So I Created A New App For Windows Phone, TWiTNOW

The first question you may be asking is, “What the heck is TWiT?” TWiT, or TWiT.tv is an internet podcast network focused on technology. In fact, TWiT in an acronym for the networks first show This Week in Tech.

TWiTNOW is an application for Windows Phone focused on viewing and listening to the TWiT.TV live streams on Windows Phone. The app features a simple interface for consuming TWiT.TV live video and audio streams. Choose from the four available TWiT.tv HTTP live streams, or listen to the TWiT audio stream.

The reasoning for building this application is simple. Windows Phone doesn’t natively support Apple HTTP Live Streaming, or HLS, nor does it support Adobe’s Flash, leaving you dead in the water for viewing TWiT streams live. There are other apps in the Windows Phone Store that replicate this fuctionality, but our aim was to make it as simple as possible.

Official Product Page
Windows Phone Store

Special thanks to TWiT, the Microsoft Media Platform Player Framework, and the Windows Phone Streaming Media project. TWiT® and the TWiT Logo are registered trademarks of TWiT LLC. These netcasts are released under a Creative Commons License.

The Reality Of Life

429648_10151513971385469_319353177_n_edited

This summer has been a particularly hard one for my family. The summer brought the passing of both my uncle and my grandfather. And while death is something that we could never get use to, it is in fact a reality of life.

I can recall of when I was younger, feeling a true sense of emptiness once I had been given the realization that everything that lives must die. If one positive can be deemed from this is that it gives us the impetus to make the best of the time we are given, while also preparing for the next life depending on your beliefs.

Uncle Sam was always very kind to me—in additional to making the best lasagna this side of the Mississippi. I can remember working with him the summer prior to going off to college. And although the actual process of setting up mobile homes across the state of Mississippi has never come in handy for me afterward, the added respect for hard work was worth more than its weight in gold. What I learned more than anything was exactly what type of work I did not want to do for the rest of my life, giving me a different perspective when looking at possible career options. Not to say that I would not—or could not—do that type of work, but it gave me a greater understanding of what I did not like. I immensely respect people who work outside, especially in extreme conditions, it cannot be easy.

Then there is my grandfather, whom I and my son share the same name. Whom we also called Big Dad, rather than granddad.

“Put that rock down. You better not throw that”, granddad shouted as I was having one of my particularly defiant moments. This being one of the few times I can remember being outright defiant toward my grandfather as a child—and obviously being absent minded of the consequences of disobeying a direct order. Rock thrown. Whipping followed. I can remember my grandfather saying he thought I’d be a handful when I got older. Thank goodness my path became much more straight and narrow than it began.

Then there were the great times we spent “hauling wood” for the winter with him, or going to his church for one of those “soul stirring” revivals. Things were not always perfect, but it was clear that love reigned supreme in our family.

There is no way these few words can give them justice, but I will miss both my uncle and grandfather. I will never forget the memories, guidance, faith, and love they showed. Talking a great game is one thing, but walking that walk is the greatest example you can give. Thank you.

Study The Word 1.6 Now Available!

Untitled-1

We are excited to announce that an update is available for Study The Word for users on Windows Phone 8 and above devices. This update provides features such as: improved live-tile support, added transparent live-tile support, re-designed landing page, improved book-page navigation, added settings page, many user interface tweaks, and bug fixes / code optimization. Download now from the Windows Phone Store.

Improved Live-Tile Update Support

Live-tile now works with a background agent to provide timely updates for those utilizing verse of the day functionality.

Transparent Live-Tile Support

Live-tile is now updated with transparent background for using utilizing the background wallpaper feature on Windows Phone 8.1 and above.

Re-designed Landing Page / Hub

Initial start-up page now features a hub-style interface, showing recent verse, verse of the day, search, and icons for other useful functionality.

Added Settings Page

Added support to fully reset all or parts of the applications, including clearing recent history, bookmarks, or downloaded translations.

Verse Of The Day is Free! — For A Limited-Time

WUDANBAL-DVP8 - WIN_20140528_102549

For users on the Windows Phone 8 platform, Study The Word’s in-app purchase, Verse of the Day, is free for a limited-time! Get your copy now as the offer will only be available until June 1, 2014.

