitched an idea for creating a specialty team of escalation engineers to several managers, and they liked my idea. However, once the team was created my original idea was quickly transformed into something which was entirely different than what I had proposed, so I no longer wanted to work on the team which I had just helped to create. Nevertheless, Jeff really needed the headcount, so he asked me to please stay on the team for six months in order to help get the team started - so I reluctantly agreed. In the end I worked on the team for a year and a half; I hated every minute of it, but I stayed because of Jeff. That was some good leadership on his part.
  • Mai-lanB doubled as my mentor at times; she gave me a lot of great advice on how to manage my career as a PM during our 1:1 meetings, which were often over lunch somewhere off campus. However, Mai-lan's primary weakness was that she was a workaholic like me, so she worried some of her direct reports because she would email them at any time during the day or night with a question. Many people thought they had to have an answer right then, so a lot of her reports spent some restless nights until they figured out that it was okay to answer the next day. But that being said, I also had an unpredictable schedule, so Mai-lan was amazed that I seemed to answer all of her emails 24 hours a day. She eventually asked if I ever slept, to which I replied, "Only when you're on vacation." (Perhaps it takes a workaholic to understand a workaholic.Smile) When Mai-lan's position was unexpectedly cut from the IIS team, she and I had found out immediately before we were scheduled to attend a team meeting, and when I sat next to her, I risked an HR violation by hugging her and saying, "I'm so sorry - I really liked working for you, and you will be sorely missed." Mai-lan simply cried as a response. Sad smile
  • I reported to WonY when I was an IIS PM, and he sat down the hall from me. Won had a laugh which was infectious; you could always tell whenever he had a meeting with someone because sooner or later something would make him laugh, and you could hear it everywhere in the building.
  • It would seem inappropriate to expound upon WadeP's great qualities since I currently report to him and we have a review meeting coming up soon. Smile So I'll just say that I have probably worked for Wade longer than any other manager, and the same can be said about most of Wade's reports. Any manager with a team of faithful, long-term employees and a zero attrition rate must be doing something right.

Windows Versions during my Tenure...

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at all the version of Windows which have exited during my time at Microsoft, with a few of my thoughts about each version. (Note: you should also see Windows turns 30: a visual history, which is a pretty amusing look back at the history of Windows.)

  • Windows 3.1 - Believe it or not, this OS was still widely-used when I was hired, and I had to take tech support calls for it. (How many of you ever knew that there was a 32-bit version of Win31? I did - and I talked customers through getting it up and working.) Win31 wasn't bad, and I knew all sorts of really cool tweaks for customizing ProgMan which were soon to be obsolete. But in its day it was great.
  • Windows NT 3.51 - This was the only viable Windows client and server product at the time that I was hired. Before I started at Microsoft, I was working in the IT department of a small college, and we had used WinNT351 for one of our servers. After I was hired by Microsoft I had to take tech support calls for WinNT351, which were an adventure. In terms of productivity, WinNT351 beat the crap out of Novell, which was far-too-cumbersome for most people, and that is why WinNT eventually took over the server market from Novell.
  • Windows 95 - This was released shortly before I was hired, and Win95 quickly dominated the home PC market. That said, I had a love/hate relationship with Win95; some things were great, others weren't quite where they needed to be. But the built-in networking was great, and it eventually supplanted every other PC-based peer-to-peer networking technology. (Anyone remember LANtastic? ARCnet? Of course not.)
  • Windows NT 4.0 - This was released shortly after I was hired - it was a great OS, and it had lots of stability (unlike its predecessor); both the client and server versions were fantastic. I earned my first MCSE certification on this OS.
  • Windows 98 - I loved this OS, and believe it or not I still run the Win98 core OS (non-GUI) on a legacy machine where I need pure DOS-level functionality for some old MIDI stuff which needs unrestricted physical access to drive hardware.
  • Windows NT Option Pack - This wasn't really a separate OS, but NTOP added amazing Internet-hosting features to Windows NT 4.0.
  • Windows ME - A lot of people hated this OS; I only put it on one computer, and I didn't have any problems with it, so I never understood what the griping was all about.
  • Windows 2000 - This was a good OS, both the client and server versions. That said, I never liked using Win2000 Pro for a desktop machine because it had crappy support for audio/video/MIDI processing, which was an intentional decision from the Windows product team. (Their argument was, "This is a business machine; watch videos and create music on your home PC." Of course, that decision alienated anyone who wanted to use Win2000 Pro as the OS on their home PC. It also helped Apple to take over the recording industry. I earned my second MCSE on this OS.
  • Windows XP - As everyone is well-aware, WinXP was a fantastic product; in many ways it was too amazing for its own good so millions of people still refuse to upgrade from it. WinXP was clearly one of the greatest operating systems ever created, although there is some funny irony here: Microsoft received a lot of bad press about WinXP when it was first released - some people didn't like having to upgrade their systems for a few of the new product requirements. (Of course, Apple users had always forced to do that for years.) In any event, when Vista and Win7 came along a few years later, they also received bad press from people who didn't like having to upgrade, which made me start ignoring early reviews of operating systems.
  • Windows Server 2003/R2 - This OS had some amazing security features, and certainly the best "Old School" version of IIS.
  • Windows Vista - This wasn't a bad OS, although it got lots of bad press because it required more video/memory resources than were typical for many legacy systems, so millions of users were forced to upgrade their systems if they wanted to use it. It never worked correctly on my wife's laptop, which was cause for many unhappy conversations in our house. (e.g. My Wife: "Why did you upgrade my computer to this OS? I hate Vista!")
  • Windows Server 2008/R2 - These were great server operating systems; lots of killer features, and amazing versions of a completely-redesigned IIS.
  • Windows 7 - This is still my favorite OS of all time; it was so amazing that during the beta time frame I reformatted every machine that I had (including my home PCs) and installed the Win7 beta. It was pretty, it was fast, and it did everything right (or so it seemed). Microsoft hit an amazing home run with this OS. One of the least-actualized features of Windows 7 was Windows Media Center (WMC), which should have taken off and dominated the home theater and HTPC markets, but whoever was in charge of that product did not follow through with the right people in the right places to make that happen. WMC on a Windows 7 computer is still the centerpiece of our home entertainment system; it's our DVR, video library, music player, etc.
  • Windows Server 2012/R2 - Once again, these were two great server operating systems, with amazing versions of IIS.
  • Windows 8 - I am almost embarrassed to admit this publicly, but I really wasn't fond of this OS, even though I tried very, very hard to like it. I could wax poetic about my reasons for this decision, but I'll just leave this as it stands.
  • Windows 8.1 - This OS fixed a few of the clunkers in Win8, but unfortunately Microsoft showed off additional fixes (like a replacement Start Menu) which were promised for a Win8.1 update, and that update never happened. The Windows product team decided to hold off and ship those features in Windows 10, and this was a seriously bad decision, for which I heard a great deal of end-user grumbling at Microsoft's expense. (Which may have been was well-deserved.)
  • Windows 10 - I upgraded a couple of computers to Win10 during the beta: one physical computer (which stayed on a particular stable build) and one virtual computer (which I updated when new customer previews were available). I've continued to run Win10 on a few computers since its release, and so far it's much better than the Windows 8 versions. Of course, we completely killed Windows Media Center in Win10, so I'm unhappy about that. (Time to look into running XBMC on a Raspberry Pi? Smile)

That about wraps it up for me. So if anyone is still reading by now, here is my statement which I have always used to summarize how I feel about working at Microsoft: "To me, working for Microsoft is like working for Santa Claus; we make all the coolest toys, and we get to play with them before anyone else."

With that in mind, who wouldn't want to spend 20 years working for Microsoft?

