Mike Swanson

February, 2006

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Win a Trip to Vegas and a Custom Xbox 360

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    Want to win a free trip to our upcoming MIX 06 conference in Las Vegas and a very cool custom Xbox 360? Well, if you're a CSS guru, enter the Remix MIX contest. Redesign the MIX 06 site with your own custom CSS, enter it into the contest, and it'll be judged based on a number of factors including overall design, creativity, and popularity. Three winners will be chosen. If you're looking for inspiration, check out the gallery. Good luck!

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    "Crossbow," WPF Training, and the Command Pattern

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    In his MSDN TV 15-minute video, Mike Henderlight talks about "Crossbow," the code name for the technology that allows Windows Presentation Foundation controls to work with Window Forms, and vice versa. Unless you're writing a brand new application to take full advantage of WPF, it's likely that you'll begin to include more powerful WPF controls in your Windows Forms applications as you migrate them over time. Or, you'll use your favorite Windows Forms controls to add functionality that doesn't yet exist in WPF. Either way, it's good stuff to be aware of. Read more in the Dr. Dobb's interview, Windows Presentation Foundation Interoperability.

    The good folks at Mobiform Software (makers of the Aurora XAML designer for WPF) have put together a two-day class that introduces students to WPF programming and XAML. The course is taught by Ron DeSerranno, Mobiform's President and CEO, in Vancouver, Canada. Looks like the next class is coming up on March 6th and 7th. Register here.

    Jelle Druyts has authored a useful MSDN article called The Command Pattern In Windows Presentation Foundation (via Rob Relyea). In it, Jelle explains how the classic Command pattern has been baked directly into WPF. And although it's a bit older, Ian Griffiths' article on the subject is also worth reviewing.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Comparing Transmission Speeds

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    Have you ever wondered how various transmission speeds relate to each other? Or have you ever stopped to consider how USB 2.0 compares to Fast Ethernet? I frequently encounter people—even technical people—who don't seem to get it. I was listening to a podcast (to remain unnamed) just yesterday where the participants were reviewing a portable audio/video device. After commenting that the device supported both USB 2.0 and Firewire connections and noting the relatively large size of video files, one of the speakers ranted: "but I wish it had an Ethernet port." To which I mentally responded: "why...so you can transmit your data at one fifth the speed!?!?" The clear implication was that an Ethernet connection would provide the faster solution.

    I also get grief from people because I almost always plug a network cable into the back of my laptop, even if I'm in wireless range. I'll grant that a wireless connection is the ultimate in convenience, and it's often good enough to be faster than your broadband connection at home, but if you're transferring files of any size, let me be the first to tell you that wireless will almost always lose against a standard Fast Ethernet connection. It's important to point out that there's a big difference between theoretical and actual transmission speeds. In the case of a wireless connection, achieving 50% of the theoretical maximum is quite common, especially in a congested area. That means that if you're running 802.11b, you may be limiting yourself to 5Mbps (of course, your mileage may vary). So, if you have an 8Mbps broadband connection to the internet, your wireless connection becomes the bottleneck.

    If you don't believe me, I encourage you to copy a large set of files over your wireless connection, then try the same experiment over a wired connection. You won't need the precision of a stopwatch for your test. Chances are extremely good that you'll see a very noticeable speed difference without doing any measurements. I like to think of it this way: wireless = convenience; wired = speed. By the way, if you are in a congested area and you're a relatively technical person, I'd recommend re-running this same test for each of the available transmission channels on your wireless access point. You should be able to find a channel that provides you with less interference and that results in faster transfers.

    I've put together a quick chart that compares the theoretical maximum transmission speeds of some common technologies. All of the speeds are measured in Mbps, which is megabits per second. I only mention this because I've seen many people confuse Mbps and MBps. Lower-case "b" means "bits," and upper-case "B" means "bytes." Click on the chart for a larger version.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Have Fun Programming Microcontrollers

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    I've spent over 26 years writing software. In that time, I've authored many programs that interact with hardware and external devices. But, it has been a long time since I've worked directly with microcontrollers, and even the little experience I've had has been very limited.

    Some time before the New Year, a user group friend from Michigan asked me if I had any recommendations for learning microcontroller programming. While responding to his e-mail query, I was reminded of Parallax, Inc., a company I'd run across in my past. So, I spent some time digging through their site and many others and decided to put one of the Parallax starter kits on my Christmas list. I was thrilled when I ripped open one of the gifts from my dad and his wife Terri: a brand new BASIC Stamp Discovery Kit!

    I won't go into all the details, because you can find a lot of great information on the Parallax site, and I'd encourage you to spend some time there. The kit includes an excellent 333-page introductory book called What's a Microcontroller that was written specifically for the Parallax starter kit hardware. The book starts by covering the basics of a microcontroller, helps you install and configure their computer-based IDE, and by page 24, you've already written the canonical "hello world" program that sends debug information via serial/USB back to their IDE. Pretty cool stuff.

    Step-by-step, the well-written text leads you through lessons that carefully build your knowledge. Don't worry if you've never taken an electronics class. The text covers just enough to gain a basic but working understanding of the circuits that you're constructing. The starter kit includes all of the electronic components you'll need (resistors, buttons, LEDs, servos, etc.) to work through all ten chapters. You'll start with blinking LEDs, add buttons, control servos, connect a 7-segment display, measure light with photoresistors, create sounds with a speaker, and integrate of lot of the learning into a final project. I'm about two-thirds of the way through the book, and I'm having a blast.

    The kit includes a 500-page BASIC Stamp Syntax and Reference Manual, and if you've ever written anything in BASIC, you'll be productive immediately (they call their variant PBASIC). I'd love to program this thing using a modern language like C#, but frankly, PBASIC is a breeze, and it's more than adequate for programming their microcontroller. If you've never used BASIC before, you'll have no problem learning as you go. The author has integrated the language education seamlessly with the rest of the text.

    Of course, if you want to take your learning even further, Parallax provides projects and kits that increase in complexity all the way up to building your own sophisticated robot. If you do decide to dive-in and purchase the BASIC Stamp Discovery Kit, I'd recommend the recently-available USB version, and be sure to order the 9V DV Power Supply. It'll make your life a lot easier.

    Highly recommended!

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