dotnet, process comments edit

I was watching some Twitter stream by and caught a bit of a discussion asking about why people haven’t moved to yet for unit testing. It started here

Legitimate, good question. xUnit is a nice unit test framework.

The thing is, I see a lot of these things fly past - Why haven’t you updated to ASP.NET MVC3? Why haven’t you switched your project to .NET 4.0 from .NET 3.5? How come you’re not installing every third-party dependency in your project through NuGet now? What? You’re still on jQuery 1.5.2? But 1.6 is out! You’re still using Rhino Mocks? But Moq is totally the way to go now! Why aren’t you on the latest and greatest framework?

There’s no denying that there are some pretty compelling reasons to do technology upgrades. Easier and cheaper feature implementation is usually a pretty key driver. But I think some of the folks that push for staying on the latest and greatest sometimes forget some of the hidden costs of staying on that cutting edge. (Not that I’m saying @lazycoder, above, is one of these; that’s just a tweet that got me thinking.)

Upgrade costs. Using the example above, I have to question what the upgrade cost would be to convert 4000+ unit tests in NUnit to Is it worth it? Probably not. So then you might say, “Oh, then only use the latest and greatest in new projects rather than existing projects.” I’m not sure where you work, but in companies with long-established product lines, my experience tells me that there’s not as much opportunity for new project work as there is in “adding features to existing projects.” So when you add features do you do it with the existing toolset or do you try to introduce a new tool/dependency at that time?

Too many ways to do the same thing. Continuing that thought - if you add a new dependency into the mix when you add a new feature in an existing product, you invariably introduce a new way to do the same thing. That is, say you switch from Moq to Typemock Isolator or something. You’ll be writing mocks in some tests one way and in some tests another. How do people know which way to go? You might laugh at that question, but if you’re on a large distributed team of varying skill levels, you can’t really have people “making it up as they go” because, while it may be “intuitive” to some, there are others who will “guess wrong.” To minimize the guesswork, you need to have some [minimal] development standards. Ever try to add an “if/then/else” to development standards? How’d that work out for you? (I’m not saying code should be rubber-stamped out or that you need guidelines for everything you do… just that diverse styles and skill levels become a larger issue the larger/more distributed your team gets and you can run into maintainability issues pretty quickly if people don’t at least have some sort of basic standard and common approach to things.)

Training costs. It’s really easy to say “people just need to raise their personal bars” when throwing a new version of a framework or tool into the mix, but the truth is, some folks adapt faster than others. If your team is reasonably small, you can probably get away with this a little easier than if, say, you have a 40+ team of engineers of all skill levels jamming on the same code base. There are going to be some road bumps unless you do a little training, which isn’t free, even if you do it in-house during lunchtime seminars or whatever. Not everyone out there is reading tech blogs daily, working on personal projects, and trying to “sharpen the saw” at every opportunity. I think this fact is pretty easily forgotten by people who have the luxury of staying up to date.

Other dependencies. In some cases, you have two dependencies in your product that also rely on each other. For example, if you want to integrate NUnit into TeamCity build reporting, the TeamCity build agent needs to have a compatible NUnit test runner (or you need to do some manual hackery for less than perfect integration). You may have every opportunity to update your code to the latest NUnit, but that other dependency requires you to stay back a version or two. That also may limit your choices of tools - if I have to take a component that only works if I use log4net for logging (arbitrary example), then I’m sort of stuck with log4net even if I want to use Enterprise Library logging.

Corporate policy. In large enough organizations you inevitably get some sort of review board that approves (or rejects) dependencies based on various policies/analyses - security, legal, or what-have-you. That, too, can limit your options.

Customer acceptance. Depending on your customer base, some customers don’t actually want to be on the latest and greatest. They want “tried and true.” The government and financial institutions come to mind here. Maybe you can’t upgrade to .NET 4.0 until SP1 comes out for it or something. Point being, your customers may not allow you to upgrade even if you want to.

