Monday, June 29, 2009

Customize Genius Media Key

Genius Keyboard 16eI have this Genius Comfy KB-16e model K640 keyboard. I went to the Genius web site and downloaded the drivers and Media Key application which is supposed to control what the "media" keys are doing. But the application is crap. It only shows some of the buttons I have and some I don't. Most annoying, I don't have listed the buttons for previous/next track.

The solution is to modify the registry. If you go to the Media Key installation directory (typically in Program Files) you will see a registry file called Magickey.reg. It holds all the information loaded in the reg by the installer of the Media Key application. Open it with notepad (not by double clicking!) and search for "Function Table". You will see a bunch of equalities like:
"0000000B"="Show MediaPlayer"
You will need to write somewhere the numbers associated with the keys that don't appear in the Media Key application. In my case
"00002000"="Previous Track"
"00002005"="Next Track"
Ok, now run regedt32.exe from the command line (or Run command in the Start Menu) and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\WayTech\Versato\System. You will see there stuff like button1, button2... and their values 0000XXXX or some string holding a path. All you have to do is double click on the buttons that hold the numbers you wrote down as the value (in my case 2000 and 2005) and write instead of the value a path to a batch file or an exe file. I use bat files so I can change them later.

So, in my case I double clicked on button17 and button18 and filled the value with C:\Batches\prevTrack.bat and C:\Batches\nextTrack.bat. And now it works. I am sure you can change something in the registry to actually make the buttons visible in the Media Key application, but I don't care about that. If you do it, please let me know.

If you have the same problem as I do and all you want to do is set up your Music, PlayPause and Prev/Next buttons, take the text below and write it into a file with the .reg extension, change the paths to your own batch files, then double click on it:
Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\WayTech\Versato\System]
"button7"="C:\\Batches\\playpause.bat"
"button8"="C:\\Batches\\playlist.bat"
"button17"="C:\\Batches\\prevTrack.bat"
"button18"="C:\\Batches\\nextTrack.bat"

Might and Magic IX

I know, Might and Magic IX is an old game, but I haven't played it because, after being a HUGE fan of Might and Magic 1 through 5 I got really dissapointed with versions 6,7 and 8, which used 3D technology, but presented a lot less as the game story and playability was concerned. Then I played the tenth version, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, which was a completely different game, more of an Arx Fatalis 2, rather than M&M 10. Not that it wasn't very very cool, just wasn't what I had expected from an M&M game.

Enter Might and Magic IX. From the start it looked less modern than versions 6-8, which prompted my friend to think that he played more recent versions of the game. It became soon apparent that it was an attempt to go back to the roots. The game was complex, the map large, the monsters inventive and the storyline pretty interesting. Also, they returned to the old solution of dungeons, where entering a place was moving you to a new map, rather than a small part of the larger one.

I loved every moment of it until close to the end. The cities at the end of the game had less stuff in them, less monsters around and of a more poor quality. I kind of expected that, since it must have been a long software project plagued by a release deadline in the end. However, when I had to spend hours trying to get around dungeons filled with powerful yet silly monsters just to get to the end, I got very bored. I actually did not finish the game, only about 95% of it.

The game had an unhealthy amount of undead creatures, which made Turn Undead a very useful spell. Unfortunately, I think it was a bit buggy. After a strong Turn Undead monsters continued to run, even if the spell wore off. Another really nice spell was Enrage, which allowed one to make monsters fight each other. Wizard Eye was a bit annoying, since it lasted a too short a time.

I recommend you check the character development tree (Druid, Healer, Lich, Gladiator, Assassin, etc) and decide from the very start which character in your party will be what. Pay extra attention to the promotions. You may be able to promote more characters in the same time, but then you are commited to that path with all of the characters. Try to build each character in a different class. Some allow for very powerful spells that one cannot learn or use otherwise.


I don't want to spoil anything, so I will let you play it and enjoy. I applaud the return to the old values of Might and Magic, even if those older games had a lot more brain and humour in them and this had a lot of braun. The ending was inconsistent with the M&M storyline so far which was disappointing.

Bottom line: greatest of the true Might and Magic 3D games, I wish I was young again and full of free time so I can play it without looking at the clock all the time. If you somehow missed it, do play it.

