Mike Swanson

November, 2004

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Sanitize Your Clipboard Text


    I'm guessing this is mostly a geek problem, but I frequently find myself starting up NOTEPAD, pasting in some formatted text, selecting all of the now-unformatted text, copying it again, and pasting it into some other application. Does this sound familiar? I don't know how many times I've wished for a special paste command that would automatically remove all of the text formatting for me. I seem to need it most when pasting to .Text, FrontPage, or Word.

    To alleviate this frustration, I figured it was finally time to write a small utility, so I fired up Visual Studio 2005 and wrote a simple proof-of-concept. Right after I had something functional, I decided to search the internet to see if someone else might have written a similar tool. I don't know why I didn't do this first. Turns out that there are a few solutions, and after trying them, I've decided that I like the simplicity and functionality of Steve Miller's PureText. It's a single EXE that you can put anywhere you'd like, it lives in the system tray, and a simple click of the icon automatically sanitizes your clipboard text. Or, if you don't want to click the icon, you can simply press Windows+V (customizable) to sanitize and paste in a single step. Simple and beautiful.

    I wish I had seen Duncan Mackenzie's post back in August...or quite frankly, about 10 years ago.

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    The Final Hours of Half-Life 2


    GameSpot has posted an excellent, 25-page, in-depth article titled The Final Hours of Half-Life 2. The report covers:

    • The choice by Valve Software to develop their own game engine
    • The inclusion of realistic physics and articulate characters
    • Why Half-Life 2 didn't appear at E3 2002
    • The real story behind the September 30, 2003 release date
    • The lawsuit between Valve and Vivendi Universal Games
    • How game levels are envisioned and created
    • How a 21-year-old German named Axel G hacked into Valve's network
    • The fate of the scanner piñata

    The article is a fascinating read with a lot of behind-the-scenes detail that hasn't been revealed until recently. It sounds like the development team put in a lot of 20+ hour days over a long period of time to finish this game (unfortunately, many developers can relate to a work schedule like this). Plus, we get some frank and honest insight from Gabe Newell.

    I have a copy of Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar on order from Amazon. I'm hoping that it's an extended version of the kind of information that's presented in the GameSpot article. It doesn't look like the book has shipped yet, so I probably won't be receiving it before Tuesday...which is most likely a good thing, since my evenings will be occupied in City 17. :-)

    On a related note, based on this GameSpot article and this IGN article, it appears that some stores might already have Half-Life 2 available for sale. I checked our local Best Buy and Electronics Boutique while I was out with my wife tonight, but neither of them had it on the shelves. Unfortunately (or fortunately), since the game requires internet activation by Valve's Steam service, it probably wouldn't do any good to have it early anyway.

    Update: Blues News is reporting the following response from Valve about early activation of Half-Life 2.

    If you have purchased a copy of Half-Life 2, we are sorry you are still waiting to play. This is not Valve's choice. Vivendi is insisting that the game has not yet been released, and has threatened that Valve would be in violation of its contract if we activate the Half-Life 2 Steam authentication servers at this time.

    Thanks for your patience and we will update you when we have more news to share.

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    The Importance of Information Increases Directly with Distance and Cost


    This is a maxim that I’ve generally found to be true in my many years of consulting experience. Although I’ve seen it in the technology industry, I have no reason to believe that it’s any different in other specialties. As a matter of fact, if you’ve ever worked in or with a large organization, you’ve probably observed it yourself. It may even happen in your personal relationships!

    Companies spend a lot of money to attract, screen, and hire top-notch employees. I think it’s safe to say that most organizations make an honest effort to hire the highest quality people they can find. So why is it that when a critical decision needs to be made about the business, the company values the input of an over-priced consultant half-way across the globe over the expert that they invested so much time in to attract, screen, hire, and employ?

    I wonder if the mindset is something like: “Our employees can’t be that good, because if they were, they’d be working for <insert external firm here>.” Or possibly that by working side-by-side with the employees, we learn that they’re everyday people that make mistakes…just like us, whereas someone we don’t know must be more competent, simply because we’re unfamiliar with them. I think we can find a bit of evidence to support this second hypothesis by simply looking at the air of authority that celebrities bring to any topic they decide to discuss, even if they’re not an expert in that topic at all.

    I think a corollary to this maxim might be the interest of organizations to mimic the practices of their competitors even when those same competitors are trying to mimic them! It seems to be a lack of self-confidence on the part of the organization, even if that organization currently dominates its industry.

    I know that I’m not the only person to observe these behaviors. What have you seen in your experience?

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    MSN Search Service Beta

    The MSN Search team has released a beta version of their new service at http://beta.search.msn.com/. Of course, being a beta, you can expect to run into some quirks. For example, all of my searches this morning result in: "This site is temporarily unavailable, please check back soon." I'm hoping that this is because we didn't expect the volume of curious visitors we're receiving and that we'll use the load data to make improvements. The MSN Search team has also posted a blog entry that gives more detail.
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    Embarrassing Music


    About 15 years ago, I lived with a musically inclined roommate who actually built a full audio studio in the basement of the house we lived in. Yes, it was a full studio. It had sound-proof walls, large glass windows between the different rooms, high quality microphones, a very large mixing board, racks of audio components, keyboards, guitars, a Mac computer for sequencing, etc. He produced his own music and ran his own recording business. He's since moved to Hollywood and has worked with Blink 182, Pink, Rancid, Richard Marx, STYX, and the Tubes, among many others. He's very talented, and none of his success is a surprise to me.

    Being that I'm a geek with a few years of piano lessons under my belt, I always enjoyed tinkering around in the studio coming up with my own tunes when I had a few hours to kill. In the process, I learned a lot about sequencing, MIDI, SMPTE time code, mixing, and lots of other interesting stuff. I rarely—if ever—worked on a song for more than a single sitting, so most of my tunes are no longer than a minute or two. Back then, I was into dance music, and as a result, many of my short songs tend to focus on rhythm.

    Well, as I was transferring files to my new computer the other day, I happened to notice some old audio files that I hadn't seen in a long time, so I decided to listen. How completely and utterly embarrassing! However, in the interest of maintaining my humility, I offer you four songs that should never have made it onto the public internet (all in WMA format).

    • Burtdance (1:02) - I wrote this one around the time that the Prince song, Batdance, was on the radio. But, in my version, I pictured Burt Reynolds in one of his cheesy movies running through a parking garage and jumping over car hoods. Did I actually just write that!?
    • Halloween (1:39) - I've always liked John Carpenter's theme for the movie, Halloween, and I wondered how much I could twist the theme into something with a dance rhythm. I'm not sure I succeeded, but for this version, I was fortunate enough to have my roommate play some psychedelic electric guitar to add to the eeriness. Believe me, he can play guitar much better than this...he specifically went crazy at my request.
    • Chase (2:40) - One of my earliest movie "chase" themes with a dance rhythm.
    • Caribbean Theme (1:18) - Although I've made it sound like I only wrote dance music, that's not the case. I frequently ventured into unknown territory to push my musical limits, and I often never knew what I'd end up with. This is one example.

    My apologies if you actually made it through all four of these. Comments are welcome...I think.

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