Thursday, May 26, 2011

.NET enigma!

This is a case of a bug fix that I made work, but I can't understand why the solution works. Basically, the story was that some internal component of a third part control forced WPF to throw an exception on the UI thread. As it was impossible to plug the hole in the third party library, and since its next version is supposed to solve the issue, I've opted for a somewhat ugly hack: I've handled the DispatcherUnhandledException event of the Application class and I've basically said to it to ignore that specific UI error.

I will get into details of what the error and where it came from was and how to handle it, but I want to focus on the fact that, since this was a fix for a specific class, I've inherited from that class and used a static method in it to do the above handling of the event. Well, it worked most of the cases, but not all. Some code that involved moving the focus of WPF elements programmatically would cause the bug to reappear.

At first I thought it was a matter of a change in the policy of exception handling from .Net 1.0 to 2.0 and above. So I've set the <legacyUnhandledExceptionPolicy enabled="1"/> option in the app.config runtime section, but it didn't help.

I've tried everything, from using the control instance Dispatcher in the constructor or in the Loaded event, to moving the code directly to the point after the application was instantiated and before the application was run. Bingo, it worked! I thought that was it. I've again encapsulated the entire behavior in the inherited control and ... watched it fail.

Let me simplify the situation: static code that doesn't work when encapsulated in a static class works perfectly when the same code is inlined in the calling code. Can you explain that? I cannot!

The code is simple:

application.DispatcherUnhandledException +=

static void application_DispatcherUnhandledException
(object sender, DispatcherUnhandledExceptionEventArgs e)
if (e.Exception.Message.Contains("Hover")
&& e.Exception.Message
e.Handled = true;

Move that in a static class and execute it as MyClass.RegisterFix(application); and it doesn't catch all the exceptions thrown, although it works in most cases.

Can anyone explain this to me? Why does it matter where the code is?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

GA Rapture

Today is the Rapture, at least according to a doomsayer Christian evangelist in the US (where else?). Anyway, today is my name saint day, so it makes a weird kind of sense, although I would have preferred it to be on my birthday, so I would feel even more special. Something is certain though, if it happens during my lifetime, the Rapture will probably happen on my death day.

But what is this Rapture? According to Wikipedia, God bless her, it seems there is a moment in time when the big guy gets fed up with all the bullshit and just packs all his believers and goes home. A small script bottom line also mentions throwing away everything else. But theeen, he gets his people back on Earth. Ha! I know that concept! It's a Genetic Algorithm Reaper! It takes the fit to another generation, it gets rid of the unfit, in order to evolve the perfect believer in Christ. So appropriate when you think about it: the Rapture happens when Christianity and Evolution finally converge.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reflector is dead. Long live dotPeek, JustDecompile, and others?

As I was blogging before, RedGate are assholes. They bought Reflector, promised to keep it free, then asked money for it. But every crisis can be turned into an opportunity. JetBrains promised a free decompiler tool and they have kept their word as they have released an early build. A total news to me, but not really a surprise, other software companies decided to build their own version in order to boost their visibility in the developer world. Telerik, for example, has just released JustDecompile, beta version.

It is no secret that JetBrains is a company that I respect a lot, as they made ReSharper, the coolest tool I've ever had the pleasure to work with, but I will try to be as unbiased as possible in comparing the options. I have tried dotPeek on WPF's PresentationFramework.dll from the .NET framework 4.0, as I often need to check the sources in order to understand functionality or bugs.

As a footnote, Reflector, just before it went commercial, could not decompile some of the code there. Not only it did not decompile it, but it presented empty methods like that was all there was in the code, with no warnings or errors or explicative comments. So, even if free, I bet Reflector would have sucked in the end, after getting into the money grabbing hands of RedGate.

dotPeek has seen and decompiled the code that Reflector did not. Also, I have to say that similar functionality like in ReSharper, finding usages, going to declaration, etc are making dotPeek a very nice tool to work with. What I did not quite like is that it doesn't have yet the functionality to save the sources to text files. But I am sure this is just a detail that was not implemented yet. Hopefully, they will provide a rich plugin model like old Reflector did.

Unfortunately, to download JustDecompile, they need you to have a Telerik login in order to download, which, as everyone knows, simply sucks. No one likes a registration form, folks! Especially one that presents you with wonderful prechecked checkboxes for permission for Telerik to send you all kind of stupid promotions and newsletters. Also, the download is of a .msi file. Most developers like to see what they are installing and preferably just copy it from a file archive. Running the .msi took forever, including the mandatory 100% CPU utilization bit that I will never understand in installation products. (coming from the .NET runtime optimization service, mscorsvw, called by ngen) But that's just the delivery system. Let's check out the actual thing.

