Building my Intel NUC Media Center PC

For the last few months I have thought about building a replacement PC for one that’s connected to my TV.  This PC is running Windows 8 with Media Center and has been my DVR for some time.  I have run variations of Windows Media Center since around 2006, all the way back to Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.  I still haven’t found a better solution than Windows Media Center for recording live TV, so I am continuing to stick with it.  I really hope Microsoft does something special and creates a Windows 8 modern app version of Media Center but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve wanted to replace my current Media Center PC for some time.  It’s big, heavy, loud, and powerful.  Don’t get me wrong, I love powerful PCs but having this thing on for a good part of the day doesn’t sit well with me.  It uses quite a bit of power, which for a TV PC, isn’t necessary.  So I decided to slim down and search for a low power, quiet, and cost-effective PC that isn’t an eye sore.  I compared a few models before settling on this one.

My new PC is the Intel NUC D54250WYK.  It comes with  Core i5 processor on a motherboard in a nice little case.  It also includes an infrared sensor which is perfect for my existing remote.  The other components you have to buy separately.   I purchased a mSATA 120 GB hard drive, 8 GB of RAM, and a wireless network card that also provides Bluetooth connectivity.  This is perfect package for a small connect yet powerful PC.

I have personally built every PC i have ever owned (except for my very first) and I have to say this was the simplest one yet.  I built the thing in about 5 minutes.  I created a video to show how I did it. I will go into detail on another post about the configuration later after I have everything set up.

 

My design design consultation with Nokia and Microsoft

WP_20140330_17_28_16_Pro

A few weeks ago I was notified that I won a design consultation from Nokia for my Windows Phone app, Space Weather.  I was offered a flight, hotel stay, and a one-on-one consultation with a senior Microsoft UX designer Dave Crawford. It was a great experience.  I haven’t had time to implement any of the changes that were discussed in this session, so I am documenting the days I spent in San Francisco for now.  Once I release a new version of the application with the proposed changes I will write all about it.

 

Day 1

I flew to San Francisco from Minneapolis and landed in 50 degree weather, a welcome change from the single digits we were having in Minnesota.  I was picked up from the airport with another winner, Darin, a the driver took us to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel which is right next to Union Square in San Francisco.

Sir Francis Drake Hotel

Day 2

On day 2 I went to the Microsoft office in San Francisco.  Here I met the Nokia / Microsoft / DVLUP team, as well as the film crew.  From here we all walked a few blocks away to film.  Here are some photos from that afternoon.

After the interviews, Darin and I went off exploring.  We didn’t have a ton of time so our destination was the Golden Gate Bridge.  I know, obvious right?  We used HERE Transit to get there.  This app didn’t disappoint!  It got us there without any issues.

I took some photos while I was there. (These were all taken with my Lumia 1020 Windows Phone)

I took a short video too.

 

That evening we had dinner with the team at the Marketbar.

Day 3

The next day was the design consultation.  This is where I met one-on-one with Dave Crawford and he helped me redesign my app.  There were interviews before and after.

Dave helped re-imagine my app, Space Weather, in drawings and even a prototype application.  Here are some of the sketches.  We were given these awesome sketchpads along with icon stencil to help mock up our UI in the future.

Time to go home

Overall this was a great experience.  It was nice to get some feedback on the application from someone who is an expert in this field.  Dave really took the time to understand the experience I was trying to deliver in my application and through this new design will help me to share it with my customers.   After the consultation I left feeling re-energized about my app.  There is a lot of work to do but I think it will be worth it in the end.  I am not going to go in to detail on what we discussed but his ideas will be incorporated in my app in a future release.  Thank you Nokia, Microsoft, DVLUP, Kavita, Ali, Brad, Kyle and the film crew, and especially Dave!

(Obligatory street car shots)

Build an app in 5 minutes or less… coding skills optional

app studio

 

Today I taught around 60 students from Minneapolis area high schools how to build a Windows Phone application in 5 minutes or less.  My goal was to show them how easy it was to get started building applications for mobile devices.  I did stress to them that leaning programming is a valuable skill to have and that it teaches you many problem solving skills however, I didn’t want them to feel discouraged by this roadblock.  I wanted them to see that sometimes programming is just a means to an end.  Sure, I like programming and I think it is fun however, sometimes this can be a barrier to entry.  This barrier might just block the next big thing.  Today I tried to help remove that barrier using App Studio from Microsoft.  Here’s how we built an app for Windows Phone and Windows 8 in less than 5 minutes, without writing a single line of code.

Let’s Get Started

Here are the requirements for the application:

  • Personal
  • Connected to the internet
    • Plays videos
    • News feed
    • Flickr image gallery
  • Installs on my phone
  • No coding required
  • Finish in 5 minutes or less

We headed over to App Studio http://appstudio.windowsphone.com/

Clicked on Start new project > Empty App

create app

 

Title

We set the App title and icon.  We called ours “Nintendo News” and the the icon to a 1-up.

app title

 

Main Sections

About

We added an about section to welcome our app users.  Added HTML section called “about”

We added the text:

Hi. This is our application about Nintendo. Did you really think we could build this in 5 minutes?