Foundations of Programming by Karl Seguin

Book cover
Foundations of Programming is a free ebook written by Karl Seguin, a member of the CodeBettter community. As you might have guessed by now from the fact the book is free, he is Canadian. :)

There is even a Foundation of Programming site, where there are a lot of free resources on programming as well as other free ebooks.

About the book, it is a good read. A bit inconsistent, it seemed, since it starts with chapters on Domain Driven Design, Persistence, Dependency Injection, Unit Testing, then moves to Object Relational Mappers and then has three "Back to Basics" chapters about Memory, Exceptions and Proxies. There is a logic to this, but the jump from expert to junior programming and then back again was a little annoying.

Interestingly enough, Karl Seguin is a former Microsoft MVP that advocates ALT.Net.

Bottom line, it is a good and easy read for all levels of programming. People might be attracted to the way Karl is expressing his opinion without actually being biased towards any of the usual debate parties. Beginners might learn about the foundations of the stuff they take for granted, like heap/stack, while more advanced developers can start thinking about structured ways of doing work, like DDD and automated unit testing. Neither chapter is a complete new revelation, but taken together, they do present a clear picture of programming from Karl Seguin's perspective and can surprise you on matters you thought you had complete control over.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Amazing Illusion, courtesy of TED.com

Something really cool from the TED blog, this image is an optical illusion of grand scale. See the Cyan/Green spirals? Well, they are the exact same color. Trust me, I opened Paint.NET and checked their RGB values. Event at immense zoom, the colors still appeared as different.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Detecting DesignMode in XAML

I was trying to build a control that has a border around it only in design mode. You do have the static class DesignerProperties and its method GetIsInDesignMode(DependencyObject element) to detect that in code, and you do have a property DesignMode on Components, but one that is not a Dependency property. How can you detect DesignMode in XAML?

Well, looking at the source for DesignerProperties I noticed that it does two things:
  1. Register an attached property called IsInDesignMode to itself
  2. Get/Set that dependency property in the GetIsInDesignMode/SetIsInDesignMode methods


More on how to create attached properties here: How to Create an Attached Property and here: Showing Attached Properties in the Cider/Visual Studio WPF Designer.

So, all I had to do is use a trigger on the IsInDesignMode attached property. For that, these steps must be followed:
  • Add the ComponentModel namespace to your XAML: xmlns:ComponentModel="clr-namespace:System.ComponentModel;assembly=PresentationFramework"
  • Use ComponentModel:DesignerProperties.IsInDesignMode in your Triggers as the Property
  • Use (ComponentModel:DesignerProperties.IsInDesignMode) in your DataTriggers as the Path of Bindings


Please take notice of the brackets around the property when used in Binding Path mode. It is the only way to use attached properties there. It also gives you more advanced intellisense and warnings and a faster type resolution at runtime.

Another thing to take into consideration is that (at least in Silverlight) this mechanism is buggy, at least that's what I found in this blog post.

SQL Parameter Sniffing - query execution time varies without reason

It was not a problem I encountered (maybe) but a blog post from Chris Brandsma from ElegantCode. Apparently, because of attempts by the SQL Server (not only Microsoft's, btw) to "optimize" a query based on input parameters, query execution time may vary immensely without any obvious reason. Imagine debugging that baby!

Anyway, here is the blog post, one important enough for Chris to repost it these last few days.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dependency Properties in WPF

I don't want to write a long blog entry, just to attract attention to this blog entry from Josh on WPF which is very concise, to the point and also directing to more complex articles that add more detail.

Even so, I want to cite a part which I think is essential to understanding the concept of Dependency Properties: Remember, a DP never really “has” a value…its value depends on various external factors. That’s why they are called dependency properties.

How to make a StackPanel stretch vertically to fill the available space

The problem is moot. The StackPanel doesn't work like that. You need to use a DockPanel to make inner children of the Panel stretch vertically and make the Panel fill all available space. The elements inside should have DockPanel.Dock="Top" to fill only the space they require , then no Dock for the element(s) you want to stretch, then DockPanel.Dock="Bottom" for the rest of the elements. That's how you get that "Outlook feel", too.

Infragistics XamComboEditor SelectedIndex -1 doesn't work!

I was trying to use the Infragistics WPF controls and got stuck in the XamComboEditor. I was setting its ItemsSource to a list of ComboBoxDataItem objects and I wanted to have none of them selected by default. I had tried SelectedIndex -1, SelectedItem {x:Null}, Value {x:Null} to no avail. By some ridiculous functionality, the XamComboEditor would select some item in the middle of the list.