JustDecompile starts reasonably fast and it also has a nice look, being build with Telerik controls and what not. The decompilation is a bit weird at first, since it shows only the method names and for a second there I thought it was as bad as Reflector was, but then I noticed the Expand All Members button. The context menu is not nearly as useful as dotPeek's, but there are a lot of options in the top toolbar and the navigation via links is fast and intuitive. It also has no text saving options yet.

As the decompiled sources were, I noticed these differences:
  • JustDecompiler places inline member declarations in constructors, dotPeek shows it inline. It might not seem an important thing, but an internal class gains a weird public constructor in order to place the declaration there, instead of using the only internal constructor that the class had. It looks strange too as its last line is base(); which is not even legal.
  • dotPeek seems to want to cast everything in the source code. For example List list = (List) null;
  • JustDecompiler shows a Dictionary TryGetValue method with a ref parameter, dotPeek shows the correct out.
  • dotPeek creates really simple names for local scope variables like listand list1, JustDecompiler seems to create more meaningful names like attachedAnnotations
  • JustDecompiler shows a class internal as dotPeek shows it as internal abstract.
  • JustDecompiler seems to fail to decompile correctly indexer access.
  • JustDecompiler doesn't seem to handle explicit interface implementations.
  • JustDecompiler doesn't seem to decompile readonly fields.
  • JustDecompiler transforms a piece of code into an if with a return in it and then some other code, dotPeek decompiles it into an if/else.
  • JustDecompiler doesn't seem to handle Unicode characters. dotPeek correctly encodes them in source like "\x001B".
  • dotPeek seems to join nested ifs in a single one, as opposed to JustDecompiler.
  • JustDecompiler uses base. in order to access members coming from base classes, while dotPeek uses this.

I will stop here. I am sure there are many other differences. My conclusion is that dotPeek could do with the naming algorithm JustDecompiler seems to use for local scope variables, but in most other ways is superior to JustDecompiler for now. As both programs are in beta, this could quickly change. I do hope that healthy competition between these two products (and, why not, shady developer meetings in bars over tons of beer and pizza, in order to compare ideas intercompanies) will result in great products. My only wish is that one of these products would become open source, but as both use proprietary bits from commercial products, I doubt it will happen.

Have fun, devs!

Update 23 Feb 2012:
dotPeek vs JustDecompile scanderbergSpurred by a comment from Telerik, I again tried a (quick and dirty, mind you) comparison of the two .Net decompilation tools: JetBrains dotPeek and Telerik JustDecompile. Here are my impressions:

First of all, the Telerik tool has a really cute installer. I am certainly annoyed with the default Windows one and its weird error codes and inexplicable crashes. Now, that doesn't mean the Telerik installer does better in the error section, since I had none, but how could it not? The problem with the installation of JustDecompile is that it also tried to install (option checkboxes set by default) JustCode and JustTrace. The checkboxes themselves were something really custom, graphically, so I almost let them checked, since they looked as part of the background picture. If it weren't for my brain spam detector which went all red lights and alarm bells when seeing a really beautiful installer for a free tool, I might have installed the two applications.

Now for the decompilation itself. I was trying to see what the VisualBasic Strings.FormatNumber method contained. The results:
  • dotPeek showed xml documentation comments, JustDecompile did not
  • dotPeek showed default values for method parameters, JustDecompile did not
  • JustDecompile could decompile the source in C#, VB and IL, dotPeek did only C#
  • JustDecompile showed the source closer to the original source (I can say this because it also shows VB, which is probably the language in which Microsoft.VisualBasic was written), dotPeek shows an equivalent source, but heavily optimized, with things like ternary operators, inversions of if blocks and even removals of else sections if the if block can directly return from the method
  • There are some decorative attributes that dotPeek shows, while JustDecompile does not (like MethodImplAttribute)
  • dotPeek has a tabbed interface that allows the opening of more than a single file, JustDecompile has only a code view window
  • dotPeek shows the code of a class in a window, in order to see a method, it scrolls to where the method is; JustDecompile shows a class as a stub, one needs to click on a method to see the implementation of only that method in the code window

My conclusion remains that dotPeek is a lot more usable than JustDecompile. As a Resharper user, I can accept that I am biased, but one of the major functionalities of a .Net decompiler is to show you usable code. While I can take individual methods or properties with JustDecompile and paste them in my code, I can take entire classes with dotPeek, which makes me choose dotPeek for the moment, no matter all the other points above. Of course, if any of the two tools would give me a button that would allow me to take a dll and see it as a Visual Studio project, it would quickly rise to the top of my choices.

