I’ve migrated this site over to http://blog.robertseder.com
If you subscribe to the RSS feed – please update your links! The new feed URL is:
As I mentioned, I got a Surface tablet last week and blogged about my first impressions.
Since then, I’ve been using it quite a bit. I also have been reading lots of other reviews to see what people like and don’t like. It would seem the #1 thing people dislike is that there are “not enough apps in the app store”.
This isn’t just one or two people, it seems EVERYONE is saying this. But why is this important? If you ask the same person: “Is there some functionality you want, where there isn’t an app?” or “Is there something you can’t do now, because there isn’t an app?” – almost everyone would respond “no”.
So, for “most” people, the apps that are available more than suffice. There is an app for just about anything you can imagine. You only have like 5 choices instead of 25 different options – that’s basically the difference. So, “how many apps are in the store” seems to be this major sore point!
I will say this, there are apps that do come out JUST for iOS – like this Phillips Hue light bulb that you can control (only) from your iPhone. If things like this are valuable to you, or if you commonly use vendor-specific apps (away from major companies – like amazon, ebay, bofa, chase, etc) – then true, those apps have not been ported to WinRT.
But for the other 95% of people?
All I can say is I have completely replaced my iPad experience with my Surface. A couple of newer apps are a little buggy, which is frustrating, but most apps are pushing out updates every day or two (since this is all still pretty new) – so I feel somewhat confident that those issues will wind down. So after using this pretty heavily for 3 days, I don’t have any real issues or problems. In fact, I’d say I’m “completely” happy with it.
Oh, and tonight on AOTS, even self-described iOS fanboi Matt Mira gave the Surface a 4.5 out of 5 stars – which is nothing short of shocking. Why did he take off the .5 point? Because there weren’t enough apps in the app store.
First, this is about :18 minutes long – but it covers a lot of REALLY compelling things about Windows Phone 8, shown in a intuitive way:
Also, this is like a minute-long commercial – but it’s pretty good too:
For those that just want the bottom-line:
Did Microsoft “bring it”? Yes. This is a very impressive piece of hardware and WinRT runs beautifully on it. Then again, so was the story with Windows Phone 7 – that was also a really, really great product. The question isn’t whether Microsoft can “deliver the goods” – it can, and has. The question is whether they can market it and make it “cool”; whether they can build momentum. I guess we’ll find out.
As far as my other thoughts – this seems like a pretty great little device. To help subsidize the cost and because I don’t need two tablets, I sold my iPad on ebay (for $30 less than what I paid for it!). I used the iPad for a few months. In the end, I realized what a tablet is good for, for me:
So, going into the Surface tablet, that’s pretty much what I wanted to address. I’ve done all of that – it does all of these really well. In particular, I use Feed Reader for reading blog posts and MetroTwit for twitter:
Feed Reader is great because it syncs with Google Reader. So, let’s say you find an interesting blog – you log into http://reader.google.com – log in, add the RSS feed and you’re done. Anytime you launch Feed Reader (on any device), it will sync up with Google Reader. Not only does it sync what has been read/not-read – it also will start showing you the posts from that newly-added feed. When you mark them as “read”, they are marked as read everywhere. I have found this to be pretty efficient way to work through the RSS feeds that I follow. Oh, and as I find an interesting post – I can bring up the “charm” menu on the right and “Share” it with Metrotwit, which posts a tweet with the link, and the title of the article and/or I can type and add my comments too.
A note on the cameras – it has a front and back-facing camera, they both looked surprising good to me. They take 1MP pictures or 720p video – so more than adequate for Skype.
Now, the “Touch Cover” – that is a really impressive piece of technology all it’s own! First, it’s sort of a “felt” type of finish. The keys don’t depress but it’s easy to type on. it’s better than typing on the screen (if you have a flat surface to work on). Also, that cover has a trackpad. I don’t know how that thing works – but it actually works well!
Lastly, the touch cover connects to the device with a magnet. Now, I know what you’re thinking “great, that thing must fall off ALL the time”. But no! The magnet is SUPRISINGLY strong. I mean you can hang the device in the air, just holding the cover – and shake it and the Surface still stays connected (well, unless you shake it really vigorously. Point is, the magnet is strong enough to hold the 1.5lb device dangling from it – so the cover doesn’t come off especially easily. But, you can remove it if you want.