Posted: Dec 18 2015, 12:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Still More Examples of Bad Technical Support

Here is another entry in my on-going list of examples for both good and bad technical support experiences. For this situation, I will show an example of bad technical support as provided by the Microsoft Outlook Support Team.

Here is the scenario: about two months ago one of my Hotmail accounts stopped working with Windows Live Mail. When I attempted to sync that particular email account, I received an error message that was similar to the following example:

Bear in mind, however, that I made no changes to my Windows Live Mail settings, and I have several other Hotmail accounts which are working perfectly with the same settings on the same computer.

So I started a support issue with the the Microsoft Outlook Support Team, and over the next several weeks I went back and forth with several people on that team who were clearly uninterested in working on this issue. (In fact, at one point they simply closed the case without notifying me!) As of today the issue is still not resolved, and I have not heard from anyone at Microsoft within the past month.

As I said before, this is an example of really bad technical support.

With that in mind, listed below is the full thread from my support case in order of the events. Note that I have substituted the following variables where necessary to hide my actual account name, email address, and support number:

  • %ACCOUNT_NAME% is my Hotmail account name
  • %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% is my email address for my Hotmail account
  • %TICKET_NUMBER% is my ticket number for my Microsoft support case (e.g. SRX12345678ID)

So without further narrative, here are all of the notes from the support case.

04/18/2015 15:14

Service: General Issue

What type of problem do you have?

  • Selected Product
    • Outlook
  • Selected Issue
    • Your account has been temporarily blocked

Enter a short description of your issue: Cannot Sync Email from Windows Live Mail

Enter the email address (Microsoft account) affected by this issue: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%

Enter your contact email address: %EMAIL_ACCOUNT%

Enter a detailed description of your issue:

I was able to sync my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account in Windows Live Mail until a week or so ago, and now I receive the following error message:

Unable to send or receive messages for the Hotmail (%ACCOUNT_NAME%) account.
Server Error: 3219
Server: 'https://mail.services.live.com/DeltaSync_v2.0.0/Sync.aspx'
Windows Live Mail Error ID: 0x8DE00005


For reasons that are completely unrelated to this issue, I completely reinstalled Windows 7 Ultimate on this computer, and yet after reinstalling Windows and Windows Live Mail on this computer I still see the same error. In addition, I have a couple of other Hotmail accounts that I use with Windows Live Mail on the same computer and they work without any errors.

With that in mind, the problem should not be caused by any settings on my computer. However, I did not make any changes to my account settings at Hotmail before I started seeing this problem.

There is one thing that I have noticed, though - when I log into the Hotmail.com website, when I use one of my other Hotmail accounts the title bar says Outlook.com, whereas the title bar for my %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% account says Outlook Mail (Preview).

04/18/2015 15:18

From: Microsoft Support

We are writing to let you know that we have received your request for support and will reply within 24 hours.

If you don’t see a message from us within 24 hours, check to see if email from @css.one.microsoft.com is in your junk mail folder. You can check the status of your request on the Microsoft Support site.

https://support.microsoft.com/oas/default.aspx?tp=il&tenant=WOL&sd=winlive&incno=%TICKET_NUMBER%

Thank you,
The Microsoft Support team

04/19/2015 22:51

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hi,

Thank you for contacting Outlook.com support.

My name is Therese and I’m glad you have reached us today. I have read your description and I understand that you are getting an error message when syncing your account at Windows Live Mail. Let me see what I can do for you.

To start off, we appreciate your efforts in isolating the case by uninstalling and reinstalling your Operating System and Windows Live Mail on your computer. You also mentioned that other Microsoft accounts are working fine on Windows Live Mail which tells us that this is not an issue with the mail client but can be an account-related issue.

With that, I would like you to know that I have escalated this case to our Support Specialist for further evaluation. We will get back to you as soon as we have a resolution or if we need more information.

Your patience is highly appreciated.

Regards,
Therese

04/21/2015 11:12

Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

Has there been any progress on this issue?

FWIW - I have included a screen shot of the error message in Windows Live Mail.

Thanks.
--------------------
Attachments:
0x8DE00005.png

04/21/2015 13:17

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hello,

Good to hear from you again. This is John from Outlook.com support.

We appreciate the screenshot that you have provided us. I have checked your service request and found out that your issue is still being handled by our Support specialists and the investigation is still ongoing. Once we got any developments or if there is anything that our Support specialist would need from you, we'll inform you right away.

Thank you for your cooperation and patience on this matter.

Regards,
John

PS: Please do not delete the first email notification from us. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours, please check the link on the first email notification to see the case progress.

04/25/2015 12:33

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER% (Reopen)
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

It has been a week since I first opened this support case, and from what I could tell - nothing was ever done. So imagine my surprise when I logged in today and I discovered that this support case had been closed without a single notification from Microsoft. This is terrible customer service, and I AM A VERY DISSATISFIED CUSTOMER!!!

At this point I expect three things:

1. I demand that this issue be escalated to someone who can actually work on the issue and resolve it; I no longer want to suffer through working with incompetent 1st-tier support people.

2. I expect to hear from someone within the next 24 hours with an actual update on this issue; I do not want to hear another blasé response which says "the investigation is still ongoing," because it very clearly was not being investigated.

3. I expect to hear from a manager within the next 48 hours as to why this issue was never worked, never resolved, and closed without contacting me.

If I do not hear from anyone within the times that I have put forth, I will escalate this issue through appropriate channels on my own, which will reflect even more poorly on those who have been doing a terrible job thus far.

04/25/2015 16:52

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hi %ACCOUNT_NAME%,

Thank you for your response and for sharing your feelings with us. I’m Froilan, at your service.

We apologize for taking your valuable time in trying to resolve your issue with the error message when syncing your account in Windows Live mail. I fully understand how you feel about the inconvenience this has brought you. Please be informed that I will get back to our Support Specialist to get update about the status of your case. We understand the urgency of this issue; however, we cannot provide you with the time when a reply will be available. Rest assured that this post is being tracked and we will inform you immediately once we get any updates from them.

We appreciate your continued patience in going through this issue.

IMPORTANT REMINDERS:

Please save and keep the first email notification you received after submitting this request. That notification contains the link for this service request. If you did not receive another notification in 24 hours after your reply, you can check the status of this case and view our response by clicking the link on the first notification.

Best regards.

05/01/2015 09:54

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hello %ACCOUNT_NAME%,

How is it going? We received an update coming from our Escalations Engineer and based from what we've observed, it seems the issue is encountered when the server settings for IMAP is not selected.

What you need to do is to make sure that you've selected and followed the Manual Server Settings for IMAP. This should allow the syncing of your accounts.

For more information about this setting, please refer to the IMAP setting that can be found in the link below.

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/outlook/send-receive-from-app

Kindly share us the outcome afterwards.

Regards,
Microsoft Support Team

05/03/2015 22:22

Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

This simply does not make sense; I have several other Hotmail accounts which I simply add them to Windows Live Mail and they automatically work. In the Properties dialog for each of my other accounts, the Server Information tab lists "My mail server is an HTTP server" with the following URL:

https://mail.services.live.com/DeltaSync_v2.0.0/sync.aspx

These are the EXACT same settings as the %EMAIL_ACCOUNT% email account. So why would this one account require custom IMAP settings?

Also, this account was working fine until a few weeks ago when I started seeing the errors. I made no changes to my settings, so it would seem that Microsoft has changed something about this specific Hotmail account. As I pointed out before, the web page banner when I am using this account reads "Outlook Mail (Preview)", which leads me to believe that this account was only partially migrated to the new Outlook Mail servers. With that in mind, I would theorize that the problem is due to a failed attempt on Microsoft's behalf when trying migrate my account from the old Hotmail.com servers to the new Outlook.com servers.

