ESRI User Conference 2009 Recap

•November 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

For those who didn’t get to attend the San Diego User Conference in person this, ESRI spent some time putting on local presentations of the Plenary Session. My co-workers and I attended the one given in Bellevue today and came away quite impressed. T.J. Abbenhaus, Heather Glock, & Leah Saunders were outstanding in going over the highlights. The only thing missing were the freebies.

Quite a few things from ArcGIS 9.3.1 were reviewed although the refresher was nice. Besides the significant improvements to the ArcGIS Server rendering I think layer packages and ArcGIS Online (which Jack Dangermond described as “GeoFlickr”) are going to go over big. We’re going to have to start enhancing our FTP site by providing layer packages which include the symbology that so many users have asked for in the past. Also mentioned was an ESRI Business Solution named MapIt. This was developed by ESRI to take advantage of Microsoft platform & technology such as SQL Server 2008 spatial datatypes, SharePoint, Bing maps, Excel & Silverlight to implement GIS-enabled enterprise solutions. Very interesting.

Next up was ArcGIS 9.4 rumored to be available around the time of the 2010 User Conference. Many changes to the user interface will be introduced – most for the better as long as it doesn’t go “ribbon” on us. I especially liked the dockable windows (which don’t cause a screen refresh) and the addition of edit templates. The map book capability has been greatly improved. Other changes or additions include an open API to the file geodatabase, replication of SDE data (non-versioned and multiple schemas), a new mosaic imagery catalog, the inclusion of some features from Image Analyst (the ENVI rooftop demo was awesome), and the ability for non-licensed clients to view Maplex labels. An interesting Python script was also shown that allowed reconnecting the data sources for multiple map documents – very cool.

After that, there were introductions to and demos of the Map Templates followed by a short overview of the “Creating Effective Web Maps” seminar.

All in all, a fully worthwhile use of the day!

RCA Studio II

•August 15, 2009 • 4 Comments

RCA Studio II (1977) I came across the article “Fifteen Classic Game Console Design Mistakes” and was blown away. The RCA Studio II was the first video game console we had as a family. I believe my dad brought it home for Christmas – either 1977 or 1978. To indicate how surprising that charitable action was we didn’t get an Atari 2600 until 1983, cable until 1984, or a VCR until 1989. So the fact my dad, not being either an electronics or games guy, bought this console with three game cartridges (Baseball, Blackjack, & Tennis) was unexpected. To be honest this unit wasn’t anything really special. The unit only displayed in black & white, the graphics were blocky and unattractive, most of the games required two players, and the games had some quirks:

  • Bowling“, one of the five built-in games, had a propensity for producing splits unless you hit the pocket just right. Also, if I recall correctly,  there was no carry over for spares or strikes so they scored 15 and 20 points respectively.
  • Patterns” & “Freeway“, two of the other built-in games, were interesting for the first minute and quite boring after that.
  • Blackjack” was irritatingly un-winnable. If memory serves me right the House popped up natural 21’s much more frequently than the players. And don’t even try holding on 16 or 17!
  • Baseball” had one of the most non-obvious features I’ve ever seen. You had to catch the ball in the thick parts of the the glove when fielding a hit – if you caught it in the center of the glove, the thinnest part of the glyph, the ball would pass right through.
  • Tennis” was classic Pong and not much else.

If you’re really interested in learning more about this ancient piece of the hardware, there are pages for the emulator, technical information, screenshots (where these images were linked from), and an FAQ. Updated 7/21/2014: Discovered the website I originally linked to broke the image links. Thankfully, I came across these two sites and was able to recreate them myself:

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

•August 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Just some of the lists (in no particular order) I’ve collected from the various newsletters I subscribe to. I’ll update this as I come across any more interesting lists. So without further ado:

Note: all links will open in a new window.

Creating Effective Web Maps

•June 2, 2009 • 1 Comment

Went to a free seminar hosted by ESRI titled “Creating Effective Web Maps“. The handout (PDF) and slides (PowerPoint) are available from the seminar’s website. Here’s what I got out of it:

  • Layer Packages : this helps solve one of the classic problems of sharing data and layer cartography by exporting both into a single file (LPK) that can be shared. These files can then be automatically loaded into ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Explorer Release 900 from a download link.
  • ArcGIS Online Sharing Web : This is a new portal still in beta form that will allow users to upload and share maps, data, and services in addition to the aforementioned layer packages.
  • Map Templates : These are professional-grade quality templates for cartography and data models developed by ESRI’s own mapping center as well as the user community to serve as standardized symbology and storage if wanted.
  • Map Service Publishing Toolbar : Available with ArcGIS Desktop 9.3.1, this new toolbar includes tools to analyze and help optimize map documents destined for map services and for the creation and publishing of Map Service Definition (MSD) files.
  • ArcGIS Server : At 9.3.1, enhancements have been made to the ArcGIS Server map service engines for faster creation of cached services and high-performance rendering of dynamic map services (with an emphasis on cartography & symbology). Four Analyst Extensions (3D, Spatial, Networks, & Geostatistical) are now included with the Advanced Server Edition while Editing is now included with Standard. There’s also a new licensing option named “Web Map API” which I’ll need to learn more about.
  • Virtual Earth : ArcGIS Desktop users now have direct access to Virtual Earth basemaps while ArcGIS Server licensees can purchase blocks – 100,000 transactions for $250.
  • ArcGIS Web Mapping APIs: Learned more about the JavaScript, Flex, and Silverlight API’s for building web applications. There was talk on the existing sample viewers available for the JavaScript and Flex, the latter being demonstrated more fully including the addition of downloadable Flex widgets, with mention of one coming soon for Silverlight when that API is out of beta.
  • Live User Sites : Lot of promotion for several live (and impressive) user sites such as the City of Greeley, Colorado’s “ORIGIN Property Information Map“, the State of Maryland’s “StateStat” showing the dispersion of stimulus money, Virginia Emergency Operations Center’s “VIPER” (which is not a public-facing site), and “Solar Boston Map“.
  • Building Web Maps Using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript : A new instructor-led class from ESRI specifically aimed at creating modern-looking, high-performance web maps using the JavaScript API. As of the date of this post it’s only being offered in CA, MO, GA, & AZ.

All in all, a very worthwhile half-day seminar especially considering it was free. Many people, including myself, would have gladly paid for the content. Thank you ESRI!

Old-School Programming – The Good Old Days?

•May 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

I read an article over the weekend that had me waxing nostalgic over the good old days of programming – except they weren’t all good. Here’s just a few items from the article (and some of my own) that I can relate to:

In many ways, things have improved and gotten easier. But I also think that without the benefits and the trial & error of yesteryear I wouldn’t have the insightful knowledge that I have today which in the end makes me a better software developer – and more appreciative. What was unthinkable yesterday is possible today.

Changing the Registered Owner and Company Names in Windows

•May 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes it’s necessary to change the name of the registered owner and/or company for a Windows installation. Unfortunately, there is no built-in utility for doing so. Instead, as described in this Microsoft Knowledge Base article, you’ll have to use the Registry Editor (regedit.exe) to do so.

  1. This is an optional step but you can verify the current name settings by running “winver”.
  2. Open the Registry Editor and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion.
  3. There are two registry keys named “RegisteredOrganization” for the company name and “RegisteredOwner” for the owner name. Simply change the values to whatever you’d like.
  4. Close the Registry Editor.
  5. Run “winver” to verify your changes were made.

That’s it – no reboot necessary.

Installing Windows 7 Release Candidate

•May 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Been busy installing W7RC but before doing anything else I ran the “Windows Easy Transfer Tool” to backup personal files and settings. Then it was on with the install.

Nothing new to report with the installation. Everything went smoothly and it even discovered a couple new devices the Beta had not. I Still can’t get the fingerprint reader to work so I’ll have to investigate further.

Updates for my past postings on the Windows 7 Beta:

  • “My Computer”: Permissions issue still applies to the registry key. Taking ownership of the key will allow you to edit it.
  • User Account Picture: There is now an option to browse to a picture to use for the user account picture; maybe I just missed it from the Beta. I’m going to explore what happens when you specify a JPEG or maybe even a web link.
  • Need to confirm behaviour when editing the Start Menu and IIS web root folders.

Managing the Start Menu in the Windows 7 Beta

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Through trial and error I believe I’ve found a pattern of success in managing the Start Menu with UAC set to the Default setting.

Fire up Windows Explorer and navigate to the “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs” folder. If you don’t see the “New Folder” button to the right of “Organize” then you won’t have much luck doing anything else which happened to me the first few times. If so then close Explorer and run it as Administrator. To do this right-click on the Windows Explorer icon on the Taskbar. Right-click again on the Explorer icon that shows close to the bottom of the context menu but above the “Unpin” icon. From the second context menu that pops up select “Run as administrator”.

Again, verify you can see “New Folder”. If you see it then you should be able to create all the folders and sub-folders you want. You cannot paste an existing folder into “Programs” – you have to create a new folder.

