Nick MacKechnie
#8 wire kinda guy.....

DIY Digital Photo Frame–Reborn!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012 22:18 by Nick MacKechnie

The 4th of September 2010 will be remembered by us all here in Christchurch for many reasons.  I was away in Queenstown and missed the whole thing, however my cell phone made short work of that with a flurry of calls and text during the coming hours and days. One of the victims of the earthquake was the Photo frame I made out of an old laptop. I was gutted - the unit fell and the mainboard needed replacing.

Good news - It’s taken me over a year to source a replacement, and I’m stoked to say I’m back up and running again.  A few things have changed, Microsoft no longer supports Mesh on XP, so I’ve replaced that with Drop box and away I go. I can update photos on the frame from the web, phone, PC, Ipad etc. – excellent stuff!

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10 Years Service at Microsoft

Thursday, 2 February 2012 06:38 by Nick MacKechnie

Hi All,

My 10 year award arrived today on the courier! On the 4th of February 2012 I celebrate 10 years of working for Microsoft New Zealand. So many things have changed, yet many things remain the same. Microsoft has been a large part of my professional and personal life and I’m very happy and proud to have achieved this milestone.

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(Blue – 5 Year award, Green – 10 Year award)

There should always be checkpoints in your career where you should sit back and consider where to from here. It’s become a yearly pilgrimage for me where I look back on the year that was, consider the year ahead, the great people I work with, our customers and partners and decide on my direction. I consider myself very fortunate to work at Microsoft – I feel privileged to work with a large group of people who genuinely care about customer & partner outcomes, who are passionate about technology and our ability to make a difference. For me it’s a large draw card and the main reason I enjoy working here.

The constant in our industry is change. Change, mixed with competition, innovation, acquisitions, growth, market share, people, process, changing needs/wants/desires and  consumerization makes for not only a very challenging environment but equally a very rewarding one.  You don’t always get things right, but the opportunity to learn from the good and not so good is always there.

There have been many highlights on this journey so far – I’ve been lucky and fortunate to travel to the US, Singapore and Australia many times for training, I have a heap of local and international personal friends. The support from the organisation through the Christchurch Earthquakes to me personally has been excellent. I work with many smart, intelligent, driven and focused people and I work for a company that can, has, will and will continue to make an impact on each and everyone’s lives on this planet, whether that be directly or indirectly by the products and services we sell or deliver.

So good shit, great achievement, and good to be here! Smile

Nick.

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Christmas holiday booked!

Thursday, 29 September 2011 02:57 by Nick MacKechnie

Hi All,

It’s been an interesting year here in Christchurch, so this year I’ve decided to take a different tact when it comes to Christmas. I’m having a pre-Christmas-Christmas with the kids and the fly out to Vietnam for a holiday tour with a few days in Thailand either side for good measure. It’s always been something I’ve wanted to experience so I’m very excited to be seeing the sights/sounds and culture of these very interesting places and meeting some new people Smile

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Itinerary

Days 1-2 Ho Chi Minh City

Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is characterised by a vast array of sights and sounds: a fascinating blend of old and new, East and West. The huge number of people rushing about their daily lives in Vietnam's largest city gives it a dynamic atmosphere and the French influence is evident in the excellent baguettes and coffee on offer. Much of the city's life takes place on the busy streets lined with shops, stalls and vendors with their wares spread out on the footpath, selling everything from soup to sophisticated electronics.

Visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels. This former Viet Cong stronghold provides an insight into the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Vietnamese people, as well as a unique sense of what underground life was like during the American War.

Experience the hustle and bustle of old Saigon in cyclos (bicycle rickshaws) and explore some of the city's more interesting sights, including the War Remnants Museum.

Included Activities

  • Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Cyclo tour
  • War Remnants Museum

Accommodation

Hotel (2 nts)

Days 3-4 Hoi An

Take a short flight to Danang (approx 1 hr) and then drive to Hoi An (approx 1 hr).

