Sunday
May132007

Bar Chart Explorations with POV-Ray

A few samples of how one could apply the ray-traced rendering goodness of the Persistence of Vision Raytracer (POV-Ray) to the task of displaying data. My goal was to create a "rich" feel to the charts using light and shadow, rather than explore alternatives to bar charts.

Below are several samples. All were hand-crafted .POV files except for the one with the 5 bars. This was generated by a Python script.

All POV files and the Python script are attached.

    

    

    

 

[Update 2007-05-14] Approximate Render times

with radiosity (as shown in samples above) 

  • 1280x1024 = 32s
  • 1024x768 = 23s
  • 800x600 = 16s
  • 320x200 = 4s

without radiosity (samples not shown)

  • 1280x1024 = 5s
  • 1024x768 = 3s
  • 800x600 = 2s
  • 320x200 = 1s

 

Thoughts about future explorations

"Data cube" concept: Use the faces of a cube to render more information.

"Data crystal" concept: Like the data cube except an external lightsource shines through the cube to produce an image on the table surface that represents a "view" or "slice" of the cube data. For example, one could use this to filter out kinds of data, or to scope the cube to a time span, or to identify only the "critical" items from the data set.

Sunday
Mar252007

Delayed starting, skips, stuttering in Windows Media Player 11

[2007-07-07] Installed new Sigmatel Driver; much better. Not perfect.

I went to http://support.dell.com/ and entered my system service tag, then selected vista as my operating system and saw the new Sigmatel driver:

image

My install experience

- 3 Reboots!

- One confusing error message asking me to reboot

Delayed starting

- Was around 5 seconds without disabling enhancements. Now with the new driver + enabling enhancements it is much faster; maybe 0.25 seconds. Should be 0 seconds

Skips

- Haven't noticed skipping

My Conclusion

- Delayed starting is still irritating. Am going to keep the new driver but also disable enhancements.

 

[2007-05-12] Update Regarding the issue of this workaround resulting in a loss of functionality

Disabling enhancements will, of course, reduce audio features available for your system so I wanted to emphasize that this is just a temporary workaround for the problem until we get the real fix: an updated driver.

FYI: I don't have the updated driver and I do not know when it will be available. As soon as I find out, I will post.

[2007-05-11] Update on the cause of the problem

Some audio experts on campus have identified this ultimately as a driver problem. So, now I am trying to find a version of the driver that works and install it. My hope is that Dell will release updated drivers via Windows Update so that people will not be forced to manually find, download, and install the driver.

 

[2007-05-05] Update on SRS WOW Effects

One of the comments below indicates that instead of disabling enhancements that disabling just SRS WOW effects in Windows Media Player was all that was needed to stop the problem. I have tried disabling the SRS WOW Effects in WMP11 and it made no difference on my machne. The only way that the problem goes away for me is when I "Disable All Enhancements".

 

[Original Post from 2007-03-15]

The arrival of a a new PC several weeks ago had one minor disappointment. Whenever Windows Media Player 11 started playing a song it would delay for 3-5 seconds before the sound would be heard. More irritatingly, about halfway through most songs it would stutter for a moment. A quick search revealed that might be a sound driver issue solved by disabling "enhancements" in the Sound Control Panel. I tried it and it worked for my machine (Dell XPS 410 with the SigmaTel High Definition Audio CODEC).

 

Steps below

Launch Sounds in Control Panel (shown in Classic View)

 

Then in the Sound Control Panel right-click on Speakers and select Properties

Navigate to the Enhancements tab and check Disable all enhancements.

IMPORTANT: You MUST have Disable All Enhancements checked even if none of the enhancements are specifically enabled. In other words: it must match the screenshot below exactly.

Then click OK and close the Control Panel.

Saturday
Mar242007

Corel Painter X: A first impression

Painter is one of the few apps I've used continuously for over a decade. I first purchased Painter 3.1 in 1995 along with my first Wacom tablet. Back then it was made by "Fractal Design Corporation" and the software and manuals came in a paint can with that paint smell. So version X arrived at my office yesterday and I spent this morning installing it and excercising its feature set.

Immediate thoughts

  • Definintely faster on the same hardware. Please, keep in mind I am running on a Vista, dual-core machine with 4GB of RAM.
  • RealBristle technology. I have no idea how this works but, subjectively speaking, where this technology is used in the brush strokes just *look better*.
  • Stable. I spent several hours drawing and the app never crashed. After about 2 hours It did go into a state where it would not paint but otherwise worked fine. I restarted the app and I could paint again. No data loss or image corruption. Keep in mind, that this state may have resulted from trying a feature I don't normally use instead of a problem with the app.
  • Works and installs seamlessly with Vista.
  • Still doesn't have ability to save to PNG. Minor annoyance - I just like PNG a lot.

My informal Stress test

A tried as many brushes and features as made sense for several hours as I tried to simulate a long session of application use (i.e. lots of brush strokes, simple layer usage) . Below is the result.

 

 

Recommendation

Get it.

  • Uprade = $200
  • Full = $365

Links

Reviews of Corel Painter X

Saturday
Mar172007

PowerPoint 2007 graphics have dramatically improved

This week, I've been playing more with the graphics features of PowerPoint 2007 and have begun the realize it is much better than I had previously imagined.

A visual will make this very clear. Below is a comparison of the Microsoft.com homepage last night and a version constructed with PowerPoint 2007.

Here is a link to the PPTX file: DemoPresentation-2007-03-17.pptx

Interesting facts:

  • the PPTX file does not use *ANY* bitmaps
  • The size of the PPTX file is over 1MB only because of the embedded fonts, without embedded fonts it is about 170K

 

Here is the original IE7 screenshot (click for full image)

 

And here is the screenshot from PowerPoint 2007 (click for full image)

My notes:

  • Matching the original colors took some time. I used Hypersnap 6 to find the original colors. Typing the colors into into the PowerPoint UI was tedious. Handling gradient stops was cumbersome.
  • Was not satisfied with the look of the 3 slices of 3D "glass" used for  media player. I want this look as an "out-of-the-box" style in the next version of PowerPoint.
  • Not enough control over the origin of the radial gradient used for the OneCare circle.
  • Need a "glass effect" in the next version.
Monday
Oct162006

Finding all the A HREF Urls in an HTML document (even in malformed HTML)

The Need

Given an HTML file you want to exract all the HREF urls.

 

You could use a Regex

I've done this before, but haven't found it entirely reliable. I use regex's so infrequently it is painful to relearn the syntax every time.

 

What I recommend

Use the HTML Agility Pack. If you are familiar with the XML DOM, using the HTML Agility Pack will come naturally.

 

HTML Agility Pack URL

http://www.codeplex.com/Wiki/View.aspx?ProjectName=htmlagilitypack

 

Two things that make HTML Agility Pack interesting

- It doesn't depend on Internet Explorer

- It works on malformed HTML. See this post for a little for context:  NET Html Agility Pack: How to use malformed HTML just like it was well-formed XML

 

Sample code

// this isn't a full sample, but enough to see the value of using the HTML Agility Pack

HtmlDocument input_doc = HtmlDocument();

input_doc.Load(“foo.htm”);

foreach ( HtmlNode node in input_doc.DocumentNode.SelectNodes("//a") )

{

string href_url = node.GetAttributeValue("href", "");

}