Adding program shortcuts seems to operate the opposite. You can copy/cut/paste as well as drag and drop shortcuts. But you cannot create a new shortcut.

Other posts have stated you can drag a shortcut onto the Start Menu by using a series of hover moves over the Start button (for lack of a better name), “All Programs”, and sub-folders. I’ve tried this and sometimes it doesn’t work and other times when it does, it’s added to a folder in my profile’s Start Menu and not the system’s.

On a related note, I’ve found this behavior in managing the wwwroot folder to be the same. I found I could create sub-folders but I had to create the actual pages in my user space first and then move them into the folder. Once there, I could edit the files as long as the program I was using was running as Administrator.

All that said, this is one behavior I really don’t like in W7B and believe it’s totally unnecessary and just complicates an Administrator’s or competent user’s life.

This has been my experience thus far – YMMV.

Changing User Account Pictures and Logon Wallpaper

•February 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Update June 20, 2009: John Savill has added an FAQ for changing the logon wallpaper.

  1. Copy the JPEG to the %WINDIR%\system32\oobe\info\backgrounds folder and rename it backgroundDefault.jpg. You may need to create the “info\backgrounds” folders if they don’t already exist. Also, the image must be less than 256KB in size.
  2. Change the value of the DWORD entry “OEMBackground” found in HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background to “1”. You may need to create this registry key if it doesn’t already exist.
  3. That’s it – no reboot required.

The good news: Creating and adding a custom User Account Picture is easy. I found this page at RU3K but at the time of writing the site is not responsive. The short of it is take any image you wish to use, crop it to 128×128 pixels, and then save it as a Windows Bitmap file (BMP) into the “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\User Account Pictures\Default Pictures” folder. Now you can change the picture for your user account to the one just created. Bit depth shouldn’t matter but the default ones that come with Windows are 16-bit while the one I created is 8-bit.

Also: If you’re particularly fond of a user account picture from Windows XP then you’ll need to copy it as they’re not included with Windows 7. The default XP pictures can be found in “C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\User Account Pictures\Default Pictures”. Because I like to keep things organized, I renamed the files with an “xp_” prefix after they were copied over.

The bad news: Changing the wallpaper background for your profile is easy but not so for the default background also known as the logon screen. Up until Vista you could simply modify the registry key “HKU\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper” (REG_SZ) to specify the Windows Bitmap file and set “TileWallpaper” (REG_SZ) to indicate whether the image should be tiled across the screen or not.

With Vista and W7B this key is no longer used and may not even be in the Registry. Creating the missing key has no effect. Instead, the logon background is embedded in the file “imageres.dll” as a series of binary resources sized for different screen resolutions. Another website I came across described how you could take ownership of the the DLL file, back it up, use a resource editor to modify the images in the DLL, and then activate it. It is possible to do this but requires a lot of time to set up multiple images – especially when you want to change the wallpaper on a whim – and more importantly modifies a system file. This is not an exercise for the faint of heart.

RU3K led me to a piece of free software called LogonStudio Vista from Stardock. The software works very nicely letting you build a collection of wallpapers that you can apply when and as you need. It also works nicely with W7B and is visually attractive. You drag and drop an image into the program’s window and it automatically resizes the image for different screen resolutions. All you have to do then is click Apply and you’re done.

I’ve used it without any problems with my only complaint being it does not support tiling images. To do that, I had to create a large enough canvas (1920×1200)and copy/paste the images myself. But once done, I dragged it into LogonVista and had my background.

Renaming “My Computer” in the Windows 7 Beta

•February 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

One trick I learned years ago starting with Windows 95 and NT 4 was renaming “My Computer” to something truly useful: the name of the computer and user currently logged in. I’ve used it since on every Windows workstation I’ve built or had to maintain.

Unfortunately, when I installed the Windows 7 Beta I found I could no longer do this as easily as I had before. I found it had nothing to do with the UAC being on or off. No, instead it’s a permissions issue. I found when you navigate to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{20D04FE0-3AEA-1069-A2D8-08002B30309D} and check the permissions, the only user with the ability to modify (Full Control) is TrustedInstaller. In fact this applies to a lot of the CLSID keys. To modify the key you need to take ownership of the key, I prefer giving ownership to Administrators instead of a specific user, and then granting the owner Full Control access.

Once you’ve modified the permissions you can change the “My Computer” label to whatever you wish. For me, I rename “LocalizedString” to “LocalizedString.Original”, create a new “LocalizedString” REG_EXPAND_SZ key, and assign it the value “%ComputerName% (%UserName%)”.