05/03/2015 22:23

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

By the way, while I sincerely appreciate the assistance of the escalation engineer, I still have not heard back from a manager with an answer as to why my support case was closed by the initial support engineer after no work was completed and no attempts were made to contact me.

05/03/2015 23:56

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hi %ACCOUNT_NAME%,

Thank you for providing us additional details. I’m Hyver from Outlook.com Support and I have reviewed the exchange of responses that you had with my colleagues. I’m truly sorry if the issue still persists after a week of communicating with us. I understand the displeasure that you’ve expressed for the support that you experienced. We’re still here to help you on your issue.

I really apologize for the inconvenience that you’ve faced. I know you’re expecting an email from a manager explaining why the support ticket was closed without someone trying to attempt to contact you. I'd like to let you k now that we are actively monitoring cases that are being reviewed by the Escalations Team and we do not close cases with open escalations. So we would like to ask for a copy of the email notification that indicates that the case was closed. I will include this to my reports as this could be an honest mistake or a system glitch,

I totally recognize that you deserve a valid explanation about what happened and we are not letting our customers to be upset at any point of our investigation. We don't like to see our customers upset and inconvenienced and we always strive to create a positive customer experience. With that being said, this should be reviewed again by our Escalations Team and should be taken care with utmost urgency. Please do not lost faith in us as we are doing our best to resolve this issue the soonest possible time.

As we speak, this support request is in our Escalations Team queue and should be treated with immediate attention. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.

Should you have other questions or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact us back.

Sincerely,
Hyver

05/05/2015 18:04

Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

Hello Hyver,

There was never an email when the case was closed, which was part of my complaint. If you look at the case notes, you will see that I had to reopen the case on 04/25/2105 when I discovered that the case had been closed when I logged into this support website to check on the status.

05/05/2015 19:47

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hello,

Thank you for letting us know that there was no email with regard to this case that was closed. We will report this to our higher support team and we'll get back to you immediately once we have the latest update from them.

Again, your patience and understanding are much appreciated.

Kindest regards,
Glenda

05/12/2015 22:46

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

Another week has passed by, and yet I still have not heard anything, which leads me to believe that no one at Microsoft is actually doing nothing with this case. From my perspective, it seems that the "Escalation Agents" with whom I am working are simply stalling for time and hoping that either the problem will go away or I will quit trying and give up.

With that in mind, I will keep everyone up-to-date: the problem is still there - which should be expected since no one at Microsoft appears to be doing anything to fix the problem.

So let me recap the past week or so: I have heard nothing from Microsoft since the last time that I requested an update, my issue is not resolved, and I never heard from a manager at Microsoft with an explanation as to why the front-line engineers closed the case without contacting me or to discuss a plan of action to resolve this issue.

All of this reflects very poorly on the support engineers with whom I am working. As such, I want to work with someone else. Someone who knows what they're doing. Someone who can actually resolve an issue.

05/13/2015 03:37

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Note: To check the status of your request, kindly refrain from deleting our email notification. If you haven't received another notification in 24 hours, you can view the agent's response on URL link provided on the notification email.

Hi,

This is Audrey and we apologizer if this case has been going on for so long without any results. Upon checking your concern is still under investigation by our support specialist. We will be making a follow up regarding this and once we have received a word from them it will be immediately relayed to you.

Rest assured that we are exhausting our resources to resolve this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you,
Outlook.com Support Team

05/19/2015 13:36

Subject: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: Escalation Agent

Hello %ACCOUNT_NAME%,

Sorry for the wait. We received an update coming from our Escalations Team and there's a possibility that your account's server settings were changed. With this, configuring your account to Windows Live Mail using this server "Windows Live Hotmail" will not work.

We are still working on your issue but what you can do is to use IMAP as your server type if you want to sync your emails.

Thank you for consideration and cooperation.

Regards,
Microsoft Support Team

05/29/2015 13:19

Subject: RE: %TICKET_NUMBER%
From: %ACCOUNT_NAME%

I do not wish to use IMAP; I have used that before and it has presented me with a separate series of issues. I will continue to wait for you to fix the problem with the server settings.


To be honest, at this point I have little faith that the Microsoft Outlook Support Team will do anything to resolve this issue. It is abundantly clear to me that the support team is ignoring my support case and simply waiting for me to close it, which I refuse to do since my problem is not resolved.

So once again I reiterate the obvious - this is a perfect example of truly awful technical support, and it demonstrates why many people eventually give up on Hotmail and switch to Gmail.

Posted: Jun 25 2015, 15:44 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Simple Java Wrapper Class for raspistill on the Raspberry Pi 2

Like many self-proclaimed geeks, I can't resist a change to play with new technology. So when the Raspberry Pi 2 was released a short time ago, I didn't hesitate buying one. My first impressions was: for $35, that's a lot of computer power in a very small package. And because I really am a geek, I will admit that the first thing I tried to do with it was to install DOSBOX and run Microsoft Flight Simulator 4...

FS4

Once I got that out of my system, I started experimenting with some simple Java programming and the Raspberry Pi camera module. (It's great that Java is built-into Raspian Wheezy; in the past you had to install it.)

That being said, there isn't any direct I/O control of the camera via Java, although that's pretty much expected. When considering ways to control the camera I came across the Pi4J library, which provides Java-based APIs to control the Raspberry Pi's I/O. This looks like it will be great for me eventually, but for the moment the best idea that I could come up with was to write a simple Java-based wrapper class for the raspistill command line executable.

With that in mind, here's a sample class that you can use to take photos from Java on a Raspberry Pi. I added lots of code comments to explain how everything works, and I'll provide a little more detail after the code sample.

// This class is a very simple Java wrapper for the raspistill executable,
// which makes it easier to take photos from a Java application. Note that
// there are considerably more parameters available for raspistill which
// could be added to this class. (e.g. Shutter Speed, ISO, AWB, etc.) 

public class RaspiStill
{
   // Define the path to the raspistill executable.
   private final String _raspistillPath = "/opt/vc/bin/raspistill";
   // Define the amount of time that the camera will use to take a photo.
   private final int _picTimeout = 5000;
   // Define the image quality.
   private final int _picQuality = 100;

   // Specify a default image width.
   private int _picWidth = 1024;
   // Specify a default image height.
   private int _picHeight = 768;
   // Specify a default image name.
   private String _picName = "example.jpg";
   // Specify a default image encoding.
   private String _picType = "jpg";

   // Default class constructor.
   public void RaspiStill()
   {
      // Do anything else here. For example, you could create another
      // constructor which accepts an alternate path to raspistill,
      // or defines global parameters like the image quality.
   }

   // Default method to take a photo using the private values for name/width/height.
   // Note: See the overloaded methods to override the private values.
   public void TakePicture()
   {
      try
      {
         // Determine the image type based on the file extension (or use the default).
         if (_picName.indexOf('.')!=-1) _picType = _picName.substring(_picName.lastIndexOf('.')+1);

         // Create a new string builder with the path to raspistill.
         StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder(_raspistillPath);

         // Add parameters for no preview and burst mode.
         sb.append(" -n -bm");
         // Configure the camera timeout.
         sb.append(" -t " + _picTimeout);
         // Configure the picture width.
         sb.append(" -w " + _picWidth);
         // Configure the picture height.
         sb.append(" -h " + _picHeight);
         // Configure the picture quality.
         sb.append(" -q " + _picQuality);
         // Specify the image type.
         sb.append(" -e " + _picType);
         // Specify the name of the image.
         sb.append(" -o " + _picName);

         // Invoke raspistill to take the photo.
         Runtime.getRuntime().exec(sb.toString());
         // Pause to allow the camera time to take the photo.
         Thread.sleep(_picTimeout);
      }
      catch (Exception e)
      {
         // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
         System.exit(e.hashCode());
      }
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for the name/width/height.
   public void TakePicture(String name, int width, int height)
   {
      _picName = name;
      _picWidth = width;
      _picHeight = height;
      TakePicture();
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using a specific value for the image name.
   public void TakePicture(String name)
   {
      TakePicture(name, _picWidth, _picHeight);
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for width/height.
   public void TakePicture(int width, int height)
   {
      TakePicture(_picName, width, height);
   }
}

The wrapper class should be pretty self-explanatory: calling the TakePicture() method with no parameters will use the application defaults, and calling the overloaded methods will allow you to specify the output filename and the width/height for the image. You specify the image type based on the file extension; (e.g. ".jpg", ".png", ".gif"). There are a bunch of additional raspistill options which you can easily add to the application; see the Raspberry Pi camera module page for more information.

