Mike Swanson

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Create a Bootable Windows XP CD That Includes Service Pack 2

    • 18 Comments
    I had planned to post my own article about slipstreaming the recently released Service Pack 2 with your original Windows XP CD media, but it looks like Tom's Hardware beat me to it. By following the instructions in the article, you can create a single bootable CD that installs Windows XP along with Service Pack 2. If you're like me and you like to refresh and reinstall your system every six months or so, having a CD like this is very handy. Here's another article with similar instructions. And no, you're not experiencing déjà vu...I've posted on this topic before.
  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Shutting Down Outlook

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    This is one of those things that I thought only happened to me. For years, I've been running multiple Outlook profiles: one for my personal e-mail, and one for my Microsoft e-mail. It's quite common for me to exit Outlook and fire it up again so I can check a different e-mail account. As a matter of fact, I do this many times each day. Unfortunately, a quick re-start of Outlook doesn't always work, because the OUTLOOK.EXE process usually hangs around for awhile before it terminates. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm quite used to popping up Task Manager to see if the process is closed, and if I get too impatient, I close it myself. Come on...admit it...you've done it too (dad...if you're reading this, I'll explain what Task Manager is later). :-)

    Like I said, I thought it was a problem that was unique to me. However, I received an e-mail today that not only confirmed that I wasn't alone, but it actually contained a suggestion for eliminating this problem altogether! If this information is to be believed, closing Outlook by clicking on the X doesn't always shutdown the OUTLOOK.EXE and WINWORD.EXE processes right away; but, if you use File/Exit, both processes shut down immediately. Of course, I've been trying to test this tonight, but Outlook is closing immediately in all cases...kind of like the car that doesn't squeak when you drive it to the dealership.

    While searching the internet for similar cases, and I've found a few other solutions:

    • KnockOut - a tool that sits in your system tray and lets you know if the Outlook or Word processes are currently running
    • Shutdown Addin - a tool that helps Outlook shut down more quickly, and if it doesn't after a period of time, the addin forcefully terminates the process
    • A list of software that may cause problems

    If you can confirm that File/Exit does the trick, please post feedback!

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    SEAMonster: A .NET-Based Seam Carving Implementation

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    To avoid any potential confusion, this is a personal, spare-time project that has nothing to do with the cool Seadragon technology.

    Before you read my post, you should watch the short 4 1/2 minute video that demonstrates an image resizing technique called seam carving. The technique was presented at this year's SIGGRAPH 2007 conference by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir. If you want to know all of the details, check out the paper they presented called Seam Carving for Content-Aware Image Resizing (20MB PDF). Shai and Ariel outline a relatively simple algorithm for finding a "seam" of pixels that is least likely to be missed when it's removed from an image. The algorithm looks for connected pixels of low energy, where energy refers to a measure of visual detail. By iterating the algorithm, an image can be resized while maintaining its general structure. Unlike a typical stretch operation in your favorite graphics application, the seam carving technique resists squashing or distorting the image.

    When I first saw their video, I thought it was magic. Not only do they demonstrate resizing, but they also show how their algorithm can easily remove specific content (like a person or object) from a scene. It's easy to imagine how images can be resized using this technique for display on smaller devices like a cell phone. In their paper, Shai and Ariel briefly describe a method that would allow an image format with extended seam carving data to easily resize on-the-fly. Very cool.

    Inspired by their work, I thought I'd play around with the algorithm and methods in my spare time. So, over the course of the past week or so, I've put together a .NET-based implementation of seam carving that I affectionately call SEAMonster. The code has evolved from a very simple prototype to something a bit more robust. As these things go, the architecture is a bit shaky at the moment, but it does work. The early version of the application can only open JPG files, doesn't support image expansion, and the user interface is pretty minimal. However, it's far enough along that someone might find it interesting.

    If you'd like to take it for a spin, download SEAMonster_0.1.zip (63KB). The application requires the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 if you don't already have it installed on your machine. In lieu of documentation, I encourage you to watch the 8 minute video introduction I recorded to quickly get up-to-speed (note that you may need to download the TechSmith Screen Capture Codec to properly view this video).

    When I have the code under control, I plan to upload the project to CodePlex so that the developer community can contribute. All of the image manipulation functionality is encapsulated in a DLL, so it should be usable in most scenarios. There is a lot of opportunity for improvement and optimization in these algorithms, and I expect a lot of innovation to happen over the next few months. It should be fun to watch.

