Tools & Apps

AA Rates Calculator For Windows Phone 7

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Thu, 08/11/2011 - 11:10
16 November 2011: This application has had a major update, see the details in this post

marketplace-tileOne of the most popular posts on my website is the AA Rate calculation spreadsheet I built in 2008. The goal of the spreadsheet is you provide the details about your vehicle and it tells you what the AA Rate for your vehicle is. So I decided to rebuild this for Windows Phone 7!

This was a lot of fun because it has some complex issues (matrixes of values) which had to be solved, so that tickled my developer brain.

This also allowed me the opportunity to update the calculations since they change every so often which is important for you!

An interesting thing that I learnt with this release is that the official/documented calculations is NOT equal to what the AA online calculator does. So there is an option now called “quirks mode” which runs it equal to the online calculator where if you turn it off, it runs it using the documented mode!

screenshot1screenshot2screenshot3

wp7_278x92_blue

Nugget: Little compiler optimisation

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 11:28

Found this little C# compiler optimisation which is really cool. Here is start code

int y = 0;
int x = 10;

if (x * 0 == 0)
{
    y = 123;
}

Console.WriteLine(y);

If you know a bit of math, anything multiplied by 0 always equals 0 (line 4). So the compiler optimises that out and then because x is never used that is also optimised out and you end up with

int y = 0;

if (0 == 0)
{
    y = 123;
}

Console.WriteLine(y);
So very smart Smile

Presentation Dump - Mid 2011: Windows 7 API CodePack, Development for Nokia, Mercurial, VS Tools, AOP, Multitasking, Cloud

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 07/19/2011 - 14:05

The fact we half way through the year snuck up on me this morning, so it is time again to share some of the presentations I have done in the last 6 months! For those new to the presentation dump, every 6 months or so I share all the slides I can (some I can’t because they contain NDA info, like the one about Microsoft’s Project Double Rainbow) so that you can take these slides and work with them yourself!

So what is included in this dump:

  • Windows 7 API Code Pack: This was a very fun session to do since it was showing off a bunch of cool Windows 7 features.
  • Development for Nokia: This is maybe one of the best looking slides, but one of the worst timed sessions since shortly after it Nokia announced their move to WP7 so not much could be taken away from this Sad smile
  • Mercurial: This is a difficult session, because the demo’s are so boring (how do you make source control sexy?) – however a ridiculous amount of animation about process made this entertaining to create and present.
  • Visual Studio Productivity Tools: This one started off from the idea of answering the question CodeRush vs. Resharper – which is a bit of religious debate more than a this one wins. It includes a bunch of other interesting content about other extensions too. For non-South African’s “Braai Rules” is the same as saying “BBQ Rules” or “Pub/Bar Rules”
  • Aspect Orientated Programming: This is a big one for me as I see general development using more of this and the frameworks, like .NET, moving to it more and more in future. Good to get an early look into it.
  • Multitasking in applications: This session looks at one of the themes of .NET 4 – TASKS. Why should you care, because multi threading is complex, but multi tasking gives the same benefits with less complexity.
  • WebMatrix: Microsoft’s new tool for hobbyist web developers. What is included in that tool? This presentation tells you.
  • Welcome to the cloud: I had a great opportunity to present at Tswane University of Technology with Rudi Grobler on the cloud & mobile. This was a very fun session and allowed me to also talk about why BBD is such an awesome place to work.

Slides available in the post! Click below for more

Windows 7 API Code Pack

Development for Nokia

Mercurial

Visual Studio Productivity Tools

Aspect Orientated Programming

Multitasking in applications

WebMatrix

Welcome to the cloud

Security is hard for users, so let us clean up with NEAT & SPRUCE

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 07/11/2011 - 13:34

Microsoft used to be a horrid company with regards to their security, then they sat down and made security a quality gate – we do not ship if security is wrong. How do they know what is wrong? A 24 page guideline with 68 bullet points?! Perfect holiday reading Smile with tongue out

The security development lifecycle team has recently tried to help us developers improve our applications so we not the next company with a bad security issues with two acronyms which will improve security notices to our users: NEAT & SPRUCE

What is NEAT?

  • N: Necessary – Only show messages that you need. If you can take a safe action automatically or defer the message, do that!
  • E: Explained – If you do interrupt the user, explain in everything to the user. EVERYTHING?! Yes, and the SPRUCE acronym will help explain what everything is.
  • A: Actionable – A message should only be presented to the user if there is steps the user can take to make the right decision.
  • T: Tested – A security message needs to be tested. TDD, Usability Testing, Visual Inspection, every test.

So, we need to show the message now – what do we put in there? SPRUCE:

  • S: Source – Why are we showing this message? Did a website do something or a file or a user action? Tell the user.
  • P: Process – Give the user the steps they need to go through to make sure they make the right decision.
  • R: Risk – Explain what the consequences of getting the decision wrong.
  • U: Unique – If your software knows everything, do the right thing automatically. So if you are showing the message, it means the user has unique information that is needed to make the decision. Explain what information is needed (slightly similar to P).
  • C: Choices – Show the user all the options and recommend the safer one.
  • E: Evidence – Provide any additional information that the user may need to make the decision.