All we ask is for you to get the word out about our application. Spread the word by posting to Twitter, posting to Facebook, emailing a friend, or whatever social networks you frequent. Thanks for being a user and enjoy.

The name says it all. The new Verse of the Day feature provides the user with an inspirational verse each and every day they open the application. Verses have been carefully curated from many sources, to provide rich and uplifting verses that will spur the user in their daily pursuit to become closer to God.

Additionally, verses can be shared by holding the verse, which will reveal a number of sharing options, including SMS, Share To Email, Share To Social Networks, Share Screenshot, and Send To Clipboard. These sharing options makes it simple to pass the inspiration on to others in your circle.

Verse of the Day, along with Hear The Word, adds additional useful functionality to your favorite free Bible application on Windows Phone.

Should there be a Kinect-less Xbox One SKU?

Why not kill Kinect? Recently the question was posed to me, “Do you think Microsoft would ever sell the Xbox One without the Kinect?” At the time I was firmly adamant that Microsoft would never do such a thing, stating that they have gone all-in on Kinect on the Xbox One. In that same discussion, we talked about the Nintendo Wii-U and the added expense that Nintendo ensues on the Gamepad, which we decided hadn’t been taken advantage of nearly enough. I then raised the idea of Nintendo selling the Wii-U sans Gamepad. I was quickly put in-check as to why I thought Nintendo could sell the Wii-U without the Gamepad, and Microsoft could not sell the Xbox One without the Kinect. Obviously, this got me thinking.

Of course the Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo GamePad are both integral experiences to their respective systems, so much so that both companies have stated on the record, that they won’t be selling their consoles without said devices. Be that as it may, stances change.

Admittedly, the Xbox One is fairly early on in its life-cycle, and there is little data to go on. There has only been a few major titles thus far that have been positioned to be totally dependent on the Kinect—Kinect Sports Rivals, Just Dance 2014, and Zumba Fitness World Party.

In addition to the games outlined above—along with all the other games that may only marginally use Kinect’s functions—Kinect will automatically sign a user in, allow for video calling in the Skype app, can be used for working out with the Xbox Fitness app, and can even be used with the Twitch app for game streaming. All the aforementioned things are certainly nice to have, and could not exist without Kinect. Microsoft has not only packed in the Kinect for the developer guarantee, but to also take advantage of the hardware within integral functions of the Xbox itself.

In my own personal use, I do use my Kinect, and use it often. Ninety-five percent of my interaction with the device is done in the form of voice control. The other five percent is when it signs me in automatically or the occasional Skype call, which is nice, but not necessary. Also the Kinect IR blasting capabilities are pretty helpful, and is something I would miss a lot if it were gone. I don’t think I’ve manually turned on my television since setting up the console.

So again, could the Xbox One exist without the Kinect?

At this point, Kinect has been woven into the very fabric of what the Xbox One is. Without it, you are automatically cut off from certain games, apps, and integral console functions.  It stands to reason that voice control could conceivably be built directly into future consoles. But even so, certain other things will be instantly lost from what makes this console unique. A Kinect-less Xbox One would alienate you from games and apps, taking away an important developer guarantee that every use will at least have the hardware.

The main reason that killing the Kinect would be a good idea would be the price of the console, but beyond that, the reasons are few. With sales trailing behind that of the PlayStation 4, there is a need to reach price-parity as soon as possible. Also the argument could be made that there hasn’t been a title that truly compels a gamer to latch onto the use of the device. That may be true, but we are only six months into this consoles life, and  it’s much too early to tell whether that title will come or not.

Finally, a Kinect-less SKU would ultimately have a negative effect on the Xbox One, and I don’t see any chance of Microsoft selling the console without it. At first glance, it seems do-able, but a closer look reveals how deeply integrated the Kinect has been channeled into every aspect of this console. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I would certainly be shocked if it does. Now about that Wii-U Gamepad…  

Windows 8, Taming the Two-Headed Beast

surface

When Microsoft first debuted their new and improved touch interface—which was originally known as Metro—for Windows 8, people flipped, and not in the good way. Windows 8 was different, really different. This was Microsoft’s volley to hoist their device converging software upon the masses, attempting to bridge the gap between tablet and desktop environments.

