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Highlights from running the “Extreme Windows Blog”

From 2012-2014 I had what most enthusiasts would consider the “Ultimate Job”. I got to put together some crazy hardware and software demos, build and create things with CAD software and 3D Printers, and even meet/interview CEOs. My job was to blog about Windows- it was called the “Extreme Windows Blog”. The following are some highlights from my stint running this blog. (all images except where noted are ones I took for the blog)

4K and Extreme Multi-Mon

You’ll never know where the limits are until you push them. And that’s what I decided to do for various hardware and software multi-mon setups that I blogged about. One of my favorites was a 4K TV plus dual WQHD setup that I showed 4K video editing on:

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When it comes to display technology, the true extremist comes out in me. Just when 4K TVs and monitors were coming out, I was fortunate enough to play with a handful of them. It was like being a kid in a candy store! I had loaner equipment from Toshiba (TV) and Sharp (pro display), and even obtained my own Seiki 4K TV for the lab.

When my friend Jeff from AMD said “I think we could show the world’s first 12K-wide 60hz PC gaming demo, I said: “let’s do it!”. What followed involved about $15,000 (at the time) worth of displays, multiple video cards, and custom drivers from AMD built just for the demo. You can read the full storyhere: Pushing the 12K PC Gaming Boundary at 1.5 Billion Pixels per Second

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And people seemed to love this story: there was international press pick-up and the video is one of my all-time best:

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But why stop at 12K, right? Following the 12K PC gaming experience, I decided to push things to 16K-wide. At this resolution, you have to look real hard to find desktop wallpaper that’s wide enough (at least 15,360 pixels wide) in order to span the desktop without stretching:

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Fortunately, I found imagery from NASA of Mars, and the panoramic image shown above was slightly larger than what I needed. Check out the scale of that coke can next to the multi-mon setup. Crazy! This setup would have costed over $20,000 in displays alone at the time.

What about extreme tablets? When I picked up the world’s first 4K tablet (Panasonic ToughPad 4K) at NAB 2013, I was speechless!

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RED Digital Cinema

It’s not every day (or decade for that matter) that you witness huge disruptions in established technology areas. That’s exactly what Jim Jannard and Ted Schilowitz did when they co-founded RED Digital Cinema together back in 2005. Together, they built the product that accomplished what the industry said couldn’t be done at the time: to replace traditional film with digital imaging. I got to meet Jim, and to know Ted well after working with him on several stories and projects.

IMG_6752From left: Ivan Aggerton (RED shooter at Royal Galactic Media), Gavin Gear, Ted Schilowitz (RED Co-Founder), William Robbins (Microsoft RED Shooter) – Image courtesy Ivan Aggerton.

I actually got to visit RED Studios Hollywood where I met the amazing Brian Henderson (the “glue” @ RED), shoot with RED EPIC, and view movie footage in 4K on the big screen. AMAZING.

Gavin shooting RED EPIC

RED EPIC (original) was way ahead of its time. When other camera companies were not even in the 4K game yet, RED was pushing things at 5K (and now 6K with RED DRAGON).

One of the biggest takeaways that I had from this experience was watching how Ted Schilowitz works with people. He’s amazing at forming connections, being a part of and leading the “tribe” (digital cinematographers) and implementing vision for new technology.

GPU / Gaming / VR

I’m totally fascinated by GPU technology. Created to process video data, this hardware has been re-purposed and utilized for a wide variety of things, including tasks formerly in the sole domain of supercomputers.

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One of the things that engineers like myself like to do is to use data visualizations in order to tell the story of what’s going on when you can’t directly see it with the naked eye. Wanting to better understand how Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC uses GPU for rendering, I decided to capture GPU utilization and graph it:

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Here you can see how Premiere Pro CC uses more than one GPU while rendering 4K video. Pretty interesting. More on that story HERE.

Another more familiar way of capturing performance data is to monitor the Frames-Per-Second (FPS) rate for a given game/app running at particular settings with a particular display setup. It’s really fun to put together a custom PC, configure and optimize display and graphics settings, and then “put it on the dyno” to see what it’ll do. Here’s a tri-mon multi-GPU setup that cranked out 146 FPS, pretty awesome:

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I also enjoyed helping partners like NVIDIA launch new products. That’s where I really had fun taking studio shots with strobes, reflectors, and other gear: (from my GTX 770 blog post)

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…and I also had fun taking pictures of keyboards, mice, computers, TVs, monitors, and other equipment. Here’s one of my favorite shots showing the MAD CATZ Cyborg R.A.T. 9 Gaming Mouse:

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Yes, crazy displays and custom PCs with hot rod GPUs are non-stop fun, but what about Virtual Reality? When I was working on the Extreme Windows Blog, there was a lot of innovation happening in the VR space, and Oculus was leading the way. During my time running the Extreme Windows Blog, I had the opportunity to get hands-on with the original developer kit, meet some of the people that ran Oculus (including Nate Mitchell), and experience both the first 1080p prototype, and Crystal Cove as well. Amazing.

Nate_2D00_Gavin_2D00_Talking_2D00_Oculus_2D00_Booth_2D00_1200_2D00_2_5F00_22D746D6Talking with Oculus VP of Product Nate Mitchell

It was really fun to get my hands on one of the developer kits, and to write code that scraped sensor data from the rift unit at runtime. Again, here I go with the data visualizations:

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The first two graphs show raw sensor data, and the third is the “smoothed out” sensor fusion data that enables seamless head tracking for devices like Oculus Rift. I used to work on the sensor platform in Windows, so this is “close to my heart”. More on that here: Supporting Sensors in Windows 8.

CAD Design and 3D Printing

I am a Mechanical Engineer, and absolutely love designing things in 3D CAD software. With the mainstream availability of 3D printers, CAD software becomes even more powerful for everyday inventors/makers. I enjoyed writing about several design and 3D printing projects including the case I designed and fabricated for my Nokia 928 phone using Solid Works 2014. Here’s a “reality versus CAD rendering” side by side:

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…and a close-up showing the phone model with case (left), rendered case surface (middle), and semi-hidden-line view (right):

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Finally, the 3D printed phone case shown close-up:

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Note the “stress concentration avoiding” termination holes for the seams- something I learned about in Mechanical Engineering school. If you don’t have those, you’ll get cracks sooner rather than later.

In addition to bringing the story of 3D printing in Windows 8.1 to the world, I also got to meet some fascinating people that work on 3D printing technology. One of these people was the CEO of MakerBot: Bre Pettis.

Gavin_2D00_Bre_2D00_Scanner_2D00_1200_5F00_4C7A2DF5Discussing the MakerBot Digitizer with Bre Pettis at MakerBot headquarters

One of the fun things about blogging about 3D printing is the fact that you can capture amazing timelapse footage of everyday objects (and crazy things) being 3D printed. In one post, I showed timelapses of both 3D printing and 3D scanning. Very fun.

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I couldn’t have asked for much more in a job- I got to do crazy things- I got to play with expensive technology, and I got to bring the story to a huge audience. I’m thankful I had this opportunity!

-Gavin

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