I love working on the latest stuff. It keeps me interested. It keeps me learning. I encourage you to do the same. But I understand if your project is still stuck in .NET 2.0 in Visual Studio 2005 because sometimes there are really good reasons you can’t upgrade. Keep looking for opportunities to move forward. You’ll get there.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Scott Hanselman about our experiences with Synology DiskStation products and Windows Home Server. Looks like the podcast is up now so go check that out if you haven’t already.

If you’re coming in here after having listened to the podcast, here are some links to related blog entries you may be interested in:

Also, if you’re a regular Hanselminutes listener, your trivia for the day (which we touch on in the podcast): The original definition of Hanselminutes.

Finally, thanks again to Scott for having me on the show. A good time was had by all.

dotnet, aspnet comments edit

I could also have called this “wildcard .NET mapping in IIS Express from web.config.”

I’m sure that, like, everyone out there but me has figured this out by now, but… well, I’ll blog it anyway.

Problem: Your ASP.NET web site has aVirtualPathProviderthat serves static files (e.g., .jpg, .css, etc.). It works great in the Visual Studio development web server but switching to IIS Express, it suddenly doesn’t work.

My team has just such a provider that serves static files out of embedded resources. We switched from Cassini over to IIS Express and couldn’t for the life of us figure out why it suddenly stopped working. I mean, it’s “integrated pipeline,” right? WTF?

OK, so my first “duh!” moment was when I realized that it’s integrated pipeline, not “.NET is responsible for handling each request.” That is, you have a managed request pipeline but the actual handler that serves the content may or may not be managed. It’s one of those things you know, then forget you know, then remember again when you hit a snag.

At that point I went looking in config to see what the handler was for static files and I saw this in the system.webServer/handlers section of applicationhost.config:

<add name="StaticFile" path="*" verb="*" modules="StaticFileModule,DefaultDocumentModule,DirectoryListingModule" resourceType="Either" requireAccess="Read" />

This is where I made my mistake. I know what the line there says, but in my mind, I read it as “Use the StaticFileHandler for any files not previously mentioned.” So I’m thinking System.Web.StaticFileHandler, right? It’s integrated, so that’s your built-in wildcard mapping… right?

That’s not what it says.

It says, “When all else fails, use the unmanaged default mechanism to serve up the static content.” Which, further, means “skip all VirtualPathProviders and go right to disk.”

My teammate, Sagar, figured that one out and we were both slapping our foreheads. Of course. Again, integrated pipeline, not “.NET handles all requests.”

The fix is to add the .NET static file handler back into your pipeline. You can do this in your web.config in system.webServer/handlers:

<add name="AspNetStaticFileHandler" path="*" verb="*" type="System.Web.StaticFileHandler" />

We did that, and suddenly things were working again. Bam! Done.

Note that doing this has some performance and caching implications. The unmanaged, standard IIS static file handler is pretty well optimized for performance; more so than the managed static file handler. Also, the managed static file handler doesn’t write caching-related information (e.g., ETag or Expires headers) for virtual files that are not served up from disk. Something to consider.

media, music comments edit

While I’m on a recommendation kick, I figured I’d throw out five of my favorites that most people out there are probably not listening to right now, and may not have even heard of. Try something new!