The power charger also connects via a second “magnet connector” – no ports/parts to wear-out and get loose!
Should you get a touch cover? Well, it covers the FRONT side of the tablet, but offers no protection on the back. Plus, if you plan to use this mostly on your lap, the keyboard part probably won’t be very useful (the kickstand works best on a flat surface). So, maybe wait until a tradition cover comes out?
Bottom line, this works just as expected and has completely replaced what I liked about the iPad. It is NOT a laptop replacement, in my opinion, if for no other reason than you couldn’t sit on a couch and type with it. The kickstand is very strong, and it works, but it’s a fixed angle and is meant to work on a solid surface. It simply doesn’t work well sitting your lap. The touch keypad and kickstand pretty much only work reasonably when you are sitting at a table.
Here are some pictures of the unboxing…
The title is worded like a riddle – and you would think a blog post would cover the answer, but in this case, I am baffled!!
I get a run-time exception that ExternalException was not handled, yet – that line of code is running inside of a try..catch block that explicitly catches ExternalException!
What the heck??
Nowadays, you can get IP cameras pretty cheap. If you are not familiar, an IP camera is sort of like a portable/mountable webcam, that has a built-in web server. The purpose being that you can set up this camera, and then view it by going to a certain address in your web browser – if you are connected to the same network.
You can find a bunch, new, which support tilt/pan for around $70-90 on Amazon.
Anyhow, I had something specific in-mind in terms of what I wanted for an user interface, for my cameras. The first step was figuring out how to access the video. I went down that road before and didn’t get very far because the video “stream” it produces was proprietary and not easily consumable. However, I don’t really need a stream – what about just getting snapshots? I just really want a few frames per second and that would be fine.
So, I found this PDF on the Foscam site which describes the web interface to get access to the stream – or in my case, the snapshot. That URL looks something like this:
From there, I used a System.Net.WebRequest to go get the snapshot – I take that stream and put it into a System.Drawing.Image object – and then assign that image to a PictureBox object I have on the screen. I have 4 cameras, so that looks something like this:
Updating the image:
I did some research here and the actual web request takes anywhere from 250ms (1/4 of a second) to 2-3 seconds. I couldn’t find a fix for this. So, as the code stands now, it tries to get a new image a few times per second, but it is not successful and/or it returns from multiple calls at the same time. You still end up with a picture, but there is a just a delay. So, for any given camera, I’ll see an update from twice per second – to an update every 2 seconds.
I also kick off the webrequest and update in another thread by using a Task object. In other words, all 4 cameras as off getting their updated images, while the UI isn’t slowed down or blocked at all during the updates.
Adding timestamp and camera name:
Once you have a .NET System.Drawing.Image object – you can simply create a Graphics object and do a .DrawString on there with the camera name and timestamp of the image:
Dealing with errors:
I chose to still show the timestamp and label – and then just show the exception inside of the image. I will likely change this later. This too, just uses a Graphics object to output text onto the image:
So there it is – a basic viewer for Foscam-style IP cameras. Now that I have basic functionality, I can finish fleshing out my application.
I have had almost all good experiences with both ebay and Dell up until the last few weeks. However, I was recently scammed on ebay – and along the way, I learned some critical things:
Ebay “buyer protection”:
Have you ever read the fine print of what this says? It means that if you sell something… ANYthing, the seller has to warrantee it for 90 DAYS, according to the ebay seller terms. In my case, I sold a laptop – the buyer confirmed everything was fine, and we left each other positive feedback. Then, about a month later, he dropped it and the screen stopped working – he filed a Buyer Protection claim against me of “Item not as described”.
I immediately referenced my ebay auction that explicitly said no refunds/no returns. Next, I referenced the positive feedback and ebay message from the buyer saying he received it and it was working fine. He also left me positive feedback. I didn’t think much of this, because I was clearly in-the-right. I accurately described the item, the buyer confirmed that and was happy. That is, ethically, as a private person, where my responsibility ends.
