Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Special CodeMash Sessions And Labs Announced!

(Cross-posted on the CodeMash Google Group.)

I'm pleased to announce a great opportunity for learning about new technologies at CodeMash 2009:

Microsoft's Software + Services (S+S) and Development Platform Evangelism (DPE) teams have joined forces and will be using CodeMash 2009 to showcase some upcoming technology releases! CodeMash attendees will have a chance to learn about the just-announced Azure cloud computing platform, Visual Studio 2010, and the .NET 4.0 framework and languages.

Join the Microsoft team in the Banyan room, where you'll be able to work through a number of hands on labs hosted on 15 desktop workstations. MS team members will be manning the room throughout the entire conference and PreCompiler, waiting to help you learn about Azure, .NET 4.0, and the next release of Visual Studio (VS 2010).

Additionally, the Ironwood room will be set up as a lounge where you can relax and talk tech with other Microsofties. There will also be a few breakout sessions on Azure presented in Ironwood throughout the conference. Check your program guide and schedules posted outside the Ironwood room for more details.

This is a terrific addition to CodeMash 2009, and it was made possible  because of the passion, open-mindedness, and drive for learning that CodeMash attendees bring to the conference!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: Pragmatic Thinking & Learning

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt, ISBN 1934356050.

Yet another terrific book from Pragmatic Press, this one on the critical skill of learning how to learn.

It’s my opinion that problem solving and the ability to rapidly learn new things are the two most important skills in our industry. Andy’s book helps you boost your learning ability by walking you through some fundamental aspects of how one learns.  He uses a lot of practical examples drawn from various studies on the psychology and background of learning, and does a great job of linking findings in domains such as nursing to our own IT domain.

It would be easy to dive so deeply into complex, dry topics like the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, brain modes, etc., but Andy does a great job of keeping an appropriate level of writing. He also fills the book with small, practical tips to help out – simple things like keeping a notepad or PDA around all the time to capture fleeting ideas in order to flesh them out later.

I also love how he highlights things that don’t work, like his example of “sheep dip” training where technologists are lined up and thrown through an intensive multi-day training course which has little or no direct applicability to their environment. The training, like the parasite-killing goop sheep are dipped in, quickly wears off and has to be re-applied.

The book’s tone is clear, enjoyable, and concise. The book’s content is invaluable and mind-changing. I highly recommend you grab a copy and read it!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

More Reasons to Love CodeMash: Cool Community Things

CodeMash is about community. It’s about passionate geeks from a bunch of different domains getting together and sharing a lot of ideas.

CodeMash is also about all the various cool things those fired up geeks do, like Steve Harman creating the @CodeMash twitter account to spread the news, or Maggie Longshore creating a GIF file of the CodeMash logo for folks to add to their Twitter images.

My favorite though (as of right now today, that is) is Joe Fiorini’s www.IsItCodeMashYet.com site.

I’d love to hear from you if CodeMash has inspired you to do something similar – and I don’t care how big or small it is!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Selenium XPath Fu: Clicking the Right Dynamically Generated Button

Problem: I'm writing a Selenium test that needs to click a button in a table row. Said table row has a title cell. Said row may not always be in the same position in the table, so I can't just hit it via absolute positioning with something like 'clickAndWait('//input[@value='Edit' and @type='button' and @onclick="window.location = '/CS/controlpanel/forums/SectionEdit.aspx?SectionID=35'"]);'

NOTE: All images below are links to full-sized ones.

I need to be able to find that title text, then hit the appropriate button and all this needs to happen dynamically.

Answer: First off, you need a couple extra tools to help you out. Grab the Firefox extensions XPath Checker and DOM Inspector. (Tools | Add-ons | Get Add-ons and search for those titles)

My goal is to use XPath to find find the table cell with the title text I'm interested in, then in that same row find the Edit button so I can click it. This way I'm not locked on to an absolute position in the table which will likely be wrong as I do my tests.

Navigate Firefox to the page you're working on testing. Open the DOM inspector (Tools | DOM Inspector or use Ctrl-Shift-I). In DOM Inspector select Search | Select Element By Click , switch back to your page and click the text you're interested in. In my case, DOM Inspector will now show something like this:

The cell's selected and the text of it shows in the right pane, but the button I want is actually an INPUT element further down the DOM -- that's the lower box. First we need to use XPath to grab the table row we want, then we'll work our way over to the button.

Flip back to Firefox and right-click by the cell you want and select View XPath from the context menu.

The XPath Checker window will open.

Note the XPath (id('Listing')/tbody/tr[3]/td[1]) is the absolute position format, which we don't want! However, we can see the element ID of the table is 'Listing' and we need that! Change the XPath in the field to "//table[@id='Listing']" and you'll see we've gotten the entire table. A good start.

Now remember that our title was in the text field of an <A> element (see the DOM Inspector above).  Edit the existing XPath to search for any <A> element in the table which has "My Test Table" as its text content: "//table[@id='Listing']//a[text()='My Test Forum']". Note how the display changes.

Important note: This assumes (bad word!) that only one <A> element has the text "My Test Forum."

Now we need to navigate over to the <INPUT> element holding the Edit button. We are in an <A> element in a <TD> of a <TR>. We need to go up a couple levels, then look for the Edit button. The XPath "parent" will help us. Edit the XPath to go to the parent <TD> element ("//table[@id='Listing']//a[text()='My Test Forum']/parent::td") and you'll see the display change.

Finish by going up another parent to the row and then looking for the INPUT element with a "value" of "Edit" ("//table[@id='Listing']//a[text()='My Test Forum']/parent::td/parent::tr//input [@value='Edit']") which will result in the following:

Voila! We've got our XPath correct!

Now paste that entire XPath into your Selenium IDE's test case's Target field. The command type should be "clickAndWait." Click the Find button and you'll see the Edit button on your target page flash green, signifying you've gotten it right! (If it doesn't flash green, then go back and fool around with your XPath in XPath Checker.)

One last step. Execute that command of the test case with right-click | Execute this command. You should see the command line shaded green, and the Firefox window in the back nav to the proper page.



Monday, December 08, 2008

CodeMash Schedule is Live!

We’ve finalized the schedule for CodeMash 2009!  Check out the schedule on the CodeMash site!

What? You’ve still not registered for CodeMash? Go do it now, or I will taunt you some more.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can't Download Purchased Content From Xbox Live?

Problem: On my Xbox I canceled a content download (like the Gears of War Flashback Map Pack). Now the download doesn't show in my history and my redemption code shows as invalid when I try to resubmit it.

Solution: Log on to your Xbox Live account's Purchase History page: http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/myAccount/PurchaseHistory.aspx. Find the purchased content (in my case the "Flashback Multiplayer Map Pack") in your history and click "Add to Queue." You'll be able to download it now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review: More Effective C#

More Effective C#: 50 Specific Ways to Improve Your C# by Bill Wagner. ISBN 0321485890

This is a follow on to Bill’s other book, Effective C#, an amazing work that I reviewed on Slashdot when it came out.

More Effective C# continues in the same style as Bill’s first book: short, concise articles around a specific topic you’ll need to pay attention to when figuring out how to write the best C# code you possibly can.

Bill starts off with a deep dive into Generics and some of the many subtleties you need to consider. He points out things like considering how you write generic code in base classes, genericized algorithms, and working with generic interfaces. Bill moves through other broad categories including LINQ, C# Design, and enhancements in the 3.0 release of C#. There’s also a great section on multithreading in C# which hits some great points in this very arcane but critical aspect of development.

This book definitely isn’t a tutorial on C#, but I’d say that it’s critical for all devs regardless of experience, to read through.  I’d also say, although Bill will likely disagree with me, that many of the tenets he puts forth can apply to folks working in other languages on the .NET platform. Even VB devs can learn some high-level concepts from reading through this book.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s right alongside Jon Skeet’s C# in Depth and Bill’s Effective C#.

<Disclaimer>Bill Wagner, the author of this great work, is a friend of mine. I got the book for free as a review copy, but not from him. Neither those facts, nor the $0.25 Bill slipped me, have any impact on my review.</Disclaimer>

Monday, November 24, 2008

XBox Problem: Games Not Saving After XBox Upgrade

Problem: XBox games aren't saving after XBox upgrade. I ran through the new XBox experience upgrade a couple days ago, then found that my Halo 3 games weren't saving. I'd have to completely restart the campaign after shutting down the console. Restores to the last checkpoint were working fine when I'd die in the session, but starting a new session reset me back to square one. Sucky.