Recently declared a World Heritage site, Hoi An is being beautifully restored and preserved. Known as Faifo to early Western traders, it was one of South-East Asia's major international ports during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Today, parts of Hoi An look exactly as they did more than a century ago and it retains the feel of centuries past, making it the sort of place that grows on you the more you explore it.
It's also a shopping mecca - with much to browse and buy. Choose from original paintings, handcraft woodwork, ceramics, embroidery, lanterns and more. Hoi An has also become famous for its tailoring - with a great variety of fabrics and tailors to choose from. Bring your favourite piece of clothing or even just a picture, and you'll be able to have it copied.

Your leader will take you on a walk around the Ancient Town.

You have time here to explore the beautifully restored and preserved Chinese shop houses, enjoy the vibrant and busy market, visit Cua Dai Beach, cycle to the rice fields and browse the array of art galleries.

Included Activities

  • Ancient Town
    Accommodation

Hotel (2 nts)

Days 5-6 Hue

Departing Hoi An, we can stop at China Beach before crossing the dramatic Hai Van Pass to the picturesque fishing village of Lang Co. After a quick stop, continue on to Hue (approx 5 hrs including stops).

The pace of life is slow and tranquillity prevails in Hue - the former imperial capital of Vietnam. Founded as a royal city in 1687, it's the gateway to the treasures of Vietnam's royal past.

Hop on to your cyclo for a tour of the city - a truly fun and Intrepid way to explore the town.

Visit the Imperial Citadel, including the Forbidden Purple City. The latter was almost totally destroyed during the American War's Tet Offensive, but the foliage-covered ruins are still atmospheric and the gaping holes left by bombs give an idea of the destruction wreaked upon the country during the war.

Enjoy a dragon boat cruise on the Perfume River. The trip includes a visit to Thien Mu Pagoda, considered by many to be the unofficial symbol of Hue. It's an active Buddhist monastery with its origins dating back to 1601. One of the most poignant displays is a car belonging to a former monk who, in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese regime. We also visit one of the royal tombs, that of Emperor Tu Duc, with its central lake set amid a grove of frangipani and pine trees, and we may visit what many believe to be the most majestic of all the royal tombs, Minh Mang.

The bustling Dong Ba Market offers a plethora of goods and foods to see and sample, and it's a good place to try some of the specialities that graced the Nguyen emperors' banquet tables, such as the banh khoai, a royal rice cake.

Board an overnight train to Hanoi. Although conditions are basic, overnight trains are a true Intrepid experience and the best way to travel long distances with the locals. Sleeper trains typically have four berth compartments (occasionally six berth depending on seasonal variations), which have bench seats that convert into sleeping bunks. A sheet, pillow and blanket are provided, although some travellers prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. On occasion, passengers of different genders will be required to share a compartment and there will be occasions where you'll be sharing with local travellers or travellers who are not part of your group. Most trains have a dining carriage serving simple food, but some travellers take the opportunity to stock up on fresh bread, cheese and fruit prior to departure.

Included Activities

  • Cyclo tour
  • Imperial Citadel
  • Perfume River cruise and Thien Mu Pagoda
  • Royal tomb

Accommodation

Hotel (1 nt), Overnight sleeper train (1 nt)

Day 7 Hanoi

We arrive in Hanoi early in the morning.

Enjoy a buffet breakfast at KOTO restaurant, one of Intrepid's Responsible Travel supported programs which aims to teach street children hospitality skills that will enable them to find employment.

Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum complex, which includes the One Pillar Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

The rest of the day is free to explore the city. Venture into the atmospheric Old Quarter to see the Vietnam of old, stroll the tree-lined boulevards to admire the French architecture or visit one of the many museums for some insight into the country's turbulent history.

Included Activities

  • Breakfast at KOTO restaurant

Accommodation

Hotel (1 nt)

Day 8 Halong Bay – Christmas day NZ Time Smile

Travel by private minibus to the spectacular World Heritage site of Halong Bay (approx 4 hrs).

Halong Bay is a breathtaking secluded harbour with 2,000 limestone islands rising from the emerald waters of Bac Bo Gulf. One of Vietnam's most scenic regions, this area of about 1,500 sq km is dotted with innumerable beaches and grottos, created over thousands of years by waves and wind.

