March 2004 - Posts
I'm a real home-theater nut and when I built my new house on the lake last year, I built a small dedicated home-theater room on the lower level. I already had a Sony VPL-10HT front projector and a 108” 1.3 gain Da-Lite projection screen. In my new dedicated room I found the screen to be a little bit too large for viewing from the front row of seats (yes, I have three rows of tiered seating!), and I would also have had to mount my projector a little too far back in order to fill the screen.
So I decided to buy a new, smaller screen (90” or so). I was decided on a Stewart GrayHawk screen, which is slightly gray instead of white. This is said to improve both color rendition and black level for LCD projectors. However, that baby would cost around $1500, and that is for a fixed wall-mounted model (double or triple that for electrically operated!)
Just as I was about to plunk down my hard-earned cash on a Stewart, I discovered a new product that sounded too good to be true. This product is called Screen Goo, a special paint designed for creating projection screens. It comes in two tints of gray to help LCD and DLP projectors. They even have a version for REAR projection setups. Initially I was rather sceptical but after reading the rave reviews and seeing that the product is being used by Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, I decided it was worth risking $160 to give it a try. To top it all off this is a Canadian product so having it shipped to me was going to be cheap and fast. I ordered from Goo System's website and had my two cans (base and finish) of light-gray goo 3 days later.
So last weekend I decided to give it a try. I removed my huge Da-Lite screen from the wall, turned on my projector, and used masking tape to mask-off the exact perimeter of my projector's picture. The stuff is really easy to apply with a regular paint roller and it sure wears its name well as it has a much thicker goo-like consistency than regular paint. You first have to make sure your surface is clean and smooth, and they recommend using white primer first if the surface is dark-colored or not in excellent condition. You have to take some care in applying the goo as it dries very fast and you have to ensure that you do not create any “banding”. The simple tips and tricks provided in the instructions made that an easy job, even for me! I proceeded to apply two coats of base, followed by two coats of finish (a special acrylic paint). You only have to wait 1 hour in-between coats, so the whole process took about half a day.
Once the last coat had dried, I fired-up my home theater system, inserted the LOTR-II disk, and turned off the lights. Wow! I was pleasantly surprised: this $160 gooey stuff surpassed my $1400 Da-Lite screen in every way! The image is brighter, the viewing angle is VERY wide, the colors are richer, and the light gray tint definitely does help with the black level deficiencies of my LCD projector. Now all I have to do is finish the edges of the screen with a black fabric frame and some curtains, and I'm all set! Sorry Stewart Filmscreens!
This is the kind of product I love. Well designed, easy to use, affordable, and high-performance! Just the kind of thing we canucks need to keep ourselves warm and entertained on those long winter nights.
Highly recommended: ***** 5 out of 5 stars.
BTW, I have a 108” 16:9 Da-Lite screen for sale :)
I love BizTalk 2004; it's a great product that provides pretty much everything that was on my wishlist. It has a few rough edges, especially from the developer's viewpoint, but by and large, it is a very compelling product.
My biggest beef with BTS 2004 is the documentation. This is a product with a steep learning curve and the documentation doesn't help a bit. There are entries for pretty much everything, but most of them are superficial and provide no insight on how to use the product. For example, look at the following entry in the BTS .chm file:
Operations includes the administration and management of Microsoft® BizTalk® Server 2004 applications. These tasks are facilitated through the following tools and consoles.
- BizTalk Server Administration console. Use this tool to manage the BizTalk group, including all of the BizTalk databases.
- Health and Activity Tracking (HAT) tool. Use this tool to track the performance of business processes.
- Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) Framework. Use this tool to track data items and business milestones collected during business transactions.
- Business Activity Services (BAS). This tool integrates with Microsoft Office and Windows® SharePoint™ Services to provide an intuitive interface through which you manage all of your trading partners and their associated business processes.
- Human Workflow Services (HWS) Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Use this tool to construct and monitor your workflow.
For the latest operations information for BizTalk Server 2004, go to http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?linkid=20616.