Here's a simple application to test it out:

public class CameraTest
{
  // Define the number of photos to take.
  private static final long _numberOfImages = 5;
  // Define the interval between photos.
  private static final int _delayInterval = 5000;

  public static void main(String[] args)
  {
    try
    {
      // Create a new RaspiStill object.
      RaspiStill camera = new RaspiStill();
      // Loop through the number of images to take.
      for (long i = 0; i < _numberOfImages; ++i)
      {
        // Capture the image.
        camera.TakePicture("image" + i + ".jpg",800,600);
        // Pause after each photo.
        Thread.sleep(_delayInterval);
      }
    }
    catch (Exception e)
    {
      // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
      System.exit(e.hashCode());
    }
  }
}

Now that I've shared this odd little sample, I'll wander back to my dungeon so I can keep playing with my Raspberry Pi.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Jun 11 2015, 20:14 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Simple Java Wrapper Class for raspistill on the Raspberry Pi 2

Like many self-proclaimed geeks, I can't resist a change to play with new technology. So when the Raspberry Pi 2 was released a short time ago, I didn't hesitate buying one. My first impressions was: for $35, that's a lot of computer power in a very small package. And because I really am a geek, I will admit that the first thing I tried to do with it was to install DOSBOX and run Microsoft Flight Simulator 4...

FS4

Once I got that out of my system, I started experimenting with some simple Java programming and the Raspberry Pi camera module. (It's great that Java is built-into Raspian Wheezy; in the past you had to install it.)

That being said, there isn't any direct I/O control of the camera via Java, although that's pretty much expected. When considering ways to control the camera I came across the Pi4J library, which provides Java-based APIs to control the Raspberry Pi's I/O. This looks like it will be great for me eventually, but for the moment the best idea that I could come up with was to write a simple Java-based wrapper class for the raspistill command line executable.

With that in mind, here's a sample class that you can use to take photos from Java on a Raspberry Pi. I added lots of code comments to explain how everything works, and I'll provide a little more detail after the code sample.

// This class is a very simple Java wrapper for the raspistill executable,
// which makes it easier to take photos from a Java application. Note that
// there are considerably more parameters available for raspistill which
// could be added to this class. (e.g. Shutter Speed, ISO, AWB, etc.) 

public class RaspiStill
{
   // Define the path to the raspistill executable.
   private final String _raspistillPath = "/opt/vc/bin/raspistill";
   // Define the amount of time that the camera will use to take a photo.
   private final int _picTimeout = 5000;
   // Define the image quality.
   private final int _picQuality = 100;

   // Specify a default image width.
   private int _picWidth = 1024;
   // Specify a default image height.
   private int _picHeight = 768;
   // Specify a default image name.
   private String _picName = "example.jpg";
   // Specify a default image encoding.
   private String _picType = "jpg";

   // Default class constructor.
   public void RaspiStill()
   {
      // Do anything else here. For example, you could create another
      // constructor which accepts an alternate path to raspistill,
      // or defines global parameters like the image quality.
   }

   // Default method to take a photo using the private values for name/width/height.
   // Note: See the overloaded methods to override the private values.
   public void TakePicture()
   {
      try
      {
         // Determine the image type based on the file extension (or use the default).
         if (_picName.indexOf('.')!=-1) _picType = _picName.substring(_picName.lastIndexOf('.')+1);

         // Create a new string builder with the path to raspistill.
         StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder(_raspistillPath);

         // Add parameters for no preview and burst mode.
         sb.append(" -n -bm");
         // Configure the camera timeout.
         sb.append(" -t " + _picTimeout);
         // Configure the picture width.
         sb.append(" -w " + _picWidth);
         // Configure the picture height.
         sb.append(" -h " + _picHeight);
         // Configure the picture quality.
         sb.append(" -q " + _picQuality);
         // Specify the image type.
         sb.append(" -e " + _picType);
         // Specify the name of the image.
         sb.append(" -o " + _picName);

         // Invoke raspistill to take the photo.
         Runtime.getRuntime().exec(sb.toString());
         // Pause to allow the camera time to take the photo.
         Thread.sleep(_picTimeout);
      }
      catch (Exception e)
      {
         // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
         System.exit(e.hashCode());
      }
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for the name/width/height.
   public void TakePicture(String name, int width, int height)
   {
      _picName = name;
      _picWidth = width;
      _picHeight = height;
      TakePicture();
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using a specific value for the image name.
   public void TakePicture(String name)
   {
      TakePicture(name, _picWidth, _picHeight);
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for width/height.
   public void TakePicture(int width, int height)
   {
      TakePicture(_picName, width, height);
   }
}

The wrapper class should be pretty self-explanatory: calling the TakePicture() method with no parameters will use the application defaults, and calling the overloaded methods will allow you to specify the output filename and the width/height for the image. You specify the image type based on the file extension; (e.g. ".jpg", ".png", ".gif"). There are a bunch of additional raspistill options which you can easily add to the application; see the Raspberry Pi camera module page for more information.

Here's a simple application to test it out:

public class CameraTest
{
  // Define the number of photos to take.
  private static final long _numberOfImages = 5;
  // Define the interval between photos.
  private static final int _delayInterval = 5000;

  public static void main(String[] args)
  {
    try
    {
      // Create a new RaspiStill object.
      RaspiStill camera = new RaspiStill();
      // Loop through the number of images to take.
      for (long i = 0; i < _numberOfImages; ++i)
      {
        // Capture the image.
        camera.TakePicture("image" + i + ".jpg",800,600);
        // Pause after each photo.
        Thread.sleep(_delayInterval);
      }
    }
    catch (Exception e)
    {
      // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
      System.exit(e.hashCode());
    }
  }
}

Now that I've shared this odd little sample, I'll wander back to my dungeon so I can keep playing with my Raspberry Pi.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Jun 11 2015, 20:14 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Simple Java Wrapper Class for raspistill on the Raspberry Pi 2

Like many self-proclaimed geeks, I can't resist a change to play with new technology. So when the Raspberry Pi 2 was released a short time ago, I didn't hesitate buying one. My first impressions was: for $35, that's a lot of computer power in a very small package. And because I really am a geek, I will admit that the first thing I tried to do with it was to install DOSBOX and run Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.

Once I got that out of my system, I started experimenting with some simple Java programming and the Raspberry Pi camera module. (It's great that Java is built-into Raspian Wheezy; in the past you had to install it.)

That being said, there isn't any direct I/O control of the camera via Java, although that's pretty much expected. When considering ways to control the camera I came across the Pi4J library, which provides Java-based APIs to control the Raspberry Pi's I/O. This looks like it will be great for me eventually, but for the moment the best idea that I could come up with was to write a simple Java-based wrapper class for the raspistill command line executable.

With that in mind, here's a sample class that you can use to take photos from Java on a Raspberry Pi. I added lots of code comments to explain how everything works, and I'll provide a little more detail after the code sample.

