Silverlight Streaming plug-in for Expression Encoder

For those of you that were at Tech-Ed or at his SA Developer talk, Angus Logan demonstrated publishing Silverlight content directly into the Silverlight Streaming service cloud from inside Microsoft Expression Encoder. He has just announced that a new preview version of the plug-in is available for download along with an introduction video on how to get started.

So why not take advantage of the 4GB of free storage and the worldwide content delivery network provided by the Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live. There is even a cool plug-in for Windows Live Writer to make publishing of Silverlight videos a piece of cake in blog posts. The best part is that because the video is hosted in the cloud, you won’t be running out of hosting bandwidth anytime soon.

I suggest following his blog post for instructions and download links.

[tags]Silverlight,Expression Encoder[/tags]

TWiT-or-tweet

Halloween pumpkinOh well it should really be called Trick-or-Treat but I couldn’t resist the play on words and the completely unrelated reference to the weekly tech podcast and Twitter.

I’m not sure if I can relate to what Halloween really is about. As South Africans we don’t really celebrate Halloween. So much so I had to search the web to find out what its all about and I was quite intrigued by its origin as a Pagan celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture.

It all hit me on Saturday when I was in the check-out queue of my local grocery store and the woman behind me was telling her kid that this is South Africa and that means there is no Halloween like he was used to back home. I couldn’t resist asking her where they were from and she confirmed that they were Americans now living in South Africa and her son of about eight was confused as to why Halloween was not as important here as it was back in the States.

When I was a kid growing up in Durban I don’t believe that I ever went door to door trick-or-treating. The only way I can relate to Halloween is through the television sitcoms and movies that have portrayed the Halloween festivities. I didn’t really regard Halloween as a holiday suitable for Christians but apparently its accepted by most religions of the western world. I need to ask my various friends how well accepted it is by the Jewish and Islamic faiths.

Besides the entertainment industry’s attempts to associate Halloween with horror and scary movies, I believe that in general there is a common feeling of goodwill that is introduced by bringing family and friends together to celebrate. Why don’t we celebrate Halloween? It could be a great way to meet our neighbours in the modern day. Although I see news reports of measures that parents are taking to attach tracking devices to their kids so that they don’t go missing over Halloween.

Happy Halloween to all!

[tags]Halloween,holiday,South Africa[/tags]

Missing Links

The Missing Links setOn Saturday night my amazing girlfriend took me to dinner and the theatre to celebrate my birthday last week. We found ourselves at the Liberty Life Theatre on the Square to watch Mark Sampson’s production called Missing Links.

I never knew what to expect and found myself laughing my head off. Mark Sampson surely knows how to improvise on stage and often had the house lights up for interaction with the audience.

Missing Links

The inimitable Mark Sampson’s hilarious new show. A roller-coaster taxi ride through 3-billion years of evolution: from microbes to man, via Little Foot, Mrs Ples and a lot of monkeying about. A laugh-a-minute hour with one man and a microphone that will make you see our ancestors – and our present – in a whole new light!

I’m very pleased that Tamsyn didn’t think to take photos or a video with her mobile phone camera when I got hauled up onto stage to demonstrate what the first walk would look like. Unfortunately for me, Mark managed to get on a pair of pink ladies high heel shoes that were about 5 sizes too small onto my man sized feet. I was quite proud of the fact that I didn’t chicken out and that that the flimsy heels didn’t break when I jumped up and down on stage. Strangely enough I felt very comfortable on stage (no I wasn’t comfortable wearing the high heels!) and I think that it was Mark’s laid back Capetonian vibe that made me feel at ease.

Mark Sampson poses after the show I can definitely recommend the show to all that enjoy dynamic improvised theatre laced with side splitting humour.

Be sure to make a booking right now as the national tour ends up here in Sandton on the 3rd of November 2007 and you’ll be sorry if you don’t get to see it. If you don’t believe me, check what Richard had to say about his experience on his blog.