Solution: Clear the XBox disk cache. Go to the system blade, then memory, then drill down to your hard drive.  Press X, X, Left Bumper, Right Bumper, X, X. You'll be asked if you want to perform maintenance on the drive. Answer yes. The system will clear cache from the disk which solves the problem. NOTE: All game updates will be deleted, which means you'll have to reload them, but that's only a tiny hit for fixing the problem!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My First Week At My New Job: Telligent

As promised in my farewell to Quick Solutions post, here's a separate post about my new job: Working as a Program Manager at Telligent Systems.

When it came time for me to leave QSI there was really only one place I looked. I opened a conversation with Telligent because I knew a number of the folks who worked there (Leon, Dave, and Dan), and I knew of a lot of other folks there. I knew the folks at Telligent were incredibly sharp and extremely engaged in the community. Furthermore, conversations with Dave and Leon cemented my impression that Telligent approaches development in a vein similar to my own philosophy. Finally, during interviews everyone was open about where the warts in their environment were, and they were looking to get those warts solved.

My kind of place.

I started Monday, 11/17, in a role as a Program Manager. I'm having a bit of a career shift since I'm getting out of the direct line of hands on keyboard for delivery, but I'll be keeping some involvement on the technical side. We're still working out exactly what my areas of responsibilities will be, but it looks like taking over the web services for Community Server will be one step.  I'm also helping with something near and dear to my heart: testing. I'll be helping refine Telligent's pre-delivery testing criteria and toolset which means I'll be playing lots with things like Selenium. I get to work closely with Dave on this which is a huge benefit for me because I've wanted to work with him for about 50 years or so.

As with any first week at a new job, it's been quite a firehose. I'm learning whom to ask what questions of, where to find various pieces of information, and starting to understand what the roadmap looks like. (And it looks wicked cool! Bwaaahaaahaaa!)

So far I really like the culture. Lots of openness, lots of great coordination with remote teams, lots of communication. I've already seen practical examples of how upper level leadership has their head screwed on straight which only cements my initial impressions.

Overall it's been a pretty good week!

(Plus Telligent uses Exchange, not Lotus Notes. That's the real reason I left QSI.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: Essential WCF For .NET 3.5

I am waaaay behind in posting this one, but here you finally go:

Essential Windows Communication Foundation (WCF): For .NET Framework 3.5by Steve Resnick, et. al. ISBN 0321440064

This book’s very well written and does a great job of explaining a lot of the features around WCF. I like their approach to topics, starting out with basics and evolving from there. For example, right off the bat they do a solid job of showing a service hosted entirely in code, then do a comparable service hosted in IIS. All differences are clearly laid out with some good rationale for either implementation.

This same approach continues through the book, which is something I’m always appreciative about: give me options with clear explanations of why they’d apply, then let me choose which one fits for my environment. The authors even lay out a number of tables throughout the book showing options and alternatives – like the supported features of bindings table in chapter 4.

It’s a solid book for newcomers to WCF or experienced folks looking to brush up on the deltas as WCF moves to .NET 3.5.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Last Day at Quick Solutions

Tomorrow is my last day at Quick Solutions, Inc. Over the last nearly two years I've had an amazing time working in QSI's Solutions group with some of the brightest, bestest folks in the Heartland region.

Why am I leaving? One reason, and one reason only: I live in Beavercreek, a 'burb of Dayton. QSI is in Westerville, a 'burb of Columbus. This map explains it visually:

That's 166 miles round trip, which is three hours of wearing my car every day if weather and traffic cooperate. At the height of the gas price crunch my monthly gas bill was over $500. That hurt, but the worse hurt was the loss of three hours a day from family time.

My family and I spent a significant amount of time looking for a place to relocate to in Columbus to cut the commute, but the end result was five months of frustration.  We just had too many moving parts in our lives to make a relocation feasible, and there was no way I could continue spending three hours a day driving back and forth to QSI.

QSI's been an amazing place to dock my laptop over the last year and a half. As an aspiring crusty old fart (I've been in the workforce for a loooong time), I can easily and confidently say that QSI is the second best job I've ever had. (First place goes to my 11 years fixing radar and computers while flying on AWACS radar planes.)

My peers at QSI's Solutions group are unparalleled for their involvement in the developer community, which was the main reason I went to work with them. Members of the QSI Solutions group have spoken at EVERY .NET code camp or conference in the Ohio and Michigan area for three years straight, and they've been involved in a large number of events outside that area. QSI Solutions folks presented at six of the 24 sessions at the last Central Ohio Day of .NET; that's 25% of the sessions with a QSI dude or dudette up front showing their great technical chops.  QSI's Solutions folks have presented at nearly every .NET user group in the Heartland district at least once, and in many cases multiple times, over the last several years.

Simply put, if you're at a .NET event of any sort in the region, you're very likely to see a QSI Solutions member attending or presenting. There's no other company, consulting or otherwise, that comes even close to this amount of passionate community involvement and the technical chops to be recognized as thought leaders.

I am awed by the skills and accomplishments of my peers at QSI.  Simply awed. I was fortunate enough to work on several ground-breaking projects with a few of the Solutions folks, and there are a bunch of other folks I wish I'd had the opportunity to work with. I learned many things from many people in Solutions, and I'll greatly miss that interaction.

My managers at QSI earned my respect time and time again on issues I count as fundamental deal-breakers. Empower your people to learn. Give them the confidence to say "I don't know" because that builds credibility with your clients. Encourage them to say "That's wrong" as long as you're helping them to follow that up with "Here's a realistic alternative." I left a company previously because management didn't live up to these kinds of values; QSI exceeded those expectations in every way.

Sure, there are some rough spots at QSI. Every company or group has warts and you're deluded if you think otherwise. None of those rough spots at QSI was a reason for me leaving. Not one. Every issue that I had at QSI was a challenge I felt could be overcome because I worked for, and with, amazing folks. As I said at the top of this blog, the sole reason for me leaving is the commute.

I'm moving on to a position with another great company, and I'll be starting on Monday, 11/17. I'll leave news of that for another post because I really want this post to focus on Quick Solutions.

Be clear on one thing: If I lived in Columbus I'd be staying at Quick for a long, long time. Many companies profess to value their employees. Many companies profess to be smart about business. Very few actually live up to those promises -- and Quick is certainly one that does.

If you're looking for a great place to work, I can't recommend Quick enough, either on the Staffing side or in Solutions.  The bar to get in to the Solutions group is high, but they're an amazing, elite group of folks I'm awfully proud to have worked with. I'll miss 'em all. 

Thankfully they're all community groupies so I'll see them all over the place anyway.

(PS: Actually, this whole blog post is a complete lie. I'm leaving Quick Solutions because they use Lotus Notes and Notes sucks.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

CodeMash Session List Posted

The CodeMash session list has been posted at our Google Group!

The sucky side of this is that we had to drop submissions by a lot of friends of ours. We had over 300 submissions for 60 slots. That's a tough, tough job to pare that monstrous list down. Good friends, good smart friends of mine didn't get selected, and that hurts.

The good side of this is that we've got an amazing list of sessions and presenters. Uncle Bob Martin. Mary Poppendieck. Richard Campbell and Carl Franklin. Jesse Liberty. Jim Weirich.

And keep in mind that our Precompiler on Day 0 (Wednesday) has a crapload of great tutorials from folks of the same expertise. Whoof!

Go register!

Monday, November 03, 2008

.NET University Schedule Posted

Jeff put up a great site for the various regional events: Start A Fire.

Check out the schedule for the 8 November .NET University event!

Usability 101: Lessons From Odd Places

I spent last week on a Disney cruise vacation and found a usability lesson in a odd place: a coffee machine on board the ship.

I drink a lot of coffee. I have ever since my first winter while stationed in Anchorage, Alaska. Go figure. Coffee urns for large coffee service are well-known, common equipment to a lot of folks. They're simple and have had the same basic features since dinosaurs roamed: a large pot to hold the coffee, an optional heat source to keep the coffee warm, and a simple spigot to dispense the coffee.

The spigot's operation is simple: pull a lever, a valve opens, and a stream of coffee starts to flow. Release the lever, the valve closes, and the stream of coffee stops. It's a simple mechanical gadget that's worked well and is familiar to all regardless of which continent you're on, or what the local language is. You don't need a manual, you don't need a waiter to help.

The Disney Magic, the ship we were on, had some nice-looking coffee machines which appeared to be completely automatic: they looked like they were plumbed in to a water source and were complete with grinders and a brewing system. I never saw an attendant pour in any coffee from another source. The benefit to the Disney crew of this for an operation serving thousands of cups of coffee is pretty obvious: fire and forget. Load up your coffee beans or grounds, ensure the water and electricity is on, then simply monitor to make sure everything's fine.