    Here are some other seam carving resources that you may find interesting:

    If you have any comments about this early version of SEAMonster, or if you have suggestions for the version I plan to release on CodePlex, please leave feedback (or contact me directly).

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    Canon RAW Codec for Windows Vista Released

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    I used to be a Nikon guy, but I decided to dabble with the Canon Rebel XT a couple of years ago, and so far, I'm pleased. Most of my newer wallpaper images were taken with the Canon camera and a 60mm macro lens. Unfortunately, until now, all of those wonderful .CR2 files sitting in my picture folders didn't display thumbnails, and they weren't viewable in the Windows Photo Gallery. The good news is that Vista provides an extensible platform for camera manufacturers to add support for their RAW file formats directly into the operating system (as an aside, if you want to read more about writing a custom codec, check out the Windows Imaging Component Overview article on MSDN).

    Canon released the first version of their RAW codec today, and a few others are also available:

    • Canon RAW Codec 1.0 - choose your digital camera, then click Drivers / Software to find a link to the codec. According to the site, this version works with .CR2 files from the following cameras: EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark II, EOS-1D Mark II N, EOS-1D Mark II, EOS 5D, EOS 30D, EOS 20D, EOS Kiss Digital X / EOS DIGITAL REVEL XTi / EOS 400D DIGITAL, and EOS Kiss Digital N / EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT / EOS 350D DIGITAL. No support is currently mentioned for files with a .CRW extension.
    • Nikon RAW Codec 1.0.1 - works with .NEF files from the following cameras: D1, D1H, D1X, D100, D2H, D2Hs, D2X, D2Xs, D200, D40, D50, D70, D70s, D80, COOLPIX 8800, COOLPIX 8700, COOLPIX 8400, COOLPIX 5700, COOLPIX 5400, COOLPIX 5000.
    • Sony RAW Codec - works with .SRF and .SR2 files, but I'm not sure which camera models are specifically supported.
    • Olympus RAW Codec - work with .ORF files from the following cameras: E-1, E-300, E-330, E-400, E-500,E-10, E-20, C-70 ZOOM, C-5050ZOOM, C-5060 Wide Zoom, C-7070 Wide Zoom, C-8080 Wide Zoom, SP-310, SP-320, SP-350, SP-500UZ, SP-510UZ.

    As an alternative, you can open up Windows Photo Gallery, choose File/Options, then click on the Check for updates button in the General tab. This will lead you to any added/updated codecs too.

    For more information on Microsoft and photography, visit the Microsoft Photography Blog.

  • Mike Swanson's Blog

    The Final Hours of Half-Life 2

    • 5 Comments

    GameSpot has posted an excellent, 25-page, in-depth article titled The Final Hours of Half-Life 2. The report covers:

    • The choice by Valve Software to develop their own game engine
    • The inclusion of realistic physics and articulate characters
    • Why Half-Life 2 didn't appear at E3 2002
    • The real story behind the September 30, 2003 release date
    • The lawsuit between Valve and Vivendi Universal Games
    • How game levels are envisioned and created
    • How a 21-year-old German named Axel G hacked into Valve's network
    • The fate of the scanner piñata

    The article is a fascinating read with a lot of behind-the-scenes detail that hasn't been revealed until recently. It sounds like the development team put in a lot of 20+ hour days over a long period of time to finish this game (unfortunately, many developers can relate to a work schedule like this). Plus, we get some frank and honest insight from Gabe Newell.

    I have a copy of Half-Life 2: Raising the Bar on order from Amazon. I'm hoping that it's an extended version of the kind of information that's presented in the GameSpot article. It doesn't look like the book has shipped yet, so I probably won't be receiving it before Tuesday...which is most likely a good thing, since my evenings will be occupied in City 17. :-)

    On a related note, based on this GameSpot article and this IGN article, it appears that some stores might already have Half-Life 2 available for sale. I checked our local Best Buy and Electronics Boutique while I was out with my wife tonight, but neither of them had it on the shelves. Unfortunately (or fortunately), since the game requires internet activation by Valve's Steam service, it probably wouldn't do any good to have it early anyway.

    Update: Blues News is reporting the following response from Valve about early activation of Half-Life 2.

    If you have purchased a copy of Half-Life 2, we are sorry you are still waiting to play. This is not Valve's choice. Vivendi is insisting that the game has not yet been released, and has threatened that Valve would be in violation of its contract if we activate the Half-Life 2 Steam authentication servers at this time.

    Thanks for your patience and we will update you when we have more news to share.

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