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Beta tester needed for Zara Radio auxilliary program

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Beta tester needed for Zara Radio auxilliary program

Greetings,

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.

 

Grady Bradley

 

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.

 

Looks like a very useful

Looks like a very useful program Grady. I've used Zara 24/7 for nearly 10 years now, I use Zara in conjunction with Free Download Manager for downloaded programming but your software seems to be a bit better at it than my current solution.

I actually have 2 stations running Zara, one runs Talk 24/7 and the other is Voice Tracked with music.

You must know everything

You must know everything there is to know about Zara, with nearly 10 years experience. And with two stations! I didn't know about Free Download Manager before reading your post - I'll look into it. On FDM's website I didn't see a reference to RSS support. What do you use to d/l RSS feeds?

Grady Bradley

Out of curiosity; how easy is

Out of curiosity; how easy is it on system resources? One thing I've always liked about ZaraRadio is that its so extreamly lightweight and bug free. I've always ran it on the oldest and weakest of computers pratically non-stop and never experienced any problems that I can recall.

I'm sure you could get a lot of beta testers, but how much is it going to cost when you go on to monetize it? (I'm not really sure what additional features the paid version of Zara has, or if it addresses any of the features your Zarahelper will provide)

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

My station is running on an

My station is running on an old Dell Lattitude D630. In addition to Zara and ZRHelper, Weather Watcher Live, Juice and Ziepod podcast downloaders, ZoneAlarm, and pcAnywhere are running. Things are slow to load but there are no hiccups or chattering of the audio. I do a power-down cycle once a week to keep everything fresh (like, memory corruption errors that can creep in).

The last time I prepped a finished program for commercial sale it cost about $2500. This included trademark registration, security certificate, installer setup program, help creation, web site developer program, website hosting, geez the list just went on an on. Most of these costs won't be repeated next time and, it's not the costs so much as it is the hours. The program works fine for me but I've been so close to it for so long that I don't have a good feeling for its commercial possibilities. With so many good quality free programs available (Zara and FDM come to mind) people are coming to expect software to be free and leave it up to the developer to monetize it another way.

I agree that Zara is ultra stable. It rarely needs attention and I am so grateful for its capabilities.

Grady Bradley

A Few Thoughts

Hello Grady Bardley, you have posed a thought provoking opportunity for Zara users.

I barely qualify by your list of requirements, although I am not stepping forward as a beta tester, but simply as an observer. I almost know all of Zara's capabilities and someday look forwared to knowing it inside and out.

My talk station is programmed manually because of the varying requirements of different programs, and also because I enjoy "dumb" work that leaves my mind free to think other thoughts.

For example, a few shows require stripping audio from video programs and converting to mp3.

Some producers put their programs on a player without providing a download link, so I grab it from their player which requires a special step.

All the programs have distinct dates and titles which I prefer to keep intact so I can identify each audio file.

I once tried a service that provided static files (all the same label every week) and had a bad time later trying to restore true titling to those shows which required time consuming forensics.

Some programs get left in my playlist for re-airing, but a "shuffle" would make things too random as I want to move the programs to a select position after the first playing.

It seems that for me direct hands-on management is easier than would be trying to bicker with an automation system and try to get it to do what I want.

If I am just not realizing what ZRH can actually do then you know my limitation.

I'll stay tuned.

Carl Blare

Reply

Everyone has unique needs for their station, Carl; yours are probably much more common than mine - i.e., a more dynamic sound than you can get from complete automation. Hands-on management is the only way to get this. In my case, I was just trying to achieve a personal jukebox that required little intervention (there are no live announcements). I have a very large collection of audio tracks of all genres and the ability (because of my rural location) to receive no radio station (or tv station, for that matter) clearly. Plus, our satellite internet connection restricts all forms of streaming because of my download allowance, and prevents Zara from connecting to live streams. Having an audience for my station was never a concern. But as I built ZRHelper over the last few years, I realized that the more the station was automated the less time I would spend doing repetitive operations. Plus, the list of regularly scheduled podcasts grew (there are now 24 spread over a week); without ZRHelper these podcasts would require lots of continuing work. My "jukebox" is now robust and highly configurable and is what my wife and I listen to most in our home. I still have the freedom to do things manually, and often do. But I can safely leave the station on its own for any reasonable length of time and it will do everything on its own. I still have not explored all Zara's features, like LST, PLS and SEQ playlists; if mine were more than just a jukebox, I'm sure I'd be looking further into Zara's capabilities. So, Zara can do much more than I ask of it, but what I do ask it does with rarely a hiccup. <<<<<< This comment was blocked and unpublished because Project Honeypot indicates it came from a suspicious IP address.

Grady Bradley

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