Now that the training is done, let’s look at real implementations:

A web page contains secure & nonsecure content

Here is what the dialog looked like in the bad old days of IE6:

11[2]

In IE 9 where this logic has been applied:

ie9

Let’s look at the differences:

  • N (Necessary) has been applied – previously this was a blocking model UI, which the user was forced to deal with to continue working. Today it shows discreetly with at the bottom and only if the user needs to work with this they have to, otherwise ignoring it.
  • E (Explained) has had been done with the What’s the risk? – which shows the dialog below. It is not perfect as it hasn't followed SPRUCE fully but it is a good improvement.
  • A (Actionable) has been applied – previously you had both a yes & no, now we have one action that can be done. Close or ignore and nothing happens.
  • T (Tested) there is some weird language issues with the old one especially if English isn’t your primary language because of the yes/no not being perfectly clear. The new dialog has a single very clear labelled button!

whats the risk

Takeaways

Now that we have looked at how it can help you and how to do it, attached is a nice simple 3 page document with more details and reminders about this. GO IMPROVE YOUR APPLICATIONS!

 

Yalla - do it now!

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 07/11/2011 - 12:37
Update 26 July 2011: Note that once you have done this you must move off of YallaApps to AppHub by 20 August 2011 or you will not get refunded. See this post for details on how to do that

yalla appsThe single reason I don’t tell people to buy Windows Phone 7 devices in South Africa – no market place. This issue for users means a 3rd rate experience on the device compared to other smart phones. For developers this was an issue, because it meant we couldn’t get our phones unlocked and we couldn’t publish… this WAS an issue for developers.

Now we developers have YallaApps, a service to allow developers where Microsoft doesn’t have a marketplace to develop and publish apps. It is a good but slow service, but today is not about Yalla, today is about you.

As a South African, you can signup for YallaApps (no phone needed) and get

  • $100 (about R800) worth of credits for free
  • Your phone unlocked (if/when you get one)
  • A free developer account (value $100) when the marketplace arrives

All you need to do is signup – it takes 5 minutes. My suggestion, regardless if you have a phone now or not or if you plan to develop an app – DO IT NOW! Get those free benefits banked for later so that if you do decide one day it costs you nothing!

Mercurial + Lightswitch : .hgignore file bliss

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 06/27/2011 - 12:19

Clipboard02Lightswitch is a fantastic tool but has a MAJOR downside to it – it eats disk space like no-ones business. A simple test project with 1 table, 1 screen & some code on the client side and server side is over 90Mb of space!

If you are a developer you will have some sort of version control system in place and you should be following some best practices in version control. For this post, the one I want to look at is to only check into the repo what actually needs to be in the repo. A polluted and huge repo is not only hard to work with, it puts people off and lowers adoption Sad smile

I have been using Mercurial a lot recently and part of a new LS project I took the time to look at how much of the LS project needs to go into the repo – and you know what… it is VERY VERY LITTLE, in fact it is about 0.4%!

Mercurial, for those new to it, has a .hgignore file which uses a regular expression like language to tell it what files to ignore, i.e. don’t commit those files to the repo. Below is what my .hgignore file looks like. That first 4 line group is the LS specific lines while the rest is for general Visual Studio projects:

syntax: glob

*.lsproj.user
ServiceConfiguration.cscfg
*/_Pvt_Extensions/*
*/GeneratedArtifacts/*

*.csproj.user
*.vbproj.user
*/[Oo]bj/*
*/[Bb]in/*
*.suo
*DXCore.Solution
[Tt]humbs.db 
*.user
*.bak.* 
*.bak 
*.[Cc]ache
*/[Pp]ublish/*
*.vssscc
*.vs10x
*/[Dd]otfuscated/*
[Dd]otfuscated/*
*.vsp
[Nn][Dd]epend[Oo]ut/*
*.licx
*.docstates
*.cscfg
*.csdef

It is important to note that when you pull from the repo (or checkout for TFS/VSS/SVN folk) you’ll get the disk saving, until you open it up that is. Once opened LS will regenerate everything and the size on your machine will be back to the massive 90Mb+, however the repo will remain small, commits will remain small, network traffic will remain small and performance improved – just what we wanted from following those version control best practises.

Mercurial Cheat Sheet

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 06/21/2011 - 14:11

I am a fan of ALM (application lifecycle management) and an awesome source control tool is Mercurial. It has plugins for VS, Windows (Tortoise HG) and a command line. I use the command line a lot but can’t remember all the commands so below you can find an easy cheat sheet for all the Mercurial commands:

Mercurial Cheat Sheet

HIGH resolution XPS & PDF below.

