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Too Much Encapsulation

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 by scott

A couple times this year I've wanted to plug some electronics into a hotel TV. For instance, when I'm on the road and want to watch a movie from my Creative Vision M. I also unexpectedly came into possession of an XBOX 360 during a recent trip to Seattle (thank you, Party with Palermo and PreEmptive).

Side note: My XBOX Live Gamertag thingy is:

XBOX Gamertag

The last couple hotel TVs I've looked at offer no media inputs on the front. No problem, I'll think to myself. If there are no inputs on the front, there must be inputs on the back. Getting to the back of a hotel TV, however, is a problem.

You see, here in the United States a television is a prized commodity. Watch carefully next time you see news footage of looting in the U.S. After a natural disaster, you won't see looters plundering grocery stores for canned food and bottled water, but you will see them carrying 32 inch televisions through streets of rubble. As soon as electricity is restored, American Idol can alleviate the dehydration and malnourishment.

To protect their assets from rogue bands of Idol depraved looters, hotels lock their TVs into place using the strongest, heat-tempered metals known to mankind. Depending on how the TV is mounted, it's often physically impossible to look at the back of a television. No problem, I think, I'll reach around and take a picture of the back, and find some inputs.

TV Black Box

The proverbial "black box" is here, bolted onto the TV. All inputs are hard wired. I think the plastic twisty thing is some sort of tamper detection "seal". Turns out hotels don't want you to watch movies unless you watch their pay-for-view movies.

If this TV was a Visual Basic class, it would have the MustNeverInheritOrOverideAnything keyword attached.

What's Wrong With This Code? (#13)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 by scott


For lucky #13, I want to know what can go terribly wrong with the following code, and why.

class HardWorker
public void DoMultiThreadedWork(object someParameter)
lock (lockObject)
// ... lots of work ...

private string lockObject = "lockit";


Hint: Think about memory optimizations in the CLR.

The Head Tag in ASP.NET 2.0

Monday, March 26, 2007 by scott

The Themes feature in ASP.NET 2.0 requires a server-side <head> tag. In other words, if you don't have runat="server" in the <head> tag, like the following:

<head runat="server">
    <!-- head stuff -->


… then trying to use css files from a theme will create a runtime exception with a clear error message:

Exception Details: System.InvalidOperationException: Using themed css files requires a header control on the page. (e.g. <head runat="server" />).

Not every component yields such a direct message, however.

I've been updating pages in a 5 year old application by adding some AJAX features and using some flair from the Control Toolkit. It's been some time since I've been in the UI layer of an application, but I've restrained myself and haven't gotten too crazy. Still, when I saw the Calendar extender I knew it was a perfect fit. After adding the control, the page threw an exception.

System.NullReferenceException: Object reference not set to an instance of an object.
at AjaxControlToolkit.ScriptObjectBuilder.RegisterCssReferences(Control control) ...
at AjaxControlToolkit.ExtenderControlBase.OnPreRender(EventArgs e) ...
at System.Web.UI.Control.PreRenderRecursiveInternal() ...

Because I knew that the themes feature in ASP.NET 2.0 relies on an active header control to inject style sheets, I figured the ScriptObjectBuilder used the same trick to inject new script tags. Just adding runat="server" in the head tag of the page was enough to fix the problem.

ASP.NET and HTML - Past, Present, Future

Sunday, March 25, 2007 by scott

Yesterday, I was giving an AJAX facelift to some old, old .aspx files. These files were created in the first version of Visual Studio.NET and have been running smoothly for years. Inside I found:

<meta content="Microsoft Visual Studio 7.0" name="GENERATOR">
meta content="C#" name="CODE_LANGUAGE">
meta content="JavaScript" name="vs_defaultClientScript">
meta content="http://schemas.microsoft.com/intellisense/ie5"


<body MS_POSITIONING="GridLayout">


ASP.NET has come a long way since the days when MS_POSITIONING appeared. GridLayout meant that every control dropped on the form used absolute positioning by default. GridLayout was a thrill for new web developers who came from a VB6 background, but the feature didn't fly so well with anyone who took HTML seriously.

Ironically, Microsoft's web tools are now closer to the metal than they've ever been. The VS2005 editor is XHTML-compliant. The CSS Friendly Control Adapters can customize a control's HTML output. This trend continues in Orcas where the split screen view (see a screen shot in ScottGu's post) keeps the web form designer and the HTML editor on screen at the same time.

I think it's safe to say we aren't abstracting HTML away anytime soon. While it's OK to hide XmlHttpRequests and client side event handling behind frameworks and script libraries, everyone wants to see, feel, touch, and taste the HTML.