Then, in a flash of luck, I got it right. Value="". That was it! Even if IsEditable was false and the documentation mentioned Value could not be changed if IsEditable is false. Of course, they probably meant the user cannot change the Value not me, the developer, but still. Also, setting the Value to null did not work. Once in a lifetime I am not lazy and use {x:Null} instead of a simple empty string and it backfires. Sheesh!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Low band version of the blog

I know it is not the very best method of implementation, but I had to make due with the "client only" Blogger solution. There is a link in the left bar called 'Low band version'. Click on it and it will set a cookie for 30 days and then refresh the page. Then you should be able to see the backgroundless, barless, label-cloudless blog version. You can also add a #lowBand hash at the end of any blog link to force a low band. Something like this: http://siderite.blogspot.com/2009/06/low-band-version-of-blog.html#lowBand.

Keep in mind that this relies heavily on javascript and cookies. If you have either one disabled, you're in a world of trouble. It seems that the blog will appear in low band mode all the time if you have javascript disabled and always normal mode if you have cookies disabled and you have not used the hashed solution for the low band.

Please tell me if anything causes problems so I can fix it. As far as I know it works on latest IE7, FireFox3 and Chrome.

My Ajax Control Toolkit patches were applied today!

Yay! The patch list for the Ajax Control Toolkit shows my two patches (for the dynamical adding of TabPanels to a TabContainer and the one for the zIndex of the PopupExtender) were 'applied in change set 54957'!

I don't know when the next official release of the ACT will be available, but you can always get the latest 'unstable' version (with the patches) here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Styling WPF Controls, the Windows themes

In order to customize controls the way you want, you can either use a DataTemplate, different specific ControlTemplate properties, use the properties that the controls publish, but in the end, to get it right, you must actually change the ControlTemplate of the control itself. The best practice is to use an external resource dictionary that contains a style that changes various properties and also, if needed, the ControlTemplate.

The problem there is that there is no way to partially change the control template. I mean, yeah, I could think of a few ways, but in the end is the same thing: you need to replace the control template completely. And now you have two ... err.. actually three problems.

First, there are ways of getting the default control template, with all the functionality (we are talking about one, two or even more pages of XAML) and change only what you want. It's not trivial, but it can be done, either by copying it from the published sources (like the Windows SDK or the Expression Blend SystemThemes folder) or by using a utility like ShowMeTheTemplate.

Second, there is the issue of control templates differing depending on the Windows theme. And therefore one must either accept that the application will only look one way for every theme and Windows operating system, or provide templates for all the themes available (there are 6 defaults and a generic fallback theme).

Now, there are many tutorials about how to do that, basically just create a Themes folder, change AssemblyInfo.cs to
[assembly: ThemeInfo(
ResourceDictionaryLocation.SourceAssembly, //where theme specific resource dictionaries are located
ResourceDictionaryLocation.SourceAssembly //where the generic resource dictionary is located
)]
, copy the xaml files (with certain names) there and change them as you see fit. There is a catch, though! This will only work on your custom controls. Default controls already have a template in the operating system theme, so you need to do one extra thing in order to overwrite them, and that is to write the following in the a parent control Resources block:
<ResourceDictionary>
<ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>
<ResourceDictionary Source="{ThemeDictionary [LibraryOrApplicationNamespace]}" />
</ResourceDictionary.MergedDictionaries>
</ResourceDictionary>
otherwise it will NOT work.

You can get the same result by adding this to the static constructor of the control, provided you have access to the sources:
DefaultStyleKeyProperty.OverrideMetadata(typeof([MyControlClass]), new FrameworkPropertyMetadata(typeof(MyControlClass)));

One thing you also need to be aware of is that Visual Studio caches the themes. If you change them, especially if you do it outside visual Studio, you need to force a Rebuild of the project.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

WPF Development Tools

I've decided to write this entry before I could actually master these tools because I don't think I will afterwards (I'd be too old to type). So here it goes:

  1. ReSharper - yes! I will probably need a ReSharper blog tag. This thing is good for everything! Its XAML smart intellisense is a gem, as well as the various options you get when writing WPF code or XAML
  2. Snoop - this is a very small tool that acts like a WPF FireBug. It can select an element, show properties, even change some of them
  3. Mole Visualizer - this is a Visual Studio debug visualizer, one that allows very detailed exploration of debugged objects, especially WPF elements
  4. XAML Power Tools - a Visual Studio addon, it allows a lot of stuff, like automatically generate the view from a model, extracting a style from a control, etc
  5. KaXaml - a tool that works like a XamlPad, but has more options. You basically use it as a poor man's Blend; and it's very light
  6. XamlPad - this is a Microsoft tool. Unfortunately, to use it you need to download the entire Windows SDK for Windows Server 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5, which is 1.5Gb in size
  7. Pistachio - this is a Visual Studio project resource browser. Give it the project and you can see the brushes, the style, the templates, the usages
  8. Expression Blend - the de facto Microsoft tool for editing XAML and working with design stuff. Not only it is not free, but it is also buggy. Unfortunately, I have a hunch I will have to use it in the near future to work with WPF styles
  9. ShowMeTheTemplate - Small application that explores the WPF default templates for various controls


All of the tools above, except ReSharper and Blend are free to use.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

ElementName versus RelativeSource FindAncestor

I was tring to bind a property to the value of a property of the parent UserControl in WPF. When you google for it you get something pretty interesting: give a name to the user control right inside the user control XAML, then reference it with ElementName.

What I found after hours of torment was that this doesn't always work. I guess it only works up to the first item container in the logical tree and then stops. So that when I tried to use a property ImageSource of the user control in a Menu.Icon it failed!

My solution looks pretty ugly, but it does work in all cases!

<Image Source="{Binding RelativeSource={RelativeSource FindAncestor,AncestorType={x:Type Controls:MyUserControl}},Path=MainMenuImageSource}"
Width="16" Height="16"></Image>


In other words: find the ancestor of the type of your user control and use it as the RelativeSource of the binding.

Complicated bindings in WPF (Selectors and Converters)

Update: When I had more time to thing I realised that a MultiBinding needs a Converter, but a simple Binding also has a Converter and I guess that is what I should have used. I will update the post when I get to work on Monday.

I started to build the prototype of a control and I hit a wall where WPF binding was concerned.

For example: I wanted to bind my control to a collection of Items which could be Groups, Sections or Items. Groups have more Sections and Items. Sections have more Items, but they should be displayed as a non clickable section with its Item children under it. Everything in a menu.

At first I used an XML data source, which allowed me to use XPath to select all the Items in a Group, all the Sections and all the Items in the Section like this: XPath="Item|Section|Section/Item". However, when switching to an object schema, the normal Path syntax was too restrictive to allow for this. Even with a MultiBinding, I could find no Path syntax in which to select children of a certain type and their children. However! MultiBinding uses a Converter to usually merge two or more collections together. I used it to get the children and their own children! So forget XAML in this case, just use code:

public class SectionHeaderConverter:IMultiValueConverter
{
public object Convert(object[] values, Type targetType, object parameter, CultureInfo culture)
{
List<ToolBarItem> list = new List<ToolBarItem>();
foreach (IEnumerable<ToolBarItem> collection in values)
{
foreach (ToolBarItem element in collection)
{
list.Add(element);
var toolBarSectionHeader = element as ToolBarSectionHeader;
if (toolBarSectionHeader != null)
{
foreach (var item in toolBarSectionHeader.Items)
{
list.Add(item);
}
}
}
}
return list;
}

public object[] ConvertBack(object value, Type[] targetTypes, object parameter, CultureInfo culture)
{
throw new NotImplementedException();
}
}


This converter was then used in the XAML as the Converter for the MultiBinding:

<MultiBinding Converter="{StaticResource SectionHeaderConverter}">
<Binding Path="Items"/>
</MultiBinding>


Now, that fixed one issue, but how can I now make the different MenuItems to
  1. have different looks depending on type/attributes
  2. behave differently depending on type/attributes
but selectively, keeping the default style and datatemplate in other cases? At first, when I used the XML datasource, having an XPath to select the type of the node based on its name was not an option because the XAML XPath implementation does not allow for XPath functions! so I used a StyleSelector for the difference between Sections (unclickable, spanning the whole width of the menu strip) and normal menu items, then a DataTemplateSelector for the difference between Groups and Items. It is also here where I bound the MenuItem Click RoutedEventHandler to an EventHandler in the datasource item class.


