Mark writes about Microsoft Windows, computer topics, and digital photography.

May 012015

Watch at least the first 2 minutes of this 20 minute video. (It starts abruptly partway into the demo.) Amazing. Note the very cool weather app at about 37 seconds, the wall-sized video screen that will follow you around *anywhere* and the calendar which could literally block your exit so you can’t miss it. Then consider that ANY app written for Windows 10 could be used this way. Crap-apps will be unbearable.

After the former lead singer of Depeche Mode appears on screen, don’t give up – skip ahead past the architecture demo.

I’m very curious how we are able to see the virtual world of the demonstrators in this. I can imagine seeing what they see, but I don’t know how we see them and what they see – that slight-of-hand may misrepresent this technology. Still, the potential is huge.

Futurama envisioned people entering a virtual Internet interface in which ads were flying billboards that actually attacked observers like pterodactyls. Minority Report imagined ads that recognized where you were looking and your retinal scan. And Brainstorm foresaw the hazards of such technology with porn.

PS: I’m not rushing to buy a HoloLens, though I think it is very cool. I have a Kinnect I threw money away on that I never was able to use and is no longer compatible with newer systems. Screw me once, shame on you.

 Posted by at 3:52 pm
Mar 122015

Microsoft Is On The World’s Most Ethical Companies List 5 Years In A Row

The World’s Most Ethical Companies designation recognizes companies that truly go beyond making statements about doing business “ethically” and translate those words into action.

Microsoft on The World’s Most Ethical Companies list 5 years in a row – Microsoft on the Issues

World’s Most Ethical Companies – Honorees | Ethisphere® Institute

Google and Intel are also on the list. Apple is NOT.

 Posted by at 8:15 am
Mar 112015

While people gush over the new gold Macbooks, for half the price you can get a much more capable Windows portable. These machines are close to the Mac’s thinness but with more ports, more powerful processors, and touch-capabilities. Why pay more for less?

ASUS Zenbook UX305FA Is The Cheapest Alternative To The Newly Announced Apple Macbook By pradeep on March 10, 2015

ASUS Zenbook UX305FA is an elegant, ultra-slim, and plenty powerful  laptop that measures under a half-inch thick, weighs only 2.65 pounds, and has an Intel Core M processor.

ASUS Zenbook UX305FA Is The Cheapest Alternative To The Newly Announced Apple Macbook

Dell XPS 13 Vs Apple Macbook Spec Comparison By pradeep on March 10, 2015

As you can notice from the above table, Dell XPS 13 easily beats Apple Macbook in many categories. Above all, it is affordable to millions of customers around the world.

Dell XPS 13 Vs Apple Macbook Spec Comparison

Apple Macbook Vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Spec Comparison By pradeep on March 9, 2015

 Posted by at 8:09 pm
Feb 282015

This is a good summary of features that were added in Windows 8 and removed in Windows 10 (or downplayed or made optional). Ironically, much of what made Windows 8 radically new is gone and won’t be missed by the majority. That said, Windows 10 is good and should please more of those who cling to XP (come on, it’s 20 years old) or Win7.

Annoying Windows 8 features that won’t appear in Windows 10 By Brian Burgess, February 26, 2015, for Gizmag

 Posted by at 8:14 pm
Jan 212015

I’ve been intrigued by Joe Belfiore for some time. He is a big-wig at Microsoft, but he dresses like he works for Google or Apple (not an insult to anyone). Flat asymmetrical hair, t-shirt under sportcoat, sneakers, and never a tie. I’m OK with that – honest! – I’m just surprised Microsoft is. IBM never would have been. Today, I saw Alex Kipman for the first time. He’s an Xbox big-wig (are these wigs?). If these two are in the same room, it must look like Cure concert.


Above: Joe Belfiore. Below: Alex Kipman.


Below: The Cure.

The Cure

 Posted by at 8:13 pm
Dec 162014

You install the Gestures Beta from the link. I don’t have all the options shown, but it’s a great idea. The Glance screen update is automatic but requires a restart. I see the options, but my Lock screen photo doesn’t display on the Glance screen as predicted.

Glance screen update and innovative new Lumia gesture controls incoming! – Lumia Conversations

 Posted by at 4:31 pm
Nov 112014

Windows Has Changed An Awful Lot In The 30 Years Since Its Unveiling | Business Insider

Bill Gates tablet 2000Bill Gates with a Microsoft tablet in 2000.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 30 years since
Microsoft first showed off Windows to the world.

It’s changed an awful lot in that time.

Thanks to better hardware, the rise of the Internet, and competition from long-time rival (and occasional ally) Apple, Microsoft has managed to stay relevant by releasing updates that meet the needs of hundreds of millions of people all around the world.

Here are the 30 years of Windows, in pictures:

Windows Has Changed An Awful Lot In The 30 Years Since Its Unveiling | Business Insider

 Posted by at 8:01 pm
Oct 302014


You may recognize this print wheel from a Silver-Reed daisy-wheel printer, comparable to an IBM Selectric typewriter. I bought that printer over 25 years ago when I needed better quality than came from the dot matrix printer we were using. The Silver-Reed was replaced by a more-capable laser printer, the first of many I’ve had.