// This class is a very simple Java wrapper for the raspistill executable,
// which makes it easier to take photos from a Java application. Note that
// there are considerably more parameters available for raspistill which
// could be added to this class. (e.g. Shutter Speed, ISO, AWB, etc.) 

public class RaspiStill
{
   // Define the path to the raspistill executable.
   private final String _raspistillPath = "/opt/vc/bin/raspistill";
   // Define the amount of time that the camera will use to take a photo.
   private final int _picTimeout = 5000;
   // Define the image quality.
   private final int _picQuality = 100;

   // Specify a default image width.
   private int _picWidth = 1024;
   // Specify a default image height.
   private int _picHeight = 768;
   // Specify a default image name.
   private String _picName = "example.jpg";
   // Specify a default image encoding.
   private String _picType = "jpg";

   // Default class constructor.
   public void RaspiStill()
   {
      // Do anything else here. For example, you could create another
      // constructor which accepts an alternate path to raspistill,
      // or defines global parameters like the image quality.
   }

   // Default method to take a photo using the private values for name/width/height.
   // Note: See the overloaded methods to override the private values.
   public void TakePicture()
   {
      try
      {
         // Determine the image type based on the file extension (or use the default).
         if (_picName.indexOf('.')!=-1) _picType = _picName.substring(_picName.lastIndexOf('.')+1);

         // Create a new string builder with the path to raspistill.
         StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder(_raspistillPath);

         // Add parameters for no preview and burst mode.
         sb.append(" -n -bm");
         // Configure the camera timeout.
         sb.append(" -t " + _picTimeout);
         // Configure the picture width.
         sb.append(" -w " + _picWidth);
         // Configure the picture height.
         sb.append(" -h " + _picHeight);
         // Configure the picture quality.
         sb.append(" -q " + _picQuality);
         // Specify the image type.
         sb.append(" -e " + _picType);
         // Specify the name of the image.
         sb.append(" -o " + _picName);

         // Invoke raspistill to take the photo.
         Runtime.getRuntime().exec(sb.toString());
         // Pause to allow the camera time to take the photo.
         Thread.sleep(_picTimeout);
      }
      catch (Exception e)
      {
         // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
         System.exit(e.hashCode());
      }
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for the name/width/height.
   public void TakePicture(String name, int width, int height)
   {
      _picName = name;
      _picWidth = width;
      _picHeight = height;
      TakePicture();
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using a specific value for the image name.
   public void TakePicture(String name)
   {
      TakePicture(name, _picWidth, _picHeight);
   }

   // Overloaded method to take a photo using specific values for width/height.
   public void TakePicture(int width, int height)
   {
      TakePicture(_picName, width, height);
   }
}

The wrapper class should be pretty self-explanatory: calling the TakePicture() method with no parameters will use the application defaults, and calling the overloaded methods will allow you to specify the output filename and the width/height for the image. You specify the image type based on the file extension; (e.g. ".jpg", ".png", ".gif"). There are a bunch of additional raspistill options which you can easily add to the application; see the Raspberry Pi camera module page for more information.

Here's a simple application to test it out:

public class CameraTest
{
  // Define the number of photos to take.
  private static final long _numberOfImages = 5;
  // Define the interval between photos.
  private static final int _delayInterval = 5000;

  public static void main(String[] args)
  {
    try
    {
      // Create a new RaspiStill object.
      RaspiStill camera = new RaspiStill();
      // Loop through the number of images to take.
      for (long i = 0; i < _numberOfImages; ++i)
      {
        // Capture the image.
        camera.TakePicture("image" + i + ".jpg",800,600);
        // Pause after each photo.
        Thread.sleep(_delayInterval);
      }
    }
    catch (Exception e)
    {
      // Exit the application with the exception's hash code.
      System.exit(e.hashCode());
    }
  }
}

Now that I've shared this odd little sample, I'll wander back to my dungeon so I can keep playing with my Raspberry Pi.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: Jun 11 2015, 20:14 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Follow Up: Converting Text Files to Audio Files

A couple of days ago I posted a blog which I titled Creating an HTML Application to Convert Text Files to Audio Files, in which I showed how to create an HTML Application that will convert a text file to an audio file. I thought that I would follow up that article with a quick demonstration which compares some of the built-in text-to-speech voices that ship with Windows 7 and Windows 8.

For the text in this demonstration I will use Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem titled The Raven, which is one of my personal favorites. (I used to have the poem memorized as a teenager... that might have been when I was going through a Fahrenheit 451 phase.)

Click the above image
to download the text file.

Microsoft Anna (Windows 7)

For the first demo we will take a look at the poem as read by the Microsoft Anna text-to-speech voice, which ships with Windows 7. This voice is acceptable, and certainly better than the text-to-speech voices which shipped before Windows 7 was released. But still, it has a few odd quirks to it, and as a result this voice typically sounds unnatural to me.

Click the above image
to download the MP3 file.

Microsoft David (Windows 8)

For the second demo we will take a look at the poem as read by the Microsoft David text-to-speech voice, which ships with Windows 8. This voice is considerably more acceptable that Microsoft Anna, and it sounds very natural to me. It is obviously a male voice, and several people with whom I have discussed this subject seem to prefer the Microsoft David voice over all the others.

Click the above image
to download the MP3 file.

Microsoft Hazel (Windows 8)

For the third demo we will take a look at the poem as read by the Microsoft Hazel text-to-speech voice, which also ships with Windows 8. This also much better than the text-to-speech voices which shipped before Windows 7, and it has an English accent which makes it fun for converting literary works.

Click the above image
to download the MP3 file.

Microsoft Zira (Windows 8)

For the fourth and final demo we will take a look at the poem as read by the Microsoft Zira text-to-speech voice, which also ships with Windows 8. This voice is my personal favorite, as I find it the most-natural sounding of all the text-to-speech voices which ship with Windows 7; this is the voice that I used for all of my textbook reading assignments.

Click the above image
to download the MP3 file.

In Closing

As a parting thought, the text-to-speech voices which ship with Windows 8 are extremely good in my opinion; they sound very natural, and they are very easy to understand. As a result, I have a tendency to speed up the playback a little when I am using the script which I shared in my previous blog. That being said, I hope these samples help to demonstrate the various text-to-speech voices that are available in the recent versions of Windows.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: May 28 2015, 19:59 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Creating an HTML Application to Convert Text Files to Audio Files

I'd like to take a brief departure from my normal collage of web-related and server-management examples and share a rather eclectic code sample.

Here's the scenario: I am presently working on another college degree, and I was recently taking a class which required a great deal of reading.  These assignments were all in digital form: I was using PDF or Kindle-based versions of the textbooks, and the remaining reading consisted of online articles. However, I am also an avid bicyclist, and the voluminous amount of reading was preventing me from going on some of my normal weekly rides. This gave me an idea: if I could convert the digital text to audio, I could bring my assignments with me on my longer rides and have my MP3 player read my assignments to me as I pedaled my way around the Arizona deserts.

I had experimented with Microsoft's built-in text-to-speech features some years ago, so I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to revisit some of those APIs and write a full application to do the conversions for me. That being said, I could have written this application by using C# (which is my preferred language), but I decided to create an HTML Application for two reasons: 1) it is easier for me to share HTMLA applications in a blog, and 2) I keep this application in my OneDrive, so it's easier for me to modify the source code on systems where I don't have Visual Studio installed.

With that in mind, here is the resulting script which will convert a Text File to a Wave (*.WAV) File.

Using the HTML Application

As with most of my HTML Applications, the user interface is pretty simple to use; when you double click the HTA file, it will present you with the following user interface:

Clicking the Browse button will obviously allow you to browse to a text file, clicking the Close button will close the application, and clicking the Write File button will create a Wave file that is in the same path as the source text file. For example, if you have a text file at "C:\Text\Test.txt", the script will create a Wave file at "C:\Text\Test.txt.wav".

