I am new to this forum. I have only briefly looked in over the past couple years, just lurking. I have been in touch with Bill a few times about a program I’ve been developing, and that program is the subject of this message. I have his and Neil’s permission to post this message.
I first found the Part15 forum several years ago while searching for help with Zara 1.6.2. There were several posts of interest, and I got something from each one. But, mostly I’ve been going it alone. This may change in the coming months when I decide if its worthwhile commercializing the program; I’ve been down the road twice of completing a polished help-filled product complete with Digital Signature, installation package and (for one product) website with e-commerce. It’s a lot of work to go from a program that works well enough for its developer, to one that also helps newbies learn and use it effectively.
I’ve been a software developer – from a lowly mainframe maintenance programmer in 1973 – to a self-employed consultant/network administrator ending in 2001. I’ve programmed all my adult life, and continued after retirement (I’m 69 on the 21st). ZRHelper (the name of my program, which I’ll refer to as ZRH) has been near the most complex program I’ve undertaken, but the funnest. It benefits from my experience, being internally elegant, clever and compact. Probably no one will ever see or appreciate the design of its beating heart, an Automatic Processor similar in function to Zara’s Event Processor, which I’m very proud of.
So, I’ve just finished alpha testing of a major feature; it is apparently bug free, running without error for the past week, It’s time I find out if ZRH is worth starting work on commercialization. I see Zara’s free edition and I think: what a great product, and free! I do not want to invest many more hours in ZRH for commercialization and then end up giving it away.
About ZRH: it was designed to work with Zara to increase my ease of using and maintaining my own Zara-based radio station. ZRH began from scratch in 2014, with just Zara to give me a glimpse into radio automation, which I’d been using for a few months. It’s been quite a learning experience, challenging, and – as I said – fun.
What I’m looking for in this forum is (initially) one person with these attributes:
- A current user of Zara 1.6.2, whose station is on 24/7
- Familiar with Windows to the point that copying and pasting files, creating shortcuts to EXE’s, etc., is trivial
- Downloads and plays out podcasts
I’ll ask this person to commit to:
- Installing and configuring ZRH, integrating ZRH with Zara, allow ZRH to do its intended podcast processing
- Evaluating ZRH to the point that s/he can help me answer the question: Does it have commercial potential?
- Provide feedback in several areas:
- Consistency and ease-of-use of the user interface
- Understandable flow of work in the program
- Easy of learning the program
- Bug reporting
- Best features
- Least-needed features
- New features needed
- Recommended changes
Well, you get the picture. I’ll devote myself to helping this person with any aspect of the program, either by telephone or email (I don’t do texting). I want this person to have the best possible experience with ZRH, and that will begin with me. I’ll commit to doing this for two weeks. Extension of time will be negotiated, if needed.
I’m hoping that several people express an interest in the beta testing program; if I do go for commercialization, I’ll need a wider pool of experience and feedback and its this group I’ll go to first.
I’ve prepared a zip file of screenshots and documents to introduce the program and help you decide if you’d like to help. To get the zip file, send a private forum message to me with your email address. I’ll send the file as an attachment to my reply. I’ll reply to all.
Here’s a feature list taken from a document in the zip file:
ZRHelper, software written using the Clarion for Windows development platform, performs the following tasks (incomplete list):
o Remember in the following discussion, ZRH can be utilized only for its podcast-processing ability, or just its playlist manipulation ability, or both together.
o Original task was to manage the playlists that Zara uses to play musical tracks (M3U playlist files), and do it in an automated 24/7 fashion. This task finished beta testing late in 2014. Everything that followed made use of a powerful, versatile, yet simple API (application programming interface) and structure that was constructed to support this first task.
o Provides extensive customization of how each program (each Zara M3U and ROT playlist playout event, that is) is handled by ZRH.
o Makes it easy for the user to add tracks to – and remove them from – a show’s playlist. This ability is called Auto Track Integration (ATI). Anyone who can copy files from one folder to another can manage the station’s playlists. Five minutes before a show’s begin time, ZRH synchronizes the show’s playlist with the show’s dedicated MP3 tracks folder.
o Can automatically (or manually) add the Zara no-overlap suffix, ~0, to all disk files added to a playlist. This suffix is always added to podcast playout files.
o Provides single-click access to a show’s playlist and a Windows Explorer window of the MP3 tracks dedicated to that show.
o After a playlist-based program finishes, ZRH examines Zara’s log file for the tracks that played out and performs one or more of the following actions on these tracks: moves them to the end of the playlist (rotation), deletes the tracks from the hard drive, only counts the played tracks, shuffles the entire playlist, or does nothing. This ability is called Playout Processing. A playout history is kept for each show, which allows an accurate determination of a playlist’s expected life.
o Lets the user preview new material for a show by forcing new tracks to the top of the playlist, then provides further abilities to control what happens to tracks removed from preview. This ability is called Preview Processing.
o Processes podcasts downloaded by Juice. Processing is required after downloading because different downloads for the same show have different names; Zara requires a single consistent name for a podcast (for automated operation), so ZRH provides this. ZRH also provides extensive accounting of podcasts as to length in time and bytes, date & time downloaded, historical totals, etc.
o Automatically deletes a podcast’s playout file during a window of opportunity following the podcast’s scheduled ending time. This prevents inadvertent repeating of a podcast.
o Allows remote processing of ZRH’s abilities from any computer on the network using a feature called Profiles. My own arrangement is to have both Zara, and ZRH running in Automatic Processing mode on the laptop that I use for the radio station, and use my desktop computer to run ZRH in non-automatic mode to perform management of ZRH’s database and feed tracks to individual shows. But there is nothing to prevent Zara running on the Playout Computer and ZRH running only on a different one; in this case, ZRH automatically accesses all relevant files on the network Playout computer.
o Prints and/or exports a schedule based upon its shows database.
o With three mouse clicks, copies upcoming podcasts and ROT-based shows to (for example) a usb flash drive. I implemented this feature so that I could easily take with me the shows I would miss by leaving the house.
o Keeps an extensive log file of many of its actions; provides the ability to view this file in a filtered manner – such as all podcasts in the past 12 hours, just today’s errors and/or warnings, etc.
o Single-click view of Zara’s log file for both today and yesterday. This makes it a snap to find what track played at a certain date and time.
o Helps the user keep the music and other tracks fresh by notifying the user when a playlist is approaching the point where tracks will begin repeating. Helps the user to easily manage the movement of tracks on the hard drive.
o Automatic Processing
§ This ability is at the heart of ZRH and was designed-in from the beginning. It is similar in operation to Zara’s Event Processor. Automatic Processing makes it possible for the radio station to run for days or even weeks at a time without intervention. Auto Track Integration, Playout, Preview, and Podcast processing, all are automatically invoked at the proper time for each show. Because newly-downloaded arrive asynchronously, ZRH is always available to process them, even if the program’s user interface has been closed.