Board our private boat and cruise among the dramatic limestone peaks. There's an opportunity to swim in the famed South China Sea, as well as to explore caves filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites. Spend a peaceful night on board, beneath a night sky alive with stars. Our sailing junk has twin-share cabins that have air-conditioning and private facilities. There's also a dining room and bar where we enjoy a sumptuous lunch and dinner.

Included Activities

  • Overnight boat cruise

Accommodation

Overnight boat (1 nt)

Days 9-10 Hanoi

Take a bus back to Hanoi (approx 3.5 hrs).

The afternoon is free for you to explore this delightful city. Why not stop for a bia hoi (freshly brewed draught beer) at one of the microbars in the Old Quarter or relax at a cafe.

Accommodation

Hotel (1 nt)

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DIY Digital Photo Frame

Thursday, 25 March 2010 10:08 by Nick MacKechnie

HI All,

Over the past few months, I’ve searched about for a decent digital photo frame to display our photos on. In New Zealand we seem to be limited to frames that have photos stored on a USB Stick/Flash drive, and it’s difficult to find photo frames that can be connected to a network in order to pull photos from a chosen source. The issue with this can be the ease at updating photos, and regularity of doing so – So I wanted to automate this as much as possible, and remove the need to physically “plug” something in.

Below is an old Toshiba Tecra S1 which has become the ‘brains’ of my Digital Photo frame.

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I did a fair about of searching to see how others had converted laptops – Most had simply pulled the screen off the laptop, twisted the connecting cable between the laptop and the base, and then mounted it into some sort of case, typically a shadow box frame. I decided I wanted to completely remove the laptop from its casing make it look ‘pretty’ :-)

So with this in mind, I measured the full size of the main board, and screen area and depth of all the components, and visited a local framer – The Frame Workshop. He was very obliging, and did a stunning job for the modest sum of NZ$90.

Below is the view of the front of the frame – the black inlay is perspex, surrounded by wooden framing.

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View of the frame looking from the inside –> out.

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I lined the lcd screen up with the edges of the perspex, and then hot glue was applied in large quantities to hold it in place. I then cut some square timber to place at the top and bottom of the screen (and glued with wood glue), to enable me to screw the 4mm hard wood on top.

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The next job was to attach the main board to the hard wood - the more challenging aspect was to find 2.5mm x 20 mm nuts and bolts. I finally managed to track them down, and secured the main board.

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View from underneath.

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Main board now mounted securely into the frame.

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And finally attached the back to the frame.

DSCF8538External Power re-routed to the back, and holes drilled for power on/off and venting

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Back of frame completed

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And Test – Yes.. still works, phew :-)

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I'm using Windows XP to drive the photo frame, and using the default ‘my pictures’ screensaver. The machine boots up and automatically kicks off the screensaver which selects a new photo every few seconds to display.

Here’s the batch file I use in Startup to kick it off.

@Echo off
%systemroot%\system32\ssmypics.scr /s

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Now the useful part. As I mentioned in the beginning, one of the failings of most photo frames in my opinion, is the requirement to remember to grab the memory stick out of the side, and update the photos etc. What I wanted was the ability to update the photos from any machine I wanted, as well as while I travel via a mobile device (cellphone).  The frame has both a 10/100 network card and a wireless card and is always connected to the internet.

Enter Live Mesh. Mesh gives you the ability to add/remove photos (and files) from any Windows or Mac PC, as well as a Windows mobile cellphone.  So I simply created a mesh folder with my cellphone and a few of our machines and now when I add a new photo to one of the PC’s or my cellphone, it synchronised and updates the ‘photoframe’ – Job done!

 

Aben Samuel tweeted this on FB, so I decided to get a t-shirt printed :-)

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8 Years down…and still loving it

Tuesday, 2 February 2010 04:25 by Nick MacKechnie

Hi All,

2010, Welcome! This Thursday marks my 8th year at Microsoft New Zealand (so I’ll be enjoying my day off!). I started back in 2002 in our old Auckland office on Fanshawe Street and remember my first day very well.