Now, Ebay immediately puts a hold on your PayPal account for the amount of the auction! Then, ebay reviewed the case on the next day and made a ruling. They ruled on behalf of the buyer, believe it not! As it turns out, ebay said that I HAD to refund the guys money and take back the now-broken laptop! What????!? True story.
What about seller protections, you ask? Well, there aren’t really many – and they certainly aren’t taken anywhere near as serious as buyer claims. I submitted a claim against the buyer because he didn’t send me back everything and I STILL haven’t heard from ebay.
Bottom line for me? I’m done selling on ebay. I believe that when you buy something used, when you take possession, it’s yours. The seller no longer has any responsibility – ethically. I have been on the other side of this COUNTLESS times, and I would never expect a private person to warrantee something that I bought used from them. If they described it accurately and if I took delivery without incident – that is the end of their responsibility. There is inherent risk in buying something used – that is the trade-off you accept for not paying full-price for something new. I have/would NEVER expect a private seller to warrantee something I bought 90 DAYS after a sale – and I’m offended that I was forced to do something I would never do to someone else.
I think the buyer was in the wrong and abused an unfair policy of ebay. I also think ebay is in the wrong for having such a rule. If anything, a seller should be able to opt-in or opt-out of this 90-day warrantee.
But meanwhile, since ebay’s ethics and mine don’t align – I won’t ever sell through them again, it’s simply not right.
I was thinking of using Amazon. Do you have any recommendations on where to sell used stuff (electronics, books, etc) – aside from ebay? Leave a comment below please or shoot me an e-mail!
Also – whether you do or don’t agree with this policy, it certainly wasn’t obvious to me – so FYI in case you weren’t aware, and if you sell things on ebay!
I learned another important lesson in the past couple of weeks. Imagine you buy a used Dell computer. Something goes wrong with it. You call Dell support, you find out it’s still under warrantee. You MUST know the contact details of who the original person is who bought the computer from Dell, or they won’t honor the warrantee and they won’t do any paid service on it either.
Today, I decided to not let this go, I went up 5 levels of escalation on the Customer Care line and got the same answer from every person. I cannot switch the “ownership” into my name without knowing that original owner either. For this particular computer, I bought it on ebay a couple of years ago, so it’s literally impossible for me track down who that person was (and hopefully they also didn’t buy it used)
When I pressed them as to why, they explained that this is to protect the original Dell customer. What if I stole the laptop or somehow possess it without the knowledge of the original owner. I replied “I see. If you are truly worried about your Customers well being, please call them right now and let them know someone is claiming ownership of their laptop – and see what they say!? They might tell you they no longer own the computer!” – Dell of course said “No sir, we don’t call our Customers about things like that.”
It was very clear to me that Dell couldn’t care less about the “security and well-being” of their Customers – they simply use this as an excuse to not honor their warrantee. To put this more bluntly, if you own a Dell computer and if you don’t know who the original owner is – you will never, ever be able to get warrantee work done, get service, or get part information about that computer. I spent quite a bit of time researching this and ultimately on the phone for while to confirm. Imagine how many Dell computers are for sale on ebay at any given time? Unless those buyers gather that original-buyer information at purchase-time – imagine how many warrantees that Dell gets to get out of!?
By the way, if you DO know the original owner details, you can submit this form to transfer the ownership into your name. If the details don’t match though, they will deny the transfer.
Again, this comes down to ethics. In the first example, I don’t expect a private person to warrantee a used item. However, Dell (a company) CHOSE to explicitly warrantee their product, and incorporates that into the cost of the computer. However, they use this little technique to get out of having to honor the warrantee that part of the cost of the computer.
What ever happened to ethics in our society? In college, I had two mandatory ethics classes I needed to take. I would assume that most everyone had to too, right? It’s just very frustrating.
My bottom line here, after 2 days of going back and forth with Dell – and after buying many, many, many computers, and recommending Dell to many people – I’m done. I will never buy a new or used Dell again – and I will actively encourage people not to buy Dell either. I hope the money they “saved” by not honoring that warrantee made up for all the future sales and sales lead I would’ve given them.