Taking screenshots on a Nokia Lumia 820 (and other Windows Phone 8 handsets)

A couple of months ago, I moved away from my Android phone and thought I’d give one of the underdogs a try. I bought myself a Nokia Lumia 820 and so far the results are brilliant. I’m not going to go into an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of the OS, but suffice to say, I like it.

Having left my blog dormant for a while, I noticed my old blog on taking screenshots on my old HTC Desire S was still getting a fair number of views, so I thought I’d follow it up with a similar post for my Lumia.

This will definitely work on a Lumia 820, although I’m led to believe that this will work on all Windows Phone 8 handsets.

To do the screenshot, hold the lock button on the side of the phone and press the Windows logo button at the bottom of the screen. The screenshot can then be found in the gallery, under screenshots.

Once again, as proof of being able to do this, I’ve added a screenshot from my phone below:

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What makes a slick application installation?

Answer: Something made by me. Obviously.

But on a more serious note, I was asked something like this in a job interview recently (didn’t get the job – was rather gutting).

But it’s a valid question, especially for when deploying applications in a corporate environment. For those of you who don’t know me in the real world, I currently work as an application packager for a large engineering company that shall remain nameless. As an application packager, I either modify existing MSI installers to work in our environment via a transform, repackage applications into the MSI format, or I sequence them using Microsoft App-V Sequencer.

Over my time in this profession, I’ve seen many applications and I’ve seen almost as many weird ways to install them. Here are some of the (many) conclusions that I’ve come to, that will maximize efficiency in a corporate environment, when using the MSI installer format

Minimize user interaction

We don’t want users sitting there during installation, wondering what path the application should go to, then setting it to something silly. We want to install all applications with the bare minimum amount of user interaction, but we also want a visible process to show that the installation is happening.

Running the installation with the /qb switch is an ideal start – the user will see a progress bar, but they shouldn’t be able to change anything. The visibility will give the user assurance that something is happening, but will allow us to keep the final installation consistent across the board.

Naturally, as no interaction is possible during installation, everything should be preselected in the MSI / MST file – including installation paths,  shortcuts, features, license servers and anything else that is required. This also makes things nice and consistent for if issues occur at a later date.

Custom actions. If they can be avoided, do so

Custom actions can be a brilliant tool, but when used to do the tasks that the MSI can natively do, they are the work of Satan and all his little minions. If the MSI can’t do it, use a custom action. If the MSI can do it, then let the MSI work in the way it was intended. One example that I like to remember is an application I worked on a while ago – it dropped in five files to the same directory and installed nothing else. There was one custom action – which was used to set the installation directory. The job could have been done much better via the directory table.

Don’t use hardcoded paths

When somebody puts a hardcoded path into an application deployment, a technical support person dies. It’s a scientifically proven fact…

Actually it’s not a proven fact. But something you shouldn’t do. Imagine that somebody writes a script to drop a file into C:\WINNT and at a later date, a new system build changes the directory to C:\Windows. That’s an issue that will annoy users, create unnecessary support calls. Time is money and that hardcoded path cost time to fix.

Quick example, I worked on – there was an application (in a 32bit MSI) which had a series of VBscript custom actions. These scripts had literally hundreds of hardcoded paths, pointing to C:\Program Files\*various locations*. On a 32bit machine, the installation worked. But as soon as we tried a 64bit machine where the installation path moved to C:\Program Files (x86)\*various locations*, things started to go wrong. It was fixed but it wasn’t a quick fix.

User a transform when amending a vendor MSI

A user has asked for a piece of software made by Bloggs Inc. Bloggs Inc. has been nice enough to supply an MSI based installer, meaning you don’t need to do a full repackage. Happy days.

User has also requested a couple of changes to the installer – maybe a new installation path or having all features preselected to be installed. Before you go and save the MSI with those changes made, don’t do it. Save a transform instead.

Couple of reasons – first reason is that a vendor is far more likely to support an application that has been installed with a transform laid on top of the MSI, than a application where you have altered the actual installer. Second reason is that if you open up the MSI in Orca then drag your MST on top, Orca (and most other packaging tools) will provide you will a nice clear layout of all the changes. Makes it somewhat easier to track back if you break something.