In no particular order…

Album Description
Pop Will Eat Itself - Cure For Sanity Pop Will Eat Itself - Cure For Sanity -  You may recognize the name Clint Mansell from his film score work, most recently for the movie Black Swan. Mansell was originally the lead singer for PWEI. I like most of PWEI’s stuff, but this one is my favorite. Slightly interesting personal note: it’s also one of the only two albums (along with Pretty Hate Machine) my mom ever confiscated from me when I was a kid because she didn’t like the lyrics or, I assume, the electronic/percussive nature of the music. Sorry, Mom. I think I had another copy like a week after that. It’s been one of my favorites since I originally heard it carpooling with my friend Molly to school. Still is.
2nu - Ponderous 2nu - Ponderous - I’m not even sure how to classify this. It’s more… “ambient spoken word” than straight music. If you recognize anything at all from this album, it’ll be the short-radio-run title song, “This is Ponderous.” “I had this dream the other night. I went to work one day and nobody remembered who I was. So I decided to take the day off.”
Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen - Great alternative album and a fantastic live show. This is actually the first concert I ever went to, with my buddy Mike. Super intimate venue that isn’t there anymore where I also saw George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic (which was also a hell of a show)… but I digress. This is an awesome driving-around-town album. Go get it.
Republica - Republica Republica - Republica - You probably heard this one (maybe even had it) and forgot about it entirely. Electronic rock you want to play with the volume turned up and the windows rolled down.
Utah Saints - Utah Saints Utah Saints - Utah Saints - Great house music, period. If you’re into that sort of thing and you don’t have this one, it’s a must-have.

media, music comments edit

When I’m working (coding) I generally like some sort of music that either doesn’t have any words or is otherwise reasonably peaceful so I’m not, like, compelled to sing along or something. I also like music that sort of flows, so stuff that’s very dissonant or has an oddly syncopated rhythm, stuff that has a lot of high-pitched sirens, and so forth… that’s not so much my thing.

The list of what I listen to changes quite a bit - I have a lot of music

  • but right now, my top go-to albums for while I’m drumming out some code are (in no particular order)…
Album Description
Mirror's Edge Soundtrack Mirror’s Edge Soundtrack (MP3) - I really liked the game and the soundtrack was equally awesome. Only available in MP3 format, but that’s fine.
Tron: Legacy Reconfigured Tron: Legacy Reconfigured (CD/MP3) - The original version of the soundtrack was good, but the remixes take it up a Whole. Other. Level.
Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live (CD) - This one isn’t electronic and it appears to be out of print, or at least, not directly available from Amazon (which is roughly the same thing, right?) but I find myself turning to this one a lot for some calm getting-down-to-work music.
Imogen Heap - Speak For Yourself Imogen Heap - Speak For Yourself (CD/MP3) - I actually discovered this one through Pandora and am now hooked on Imogen Heap. This is my favorite so far, particularly the song “Hide and Seek.”
Massive Attack - Mezzanine Massive Attack - Mezzanine (CD) - You’re familiar with this one if you watch House. The theme song is “Teardrop” from this album. All the songs are kind of different here (they don’t all sound like the same style) so it’s there’s a little something for everyone.
Hybrid - Wider Angle Hybrid - Wider Angle (MP3) - I like the recorded half of this much more than the live half, but the recorded half just flows. I particularly like “If I Survive,” which I originally heard on the PS2 game Kinetica.
Fluke - Risotto Fluke - Risotto (CD/MP3) - This has been a long-time favorite of mine. Originally I got hooked on this from the Sliver soundtrack (which is also pretty good).
Conjure One Conjure One - Conjure One (CD/MP3) - I have a friend who’s brother engineers these guys (that’s how I heard about them to begin with). Very cool music, sort of Enigma-ish.
Blue Man Group - Audio Blue Man Group - Audio (CD/MP3/DVD) - Sort of entrancing / hypnotic, which is cool for PVC pipe. The live show is amazing - be sure to go if you get the chance. The DVD to this has a really nice 5.1 surround mix of the music, which isn’t too helpful for an iPod or whatever, but is awesome on your home theater.
Sarah Brightman - Harem Sarah Brightman - Harem (CD/MP3) - There is just something about Sarah Brightman that I love. This is one of my favorites and the one I listen to most. There are a couple tracks on here that are a little “meh” but the really good ones outweigh the ones you have to skip.

I realized after putting this together that I could make this like a “top 25” list but then… nah. Plus, I switch it up a lot, so these are what I’m listening to now, but I may get into an Anna Phoebe mood or something for a week, which would mean this list would change. (I actually started with a top five and decided that wasn’t long enough, so I upped it to ten.)

Got any awesome recommendations? Leave ‘em in the comments!