Mike Swanson

October, 2004

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Birth of a Blog: Objects, Systems and Everywhere in Between

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    One of the best architects/developers/people I've ever had the pleasure of working with has finally started his own blog! I've been encouraging (okay...prodding) him to do this for awhile, because he has a lot of knowledge that other developers can definitely benefit from. Although he expressed some concern about not having any topics to write about, he seems to have overcome that problem as he's already made three posts today! I've been working with him on the NxOpinion project for the past year-and-a-half, and I hope he has a chance to share some of his object-relational mapping experience with you sometime soon.

    Check out Objects, Systems and Everywhere in Between. While you're there, don't miss his post on the relatively obscure and esoteric C# Global Namespace Qualifier (otherwise known as global::).

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PhotoStamps

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    For seven weeks during August and September, the US Postal Service authorized a public market test for PhotoStamps. They cost about twice as much as normal postage, but in my opinion, the novelty is worth the price. So, I ordered a few sheets printed with a photo of Elizabeth and me, and we planned to use them for personal correspondence and possibly our greeting cards for the upcoming holidays. Right after I ordered them, I read a news story stating that stamps.com had revised the program to prohibit photos of adults and teenagers. Apparently, The Smoking Gun had successfully snuck photos of some notorious adults past the censors. Needless to say, I was worried that we would never receive our PhotoStamps.

    Much to my surprise, the stamps showed up—as ordered—a few days later. However, because of the controversy and the fact that the program has ended pending 90-day review by the US Postal Service, I wonder if we should actually use them or keep them around as a historical artifact. Canada has been offering custom stamps since 2000, and England offers it through their Royal Mail.

    If this is something you'd like to see more of in the future, stamps.com has a contact address for someone at the US Postal Service. Personally, I think they're pretty cool. Did anyone else have a chance to snag some of these?

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    How Much Is One Million?

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    While watching the trailer for the upcoming film, Paper Clips, I was reminded of an experiment I performed back in high school. Mind you, my experiment didn’t have as much meaning or purpose as the project documented in the trailer, but it does illustrate yet another dimension of my geek personality.

    We hear the term “million” thrown about constantly in our society, whether in relation to movie star salaries, box office grosses, corporate profits, corporate losses, television game shows, or potential lottery jackpots. In the computer industry, we talk about millions as if they’re nothing. Case in point: a 3½ inch floppy disk has 1.44MB (or approximately 1,509,949 bytes) of storage, yet floppy disks have all but been abandoned, simply because they don’t hold enough information. For example, my 5 megapixel (2,560 x 1,920 = 4,915,200 total pixels) Nikon Coolpix 5700 digital camera stores a full resolution image at “normal” JPEG compression in approximately 1MB of space, making floppy disks woefully inadequate for storing any more than a single photo.

    Now, when I was back in high school, 1MB was still considered a lot of space. But how much is one million (ignoring the fact that 1MB is really 1,024 bytes x 1,024 bytes, or 1,048,576 total bytes)? I needed a way to truly appreciate the size and scope of this number, so I came up with my own experiment. What if I took my Casio calculator, entered 0 + + 1, and pressed the equals key one million times (which has the effect of adding 1 each time the key is pressed)? How long would that take? Would the equals key fail before I pressed it one million times? Would the battery last that long? I had to find out.

    So, I entered the formula on a Monday morning before school started, placed the calculator on the top corner of my desk, and began pressing the equals key. It’s amazing to me how the human body can adapt to such unique scenarios, because it wasn’t very long into the first day that my hand almost instinctively began “twitching” up and down in an almost nervous woodpecker-like motion. I found that I could average approximately 10,000 presses per class, and I could do this with one hand while listening or writing with the other.

    While walking between classes, I perfected a technique that allowed me to lightly grip the sides of the calculator with my thumb and ring fingers and “bounce” the equals key off of my index finger, all the time maintaining my arm in a normal walking position. It wasn’t long before teachers would ask what I was doing or check on my daily progress when I came to class. I’d even continue the experiment during lunch. And when I left school in the afternoon, I stored the number in memory and kept the calculator in my locker.

