Thursday, July 17, 2014

Capturing log messages in the MSTest Unit Test Output with Common.Logging

Lately I've been enjoying the abstraction of a logging facade in my .NET apps, specifically the Common.Logging project. This provides me with a simple, standard interface for logging in my code which I can configure to output to a variety of destinations. Typically I send the logging output through NLog to a combination of outputs (file, email, event log, etc), but the beauty of using a logging facade is that you can change how the log messages are handled without changing your production code.

Today I though it would be nice to see what my code was logging during my unit tests, and I didn't want to dig through a log file to find the log from one specific test. Since the unit test runner is a different executing assembly than my web project, it can have it's own configuration for logging separate from the application. Knowing this, I should be able to set up this new logging behavior for my tests without changing anything in my main project's configuration.

So what makes it possible to log messages from Common.Logging to the standard unit test output?
  • Anything written to Console.Out during a unit test will get captured in the unit test Output.
  • Common.Logging ships with a built-in Console.Out logger adapter that we can use without requiring a larger logging framework.
Knowing these two facts, we can implement this easily in a Unit Test Project:
  1. The code being tested should be doing its logging through the Common.Logging log methods.
  2. Using NuGet, install the Common.Logging package into your unit test project
  3. In the unit test project's App.Config file, add the necessary XML to configure the console logger (See XML snippet below)
  4. Run your unit test(s)
  5. See the log messages captured during each test in your test output:
And of course, let's not forget the code and configuration details:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running Visual Studio Tests from a Network Drive

This afternoon I ran into an odd issue with Visual Studio 2013 that ate up an unreasonable amount of my time. I recently set up a new project using the built-in Git source control tools. To keep my project safer I put the repository on my network drive, which gets backed-up regularly. In the future we may get a central server, but for now this is good enough. The code was building and running with no problem until I tried running a unit test. No matter what I did Visual Studio couldn't detect any of my tests. The Test output window said:

------ Discover test started ------
Could not load file or assembly 'file:///U:\Repos\Scheduler\Scheduler\Scheduler.Web.Tests\bin\Debug\Scheduler.Web.Tests.dll' or one of its dependencies. Operation is not supported. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80131515)
========== Discover test finished: 0 found (0:00:00.5040504) ==========

It took some digging, and a few failed attempts at other suggested solutions, but I finally found the workaround:

  • Open a command prompt and type "setx COMPLUS_LoadFromRemoteSources 1"
  • or
  • Create an environment variable named COMPLUS_LoadFromRemoteSources
  • Set the value to 1
  • Restart Studio
Source: https://connect.microsoft.com/VisualStudio/feedback/details/502353/running-unit-tests-from-network-drive

Incidentally, I came across another suggested fix that involved changing a "LoadFromRemoteSources" value in the devenv.exe.config file, but this did not work for me. The Environment Variable did the trick.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

From Steel Tubing to DIY Monitor Stand

About a month ago I started a new job, developing software for a manufacturing company that makes steel tubing of various shapes and sizes.

So what does a steel tubing manufacturer have an abundance of? Steel tubing. What do they do when they need new shelving, furniture, etc? Open the office supply catalog? Nope... They go to the maintenance department and make their own out of... you guessed it, steel tubing. This is not a knock on the company at all. As a big time DIY guy, I can appreciate this kind of self-sufficiency.

Case and point... this is the desk I inherited, made primarily out of 1" square tubing:


It's been several years since I've been able to work hands-on with metal (I miss the days of having full access to the machine shop at college). So I decided that I wanted to raise up my monitors, and do it myself with steel from the scrap bins. The room next door was being remodeled, and some extra monitor mounts were being taken down from the wall, which I could use in my new setup.

Over the course of a couple weeks, one of my coworkers introduced me to the guys in Maintenance and Quality while I collected, measured, and cut several pieces of sheet steel and square tubing. Our welder helped me weld together a few pieces, and I took care of drilling, cutting, and painting.