That being said, there are a few options which you can set:

  • Depending on your version of Windows and which languages you have installed, you will be presented with a list of available voices in the first drop-down menu; the following example is from a Windows 8 computer:
  • The second drop-down menu allows you to vary the playback speed; sometimes I prefer the playback speed to be slighter faster than normal:
  • The third drop-down menu allows you to alter the volume of the resulting Wave file:

Note: You can modify the script to alter the values that are used in the playback speed and volume drop-down menus, but the list of voices is obtained dynamically from your operating system.

Creating the HTML Application

To create this HTML Application, save the following HTMLA code as "Text to Wave File.hta" to your computer, and then double-click its icon to run the application. (Note that in a few places I added code comments which contain the MSDN URL for the APIs that I am using for this sample.)

<html>
<head>
<title>Text-to-Speech Writer</title>
<HTA:APPLICATION
  APPLICATIONNAME="Text-to-Speech Writer"
  ID="TextToSpeech"
  VERSION="1.0"
  BORDER="dialog"
  BORDERSTYLE="static"
  INNERBORDER="no"
  CAPTION="yes"
  SYSMENU="no"
  MAXIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  MINIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  SCROLL="no"
  SCROLLFLAT="yes"
  SINGLEINSTANCE="yes"
  CONTEXTMENU="no"
  SELECTION="no"/>
</head>

<script language="VBScript">

Option Explicit

Dim blnCancelBubble

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' OnLoad event handler for the application.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub Window_OnLoad
  blnCancelBubble = False
  ' Set up the UI dimensions.
  Const intDialogWidth = 550
  Const intDialogHeight = 125
  ' Specify the window position and size.
  Self.resizeTo intDialogWidth,intDialogHeight
  Self.moveTo (Screen.AvailWidth - intDialogWidth) / 2,_
    (Screen.AvailHeight - intDialogHeight) / 2
  ' Load the list of text-to-speech voices into the drop-down menu.
  ' See the notes in WriteFile() for more information.
  Dim objSAPI, objVoice, objSelect, objOption
  Set objSAPI = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
  For Each objVoice In objSAPI.GetVoices("","")
    Set objSelect = Document.getElementById("optVoices")
    Set objOption = Document.createElement("option")
    objOption.text = objVoice.GetDescription() 
    objSelect.Add objOption
  Next
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Click handler for the Write button.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub btnWrite_OnClick()
  ' Test for a file name.
  If Len(txtFile.Value) > 0 Then
    ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
    If blnCancelBubble = False Then
        ' Write the input file.
        Call WriteFile(txtFile.Value)
      End If
    End If
    ' Specify whether to bubble events.
    blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True)
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Change handler for the input box.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub txtFile_OnChange()
  ' Enable the Write button.
  btnWrite.Disabled = False
  ' Enable event bubbling.
  blnCancelBubble = False
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Click handler for the Close button.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub btnClose_OnClick()
  ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
  If blnCancelBubble = False Then
    ' Prompt the user to exit.
    If MsgBox("Are you sure you wish to exit?", _
      vbYesNo+vbDefaultButton2+vbQuestion+vbSystemModal, _
      TextToSpeech.applicationName)=vbYes Then
      ' Enable event bubbling.
      blnCancelBubble = True
      ' Close the application.
      Window.close
    End If
  End If
  ' Specify whether to bubble events.
     blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True)
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' This is an ultra-lame workaround for the lack
' of a DoEvents() feature in HTA applications.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub DoEvents()
  On Error Resume Next
  ' Create a shell object.
  Dim objShell : Set objShell = CreateObject("Wscript.Shell")
  ' Call out to the shell and essentially do nothing.
  objShell.Run "ver", 0, True
End Sub

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' This is an ultra-lame workaround for the lack
' of an IIf() function in vbscript applications.
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Function IIf(tx,ty,tz)
  If (tx) Then IIf = ty Else IIf = tz
End Function

' ----------------------------------------
' 
' Main text-to-speech function
' 
' ----------------------------------------

Sub WriteFile(strInputFileName)
  On Error Resume Next
  Dim objFSO
  Dim objFile
  Dim objSAPI
  Dim objFileStream
  Dim strOldTitle
  Dim strOutputFilename
  Const strProcessing = "Creating WAV file... "
  
  ' Define the audio format as 44.1kHz / 16-bit audio.
  ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720595.aspx
  Const SAFT44kHz16BitStereo = 35
  ' Allow text to be read as well as written.
  ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720858.aspx
  Const SSFMCreateForWrite = 3
  
  ' Define the output WAV filename.
  strOutputFilename = strInputFileName & ".wav"

  ' Create a file system object and open the input file.
  Set objFSO = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
  Set objFile = objFSO.OpenTextFile(strInputFileName, 1)
  
  ' Disable the form fields.
  optVoices.Disabled = True
  optRate.Disabled = True
  optVolume.Disabled = True
  txtFile.Disabled = True
  btnWrite.Disabled = True
  btnClose.Value = "Cancel"

  ' Test for an error.
  If Err.Number <> 0 Then
      MsgBox "Error: " & Err.Number & vbCrLf & Err.Description
  Else
    ' Store the original dialog title.
    strOldTitle = Document.title
    ' Display a status message.
    Document.title = strProcessing & Time()
    ' Pause briefly to let the screen refresh and capture events.
    Call DoEvents()
    ' Create a text-to-speech object.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720149.aspx
    Set objSAPI = CreateObject("SAPI.SpVoice")
    ' Create a SAPI file stream object.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms722561.aspx
    Set objFileStream = CreateObject("SAPI.SpFileStream")
    ' Specify the stream format.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms720998.aspx
    objFileStream.Format.Type = SAFT44kHz16BitStereo
    ' Open the output file stream.
    objFileStream.Open strOutputFilename, SSFMCreateForWrite
    ' Specify the output file stream.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723597.aspx
    Set objSAPI.AudioOutputStream = objFileStream
    
    ' Specify the speaking rate.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723606.aspx
    objSAPI.Rate = optRate.Options(optRate.SelectedIndex).Value
    ' Specify the speaking volume.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723615.aspx
    objSAPI.Volume = optVolume.Options(optVolume.SelectedIndex).Value
    ' Specify the voice to use.
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723601.aspx
    ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723614.aspx
    Set objSAPI.Voice = objSAPI.GetVoices("","").Item(optVoices.SelectedIndex)
    
    ' Loop through the lines in the input file.
    Do While Not objFile.AtEndOfStream
      ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events.
      If blnCancelBubble = True Then
        Exit Do
      Else
        ' Display a status message.
        Document.title = strProcessing & Time()
        ' Pause briefly to let the screen refresh and capture events.
        Call DoEvents()
        ' Speak one line from the input file.
        ' See http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms723609.aspx
        objSAPI.Speak objFile.ReadLine
      End If
    Loop
    ' Close the output file stream.
    objFileStream.Close
  End If

  ' Close the input file.
  objFile.Close

  ' Destroy all objects.
  Set objFileStream = Nothing
  Set objSAPI = Nothing
  Set objFile = Nothing
  Set objFSO = Nothing
  
  ' Reset the original dialog title.
  Document.title = strOldTitle

  ' Notify the user that the file has been written.
  MsgBox "Finished!", vbInformation, strOldTitle
  
  ' Re-enable the form fields.
  btnClose.Value = "Close"
  optVoices.Disabled = False
  optRate.Disabled = False
  optVolume.Disabled = False
  txtFile.Disabled = False
  btnWrite.Disabled = False