There is no doubt that things went awry very early-on as information started to leak about the new operating system, with hardcore user’s non-acceptance, and novice user’s shock and confusion. Even before Windows 8 actually reached the hands of its consumers, things weren’t looking good for the guys over in Redmond. Initially this angst seemed more of a clear revolt against change to a touch-first focus, rather than truly bad design. But uneasiness grew even stronger as Microsoft rolled out betas of the new operating system and the worst fears of early adopters were realized.

In the wake of said fears, it has taken Windows 8 quite some time to penetrate the market, as most corporations have stuck with the now rock-solid Windows 7 or the now un-supported Windows XP. All the while everyday-consumer trends have been moving toward the now popular tablet solutions for most computing needs. Weather it be Apple’s iPad or the smattering of Android tablets, the writing seems to be on the wall for the desktop computer, at least in the minds of the average mainstream user.

Now that we are well over a year and a half into Windows 8 being prevalent in the computing retail atmosphere, I have begun to see more and more people using the new operating system, and it hasn’t been pretty. In the cases where I’ve played tech-support, attempts to educate would-be adopters have ended with them either going completely back to Windows 7, or using third-party tools to alleviate the pain to use something so vastly different. Power and novice users alike have been universally on the same page about their opinion of Windows 8, they don’t want the Modern user-interface.

As I’ve stated before, implementing a tablet interface into their mainstay product seemed to be a reasonable move for Microsoft, but a major miscalculation in the mainstream acceptance of a half-tablet half-desktop amalgamation of software would leave customers in dismay, and Microsoft scrambling for a solution. Simply put, Microsoft should not have forced Metro/Modern UI on their users. From the company’s perspective, this was a brilliant move, and I can agree with their position except for one glaring fact, people hate Metro. Or at least they hate what Metro originally was and stood for.

Of course my advice to some of thinking of Metro as a glorified Start Screen should be enough in most cases, but I can’t be blind to the fact that Windows 8, as it originally shipped, required a new way of thinking. And we all know what happens when a user is presented with even the slightest change in the way an application’s user-interface works right? Just ask Facebook.

SurfaceArrivesinSeat_Web (1)

Many steps have been taken to alleviate the pain of the new UI. With Windows 8.1, which came out nearly a year after Windows 8 as a freely available upgrade, Microsoft added much needed user-interface and desktop changes that made things a bit more tolerable for the legacy user like: booting directly to desktop, an all apps view on the Start Screen, and an actual Start Button among other things.

  • The Start Button Returns
  • Boot to Desktop
  • More Lock screen and Start Screen Options
  • Refreshed Xbox Music
  • Better Search
  • Better Multi-Monitor Support
  • Windows Store Improvements
  • More Extensive OneDrive Integration
  • More Comprehensive Metro Control Panel
  • 3D-Printing Support

Even with these changes, most people didn’t feel Microsoft went far enough. So this year Microsoft dropped Windows 8.1 Update, which can mostly be seen as a service pack. This update provided additional improvements to, again, move things more inline with the Windows of times past. Improvements in this update included: a more prominent power button, the ability see open Metro applications on the taskbar for desktop users, and the ability to x-close Metro applications for desktop users, among many more features geared toward traditional desktop users.

  • Modern App Title Bar
  • Start: Search
  • Start: Power button
  • Start and Apps: Context menu

These changes have been welcomed. And with the induction of a new CEO, Satya Nadella, Microsoft has moved to a cadence of rapid release that will hopefully make for a better Windows for both the desktop and tablet users alike, ultimately fostering a more palatable experience and improve adoption. What was originally a usability problem has now become more-less a perception problem. Most of the glaring issues that would have keep someone away have been addressed in its current iteration, making for a less-jarring, more familiar experience.

Some changes are easier to handle than others. Windows 8 was a huge change. Was it the right move? Who knows, but one things is clear. When your company is as vast as Microsoft is, and your piece of software is so entrenched in the DNA of the computing industry, any change is going to be a huge thing. Should a tablet-centric operating system be separate from a traditional desktop system? Probably, but what’s done is done. Let’s just hope Microsoft continues to steer this humongous ship in the right direction. Here’s for veering away from that iceberg.