The usability issue? The spigot. Some engineer thought it would be a great idea to make the valve system electronic instead of mechanical. Then they could set an amount to automatically dispense when someone triggered the spigot.  8 oz. cups are pretty standard, so the engineers could set the dispensed amount to 7.5 ounces and everyone would be happy.

Except 99% of the coffee-drinking populace is used to holding that spigot open with their hand instead of simply whacking it a bit to get the stream flowing.

The results I saw were really amusing, even when it happened to me: Want to simply warm up some coffee in your mug? Not such a good idea, because the dispenser pours out 8 oz., regardless. 4 oz of lukewarm coffee + 8 oz of hot equals 12 oz. total, which is 50% more than an 8 oz. mug will hold.

Stack overflow.

Worse yet, someone's initial instinct in such a situation is that the valve's stuck, so why not work the spigot handle a couple times? Whoops, another 8 oz. of coffee flowing out. Good thing the coffee machines had a plumbed drain, too, otherwise there'd been a tidal wave of coffee flowing over the floor.

Lesson Which Should Be Learned: Think carefully when you're trying to bend users' experience in a concept that's ingrained and accepted for a long time.  We cherish thinking outside the box, and we love seeing UIs or system flows which give us a better experience than we've suffered through previously -- but sometimes some things are better left untouched.

(I also had a rental car which had a fuel gauge that was backwards. Every fuel gauge I've seen since starting to drive a long, long time ago has its Empty side on the left and its Full on the right. The Pontiac G6 we had showed Empty on the right and Full on the left. That's a dangerous change since someone's quick visual glance might lead them to believe they're at 7/8 of a Full tank when they're really 1/8 away from walking...)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Letting Go: Clearing Out Old Conference Badges

It was a Dr. Phil release day yesterday: I had to work through some issues and throw out a passle of old badges/badge holders from several years worth of conferences. It wasn't easy, because they were somewhat like a, uh, badge of honor, but they were pretty useless and adding a whole lot of clutter to my home office workspace.

What was the point in keeping them around, anyway?

SharePoint Connections? Moderately lame conference where I met some great folks, but why keep that badge around?

MVP Summit? Outstanding networking where I met some great folks, but when will I use that holder again?

Six or eight or more Day of .NET conferences from here in our kickass Heartland district? Outstanding conferences where I met a lot of great folks, but do I really need those holders in my desk?

DevLink? John Kellar's amazing baby down in Nashville where I met a lot of great folks and had my opinion of one particular person turned around 180 degrees to positive from negative, but I'm not going to use that notepad in that holder anyway.

CodeMash? Oi. My own baby via group parenthood together with Brian Prince, Jason Gilmore, Dianne Marsh, Jason Follas, Jeff and Josh, and a whole lot of other great folks. Toughest to let go of, but then your own kids always are.

See something common between all those? Great folks I met or worked with at them. The badge holders don't have anything to do with those ongoing relationships. All they were was workspace clutter adding to my mental fugue.

I'm feeling better now.

Maybe I should start a group. "Hi, my name's Jim and I'm a badgeaholic. It's been one week since my last badge collecting incident."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Microsoft Dogfood Developers Conference

I'm speaking at a neat conference put on by Microsoft on 20 November at their Columbus office: The Dogfood Developers Conference.

This conference has a lot of great content put forth by a bunch of Really Smart Folks. I'm giving an opening session on roadmaps, technologies, and announcements coming out of the PDC. Smart folks like Leon, Monish, Rick, Carey, Steve Smith, Jeff, and others will be presenting or hanging out at open spaces after the main conference.

There are plenty of seats left open, so go register and show up!

Update: The sponsor at Microsoft fixed up the agenda a bit so it's easier to read. New fix posted below.

** Track 0: MS Multipurpose Room **
8:00 to 9:00 AM Register
9:00 to 9:45
- Software + Services, MS Roadmaps, PDC Announcements
Speaker: Brian Prince, MS
9:55 to 11:35
- MOSS: ECM, KnowledgeLake, Imaging Capture
Speakers: Mike Miller and Mark Oman, KnowledgeLake
Noon to 1:00 PM: Lunch
1:00 to 2:20 PM
- MOSS Development
Speaker: Leon Gersing, Telligent
2:30 to 3:30
- Virtual Earth
Speaker: Steve Millroy, MS
3:30 to 5:00 PM
-Ask the Experts
** Track 1: DeVry 501 **
8:00 to 9:00 AM Register
9:00 to 9:45
- Software + Services, MS Roadmaps, PDC Announcements
Speaker: Jeff Blankenburg, MS
9:55 to 11:35
-IE Application Compatibility, Web 2.0, Web Slices and extension
Speaker: Mike Lutton, Sogeti
Noon to 1:00 PM: Lunch
1:00 to 2:20
-SilverLight/WPF Overview
Speaker: Jeff Blankenburg, MS
2:30 to 3:30
-MVC Overview
Speaker: Steve  Smith, MS MVP and Nimble Software Professionals
3:30 to 5:00
-Ask the Experts
** Track 2, DeVry 502**
8:00 to 9:00 AM Register
9:00 to 9:45
- Software + Services, MS Roadmaps, PDC Announcements
Speaker: Jim Holmes, MS MVP
9:55 to 11:35
- BizTalk: SOA and ESB
Speaker: Monish Nagisetty, Quick Solutions
Noon to 1:00 PM: Lunch
1:00 to 2:20
-Legacy Modernization: Tools for COBOL, AS/400 and Mainframe migrations to .NET
Speakers: Hewitt Wright, MS and Walter Sweat, Fujitsu
2:30 to 3:30
- Writing Secure Code
Speaker: Steve  Webb, Information Control Corporation
3:30 to 5:00
-Ask the Experts:
** Subject Matter Experts Panel **
-Carey Payette, President of the Central Ohio .NET Developer’s Group:
C#, .NET
-Alexei Govorine, Co-founder of Central OH Application Lifecycle Management Group:
Team Foundation Server, ALM
-Rick Kierner, HMB Consultant:
MOSS Development
-Jim Holmes, MS MVP:
.NET, MOSS Development
-Monish Nagisetty, Founder of Mid-Ohio Connected Systems Developers User Group:
SOA, BizTalk
-Leon Gersing, Telligent
MOSS development
-Jeff Hunsaker, Co-founder of Central OH Application Lifecycle Management Group:
Team Foundation Server, ALM
-Mario Fulan, Microsoft Consulting Services:
MOSS Governance and development
-Tom Sears, Microsoft Consulting Services:
.NET Architecture, Architectural Guidance
-Steve Smith, MS MVP:
ASP.NET, MVC, Agile Practices
-David Baliles, MS SLG Dev Tools, Solution Specialist:
-Mike Gresley, MS SLG Developer Technology Specialist:
.NET and TFS

Friday, October 17, 2008

Can't Browse Non-Local Locations in Add Users/Groups

Problem: You're working on a system that's joined to a domain, but when you try to add domain resources to security, local groups, etc., the only Location showing in the dialog box is your local system -- no domain. You may even be able to log on to the system with a domain account, but you're still limited to local resources when dealing with the Add thingie.

Possible Solution: Double-check where your DNS server settings are pointing to. In my case, I was working on adding a MOSS VM to the Exchange VPC I downloaded from Microsoft. The Exchange is set up as the domain controller and has AD and DNS running on it.  However, I'd had it grab an IP address from my local DHCP server -- and as a result both the Exchange VPC and MOSS VM were using DNS servers other than the Exchange VPC.  Some domain-related calls worked fine, like joining the domain and logging on with a domain account, however, others didn't.

I put manual DNS server entries in the network connection dialog for each system and put the Exchange VPC's address as primary DNS and my network's DNS server as the secondary.  Now everything's hunky dory. Domain resources are now available when I'm altering group membership.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did I Actually Write That?

As young to mid-level programmers/developers/whatever, we often find it hard to fess up to mistakes or admit ignorance.  We're young, we're lacking a stream of successes on which we can build our confidence, and if we're in a weak work environment we're lacking a mentor who gives us a positive culture which acknowledges weaknesses and failure -- but helps us learn to grow past those.

As more seasoned whatevers we often let egos get in our way of fessing up to those mistakes or weak spots in our knowledge. That might be even worse than the factors earlier in our careers, but regardless it's still a large problem because it's giving us and our colleagues a false sense of security. I also think it gets in the way of, or tamps down, the desire for continual improvement in our craft.

