Mike Swanson

February, 2005

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Cool Data Visualization Sites

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    I've been spending quite a bit of time with some Avalon team members in my new position as Technical Evangelist, and one of the Avalon topics that often comes up is Data (or Information) Visualization. If you're unfamiliar with the term, it might help to read Grokking the infoviz, an older—but still relevant—article from Economist.com. I'm certainly not the person to look to for an official definition, but my own short description would be: "a method of graphically visualizing and navigating through large amounts of data." Most of the compelling demonstrations that I've seen involve some kind of animation that helps illustrate relationships and patterns in the data.

    One of our e-mail threads today pointed out a site that uses data visualization to illustrate the popularity of baby names. The application is called NameVoyager. I'm impressed at the simplicity of the interface and the amount of data that can be mined in only a few simple keystrokes. It's also very easy to see the relationships between names. Kudos to The Baby Name Wizard.

    Here are some other interesting sites that I've run across in the past that I'd classify as data visualization:

    As I alluded to earlier, Avalon enables some very rich data visualization scenarios, and I can't wait to see what people are able to do with it.

    I'm sure I've missed some other cool sites...feel free to refer to them in feedback.

    Update: Check out information aesthetics for links to some other interesting data visualization sites.

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    Somewhere in Redmond

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    Whew! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of feverish activity. My wife, Elizabeth, and I are currently living in corporate housing right next to the main Microsoft campus in Redmond. Although I've found myself driving to work, it's only a 15-minute walk to my office in building 18. I spent a good part of last week in San Francisco at VSLive! (my first) where I met with many of the control vendors that I'll be working closely with. They seem like a great group of people, and I'm excited about what lies ahead.

    Elizabeth has spent a lot of her time looking for houses. We quickly learned that what we're used to seeing in Michigan isn't necessarily true in the Seattle area. Houses are expensive! Plus, they don't seem to believe in yards or basements out here. The lots are tight, and storage space is at a premium. Fortunately, my wife whittled down the options, and last weekend, we made an offer on a house in Sammamish, which is just east of Redmond. Our inspection was Thursday night, and everything went very well. If we continue on this course, we should close on February 28th and begin moving in on March 4th.

    Today was really the first day when Elizabeth and I could drive around for leisure. We drove around the Bellevue area and found a Best Buy! Believe it or not, there are only three Best Buy stores in the whole Seattle area! As a person who used to visit the local Best Buy at least once a week for my gadget "fix," it was great to find somewhere familiar. I haven't visited a Fry's Electronics yet, but I'm told that I'll like it a lot more when I finally do.

    The weather has been great. Daytime temperatures have hovered in the 50s, and although it has rained a little, we've seen an awful lot of sun. Definitely better than what we had been used to in Michigan. I'm told that it's unseasonably warm in Seattle right now, but considering it was below zero the week before we moved from Holland, Michigan, I'm not going to complain. It feels downright balmy.

    I never thought I'd say it, but we're not using TiVo, and we're happy! How can this be, you ask!? Well, Comcast has an excellent DVR with TiVo-like functionality that works very, very well. It has dual tuners, just like the unit we had with DirecTV, so we can record two shows at once. The interface isn't quite as good as TiVo's, but it's close enough. Plus, it does have a few features that TiVo didn't have, so overall, we're happy. Comcast also provides our internet service, and it seems pretty snappy too.

    I'm beginning to feel a little more comfortable with "corporate life" at Microsoft. I'll tell you what...they really love to schedule meetings out here; full calendars seem to be the norm. I'm all for a good meeting, but I fear that many of them have been scheduled just because someone thinks they should be. Same thing with many of the words I keep hearing. "Execute" is one of them, as in: "we need to execute!" For some reason, I'm reminded of Office Space. :-) Maybe a little of my Midwestern pragmatism will rub off on them. We'll see.

    Overall, things are going well. I hope that I can continue blogging on a more regular basis, but until we move into our house and settle down a bit, I'm afraid that I won't have quite as much time to dedicate. Please forgive me in advance. Thanks!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Looking Back on One Year of MSDN Blogging

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    Well, today marks the one year anniversary of the start of my blog on MSDN. Prior to this, I had experimented for a few months at blogger.com. But once I realized that blogging was something that I enjoyed and could maintain, I made the transition, and I haven't looked back. It's been a great year, and I've enjoyed interacting with many of you through feedback and e-mail. With my new position, I expect that the flavor of my blog will change a bit to accommodate Avalon and components, but I'll still include some personal insight, since I think that's what gives the recipe a little spice.

    As a point of interest, I went back through the logs to determine the top 10 posts. I've presented them here with the number of web views in parenthesis (RSS-only readers are not accounted for in these numbers):

    1. Automated Continuous Integration and the Ambient Orb™ (17,819)
    2. Interviewing at Microsoft (15,279)
    3. Code Review and Complexity (14,829)
    4. Microsoft Fingerprint Reader (14,043)
    5. Half-Life 2 Review (12,931)
    6. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Rocks! (10,815)
    7. Macro Wallpaper (9,983)
    8. Macro Wallpaper 2 (9,417)
    9. Dual Opteron Goodness (8,987)
    10. Ordered A Dual Opteron Workstation (8,821)

    I'm happy to see that my two articles show up in the #1 and #3 spots. I've had a lot of great discussion regarding those articles, and I appreciate the dialog that they've prompted.

    I can thank Chris Sells for #2. The referral logs show that his Microsoft interview page has sent 7,049 readers my way.

    I've been surprised by how many people have enjoyed the macro wallpaper that I've posted. In addition to positions #7 and #8, if the list continued, you'd see two more macro wallpaper posts in positions #12 and #13.

    There are a few posts that have generated a lot of e-mail. Although I don't have the exact counts, I'd guess that I've exchanged nearly 100 individual e-mails related to these posts:

    Thanks again for a fantastic year. Here's to the next!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Avalon Enthusiasts Dinner in London

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    Kevin Moore is a Program Manager on the Avalon team, and he's traveling to Europe for two weeks of vacation. He's going to be in London, and he'd like to meet with anyone interested in Avalon for a dinner event he's organizing. Sign up here.
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