Documentation

So you have a slick, robust installation process for your installation. Document that process! Supposing you’ve finished packaging a particularly nasty application – it’ll get released to the users and they will be happy. Right until a year down the line when Nasty Application 2.0 is released. You’ll sit there going through some of the head scratching moments that you had originally. Unless you documented it beforehand – then you can track back to the previous version and hopefully send version two out in a fraction of the time that the original version took.

This applies to everything from the smallest property change, right up to the gritty details of a fully loaded SQL Express command line and answer file. If it will help in the future, write it down. Simple

So that’s a few thoughts. I have many others but they can wait for another time. Hopefully these tips will help you avoid images like the one below:

Thoughts about where phones have come since the Nokia 3410

Over the course of this year, I’ll be going camping a few times and I don’t want to take my Desire S with me for several reasons (expensive to replace and a short battery life being two examples). In light of this, I’ve obtained a 3410 to use during these occasions.

Back in 2004, I was in possession of my last Nokia 3410. It lasted a good few years – In fact it lasted longer than any other phone that I’ve had since.

This phone was pretty much indestructible. Just a few examples of what it survived…

– Getting left behind on a train (Kudos to the stranger who handed it in)
– Being knocked out a 1st floor window
– Taking several ‘swims’ in drink
– Having a teenager as an owner

It survived everything I threw at it and the only damage was a crack on the screen cover which seemed to randomly appear after taking the train somewhere, getting off and checking my messages. Being an old Nokia, the cracked cover was sorted by getting a new cover for it. Something that I was going to do anyway at the time.IMG_20120608_120715

Once I opened the parcel containing the replacement 3410 phone, I came to a realisation. This phone is awesome. Don’t get me wrong, it’s basic and you could almost say it’s archaic compared to modern standards. However the interface is smooth and it does exactly what it says on the tin. The other realisation I came to is that getting a 6610i to replace it was a terrible choice. So was the w550i that replaced that.

Actually the W550i wasn’t that bad. Just the power connector on the cable was flimsy.

Back on topic, the there are two things that amaze me:

The first is just how far we’ve come in 8 years or so – we’ve gone from low resolution screens, basic internet connectivity and no bluetooth, to the all knowing smartphones that we have now. This also brings the question, where will we be in another 8 years? Will we just have slight improvements upon the existing technology, or will we be on a radically new generation of phone which by far surpasses the current standards, with new control methods and user interfaces.

The second is just how reliant we’re becoming on smartphones. Some people can no longer wait until being at a computer to check emails and social networks. We want to see things in real time, as they happen. We can no longer wait a few hours to see if our order has been shipped, or to see when Person X commented on photo Y on Facebook.

I guess another question is, who will ‘rule the roost’ as it were – back in 2004, Nokia were at the forefront of mobile boom, especially when mobile phones became more available to the younger generations around the 2000 mark, but since the smartphone boom, it’s pretty much down to Apple and Samsung to fight it out – as far as hardware goes anyway. Don’t get me wrong, HTC and Nokia are still putting some good handsets out but most people seem to go the way of the Samsung Galaxy S-Series, or whatever iPhone is going.

Shutting down or rebooting a remote machine via Remote Desktop Connection

This is something that I was asked at work the other day and I thought I’d put online for the rest of the world to see. I was asked how to shutdown or reboot a machine via a Remove Desktop Connection.

Now at first this seems like a silly question, but when we remote onto an XP machine at work, the start menu literally gives you two options – Log Off and Disconnect, so there is no obvious option for just rebooting a machine.

You could use “shutdown -r -t 01” from command prompt / the run dialog, but that’s a fair bit of faffing around. (Incidentally that’s a reboot command)

Alternatively, you can close all programs down and then hit Alt+F4. You’ll then get a dialog that allows you to disconnect, log off, reboot, go to standby or shutdown.