<Menu
ItemsSource="{Binding ElementName=ToolBarCurrent,Path=Items}"
ItemContainerStyleSelector="{StaticResource MenuItemContainerStyleSelector}"
ItemTemplateSelector="{StaticResource MenuItemTemplateStyleSelector}"
></Menu>


I don't know if that is the best way to do it, but suddenly it was like a fog lifted from my eyes and instead of that dreaded XAML I had something I know and understand used in a simple fashion. It is beyond the scope of this post to show how specific implementations of the selectors above work, but there are two issues that I had to fix:
  • Since the styles were resources defined in the resources of the containing Grid, I had to find a way to reference the Grid object from the StyleSelector:
    This is done using the
    ItemsControl ic = ItemsControl.ItemsControlFromItemContainer(container);
    var style = (Style) ic.FindResource("SectionStyle");
  • Since the data templates were resources defined in the resources of the containing Grid, I had to find a way to reference the Grid object from the DataTemplateSelector:
    this seems to be the same problem, but actually the solution was quite different, I used the FindVisualParent helper method like this:
    var ic = Helper.FindVisualParent<Grid>(container);
    The source for it is underneath.


public static TParentItem FindVisualParent<TParentItem>(DependencyObject obj)
where TParentItem : DependencyObject
{
DependencyObject current = obj;
while (current != null)
{
var tCurrent = current as TParentItem;
if (tCurrent != null)
return tCurrent;
current = VisualTreeHelper.GetParent(current);
}
return null;
}
.

Also, regarding this particular task, I found a way to display MenuItems grouped by a property in this blog post and at first I used this solution only to find out that this type of grouping only applies to flat DataTemplates. And while it seemed to be working in my first attempts with a HierarchicalDataTemplate, the grouping was only applied to the first level and not to the next.

My conclusion: as in many "magical" technologies, the complexity of a lot of problems is beyond the ability of the technology designers to predict. Therefore the only (and often enough, the best) option is to use your own code.

All resources are relative to the namespace in WPF

In Windows Presentation Foundation all resources (like ImageSources or Resource packs) are relative to the namespace of the control. So if you have a folder Images that holds your application icons and you use (in the application XAML) an ImageSource of "Images/MyImage.png" it will work. But as soon as the XAML is moved somewhere in a UserControl in the Controls namespace of a library, the ImageSource becomes invalid. It would only work as "../Images/MyImage.png" or "/Images/MyImage.png", even if the Controls namespace is not a folder and the control is in a library, not in the application that runs it!

This is part of a larger idea, that is Pack URIs. Pack URIs are used by the Open Packaging Conventions and are of the format pack://authority/path.


Long story short, authority can be application:/// or siteoforigin:///. The slashes at the end get escaped as commas in a pack URI so you get to have stuff like pack://application:,,,/ResourceFile.xaml. The path is more tricky: AssemblyShortName[;Version][;PublicKey];component/Path.
Attention at the component keyword. It is NOT a folder, but a keyword that must be there when referencing resources from an external library.

Example: I have the Resources/Images/image.png in a library and I want to use it in the XAML that is in the same library. The image source would be something like pack://application:,,,/libraryNameSpace;component/Resources/Images/image.png. Again look out for the component keyword.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

VS2008 WPF designer throws error Type reference cannot find public type named ...

Just yesterday I was struggling with the same issue, only this facette of it seems like a completely different bug. You see, I added this control to the library and everything worked fine EXCEPT the visual designer. It is known that the Visual Studio 2008 WPF designer is not the best possible piece of software, but this was one of those errors you don't know where it comes from.

So, let's take it from the beginning. I had something like
<HierarchicalDataTemplate DataType="{x:Type Code:League}" ItemsSource="{Binding Path=Divisions}">
<TextBlock Text="{Binding Path=Name}"/>
</HierarchicalDataTemplate>
Somewhere in the Window declaration there was a
xmlns:Code="clr-namespace:MyControls.Desktop.Code"
which is the namespace of the test application for the control in the library.
The application worked, but in the designer an error like "Type reference cannot find public type named 'League'.".

Many people gave the solution to remove the name of the assembly in the namespace declaration. So If I had something like "clr-namespace:MyControls.Desktop.Code;assembly=MyControls" and it was the current assembly, I should just remove it. Well, it wasn't the case here, was it?

In the end I found the solution here. You see, even if the assembly name was not specified, it was implied! And even if it was an application, not a library, it still was an assembly. And the Application name was... something with spaces in it!!