Sources: ExtremeTech, WinSuperSite

 

Microsoft, It’s Time For An Xbox Platinum Membership

xbox

Over the past few years or so, Microsoft have made a targeted effort to put all their entertainment services under the Xbox moniker, dropping the branding of times past, with the death of the Zune and the emergence of Windows Phone. With said changes, there has come a wide-array of branding efforts to meld the look and feel of the Xbox Music and Xbox Video applications across Windows 8, Xbox One, and Windows Phone devices.

The question that’s begging to be asked is, “Other than the obvious branding benefits of having Music and Video under the same name, why use the Xbox brand.” The answer to this question is in-fact more simple than one would realize. The Xbox is easily one of Microsoft’s most-beloved business areas. It’s one of the few areas of the company that has garnered an Apple-like cult following. While attempting to quantify the amount of rabid  fanboyism surrounding the Xbox brand, one only needs to look at the colossal manner in which the Xbox 360 hardware was botched. The debacle was a result of console overheating, playing out very much in the public eye. It even fostered its own nickname, The Red Ring Of Death. Yet the massively loyal following was still there. Overcoming such an overwhelmingly critical-blow while maintaining an avid fan-base, shows the Xbox brand has the hearts and minds of the people.

And while these unification efforts have come as  a welcomed changed, it still feels like something may be missing with the formula. Why have various services under the same name, with similar look and feel, without providing the financial incentive across each? Wouldn’t it be worth while to create financial effectiveness with each of their offerings.

To point out a service that gets this right, we need look no further than Amazon and its Prime Membership. What do you get with a prime membership: two-day shipping from Amazon.com, unlimited instant streaming from Amazon Prime Video, and the ability to borrow books on your Kindle. That’s what synergy looks like.

In a recent interview Phil Spencer, who is the new head of Xbox, stated,  “I go back and I look at 1999 with Apple. And they, on the back of music, became a very relevant consumer brand.”

And it’s obvious that Xbox is attempting to do the same with the its brand as the core of entertainment on all Microsoft platforms. Yet and still there is a need to take things a bit further. That step could be the inclusion of an additional tier of Xbox Membership. So what would an Xbox Live Platinum membership entail? Making services that have the Xbox name, feel more like Xbox services. This is not just about the visual aesthetic and coalescence in name, but the services themselves.

Start off by making Xbox Music streaming available on Xbox One, Windows Phone, as well as Windows 8 for those paying for this tier of service. The fact that even the ad-supported version—like on Windows 8— is not there for at least  paying Gold members is a bit of a travesty. I think a lot of people would pay a bit more for a platinum membership if this was included. And to be honest, very few people are going to pay the normal $99.99 a year for a music subscription alone.

Next, provide more value in Xbox Video by providing an allotted amount of movies available each month at no additional cost. This can be done in a way that is something along the line of Games with Gold, or even just a static number for any movies on the service. This would also provide extra value to Xbox Video as a service, by allowing more familiarity with the platform.

Another thing they could look at is extending the Games with Gold model to other platforms. How about one free Window Phone or Window 8 game a month for those with a platinum membership? Sony does this now by including the PlayStation Vita in their free games a month offering. Or better yet, once the newly announced universal apps are in place, provide one free a month.

How about some free SkypeOut minutes? This is something that I see probably not even being used that much, but sometimes its the thought that counts. I would speculat the amount of people actually purchasing Skype minutes is very low. Margin for this portion of the Skype service can’t be great, but the potential sentiment for subscribers of an all-encompassing subscription can be.

Additionally, but probably the least likely, implement some form of Office 365 rights for the platinum member. The ability to install Microsoft Office on one device would be enough to add value for even the lightest of office users.

Again, all of the aforementioned proposals are not only meant to make Xbox Live as a service a better proposition, but also to foster a sense of cohesiveness among Microsoft as a company. With Satya Nadella at the helm as the new CEO, and Phil Spencer now taking over the Xbox reigns, the time is ripe to make a huge impact on the company in Redmond. If Microsoft is truly now a services company, then in the words of a one Jean-Luc Picard, “Make it so.”

