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My grade school days are kind of a blur at this point, which is probably a good thing. I don’t remember many of my teachers, classes, lessons, peers… I can’t tell if that’s just a bad memory or if so much of it simply had no lasting impact. In any case, there are a few things that do stand out, things said by my teachers which have stuck with me to this day. Here are the first three that come to mind:

“Anyone can make a face.”

I was in art classes throughout grade school. I probably shouldn’t have been. I could draw Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends, but that’s about it. None of the stuff they tried to teach us stuck with me, and I couldn’t care less about art history. I remember working with clay in middle school, making a number of pieces that were to be part of a collection. Some of those pieces were faces, or face-like. My art teacher (who is a cool guy and would probably be devastated to know this is the first thing I recall when I think of him) was giving us a mini-lecture about needing to really stretch our creativity and try new things. He picked up a ball of clay, poked three holes in it, and said “see, anyone can make a face.” It was clearly in reference to my rather pathetic project because, well, it looked exactly the same. What I don’t know is why I was singled out like that.

Art was already on life support for me. I think that did it in.

Years later, in high school (I kept taking art classes, probably just for the credits), I had a truly awful troll of an art teacher. One time, she looked at something I had been drawing — and yes, it was indeed bad — and uttered “ugh, Grossman… gross!” Thanks, you old sow. Thanks so much for that.

“Don’t slump!”

My first-grade homeroom teacher made it a point on one of the first days of class to pull us all together and teach us about slumping over in one’s chair. Or slouching. I don’t remember which word she used, but she gave a demonstration and asked “have you ever seen an old person sit in a chair like this?” at which point she crumpled like a doll. “You don’t want to end up like that! Make sure to always sit up straight, because it’s hard to fix this once the damage is done!” Right she was. Unfortunately, since I’m at a desktop computer so much… well, yeah.

“We’re all inventors.”

A total dark horse candidate for things I’d remember from way-back-when, but this made an impact. I wish I could recall who said it to us. The details and context escape me, but the idea was that you don’t have to be creating new technologies to call yourself an inventor. Even as dumpy little students, choosing how to carry our textbooks and binders was an act of creation; we were all inventing when we did that.

We invent when we come up with creative ways to solve little problems at work; when we decorate our homes; when we decide who we are and how we’re going to act. That is, perhaps, unless you don’t have an ounce of existentialism in your body and you simply allow your animal instincts to carry you from one thing to the next. Those people are great fun to deal with.

In closing, teachers: your words, even your off-handed little remarks, can have a profound impact on your students. Be very mindful of what you say around them.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

I guess Sass happened a few years ago and I missed the memo. That’s bad news for me because since I didn’t hug it, and pet it, and squeeze it with such love as soon as it appeared, I missed the total-newb tutorial train. Everyone’s already supposed to know everything about it by now, so all the advanced Sass techniques and integrations assume you do. After all, how could you not? …unless you’ve been living under a rock. Which I have.

I get what Sass does and I know Foundation makes heavy use of it for customization. When I realized I wanted Foundation to render rows wider than 1000 pixels by default, I knew it was time to adopt Sass. I simply had no idea how to do it for my current setup, which is Visual Studio 2013 Update 3, Web Essentials 2013 for Update 3, and Foundation 5.

In my travels, I kept seeing mention of something called Compass (I have no idea what it is or why I would need it), but according to what I’ve been reading, Web Essentials recently supplanted much of that tool’s usefulness in Visual Studio. Fine with me: the less bloat, the better. Unfortunately, the web development community at large hasn’t really caught up with this turn of events, so tutorials for Compass are still all over the place like it’s the only option for this particular quest. And it’s not.

Without further ado, I will describe here the steps I followed in order to customize Foundation 5 via Sass in a new ASP.NET MVC 5 Web Application through Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 with Web Essentials 2013 for Update 3 installed.

  1. In Visual Studio, FILE → New → Project… → Installed → Templates → Visual C# → Web → ASP.NET Web Application → (name it whatever) → OK.
  2. MVC → OK.
  3. Right-click your new Web Application project in the Solution Explorer and select Manage NuGet Packages…
  4. Search for “foundation sass”. At the time of this writing, the most appropriate package was Zurb Foundation 5 (for Sites) Core Sass files. I guess you could alternatively do this in the Package Manager Console:
  5. Rename  /Content/Site.css to  /Content/Site.scss (CSS to SCSS) and replace its contents with the following, which puts a custom variable out there and then processes it against the core Foundation SCSS files to create a compiled CSS file:

    Let me briefly explain what’s going on here…

    • Line 4: If you don’t have this line, you can’t do stuff like rem-calc() in your customizations… which, as it turns out, is exactly what I need to widen the rows. This crucial little tidbit stole an hour of my life. It’s mentioned in the documentation, but it should just be there by default. I’ll explain the pathing in a sec.
    • Line 6: That’s me doing what I came here to do: I want Foundation to take advantage of wider screens. Instead of limiting itself to 1000 pixels, I want 1200 pixels. Much better. Also, super secret unobvious magic: order matters!
    • Lines 8-10: These three files are what actually build the Foundation CSS. Similar to what happened on line 4, we have to point Web Essentials to the files using paths. You’ll notice that the /sass/foundation/Site.scss file (which we didn’t use in this scenario) doesn’t have pathing because all those files are in the same directory. It’s also missing the ever-important line 4, which is just cruel if you’re trying to use it as an example. Ahem.
  6. Saving Site.scss generates Site.css.

