Mike Swanson

December, 2004

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Changing Jobs


    I became a Microsoft employee in May of 2000, and I've been a consultant in our Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) organization for the past 4½ years. Although I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in the field, I've always wondered what it would be like to work at our main campus in Redmond, Washington. Well, on Wednesday, I accepted an offer for a Technical Evangelist position that will focus on Avalon-related developer tools and components. If you're unfamiliar with Avalon, it might help to read a brief introduction from our November 2004 Community Technology Preview.

    Before I came to Microsoft, I always thought that I'd like Robert Hess' job. I love learning about new technology and sharing it with others, and I'm told that I have excellent communication and presentation skills. Mix in some passion, curiosity, creativity, business skills, and a 25+ year history in the industry, and I hope you end up with a very strong Technical Evangelist. If you continue to follow my blog, I suppose we'll both find out!

    If you read my post titled Failing at Vacation, you know that I flew out to Redmond last Tuesday and Wednesday. It was a whirlwind visit, and I barely had a moment to breathe. But, it was invigorating. After checking in at the hotel, I turned around and grabbed a taxi to building 18 for a 4:00pm interview with Karsten Januszewski. I interviewed with Steve Cellini (the guy responsible for the PDC) at 5:00pm, and my new manager, Jeff Sandquist (one of the guys who started Channel 9) at 6:00pm. They asked a lot of great questions, and I enjoyed meeting each of them. Unfortunately, my brain was running on an early morning Cinnabon, some Skittles I bought at the airport, and a package of United Airlines snack mix that I devoured on the plane. Fortunately, I was able to grab dinner that night, although I didn't finish until 10:00pm Redmond time (1:00am my time!).

    On Wednesday morning—after a proper breakfast—I interviewed with Carter Maslan and Jeremy Mazner. Of all of the interviews, Jeremy's was the most challenging. He had me write some ad hoc code on the whiteboard (sans IntelliSense) and asked me to whiteboard a couple of PowerPoint slides that I then had to present to him. Whiteboarding code is always interesting. Although the code I wrote achieved the desired functionality, it was definitely a first pass. As luck would have it, a much more obvious and performant solution popped into my head the moment I walked out of his office. I had a short follow-up with Jeff, hopped in a taxi, and flew back home.

    Thursday evening, I had a phone interview with Vic Gundotra, the General Manager of Platform Evangelism. I've seen Vic present at many of our internal events, and his excitement is infectious. Talking with him on the phone is no different. If you ever wanted to get pumped up about technical evangelism, Vic is your man. I look forward to getting a chance to meet him in person.

    Overall, the interview process went very smoothly, and I'm excited to try something new. The decision to move away from our family and friends was a very difficult one for my wife and me, but I know that over time, we'll be happy with our choice. We both love the Seattle area, and we're looking forward to an adventure. I start the new job in early January, and we'll be relocating sometime later that month. Wish us luck!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Improved Search with the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta


    To-date, I've been very happy with the improved search capabilities that Lookout provides for Outlook users. I've also played a bit with Google Desktop Search, and I've found a number of documents on my computer that I thought I had lost. With the explosion of data (e-mail, digital photos, shared documents, etc.) that has occurred over the past decade and the decrease in storage costs, it's no surprise that search technology is a hot topic.

    Today, we released the MSN Toolbar Suite Beta. It's a free download that enables keyword search of both e-mail and documents that are stored on your computer (you can also have it index network drives). In addition, it offers automatic form filling for web pages and a handy pop-up blocker. Some of these features are similar to those provided by the Google Toolbar, but I like the fact that the MSN Toolbars integrate everything into a single experience.

    The installer adds keyword search to the Windows taskbar, Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Outlook, so searches can be initiated from any of these four locations. For more information, Channel 9 has a 53-minute video interview with the Toolbar Suite team, there are updates on the MSN Search blog, and Charlene Li of Forrester provides a short review (including a comparison with Google Desktop Search) on her blog.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Macro Wallpaper 4


    I needed some new wallpaper for the upcoming holidays, so I grabbed the camera and snapped a few shots around the house. As many of you know, my new monitor has a 16:10 aspect ratio (1920 x 1200), so you'll find those in addition to the 1280 x 1024 images I've typically supplied. These images aren't quite as colorful as some of the others, but they work. Happy holidays!

    (1280 x 1024 version)

    (1280 x 1024 version)

    (1280 x 1024 version)

    (1280 x 1024 version)

    By the way, if you missed the first three sets, check out Macro Wallpaper, Macro Wallpaper 2, and Macro Wallpaper 3: Fallpaper.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Failing at Vacation


    As Microsoft employees, we're allowed to carry forward the same amount of vacation time that you would normally accrue in a single year. Since I get three weeks of vacation each year, I can carry forward no more than three weeks into the next year. So, in 2004, between actual holidays, floating holidays, and unused vacation, I find myself needing to take almost the entire month of December off so that I don't lose my "extra" vacation days. I've never had that much consecutive vacation time, and frankly, before it began, I wasn't sure that I'd be able to avoid my active routine and simply relax.