Update 26 Apr 2013:
I've again compared the two .Net decompilers. JustDecompile 1.404.2 versus dotPeek EAP You might ask why I am comparing with the Early Access Program version. It is because JustDecompile now has the option to export the assembly to a Visual Studio project (yay!), but dotPeek only has this in the EAP version so far.
I have this to report:
Telerik's JustDecompile:
  • the installer is just as cute as before, only it is for a suite called DevCraft, of which one of the products is JustDecompile
  • something that seemed a bit careless is the "trial" keyword appearing in both download page and installer. If installing just JD, it is not trial
  • again the checkboxes for JustCode and JustTrace are checked by default, but at least they are more visible in the list of products in the suite
  • a Help Improve the Telerik Installer Privacy Policy checkbox checked by default appeared and it is not that visible
  • the same need to have an account to Telerik in order to download JD
  • when installing JD, it also installs the Telerik Control Panel a single place to download and manage Telerik products, which is not obvious from the installer
  • the install takes about two minutes on my computer to a total size of 31MB, including the control panel
  • if a class is in a multipart namespace like Net.Dns, it uses folders named Net.Dns if there is no class in the Net namespace
  • not everything goes smoothly, sometimes the decompiler throws exceptions that are then logged in the code as comments, with the request to mail to
  • it creates the AssemblyInfo.cs file in a Properties folder, just like when creating a project
  • resolves string concatenation with string.Concat, rather than using the '+' operator as in the original code
  • resolves foreach loops into while(true) loops with breaks when a condition is met
  • uses private static methods in a class with the qualified class name
  • resolves inline variables, leaving the code readable
  • overall it has a nicer decompiled code structure than dotPeek
  • adds explicit default constructors to classes
  • places generic class constraint at the end of constraints list, generating an exception
  • it doesn't catch all reference assemblies, sometimes you have to manually add them to the list
  • decompiles enum values to integer in method optional parameters default values, generating compilation errors
  • decompiles default(T) to null in method optional parameters default values, generating compilation errors
  • decompiles class destructors to Finalize methods which are not valid, generating compilation errors
  • types of parameters in calls to base constructors are sometimes wrong
  • places calls to base/this constructors at the end of constructor code blocks, which of course does not work, when you place more complex code in the calls
  • doesn't understand cast to ValueType (which is somewhat obscure, I agree)
  • really fucks up expressions trees like FluentNHibernate mapping classes, but I hate NHibernate anyway
  • resolves if blocks with return in them to goto/label sometimes
  • resolves readonly fields instantiated from a constructor to a mess that uses a local variable to set the field (which is not valid)
  • doesn't resolve corectly a class name if it conflicts with the name of a local method or field
  • inlines constants (although I don't think they can solve this)
  • switch/case statements on Enum values sometimes gain weird extra case blocks
  • sometimes it uses safe casting with value types (x as bool)

JetBrain's dotPeek:
  • the EAP version has a standalone executable version which doesn't need installation
  • the whole install is really fast and installs around 46MB
  • as I said above, it does not have the Export to Project option until version 1.1
  • the decompilation process is slower than JustDecompile's
  • if a class is in a multipart namespace like Net.Dns, it uses a folder structure like Net/Dns
  • sometimes things don't go well and it marks this with // ISSUE: comments, describing the problem. Note: these are not code exceptions, but issues with the decompiled code
  • it inlines a lot of local variables, making the code more compact and less readable
  • weird casting of items in string concatenations
  • a tendency to strong typed casting, making the code less readable and generating compilation errors at times
  • the AssemblyInfo.cs file is not created in a Properties folder
  • when there are more classes in a single file, it creates a file for each, named as the original file, but prefixed with a number, instead of using the name of the class
  • it has an option to create the solution for the project as well
  • it creates types for anonymous types, and creates files with weird names for them, which are not really valid, screwing the project.
  • it has problems with base constructor calls and constructor inheritance
  • it has problems with out parameters, it makes a complete mess of them
  • tries to create a type for Linq IQueryable results, badly
  • it has problems with class names that are the same as names of namespaces (this is an issue of ReSharper as well, when it doesn't present the option to choose between a class name and a namespace name)
  • resolves while(method) to invalid for loops
  • it doesn't resolve corectly a class name if it conflicts with the name of a local method or field
  • problems with explicit interface implementations: ISomething a=new Something(); a.Method(); (it declares a as Something, not ISomething)
  • problems with decompiling linq method chains
  • I found a situation where it resolved Decimal.op_Increment(d) for 1+d
  • indirectly used assemblies are not added to the reference list
  • it sometimes creates weird local variables like local_0, which are not declared, so not valid
  • adds a weird [assembly: Extension] in the AssemblyInfo file, which is not valid
  • a lot of messed up bool values resolved as (object) (bool) (value ? 1 : 0), which doesn't even work
  • inlines constants (although I don't think they can solve this)
  • __Null local1 = null; - really?