What I ended up with was a square tube support across the back, and two adjustable monitor mounts that hung from the bar. With a coat of black Rustoleum, I think it turned out quite nice.




One of my friends from my last job said that he couldn't wait to see all the stuff I would build in my house using steel tubing. While I don't foresee that happening in the near future (especially since I don't own a welder... yet), I have a feeling that this is how it starts. Today a monitor stand, tomorrow the world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Getting Started with LESS CSS in your ASP.Net MVC project

Today one of my coworkers asked me for more information on a CSS preprocessor I had mentioned in one of our weekly meetings. I've been using LESS CSS lately for one of my projects and enjoying it. It simplifies the CSS I have to write, and the language is easy to follow as most of the syntax reads like standard CSS code.

Getting Started with LESS

Here’s the official LESS website that will walk you through how it works:
They have some good documentation and examples to get you started.

This was originally designed to “compile” the CSS in the user's web browser. I prefer to do this before it gets to the client. This offloads some of the work from the client browser, and ensures your CSS will always be generated the same way every time regardless of the client's browser capabilities. This also prevents the chance of making the page “blink” as it converts the LESS to CSS. This is especially applicable to me as my current web application project is running on a "thin client" machine which runs an older browser on a limited processor.

So how do we get from a LESS file to usable CSS? There are a couple ways to generate your CSS from LESS files…

Getting to CSS

The easiest way to get started would be to use the popular Visual Studio extension Web Essentials:
It provides great LESS support in Visual Studio (and lots of other handy features). Every time you save a LESS file, it automatically generates an accompanying CSS file in your project, which you can then reference in your page.

Too many files?

Personally I don’t like managing all the extra CSS files in my project. Part of me worries that my CSS won't always be "in sync" with my LESS file, either from some unseen bug or more likely a mistake I may make. I prefer to let the server automatically generate my CSS on the fly, and cache the generated result. This gets a bit more complex and requires some other packages, but I feel it's worth it.

First, I love the LESS preview function in Web Essentials, but as I mentioned I don't want the CSS files generated. This is easy to disable under Visual Studio's Tools > Options menu. Under Web Essentials > Less, disable "Compile files on save."

I use a NuGet package called dotLess (a .net based LESS compiler):
It handles all requests for .less files and returns the compiled CSS. This way I can put a reference on my page for a .LESS file and the server will return the compiled CSS automatically. The only drawback is that it isn't quite up to date with the LESS spec, so I've run into a few issues with some of the more complicated aspects of the LESS language. Thus far I've been able to work around them so I'm willing the accept the trade off for the convenience it provides.

Bundling & Minification

Generated CSS is great, but it's even better if we can bundle and minify everything to improve the page load time and the overall user experience.

For bundling & minification with dotLess, I use this package:
This gives me a “LessBundle” class that will let me bundle & minify multiple CSS & LESS files. For example, my BundleConfig.cs file in my MVC project has this entry in it:

bundles.Add(new LessBundle("~/Content/styles")
    .Include("~/Content/normalize.css")
    .Include("~/Content/less/Site.less")
);
Now, I can just include a reference to the bundle in my view:
@Styles.Render("~/Content/styles")
In debug mode I get a style tag for each file. The request for the less file will be handled by dotLess
<link href="/Content/normalize.css" rel="stylesheet"></link>
<link href="/Content/less/Site.less" rel="stylesheet"></link>
In Release mode, bundling and minification become enabled, and everything in the LESS Bundle is compiled with dotLess and minified into a single stylesheet link:
<link href="/Content/styles?v=OVSsAe9M_HQdBtQlL5-p9IRWblY32n6g5U4FaGEiUCE1" rel="stylesheet"></link>
More LESS Links:

Monday, November 26, 2012

My 2012 on Two Wheels

We're well into November now, and it's definitely too cold to ride my bike, so this seems the appropriate time to sum up my season of biking, now that my bike is hoisted up in the garage for the winter.