Windows Workflow Foundation and Domain Specific Languages

Monday, March 19, 2007 by scott

Windows Workflow Foundation is a multi-faceted technology. Some people will look at WF and see a tool to manage long-running business processes, while others see a rules engine. Yet another perspective is to look at WF as a tool for building domain specific languages.

Last week I had numerous conversations with talented individuals who reinforced this theme of WF as a DSL tool. For example- Kathleen Dollard builds code-generation tools for developers, and Sam Gentile builds applications for financial analysts. Both of them are giving their end users the ability to create tailored software using a domain specific language. The DSLs themselves are composed from custom activities in Windows Workflow Foundation. Microsoft has built a few DSLs on top of WF too, most notably in the latest release of Sharepoint Server and in Speech Server 2007.

Here's a few interesting resources on custom activity development in WF:

Build Custom Activities To Extend The Reach Of Your Workflows – Matt Milner

Speaker Verification Activity for Speech Server 2007 – Casey Chestnut

Custom Activity Samples in the SDK

HOW TO: Create a custom Windows Workflow Activity and make it available in SharePoint Designer – Todd Baginski

Creating a Custom Composite Activity – Morgan Skinner

I'm still hoping the WF team will one day publish and document the source code to the base activity library in WF. This would be a great starting point for developers who need to build robust, production ready custom activities.

MetaBlog into a Local Directory

Friday, March 9, 2007 by scott

Microsoft Word 2007 produces relatively clean HTML when you use the Publish feature to create a blog post. Although the XHTML purist will still be unhappy with anything they don't write themselves, the HTML far surpasses anything we've seen from Word in previous versions. Unfortunately, this feature is only available for blog posting, as far as I can tell. The "Web Page" and "Web Page, Filtered" options in the "Save As" menu still produce the same .mso littered HTML that makes Word impossible to use as a serious HTML editor. I'd like to use the HTML output by the Publish feature for purposes other than blogging.

I wasn't sure how to get to this Publish feature, but after looking at the MetaBlog API that Word can consume, I decided it wouldn't be too hard to write something in ASP.NET that would run on localhost and give me exactly what I wanted from Word. Specifically – convert a document into clean HTML and PNG graphics and drop the files into a local directory. I decided this job was even easier when I snooped around the SubText subversion repository and discovered that Cook Computing's XML-RPC library does all the heavy lifting and XML parsing.

It took a bit of debugging, but the IMetaWeblog interface defined in the XML-RPC library (interfaces\MetaWeblogAPI.cs) needs a few tweaks to work with Word. First, Word invokes a blogger.getUserBlogs method that isn't defined in the interface, but is easy to add:

[XmlRpcMethod("blogger.getUsersBlogs", Description = "...")]
BlogInfo[] getUsersBlogs(string blogid, string username, string password);


Secondly, Word appear to pass an integer for the blogid parameter of the newMediaObject method. The service expects a string. I don't know enough about the history of the MetaBlog API to know who is wrong in this scenario, but it's easy to fix the method definition in the interface.

Description =
"Makes a new file to a designated blog using the "
              + "metaWeblog API. Returns url as a string of a struct.")]
MediaObjectInfo newMediaObject(
int blogid, // this was a string, but that doesn't work with Word...
      string username, string password, FileData file);


One last change is to Refactor -> Rename the UrlInfo struct in MetaWeblogAPI.cs to MediaObjectInfo. The rename allows Word and the MetaBlog service to agree on the name of the struct.

public struct MediaObjectInfo // this used to be called UrlInfo
public string url;


Once all this is done it's a simple matter to implement that interface in an HttpHandler (ashx file).

public class MetaWebLogging : XmlRpcService, IMetaWeblog
// ...


Each method needs an implementation. For my workflow, I'm moving files around on the hard drive, but here is a sample implementation for the newPost method that will dump the incoming HTML into a file in the root directory of the application.

public string newPost(string blogid, string username, string password,
Post post, bool publish)
string fileName = Path.Combine(
                        post.title +
using (FileStream fs = File.OpenWrite(fileName))
using (StreamWriter writer = new StreamWriter(fs))

return Path.GetFileName(fileName);


Now I just point Word 2007's Publish feature to my local metablog.ashx file and export documents as HTML. For what I needed to do, this little hack was a huge time saver. Hopefully, future versions of Word will make this even easier.

Update for the Visual Studio Items Sorting Script

Thursday, March 8, 2007 by scott

Alexander Groß has a sharp looking blog, and he posted an enhanced version of my sort-vsItems PowerShell script. The update is highly recommended, particularly if you have WinFX templates installed. See his post: "Sorting Visual Studio's 'Add New Item' Dialog"

Alexander also has an RDP/Terminal Service Port Configurator for Windows Mobile. I've been frustrated by the fact that the mobile remote desktop client doesn't understand the servername:port syntax, but this utility is a good workaround.