[tags]theatre,humour,review[/tags]

Expiring VS2008 beta 2 VPCs

Sometimes Microsoft knows how to screw things up. Not only were the Visual Studio 2008 (code-named Orcas) Beta 2 Virtual PC (VPC) images rather excessively large for the average South African developer to download and too big to fit onto a single DVD for community distribution, but now they are expiring on the 1st of November 2007 as well.

Now I was kind of expecting an new release candidate build to emerge for download sometime soon but it seems that the Visual Studio team has no such intention and has instead released updated beta 2 VPC images. Its not clear at this stage as to whether you need to just download the base image or whether you need to download the entire set of VPC images again. Either way the Visual Studio team lied to us when they said we just needed to get the base images once:

These downloads are differencing disks. To use them, you must also download Visual Studio Code Name Orcas Base Image contains the OS and is a one-time download for all the Virtual PC images that lay on top of it.

Why can’t Microsoft simply release a patch for the base image extending the lifetime of the Windows 2003 operating system? Why do they need to release complete new images? I don’t expect that many South Africa users will continue testing the beta 2 bit any longer if release to manufacturing (RTM) is so close. Sorry Microsoft, you’ve just totally screwed up in my humble opinion.

[tags]Visual Studio,South Africa,rant[/tags]

South African Xbox 360 buyers guide

Xbox 360 console With the recent announcements of the Arcade and Value bundles on the local South African gaming market I thought a buyers guide might be useful. So I’ve taken the liberty to summarise the various console offerings for those considering buying a new console and perhaps dispel a few common misconceptions about various aspects of the Xbox 360 console itself.

Essentially the product offerings can be split into two categories based on the type of user – family and enthusiast. Family users are expected to not really be too concerned about the technical aspects of gaming like Xbox LIVE and backward compatibility and more about a gaming experience suitable for the entire family. Enthusiasts would be the more avid gaming fanatic that has a high-end sound system and wants to play with friends over Xbox LIVE.

How you hook the console up to your display or television is important. All consoles are able to deliver standard definition and high definition video to your display and all consoles include composite (standard A/V) cables. If you have a high definition television then you will want to use with the component HD AV able, HDMI or VGA.

One thing I must point out immediately is this misconception about HDMI. I believe that Microsoft opted to not put an HDMI port on the first Xbox 360 consoles due to the HDMI specification not being finalised as well as poor adoption for the standard by the industry at the time. However as more televisions on the market are supporting the HDMI standard, newer revisions of the Xbox 360 console hardware have an HDMI port. This means that if you have an HDMI enabled television you might want to consider a console that has an HDMI port on it. If you want to use a VGA or LCD computer monitor then you can purchase the VGA cable accessory (R399).

The family offering revolves around the Core model and the newly announced Arcade bundle which is a special for the 2007 festive season only. The new Arcade bundle features the new HDMI port however it must be pointed out that it does not ship with an HDMI cable; this must be purchased separately from your favourite audio visual shop. Included in the bundle are two full titles on disc as well as five arcade games which should cater for the entire family. For R300 extra the Arcade bundle is a very worthwhile option if you were considering a Core and would like an HDMI port, a wireless controller and some games to get you started.

When it comes to enthusiasts there are four product choices. What sets them apart of the Core and Arcade are the additions of a hard drive, a high definition enabled audio video cable and an Xbox LIVE wired headset. The removable hard drives are available as an accessories (20GB R999 or 120GB R1999) as well as the component HD AV cable (R399) so a Core or Arcade console can easily be upgraded at a later stage but it will cost you almost the same as buying an Elite console. Note that the Halo 3 Special Edition console will only be available until stocks run out and the Value bundle is a 2007 festive season special as well.

The Elite console is really the ultimate console for the extreme enthusiast out there. Its got a whopping 120GB hard drive and it comes with an HDMI cable (R250) and a Play & Charge kit (R199) in the box.