I turned up to work in a suit and tie and Warrick Smith (my manager at the time) politely suggested I take the jacket off, and offered me a few Microsoft branded polo’s to wear. For a young chap, walking into this new environment from the traditional corporate world was both an exciting and intimidating experience. I had dealt with many Microsoft people over the years, their knowledge was wide and deep on their technologies as well as their integration with other platforms. The silence of people beavering away was deafening and being surrounded by people who were enthusiastic, passionate and smart has become something I’m extremely thankful for and thrive on - I was handed my laptop and asked to set it up, which in a corporate environment seemed weird, but something I appreciate upon reflection. We operate in what I call an organised chaos desktop environment (OCDE – I think I’ll add that to Wikipedia.org J) – there’s the corporate computer image you can deploy (we didn’t really have one back in those days), or you can build your own machine as long as it has a few core applications deployed and it’s service packed/patched appropriately. This was a far cry from my previous roles at Fletchers, where we (IT) mandated the SOE and controlled the technology stack from top to bottom.

I remember Warrick handing me my login ID and temporary password, and seeing my email address... Wow, now that’s cool, a microsoft.com email address. As I look back over the years, I count myself as very fortunate and lucky to be working here. I’ve learnt so much, and continue to do so on a daily basis through my internal and external interactions and engagements.

Things have changed a lot in terms of our image, reputation, the way we interact with partners and customers, listen and take on feedback, our technologies and services we offer. We learn from our mistakes (sometimes not as quickly as we would like) and genuinely want to make a difference in our domestic and international markets.

I still enjoy coming to work every day with the hope and desire to make a difference, to learn new things and help people – We all have an opinion, view, and experience to guide us – we should challenge the decisions of yesterday and today to validate that we are doing things for the right reasons and working for the best possible outcome. Because we’ve been doing things this way for the last year/s, doesn’t ensure we will meet the needs of tomorrow and that we are aligned to business goals and strategy.

So thanks for the last 8 years, and I’m sure I’ll be here for another!

Nick.

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Pictionaire, a new Multitouch Table from Microsoft Research

Tuesday, 2 February 2010 01:14 by Nick MacKechnie

 

A joint project from Microsoft Research and the University of California brings us another touchscreen, mutitouch table-top computing experience. Like a larger version of Surface, the Pictionaire, as it’s called, is also operated via human touch using gestures made on the table’s surface. However, unlike Surface, the camera used features a higher resolution - and it’s positioned above the computer’s screen, via a mount on the ceiling. With this setup, the camera can “see” the items placed on the table and when the item is removed, it can be replaced with a digital version. For example, if you place a keyboard on the table, the Pictionaire will pull up a text-entry box. If you place a sketchbook on the table, a digital version of the page soon appears. You can even do this process in reverse – the Pictionaire can project a digitized image onto the real life object, like the digital sketchpad image projected onto a piece of paper so you can trace it back onto the physical page.

To see the Pictionaire in action, check out the videos posted over on Slashgear. The Pictionaire will be demonstrated at the Computer Supported Cooperative Work conference in Savannah, Georgia, this month.

(via New Scientist)

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What is SkyDrive Explorer

Friday, 6 November 2009 23:23 by Nick MacKechnie

SkyDrive Explorer is a free, easy-to-use, but very powerful extension for Windows Explorer. With SkyDrive Explorer you can make any every-day operations with your documents from Microsoft Live SkyDrive™ service (read more...) using Windows Explorer, as if they were on your computer.

Moreover you don't need to install and configure any additional programs or ActiveX components. SkyDrive Explorer will organize the interaction with the online storage itself.

Features

Multifunctional
Multifunctional

With the current beta version you can enjoy the following functionality:

  • View the structure and contents of folders in SkyDrive™;
  • View files information (type, size, creation date in GMT format);
  • Create new root folders and subfolders;
  • Copy files into the storage;
  • Delete files and folders;
  • Copy files from the storage to the computer;
  • Copy folders and subfolders from the storage to the computer keeping their structure;
  • Use Drag & Drop for files operations;
  • Rename files and folders;
  • Create links to SkyDrive™ folders on your computer;
  • Copy URL of the selected object(s) to the Clipboard; New
  • Automatic check for the latest version;New
  • Bidirectional languages support.New
Fast
Perfomance

SkyDrive Explorer allows applying some operations for group of objects that is not possible in web browser. This increases performance of work with SkyDrive™.

