Mike Swanson

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Glass Windows Wallpaper and 3D Animated Desktop

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    Here's a thumbnail from some very nice wallpaper images from DivineError. He has a 1600 x 1200 version, a 1280 x 800 widescreen version and a non-glass version. He's created a lot of other great images too, if you spend the time to look through his collection.

    Speaking of desktops and wallpaper, if you want to completely amaze your associates and suck all the power out of your laptop or desktop computer, try this very cool 3D animated desktop called Desktop Dreamscapes. It's a 3D animated desktop...not screen saver, and notice that it's been around since 2002. Amazing stuff.

    And before I finish, let me plug my own Macro Wallpaper and Macro Wallpaper 2 posts.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    My Windows 7 Theme Pack

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    I've been running the Windows 7 beta for awhile now, and I'm in love! If you're relatively technical and want to take the new OS for a spin, the good news is that we've extended the beta download period until February 10, 2009. Once you have it installed, it's worth reading Tim Sneath's fantastic list of 30 Windows 7 secrets. I'm running Windows 7 on my Dell XPS desktop machine at home and on my Dell laptop at work. Even with the beta version, everything runs very smoothly and I feel a lot more productive. Plus, it's just a joy to use.

    Windows 7 introduces theme packs, which are .cab files that contain all of the necessary assets to implement a theme, including sound files and images. You can find a bunch of theme packs on the Windows 7 site, and Paul Thurrott covers the basics and includes his own theme packs in his article, Windows 7 Feature Focus: Styles and Desktop Slide Shows.

    As an experiment, I've created a theme pack based on my wallpaper images. It contains 20 hand-picked, nature-themed macro photos that I've taken over the years. The desktop images are configured to shuffle randomly every 30 minutes. Otherwise, the theme uses the default Windows 7 color and sound schemes.

    As always, comments and feedback are welcome. Drop me a note if you decide to create your own.

    Update on 2/24/2010: If you (or your browser) renames the file during download, it may not be recognized by Windows 7. Simply rename the downloaded file so that it ends with ".themepack", then double-click to install.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PDC2008 Session and Keynote Recordings Are Now Published

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    Recordings of the PDC2008 sessions and keynotes are now available online for free, for anyone (no login required). Each session has its own page that includes a Silverlight viewer to watch streaming video and a Download link for iPod (MP4), WMV, WMV (High), and Zune. A few of the sessions and formats may not be available yet, but they will be very soon, so keep checking back as we continue to publish content. It's my hope that you find the PDC2008 content to be compelling, inspirational, and useful.

    You can also download the PowerPoint presentation for each session, and for some talks, a zip file containing sample code that was shown during the session. There are links to related sessions and other Channel 9 content, and a discussion thread for each talk. The discussion thread is a great way to ask questions of the speaker or to share ideas with other "virtual attendees."

    Unlike PDC05, when we hosted the sessions for less than a year (with a third-party hoster), we've created a home for our PDC2008 sessions on our very own Channel 9. The obvious benefit is that we can host the content indefinitely...or at least until it becomes so stale that it's no longer useful. So, there's no need to rush to download everything, since the content will be available for a long time.

    I've been asked if PDC2008 session recordings will be available on physical DVDs like they were for PDC05. We received a lot of feedback after PDC05 that attendees would rather have all of the content made available for download at no cost. As a result, this is what we've done for MIX06, MIX07, MIX08, and now, PDC2008.

    Thanks to everyone for catching me during the event to say "hello" and for providing feedback. We take your feedback very seriously, and it will be used to improve MIX09, the recently-announced PDC2009 (November 17-20, 2009), and any of our future conferences.

    Enjoy!

    Update: I just added a PDC2008 Sessions page that lists every keynote and session with links to videos, PowerPoint decks, and sample code.