SKU ERP Features
Core R2699.00 Composite AV cable
Wired controller
Arcade bundle
(limited stock)
R2999.99 2 bundled games
256MB memory unit

5 bundled arcade games
Composite AV cable
HDMI port
Wireless controller
Pro R3699.00 20GB hard drive
Component HD AV cable
Ethernet cable
Wired headset
Wireless controller
Halo 3 Special Edition
(some stock still remaining)
R3999.00 20GB hard drive (branded)
Component HD AV cable
Ethernet cable
Halo 3 Gamer Pics and Theme
HDMI port
Play & Charge kit
Wired headset (branded)
Wireless controller (branded)
Value bundle
(limited stock)
R3999.00 20GB hard drive
4 bundled games
Component HD AV cable
Ethernet cable
Wired headset
Wireless controller
Elite
(black console)
R4599.00 120GB hard drive (black)
Component HD AV cable
Ethernet cable (black)
HDMI port & cable
Play & Charge kit
Wired headset (black)
Wireless controller (black)

One thing worth noting is that all Xbox 360 consoles are technically capable of running all Xbox 360 games on the market. However in order to be able to run older original Xbox 1 games or to connect to Xbox LIVE for an online experience, an Xbox 360 hard drive is required. In addition all consoles can be used with both wired and wireless controllers regardless of what is included in the retail box. Up to four wired (R329) or wireless (R399) controllers can be connected at any given time and and are available separately as accessories. If you but wireless controllers I highly recommend buying a Play & Charge kit (R199) which makes a wireless controller rechargeable from any USB port. If you have multiple wireless controllers you can buy extra rechargeable battery packs (R149) and use recharge them with the cable from the Play & Charge kit.

[tags]Xbox 360,South Africa,buyers guide[/tags]

Updated Xbox 360 Arcade bundle

image Unfortunately there were errors in the press release I posted in my Xbox 360 Arcade lands in South Africa post. The Xbox 360 Arcade bundle includes two full non-arcade games, Project Gotham Racing 3 (Classic) and Dead or Alive 4 (Classic), and the titles are not preloaded onto the console as it was stated in the press release. In addition the Arcade bundle will retail for R2999.99 and not R2699.00 as was previously stated in the press release.

I was quite surprised to see such an amazingly low price on the Arcade bundle and I was very disappointed when I received the amendments on e-mail. Still, this is a very worthwhile bundle and is targeted at families and family entertainment. The addition of the HDMI port to this entry level bundle should make owners of new high-definition televisions with HDMI ports very happy indeed.

[tags]Xbox 360,South Africa[/tags]

Xbox 360 Arcade lands in South Africa

Well you can’t say I didn’t predict this in my previous post. Kudos to Microsoft for putting forward a totally awesome special for the family. This will definitely compete head-on with the Nintendo Wii this festive season. And the great news is that its available from this Friday.

JOHANNESBURG — Oct. 24, 2007 — Just in time for the coming holidays, Microsoft today released a new Xbox 360 console that delivers games and content to everyone in the family for an estimated retail price of R2699.00. Available in stores in South Africa from Friday 26th October 2007, Xbox 360 ‘Arcade’ is the first Xbox 360 console to include seven family-friendly games.Xbox 360 Arcade also includes a wireless controller, an HDMI connection to enable high-definition output if desired and 256MB of memory–useful for storing games and other entertainment content. At an estimated retail price of just R2699.00, the Xbox 360 Arcade console will include the full versions of the five best-selling Arcade games including “PAC-MAN Championship Edition,” (NAMCO BANDAI Games), “Uno,” “Luxor 2,” “Boom Boom Rocket” (Electronic Arts), and “Feeding Frenzy.” In addition, Project Gotham Racing Classic and Dead or Alive Classic will also be preloaded onto the console.

“As South Africans get together this Christmas, it’s the perfect time to launch a family orientated Xbox 360 package that plays games, video and music for everyone to enjoy,” said Marc Batten, head of the entertainment and devices business at Microsoft South Africa. “In addition to offering an incredible all-in-one package for families to get right into the fun, the Xbox 360 Arcade system features the industry leading family settings that allow parents to control what their kids are watching and playing, and we know how important that control is to families around the world.”