 Posted by at 11:02 am
Oct 132014

I installed Windows 10 Technical Preview on a tablet. After the radical departure Windows 8.0 was from Windows 7, Windows 8.1 refined the separation between the touch-oriented and desktop oriented interfaces. At first blush, Windows 10 looks like a step back to Windows 7. However, the best of the new features of Windows 8.1, such as active tiles and system-wide, consistent implementation of sharing, are smartly woven into the familiar Windows 7 desktop. Looks like a big step in the right direction.

Microsoft: Over A Million People Are Now Part Of Windows Insider Program Trying Out Windows 10

By pradeep on October 13, 2014 Microsoft, Windows, Windows 10

Windows UX head Joe Belfiore today tweeted out that over a million people are now part of Windows Insider Program which allows them to try Windows 10 Technical Preview. Over 200,000 pieces of user-initiated feedback have been submitted by people. You can read some of the top requests from people here.

With Insider program, you’ll get the latest preview builds and an easy-to-use feedback app.

Microsoft: Over A Million People Are Now Part Of Windows Insider Program Trying Out Windows 10

 Posted by at 1:58 pm
Aug 212014

Windows Phone 8.1 will ultimately include themes for customizing the Lock Screen. This is an app that provides the functionality in the meantime.

Live Lock Screen BETA | Windows Phone Apps+Games Store (United States)

Want to truly personalize your lock screen? Live lock screen lets you choose from 6 new lock screen layouts to add a distinctive touch to your Windows Phone. Each layout has a revamped design for the time, date, and notifications, as well as a unique unlock animation. You can also cycle through multiple background images throughout the day to keep your lock screen fresh—or just get the latest incredible image from Bing every morning. db946d8b-22d4-49e3-bd32-f3420a8a9617 66a27a60-7f57-4a83-995e-80174cdeab85 092d4d13-6585-4114-90f0-1dade56d38b7 97f74ade-4f39-4e14-b2ad-7698b9e6b0fe

Live Lock Screen BETA | Windows Phone Apps+Games Store (United States)

 Posted by at 9:14 pm
Aug 112014

This is a fantastic age to be a writer or a reader. A writer’s words can reach countless readers in seconds at very little cost. Readers can communicate instantly with each other and writers. Technology has given each of us a printing press, a podium, and an editorial page, as well as immediate and direct feedback never before possible.

The old saying is that difference between a writer and an author is that the latter has been published. More pertinent may be the latter has made money writing. We’re all free to give away content, but how does one make money doing so? That’s not rhetorical: How does one make money writing?

In the last six years, I’ve earned money writing books on computing and photography for a major publisher. My income has not been from royalties but upfront sums plus a few limited bonuses based on early sales. After a certain volume of sales, the publisher makes all the money. That publisher may well be on the verge of collapse due in part to the cost of printing and distributing physical books.

You may have read something about a conflict between Amazon and a different book publisher that has engendered a protest by hundreds of authors. The instigating author lives in New Mexico. His story has gotten some press lately. Amazon sent some customers a surprisingly thoughtful and well-written response.

At issue seems to be how much should e-books cost. In this regard, Amazon may be right that most people want e-books to cost less than $10, but so what? Most people want everything to be free or cheaper than it is. While Amazon makes a good analogy between e-books and paperbacks, they are wrong about or disingenuous in their assertion that e-books are worth less than physical books. Anyone who reads e-books knows that part of the appeal is that they can be read on many different devices, in different formats. The font style and size can usually be adjusted. One can search instantly, add notes, place unlimited bookmarks, even publish those to other readers. E-books can even be updated, which has huge potential. None of this is possible, or at least as easy, with physical books.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think e-books should be cheap and can be much cheaper than physical books. My concern is with who gets to set the price. (My wife set the price of the Kindle edition of her book to be the same as the physical book so as not to undermine sales of the printed edition. That should be her right.) When I have written for publishers, I have had no control over the price of the book. If I choose to self-publish, I want that control. I don’t want Amazon making that decision for me.

The broader issue that all of us who are fans of Amazon should consider is that this just one example of the pressure Amazon puts on its suppliers. In this regard, they are just like Wal-Mart, ready to squeeze every cent out of a supplier. Customers benefit from low costs, but what effect does this have on supply in general? Amazon should let publishers or authors set their own price and buyers decide if the content is worth the price.

 Posted by at 11:18 pm
Aug 092014

A friend asked me in his playful poke-the-bear fashion if Windows Phone is doomed. We all know examples of excellent products that failed and lousy ones that survived, so I’m not placing any bets. However, I really like my Windows Phone and would encourage anyone to consider one, especially anyone who uses Windows on a desktop, laptop, or tablet.

I have been using a Nokia Lumia 928 for just over one year. My phone runs Windows Phone 8.1. My carrier is Verizon. I start with these details because one’s experience with anything computer-related varies, especially with different components.

The lockscreen is quite customizable in terms of background (my photo) and icons (battery level, unread email).

Above: The lockscreen is quite customizable in terms of background (my photo) and icons (battery level, unread email).