So, again, just go to the Project properties and change the Assembly name to not have spaces!

Problems with adding user controls to the Visual Studio toolbox

So, I had just wasted a long time being stupid about a user control, but I had finally fixed everything and I was willing to try it out. Initially I had tested it by directly entering it in XAML, but now I wanted to add it to the toolbox and drag and drop it to the WPF form.

First I got an error like "The following assemblies are installed SDK assemblies but could not be shown in the customize toolbox dialog because they are missing one or more components. Please make sure that all necessary libraries are available:" and then Microsoft.Ink.dll. It didn't seem to do anything bad, but I googled it anyway. It seems that a lot of people had this problem. The only solution was to actually close Visual Studio and then open it again. Other people reported more complicated issues like Visual Studio suddenly closing or showing a lot more libraries and doing it every time. This could help in that case: 363321. Choose Items in Toolbox causes Visual Studio 2008 SP1 to crash.
It also may be linked to the Visual Studio 2008 SDK, which I had recently installed.

Anyway, after that problem was solved, I proceeded on loading my WPF user control library by clicking Choose Items on a new Visual Studio toolbox tab and then browsing the DLL. Boom! "There are no components in 'something.dll' that can be placed on the toolbox.". That is because you must FIRST select the WPF Components tab in the Choose Items dialog, THEN click Browse. If you have Visual Studio 2005 you are out of luck, you don't even have the WPF components tab and the only way to do it is use the XAML editor.

Working with WPF in Visual Studio 2008

Two short points I'd like to make about working with WPF in Visual Studio 2008:
  1. In order to see Binding errors, you need to open the Output window while the app is running, since any binding error is silently dropped, but displayed there. There is also a Binding property called FallbackValue which you can set to "ERRRROOOORRR!!" :)
  2. XML files are seldom unformatted or having weird spaces and extra lines. Yet, there is not context menu for XML editors like the Format in ASP.Net as*x files. However, the option (and many more) is available in the Edit -> Advanced menu.
    • Format entire document: Ctrl+K, Ctrl+D
    • Format selection: Ctrl+K, Ctrl+F
  3. Unfortunately, some of the useful commands are just set up in the Options menu, like what to do with extra lines. So go to Tools -> Options -> Text Editor -> XAML -> Formatting.
    • To set it so that the XML is auto formatted at completion of start/end tag or when pasting code, go to the General option
    • To get rid of extra empty lines, go to the Spacing option and choose either Collapse multiple empty lines in content to a single line or Remove empty lines in content

10000 lawyers on the bottom of the sea

Ok, would I like to make a music video and then all the people watching it on YouTube instead of buying the record? Well... actually yes! If they like the song they will either buy the record or download it from a peer to peer network. And it beats people NOT watching my videos and listening to my songs.

I may not be the perfect example of a musician, since I don't sing, play or dance, but still, what happens on YouTube just doesn't make sense: Most of the cool videos of original songs were deleted! Even those with scenes from movies and such. Are actually the band members surfing the net, fishing for videos of their band and requesting their removal? NO! It's (again) the distribution companies, the record companies, that think this is some sort of way of either
  1. decrease piracy
  2. make some money out of Google
. And , at least for me, this makes me even less likely to apreciate that band and buy their album.

It all reminds me of what happened in my home country of Romania. After the revolution, nobody could be bothered with copyright laws, therefore the streets were littered with people selling pirated CDs. Then the economic stability brought some law enforcement (and widespread Internet) and now you can't find pirated CDs on the street anymore. Do people buy more music albums now?

In the end it is all about the ease of purchase. If you stumble upon a nice CD from a band you love, you will buy it, provided you actually use a CD player anymore. No one goes out of their way to a store specifically for music unless they are collectors. It's so much easier to just watch TV, listen to the radio or watch/listen to their Internet versions. Online stores are not much better. They anally query for all of your personal details in order to buy a crappy thing. It may work for electronics, but not for data!

Probably some day a brilliant idea - like combining IM identities with pay later accounts, or maybe vending machines with USB ports and touchscreens to load any music on your MP3 player for a fixed fee - will work, but until then, people will do what is the easiest thing to do. I mean, if writing music CDs and then distributing them is so damn expensive, why should I pay for it when getting the music online?