    Saving Site.scss generates Site.css.

    As soon as you save your modified Site.scss, Web Essentials will compile Site.css and stick it under Site.scss.

  7. Run your project now and you’ll see that Foundation has been applied to the default ASP.NET hello world page. It’s not the best test in the world, but it’s quick and it shows it’s working. Change 1200 to 700 or something and refresh to see the effects.

 

The $row-width setting I modified is just one of the many things you can customize. Check /sass/foundation/_settings.scss for more options. The official Foundation documentation explains a few of them on a per-feature basis, too.

It’s not that this is terribly difficult… I just couldn’t find it explained the way I needed given my varying levels of proficiency with these tools. Hope this helps someone save a few hours and tears.

The Foundation Icon Fonts 3 pack is pretty cool. Not the best selection, and way too many stupid “social & brand icons” (MySpace? Really?), but I figure if I’m going to use Foundation anyway, why not. And since I’m living in ASP.NET MVC land these days, the official way to go about adding them to my web application is to chuck them into a bundle. That’s a nice, clean way to keep things organized and optimized. So, I did it, but it didn’t work very well once pushed to Azure. The icons wouldn’t load and I got weird 404s and 500s… What gives?

Well, I spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to figure out why something I figured was going to be simple and easy… wasn’t. Here’s what I discovered it took to get those icons working in this particular environment, and I hope it saves someone a little time.

foundation-icons

First things first, the files need to be in there, so you’ll want something like the structure I’ve got.

Then comes bundling. You could just throw it into your primary Foundation bundle, but here it is in its own. Line 10 is the real magic because of the CssRewriteUrlTransform added to Include(). It’s kind of a big deal because it forces any URLs in your CSS file to cooperate with the MVC routing. And for being so crucial, it shouldn’t have been so hard to find.

Then make sure you actually call that bundle in your BundleConfig.cs:

Same deal in your _Layout.cshtml or wherever else you may want to do it:

And finally, one more “guess the password” type of requirement (that’s my way of saying you’d probably never, ever figure it out unless someone shared it with you). In your Web.config, you need to add these MIME mappings so everything will load correctly across all browsers. Why you have to explicitly set this instead of it being default behavior is stupid and beyond my comprehension:

Happy Happy Joy Joy

There you have it. After I did those magical things and published to Azure, the icons showed up. Ridiculous.

JSON Visualizer

Kind of needed that forever ago. But hey, no more external JSON viewers for me! Woo!

AMD CPUs run really, really hot.

AMD CPUs run really, really hot.

I recently upgraded the CPU on the media center PC in our living room so we could do a little gaming when we’re tired of watching shows and stuff. The upgrade went well except for the stock cooler that came with the CPU. For the amount of sound it made, we may as well have surrounded the case with box fans and taken a leaf blower to it as well for good measure. That thing was LOUD.

I’ve never really done the aftermarket cooler thing because it’s a pain in the ass. Ripping the machine open and performing brain surgery is enough without also having to screw around with thermal paste and most likely take the whole motherboard out just for a fancy cooler. Stock’s fine, thanks. Except now it wasn’t, and I had to do something.

I ordered a Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO because it has lots of really good reviews and seems like a safe bet. When it got here… man, I knew it was going to be tall, but it was really tall. As in I wasn’t sure I’d be able to close the case with it in there. I soldiered on though, hoping that once it was secured onto the chip, everything would be tight but alright. So out came the motherboard, off came the old thermal paste, and so forth… and yeah, no, I couldn’t close the case.

Hacksaw

Hooo!

What now? Well, if you look at the heatsink, you can see 8 little copper nubs sticking out the top of it. These nubs were the only thing preventing me from closing the case — if they weren’t there, everything would be great. And so, convinced I was awesome enough to do this kind of thing after four years of generally successful home improvement projects, I took a hacksaw to the little bastards and extracted them.

A half hour or so later, I gave myself a pat myself on the back as I slid the side cover back onto the case. Score! I’m so good. After a few minutes of uptime, however, the machine shut itself off without warning. It had overheated. Hmm, that’s odd. Wonder what I did wrong?

I spent until 5:00 AM that night (morning?) trying to fix the problem. I probably cleaned and reapplied the thermal paste like six times, thinking each time I must have done a bad job that last time and that this time would be it. Nope. How about the BIOS? Maybe the fan speed is too low? Nope. I eventually concluded that I was doing everything quite correctly and that it had to be something else.

Could it be those copper tubes? Naw! They’re just pieces of copper bent in such a way that they help conduct the heat! Right? …right?

