QX3 Interactive Software
The software package that interfaces with the Intel QX3 microscope is one of the most creative aspects of this innovative toy and helps promote it to the top level of science educational tools. Written in Visual C++, the software is designed for computers that are Universal Serial Bus (USB) enabled, which includes most computers manufactured after mid-1998. Illustrated in Figure 1 is one of two splash screens that appear while launching and during initialization of the program.
Intel's recommended minimum system requirements for satisfactory performance are:
Before the software is loaded by the setup program, the computer hardware and software is scanned to ensure the minimum recommended configuration is met. As we mentioned above, the software is installed from a CD, so a CD-ROM drive is mandatory for the initial installation, unless it is done over a network. If the setup program does not detect the minimum system requirements, it will display a dialog box that points out the deficiencies and inquires whether to proceed. If, for example, the setup program does not detect a sound card, it can still be completely installed and will operate successfully without sound. Later, a sound card can be added to take advantage of the audio portion of the software. However, if the setup program fails to detect a USB port, then installation is halted.
Intel recommends that the QX3 software be installed prior to connecting the microscope to the USB bus port. For installation, the CD is inserted into the CD-ROM drive and has a setup program initiated by AutoPlay. The first menu displays an install button and a smaller close button. Click on the install button to start the system diagnostics check and install the software. You can also click on the close button to exit setup. In the event AutoPlay does not automatically launch the installer program, access the icon for the CD-ROM drive through the My Computer icon on the desktop, and double click on it. If this does not launch AutoPlay, open the folder and double click on the file named setup.exe. Follow the steps in the menu-driven installation routine to successfully configure the software. When software installation has been completed, the setup program will allow "e-registration" for those computers equipped with a modem.
Occasionally a glitch will produce problems with the setup procedure and the installation will fail. If this occurs, unplug the USB cable to the microscope (if installed), restart the computer, and repeat the setup installation. The readme.txt file in the QX3 Microscope root directory will contain any last-minute information about changes to the program setup.
When the Intel QX3 software is installed, an executable program icon shortcut is automatically installed on the desktop for easy access. The default directory for the software is:
This is where the setup program stores all important files that are necessary for the microscope. Within the QX3 Microscope root directory (illustrated in Figure 2) is the program executable, a readme text file, help files, an uninstall program, dynamic link libraries, and other associated runtime files that assist the program.
Also included in the root directory are four subdirectories that contain the default image samples, imported and exported images, images captured on the microscope (including time-lapse and movies), and a subdirectory named Ereg. The Ereg subdirectory contains initialization files, dynamic link libraries, and other associated files that store system settings for the software and interface with the Windows registry.
The subdirectory named Samples (see Figure 2) is used to store all of the digital still images captured by the microscope as *.SMP files, which is an extension specifically native to the Intel QX3 software. Also located in the Samples directory are the "Example" images supplied by Intel. These consist of a mixture of insects, flowers, fruit, Barbie (the Mattel doll), fibers, and other common specimens. Movie and time-lapse files are also stored in the Samples directory as *.AVI files. After repeated use of the microscope, the Samples directory will become full of *.SMP and *.AVI files that have names similar to:
These files are either individual images, movies, or time-lapse image collections that have been captured by the microscope and stored. The file name is actually a unique date stamp that identifies the exact time the file was created. For instance, 1999110706374250.SMP is a single digital image that was created in 1999 in the month of November (11) on the seventh day (07) at 06:37 Greenwich Mean Time plus 42.50 hundredths of a second. Likewise for the AVI file 1999110518352770.AVI, the image was created on November 5, 1999 at 18:35.2770 GMT. Each time the software saves an AVI file using either the record movie or time-lapse button, an SMP file of the first frame is also saved to post in the preview window. While the software is running in Live View mode, it creates two swap files with the extensions PCS****.TMP.AVI and PCS****.tmp in the Samples directory. When a single digital image or movie is recorded, the temporary space reserved by these files is used to store the AVI or SMP images just recorded, and two new swap files are generated.
Another subdirectory is entitled QX3 Import-Export, and is the default directory the software uses to house files that are to be imported or exported. The software will import Windows bitmap (*.BMP) files, Joint Photographic Experts Group (*.JPG, pronounced J-PEG) files, and photo-CD (*.PCD) files, but it will only export Windows bitmap and JPEG files. All of these file formats support image compression (bitmap and JPEG) or multiple image sizes (photo-CD), which saves considerable disk space.
Also residing in the QX3 Microscope root directory is a file named QX3Diag.log, which is a diagnostics log file written during installation that records system parameters. These include the Universal Serial Bus qualifications, a check of the minimum system requirements, a scan of pre-installed dynamic link libraries in the Windows system directory, and a final check of post-installed files, also in the Windows system directory. The log file is a simple text document and may be opened in Notepad or WordPad.
Several large files in the microscope root directory assist the executable program with multi-media activities. The files Qx3.mmp and Qx3cd.mmp are Multimedia Movie Player dynamic link libraries required by Media Player. Likewise, Qx3.mma and Qx3cd.mma are MIDI Manufacturers Association extensions that contain specifications followed by MIDI files. Together these files consume just under 92 Mb of drive space, a majority of the space used by the QX3 software.
The Intel QX3 software contains an uninstall routine that resides in the QX3 Microscope root directory. Double-clicking on the Uninst.isu icon in this directory will initiate the uninstall procedure. It can also be accessed through the Start menu. Launch the Start menu, select Programs, point to Intel Play QX3 Microscope, then click on the item Uninstall QX3 Microscope.
Each menu in the software has a small button containing a question mark in the upper left-hand corner, as illustrated in Figure 3. When the mouse cursor is rolled over this button, the button becomes highlighted with increased illumination and when the left mouse button is clicked, the cursor turns into a question mark. Move the cursor around the screen stopping to pause on icons, and the program will announce their names and how to use them through the sound card. Additional help can be obtained by pressing the F1 function key on the keyboard.
There are six different menus in the software that together comprise the interface program. They are:
The full capabilities of each menu screen are discussed in detail on the pages discussing the menu items. When considered collectively, this software package is loaded with special features that make this microscope not only exciting and educational, but also loads of fun for young and old alike.
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