Slide Show – Surface thing

I’ve had a Windows Media Center (MCE) machine hooked up to the TV in my house since 2002. Around 2004 the MCE team introduced the slide show screen saver. The slide show has been a fixture in my living room since. I average about 7,000 pictures a year, and pictures are meant to be shared. The slide in MCE had great transitions, a ok random feature, it would automatically watch a folder for changes, and it was fun to watch – read it was pretty awesome and I loved it. It was brilliant to have on when company came over. Sparked unlimited conversations; I miss it.

Windows 10 does not support Media center / MCE has been discontinued, and windows 8.1 included no updates for MCE. Seeing the end coming, over the last few years we’ve moved our TV watching to Plex, Amazon, and Netflix. When we moved into the house last year we abandoned the MCE PC, and we hooked up an Xbox 360 to the TV. We’ve missed the slide show since. We went with 360 vs. ONE because the 360 will extend media center and we keep a media center in the shed with a 6 channel tuner to record things off of basic cable. It records show not simple to find elsewhere.

Found a surface

The first time I worked at Microsoft either side of 2004 my world was building 34, Café 34 and the Executive Briefing center (EBC). After I came back in 2011 one my missions has been to walk through every building. While walking around campus I’m always on a scavenger hunt looking for interesting things in the hallway. Last week I found a non-Microsoft asset tagged surface pro 2 in the PC recycle box. The surface had a cracked screen so touch did not work, but everything else works perfectly. Um, Core I5, 4GB or ram 128G SSD – plenty of power to do things.

To turn off the digitizer all I had to do was disable the human interface device (HID) touch screen – super simple solution to have a killer tiny computer.

After skyping the kids every night on my charlotte trip the kids want to call me on skype every night I’m away. We’ve been using phones on both end, but I wanted something better. Xbox 360 has no skype client, and Xbox One has no Media center support – sad face sigh. I have a love hate relationship with the products my company makes. I learn to love the products then the company decides they hate them, or they want to pivot in a new direction, or they come up with something else, ETC and they discontinue the things I love. This angers the kev… Glad Exchange has not been killed yet.

Then I found a surface and came up with a vision. VisionI’ll mount the surface on the ceiling above the couch bed, have it play slide shows, and use it as skype client

Building things

Our ceilings are open / not covered in sheetrock because I’m always having visions. I wanted to be able to add any wires, or any things I could come up with to the ceiling without making a mess. I love our ceiling!!! My style is more utility raw construction vs. finished trimmed and pretty – Michelle does not seem to mind, so we win. To set up the surface ceiling thing, I first found a remnant chunk of 2×10″ to use as a mounting board. Then I used ½” metal conduit straps and bent them with a pair of plyers to hold the surface onto the board.

In the picture above you can see a 6″ USB extension cord to the left and the surface power cable to the right. At the bottom of the board I mounted a Logitech C920 1080P web camera. On the back of the board I looped the wires and stapled them down to hold the USB hub in place. The C920 is attached with another ½” conduit strap; because they work, and I have a bucket of them. Not going to win any cable porn contests but it does the trick, and the angle the surface will be mounted will hide most of the wire mess.

Sadly, about mid project I ran out of wire loop staples in my staple gun so the final wire clean-up will happen another day. The surface is mounted on the ceiling between the amp and the center channel speaker with one screen on each side and wood tension. I cut the board very tight, and used only one screw so we can rotate the board as needed until we find the right angle. On the right side you can see an additional cable, the mini display port to HDMI cable to plug the surface into the stereo. Now the kids can see me on the big screen when we skype call at night. Skype is setup to automatically answer incoming calls from me, so I might start randomly calling them throughout the day; evil laugh.

On the screen you can see the slide show screen saver running. We’re running Animated photo slideshow screensaver from Marijn asks on the donation page for people to – Send envelopes stuffed with cash to | Marijn Kampf – or donate via PayPal. I think we’ll donate via PayPal because the software is perfect. Endless transition options, it automatically scans folders, rotates images, and even plays videos. Screen saver I configured to watch a ONEDRIVE folder both Michelle and I have access to. We can add files anytime we want too, and the screen saver updates in real time; super sexy. The grey USB extension cable you can see dangling is running from the USB hub to a Jabra SPEAK410 USB speaker phone I mounted to the ceiling.

Mounted the Jabra to the glulam over the couch bed zone using more ½” conduit straps. I had a pile of these clips and figured the theme might as well continue. Pile because I bought 100 last time I needed 5. The Jabra is another bit of kit found in the hallway at work during a scavenger hunt. Actually found it in a rubbish bin. Some tossed It out like it was trash. The things we toss out at work amazes me. The microphone picks up anything within about a 10-foot radius perfectly covering the couch bed area.

Results – Calls and Cortana

The kids and I made a few test calls today and were pleased with the results. We’ll give it a real try tomorrow night from work and find out if it was worth it. The Logitech has a face tracking feature I’d like to play with, but I fear it might melt trying to keep up with the kids jumping around like wild animals at night. Testing is needed.

I’ve been wanting to try the Amazon Echo for a bit because it seems cool, and I like to try new gadgets. At the build conference last week Microsoft demoed a bunch of Cortana features to rival the echo. Cortana is free, and my company’s product, figured I better try it. Towards that goal, Cortana is enabled on the surface now to listen all the time for us to say hey Cortana. When Cortana hears us she listens and attempts to answer. She answers me much better than she answers the kids.

Cortana has an SDK and an interface you can use to extend her voice response functionality. Tomorrow is my hack-day at work and I’m thinking I might need to work with the SDK to add some more features. The surface also has a blue tooth connection to the house sound system. I’m wondering if I can say “Hey Cortana play the pink station on amazon music via the house system” and have her open amazon music, pick the song I want, and select the correct audio output – A guy can dream right?

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