GeniusIt was, of course, the copper tubes. Butchering them eliminated a key component of the cooler according to this article I finally found. So that kind of sucked.

In the end, that cooler went in the trash and I ended up using a Logisys MC2002GX instead. It was just short enough to fit, it works, and it’s nice and quiet. But yeah, don’t mess with those damn copper tubes.

I don’t claim to be a good coder. Even less so when it comes to web development, which I consider to be icky poo-poo even with modern toys like Foundation and Knockout. My point: you’re about to see some stuff I’ve cobbled together. I don’t know if it’s any good, but I hope it helps someone.

So I’m really still a complete n00b when it comes to both Foundation and Knockout, but I’ve seen enough to know I like them both. I’ve also seen enough to have run into problems as I try to use them together. Here’s a fun one… suppose you want to use Tabs. At first glance, that’s no problem!

Nothing new or special there, and it works. Now, what if the array of Tabs might change mid-stream due to something the user’s done? You’d figure Knockout would take care of that for you like it takes care of everything else. But you’d be wrong. Well, half wrong. I think Knockout really does try. Foundation, however, is being stubborn.

Foundation and KnockoutIt’s not documented very well anywhere that I could find, but it looks like Foundation gets kind of drowsy after rendering the page, and you gotta poke it when something like this changes. I don’t know what’s special about Tabs and Accordions (yeah, it happens with them both, and possibly other stuff as well) when compared to all the other things Foundation does correctly in partnership with Knockout, but in any case, there is a solution:

Add that custom binding, and use it like so:

It took some digging to find it, but that reflow call is the poke of which I spoke. And don’t worry, it doesn’t look like it’ll really impact performance. In fact, it was written for this kind of thing. …and then never advertised.

Certainly by now we have all noticed that the global PC market is a little constipated. Or dying. Whatever. Cool kids like Dell and Sony are doing things to address this, like firing people and selling business units, respectively. Hey man, whatever you’ve got to do to stay alive, right?

Tablet Hell

The Seventh Circle of Developer Hell, no doubt.

It’s horribly short-sighted, though. While things may look bleak right now, I have a hard time believing the PC is in as much trouble as some people may suggest. While it is quite true that smartphones and tablets have arrived on the scene and are eating a lot of the market that used to be dominated by PCs, they just aren’t the best platforms for accomplishing a lot of stuff — and they never will be, which is the important part. As much fun as my wife’s Google Nexus 7 is for goofing around when I don’t feel like getting out my crusty ol’ laptop, I can’t fathom trying to do anything serious on it. To this day I still can’t type on a touchscreen… attempting to do so for any substantial amount of time makes me want to buy firearms.

That brings me to Microsoft. Microsoft does some things really well and truly deserves its success. I’m a fan. But this is one place where they completely missed the mark and need to take a step back to adjust their strategy. The numbers may or may not agree with me (I don’t know what they are), but I believe Microsoft’s great strength lies in its ability to deliver a great environment for getting things done. When I think Microsoft, I think productivity: Windows, Office, Visual Studio, the .NET Framework, Azure… they have a pretty good track record for this stuff. Then there’s Windows 8. I get what they were trying to do, and there is something to be said for trying to unify interfaces across all the new form factors out there now, but wow, oops! So I say to Microsoft: your core market is the business world, and they don’t want to get gorilla arm from your crappy OS and its obsession with touchscreens. Continue to make your Windows be for businesses first and regular consumers second since smartphones and tablets are going to eat the consumer market anyway, and you can’t prevent it. With time, you’ll see that even though PC sales won’t reach pre-tablet levels ever again, there will still be a strong market for you in the business sector. That’s not to say you have to completely give up on the new way of doing things… just don’t put it before your foundation and real strengths.

All I’m saying is that most businesses aren’t going to suddenly buy tablets for all their workers and expect everything to be done on mobile devices… because it won’t work. It’s crazy. There are still a lot of things you just don’t do on this latest generation of hardware, not if you want to keep your sanity. Tech companies closing or divesting their PC business units strike me as a little weak in the long-term planning area. Then again, it is also possible that I am simply already an old fart at age 29 because technology is moving in directions that confound and annoy me and I am refusing to see the writing on the wall. That would be a little sad.

I have done some terrible, terrible things over the past few months in my dealings with RavenDB. This one isn’t so bad.

Optimash Prime

I noticed early on that I was probably going to have to write a few Transformers. I’m lazy and didn’t want to have to actually do anything to maintain them or make sure they’re up-to-date if I change the underlying codebase, so I came up with a way to have it take care of itself for me.

This chunk of code is intended to be run just after you’ve initialized your static IDocumentStore, preferably in a web service or something that isn’t going to be starting and stopping a whole lot. The point is that this ought to happen infrequently, hopefully only once.

Pretty simple stuff. Get all the classes you’ve created which inherit from AbstractTransformerCreationTask, initialize one of each, convert all those instances to a list, and then dump each one into the IDocumentStore. Now the Transformers in the database are guaranteed to match their counterparts from your codebase.

Endorsements

DistressI’ll just leave this here…