You don’t even have to close all programs. Just make sure you’ve got the desktop selected and then Alt+F4 should still bring the shutdown dialog. The below image shows what you’ll be looking at when the dialog appears:

Off topic, I should get back to app comments fairly soon – it’s been a pretty busy few weeks recently so I’ve not really had time and write much.

Android Free Apps Roundup #2 – WoodEnigma Lite

As promised in my last Android Free App Comments  post, here’s another one for you. This time, I’ll just be taking a look at the Woodenigma Lite game. I’ve tagged this under WebOS as well as the full version is available for free on WebOS phones (The now redundant ‘Palm Pre’ line), whilst a ‘Lite’ version is available for free under2012-04-19_20-46-48 Android which contains less puzzles. A paid version is available under Android, which apparently contains more puzzles, but I’m not sure about the exact number.

The app is a puzzle game, which revolves around the simple premise of moving blocks of ‘wood’ into various shapes. Sounds basic and in many respects it is. However it can also be downright infuriating, but for a good reason – the idea of playing any puzzle game is to be puzzled and to use the grey matter to beat the game. This is something that the game can do well as moving a small number of shapes into a correct pattern can be a lot more difficult than it sounds.

The number of puzzles in the Android ‘Lite’ version is enough to keep you busy for a few hours – there are 50 puzzles included, although some of which are very simple, which I guess is to break you into the game gently.

As for the version on WebOS, there are 450 of puzzles available – remember that 2012-04-19_20-46-58this is the full version which is totally free on WebOS, I presume this is due to the much smaller target audience.

The control method is simple – drag the shape into the target area and tap to rotate it. The shapes will snap into the correct alignment, so you won’t need to worry about spending ages lining up the shapes in the exact place.

Overall it’s a neat little way to pass the time – but once you’ve completed it, you’ll probably not return to it for a long time as the puzzles will be a lot easier on the second time around. It’s worth a download though, especially if you find that you do a lot of waiting around during day to day life (and thus needing something to pass the time)

Another phone app summarised. If you want me to comment on any other free android apps, you can either drop a message on here in the comments section or drop a message to me on twitter. If you want to know when the next posts are, you can either follow my twitter (all posts are tweeted), or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Android Free Apps Roundup #1 -TuneIn Lite, Task List & NetCounter

I was thinking, as I did a post a while back about free apps for WebOS, that I should probably do a post for Android apps. Considering that I’ve been running my Desire S for a few months now, I figured it was a good time to hit the keyboard and get writing about those apps which make my day-to-day life a little easier. Instead of doing one post with lots of apps like the WebOS apps post, I’m going to be doing a few smaller posts over the next month or two – some with thoughts on a few apps and some with just thoughts on one app.

TuneIn Radio Lite

This is a brilliant little app for listening to the radio via the internet. We all know that using FM Radio is lacking in audio clarity – especially when used through an Phone / MP3 player – so this is a pretty handy replacement. 2012-04-16_13-56-44

Although on GPRS this app is basically pointless due to the connection speed limitations, once you get into 3G / HSDPA enabled areas it’s brilliant. If streams of differing quality are available for your chosen station, the app will generally pick them up and let you choose which stream to listen to. General rule of thumb for me is lower quality when using the mobile network and highest quality when on WiFi.

The only major downside is the rate that it eats up data allowance – but then you have some control over this by picking streams. Still not advised for low dataplans though, as even a low quality 64k stream will eat data given enough time.

Slightly off topic – I’m aware this may seem a bit hypocritical, based on a previous post about how an MP3 player is better than a phone for music. No need to tell me 😛

Task List

A handy app for people like me who have a tendency to forget things and get 2012-04-16_13-56-59side-tracked far too easily. The app does exactly as the name suggests – it’s a list creator. You can create several lists and then you can add a widget to your homescreen to serve as a reminder. Personally I’ve got a personal list and an overtime tasks list – just so I can keep track of things.

You can also set reminders as well, for if you’re a little forgetful, or have a deadline to complete list items by.