    Well, after my first full week, I'm embarrassed to report that I am actually failing at vacation (how pathetic). I wouldn't have guessed it was possible. This week alone, I flew to our main campus in Redmond Tuesday morning and returned Wednesday around midnight. Then, yesterday, I spent all day helping out a couple of customers in southwest Michigan, returned home around 6:00pm, and had a conference call at 7:30pm. Of course, all of this has been my choice, and I'm not really complaining...just making an observation.

    All of this has kept me from my regular blogging routine, and I've missed it. I have a backlog of about 20 things that I'd like to blog about at some time, and that doesn't include the product and technology announcements and discoveries that I try to share. So no, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth, and yes, I'll be diligent in my vacation efforts in the upcoming week (do diligent and vacation belong in the same sentence?). I hope to find time to blog more in the coming weeks.

    I have a stack of books that I'd like to get through and review. Plus, my friend Rob has coerced me into buying Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth. I'm not a big fan of real-time strategy games, but the graphics and interactivity I've seen in the videos are too impressive to ignore. Anyone else playing this game?

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Microsoft Fingerprint Reader


    Update on 3/26/3009: I recently received an official communication from our hardware group that is germane to this old blog post:

    Thanks for your interest in Microsoft Hardware products.  The Fingerprint Reader is no longer being manufactured by Microsoft but we recognize it may still be available from retailers and resellers.  The product runs on 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista. Microsoft will not be releasing any updates for the product to run on 64-bit versions of Windows XP or Windows Vista. The product is not supported on Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit).  To ensure this is clear to our customers, the product will not install on Windows 7 (the user is warned that the application will not run). 

    If you currently use the Fingerprint Reader and are unable to use your product with 64-bit versions of Windows XP or Windows Vista or the Windows 7 beta release, please visit the following Web site for assistance: http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/support/fingerprintreader.mspx.

    For a couple years now, I've been happily using a DigitalPersona fingerprint reader. It was given to me at one of our internal events, and I had let it sit on my shelf collecting dust wondering why I'd ever need a biometric security device to logon to my machine. Then, one day, I ran across it while looking for something else, and I decided to plug it in and give it a try. Unfortunately, the personal edition of the DigitalPersona device wouldn't allow me to logon with my fingerprint unless I was using the Windows XP Welcome Screen option (and I prefer the Windows Classic Logon). So I was just about ready to disconnect it and put it back on the shelf to collect more dust when I read that I could use it to provide usernames and passwords for web sites I frequently visit. Interesting.

    Basically, you visit a site that requires authentication, touch the reader with one of your registered fingers, then tell the fingerprint software what it should enter into selected fields on the web page. You can also indicate whether or not you'd like the "submit" button on the page to be pressed. That's it! Now, the next time you visit that web page, you just touch the fingerprint reader, and everything is done for you. It's really that simple, and it makes logging into secure sites a breeze. I suppose it could be used for any site that has fields you'd like to fill in, but I've used it exclusively for authentication.

    I knew that we had recently come out with our own Fingerprint Reader, and I figured that I could use my new computer purchase as an excuse to try it out. So, even though the DigitalPersona reader had never given me a single problem (other than the Windows XP logon restriction), I purchased the newer, slimmer, and sleeker-looking Microsoft version. And guess what I quickly discovered? It's also made by DigitalPersona! I was very happy to learn this, although I wondered if our version would provide any benefits over the older reader.

    The Microsoft Fingerprint Reader does allow you to logon to your machine, even if you're using the Windows Classic Logon screen like me. Plus, the interface that allows you to configure fields and buttons on a web page is improved and very straightforward. As you can see in the screenshot, the software highlights the field on the web page (in this case, a Hotmail password field) that corresponds to the field that you are registering. Then, you can tell it which button to use to submit your information. In my case, it automatically selected the "Sign In" button for me. After I press OK, I'll never have to type these credentials again...I can just use one of my registered fingers.

    One word of caution. I've discovered that the reader will not work more than a couple times when plugged into a Belkin F5U237 Hi-Speed USB 2.0 7-Port Hub. If I plug it directly into my computer, everything works as advertised. The fingerprint reader appears to require 260mA of power from the USB port, and from what I've read, the USB specification states that devices may use up to 500mA before they need to provide their own external power source.

    I'm not sure why it doesn't work reliably when connected to the Belkin hub, but I've tried a number of things to diagnose the problem: I've plugged the hub directly into the wall (instead of through a surge protector), I've tried all of the ports on the hub, I've tried another hub of the same make and model, I've upgraded all of my USB drivers, and I've spent about 30 minutes on the phone with Belkin technical support. Although the support person I spoke with was very helpful, we were unable to successfully resolve my problem. I'll probably try a different USB hub to see if the issue I'm having is limited to this specific make and model. Update: I installed an Adaptec USB card, and everything now works fine. It appears that the problem is with the USB chipset on my motherboard (VIA).

    Regardless of this slight hiccup, I am very happy with the new reader. For around $41 (or $39.88 if you live near a Sam's Club), this is a nice piece of hardware that offers a lot of convenience. If you're looking for unique and useful gift ideas for the upcoming holidays, this is one I'd highly recommend.

Page 2 of 3 (11 items) 123