Mike Swanson

July, 2006

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    New Widescreen Wallpaper and Posters

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    This past November, I stopped posting individual blog entries whenever I added new images to my wallpaper collection. Well, it's been about nine months now, and I thought I'd remind everyone that the Wallpaper Images page is alive and well, and 14 new photos have been added since then (for a total of 53). Everything is available at both 1,920 x 1,200 and 1,600 x 1,200 for your flexibility. I've included thumbnails for the six I just added tonight.

    Although I don't expect it to be in the final shipped product, Leaf 02 is currently available in Windows Vista Beta 2 (along with two others that I'll leave for you to figure out).

    Also, I'm frequently asked how to obtain high quality prints of my photos, and until recently, I didn't have a solution. A colleague of mine suggested that I try Cafe Press, so I've set up a "test" store with seven 35.0" x 23.0" posters. To ensure that the posters look as good as possible at such a large size, I went back into my archives and pulled out the highest quality versions of these seven photos and used Genuine Fractals to scale them up. I've already received one of the prints for my office, and I have to say, I'm impressed with the resolution, print quality, and rich colors. If this turns out to be popular, I'll do the same thing for more images and make them available in other sizes.

    Enjoy!

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    Use the Dell XPS LEDs to Monitor Your Build Status

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    Nearly two years ago, while I was still working for Microsoft Consulting Services in the field, I posted my article on Automated Continuous Integration and the Ambient Orb™. It's one of my most popular posts, and I still receive comments and questions about it almost once a week. Since then, I've read about many other creative ways to monitor build status.

    Well, two of the guys I worked with years ago, Rob Cecil and Scott Quibell, have taken the build status concept to the next level. They've managed to come up with a way to monitor their builds by manipulating the color LEDs that are included in the Dell XPS laptops. Scott outlines the method and includes some handy source code in Continuous Integration with CC.Net and Dell XPS LED "Ambient" Lights. Their method uses a customized build of CCTray and some LED APIs that were sniffed from Dell's Quickset utility. Scott has included a short video that illustrates how everything works.

    If you're not using a system like this, I urge you to give it a try. At least try continuous integration...even if you don't use a clever way to broadcast the build status. For those who are interested in using CI with Team Foundation Server, check out Jeff Atwood's A Kinder, Gentler Continuous Integration service for Team Foundation Server (thanks for the link, Rob). I'd love to hear if someone implements the XPS LED solution with TFS.

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    Cataract Surgery

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    About two years ago, when I still lived in Michigan, my optometrist thought he noticed "something" in my right eye. After consulting with a second optometrist in the same office, they both concluded that I might have the start of a cataract. It was still early enough in its development that they weren't 100% sure, so they scheduled a follow-up visit two weeks later when they'd be able to dilate my eyes for a better look. Sure enough...after dilation, they identified the beginnings of a cataract in my right eye.

    They weren't expecting to find something like this, because cataracts don't normally occur in younger people. Also, when cataracts do form, they typically affect both eyes, but my left eye was "crystal clear" as they described it. If you read about cataracts, you'll learn that among the possible causes is eye trauma. Bingo! When I was in grade school, some kids pinned me down at the bus stop and threw what could best be described as an "ice ball" (snowball) directly at my face. It hit my eye and created a small tear. Because I was so young, I don't remember exactly what tore, but I do remember that my mother had to put eye drops in my eye for a number of weeks while it healed. It's likely that this is the cause.

    Once a cataract starts, there's no known way to slow or stop its progress. The proteins in the lens of your eye begin to clump together, and as light tries to go through the—now cloudy—lens, it scatters. The result is that everything starts to get cloudier and fuzzier. Bright light makes things worse. If left to run its course, the lens will solidify and cause total blindness. For the first year or so, I would visit the optometrist to have the prescription for my right eye tweaked. But, as predicted, it eventually became so bad that I had to have an intraocular lens implant.

    The procedure is extremely common, and the results are typically quite stunning. Although there are three basic implant types, I chose the ReZoom multifocal lens (the decision as to which lens makes the most sense depends on your lifestyle and what you do with your eyes). I had the surgery performed two weeks ago by Dr. Michael Gilbert of the Northwest Vision Institute, and I couldn't be happier with the results.

    Basically, the procedure involves numbing your eye, creating a small incision, using ultrasound to break-up the cataract/lens, sucking out the pieces, inserting a folded intraocular lens, unfolding it, and positioning it appropriately. For a bit more context, this video does a good job explaining the general procedure. You are required to be awake the whole time. In my case, Dr. Gilbert asked me to focus on two lights, and he described how those lights would change (move, get brighter, darker, etc.) and when I'd feel pressure on my eye. Although Dr. Gilbert hasn't had this procedure himself, he had an uncanny ability to explain exactly what was going on. Consider me very impressed.