    Let me tell you…one million is a lot. It ended up taking me about 2½ weeks of constant pressing to reach one million. There were days where I could do more than 10,000 during a class, and there were days when gym class would prevent progress for an entire hour. I confined my experiment to school days, so nothing was done over the weekend. Now, imagine paying someone $1,000,000 using a similar process. You would have to hand over one dollar bills at the rate of approximately 3 per second over the course of 2 to 2½ weeks! What if each press of the equals key enabled your digital camera to write one byte of information to its storage media? It would take the same amount of time to store one photo! Insane!

    Of course, today, one million isn’t much at all. You probably can’t even retire on $1,000,000. And 1MB of storage is almost laughable. The new cool number is one billion (yes, make sure you hold your pinky finger to the corner of your mouth when you say it). With so many billionaires cropping up and multi-gigabyte computer storage at low prices, perhaps I need to re-run my experiment with one billion as the goal. But then, unless I can increase the speed of my finger or dedicate more time to my experiment, it would take me a little over 51 years to finish! Wow!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Ordered A Dual Opteron Workstation

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    You may recall that I've been waiting for one of two "triggers" to order a new computer. Well, even though my first trigger, Doom 3, has already been released, I found that it ran very acceptably on my current P4 1.8GHz Dell Dimension 8100 computer. So, I played through Doom 3 on my current computer and hoped that by delaying my purchase, I might possibly catch another technology wave (for example, PCI Express) before Half-Life 2 hit the shelves. Based on recent article and posting activity, I get the feeling that Half-Life 2 will RTM within a few weeks. And if that's the case, I need to order now because of the delay in obtaining the video card I want (NVIDIA GeForce 6800 Ultra). So, last night, I pulled the trigger and placed my order.

    I decided to order the following system from GamePC:

    2 AMD Opteron 250 (2.4 GHz) Retail       1 Sony DRU-710A Dual Layer DVD ± RW / CD-RW Retail
    2 CPU Retail Coolers   1 Sony DDU-1612 16X IDE Black Tray Loading DVD-ROM OEM
    1 Tyan Tiger K8W AMD 8000 Retail   1 BFG Tech GeForce 6800 Ultra OC 256MB Retail
    4 Samsung PC-3200 512 MB ECC Reg. DDR SDRAM   1 Creative Sound Blaster Audigy2 OEM
    2 Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000 RPM OEM   1 Lian Li PC-61 Black Mid-Tower
    1 Western Digital Caviar SE 250GB 7,200 RPM OEM   1 Silverstone SST-ST46F PFC 460W PSU
    1 Soyo Bay One DV 9-In-1 Internal USB 2.0 Card Reader Retail   1 GamePC Noise Reduction and Cooling Kit (Stage Three)

     

    The dual Western Digital Raptors will be configured as a RAID 0 system drive for maximum performance. The BFG Tech GeForce 6800 Ultra OC comes overclocked at 425 MHz for a little extra video acceleration. It's tough to choose a case when you can't see them in person, but I know that I don't want a full tower, since I don't tend to upgrade my machines much anymore, and I don't need the extra internal space. I also don't want a door in front of my drive bays, because I hate having to constantly open and close it (call me lazy). So, based on these choices, I went with the Lian Li PC-61 Mid-Tower, and I'm sure I'll be happy with it.

    This is the first time I've ordered anything from GamePC, but if initial impressions are any indication, I'm already impressed with this company. First, they allow you to configure almost anything you'd like using their web-based rig generator. Yes, other companies have this feature on their sites, but GamePC has a much larger selection of top-end components that you can mix and match at will. Second, after I sent them my desired configuration and some questions about it via e-mail, I received a very comprehensive and technically satisfying answer within 30 minutes. When I followed-up with another question, I received another excellent response within a very short timeframe. Each subsequent e-mail exchange was quick, showed a deep understanding of their system components, and never pressured me to do anything. They left everything up to me. As a matter of fact, after slightly modifying my configuration based on their suggestions, I ended up saving $71 off the system I had originally configured myself. Now that's customer service.

    As I suspected (and their rig generator confirmed), GamePC is currently waiting for more GeForce 6800 Ultra cards, because they are in short supply. So, I expect to wait a couple of weeks before they can finally complete the system build, burn it in, and ship it my direction. I'll definitely have a follow-up post when the machine arrives and I've had a chance to play with it.

    Does anyone else have any experience with GamePC that they'd like to share?

    Update: Read my impressions of the new computer.

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