This past spring I was inspired by a coworker to try commuting on my bike. I had always loved biking back in college, as I lived a fair distance from most of the campus. Best of all is that this was a form of exercise I truly enjoyed. Since graduating though I slowly stopped riding and my bike remained in storage. I was already taking the bus to and from work, so I could use the bike rack easily. I decided to take the bike into work on the bus in the mornings (to avoid working up a sweat before work), and then biking home once or twice a week as my schedule and the weather allowed. My coworker was able to provide his tips and advice which helped me get started. I was able to keep it up most weeks, although I cut back in mid-summer due to the high heat. Might have to try morning rides in the future.

I ride a Raleigh mountain bike; a tough (and heavy) piece of equipment that has served me well this year. Going into it I was a little unsure about taking a heavy-duty bike for long distance rides (as opposed to a faster, lighter road bike), but I figured if I could handle that it would only make me stronger, and it was the only bike I owned. I also saw the undertaking as a personal challenge, to see what this former heart patient was really capable of.

Tuning up the bike on my ghetto bike stand (ladder + 2 by 4 board)
One aspect of biking this year which I enjoyed more than I expected was GPS tracking. Using my employer-issued Blackberry, I set myself up with the Endomondo sports tracker app. Before every ride, I start recording on my phone, and when I'm done all my stats are uploaded to the website. From there I can see almost any aspect of my performance for the entire ride: speed, altitude, distance, etc... all laid out on a map. Over the course of the spring, summer, and fall I could see my average speed increasing. It became a fun, engaging competition with myself. Best of all I could see my total miles racking up. From April to October I pedaled 279 miles this year. By the end of the season I definitely noticed that hills had become easier and I had more endurance overall.

My miles per month for 2012
I explored a variety of trails between work and home, which was usually an 8-10 mile trip depending on the route. Thankfully Minneapolis has a great trail system, so only a small portion of my rides were on roads or sidewalks. On a few occasions I went out of my way for a 15+ mile trip to take my favorite trail, the Midtown Greenway, a scenic "bike freeway" of sorts through south Minneapolis. The highlight of the summer was participating in the Minneapolis Bike Tour, a 36 mile ride around the city. Several thousand riders turned out for the event and the weather was perfect. Streets were closed just for the event, and several fun pit stops were provided along the route, providing food and water. It was a blast being part of such a big event, and being free to ride at faster speeds on wide open streets. It was also a fun ego boost to be passing some road-bikers on my mountain bike. I will definitely be doing this again.

The 36-mile Minneapolis Bike Tour (shown in blue), as recorded by GPS/Endomondo
A self-shot of me at the finish line of the Minneapolis Bike Tour, Sept 16, 2012
Next season I plan on stepping up my game, riding more often and aiming for more miles, both overall and per ride. I may not be able to change the length of my commute, but I'd like to take some more long distance rides here and there, and see how far I can go to rack up some more personal victories in 2013.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Checkerboard Chocolate Chip Cookies

So I was browsing the web the other day, learning about making checkerboard cakes, and in the process came across a video on how to make checkerboard cookies. The recipe was a pretty simple sugar/butter type cookie dough. While this recipe may have worked well for molding/building the checkerboard, it didn't seem particularly appealing. This got me thinking... how about chocolate chip cookies? More specifically, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cookies with white chips. Two delicious recipes that would contrast well. The checkerboard procedure I saw made a cookie with a 4 by 3 grid, which I didn't care much for... I wanted something more symmetrical, so I decided to work out a way to get a 3 by 3 grid. Here's how it all worked out...

I started out by making a batch of Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a batch of Chocolate Cookies with White Chips. The dough was then placed between sheets of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and pressed into a 1/2" thick rectangular slab. They should be the same size or at least close to the same size. At this point the dough is too soft for holding its shape, so these slabs were refrigerated overnight. You could probably get by with an hour or two. The important thing is that the dough stiffens up so it can maintain its shape and thickness.