    Yes, I'll agree that the surgery sounds quite freaky...especially since you're awake. But, as promised, I never experienced any pain whatsoever. If you don't count all of the pre- and post-work they do to get you ready for surgery, the procedure only takes 15-30 minutes, and it's performed on an outpatient basis.

    Following surgery, I had to wear a clear eye "dome" for the remainder of the day and when I slept for the first week (photo). This keeps you from accidentally rubbing or scratching your eye. I also had to keep water out of my eye for two weeks (no, I won't post a photo of me in a shower cap, so don't ask). I couldn't lift more than 25 pounds, and I'm having to apply a set of eye drops four times each day for four weeks. All-in-all, it's an extremely fair tradeoff for the amazing vision I now have.

    If you've followed along this far, you'll know it's been about two weeks since my surgery. People ask: "so, what do you see?" First, as it was described to me, your vision will continue to change as your new vision system is integrated with your brain. Although I had great vision almost immediately after the procedure, it's continued to improve. Remember that my right eye was almost at the point of doing nothing, so it wouldn't surprise me if it has to learn how to "see" again.

    With the type of lens I had implanted, I do see halos (no, not that kind of Halo) at night. I knew about this ahead of time, because I had watched an excellent video at the Northwest Vision Institute before I made my decision. I expect them to diminish over time, but frankly, I'm quite used to them now, and they don't seem to negatively impact anything I do. Compared to what I could (or rather, couldn't) see with my right eye before all of this, the halos don't even matter.

    I'm now walking around with no glass in the right side of my glasses. I thought I'd look extra geeky like this, but nobody even notices...not even me. Interestingly, the color in my right eye seems just a slight bit more vibrant. I haven't asked Dr. Gilbert why this is yet (perhaps UV filtering in the lens?), but I wish my left eye had similar perception! I can also resolve much smaller text at greater distances as compared to my left eye. So, regardless of whether you consider me Borg or bionic, I like what I see!

    Before I close this long post, I have to note that Steve Marx, our recently-hired Atlas technical evangelist, sent me a great follow-up e-mail that he's blogged about called SwansonVision. You can create your own SwansonVision text with his sample app and confuse your friends. I got a good laugh out of that one. :-)

    If you're considering this procedure, I'd highly recommend Dr. Gilbert and his friendly staff. And, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    CSS-Like Visual Styling for Windows Forms

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    Infragistics has released some new technology that allows developers to easily apply visual styles to any Windows Forms application with a single line of code. They provide a tool called NetAdvantage AppStylist that enables designers to interactively create CSS-like (or WPF-like) style libraries. These libraries can then be applied at runtime and switched on-the-fly. Even cooler, the technology can be used to enable end-user style customization right within an application. As an example, because styles can cascade, a top level font color property can automatically apply to all of the controls on a form. I love the concept, and the designer tool looks very friendly. To see this in action, watch Andrew Flick's 5½ minute video demonstration.

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    Virtual PC, FolderShare, and Sysinternals

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    I'm risking it again...three completely different topics in a single post! For those with a weak heart, please turn away now. Otherwise...

    If you haven't heard yet, Virtual PC is now free, and you can download the 2004 edition now. If you haven't played with virtualization technology, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It's a great way to test drive software without having it impact your primary machine. It's also an easy way to duplicate bugs on various operating systems without having to reboot to another partition. It's very useful for demos too, especially since you can configure an image to easily undo any changes that were made to the "virtual PC" when you shut it down...this includes formatting the virtual C: drive...a great demo, by the way. I told you that this post wasn't for the faint of heart!

    We've also launched the beta version of a new Windows Live Service called FolderShare. If you want to easily synchronize your files across a number of different computers all via the internet, this is for you. This even works if you want to share files with a friend or colleague. The synchronization happens automagically in the background, so there's not much to do after you've setup your free account. I love these "restrictions:"

    • Share files up to 2 GB in size
    • Unlimited file transfers - no limits on quantity or size of files transferred
    • Any file type - files are synced and transferred in their original format

    Doesn't sound too restrictive to me. :-)

    Last, we went and purchased Winternals. This means that Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell are now part of the team! Welcome to Microsoft, guys! And if you've never downloaded or used one of their free Sysinternals tools, well, you just better go and try some of them. Some of my favorites are Regmon, Filemon, and Process Explorer. They're small tools with quick downloads that do their job very well.

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