Hugoware

The product of a web developer with a little too much caffeine

Archive for June 2010

jsshell – Reputable Software??

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Yes, it seems impossible so I took a screenshot. My little jsshell project has made it onto a pretty ‘notable’ list of Google extensions.

If you don’t know what jsshell then you might watch the introduction screencast.

Well… yeah, it isn’t spelled correctly… but I promise it is the same one.

In any case, you can check out the list on the Google site for yourself and possibly pick up some of the other awesome plugins while you’re at it. Don’t wait too long since it is only a matter of time before they realize their mistake 🙂

So, what better way to celebrate than to go ahead and open-source the code?

As usual, you’ll find my code out on git-hub, since its, ya’know, awesome… GitHub that is…

[Source Code]
http://github.com/hugoware/jsshell

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Written by hugoware

June 28, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Autocomplete? Yeah, But How?

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Unless you’re really hardcore you probably use an IDE with some sort of autocomplete feature. It doesn’t have to be the super charged intellisense you find in Visual Studio – It could be as simple as the autocomplete feature in Notepad++ (which I love by the way…)

In any case, I got to wondering today – How do other people use their autocomplete features?

Best I could figure there was probably about 4 different ways you could approach using autocomplete…

  1. Type just long enough to see the item you want and then use the arrow keys to correct item.
  2. Keep typing, regardless of when it appears on the list, until it becomes the selected item.
  3. Use both pretty much equally.
  4. Auto complete is for noobs

Yeah, it isn’t a very deep, through provoking sort of question but it is somewhat interesting to think about. Maybe there is some sort of deeper psychological meaning behind our choices… or not…

[Poll] : So, how do you use your autocomplete feature?

Written by hugoware

June 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Stop, Think, Fix Errors… (Repeat!)

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“Don’t change your code unless you know how it will fix your problem”. If I had to pick a quote to put a ‘squiggly line and my name’ next to, then this would be it.

I’ve seen developers stare blankly at an exception message, comment out a line of code or two and then try and run their code again hoping for the best.

This, of course, rarely fixes anything. Quite often the line of the error message has little to do with the actual problem. Instead, this introduces new errors into your code and causes the problem to take longer to resolve.

Even if you guess and make an exception message go away you still don’t know what caused the error to begin with. Instead, you have a new error that is quietly causing problems and is now much harder to find. They might be ugly, but exception messages are the easiest errors to fix… well, after compiler errors that is…

So, how can you “know” your change will fix the problem? Here are some of the recommendations I make to other developers.

Stop and Think… Carefully

The bug isn’t going anywhere and each time you guess incorrectly you add a new error to your code.

It seems like such a silly thing to even mention, but I’ve seen plenty of developers take a cursory glance at an exception message and then just start changing stuff. It doesn’t even matter if you’re in a “break-fix” situation – you should always carefully consider the problem before changing your code.

Read the error, start following up the stack and think about what could cause this result. Think about the conditions that would cause the error or how you could force the error to happen again.

If you don’t know why your change will fix the code then you aren’t fixing anything.

Understand the Debugger

You don’t need to know what a memory dump is for or how read binary manually to use debugger. Just simply understanding how to set break points and stepping into, over and out of code will probably cover 99% of the problems you encounter.

It might seem daunting at first but don’t ignore the debugger because logging or message boxes are easier to write. Once you get a hang of it, the debugger will most likely become the greatest tool in your future bug squashing adventures.

Isolate and Resolve the Specific Problem

It can be difficult at times to figure out why a section of code doesn’t work when it sits in the middle of a larger application. Sometimes its better to create an empty project and work with a smaller section of the program by itself.

For example, if you don’t understand how a part of your framework is supposed to behave, pull it into a separate program, for example a console application, and work with it until you are comfortable with the results. Then when you integrate your changes back into the main project you can be confident that any remaining errors aren’t part of the newly introduced code.

Look At Open Source Code

If you’ve written some code that is consistently causing problems then consider looking for a framework or open source project instead.

This isn’t a matter of being a good or bad developer. It certainly has nothing to do with being unable to figure out the problem for yourself. Quite simply, code that consistently has errors is probably a difficult problem.

Public frameworks and open source projects are typically owned by other developers that understand the problem better than others. They have taken the time to abstract away the specifics of a problem and build a clean API for other developers to use.

These developers are also typically eager to improve their code and will listen to feedback. Even if you don’t use their project there’s a good chance that you will learn something by simply reading their code.

To sum it up, don’t just change code and hope for the best. Stop, think, ask yourself how does this fix the problem?.

How do you approach fixing problems in your code?

Written by hugoware

June 23, 2010 at 12:02 am

Avoiding Confirmation Boxes

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One thing I try to avoid in interface design is unnecessary user interaction – Basically, asking the user for feedback when it isn’t needed. The area that probably bothers me the most are “confirmation boxes” – Especially those that block the entire application until you’ve clicked ‘OK’?

I’m not really sure why you see them so often in applications since I’m pretty sure that users and developers alike probably get tired of seeing them. Not only that, studies have shown that they are mostly ineffective, normally only earning a cursory glance before being dismissed.

So what can you do instead?