I always find it refreshing to hear industry leaders like Jeff Atwood bring this up in very public venues like Dot Net Rocks. On one of the DNR shows Atwood had a great quote along the lines of "A young developer's code sucks, and they don't know enough to admit it, much less fix it. A professional developer knows his code sucks and works to fix it."  Jeremy Miller said something very similar on the Alt .NET Podcast, and I've seen any number of amazing brain children on Twitter fess up to the same thing.

Hearing and reading folks like that step up and admitting their failures certainly makes it a lot easier for us folks down on the food chain admit ours. It ought to at least. If you can't, then you ought to re-evaluate where you're checking your ego when you sit down to code...

Several months ago I was working on a project that had been idle for four or five months. I was looking over a bunch of tests to try and refresh myself about how a part of the system functioned -- the class and method names I chose at the time ended up being not as expressive as I'd thought when I initially wrote them, and I was using the tests to drive back through the behavior.

I came across a test that was checking a custom sort routine's correctness. Stand up a list of items in unsorted order, call the sort routine, then check the order's sorted. Simple, no?

I started reading through the test's implementation and broke out in loud laughter. My colleagues at Quick Solutions, who already think I'm nuts, must have had that impression cemented in. Why?

I found the assertion I was doing to check the validity of the test was simply counting the number of elements in the list. What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that? Did I actually write a sort validation that simply counted the number of elements after sorting? Obviously, because TFS's history showed me as the guilty culprit.

I have no idea what I was doing when I wrote that code, and I've no idea why I didn't write more tests around that functionality.  Thankfully my implementation was correct, so the sucky, stupid test didn't impact the rest of the system.

That was the only bad code in that entire project of 45K lines of code. Every other line of code was such a work of art that it brought tears of joy to my eyes. Right.

What's the point here? Several.  First, your code sucks and you know it. Fess up to it.

Second, figure out why that code sucked and don't make the same mistakes tomorrow.

Third, and this is the hard one, be open about the mistakes you've made. Check your ego at the door(which is a hard thing), because your openness will benefit your entire team and your project. Your credibility goes up with your colleagues and your client because you're showing you're concerned about quality: You know you need to pay off that technical debt. You know you're working on educating yourself and your team to improve their chops.

Hopefully you'll also find this trait spreading to your colleagues and hopefully they'll start the same process: admit their code sucks, move on, and improve what they're writing.

Your code sucks. It's OK to admit it if you're working on fixing it. Honest.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CodeMash Precompiler Event 7 January

(Posted on CodeMash's Google Group too)

We've been finalizing the content for the CodeMash Precompiler / Day0
event on 7 January.  I'm awfully excited about this because we've got
a pretty amazing event to tack on to CodeMash.

I've come to believe that the meme running around of "Learn a new
language each year" isn't good enough. You can sit down with a book or
some online material, but you'll only get the shallow facade of the
language. You'll learn how to code Ruby in C# style (if C# was your
language of skill) because you're missing all the lessons and idioms
learned by others who've worked in that language for some time.

What the meme ought to be is "Lean a new language, and learn it from
passionate geeks who've been working in it!"  To wit, an entire day
dedicated to getting folks up to speed in the basics of languages and
methodologies they're unfamiliar with.  The CodeMash Precompiler will
give you the building blocks you'll need to jump into other content on
CodeMash's regular days.

Here's what things are looking like now. Please keep in mind that the
abstracts I've put below are my off-the-cuff initial drafts. We'll get
more polished, descriptive abstracts posted up shortly.

All Day CodeJam
Come in and spend all or part of your day cranking out code in a room
full of Wicked Smart People. We'll have a server application built and
hosted on either a VPC or networked server. You can spend your time
cranking out a front end to the app, you can extend the app's
functionality, or you can just say "This sucks and I'm rebuilding it
from scratch and I'm gonna do it right!"

You can work in your own environment, or better yet, do the CodeMash
thing and jump off into a new environment. We'll have a number of VPCs
set up with all the major development environments.

Concerned that you want to jump into a new environment, but won't know
how to get started? We'll have experts wandering around the room just
waiting to help you out. Why not sit down with someone working in a
different environment and pair up with them?

FULL DAY Language Tutorials

.NET 101 with Josh Holmes and Jeff Blankenburg (and maybe others).
Figure out how to get your feet wet in the .NET framework, C#, Visual
Basic, WPF, Silverlight and more.

Java, Groovy, and Grails 101 with Chris Judd and Jim Shingler. Two
Java experts walk you through the basics of Java, it's newest dynamic
language (Groovy), and the shiniest web framework (Grails.)

Ruby 101 with Jim Weirich and Joe O'Brien.  Yeah, does it get any
better? Go learn Ruby from two masters of it.

HALF DAY Methodologies Tutorials

Turning The Ship with Dave Donaldson. (HALF DAY) Spend time in a
highly interactive session with Dave as he discusses practical lessons
learned on changing processes, mindsets, and culture to steer a
company onto a more agile, productive path.

Kanban 101 with Dave Laribee. (HALF DAY) What's Kanban? How's it
different from other Agile implementations? Learn about a not-so-new
approach to managing projects that will help you boost your team's
productivity and speed to delivery.

Fundamentals of Test Driven Development. (HALF DAY.  REPEATS MORNING
AND AFTERNOON.) Sit down and walk through the basics of TDD with Leon
Gersing and another presenter yet to be announced.  This hits the
basics of TDD and is hands on with two of the most passionate
advocates of TDD around.  Learn TDD, evolve your critical thinking.


The CodeMash Precompiler is an /OPTIONAL/ event for which you'll
register separately. Final costs are still being worked out, but it
should be well below $100.  More details on registration for the
Precompiler shortly.

I hope this excites y'all as much as it does me.  I'm more than a bit
twitterpated about it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

.NET University: More Details

Jeff Blankenburg and I have done some work fleshing out the details of the topic list for the .NET University event in Columbus on 8 November. (Register here.)

Here's the session list:

  • Lap Around Visual Studio 2008 / Testing with Visual Studio
  • Introduction to Object Oriented Programming
  • Introduction to Web Services
  • Windows Presentation Foundation 101
  • Silverlight 101
  • AJAX Basics

The list of speakers is still being ironed out, but will include myself, Jeff, Leon Gersing, and a couple of other great speakers from the region's community.

Remember that .NET U is targeted to folks new to or considering .NET, or looking to find out more about the .NET 3.5 platform.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Shout Out: Cleveland Software Freedom Day

Scott Sieghman of Sun Microsystems passed on some interesting info on a great event in Cleveland on 27 October: The Software Freedom Day.  It's a free day-long discussion on how businesses can take advantage of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).

More info and registration links at the event's site.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

.NET University Registration Open!

Registration is open for the .NET University being held in Columbus on 8 November. Sign up here!

Jeff and I are still ironing out the exact content agenda, but you can find the broad strokes content listed on this earlier post.

Remember: .NET University is intended for folks new to .NET, or new to the .NET 3.5 platform, or folks who are thinking of moving to .NET. It's a 100 level overview of things like LINQ, VS 2008, and a bunch of other goodies.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Network Printers Shared From Vista not Printing From XP Clients

Problem: You've got a printer you've shared off a system running Vista. You're trying to print from a non-Vista client, such as XP. Print jobs show up in the print queue when you open up that printer, but the print jobs don't run until you restart the print spooler.

Solution: Turn off bi-directional printer support on the shared printer's port.  Open up the printer's property dialog (Printer | right-click | Run as administrator | Properties) and select the Ports tab. Find the port your printer is shared off of, select it, then clear the checkbox for Enable bi-directional support.

(Note: I'd love to say that based on my years of network and system support, I figured this out on my own. Not so. Google saved me with several hits on MSDN and TechNet fora.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Next Speaking Gig: Ann Arbor Day of .NET

On 18 October I'll be presenting "3 Tips to Improve Your Development Process" at the Ann Arbor Day of .NET. It's nice to have another session lined up -- I'm slowly working my way back in to regular speaking after a months-long funk where I couldn't get fired up about creating new presentations or rehashing old ones.

I'm excited about this presentation because it's all about making small changes to how you develop software: Figure out how to estimate better. Start having a daily standup.  Every once in awhile stop and look back over what you've done via a retrospective.

This gig's been poking around my head for awhile, and I'm looking forward to fleshing it out and putting it out in front of a crowd.

The folks running AADODN always do a terrific job hosting the conference. I hope to see you at there, and maybe even in my session!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

ArcReady Events: Architecting Modern Distributed Applications

ArcReady is a neat series of events hosted by Microsoft and targeted to architects or folks who are interested in software architecture.