Believe it or not, that is the entire documentation on “operations” with BTS 2004. Pretty useful uh? And if you follow the provided link, you get a small .htm file that promises a documentation update will be coming out on April 2nd. If you go to the TechNet BTS site, you get some help for 2000 and 2002, but nothing for 2004! Nothing, zip, zilch...
Let's hope that the April 2nd update will be a major one... I guess this is good for consultants like us, but geez, sure makes our life harder...
I was researching workflow tools for a proposal and Larry Beck pointed me towards K2.NET from SourceCode Technologies. On Monday they gave me a live demo of the tool and I was suitaly impressed!
Very cool tool. BizTalk's workflow capabilities are more appropriate for system-to-system business processes. K2.NET is more about human-to-system and human-to-human workflow management. K2.NET really complements BizTalk well and the two are tightly integrated. Here are some highlights:
- K2 leverages BizTalk's Business Rules Engine for it's own rules management
- K2 leverages and complements BizTalk's BAM
- K2 workflows can trigger BizTalk orchestrations and vice-versa
- K2 also integrates with Active Directory, InfoPath, SharePoint, Content Management Server, Exchange, Outlook, and MSN Messenger.
- K2 integrates with Visual Studio.NET and ASP.NET and supports both C# and VB.NET.
- K2 generates .NET code and allows you to do things like integrate an InfoPath form and SPS site into a workflow and call orchestrations, all without writing a line of code
- K2 can manage assigning work items to people, exceptions processing, escalating items based on business rules or schedule, managing work queues for groups, load balancing and optimizing work distribution, and service level management.
- K2 offers exxtensive monitoring, tracking, and auditing of workflows and reporting on performance and quality of work.
When you combine K2 with BizTalk's integration prowess, you end up with a very compelling combination for building complex workflow based applications like call-centers and customer service systems.
I'm hoping to use it on my next project, and I'll report back when I have some real-life experience with it. But based on what I;ve seen so far, I highly recommend you take a look at it!
BizTalk Server 2004 has some limited EDI functionality that will help you if all you need to do is exchange or transform a few simple EDI docs. I never understood why Microsoft never paid more attention to the still surprisingly strong EDI market...
If you need to implement a full-fledge BizTalk/EDI solution, I strongly recommend you look at the Covast Accelerator for BizTalk Server 2004. This product handles all the EDI comlexities like batch mode and EDI envelopes. It also allows you to connect to VANs and even do AS2 with an optional adapter. It comes with a repository of just about every EDI schema worth having. This tool will save you a lot of work.
The combination of BizTalk and Covast provides a pretty compelling solution. These two tools allow you to cost effectively build a B2B infrastructure that will enable you to do traditional EDI over VANs, or over HTTP, AS2, FTP, etc. It also allows you to do any type of XML messaging, flat file exchanges, Web Services, etc. etc. On top of that, this infrastructure will integrate seemlessly to your SAP or other ERP back-end.You can do all this for less than the price of a traditional EDI product, and have a solution that is flexible and maintainable to boot. Best fo all, you get to do all your development in Visual Studio.NET!
I will be speaking at the North-Africa Developer's Conference (NDC) in Morroco April 13th-16th. I will talk about Content Management Server 2002, BizTalk Server 2004, and SQL Server Yukon's new XML functionality.
I will also be speaking at DevTeach in Montreal June 19th-22nd. There I will talk about SQL Server Yukon's XML Views and Service Broker and on SQL Reporting Services.
If you go to one of these conferences, come up and say hi!
I participated in the global BizTalk Launch in Toronto yesterday. This product is already generating a lot of Buzz!!!
Jordan Chrysafidis, Business Group Lead, Windows Server System, Microsoft Canada opened the event.
We were pleased to also have Eron Kelly and Alex Cobb from the product groups in Redmond, come and speak to the press about this exciting new product. The event went well and we should be seeing many news items coming out in the Canadian IT press over the following days.
I did an interview with ITBusiness.ca ahead of this event and got quoted in the following article: http://www.itbusiness.ca/index.asp?theaction=61&lid=1&sid=54928
It was nice to get a chance to start getting the Avanade Canada name out there and tell people who we are.