End Sub

</script>

<body bgcolor="white" id="HtmlBody">
<div id="FormControls">
  <table>
    <tr>
      <td align="left">
        <input type="file"
        style="width:250px;height:22px"
        name="txtFile"
        id="txtFile"
        onchange="txtFile_OnChange">
      </td>
      <td align="left">
        <input type="button"
        style="width:125px;height:22px"
        name="btnWrite"
        id="btnWrite"
        value="Write File"
        disabled
        onclick="btnWrite_OnClick">
      </td>
      <td align="right">
        <input type="button"
        style="width:125px;height:22px"
        name="btnClose"
        id="btnClose"
        value="Close"
        onclick="btnClose_OnClick">
      </td>
    </tr>
    <tr>
      <td align="left">
        <select name="optVoices"
          style="width:250px;height:22px">
        </select>
      </td>
      <td align="left">
        <select name="optRate"
          style="width:125px;height:22px">
          <option value="-2">Slowest</option>
          <option value="-1">Slower</option>
          <option value="0" selected>Normal Speed</option>
          <option value="1">Faster</option>
          <option value="2">Fastest</option>
        </select>
      </td>
      <td align="right">
        <select name="optVolume"
          style="width:125px;height:22px">
          <option value="25">25% Volume</option>
          <option value="50">50% Volume</option>
          <option value="75">75% Volume</option>
          <option value="100" selected>Full Volume</option>
        </select>
      </td>
    </tr>
  </table>
</div>
</body>
</html>

Note that I intentionally chose to have this HTML Application convert the text to audio one line at a time; this slows the down the conversion process, but it allows the conversion to be cancelled if necessary. (My original version of this script would convert an entire text file at one time; since there was no way to cancel the operation, the script appeared to hang when converting larger text files.)

Additional Notes

Once you have created a Wave (*.WAV) file, you can optionally convert it to an MP3 file for use in an MP3 player or mobile phone. (Most devices should playback Wave files, but MP3 files are considerably smaller and more portable.) There are a variety of Wave-to-MP3 converters out there, but I prefer to use the LAME encoder, which is an open-source code project that is available on SourceForge. Once you have the LAME encoder project compiled, (or you have located and downloaded a pre-compiled version), you can use LAME.EXE from a command prompt to convert your Wave files into MP3 files.

That being said, I prefer to automate as much as possible, so I have written a batch file which converts all of the Wave files in a directory to MP3 files and renames the source Wave files with a "*.old" filename extension:

@echo off

for /f "usebackq delims=|" %%a in (`dir /b *.wav`) do (
  for %%b in (^"%%a^") do (
    if not exist "%%~db%%~pb%%~nb.mp3" (
      lame.exe -b 128 -m j "%%a" "%%~nb.mp3"
    )
    if exist "%%~db%%~pb%%~nb.mp3" (
      move "%%a" "%%a.old"
    )
  )
)

Note that the above batch file was written for text-to-speech use, and as such it defines a bit rate of 128kbps, which would be pretty low for music files. If you want to repurpose this batch file for higher bitrates, modify the value of the "-b" parameter for the LAME.EXE command.

That wraps it up for today's post.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/

Posted: May 27 2015, 08:18 by Bob | Comments (0)
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How to create an HTML Application to configure your IIS SMTP Username and Password settings

Like many IIS administrators, I usually install the local SMTP service on my IIS servers when I am setting up a new server from scratch. When I install the SMTP service, I configure it so that it only listens on the IP address of 127.0.0.1, so it can only send emails which originate on the server itself. What's more, I configure the SMTP service to relay all emails to a downstream SMTP service which can send emails out to the Internet. By configuring these options, I can write my ASP.NET, PHP, and Classic ASP applications so that they use the local SMTP service for all email-related functionality, which acts as a sort of message server for my applications. This system works great, and I have used this particular setup since the days of IIS 4.0. (Which was released in late 1997, as you may recall.)

That being said, in the interests of security, sometime ago I started using a downstream SMTP service which requires user credentials, (that way no one could use the downstream server anonymously). As an additional security step, I use an account which requires that the credentials are changed every 30 days or so. This is always a good security practice for a myriad of obvious reasons, but this meant that I needed to update the SMTP username/password settings in my IIS configuration settings every 30 days.

With that in mind, many years ago I wrote a simple VBScript application which I would use to update those credentials. At first I would simply enter the credentials directly into the script, then I would run it to update IIS, and then I would strip the credentials from the script. Needless to say, this was pretty low-tech - even considering that this was 17 or 18 years ago. I eventually updated the script so that it would use VBScript Input Boxes to prompt me for the credentials, so I no longer needed to store the credentials in the script itself. (Sometime after that I rewrote the script so that it would read the existing values from the IIS settings and pre-populate the input boxes.)

Jumping ahead a couple of years, I decided to rewrite the script as an HTML Application, which offered me considerably more options from a user interface perspective. That script has been serving me faithfully for some time now, so I thought that it would make a good blog subject.

Using the HTML Application

Using the application is pretty straight-forward; when you double click the HTA file, it will present you with the following user interface:

The script will read any existing credentials from your IIS settings and use those to pre-populate the interface. If no existing credentials are found, it will pre-populate the interface with the username of the currently-logged-on user.

Clicking Update will update your IIS settings, clicking Reset will reset the values back to the last saved version, and clicking Close will obviously close the application, but only after it has checked if you have any unsaved changes.

Creating the HTML Application

To create this HTML Application, save the following HTMLA code as "Reset SMTP Password.hta" to your computer, and then double-click its icon to run the application.