Microsoft’s commitment to family entertainment is complimented by the largest library of more than 100 family-friendly games available at retailers in South Africa this Christmas, including “BEE MOVIE GAME” (Activision), “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” (Activision), “Naruto: Rise of a Ninja” (UbiSoft) , and “Viva Piñata: Party Animals.” Main participating retailers include CNA, Musica, Game, Hi FI Corporation , Look and Listen, Dion, Incredible Connection.

Tech-Ed 2007 day 3

Tech-Ed South Africa 2007Its honestly amazing how time flies when you are at Tech-Ed. I found that day three just flew past in comparison to day two; I suppose it has to do with the sheer number of sessions I attended.

The first talk worth mentioning today was one by Angus Logan where he shared information about the Windows Live technologies currently available for integration by developers. I never realised that Windows Live ID was recently made available as a single sign on solution for end-user applications coupled with the various other services likes Virtual Earth, Live Contacts, Silverlight Streaming and numerous other cool services. They are all covered under one “no lawyer required” terms of use and unless your web site has more than about a million users, its free to use. For more information on the APIs, code samples for .NET, Java, Python, Ruby and many more take a moment and check out dev.live.com and there is even a .NET wrapper library for the REST APIs on CodePlex. Don’t forget to attend Angus’ talk for SA Developer .NET this Thursday, you won’t be disappointed.

Chris, some other dude, Hilton, Nicolas and Ronald Hilton Giesenow, SA Developer Lead and MVP, gave an awesome talk on the hidden gems of ASP.NET 2.0 where he shared some very cool but lesser known features of the ASP.NET. One of them that comes to mind is the SessionPageStatePersister class that provides a simple means of reducing the viewstate of each page in a site with no changes to the actual pages themselves.

Chris Auld from New Zealand was highly entertaining to experience. He was wearing a Sprinkbok rugby jersey after he lost a bet. He is genuinely a unique character and showed us all how to implement and use WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) for various connection endpoints including TCP, SOAP, JSON and even RSS. Unfortunately his demos were plagued with exception pop-up dialogs due to the Visual Studio 2008 beta quirks but seemed to work nonetheless. I found his “go go gadget stack trace” comment quite amusing.

Just to make sure we didn’t have a dull day, we got Nicolas Blank to interview Hilton Giesenow, Willie Roberts and myself about the technical communities in South Africa. I’ll make a post here when the video has been edited and posted on the international Virtual Tech-Ed site.

Laser finger-tipped skeleton dancerAs day four is a half day it is customary to have the closing party the evening before. The theme was CSI and we were treated to an awesome buffet in the Sun City Superbowl followed by local band Springbok Nude Girls on stage and then lots of dancing and partying.

[tags]Tech-Ed 2007,Windows Live,ASP.NET,WCF,Virtual Tech-Ed,Springbok Nude Girls[/tags]

Xbox 360, the perfect gift this festive season

I received a press release from Microsoft today regarding the South African Xbox 360 specials for the festive season. The press release says that there will be two new retail offerings but only goes on to describe one, I can only imagine that another press release will be out within the next week or so with another awesome deal on either the Xbox 360 Arcade which has been announced overseas already or a great bundle with the Xbox 360 Core.

JOHANNESBURG 23 October 2007 — Microsoft today announced a new retail offer that will provide a great way for families to jump into the Xbox 360 and start enjoying fantastic gaming experiences that have been available to South Africans since the console launched in September last year.

The first of two new retail offerings, available from Friday 2nd November, includes an Xbox 360 Pro video game system and four hit games (Forza Motorsport 2, Fifa 08, WWE 08 and Viva Piñata, all top selling titles from Microsoft Game Studios) for an incredible estimated retail price of R3,999.00. This is an incredible saving of just under R1,700.00 for South African families.