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    Microsoft Fingerprint Reader

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    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.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    PowerPoint Slides in 3D

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    This past week, we had an offsite brainstorming session at the new Novelty Hill • Januik winery in Woodinville to discuss our upcoming MIX08 event in Las Vegas. Jennifer Ritzinger (who still doesn't have a blog for some reason) challenged each speaker to come up with a creative way to present their topic using a single slide. Never ones to take a creative challenge lightly, my co-presenter, Thomas Lewis, and I asked ourselves: "what have we never seen in a PowerPoint presentation?" A few minutes of brainstorming later, we decided to make our slides in 3D. Not your average everyday 3D, mind you, but the kind of 3D that would require everyone to wear cheesy red and cyan anaglyphic cardboard glasses!

    Like so many of the ideas that Thomas and I come up with, we never let trifles like feasibility get in the way. What fun would that be!? So, we split up our tasks, and I volunteered to figure out how to actually make the 3D idea work.

    Okay, I thought...first thing's first: search the internet and find a PowerPoint plug-in that creates stereographic images. Ummm...none exist. And believe me, I looked! Alright, alright...I get it. Nobody has made one for PowerPoint, but surely someone has made a simple application that lets me type in text and create the final composite image. Nope. Nada. After probably 30 minutes looking for a simple solution, I decided that I was going to have to dig-in and learn a bit about stereographic image creation. Enter Wikipedia's entry on Anaglyph image.

    I followed a lot of links from the Wikipedia entry and learned quite a bit in the process. Although I probably could have hacked away at Photoshop and tried to get the sizing and colors to work just right, I decided to take the "easy" route and create a real 3D scene in 3ds Max. Then, I'd only have to create two cameras about 6cm away from each other (to match the average distance between human eyes). I'd render scenes from both cameras, then merge the two images. I thank Eumel3d for the nice tutorial that worked very well.

    As you might imagine, because of the red and cyan glasses, color choice can make a big difference in the final result. Choose colors with too much contrast, and you'll introduce a "ghosting" effect. I spent a lot of time rendering and combining images...more time than I'd care to admit. But, the end product was worth it.

    At the presentation, we handed out cardboard glasses that I had ordered from American Paper Optics, Inc. Someone took a photo of everyone wearing the glasses, but I haven't seen it yet. Because of our creativity, we were included in the final random drawing, and Thomas took home the prize for a job well done.

    Since our presentation, I've discovered an excellent (and free) 3ds Max script/plug-in called Stereographer Max by Ron Lussier and Larry Minton. This makes the job much easier, and I wish I had found it earlier. I used it to create the sample slide accompanying this post. Click the image to see a larger version.

    Here are some other thoughts and resources if you want to dig-in more:

    • After you have your 3D glasses, search for anaglyph images, and spend a lot of time enjoying photos, renderings, and movies in 3D.
    • I don't have a Mac, but if I did, I'd surely try the demo version of Nanosaur II, a 3D game that supports anaglyphic glasses.
    • If you're running Windows XP/2000 and have an appropriate NVIDIA graphics card, you can download their 3D Stereo Driver and enjoy many of your 3D games using anaglyphic glasses. Bram Stikkel has a nice article about 3D with Flight Simulator.
    • Download the free Anaglyph Maker software, and turn two standard digital photos (taken from a couple of inches apart) into a 3D image. For example, I just ran outside, took two quick photos, and merged them into an anaglyph version of our back yard.
    • If you're a Photoshop user, read Dan Payne and Angel Guzman's How To Create 3D Anaglyphs in Photoshop.
    • If you already have "left" and "right" photos, and you don't want to install any software, upload them to the online Stereo3d tool and get a composite image in return.
    • For those who don't want to bother with glasses but still want to play with 3D images, learn how to create "wiggle" or "wobble" stereo GIF images. Cool stuff.

    Trust me...you can spend hours geeking out with this stuff. It's a lot of fun. I've thought about writing a stereographic slide creation tool or game using Silverlight. Maybe something simple like 3D Pong or Breakout. At first glance, I think I'd need to use a blending mode that Silverlight doesn't support. And frankly, I doubt I'll be able to find the time. If someone out there does create some cool stuff, I'D LOVE TO SEE IT!

    Party on!

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