This quarter's event is on architecting distributed apps.  There are events in Columbus on 2 October and Cincinnati on 7 October. Other events are scattered throughout the Central region, so the odds are you can find something close to you.

Check out the ArcReady site for more information on the session and for info on registering.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Dayton .NET Developers Group Needs A New Home

The Dayton .NET Developers Group is in need of a new home, starting in October.  Max Training has been a tremendous supporter of our group for two years; however, they're closing out their under-utilized Miamisburg office.

As a result, we'll need a new home come October.  If you're in the Dayton area and know of a place which can support us, please contact me via the link on the sidebar of this blog.

Here's the list of needs and wants for our meeting site:


  • Seat at least 40 people
  • Computer projector and screen or suitable wall space for projection
  • No restrictions on foreign nationals attending meetings (some Dayton-area defense contractors have this limitation)
  • Eating area, either in meeting room or nearby
  • Support regular meetings on 4th Wednesday from 6pm to 9pm

Wants (Nice to have)

  • Free of cost for facility use
  • Seat at least 60 people (special event attendance)
  • Whiteboard
  • Internet access
  • Access to meeting area without a security checkpoint

Please do contact me if you have any ideas on places that might be suitable!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back After a (Literally) Dark Period

The remnants of hurricane Ike whacked us hard last week. We were without power from Sunday through late Friday night, which has left me far behind several blog posts I've had queued in my head to write.

It's also left me far behind in my preparations for speaking at the Cleveland SharePoint User Group meeting next Wednesday. I'm excited about speaking -- I'll be covering testing in SharePoint -- but after having lost a week I'm scrambling to make sure my content won't completely suck.

I'm finally getting unburied from a few other piles of tasks and am looking forward to getting back in the swing of things. The work at QSI we're doing for Drew Robbins and his Developer Platform Evangelism Team has been wicked cool: writing labs and demos for the next wave of technologies coming out of MS. It's very cool thinking that stuff James or Steve or Dave (no longer with QSI, but he wrote great stuff while he was) have written will likely be shown up on the stage at PDC. There are also a number of SharePointy things I've got bubbling around as well.  I've lots to catch up on due to a lost week.

At the end of the day, though, our days without power pale in comparison to others' suffering. We've had a roof over our heads, and plenty of friends and family in the area whose power we could leech off of. We're lucky.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: The Productive Programmer

The Productive Programmer by Neal Ford, ISBN 0596519788.

This is a terrific book for boosting your productivity in two areas: how you work, and how you code.

The first section of the book, Mechanics, focuses on tools you can use to boost your productivity as you're working with your system. Ford launches off into an exploration of lots of little crazy tools that help you automate or ease repetitive tasks. You'll find lots of goodies from virtual desktops to shortcut tips/launchers, to using Ruby to script everything from splitting up SQL to automatically sorting your laundry and washing it for you.[1]

All these little tools and tricks add up to drastic decreases in the amount of friction you're forced to suffer through while doing your daily job. Cutting this friction lets you focus on the job at hand, instead of trying to bend your environment to your will.

The second section of the book, Practice, discusses ways to speed your development. There's an awful lot of goodness in this portion of the book, ranging from re-emphasizing critical aspects of object oriented programming, to object and method composition. Ford walks through a lot of great stories meant to get you to re-evaluate why you do things a certain way. The infamous Angry Monkeys story gets pulled out as an example, and Ford also concisely covers development principles like the Law of Demeter, Occam's Razon, and his Polyglot Programming meme.

The book's concise, amazingly well written, and a definite must-have for your bookshelf.

[1] I'm lying. Ruby won't do this quite yet, but I think Leon and Michael are working on a library for it.

.NET University New Date: 8 November

Jeff Blankenburg and I have finally nailed down more details on a .NET University event.

Originally we'd promoted 20 September as the date. Sorry, can't do. Too little time, and too much to get done. That said, we've now ironed out when, where, what, and how.

WHEN:  The Columbus .NET University event will held on 8 November, 2008.  (OSU has a weak opponent that Saturday, so you don't need to fear missing the game. Plus, I think we can likely get the game on the TV in the venue's lobby...)

WHERE: The Columbus .NET University event will be at the Columbus Microsoft office near Polaris Parkway.

WHAT: The Columbus .NET University event will be a day full of 100 level info on .NET 3.5, and it's targeted to folks who are not currently in .NET, or who are currently working in older versions of .NET. Please be clear on this: if you're someone who's an aspiring Alpha geek, meaning you're all over the .NET 3.0 release and have played around with 3.5, then this event isn't for you.

That said, this event is for your friends and colleagues who aren't as far up the technology curve as you.  Please help us get the word out to those friends and colleagues who you know have been sitting on the fence about jumping in to .NET, or need some motivation to look into the latest release.

The content for the event is still being ironed out, but will be intended to show a start-to-finish story around developing in .NET 3.5. We'll likely hit the following sorts of topics:

  • A Lap Around VS 2008
    • Using VS
    • Creating Software in VS
    • Testing (my personal fave)
  • Intro to C# and VB in the .NET 3.5 World
    • Lambdas, XML Literals, etc.
  • Web Services 101
    • Overview
    • ASMX
    • WCF
  • Data Access in .NET 3.5
  • All the Cool Webified Stuff
    • AJAX 101
    • Silverlight 101
  • WinForms is Still Alive
  • Crash Course on WPF

No promises on the content, but that's a general taste of the sorts of things you'll be exposed to.

The event ought to be quite an exciting one, and we're looking forward it!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

CodeMash Call For Speakers -- Still Open!

If you're at all interested in speaking at the hippest, mostest, bestest conference in the galaxy[1], then you should hop on over to the Speaker Submission Page at the CodeMash site and fill out a submission form!

We're looking for submissions on any interesting topic you may have in mind, and I don't care what platform, technology, or methodology you're pitching. If the topic's interesting, educational, and thought-provoking then we'll be all over it.

Submissions are open through October 22nd, so there's plenty of time for you to polish up an abstract or two and get them in!

[1] This may be slightly hyperbolic, but CodeMash is certainly the hippest, mostest, bestest conference held in Sandusky, Ohio in January, 2009.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

CodeMash News: Two Keynoters Lined Up!

We've got two amazing keynoters already lined up for CodeMash: Mads Torgersen, the Language PM for the C# team at Microsoft, and Venkat Subramaniam, an internationally recognized Agile mentor and author.

I'm very excited about both of these guys being at the keynoter platform at CodeMash. They both bring a great level of expertise to the stage, and they've both got exactly the right open, pragmatic, conversant attitude that is so critical to CodeMash's success.

You can read a bit more about the two at the CodeMash Google Group.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Checking Back In, and What I Grokked at DevLink

Things have been dark here for a bit, but it's been due to vacation and travel.

I spent nearly two weeks with my family out in California at family cabin right at the border of the Desolation Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I came back from the trip completely recharged -- something I was in desperate need of.

(This photo's not from the cabin, but from a trail just up from the cabin.  The cabin's on Echo Lake, the small lake in the background.)

We got back in town late Tuesday night. I had one moderately catchup day at work, then spent a morning talking with Andy Hunt about Agile at Quick Solutions, then jumped in a car with colleague Steve Horn and drove down to DevLink where I had an amazing time.

DevLink was a great experience for me. First off, it's the first conference I've been to in a long, long time where I didn't have to speak or help run the conference! It was great to just show up and hit all the open spaces that Alan Stevens ran so well. Secondly, it's been quite some time since I've had so many great "Ah ha!" moments in one conference.  I've got a long list of things to ponder over, starting with this short bit:

  • Rethink how I handle comments. I'm generally an anti-comment Nazi, holding off comments for only small blocks which need a "Why" description. I'll continue that, but will look to extract those small blocks into better-named methods or classes which are more descriptive of the domain problem I'm trying to solve.
  • Completely rework how I write tests and the system evolving from those tests. Leon, as he is often wont to do, seriously screwed with my head by mentioning that he starts out writing his tests and the evolving system all in the same file. He doesn't move anything out of that test file until the design of the system evolves and drives where the location of the system code should land. This is an incredibly simple, incredibly powerful concept -- and it's why I dig chatting with folks like Leon and Corey so much.
  • Work harder at the grammar I use when writing tests. Test grammar's important because it clarifies what you're trying to test and helps guide you to a clear picture of the system you're building. I've been doing a bad job of that, instead just throwing test code at the screen without a good, clear picture.

Additionally, the open spaces discussion dealing with developer motivation caused me to do some re-evaluation of how I've handled one particular problem project. My own motivation on the project's been poor for some time, and I need to step back, re-assess my own actions, and get my head on straight.