Not really a great deal I can add – just that if you want something for making lists, give it a go. Only thing that does detract is that the ads that support the application are very obvious – however as I’m a cheapskate, I can’t really complain.

Also a small title font on the list view would be nice, but then I could start using smaller titles instead

NetCounter

Actually, this app is a good one to bundle in the same post as TuneIn Lite, as it helps you keep tabs on your data allowance – something that TuneIn has the potential to use up quickly. 2012-04-16_13-57-15

At it’s most basic function, this app will tell you how much of your data allowance you have used over a given amount of time. It can monitor both cell data usage and WiFi usage.

Another handy function is that you can set the date for the individual counters to reset – this means as your tariff resets for another month, NetCounter will reset the data tariff back to zero to start again. Now that you have your counter resetting at the appropriate time, you can set an alarm to let you know when you are approaching your data cap.

As far as drawbacks go, I really can’t think of any. the app is small, has a easy to use help section and no ads jumping out at me.

There you go – three helpful and FREE android apps summarised. If you want me to comment on any other free android apps, you can either drop a message on here in the comments or drop a message to me on twitter. If you want to know when the next posts are, you can either follow my twitter (all posts are tweeted), or subscribe to the RSS feed.

GAME – Thoughts on how to not lose it…

So upon reading that the GAME Group has been saved by a buyout worth about £1, I got thinking about where the chain has gone wrong and what could potentially make it a decent place on the high street for picking up games…

Cut down on duplicate stores in the same area

This has been partly done to an extent, with loss making stores being closed down a couple of weeks ago. I can remember going into Crawley a while ago and there were three stores all within a 5 minute walk from each other. A little wasteful to say the least – I think the group would have been better retaining the larger store and removed the smaller ones. That way the overheads would be reduced and thus more profit would be fed back to the company from that town.

There are other towns that have multiple stores in the same place – If I recall correctly, Portsmouth has / had multiple stores within a short distance.

Appeal to PC Gamers more

At the moment, in all the GAME stores I’ve been to, I’ve noticed (as have many people) that the place is geared towards the console market fairly heavily. There are next to no PC peripherals available and there is a very limited selection of games – mainly budget ones.

Although a lot of people prefer digital distribution and in many cases, digital distribution is the only way to obtain certain games, there is still a chance to cash in on this market. For example, adding more PC peripherals to the stock (such as gaming mice / keyboards – even PC upgrades). Branching out to another target audience should attract some more people and thus, put more sales through the tills.

Have store based tournaments

An idea to make people come in – have a few consoles set up in larger stores for tournaments – using PCs isn’t really viable due to the expense of frequent upgrades, but a console will generally have a longer lifecycle and thus be cheaper to run.

By having multiplayer tournaments, it will encourage more people into the store. More people coming in, is equal to more potential sales.

In my opinion, the best way to set this up would be to have a small fee for entering (for example £3 – £5), with a prize for the best player(s) – such as either store credit or a new release. The combined entry fees should reimburse the cost of the prize, thus in theory a loss shouldn’t be made as long as enough people turned up.

This would also help GAME become a destination for gamers to socialise as well as pick up some new games.

Take a look at the way pre-owned sales are handled

Preowned sales – although the console deals really aren’t that bad, the games can be a tad overpriced to say the least – a preowned copy of a recent game can still more expensive than a new version at the local supermarket in some places. A review of the pricing system on preowned goods to bring it down a tad and provide more of a bargain for the customer – the better the deal, the more chance of the customer returning for more.

Personally, I’d like to be able to buy more retro games as well, but then again I can’t imagine the market being that large. Either way, the odd N64 game wouldn’t hurt.

Staff training

The staff members at my local store are fantastic – enthusiastic and most certainly gamers themselves. However, this isn’t the case across the company – I’d suggest better training to bring staff up to date on games, so they can better interact with the customers and even suggest sales (for example “I see you’re buying game X – might I suggest from experience that you may enjoy game Y once you’re done”)

So there we go – a few thoughts on what might help GAME pick up the pieces, clear some debts and hopefully become more of a consumer friendly, profitable business.

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