Once the dough has been chilled, slice the smallest rectangle into three strips of equal width. Then slice 3 strips from the other slab of the same width. Any extra dough can be set aside to make some non-checkerboard cookies.
Next, stack up the strips so you have one stack of light-dark-light, and another stack of dark-light-dark. Press them together so each layer sticks together. These will provide your alternating checkerboard pattern.
Now we start slicing off strips from the long edge of each "dough sandwich". Each strip should be as wide as the thickness of your original slabs. In my case this was about 1/2 inch. With all of the cold, hard chocolate chips in the dough, it was difficult to cut with a regular knife. I found that an electric knife worked well to cut through all the chips and give a consistent straight cut. For each "cookie log" you'll need a slice of one "sandwich" and two slices of the other.
Press your three strips together to form a checkerboard cookie "log". Note: your next "log" should be opposite of this one, so you don't use up one color pattern faster than the other. In the end I had one extra strip that ended up becoming "striped" cookies.
You can now start slicing off your checkerboard cookies from the cookie dough "log" at about 1/2 inch thickness. A regular knife seemed to work best at this stage. Whenever you're not slicing off cookies, place the checkerboard dough back in the refrigerator so it doesn't get too warm and soft.
Place on your ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Once removed from the oven, leave them on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes or so to finish baking while the next batch is in the oven.
Enjoy your cookies!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Color Jar - Microcontroller-driven fun for the kids

I finally managed to spend some time on a new electronics project at my workbench. Major credit for the idea goes to Paul, author of the Fangletronics blog. He is also a father and electronics tinkerer, so his blog certainly appealed to me. One post in particular (Pixie-Dust Bottles) stood out as a fun and relatively simple potential project, a good programming exercise, and something I thought my boys would enjoy. Shown at left is the final product, what I've been calling the Color Jar. It's a frosted plastic jar with a knob on top. As you turn the knob, the RGB LED light turns on inside the jar, and it smoothly cycles through all the colors of the rainbow, based on the position of the knob, essentially letting you "dial-in" a color.

The original design was built around an ATTiny13 microcontroller, but it ported over very easily to the ATTiny85 chip which I had on hand, as it has the same pinout but with more memory. I worked out the circuit on a breadboard, and then soldered it up on some proto board, and mounted it to the potentiometer to make it into a nice compact package. I made sure to use a chip socket for easy removal for reprogramming, which came in handy. The other major design change was the battery. Since my plastic jar allowed some more space in the lid, I decided to use a larger 3 volt CR2 "Photo" battery (not a small watch battery) that should last longer.



For the most part, I used the programming from the original pixie dust bottle project, but had to make a couple updates & fixes for my project.

First was a hardware issue. I bought my potentiometer (with switch) from Radioshack, which was convenient, but turns out it was not linear. That is, the voltage change was not directly proportional to the amount of rotation. In practice, this meant that for the first half of the knob's rotation there was almost no voltage change, so for most of the rotation the light would only show red. I took a series of voltage measurements at different degrees of rotation, and used Excel to graph out the signal curve. From there I was able to come up with a formula to take my input signal and adjust it to a more linear value. This allowed me to more evenly spread each color over the full rotation of the knob. The extra-low voltages at the bottom of the range also made it difficult to get consistent readings, which made my light flicker a little. I was able to smooth this out by taking 10 input readings per cycle with a 2 millisecond delay between each and averaging them to get my final input value.

The other issue was a programming bug in the code I was using. At a certain point between green and cyan, the LED would start flashing/flickering red. Looking at the code I had a hunch it was a math error in the way the RGB color was being calculated. To be sure, I did the math and found out it was calculating a Red value of -2, when normally this should be between 0 and 255. It might be fun to refactor the code and come up with my own algorithm for calculating the colors, but for now I just left the main logic in place, and then added a few lines to force any values below zero back to zero, and anything over 255 set back to 255, to keep everything in the appropriate range. This got rid of the flickering, and overall I'm happy with the performance of the Color Jar.

While Nathan may not appreciate the electronics and programming running inside it, he definitely enjoys the Color Jar, and that's the biggest payoff for me :-)