Before I list specific features of my setup that I like, know that this is my first smart phone. Truth be told, I’d rather not have any phone at all. However, a few years ago I realized I had to have a mobile phone, so I bought a pay-as-you-go cheapy at Wal-Mart. I mostly used it to talk to my wife. A year ago, a family emergency made us both realize how much we needed Internet connectivity on the road, at times when one couldn’t count on free wifi, particularly while driving between cities. And so, we both ended up with Nokia.

Keep this in mind: I’m late to the game and I refuse to play with Apple. I’m certain there are features I like that are found on other phones. I have no doubt there are features that I like that are better on other phones. If my ignorance outrages you, please write your own blog entry.

One of my favorite features of this phone is the camera. Nokia is widely recognized as having good cameras and camera software. I use my camera many times a day and am rarely disappointed with it, except that it is slow to start. In fact, it has an easy to use interface that controls features found on high-end cameras (exposure value and ISO, for example).

The expanded camera interface allows you to tweak settings by dragging and see the effect immediately. Default interface is uncluttered.

Above: The expanded camera interface allows you to tweak settings by dragging and see the effect immediately. Default interface is uncluttered.

The camera works in concert with another favorite feature: OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. When I take a photo, seconds later it is copied to the cloud. Better still, the photo is automatically copied to any computer I log into. Therefore, I can snap a photo and review it seconds later on my desktop, my big screen TV, or my tablet. This integration and automatic process is terrific.

All photos on the phone (left) and the Web (right). All photos on the phone (left) and the Web (right).

Above: All photos on the phone (left) and the Web (right, on the Windows desktop).

There is an odd negative to this process: it’s one-way. If I delete or edit a photo in my Camera Roll on OneDrive, it is not deleted or edited on my phone. This requires me to delete photos from the camera directly, which is extra work. Oddly, all those copies on other devices are automatically synced (deleted or edited), just not on the phone itself.

OneDrive is entwined with my favorite software from Microsoft: OneNote, which is a limitless notebook with so many features it deserves its own blog entry. I’m writing this in OneNote knowing that it saves automatically and I can open it and edit it on any other computer and on my phone and all of those edits will be handled gracefully. I use this every day for journaling. My wife and I maintain shared shopping lists with little tap-able checkboxes. (My final blog entry will be copied into MS Live Writer, a great tool Microsoft has abandoned, and uploaded to WordPress which will deliver it to your browser.)

I should stress that all this data traffic flows over WiFi for free and does not require data service from Verizon.

So far, this sounds like a computer, not a phone. I do indeed use it for communication. The phone itself is better than that cheap clamshell I had before. I like having friends’ photos appear when they call and the fact that I can give each person a unique ringtone. (This goes a long way to helping me over my anxiety of not knowing who is calling.) Nokia also has easy and almost unlimited caller blocking, which doesn’t seem to be a Windows Phone feature and which Verizon makes much more difficult. I would add an option to send anyone not in my contacts directly to voicemail.

 sample of the screen that appear during a call.

Above: A sample of the screen that appear during a call. (Photo by MRudd.)

I also text and I enjoy the smart autocorrect that learns my preferences as I use it. For example, when I type ‘coco’ it’s no surprise coconut is offered but when I chose that, milk appears next. (I’d like to see the keyboard offer more choices when a key is held down, such as when one holds down the period. This would save me from switching keyboard layouts.)

Multiple key options by pressing and holding some keys. Auto-correct above that.

Above: Multiple key options by pressing and holding some keys. Auto-correct above that.

In the screenshot above, note the three dots in the lower right corner. A tap expands the bottom row of buttons to reveal labels (in case you don’t grok the icons) and additional options. This is a fantastic feature I hope Microsoft adds to Windows on the desktop as the two converge.

And, of course, there is email on my phone. It was my phone that weaned me from gmail, something I could not have imagined before that. I like Outlook just fine and now gmail looks overwrought to me. (On the other hand, Google Calendar is still much better than Microsoft’s.)

All of this communication (including Skype, which I don’t use on my phone) integrates into Contacts, which is also cloud-based and syncs to all my machines. I can place tiles on my phone for any contact or group of contacts for quick access and automatic updates of their activity.

Tiles are the most obvious feature of Windows Phones. Instead of static icons, tiles show data or images and update regularly. They are resizable and movable. At a glance, I see the date, time, weather, number of missed calls, voicemail, and text messages, as well as a count of unread email. In turn, all of this, as well as information served up by other apps, has recently been integrated into the action center just a swipe away.

Tiles of all sizes displaying constantly updating data.

Above: Tiles of all sizes displaying constantly updating data.

The latest updates to Windows Phone 8.1 include folders which contain tiles. While this feature exists on other phones, here the tiles are ‘live’ and show their data within the folder tile. All of these are resizable and movable. Quite cool.

Most of these icons are folders displaying live content from multiple icons. A tap expands the folder.

Above: Most of these icons are folders displaying live content from multiple icons. A tap expands the folder.

Yeah, I spend too much time staring at screens.

[my photos of dragonflies on flickr]

Nokia 928 on Amazon

 Posted by at 11:47 am