Remarks on the ProLite SoftwarePro-Lite's electronic moving message signs have the ability to be controled from a computer.
In order to use the software, you'll either need to purchase the cable at a strikingly expensive $49.95 (although the software registration is included), or you will have to build your own.
The software [TCII_Win21.zip
(1224951 bytes)] is said to work on Win 3.1 and Win95.
It seems to work contently on WinNT as well (tested under NT 4.0).
Pro-Lite did things right when they made the software try-before-you-buy.
The software comes with a 30 day evaluation period, to which you need
a registration code to continue using the software.
Included with the software comes the generic trivia questions, so that you can blow away your trivia and restore it again. Unfortunately, the trivia that comes with the sign (and the software) has some spelling, grammatical, and trivia errors in it.
I have made a corrected version for myself
[gentrv01.dat (12490 bytes)] that
tries to mimic Pro-Lite's. In theory, it could replace Pro-Lites's.
InstallationSIGN.EXE appears to be a well-behaved Windows program. The installation program uses InstallShield and appears to install fairly clean, including the ability to uninstall it from the Control Panel.
The installation can be redirected to a different directory without upsetting the installation process.
Installation produces two sub directories and 6 files. The Microsoft Foundation Class DLLs are installed into the local directory, and therefore do not wipeout any pre-existing system installations.
The Trivia directory contains by default one file called Gentrv01.txt, which contains the raw protocol commands to load the basic Trivia questions into the sign. There are 109 trivia items, taking two lines each (one for question, one for answer), making 218 lines, plus the pre- and post-fix headers, yeilding 220 lines.
An electronic manaual was provided (manual.txt), which earns a
thumbs up: electronic copies are hard to lose and easy to search. However,
the manual does contain spelling mistakes and is a little bumpy in layout.
Good PointsOn the whole, the software works as advertised and provides access to most of the sign's feature set.
The software is very easy to configure to use the sign.
The editing area is similar to a large-font version of Notepad, it is easy to read. Clear English tags in the body of the text represent what the text will do when it gets to the sign.
The text messags can be saved and restored.
Here is one of the best features, the software shows you what command is being sent to the sign... briefly.
Bad PointsWhile the software is definately useable and fairly stable, it does have some points that could be improved.
Communication DialogsThe communication dialogs disappear to quickly to be of use to developers. Setting the baudrate to 300 baud helps a little, but even better: open the COM port with a program like HyperTerminal. This ties up the communications port so that the Pro-Lite software can't use it. The message box will come up on each Pro-Lite send request showing the packet information, followed by an error dialog that you can move out of the way.
File FormatsThe files saved by the editor are in binary; there's no reason they couldn't be the actual content that gets beamed to the sign.
No Sign ContextThe context of the sign isn't persisted. You can't save the state of a bunch of pages, timers, graphics, and trivia and recall it later as an atomic operation.
The About BoxThe About Box has text that bleeds over onto the graphics.
Spelling MistakesIn the product message window are numerous spelling, grammatical, and punctionation errors. for example, one sentence starts:
HARDWARE FLAW IN SIGNThis was a surprising... when long complex messages are being displayed, deleting the trivia while a message is playing can (although not always) scramble the displaying message, forcing the sign in a state where it has to be reset manually.
What is interesting is that quite a number of graphics and other oddities scroll by in lue of the original message, making one wonder if the sign isn't capable of doing more than Pro-Lite lets on.
DELETE PAGEThe software doesn't have the ability to delete all the sign's pages, although it can write to them all. The dialog box is missing page Z, thus it can't be deleted.
DELETE TIMERMany of the dialogs have buttons enabled before valid inputs have been provided. Delete timer is a good example, it is possible to specify an illegal sign id. The software gets confused, but eventually back out of it.
Select Sign 0, Timer A, press DELETE. You get a message saying to enter a number between 1 and 255. Click OK. You are then asked if you want to Delete the Timer and to choose between Yes and No. (This last step should not be valid at this time.) Click Yes. It then tries to delete Timer A, and results in another message saying to enter a number between 1 and 255.
MISSING FEATURE SETSThe software doesn't give access to all the great stuff the protocol says it can do. This includes the ability to use European characters and redefine the graphic blocks.
The latter was a feature I was hoping the software would have because editing from the remote control is painful.
It is possible to use the special control codes to insert Eurpoean characters into the text manually, however it would appear that control codes for the following letters are not implemented by the hardware: BCMNVXZbcmnvxz
DULL DEMOI would have really have been excited if Pro-Lite had included the default-hardware demo with the package, just to show that nothing was hidden.
As it is, a simple file (demo.SGN) was provided to show it is possible to save and restore messages to disk. You cannot read what the sign is playing.
EDITOR SELECTION PROBLEMSIf text is selected and you start typing, it does not delete the text that was selected. Instead, it appends. Yet, if you hit delete (or backspace) it will erase the selection and move the cursor.
Starting with a blank screen (New), hold down shift and press the letter A. An A appears highlighted. Type BC, it appends. Press Backspace, it erases the A, not the C.
MAKE THE I-BEAM CURSOR VANISHStart with blank editor screen using New..., enter ABCDEF, then press the left arrow three times to move back between the C and the D, hold down the shift key and press the right arrow once. This selects to the end of line. Now type the letter G. Oddly, this will insert between the D and the E, and your cursor will now be gone. Press End and continue typing with no cursor. Even stranger, causing the application to lose focus (click on another application somewhere), and then returning focus brings the cursor back. I have also been able to get the editor to make the I-bar cursor disappear.
OPEN DOESN'T SEEM TO REVERTStart with a blank editor screen using New..., enter ABCDEF, then press Save and save the message as test.sgn. Then enter GHI, then click Open and select test.sgn. Nothing happens, the screen does not revert to the prior message. A dialog ought to appear asking if you want to revert to the previously saved version.
EDIT UNDO TEXT DOESN'T WORKHere's how you can believe you lost your work: image you entered a huge message. Save it. Highlight the whole text and press Backspace. Yikes! Try Control-Z or Edit/Undo -- oh no, your text is gone! This is where you then try to open the file you just saved. From the prior defect: no change! Is your work gone? ...no, you just can't get to it.
Just close the current file (without saving) and reopen the file.
MESSAGES TOO LARGE FOR SIGNIn addition, the editor does not tell you when you've reached the 1023 limit (actually a little less) -- the sign just doesn't display you text after sending.
The editor could have been made smarter to break up my message across multiple pages and create a timer for me.
SIGN'S TEXT PRE-PROCESSOR SWALLOWS CODES LIKE < AND >While you can type < and >, if there's anything that looks like a control code between them, there's a chance it will get eaten.
MULTIPLE INSTANCEIt appears possible to start multiple instances of the program, though it does not appear they know how to co-ordinate if both try to write to the sign at once.
ASSERTIONSIt is possible to get the software to assert. Here's one way:
On a blank screen enter ABCD, Shift-HOME, Delete.
For information on how your program can cause an assertion
failure, see the Visual C++ documentation on asserts.
(Press Retry to debug the application)
[Abort] [Retry] [Ignore]