We also turned on the text-to-speech option and bound our text to this speech control.

page extras

 

News

Next we added an RSS feed (to pull in news)

We called the section “news” and pasted the Nintendo news URL http://www.nintendo.com/feed

Videos

We added a YouTube section called “videos” and chose the user “Nintendo”.

Images

Added a Flikr section and called it “images”.  Searched for the term “super mario”.

Saved our application.

Here is what it looked like so far.

main sections

 

Themes

Clicked on the themes tab.  From the custom Style we chose a background image and chose to color the app bar red.  Here is what our theme looks like:

themes

 

Tiles

We chose the same icon for each tile, just to keep it simple.  Here is what our tiles look like:

select your tiles

 

Splash & Lock

We also set a Splash & Lock screen:

lock and splash

 

Publish Info

We updated the publish info, however we didn’t need to.  I had a minute to spare.

update publish info

 

Generate the app

I generated the app and chose to build it for both Windows Phone and Windows 8.

generate app

 

Don’t forget to install the certificate that is emailed to you.  You will need to do this before scanning the QR code to install your app.

build your app

 

We scanned the QR code using the built in scanner in Bing Search.

scan the code

 

Beam my screen to the TV

All done! From here I duplicated my phone’s screen using Nokia Beamer to show them the application we just built on the TV screen.   Nokia Beamer is an awesome way to share your screen with anyone using only a web browser.   Here’s our app, beamed from my phone to a web browser on a TV so all of the students could see.

beam the app

 

 One minute to spare…

There you have it.  We built an application from start to finish with one minute to spare.  Most of the students were impressed, as was I since I didn’t think it was possible when I first had the idea for the presentation. It wasn’t until I timed it that I knew that this was possible.  Remember that although this is just a simple example using Nintendo, you can choose any subject you like to create your application.  There are many starter templates to get you going in App Studio.

If you want to check out this application, you can download it below.  I might even post this app in the Windows App Store so you can check it out. This application is open source.  I have posted the code contents to GitHub.  You can find the repository here:

https://github.com/timothystewart6/NintendoNews

 

You can download the app for Windows Phone here:

http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/nintendo-news/92a76eac-272f-488d-bba2-d9d0d4a2e53e

As an added bonus, this app also runs on Windows 8 using the same solution file.  Enjoy!

windows8

Getting hooked up from Nokia, San Francisco style

Nokia Design Consultation

 

I was just informed that Nokia selected me as one of the winners of their DVLUP design consultations in person in San Francisco!  I get to meet with Dave Crawford who is a Senior Microsoft UX Consultant and lead designer in UK Windows Phone and Windows 8 Center of Excellence!  So far the only information I know is that they are flying me there in 2 weeks, and that they will be doing a one-on-one consultation with me and my app, Space Weather.  I have a Lync meeting set up to discuss this with them next week. More to come…

 

Here’s the tweet

https://twitter.com/dvlup/status/444617734765019136

 

I just released Snow Emergency 1.0.4.0

I have released a few updates for my Snow Emergency App.  The latest version includes the following fixes and features:

  • A few bug fixes
  • Notifications for general parking restrictions
  • Live Tiles for general parking restrictions
  • Notification count on the Live Tile (I’m not sure what took me so long to add this feature)

You can read more about it here.

Winter Parking Restrictions in Effect

Just wanted to give a heads up…  there have been quite a few snow emergencies lately in Minneapolis, including one that just ended.  Well now Winter Parking restrictions are in effect.  That means no parking on even sides of the street until further notice.  I created a Snow Emergency app last year and it almost caught this, but as of now it says undetermined (which is better than nothing) but still it should have just worked.

Here is what you will see in the app while general ‘Winter Parking Restrictions are in effect”.

SnowEmergencyUndetermined

I accounted for this last year but it looks like Minneapolis updated their HTML, either that or a had it wrong.  This is what should happen:

SnowEmergencyWinterRestrictions

I guess either way it tells you to check the website, but I don’t think my users deserve this.  What was the cause?

<br />

They must have added a break at some point to format their HTML.  The sad part is Minneapolis Snow Emergency / MN DOT / Hennepin county still has not returned any of my communications after numerous requests.  I don’t want a pat on the pack or anything, just a quick heads up if they are going to change something on their Snow Emergency site, an API would be better but I can only dream.

Like I mentioned earlier, a fix is coming soon.  I also added some more features which I will detail in a later post.

If you have a Windows Phone, you can download Snow Emergency here

You can always see if a snow emergency is in effect for Minneapolis here

Oh yeah, and don’t get towed.

I won a design session from Nokia, Microsoft, and WPCentral

A few weeks ago I attended a UX/Design web conference hosted by Nokia.   The session was lead by Arturo Toledo who worked for Microsoft and was a major contributor to Windows Phone design and UX.  At the end of the session they asked attendees to submit their app for a chance to win a free design consultation with the design team.  At first I thought that apps were selected at random but it turns out they took the following things into consideration:

  • App is live in the Windows Phone Store
  • App has good ratings and reviews
  • App is solid functionally speaking, but there is substantial opportunity to enhance its UX and visual design

I was chosen out of hundreds of submissions for my app, Space Weather.  Here’s the blog post from Nokia’s developer community site, DVLUP.