You do what at your job?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Wed, 06/15/2011 - 13:44

imageI tweeted yesterday that my job can be a little weird because I had to sit in the kitchen at the BBD office and watch a TV for a while. This generated some confused discussion, so what was I doing?

Our team is experimenting with the idea of putting screens around the company to share content and information and I had to sit in the kitchen to make sure it worked by watching loop the content for a bit Smile

15062011988

This is also a great opportunity to share some learning's from this with you:

TightVNC is still the best VNC option

Remote Desktop from Microsoft is THE best way to remote onto another machine but it has one downside, it locks other user out. For out screen we can’t have the login shown, and I don’t even know where it is to login manually – we need to see the content on the machine so we dropped to an older technology: VNC.

There is a lot of options in the VNC space, but ended on TightVNC as it actually runs as a service on a Windows 7 machine where other VNC clients run in the user space.

Auto Login to Windows

The login screen is also an issue with the machine when it boots and I don’t want to remote in every time to login – so we configured Windows to auto login to a specific account. This is thanks to the folks at Channel9 in particular Sarah Perez & Bradley Ward:

  1. Change the following registry key to 1: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\AutoAdminLogon
  2. This enables the feature to be surfaced in Windows.
  3. Then run the following command: control userpasswords2
  4. In this UI you can UNTICK the option Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer and click OK
  5. It will then prompt you for the username & password to use and done! Note this is a bad security and so not recommended, but sometimes it is needed.

Open & Play slideshow

We are using Microsoft PowerPoint for the content and needed to auto run a slideshow at login, so we created a shortcut to run PowerPoint with the /S switch (see this for info on switches) and the filename: PowerPnt.exe /S c:\demo.pptx

That opens PowerPoint and starts the presentation!

Insert web content into PowerPoint

Lastly we wanted include some live web pages in it, which PowerPoint doesn’t support out of the box. MVP’s to the rescue! Some MVP’s created an add-in that allows it: http://skp.mvps.org/liveweb.htm

Really awesome!

Pepper: Issue causing crashes

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Mon, 06/06/2011 - 12:43
Update 6 June 2011 15h30 (GMT +0200): All is working now, post left for archival purposes.

Pepper, everyone's favourite Visual Studio add-in for synchronisation of Visual Studio settings, is currently DOWN Sad smile and trying to use Pepper will cause it to crash Visual Studio Sad smile

Something has gone seriously wrong in the SQL Azure database that powers it and I’ve logged a call with Microsoft to have it investigated and repaired.

As soon as I have any updates, I will update this page. Thanks for your patience.

Updates:

Update 6 June 2011 13h45 (GMT +0200): Testing is showing the database issue is resolved however I am awaiting confirmation from Microsoft Support before I sound the all clear.
Update 6 June 2011 15h30 (GMT +0200): All clear. The cause was the database disappeared! Seriously, just gone. Couldn't see it in SQL management studio or in the Azure management portal and the web services Pepper uses couldn't talk to it either. During the Microsoft investigation the database reappeared and unfortunately support has been unable to identify what happened (or they not telling me... but I'm paranoid).

Convert VirtualBox (vmi) to real disk?

Submitted by Robert MacLean on Tue, 05/31/2011 - 12:20

It is often the case I need to setup training machines and a sometimes I get VirtualBox images which I need to deploy to the machines. I tend to avoid virtualisation on the training machines because of driver related issues, especially with graphic cards and things like WPF (which powers Visual Studio). If you have a good graphics card & good drivers then you can get a decent perf improvement with WPF apps, but unfortunately some virtualisation drivers are too poor.

So how can I take an virtual hard disk created in VirtualBox and easily convert it to physical disk so it can just run?

Process:

It is possible but it is not easy to a real disk but it is not easy.

  • Step 1: You need to use a tool from Microsoft called SysPrep to unload the drivers. Basically this means that it strips all the driver info out, and puts the image in a clean state so that the next time it boots Windows searches for the hardware again. If you do not do that Windows will freak out because the hardware it expects does not exist.
  • Step 2: Then you use a tool designed for disk imaging to create an image. Tools like Norton Ghost (paid) or CloneZilla (free) are designed for this purpose and the image they create is portable unlike the vmi (VirtualBox hard drive) format which can't do this well.
  • Step 3: You then restore that image to the real disk using the same tool and you are done.

Slightly more work than you would expect, but that is a solution which always works.

Caveats:

I have not tried this with Hyper-V or VirtualPC disks (vhd) yet, but I suspect VirtualPC will work fine. Hyper-V has an additional Hypervisor layer and I suspect that SysPrep will not remove that and the restoring process will fail.

Finally you also want to be careful with SysPrep as it can have some undesired effects with certain software, for example SQL Server. There are specific steps to go through if you want to use SysPrep & SQL Server: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee210754.aspx

So make the time to have the first few attempts fail and learn the nuances of the software you work with.