Do I feel a little guilty for listening to music and not paying for it? Yeah. But not that much.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

XAML namespace with whitespace in it

It can't be done. Maybe in XAML 2009. In the old one, it just fails. I am using ReSharper and it automatically finds the controls in XAML in the loaded libraries and creates the appropriate namespace. For a library called "My Controls" it adds an "assembly=My Controls" at the end of the clr-namespace and the compilation fails with "Unknown build error".

The only solution I could find for this is to rename the library so that it doesn't have spaces in it. In my case the library was actually another project and I changed the name in the project properties to have underscore rather than space.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

People should not use patterns!

What has gone into Siderite and made him rave mad? Is he high? Everybody knows that software patterns are all the rage and the only perfect and delicious way to make software. You can't just go "cowboy style" on software, it's an industry after all.

Well, I am not saying that (although you can probably guess from my impression of my virtual/inner critic that I am a bit partial to the cowboy approach). All I am saying is that once you identify a pattern (and yes, to open another parenthesis, a pattern is identified not learnt) one should never stoop low enough to use it. Some software should do that for him!

One good example is the Iterator Pattern. It sounds so grand, but the software implementation of it is the foreach command. Does anyone actually think while iterrating through a collection that they are using a pattern? As I said before, patterns are identified. You think of what you have been doing, see a pattern, make some software to take care of similar situations, then get on to identifying another pattern.

Well, yes, but you can't entrust everything to a software, Siderite! You will bloat your code, create tools that will do less than you wanted and still end up doing your own efficient code. I know, I've seen it before!

Well, thank you, critic! You have just identified a pattern! And any pattern should be solved. And yes, I agree that software can't do everything for you (yet!) and that sometimes the tools that are designed to help us with a problem become a problem themselves. But instead of having "two problems" you have a bad solution to a previous problem. Fixing the solution would fix everything and the problem domain is now one level of abstraction higher.

Stuff like managed code, linq, TDD, ORMs, log4net... just about every new technology I can think of, they are all solutions to patterns, stuff that introduces new problems on a higher level. What C# programmer cares about pointers anymore? (developers should still be aware of the true nature of pointers, but care less about it).

There is one final issue though, the one about the actual detection of patterns. Using "prediscovered" patterns like from the classic Gang of Four book or anything from Martin Fowler is ok, but only if they actually apply to your situation. That in itself shows you have to have a clear image of your activity and to be able to at least recognize patterns when you see them. Sometimes you do work that is so diverse or so slow that you don't remember enough of what you did in order to see there is a repetitive pattern. Or, worse, you do so much work that you don't have time to actually think about it, which I think is the death of every software developer. Well, what then?

Obviously a log (be it a web one or just a simple notebook or computer tracking system) would help. Writing stuff down makes one remember it better. Feeling the need to write about something and then remembering that you have already done so is a clear sign of a pattern. Now it is up to you to find a solution.

Back to the actual title of the post, I recognize there are situations where no automated piece of code can do anything. It's just too human or too complex a problem. That does mean you should solve it, just not with a computer tool. Maybe it is something you need to remember as a good practice or maybe you need to employ skills that are not technical in nature, but should you find a solution, think about it and keep thinking about it: can it be automated? How about now? Now? Now?

After all, the Romans said errare humanum est, sed perseverare diabolicum. The agile bunch named it DRY. It's the same thing: stop wasting time!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Entourage, a new series to watch

HBO has done it again. I am not a great fan of the HBO channel. The movies I see on usually suck ass, the series are cut short, it's a consumer thing. But the HBO produced movies and series are something else. Very often I am amazed of the orginality of a series idea and the quality of the show and then I see it's HBO productions.

Entourage is one of these gems. A show loosely based on Mark Wahlberg's personal experience as a rising actor, it features four childhood friends, one of them quickly becoming a major Hollywood star. Mark Wahlberg is another guy I like without him being a mainstream accepted actor and also an executive producer for Entourage.

Anyway, through all the good and the bad, these four guys stick together. This alone is something to watch the series for, but the acting is very good, too. The whole show shines, yet to tell you the truth, I think that the real stars are Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven, who are actually secondary characters.

Again it is proven that great stories are the ones based on reality and you can see that the show has soul, it's not just a winning recipe applied again and again. And even better, I am at the end of the second season and it has not become any worse, so it is not just a one season wonder that quickly collapses after, but something solid. Also an interesting thing is how they have a guest star or two in every episode, playing often themselves, sometimes completely different people.