Finally, DevLink got me all juiced up about CodeMash '09. We're already getting some stellar content lined up, and the list of keynoters is starting to gel out quite nicely.  There's also some terrific news regarding a certain podcasting show that will be in attendance, but I can't quite release anything official on it just yet.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Look Mom, I'm on ARCast!

Phil Jordan and I sat down with Brian Prince some time back to discuss a project we did using SharePoint's Excel Services.  Brian taped the session and now it's up on ARCast. The session is only about 20 minutes long -- I haven't yet watched it myself, so I don't know how idiotic I come across as.  Phil and Brian are their usual smart selves, I'm sure.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Handy WinForm Dialog Box Error Trick

You may not have realized it, but you can quickly copy error messages off WinForms dialog boxes with Ctrl-C.  You'll get something like this below:

My Dialog's Title/Caption
My Dialog's message text
OK   (List of buttons here)

This makes it quick to copy error messages into bug reports.

(Not that I've ever written a single line of code with a bug in it, mind you. I'm just saying.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Looking for Java Work? We're Looking for You.

Quick Solutions, the great company I work for, has a significant number of openings for sharp folks in the Java domain. We're looking for folks at all skills levels, so we'd be happy to talk with you regardless of whether you're a senior architect or a passionate newcomer.

All slots are in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

Feel free to contact me via the link on the sidebar if you have any questions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Importance of a Mentor

Mentors are an awfully important part of one's growth in any aspect of your life: personal, professional, community.  I've been lucky to have a number of solid mentors during different phases of my life, some of whom I didn't realize were performing that role until years later as I looked back in reflection.

I strongly believe a good mentor is a critical part of your success in your professional life.  A good mentor acts as a calm, wise advisor who can help you unmask some of your weaknesses, then help you discover a roadmap to fill those gaps.  All of this can happen on many levels: communications, technical, business sense, etc.

A good mentor's an invaluable asset when you're in over your head with something, or in a situation where you're having problems finding the way out.  A mentor's been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it.  Because they're not right in the middle of your problem, and because they've likely experienced similar messes before, a mentor can help you discover new options which you weren't able to see.  Sometimes it's as simple as pointing out to you that you can call clunky sections of code written by your team mates "technical debt" instead of "badly written poo." The latter gets someone's hackles up; the former acknowledges that success was achieved, but with a less-than-optimal piece of code which needs refactoring in order to move forward.

Looking back I realize my best mentors never spoon fed me.  I remember vividly one Sergeant during my time flying on big radar planes:  "You're not a teapot that I'm going to pour knowledge in to.  You need to do the work."  That man's words (and some other choice ones when I screwed up) have stuck with me for a long time.

One of the reasons I joined Quick Solutions was to work under and be mentored by Brian; however, he moved on to a great job, leaving me with some thinking work to do regarding how to find a new mentor.  I'm at a spot on the relatively flat hierarchy at Quick where there's nobody above me suitable a technical mentor.  Sales and business development?  Covered in spades.  Someone to help me further my technical growth and vision?  Not so much.

It's taken me a bit of time to work through thinking this out, but I've come to realize that I need to morph my concept of mentoring.  I need a fundamental shift to something akin to distributed mentoring.  Heck, splitting work into distributed components works great for software, why not for mentoring?

Not surprisingly, my short list of technical mentors is made up from the groups I'm closely tied to and passionate about: peers at Quick Solutions and peers in the regional developer community.  I'm blessed with being in the middle of two groups where I'm not even close to being the smartest guy in the room.  I'm blessed with being in the middle of two groups whose excitement, passion, and vastly differing viewpoints lift me up when I'm stuck in a funk.

I don't want to specifically list out the folks I consider as mentors (you may not return my calls or IMs anymore), but I wanted to write about the mentor shift I'd come around to. 

It may work, it may not.  I'll re-evaluate where I'm at in four to six months and let you know.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Save The Date! 20 Sept: .NET University in Columbus, Ohio

Jeff Blankenburg  and a few other community folks are scrambling around trying to get a .NET University organized for 20 September.  Time and venue are still being nailed down, but it will be held somewhere in the Columbus area.

.NET University events are like mini-Code Camps, but are targeted at newcomers to the .NET platform.  Code Camps tend to dive into 300 and 400 level topics.  .NET U is much more introductory, focusing on fundamental 100 and 200 level concepts.

More details to follow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Paying off Technical Debt Versus Completing Features

I hate technical debt.  Kludgy code, architectural things which looked good then but look like poo now, overly complex or "tricky" sections of a system.  Maybe even low test coverage metrics or shallow tests which get good coverage metrics during stats runs but perhaps don't fully exercise the system.

Technical debt should be paid off as you continue to work on your system, but sometimes, for whatever reasons, we make other choices, skip paying debt down, and let it accumulate as we continue.  This can make a big mess when we hibernate a project for awhile, then attempt to quickly pick things up again at a later point, perhaps even with a set of different folks working on the project.

I just finished up a third phase of a project (third-and-a-half, depending on how you look at it) which has been going in fits and jumps since last April.  The latest phase on the project was to finish up some custom security infrastructure we developed for the client. 

The client had a very small bucket of money for this phase and wasn't going to be able to get all the features she needed completed.  She had enough money for 135 hours of feature development, and her total need was about 210.  Without those 210 she couldn't move on to her global deployment phase, but hours are hours are hours and we don't fudge or cover up the amount of work.  We're completely open with our clients which is awfully important for building long-term relationships.

Well, it turns out that Phil and I kicked butt on the work and completed the 135 hours in amazingly short order.  Now I was at a decision point: pay off some of the technical debt that had accumulated over the entire lifecycle of the project, or push forward with feature development in order to get the system to a point where the client could deploy it?

I spent several commute trips mulling this over (a long commute gives me a lot of time to mull things over...) and decided to press forward with feature hours instead of paying down debt.  It's not a choice I'm overly happy with, but neither option would have left me 100% satisfied.  Why did I make that particular choice in this instance?  Several factors.

First, risk.  My main target for debt paydown would have been the persistence architecture I inherited when I took over the project.  It's overly reliant on static goo and is overly complex.  Testing of that code during refactoring?  Time consuming, even though it's absolutely worthwhile.  The persistence bits work and are fairly sound as written, it's just hard to extend for future use. It makes no sense to do such major rework this late in the game, particularly since I'm all over YAGNI and it looks like there isn't much more extension needed in the near future. 

The next target would have been some WinForms code littered with goo because we did a bad job of enforcing MVPness early on.  I've been slowly refactoring out pieces of that, but it's slow going.  Again, this is a risky section since getting things decoupled and moved out to better separation impacts a lot of different functionality.  Increased regression testing would have been required by the QA folks, and they didn't have a lot of time available.

Decision for these problem areas?  Leave them and move on.

Second, client needs. The client doesn't understand a hooting thing about how our implementation of NHibernate tracks sessions, uses too many static calls, or loads its configuration.  She doesn't know about MVP patterns enabling better testing and separation of concerns, easing testing and extensibility.  The client only knows she has a need to deploy the system in a few months, and she can't do it without the full security stack in place.

Decision for this issue?  Leave the debt in place, enable the client to hit her latest goals -- in part because we all as a team (us + client) had missed some earlier goals. 

The client's now on track to hit her goals, and she's much happier where she's at.  I'm happy that she's going to meet business needs with this latest delivery; after all, we need to deliver value to the customer.  Obviously I'm bittersweet about having missed an opportunity to clean up past technical debt.  At least I can console myself in that I added no new technical debt to this phase of the work. 

Would I do it again? Highly, highly doubtful. This situation was pretty unique, and the victory I got may have been a bit Pyrrhic in that we'll still need to pay off that debt if we get any sort of follow on work.

(By the way, do not confuse me as putting forth features over stable code.  That's not what I've been saying at all.  Technical debt is, to me, an issue different than the stability of what you're writing now.)

(And more by the way, we completed 252 feature hours on her budget of 135 feature hours. Our velocity chart kicks ass!)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Troubleshooting 101

Troubleshooting and/or debugging is a large part of our job as geeks.  Bad code, misbehaving apps, finicky servers, we have to juggle all that and more.  Trying to wade through complex systems is never fun, particularly when you're under stress for a delivery or trying to get a production server back up.

I've had a number of years' experience troubleshooting different systems, both hardware and software.  I do not claim to be a troubleshooting ninja, but I've picked up a number of solid lessons learned over time.  This post won't be an in-depth treatise on using the debugger or some obscure tools, rather its on more high-level approaches to help cut your churn.

