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If you have a webcam attached to your desktop computer then there’s a good chance it’s either sitting around gathering dust or taking hourly pictures of your uneventful window. One way or another, getting any value out of it when you’re not video chatting would be a nice bonus. Now with Windows 7’s Sensors API and a neat application, not only could it be productive but your eyes might thank you for it.

One of the more interesting entries into the Windows 7 “Code 7 Contest” is an application called “BLUntrl”. This conceptually simple but highly practical application lets you do on your desktop what newer model laptops also do – automatic backlight control.

However since desktops don’t have ambient light sensors built-in, this application turns your webcam into one through the “magic of software” and then hooks into the native Windows 7 Sensors API and the monitor configuration APIs to adjust the backlight of all your attached monitors for optimal brightness, according to ambient lighting conditions.

Anyone who use a computer near a window can easily testify how much lighting conditions can change and affect the readability of monitors. Also, night owls like myself will also know just how glaring a brightened monitor can be in a dark room. In both cases, adjusting the brightness can help.

In the accompanying video submitted by the developer he also suggests building in a feature that can detect motion using the webcams which perhaps could be used to intuitively suspend the monitors if the user leaves the desk.

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The Code 7 Contest ends October 10. Good luck “sonic”.

In the rare chance you’ve ever criticized a Microsoft advertisement, well here’s your opportunity to finally unleash your creative spark to do one better and earn some cold hard cash as well.

windowsphonesmilesGearing up to the wave of Windows Mobile 6.5-powered devices shipping later this year, Microsoft is currently planning a large-scale worldwide advertising campaign starting October 1 to promote the new “Windows Phones” brand. And they want your ideas on innovative ways to promote “Windows phones”.

Microsoft has teamed up with, a website that allows companies to publish advertising briefs and crowdsource freelance graphics designers, directors, animators and writers to develop innovative creatives in return for cash prizes, to offer anyone the opportunity to contribute video, print, radio or web ads or even ad concepts with a total cash prize of $14,000 up for grabs.

The competition will run from August 5 to October 5 at the end of which both Microsoft and the community will decide the best ads in each category.

Although the competition is currently only on Zooppa’s Italian website, I’m hoping it will be available to English users as well. If not, then you better learn some Italian quick. However if you’re already fluent in Italian, you can find a more detailed brief here.

Even though the product still leaves much to be desired, it’s nice to see Microsoft experimenting with new concepts not just in technology but marketing too. If some good ads do come out of this competition, it’ll be interesting to see too if Microsoft will actually run them.

Update: As commenter “The Evangelist” have noted, the English Zooppa competition page seems to be up now but still features an Italian brief. Hopefully it’s a sign that it will indeed be open to English users too.

By Long zheng

DreamSpark is one of those relatively-awesome-yet-equally-as-known initiatives from Microsoft. Yeah, plenty of people know about it, especially many up-and-coming developers who happen to be the intended audience, but there are also others who could easily benefit. I always manage to run into an IT or CS student who has no idea about DreamSpark until I tell the person, and once they see it, it’s like this treasure trove of lightbulbs turns on in the person’s mind.
For those who don’t know, DreamSpark throws free software at students (after verifying their student-hood, of course). I previously wrote about using DreamSpark to get and use a free OS in place of Vista over here.
Now, keeping the awesomeness of DreamSpark in mind, Expression 3 was only very recently released. A number of threads have popped up on the internet, with the most notable first result for me being this thread on Channel 8. Coupled with requests from other students I personally know as well as faculty from schools near the DC area (thanks for reading, guys!), I figured I’d look into it.
There’s good news, and there’s the news which isn’t exactly bad. I’ll spill the news which isn’t exactly bad first.
There’s no official target date on getting Expression Studio 3 up on DreamSpark, nor will it be available in July, nor is the target timeframe a certainty or guarantee. There; that’s the news which isn’t exactly bad.
The good news: the target timeframe is still before the point when classes start for many of you. The word, as given by a Microsoft spokesperson, is that a “target timeframe would be [the] end of August.”
If you can’t wait ‘til then, go grab Expression Studio 2 from DreamSpark right now. Otherwise, show some patience, be awesome, and grab Expression Studio 3 once it drops for you guys for free in a month. Cheers to dreamers at Channel 8 for holding out, and I’ll have an update for people once a specific date has been settled upon.