The Forza Motorsport 2, Fifa 08, WWE 08 and Viva Piñata offer is available just in time for consumers to take advantage of the strongest gaming lineup in console history. The cornerstone of the line-up, the newly released “Halo 3,” has become a global phenomenon, garnering more than $300 million in world-wide sales in its first week of release. The critically acclaimed Xbox 360 exclusive, which was released in South Africa on Wednesday 26th September, has become the fastest-selling video game ever and is already one of the most successful entertainment properties in history. Initial reports from retailers worldwide show Xbox 360 console sales have more than doubled since the launch of “Halo 3.”

Even without Halo 3, 2007 would have been a year to remember for Xbox 360 gamers – a packed release schedule offering a wide range of incredible titles including exclusive, genre-defining games such as such as BioShock (2K Games), Blue Dragon (Microsoft Game Studios – MGS), Project Gotham Racing 4 (MGS), Naruto Rise of a Ninja (Ubisoft), Viva Piñata Party Animals (MGS), Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Namco Bandai Games) and Mass Effect (MGS), all arriving towards the end of the year.

“We already knew we had the best lineup of games on any platform this Christmas, and now we’re pleased to offer a new way to experience the world of Xbox 360,” said Cindy White, group marketing manager, Microsoft Entertainment and Devices South Africa. “The Xbox 360 retail offering brings the consoles together with four critically-acclaimed games right in the box for a fantastic price. Now an even wider array of consumers can start playing Xbox and enjoy the greatest games lineup ever seen. It’s going to be a green Christmas for South Africa.”

An awesome bundle for the festive season. I wonder how Nintendo and Sony will respond to this announcement as they are sure to lose more local market share. I believe there are now over 100 Xbox 360 titles already available on the local market excluding the awesome list of titles still to be released this year.

Tech-Ed 2007 day 2

Tech-Ed South Africa 2007Today the sessions started bright and early at 08h00 which is way too early if it was work but strangely enough I found myself downstairs devouring the buffet breakfast just after 07h00. I missed attending a few sessions that I would have liked to have attended purely due to logistical issues. I didn’t know where the bloody session rooms were and I left my map in the room and was too lazy to go back and fetch it.

Pieter Germishysen's XNA talk I would have to say that the best session I attended today must have been Pieter’s chalk ‘n talk session on XNA. He spent the morning in the Community Lounge writing a remake of the classic Space Invaders game. Willy-Peter and I however started making a few suggestions and before long the game became BokInvaders with the enemies appearing as English Roses and the ship becoming a Springbok. Oh and to top it all off, the South African national anthem became the theme music. The chalk ‘n talk room had seating for about 30 delegates and was overflowing with delegates sitting on the floor and standing at the back. I believe the talk went down extremely well and garnered a considerable amount of interest in hobbyist game development using XNA Framework targeting Windows PCs and Xbox 360 consoles.

For those that have been to Tech-Ed you will be familiar with the MultiNets. For those that haven’t they are essentially PCs distributed throughout the venue where delegates can logon for free and either plan their schedule, provide session feedback or browse the web. I have got to say that I am not impressed impressed with the Internet access that is provided. I managed to access my Gmail account once throughout the entire day as most of the time it was simply just timing out. I believe that Internet Solutions is providing the outside connectivity and I can only wonder what connection they are running. It feels worse than accessing over a shoddy dial-up. One good thing was that they provided free WiFi access as well, however my mobile phone can’t even connect to the access point as it doesn’t stay up for long enough. C’mon guys, get with it.

In general the day was awesome and I really enjoyed Louis de Klerk’s talk on the new features of SQL Server 2008, code-named Katmai. I have been playing around with CTP4 and I can’t wait to get hold of the new CTP5 that adds spatial support. Its rumoured that CTP5 might drop before the end of next week. I can’t wait.

[tags]Tech-Ed 2007,XNA,Katmai,SQL Server 2008,spatial,rant[/tags]