So watch it!

Windows Presentation Foundation - Unleashed by Adam Nathan

book cover WPF Unleashed is a 2006 book in the Unleashed series about the new Microsoft paradigm on visual interaction, written by Adam Nathan. Windows Presentation Foundation is now the default Windows graphics framework, overriding Windows Forms, and it is based on XAML, which is used in Windows desktop applications, Silverlight applications, directly in Internet Explorer and even as a document template.

The book is nicely written, covering all the main characteristics of WPF, the functionality, the problems and tips on stuff that is not so clear. It also contains "Digging deeper" sections where some of the works "under the hood" are revealed. The book focuses more on the XAML implementation (the declarative part) rather that the code one, and I was happy to see that the code was written in C#.

All in all I liked the book and I wish I had more time to parse it completely. So far I've read the basic stuff (without the fancy graphics) so the first 10 chapters and I will wait for a moment of respite so I can detail some of the stuff I found in the book and how to implement them.

Fullmetal Alchemist : Brotherhood

Animax poster
A while ago I saw the anime Fullmetal Alchemist and I was really starting to like it. An interesting melange of dark horror, funny kid stuff and magic in a very consistent alternate universe. Unfortunately the anime ended, in a somewhat unsatisfactory way.

Enter Brotherhood. This is the "continuation" of the original series to match the progress of the manga. I believe it will quickly tell the story up until the end, then ignore the previous ending and continue in a new way. Unfortunately I already know what is going to happen, having read the manga, and also don't especially like that storyline either. I hope it will not suck like Berserk did. After a brilliant start it just failed utterly.

Anyway, hopefully the anime story arches will be more interesting than those in the manga.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

How to localize a Visual Studio project

There are two things you need to do. First, set the project as having a neutral language. This is done in Visual Studio 2008 by going to the project's properties, selecting Application, clicking on Assembly information and setting the language. However, it doesn't set an UltimateResourceFallbackLocation. So you have to do it manually, by editing the Properties\AssemblyInfo.cs file and adding
[assembly: NeutralResourcesLanguageAttribute("en-US", UltimateResourceFallbackLocation.Satellite)]


The second thing is rather dumb. I haven't found ANY way to do it from Visual Studio. I just edited the csproj file manually. It needs
<UICulture>en-US</UICulture>
set in (under, actually) every <PropertyGroup> in it.

What that does is create a language folder in the bin directory when compiled with a localizable resource file. Using the locBaml utility in the Windows SDK you can turn a resources.dll in the language folder into a CSV, then back into a dll like this:
LocBaml /parse ProjectName.g.en-US.resources /out:en-US.csv
LocBaml /generate ProjectName.resources.dll /trans:fr-CA.csv /cul:fr-CA
.

You will not find locBaml in the Windows SDK folder except maybe as a sample project. The sample project can be downloaded here. Don't forget to compile it!

Some other useful links:
WPF Localization
Localizing WPF Applications using Locbaml
LocBaml + MsBuild + ClickOnce Deployment

Rick Strahl presents an easier and better alternative by using normal resx files! I don't want to copy (too much) from his post, so just read it:
Resx and BAML Resources in WPF

Missing Business Inteligence Studio for SQL Server 2005

I was just installing a new system, with all the necessary tools of the trade (Visual Studio(s), Sql Server, etc) and after I've installed VS2005 I noticed that there was no entry for the Business Intelligence Studio. I've tried all kinds of "solutions" on the net, varying from using some complicated command line to running vs_setup (exe or msi) or even reinstalling everything (which I refused to do).

In the end the problem was simple enough: Visual Studio installed some SQL Express version and the SQL Server 2005 setup thought I already had Business Intelligence Studio installed, so it never did reinstall it. The solution is to run this command line:
setup.exe UPGRADE=1 SKUUPGRADE=1
on the SQL 2005 installation kit.

Warning:
  • the parameters MUST be upper case, otherwise it will not work
  • it may be that only one of those parameters is actually necessary, but I have tried them both, anyway
.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fluent interfaces

I have seen this used in a couple of places, the most prominent being LInQ. You run a method and then you chain another method to it and so on and so on. It's a nice improvement in readability and a good alternative to static methods.

The clearest example I can give you is on Wikipedia. Check it out. It's actually very easy to use and implement.