Here I am, last but not least:

http://blog.dvlup.com/2014/02/13/the-30-winning-apps-selected-for-design-makeovers/

Even though I did a UI refresh on my last version, I’m not too proud to ask for help.  My design, isn’t really design at all.  It’s a collection of things that I thought were “cool.”  I think many developers think this way –  we make things look a certain way because: 1)It looks cool or 2) because we can.  I’ll be the first to admit that a few features in my application that I put in there “because I can.” These, or course, are my “because I can” features.  It will be great to get some professional recommendations from the people who wrote the book on Windows Phone design!  I’m really looking forward to what comes out of this.  Also, all of my app users will get a free update with some professional design.  Hopefully I can apply these to the Windows 8 version, since it is lacking in the design department too.

I’ll be sure to do a before and after design session blog post.  Oh yeah and WPCentral,  my calendar is open if you want to talk and write something up afterwards ;)

 

spaceweather3

Space Weather is ready for a face lift!

 

 

Hacking my WeMo with Windows Phone

I picked up a WeMo a few weeks ago.  It is a pretty handy little device.  Basically, it allows me to turn a light switch on an off via the internet.  You can also connect it to IfThisThenThat (ifttt.com) for some interesting automation possibilities.

When I picked up the device, I already knew that an official app did not exist for Windows Phone, so I figured I would end up writing on myself, and so it begins.

What I have figure out so far…

This device needs to be configured first using the official iOS/Android app, after that you can do a little hacking.  WeMo connects to your network just like any other device but it is a UPnP device.  It sits quietly on your network and listens for requests.  After it receives the UDP broadcast it then gets pretty chatty.  After I issue an SSDP request, all devices (including my WeMo) respond.  The WeMo responds with a packet.

I inspect the packet  (some names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Great.  Now I have the location, which I need to get information about this device.

I can now inspect the XML (some names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Great.  Now I can get the information I need and issue SOAP requests.

I start creating a simple app.  First discovering all UPnP device, then narrowing it down to ones that have a WSDL file I can parse like XML.

wp_ss_20140208_0002

This approach worked well until about an hour later.  After testing, I found that the WeMo stops responding to SSDP broadcasts.  I can no longer discover it.

wp_ss_20140208_0001

The device is still on the network, still responds to a ping.  and I can still control it using the  iOS app / IfThisThenThat.  It seems like the device stops responding to local requests after it is connected to the internet for about an hour.  I hope this isn’t the case and it is just a bug in the firmware.  If this is by design I will be stuck in the water until Belkin releases an API for WeMo devices.  Resetting the device does allow it to be discovered on my local network, but after about an hour it stops responding to SSDP.   Is there anyone else out there seeing this?  I hope this is not by design and possibly a defective unit.

 

 

Windows Server 2012 R2 Upgrade and WordPress

Last weekend I decided to upgrade all of my virtual servers to Windows Server 2012 R2 from 2012.  The process was pretty straightforward…

  • Mount the ISO
  • Launch the setup
  • Allow the installation check for incompatibilities and updates
  • Upgrade

Everything went smooth, or so i thought.  When the server launched for the first time I was getting database errors on my self hosted WordPress site.  I had a mini panic attack thinking my blog and database were lost and then started digging.  I found that the MySQL service was not registered.  Easy enough.  I found documentation on the MySQL site:

 

First stop the server/process if it is running.  I added a -p to the command to prompt for password. Who uses a MySQL database without a root password anyway? (Be sure to change the MySQL version in the commands below if you aren’t using 5.6)

Then register the service

Now check for the service in listed in the services applet

You will see MySQL listed and set to automatic.  Go ahead and start it.  Bingo!  Wordpress back online.

Now I don’t have to worry about launching the process at startup or setting scheduled task or trigger, it’s back to the way it was before the upgrade!

Lifted from the MySQL documentation site:

http://dev.mysql.com/doc/refman/5.6/en/windows-start-service.html

 

 

If you have Windows 8, you’ll want to update to Windows 8.1… like now

Microsoft released Windows 8.1 today, a free update for everyone running Windows 8.  Just open the app store, you can’t miss it.

Windows8.1Update

 

What do you get with Windows 8.1?  Quite a bit actually.

  • Start button is back
  • Better search
  • Better apps
  • Better app snapping (more multitasking)
  • Outlook on Windows RT
  • Integrated SkyDrive
  • Better Start screen (background)
  • Start to Desktop
  • Lots of Enterprise features
  • IE11
  • Interactive training and help
  • More Tile size customization
  • Arrange Tiles easier
  • App backup (when restoring your PC)
  • Better Start screen customization (animations, color, etc…)
  • Xbox, Xbox Music, Video, News, Food & Drink, Finance, Health & Fitness, Travel, Sports, Mail, Calendar, People  - apps are all improved
  • Improvements in Onscreen Keyboard
  • Lots more…

 

Check out all of the features, tips, and tricks here:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/meet?ocid=GA8-1_O_WOL_Hero_Home_81Features_Pos1_01