<html>
<head>
<title>Reset SMTP Password</title>
<HTA:APPLICATION
  APPLICATIONNAME="Reset SMTP Password"
  ID="ResetSmtpPassword"
  VERSION="1.0"
  BORDER="dialog"
  BORDERSTYLE="static"
  INNERBORDER="no"
  CAPTION="yes"
  SYSMENU="no"
  MAXIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  MINIMIZEBUTTON="no"
  SCROLL="no"
  SCROLLFLAT="yes"
  SINGLEINSTANCE="yes"
  CONTEXTMENU="no"
  SELECTION="no"/>
<style>
<!--
body,input
{
font-family:calibri,arial;
font-size:9pt;
color: #000;
background-color: #fff;
}
table,td,th
{
border:none;
}
--> </style> </head> <script language="VBScript"> Option Explicit ' Define the global variables. Dim objWMIService, objIIsSmtpServer Dim strRouteUserName, strRoutePassword Dim blnCancelBubble, blnPendingUpdates ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Initialization method for the application. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Window_OnLoad ' Define the local variables. Dim objNetwork ' Set up the UI dimensions. Const intDialogWidth = 280 Const intDialogHeight = 220 ' Specify the window position and size. Self.resizeTo intDialogWidth,intDialogHeight Self.moveTo (Screen.AvailWidth - intDialogWidth) / 2, _ (Screen.AvailHeight - intDialogHeight) / 2 ' Enable events. blnCancelBubble = False blnPendingUpdates = False ' Set up some base objects for the local computer and default SMTP instance. ' Note that these settings can be customized for a different computer or SMTP instance. Set objWMIService = GetObject("winmgmts:{impersonationLevel=impersonate}!\\.\root\cimv2") Set objIIsSmtpServer = GetObject("IIS://localhost/SmtpSvc/1") ' Retrieve the current username/password from the SMTP settings. strRouteUserName = objIIsSmtpServer.RouteUserName strRoutePassword = objIIsSmtpServer.RoutePassword ' Verify that a username was retrieved; otherwise, use the logged-on user. If Len(strRouteUserName)=0 Then Set objNetwork = CreateObject("WScript.Network") strRouteUserName = IIf(Len(objNetwork.UserDomain)>0, _ objNetwork.UserDomain & "\","") & objNetwork.UserName Set objNetwork = Nothing blnPendingUpdates = True End If ' Store the username/password values in the UI. txtUsername.value = strRouteUserName txtPassword.value = strRoutePassword End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Implement the missing IIf() function. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Function IIf(tx,ty,tz) If (tx) Then IIf = ty Else IIf = tz End Function ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Close button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnClose_OnClick() ' Test if we need to cancel bubbling of events. If blnCancelBubble = False Then ' Check if there are pending updates. If blnPendingUpdates = False Then ' If not, then close the application. Window.close ' Prompt the user to exit. ElseIf MsgBox("You have not saved your changes." & vbCrLf & _ "Are you sure you wish to exit?", _ vbYesNo+vbDefaultButton2+vbQuestion+vbSystemModal, _ ResetSmtpPassword.applicationName)=vbYes Then ' Enable event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True ' Close the application. Window.close End If End If ' Specify whether to bubble events. blnCancelBubble = IIf(blnCancelBubble=True,False,True) End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Change handler for text boxes. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Textbox_OnChange() ' Flag the application as having updates pending. blnPendingUpdates = True End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Focus handler for text boxes. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub Textbox_OnFocus(objTextbox) ' Select the text in the textbox. objTextbox.Select End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Reset button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnReset_OnClick() ' Reset the username/password values in the UI. txtUsername.value = strRouteUserName txtPassword.value = strRoutePassword blnPendingUpdates = False End Sub ' ---------------------------------------- ' ' Click handler for the Update button. ' ' ---------------------------------------- Sub btnUpdate_OnClick() ' Catch bubbled events. If blnCancelBubble = True Then blnCancelBubble = False Exit Sub End If ' Verify valid data. If Len(txtUsername.value)=0 Or Len(txtPassword.value)=0 Then ' Inform the user that they made a mistake. MsgBox "An invalid username or password was entered.", _ vbCritical + vbOKOnly, ResetSmtpPassword.applicationName ' Cancel event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True Else ' Store the username/password values for the SMTP server. objIIsSmtpServer.RouteUserName = txtUsername.value objIIsSmtpServer.RoutePassword = txtPassword.value objIIsSmtpServer.SetInfo ' Save the username/password values. strRouteUserName = txtUsername.value strRoutePassword = txtPassword.value ' Flag the application as having no updates pending. blnPendingUpdates = False ' Cancel event bubbling. blnCancelBubble = True End If End Sub </script> <body bgcolor="white" id="HtmlBody"> <div id="FormControls"> <table> <tr><td>Please enter your SMTP credentials:</td></tr> <tr> <td align="left"> <input type="text" style="width:250px;height:22px" name="txtUsername" id="txtUsername" onchange="Textbox_OnChange()" onfocus="Textbox_OnFocus(txtUsername)" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="left"> <input type="password" style="width:250px;height:22px" name="txtPassword" id="txtPassword" onchange="Textbox_OnChange()" onfocus="Textbox_OnFocus(txtPassword)" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnUpdate" id="btnUpdate" value="Update" onclick="btnUpdate_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnReset" id="btnReset" value="Reset" onclick="btnReset_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> <tr> <td align="right"> <input type="button" style="width:125px;height:22px" name="btnClose" id="btnClose" value="Close" onclick="btnClose_OnClick()" /> </td> </tr> </table> </div> </body> </html>

That's all that there is to it, although you might want to restart your SMTP service after you have made these changes.

Additional Notes

On a related topic, I get asked from time to time why I like to use HTML Applications (HTMLA) for some of my scripting examples, and the answer is quite simple: it is very easy to create powerful scripts in a very short amount of time which have sophisticated user interfaces and no compilation requirements.

I use Adersoft's HtaEdit as my IDE for HTMLA, which allows me to do normal development tasks like configuring project options, setting breakpoints, and stepping through my code.


Note: Click the image above to open it full-size in a separate window.

That being said, I have been experimenting with creating user interfaces in PowerShell, and it looks like it has some real promise for creating great UIs, too. But for now I only use PowerShell to create command line scripts, I use HTMLA to create cool UIs for administrative scripts, and I use C# to create "real" applications.

Note: This blog was originally posted at http://blogs.msdn.com/robert_mcmurray/
Posted: May 22 2015, 09:11 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Using the Ceton Echo with Windows Media Center

I don't usually post reviews, but I thought that this subject was worth mentioning in case anyone else is having problems with Windows Media Center (WMC) and Linksys Media Center Extenders (MCEs).

Here’s the situation, I used to have a pair of Linksys MCEs that I used with my WMC computer; a DMA2100 and a DMA2200. (Although when I bought an Xbox 360 a few years ago, I configured it as an extender, and I gave the DMA2100 to my dad to use with his WMC computer.)

DMA2100 DMA2200
Linksys DMA2100 Linksys DMA2200

That being said, the Linksys MCEs never worked perfectly for me. They worked fine with DVR-MS, WTV, and WMV files, but for some reason they never worked well with MP4 files – which included my entire library of personal DVDs that I painstakingly ripped and stored in a Media Library on a NAS unit. However, I should mention that MP4 files played just fine on the WMC computer itself, just not on the Linksys MCEs.

I realize that all of the file types which I listed are just wrappers around the underlying media, so I was always perplexed as to why an MP4 file would never work with the fast-forward, skip, rewind, or pause buttons on my Linksys MCEs even though a WMV file would. What’s more, most MP4 files would play for about a minute, then the playback would freeze/skip/etc. for a little bit, and then it would usually stabilize for the rest of the video. (Although sometimes the video would never come back and I had to stop the video or reset the MCE.)

I should point out that all of my devices are hard-wired to gigabit networking hardware, so throughput should never have been a problem. (In fact, running the networking tests from the Linksys MCEs always showed bandwidth off the scale.) I eventually decided that the DMA2200 would have to be limited to just playing back recorded TV, which made it a rather bad return on investment.

For the past few years I had thought that the problem was simply some sort of compatibility issue with Windows Media Center and MP4 files when using an MCE, but I never had any problems with my Xbox 360 when using it as an MCE. In fact, the Xbox works so well that I have disconnected my WMC computer from my TV and now I exclusively use the Xbox to control my WMC.

Xbox-360
Xbox 360

Seeing as how the Xbox was working so well, it finally dawned on me that the problem had to be something internal to the Linksys MCEs. With that in mind, I started shopping around for a second Xbox 360 to replace my remaining Linksys MCE, but first I decided to read some of the Ceton Echo reviews on Amazon.

Several of the reviewers specifically mentioned my exact scenario; they were using Linksys MCEs and they were having problems with the video freezing/skipping, and the Echo resolved the problem. With that in mind, I decided to give the Echo a try.

Ceton-Echo
Ceton Echo

My Ceton Echo arrived a few days ago, and it was a breeze to set up. The footprint is much smaller than either the Linksys DMA2100 or DMA2200, and it's obviously a lot smaller than an Xbox 360. Another nice feature was that the Echo accepted commands from my existing Linksys remote; this was great for me because I had already configured my Linksys remote to control my TV, so I didn't have to change anything else in my setup if I didn't want to.

All of that being said, the most-important benefit after replacing my Linksys MCEs with the Ceton Echo is – no more skipping or freezing when playing MP4 files, and I can use the skip-forward, skip-backward, and pause buttons on the remote when I am viewing MP4 files. One small downside is that the fast-forward and reverse buttons do not seem to work with MP4 files, but I can live with that.

So in closing, if you're using a Linksys Media Center Extender and you're having issues with it, you might want to seriously consider replacing it with a Ceton Echo.

Posted: Apr 09 2015, 12:59 by bob | Comments (0)
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