First off, get serious and go buy a copy of David Agans' Debugging. This book distills Agans' amazing skills into a highly readable, awesome guide.  Everything I have to say pales in comparison.  Go, buy it right now.  I'll wait.

Now that you've ordered that book (and gotten me at least $0.07 in referral fees from Amazon.com, thanks) here are some things I find highly useful for my approach to troubleshooting.  The items aren't listed in any particular order, just a stream of consciousness.  Let's start off with two things which require an incredible amount of self-discipline.


Time box your efforts, right from the start.  Time boxing is perhaps the hardest thing for us geeks to deal with.  "Just five more minutes and I know I'll find the answer!"  Yeah, you said that yesterday morning, dumbass, and now it's 4:30pm the day before delivery. (That would be me, talking to me.)

It sounds silly, but get yourself an egg timer. Honestly. The first step you take before doing anything in a non-trivial problem should be to set yourself a time box.  "I will work on this data transfer issue for no more than one hour before stepping back and reassessing."   Work until that timer goes off and then stop!  Step back, re-evaluate the problem, and look for someone to bounce your assumptions and theories off of.


Sometimes you can get yourself wrapped around too many red herrings and lose sight of the forest for the trees, to mix metaphors in a really ugly way.  You have to discipline yourself to take a break from the issue, then come back to it and look at things again.  Our office has a hallway that runs in a loop around it.  Now folks who work in the office with me may know why I wander that hallway on frequent occasions mumbling like some deranged bag lady.

When you get back from that break, look over your your forensic evidence you've gathered, the assumptions you've made, and any bits you've managed to wicker out about the problem.

Asking for help is uncool.  Folks will begin to know how big a putz I really am if I ask for help.  No, they won't, at least they won't if you've made some basic effort before reaching out.  You may not need anything more than a body to repeat your problem statement and assumptions to. 

Some book I read at some point had a funny story about a high-level dev in a shop who was plagued by folks busting in to his office to get his advice on problems they'd obviously not thought out first.  The constant interruptions crushed his productivity on tasks he was responsible, and the other devs didn't grow their own skills.  The lead took to putting a stuffed bear in a chair in his office.  Devs would come in to his office and his first comment to them would be "Tell it to the bear."  The devs, simply by verbally stating the problem, their assumptions, and theories, would often solve the problem themselves.  Not that I'm telling you to go get a bear and start talking to it at work, but you get the idea.  Bounce ideas off someone, even if it's someone outside your domain.


M as in Messages. Error messages. Dialog boxes. Log files. Console output. Read them carefully. If it's late at night or after a long session, consider re-writing the messages out on paper. Seriously.  I can't count the number of hours I've lost because I blew over a message and let my (bad) assumptions con me into reading something the message didn't say.

A good buddy told me he made one of his mentorees read error boxes to him aloud and verbatim.  Prior to that the mentoree had a bad habit of not taking initial steps himself, or not catching important details which were clearly displayed on the screen in front of him.  A couple weeks of reading those messages aloud finally kicked the mentoree into taking more initial action himself.  (My pal's much more patient than I.  I'd have lost it after a couple days of trying to prod the guy into doing that...)


Look at your system as a pipe of data.  Break that system into halves.  Probe at the halfway point and figure out if your data is good or bad at that point.  Continue breaking the remainder in half until you isolate something you can get your hands around.


It doesn't matter if you do test driven development or not.  Use tests (integration, unit, whatever) to drive your system as you're narrowing down the problem.  Don't waste your time trying to input data to a web form and try to catch data on the other side.  Write an integration or unit test to stimulate parts of your system and work from there.  You're locking down valid areas of the system while beginning to isolate the part that's borked.  You get the added benefit of deepening your coverage of the system.  (I'm not talking just code coverage here, but effective testing of your code.  Two different things.)


I use the Jot function of SlickRun as a scratch pad for writing down bits and pieces of more problematic problems I'm having problems with.  Use a whiteboard.  Lay out the pipeline of the system and break it in half.  Note your inputs, outputs, and areas of concern.  Visualizing a problematic system can be a great help.


This is last, but it's likely the third-most important tip next to time boxing and stepping back.  Don't just jump into code or whip open a telnet session to your misbehaving server.  Take a moment to look at your assumptions once more and figure out a plan of attack.  Write it down or verbalize it to see if your plan's a solid one:

"OK, so the object coming across the wire from the server to the client is borked when it's saved.  It's showing client local time instead of server time.  I will cut the data pipe in half and start looking at the data on the client side of the web service.  I'll check to see if the correct server time is coming in the data transfer object.  If that's correct then I've isolated it to client side.  If it's not I'll go look at the server side and go from there.  I'll do that first check by writing an integration test to call the web service and get one of the DTOs and validate its timestamp."


Assumptions are a tricky thing.  You need to make some assumptions as you begin chasing the issue, but you may have made wrong ones and may end up chasing a red herring.  Look to the simple answers before diving into the deep end.  The simple solutions are the right fix 87.682% of the time.

If you are spending hours discussing minutia of timestamp comparisons and getting into the bowels of a widely used framework like NHibernate then you are likely on the wrong path.  If your first thought is that your OutOfMemoryException errors are caused by a service pack bug instead of a code change, maybe you should look back over the history of that module you just updated.  (That would have been me, chasing a herring for an hour last week instead of noticing that a colleague had updated how a namespace was handled in a call to XmlDocument.CreateElement -- at my vague direction.  Yeesh.)


Time boxing is so important I've listed it twice. Avoid letting yourself get too frustrated over a problem. Take a walk, go get some fresh air. Shoot nerf bullets at your co-workers.  If you're working next to a colleague who's been churning for some time then show them some love and get them to take a break.

Simple, but critical.


None of these things I've written down here are rocket science.  You're likely doing all these and more, so please feel free to comment with things you find helpful, or resources you've found useful when trying to improve your troubleshooting skills.


Jeff Hunsaker pointed out one of the most elementary things which I'm shocked I missed:


Take a few minutes and look over what in your system changed since the bug/problem/issue appeared.  Look over the code history. Look over the data.  Look over the environment your system's running in.  Something's likely changed, but you need to be realistic and careful about going too far down a rabbit hole.  See that part about "Look to the Simplest Stuff First" above.

Another Great Open Source Mind Joins Microsoft

Hamilton Verissimo, founder of the Castle Project with all its amazing goodness, will be joining Microsoft as a PM for the Managed Extensibility Framework. As Hamilton notes in his blogpost, MS is allowing him to continue his work on Castle.  That's awfully, awfully cool!

This is another sign of the slow, terrific changes afoot at Microsoft.  We need to be honest in our (valid!) criticisms of Microsoft, but we also need to be honest and give them props where they're due.  Picking up folks like Hamilton, Phil, and others from the open source community ensures the positive changes at MS continue to move in the right directions.  Pulling in folks like this ensures that certain mindsets in MS will continue to be changed for the better.

Very, very cool.  Congrats, Hammett!

(BTW, Hamilton wrote a great article on the Castle bits for James's and my book.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Votes of No Confidence, Voting With Your Feet, or Putting Too Much Faith in False Prophets

I am so tired of hearing the hyperbole coming out of some folks in the .NET community who are far too wrapped up in themselves.  Yeah, Bellware, I'm talking about you and your ilk.  [1]

I'm tired of seeing all Microsoft described as morally corrupt, or covering their asses, or whatever overly broad, hyperbolic evil empire phrase of the day the fanatics want to throw out.  There is no doubt that some less than helpful folks exist in the corners of Microsoft, but can you honestly throw out those sorts of silly accusations and paint the entire company with the same broad stroke?  Can you give concrete evidence that the company is driven by nefarious goals without any effort inside the company to right past wrongs?  Can you honestly look me straight in the face and make those claims, instead of admitting that there are a tiny few intransigents in Microsoft who are not signing on to some very fundamental, amazing, positive changes the company is making as a whole?


Then STFU, calm down, and get an honest, civil discourse going again.  Leave off the self-aggrandizement, the condescending manifestos, and the attacks.  Start up a conversation with folks like the MVC team, who are actively pulling in community input.  Look up the folks at Microsoft like Sara Ford and the CodePlex geeks who are trying to empower the community.  Work with the evangelists like Drew Robbins and Jason Olson who are driving content to be more real world.  Hook up with the Visual Studio team who spent hours picking the brains of MVPs at the summit in an attempt to figure out how best to get community input to drive Visual Studio's feature set.

Does that sound like a bunch of dishonest, evil-minded folks?  Not in my mind.  (No clue how to try and get this same level of involvement from the Entity Framework folks.  I tried in one "open spaces" session at the MVP summit and was stunned by the EF guy ignoring what I and several others were telling him.)