Examples of multi-operations are:

  • Renaming objects;
  • Deleting group of objects;
  • Copying folders with subfolders and files from SkyDrive™.
Easy
Easy

You don't need to know how to work with the SkyDrive™ service in web browser. To work efficiently with your data in SkyDrive Explorer you just use base operations with files and folders in Windows Explorer.

Secure
Secure

SkyDrive Explorer uses the standard Microsoft library for work with Windows Live Id services. Your personal information does not leave this library and even is not passed to SkyDrive Explorer engine. Also, the traffic with online storage goes through HTTPS protocol that protects data from snoopers.

Cross-platform
32/64 bit OS support

SkyDrive Explorer works both in 32- and 64-bit Microsoft® Windows OS. Minimal required OS is Windows XP, and SkyDrive Explorer will successfully work in Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and 2008, and Windows 7.

SkyDrive Explorer 1.2 Beta has been released, download here.

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Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 Goes RTM

Monday, 5 October 2009 09:57 by Nick MacKechnie

Hi All,

Windows XP Mode just hit RTM status this week and will be made available for download later this month in its final version. Once installed, this optional Windows 7 feature will let anyone run their XP-only applications which wouldn’t otherwise work on the new operating system. Designed primarily for small businesses who sometimes run mission-critical apps that are not updated to work with new versions of Windows, XP Mode adds a virtualization layer comprised of the Windows Virtual PC engine a licensed copy of Windows XP Service Pack 3 running as a virtual machine, both of which will be made available for download. Larger businesses will likely use MED-V which will offer XP Mode in its new version due to be released in beta 90 days after the Windows 7 public release.

Programs running in XP Mode will can be launched right from the Windows 7 desktop and even integrate with Windows 7 features like the Taskbar’s “jump lists” which show recently used files and common tasks.  In order for XP Mode to run, PCs are required to have at least 2 GB of memory and a system that has chip-level virtualization from either Intel or AMD.

Nick

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7Stacks for Windows 7

Wednesday, 2 September 2009 20:35 by Nick MacKechnie

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There’s a new program called 7Stacks that lets you add stacks of icons to the Windows taskbar (aka the “Superbar” in Windows 7). Instead of launching a program when you click the icon with your mouse, you’ll see a list of programs appear in an Aero-style menu.

The software offers handy way to clear up clutter of icons off your desktop while also not using up too much toolbar space. Those who want an easy shortcut to their frequently accessed folders and files will like 7Stacks too since you can use it to pin exact folder locations to the taskbar. This is different than how Windows 7’s built-in “Libraries” folder icon works. When clicking that icon, which appears next to the Start Menu in Windows 7, Explorer opens. However, your frequently accessed folder locations are available only on right-click. With 7Stacks, you can create a list of folder locations which pop-up upon a left-click instead.

7Stacks also allows you to configure the stacks in three different formats: normal, grid, and menu. Normal displays a vertical stack, grid shows a square-shared grid of icons only, and menu is a cascading menu of items with very small icons labeled with text. Perhaps the nicest thing about 7Stacks, though, is the way it uses the Aero technology for displaying the stacks. This makes it look more like a feature included in Windows 7 itself and not some extra add-on program.

7Stacks is a free download available here.

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Photosynth’ing Liam’s School

Monday, 6 April 2009 03:24 by Nick MacKechnie

Hi All,

I’ve given myself a project of synth’ing Liam’s school (Halswell) for them – It’s a wicked technology from Microsoft Live Labs which has a whole heap of potential uses.. So if you’ve got some photos of Halswell School, ping me an email and i’ll happily add them in the collection as I progress...

NB: You can zoom in/out on the photos by using the + and – buttons as well as navigate around using the arrows.

Nick.

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