These are just a few things that come to my head. What are your ideas?

I Listen To Way Too Many Podcasts

47835-monday_podcast_setup

I’m a podcast addict. Since my first Apple iPhone back in the day, I have found myself listening to a wide-array of these online radio shows. While finding the time to indulge in the plethora of content out there may be harder from some than others, there is certainly something out there for everyone.

Enter my personal podcast playlist. This list changes from time to time, but the core shows tend to remain the same, containing the necessary listening for the gaming and technology focused podcast-listening geek. Hopefully this humble-bundle will put you well on the path to addition.

Everyone

Geek-Focused

Gamer-Focused

  • DLC, Jeff Cannata’s weekly show that covers video and table-top gaming.
  • Garnett on Games, Garnet Lee’s weekly show about the gaming industry.
  • Giant Bombcast, the GiantBomb crew talks about the happening in gaming.
  • Reality Breached, an in-depth look at the Video Game industry and its business practices.
  • Techpedition, technology ramblings and entertainment from the Techpedition pundits.
  • Xbox Live’s Major Nelson Radio, Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson’s weekly podcast.

Developer-Focused

Defiance — Season 1 Review

The Defiance franchise comes with a lot of baggage in tow, presented as part television show, part video game. Being marketed as such may be something that could bolster the series to popularity, or ultimately be its downfall, especially if one turns out to be an epic fail. The writing may be on the wall for the video game portion, as thus far the game has gotten lackluster reviews. Be that as it may, we will be taking a look at season one of the television series, to see if it can at least hold up its end of the bargain.

In the not too distant future, the Votans, a collection of seven different races, arrive on earth. A planet in which they had previously thought to be uninhabited, or so we are originally told. What first starts off as peaceful negotiations, then gradual colonization, leads to a global war known as the ‘Pale Wars’, which culminates in the Ark fleet exploding, releasing massive terra-forming technology on earth. After the ‘Arkfall’ event, a peace treaty is brokered, resulting in a war-torn earth in which humans and the Votans are forced to co-exist.

In the opening of the series we are introduced to Joshua Nolan (Grant Browler) and his daughter Irisa Nyira (Stephanie Leonidas). But something is obviously different about this father-daughter duo. Irisa is an alien—an Irathient to be exact—and her supposed father is a human who served in the Pale Wars. We later learn they become a duo after Irisa’s village was raided and her parents were killed. But there is more to this girl than meets the eye.

We find that Irisa and Nolan live as nomads, moving from place to place, scavenging valuable items left over from the Pale Wars in order to survive. Their journey eventually leads them to a place called Defiance, which you and I know as St. Louis, Missouri. Once the duo arrive in Defiance in an attempt to make some money from a recent find, they are compelled to stay through an uncontrollable series of events in which Nolan becomes the town law-keeper.

The series plays on the human-alien conflict, the search for valuable artifacts, and an underlying power struggle between Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz)—the newly appointed town’s mayor—and her followers, versus Datak Tara (Tony Curran)—a very powerful but shady Castihan businessman—and his followers. Most of the series follows the antics surrounding these political and cultural differences, in which Amanda is eventually challenged for her seat as mayor by Datak. Not surprisingly the season is filled with a host of secrets, treachery, lies, and scheming from Datak to bolster his cause.

Then there is the search for very powerful artifacts, which are known to be somewhere in the mines of Defiance. Many are willing to kill to get the artifacts, most surprisingly of which is the former mayor Nicolette Riordan (Fionnula Flanagan). It is later revealed the artifacts are the key to a powerful ancient ship.

Throughout the series we see protagonist Nolan keeping the order as much as possible to keep Defiance safe from not only internal power struggle, but from external confrontation as well. Which comes in the from of the Volge, Irathient Riders, and The Earth Republic. Nolan, his deputy-daughter Irisa, and deputy Tommy LaSalle (Dewshane Williams), handle most everything in stride, with the town coming together to aid in extreme circumstances.