After decompiling, solving the issues and compiling again an assembly in the project I am working on I got these sizes:
JustDecompile: 409088
dotPeek: 395776
The original: 396288

Of course, this is not really a scientific comparison between the two. I was excited by the implementation of Export to Project in both products and I focused mainly on that. The navigation between types and methods is vastly improved in JustDecompile and, to my chagrin, I have to admit that it may be easier and safer to use than dotPeek at this time. Good job, Telerik! Oh, and no, they have NOT paid me to do this research :-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Removed the eyes and Hillary Mason

A user has noticed that in Google Chrome changing the hash of the url adds the address in the browser history. So no more cool ASCII eyes watching you from the address bar.

Also, I was greeted today by a warning (also from Google Chrome) that my blog contains content from and that it is unsafe to open. I've removed that blog from the blog roll list, even if, for what is worth, I don't think that was an "evil blog".

Monday, May 16, 2011

The horror of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 SP1

People who know me also know about the Law of Siderite: never use any Microsoft product until it has reached a second service pack or release. That has been true for me, like a skewed Moore law, since Windows 95 OSR2 (also known as Windows 96). But I had to break my own legal advice and try to install Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1.

There are several reasons for this, one of them being that VS2010 had a few relatively important bugs and I am using the tool at work every day and at home when I get the time. So not only did I not wait for a Service Pack 2, I've gone and installed the beta version! And guess what? It installed without any problems and fixed most of the bugs that annoyed me, if not all. Yay, for Microsoft! But then I had to install ASP.Net MVC, which needed as a prerequisite VS2010 SP1 and so I went and installed the Release Candidate. That is, the version that should be like the beta, only better. This is the story of that fateful decision:
  • Step 1: Start ASP.Net MVC3 installer. Result: Fail!
  • Step 2: Start Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1 installer, the small 500kb version. Result: fail.
  • Step 3: Download the .iso version and run. Result: fail.
  • Step 4: Reinstall Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate
    a) Uninstall Visual Studio 2010. Result: fail.
    b) Use Microsoft Installer Cleanup Utility on Visual Studio. Install VS2010 (without VB or VC++). Result: Success!
  • Step 5: Install VS2010 SP1
    a) .iso version. Result: fail!
    b) Web Platform Installer version (new fancy Microsoft tech). Result: fail!
  • Step 6: Install Web Developer Express (free) + VS2010 SP1 from Web Platform Installer. Result: SP1 core fail! SP1 success!?!

Bottom line: Now ASP.Net MVC seems to be working, with Razor syntax highlighting and intellisense, but the SP1 core is not installed. Visual Studio help window shows me that I have the Rel(ease) version, not SP1. I don't know what will blow up when I try it. Luckily, all this happened at home, not at work, therefore I haven't broken my main working tool.

My conclusion is that somehow you need to install the (useless, if you have Visual Studio) Visual Web Developer Express in order for the ASP.Net SP1 to work. This allows for different web engines, like Razor. SP1 doesn't work though. If you have the beta installed, try to use the Web Platform Installer to install Web Developer Express as well as the Visual Studio SP1. If it fails, look at the last section and see what got installed. Maybe you get the best of both worlds. I will be trying another Visual Studio version, but as the whole process takes ages, be warned.

Let me say that again, so it's perfectly clear: the install process of Visual Studio 2010 Service Pack 1 plus Visual Web Developer Express via the Web Platform Installer tool took me 12 hours! I did not have to press anything, it wasn't a case of trial and error, I just ran it, it said "installing 2 out of 12" for 12 hours in a row, then it partially failed. And the Web Platform Installer seems the best solution so far!