And oh, by the way, I'm always happy to offer up my own criticism of Microsoft when they're due it.  See my comments here, or a separate post on my blog here.

Why am I so beaked about all this?  I'm tired of the many, MANY good folks at Microsoft being slandered.  Yeah, I used that word deliberately.  I'm also tired of being condescended to or outright attacked by a very small group of folks who seem to think I and other geeks can't evaluate things and make intelligent decisions on our own.  Do I need some pompous manifesto to tell me that NHibernate is better than the Entity Framework?  NO!  I need rational, detailed discussion on the topic. 

Unfortunately, rational discussion seems too far a stretch.  Bellware once even wrote a blog post demeaning folks choosing certain Microsoft technologies as performing "Dependent Driven Design" because they hostage to paying family bills and therefore making design choices to benefit Microsoft sales and pad their own pockets.  I'd point you to his blog post on that topic, but Bellware deleted his entire blog because he was narked about something.  Yeah, that's a mature thing to do.

If you are outside this entire train wreck of an argument and are reading some of these overly zealous conversations then you need to step back and consider what the goal of these one-way rants are.  Do folks who spread this hyperbole honestly expect that it will solve anything?  Is this utter lack of respect how these folks treat those who have differing viewpoints?

Maybe Bellware and the other folks spewing poison should follow a fundamental tenet of Open Space conferences: Vote With Your Feet. 

If those few hyperbolic folks honestly feel that Microsoft is a corrupt, evil, morally bankrupt entity then they should have the courage to live up to the standards they profess and go find work in a different domain.  Go off and write Ruby on the LAMP platform.  There are a bunch of amazingly cool cats in that area.  Why not go hit some Java work instead of .NET?  There are a bunch of wicked smart folks in that domain, too.  Are those folks still holding their MVP awards from Microsoft?  Give 'em up, dudes, and let pass the related business networks (read "increased pipeline and/or salary") that goes along with that award, otherwise you're beholden and corrupt yourself.  (I don't really think that, but you see my point.)

Let me be crystal clear on something: I am in awe of the technical chops of Bellware.  That man passed more brilliant ideas through his lower intestines last week than I will have the rest of the year.   He's brilliant in engineering and design, he's clued in on philosophy (and not just software), and it sounds like he's all over the right kind of processes.  I'm just sick of prima donnas.  I put up with this kind of crap during the many years I spent busting my ass to get great at competitive volleyball while watching all the folks with amazing natural talent spend more effort snarking and deriding others instead of working to lift up the team.  That sucks and it's one of the few things I get really, really pissed about.  (Plus Bellware called me an "arbitrary dick" on Twitter and he hurt my feelings so there.)

So what's the point of this long, somewhat rambling post?  Has Jim gone further around the bend than some of the zealots?  No, I'm just hoping someone who is trying to make a rational decision about various things from Microsoft may stumble across my blog before running in to the EF VONC or some other similarly toned rant.

[1] Do not for one moment think I lump all Alt.NET folks or Entity Framework Vote of No Confidence signatories together as one group of zealots.  I'm talking about a tiny subset of this group.

UPDATE: To be clear.  Bellware didn't just delete one ranting blog post, he deleted his entire blog. That really sucks, because he had a lot of great stuff in there.

Monday, July 07, 2008

NHibernate Entities Not Loading ID Values When Read From The DB

Problem: Your entities aren't loading up their ID properties when you do a find/read/whatever.  Other values for the entities load fine, but not the IDs.

Answer: Check the casing of your properties in your business objects and your mapping files.

<hibernate-mapping xmlns="urn:nhibernate-mapping-2.2"


<id column="groupid" name="GroupID" >

  <generator class ="identity" />


Note the disconnect between the "default-access" attrib of the mapping element and the naming convention in id element's "name" attrib.  Ooops.  Either change the default-access or the casing of the name attrib:

<id column="groupid" name="GroupId" >

  <generator class ="identity" />


More on naming strategies in the NHib dox.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New Book: Agile Adoption Patterns

I got a copy of Amr Elssamadisy's Agile Adoption Patterns in the mail today.  I'm excited to have received this for two reasons.  0) I loves me some Agile,  B) I was one of several technical reviewers of this book, Finally) it's a well-done book.  (Yes, I said two and that's three.  It's been one of those days and I'm relaxing with a lovely bit of Caol Ila Islay Scotch as I write this.  Gimme a break.)

Elssamadisy's book is in tough, tough company.  How can you compete in the same space as amazing works like Subramaniam and Hunt's Practices of an Agile Developer or Shore and Warden's The Art of Agile Development? Those are  tough, tough classics to go against when trying to explain how teams/companies should adopt agile practices.

Amr pulls it off by organizing his material in a fresh form which I found very useful.  He hits many of the same points as other works on Agile (smells, process, team empowerment, practices, etc.), but emphasizes the business value of each point.  For example, his chapter on User Story lays out the case that user stories are simple documents in their initial draft.  The value comes from developers having conversations to flesh out the details and implementation of the story.  Product utility is improved, and development costs are reduced.

This same approach is carried on throughout the book, making it very clear what specific benefits you can find from each practice.  Additionally, each practice or chapter follows a nice recipe-like format.  Start off with business value, move on to a sketch describing the practice, follow up with context of the practice and forces impacting it, then look to why you'd want the particular practice, adoption details, and a bit on the practice's cons and variations.

The book starts out with a high-level overview of agile, then moves on to specific patterns/practices.  Each pattern is a short, separate chapter with about 40 patterns in total.  The style of the book is clear, concise, and it's nicely produced.

Another great point about the book is Elssamadisy's ongoing assertion that you don't need to adopt all of the practices.  Rather, find the pain points you have in your environment and look to implement only the patterns which will ease that pain.  This pragmatic approach to agile adoption is a refreshing view in a world where some Agile fanatics insist you must adopt every single practice or you're not doing Agile.  (A fanaticism I emphatically disagree with.)

Overall I think it's a solid addition to the Agile section of your bookshelf.  It's not a replacement for things like Subramaniam's or Shore's works; it's a solid addition to them.

Of course, I'm somewhat biased, having been a tech reviewer on it...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

CodeReviews Using SlickEdit Tools

The guys at SlickEdit make a great set of tools for devs, both standalone and VS plugins.  Scott Hackett wrote a really interesting post on using SlickEdit to do a code review.  It's a pretty good read and shows a nice way to use the tools to help narrow down who wrote what code.

There are a number of ways to skin the code review cat; this is a nice option and worth the read.

(Reminder disclaimer: I got SlickEdit tools for free because they advertise on The Lounge.  I wrote about my thoughts on SlickEdit in an earlier post.)

Virtual Server Admin Page Error 400

Problem: The Virtual Server admin page (:1024/VirtualServer/VSWebApp.exe">http://<hostname>:1024/VirtualServer/VSWebApp.exe?) on a multi-homed host system isn't accessible if one network card goes down.  You get lovely HTTP Error 400 pages.

Solution:  Check that the IIS Virtual Server site isn't bound to one specific network adapter.  IIS manager -> Web Sites -> Virtual Server -> Properties ->IP Address.  You can bind the site to one specific IP address, or simply select "(All Unassigned)" in which case you're not dependent on one NIC.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

404.3 Errors for WCF Services

Today I ran into 404.3 errors when trying to hit a .svc file on my recently re-imaged system.  I beat my head against my console chasing IIS setup configuration, directory rights, and a number of other things.

Finally I ran across David Waddleton's post detailing a solution.  Whew.  Back moving forward again.

Culture, Productivity, Environment

I'm re-reading a few of my favorite older blog posts and reading a few new ones.  A couple great articles are worth passing on links to:

  • Steve McConnell's Measuring Productivity of Individual Programmers.  Avoid stupidity like lines of code, and don't focus on just one measurement.
  • Steve McConnell's How to Scale Up Quickly. Offshoring doesn't work, keeping the quality is terribly difficult, keeping the culture even harder.
  • Joel Spolskey's The 12 Steps to Better Code.  Way back in 2000, just after Al Gore invented and implemented the Internet, Joel wrote a nice post on things some folks were already discussing.  Critical things for you and your team.
  • Scott Hanselman's Sharpen the Saw for Developers. Getting management support for ongoing training at a consulting company can be like pulling teeth.  With a tow cable.  Look to Scott's post for some good ideas he's invented and consolidated from other places.
  • All of Sara Ford's Tip of the Day and Did you know... series.  I read 'em all again just now.  No, really.
  • Josh Holmes's series on good presentations.

There you go.  Just a few of my favorites.

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