As it stands Nolan is pretty much a bad-ass who can handle most any situation, due to his military training and experience in the Pale Wars. As a lawman he’s a likable guy and holds a strong allegiance to the mayor who hired him. Iriza on the other hand doesn’t carry that charm. She is a quiet and very violent person who acts one hundred percent on emotion. As the story unfolds we find there is something special about her that is only starting to unfold by the end of the season. We eventually find the artifact found somehow has something to due with Iriza, and awakens special powers within her.

All in all, for me to say that I’m excited about season two would be a it of an overstatement. And I dare not say the overly used phrase “cautiously optimistic.” I’ll continue to watch this show with the same perspective I’ve had from the start, not expecting a lot, but welcoming the occasional pleasant surprise. The second season of Defiance begins sometime in June on the SYFY channel.

Source: Wikipedia, Official Defiance Website

So, I Watched Flight — Denzel, Planes, and Addiction

02

I really, really liked this movie. Flight is not so much the movie said title implies, but one that takes you through the winding road of the ramifications of uncontrolled addiction. And Flight does so in top form.

Flight stars the Oscar-award winning actor Denzel Washington, along with Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Jon Goodman and Kelly Reilly in supporting roles. We see Denzel portraying Whip Whitaker, an alcohol/drug-addicted pilot who has to deal with the fallout of being caught flying under the influence.

Under normal circumstances, this would have been an open and shut case, but Whip’s intoxication only comes to light after he miraculously saves nearly all of his passengers and crew, in the wake of a disaster deemed “an act of God”. All but six survived the disaster, but in the wake of such undeniably grim odds, Whip’s wit, experience, and intuition, enabled him to pull of an almost impossible maneuver. Only after this disaster does the ensuing medical analysis reveal Whip’s aforementioned alcoholic state.

While initially one would think this is movie is about the miracle that was the safe landing of a plane in peril, in reality, it’s all about addition. And the narrative of Whips struggle to overcome what we find is a devastating illness that has not only destroyed his career, but also his family.

In the wake of the plane crash, Whip is initially deemed a hero, the media is all aflutter about the miracle that was. Whip managed to accomplish the impossible. But soon after ensuing investigations, he finds himself in hot water with the Federal Flight Administration about possible criminal charges due to his intoxication while flying.

10

This movie is the story of the ramifications thereof. And while to journey to get to the heart of Whip’s problems is great, still the story leaves something to be desired. Greatest of which is that it doesn’t just come out and say why Denzel’s character has become so addicted. The movies alludes that it may have had something to do with his father’s passing, which may have been escalated even more when his wife couldn’t deal with his drinking episodes, which ultimately results in a disconnected relationship with his family, and a son that hates him. I only wish they would have explored this avenue a bit more, giving just a bit more explanation. And maybe this was purposely left as an exercise for the viewer to decide. Even so, it felt a bit lacking. That being said, he does come out and say at some point in the movie that, “I drink because I want to and that is what I like and nobody will stop me.”, but even this seems only to scratch the surface at best.

As far as performances go, Danzel delivers on a believable character that felt very real and raw. This movie only underlines the fact that Denzel plays a great anti-hero, a role I have grown to love seeing him portray. The supporting cast ties to shape him up, doing their best to get him through this ordeal that may not only end his career, but may land him in jail.

Bruce Greenwood plays the role of Whip’s mentor and long-time friend Charlie, a role not too dis-similar from his role in the Star Trek reboot. He is in Whip’s corner, even though Whip doesn’t necessarily want him to be. Charlie is also a union representative. He and Don Cheadle’s character work together to not only save Whip, but clear the airline of all negligence. Rounding out Whip’s corner is John Goodman, who plays his fellow addict friend, and Kelly Reilly, who is a recovering addict turned loved interest.

After the events of the crash, the movie is all about Danzel battling his addiction, while trying not to get thrown in prison.

All-in-all, anyone who loves Denzel would love this movie. He delivers another stellar performance. The pacing of my movie manages to keep you on your feet, even after the major action event of the plane crashing, which takes place early on. The ending is sure to keep you guessing as we are never entirely sure if Whip will change his overly addictive ways to make it though an ordeal that will determine the path of the remainder of his life. If you like Danzel, airplanes, and addition-movies, this may be for you.