Blogger threw a tantrum

You may have noticed problems with my blog (and others hosted by Blogger) during last week. This was an isolated incident that Google has apologized for and that I feel necessary to also mention and apologize myself. Well, wasn't much I could do except compete with Blogger, but you know me, I'm a nice guy, I wouldn't want to put them out of business or something. So I will continue to use their services.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

About dogs and humans

Today I've read this article in the Romanian press about a dog "shelter" where animal protection organisations found hundreds of dead dogs. They have tried to enter to investigate as did the news and later the police. What I found interesting is the reaction of the people there: they barricaded themselves inside and refused access even to the police. They panicked, yes, but it was more than that.

I believe it was the shock felt by people who do some atrocious thing because they were ordered to or because they didn't know what they were in for. They start doing it and realize almost immediately that they can't possibly want this. But they continue to do it because a) they started already and stopping would be an admission of guilt and fault b) people around them do the same thing c) someone said it was the right thing to do. It all falls apart when other people try to examine what they did, though, as they realize, imagining what others would think, that they cannot possibly get over what they did. As they had projected responsibility on their superiors, now they project anger and rejection on the witnesses of their actions. But they actually hate themselves in those moments.

In the end, no one cares what the reason was. Maybe the official explanation that they were all terminally ill dogs is correct after all. But the emotional trauma felt by the people that did this, looking those animals in the eyes and then killing them while the barks of dogs turn to frightened squeals as they run from corner to corner in sheer terror, from this inability to care for random animals and people that work for you, from this I would make a story worth publishing.

Stargate Universe has ended

It started brilliantly: a Stargate series off-shoot that takes place in a very distant galaxy on a ship that runs itself with a bunch of stranded humans on it. And Robert Carlyle plays the role of the grumpy scientist! The feel of the show moves away from green pastures and ridiculous Goa'uld with their Jaffa and their sticks and goes to a much darker place where human nature and politics define the game, not only blazing heroism and implausible luck.

And then... people wanted their fucking green pastures! The ratings were in the millions, but still not enough for the greedy networks who decided to cancel the show. To be honest, it is not only the fault of idiotic executives and imbecile TV viewers, but also of the show writers. But the number of solid episodes so outnumbers the number of faulty ones that the blame cannot in good faith be attributed to the people working on the show. The actors played well, the scripts were mostly interesting and consistent. There were no self referential or parody episodes at all and the humour was left to the situation, not the mandatory smart quote before springing into action.

Of course, the potential of the show was mostly wasted in the so many average episodes in which they found a stargate, dialed in, then proceeded with the almost the same ideas as in the other Stargate shows, but there was a major difference even then: people has their own agendas, they pondered on their role in all of this, not just acted like automatons playing the same part over and over.

So yes, I think this show could have benefited from the slowly rising tide of people that don't watch shows the first time they air, but much later, when they ask their friends "do you know any good sci-fi series?" and someone answers "Have you seen Stargate Universe? It's awesome!". But no. If random morons who wouldn't understand a stick if it didn't hit them with the end they expect don't like the show, it must be cancelled. I've heard people react to Universe with repulsion and even hate. "It is not in the spirit of the Stargate shows that I liked!", they said. Well, I am sorry to tell you, but that spirit is the spirit of Harry Potter, Tom and Jerry and Prince Charming: impossible situations with incredible solutions from people that cannot exist. The ever successful recipe of "heroic people with which you would identify [for no real reason] battle the odds and succeed every time. And they do it smiling!" it nothing but a fairy tale. You are watching bed time stories. And yes, I want my bed time stories as well, but not the three year old ones!

I dedicate this post to so many people that believed they thought they understood Stargate Universe and similar shows that got cancelled for no good reason: you are idiots!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Our children have grown so much!

Taliban Steve McQueen :)
A bit late to the party, I finally found out that there was a mass escape from a Khanadahar prison. Apparently, Taliban forces have dug a tunnel from outside the Afghan prison and liberated about 500 of their peers. This is a blow to the local government and their western allies, the news say. I, however, cannot help but root a little for the underdog and think of the classic The Great Escape. In that film, allied prisoners of war were digging a tunnel to escape Nazis. Will they do a similar film about the Talibans now? I would. It would probably be both funny and tragic, navigating through all the incompetence, corruption, shrewdness and tension. As for the "western allies"... I would be a little proud. "Look, ma! They have grown so much, our children! They are not blowing themselves up, they are organising, planning for months in advance and finally building something. It's just a tunnel now, but I am so proud!".