Don’t Confirm Success, Notify On Failure

Probably the easiest and quickest improvement to an application is to stop confirming when your application worked. How many times have you seen this pointless little window pop up?

Uh, yeah…

For the most part, a user should be able to assume that their “request completed successfully.” — Otherwise, why the heck did they buy your software to begin with?

Instead, pop up a modal dialog box if something goes wrong and their request didn’t work. This is a much better time to interfere with user work flow.

Allow Permanent Dismissal

New users of an application don’t mind confirmation boxes as much since they are still poking around and trying to figure out what everything does. But after the 10th or 15th time the ‘your request has been completed!’ message is starting to wear on them.

Sure, it was helpful at first but now that they know the expected behavior, the additional confirmation is an annoying extra click.

Ah, now that is better. I’m confident using this part of the program – stop bugging me!

Even Better – Don’t Confirm, Make It Easy To Undo

Remember the computer before the undo button? It was painful and frustrating, but then one day like magic we could fix our silly fat-finger mistakes – Genius!

What about the Internet before the undo button? Oh… wait. The ‘undo’ button is actually still pretty uncommon in web applications. Of course, web applications aren’t the only area that this applies – but it is still possible to make it happen. GMail is a great example of how this applies to any application – including the web.

The message explains what happened and gives immediate actions for the two most probably user responses – “What the heck did I just do?” and “Oh snap, I didn’t mean to delete that!”.

Use Visual Indicators As Confirmation

Visual indicators work well as additional confirmations. If you make it clear enough what a user is about to do then normally you can avoid a confirmation box.

Red highlights, short and clear sentences, explanation of the final result – All of these items act as an additional confirmation for the user to understand the result of their action. To take it a step further, the text on the button OK would be even clearer if it said Delete (see how easy this is!)

It doesn’t take much to reduce, and in many case eliminate, the dialog boxes we pop up in our applications. You’ll be happier, your users will be happier — Heck, I’ll even be happier even if I never use your application.

What are ways you can use to limit the number of dialog boxes you use in your applications?

CobaltMVC and Custom Selectors

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CobaltMVC is a server side templating framework that behaves just like jQuery for your Views. CobaltMVC also works in WebForms.

CobaltMVC supports a variety of CSS selectors including pseudo and attribute matching. To keep things flexible, I’ve made it so that you can create or overwrite anything built-in. This post we discuss how to create your own for your project.

Right now, if you wanted to select all of the even rows in a table then you could use the pseudo selector…

this.Find("table > :even");

Cool, but what if we wanted to create our own? Here is an example of a selector that finds ‘numeric’ HTML elements.


//called once to add it to the project
CobaltManagement.RegisterCustomPseudoSelector(
    "numeric", //the name of the selector :numeric
    (nodes, argument) => { //the comparison to use
        decimal container = 0;
        return nodes.Where(node => decimal.TryParse(node.InnerText.Trim(), out container));
    });

//then used from our pages like...
this.Find(":numeric");

You’ll notice there are two arguments for the method you provide – First is a list of the available nodes to compare against. The second is an optional ‘argument’ string. The method should return a list of nodes that should be kept in the selection.

And the argument? That is an optional value in case you want it included in your selector. A good example of using the argument is the nth pseudo selector which returns every x number item.

//Everything within the parens is included as part of the argument
this.Find(":nth(4)");

Note: The argument is passed as a string so you’ll need to perform any parsing before you begin using the value.

Attribute selectors match against the attributes of the HTML elements. CobaltMVC checks the values and makes sure that two string are passed (even if they are empty), but any additional parsing needs to be done as part of the method.

That said, the method you use to perform the comparison is slightly different.

CobaltManagement.RegisterCustomAttributeSelector(
    "%", //the prefix to use for the selector @attr%='value'
    (argument, value) => argument.Equals(value, StringComparison.Ordinal)); //the comparison

The special character is what you want to prefix the attribute selector with (if you plan to override the default = selector then you just pass in an empty string). This needs to be a special character so not to be confused with the name of the attribute.

The comparison method itself is just a pair of strings, the first being the argument provided by the user and the second being the value found on the attribute. If the element doesn’t have the matching attribute then it is skipped entirely.

So, we could use the method we created in the example above by using…

this.Find("[@title%='Hugoware']");

Pretty neat!

If you haven’t downloaded Cobalt then head out to GitHub and download the code!

Written by hugoware

June 6, 2010 at 11:08 pm

CobaltMVC – Custom Controls and Dynamic HTML

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CobaltMVC is a server side templating frameworks that works a lot like jQuery. You can use it with both ASP.NET MVC and WebForms – (Watch the introduction video)

So far all of the CobaltMVC examples that have been posted have involved selecting existing elements on the page and making changes to them. However, there are times you’d like to generate new elements or wrap the same markup in a reusable control and attach it to the page.

Controls in CobaltMVC are just CobaltElements with properties and methods that you can use to define the behavior of an element. Because of this, a control can be selected against and modified by external selectors. This means that any control can be adjusted and tweaked for your individual needs.

Want to learn more? Check out the screen cast below that explains some of the interesting things you can do with custom controls and dynamically generated HTML elements.

[Watch The Screencast!]

Written by hugoware

June 4, 2010 at 9:52 am