Category Archives: Tips

NDepend: A short review

NDepend is a tool I’d heard about for years, but had yet to really dive into recently. Thanks to the good folks developing it, I was able to try out a copy and have been analyzing my own projects with it.

Here’s a brief run-down of my initial experience with it.

Installation

There is no installation file—everything is packaged into a zip. After running, I was greeted by a project selection screen, in which I created a new project and added some assemblies. NDepend main screen

Analysis

Once you have all the assemblies you want to analyze selected, you can run the analysis, which generates both an HTML report with graphics, and an interactive report that you can use to drill down into almost any detail of your code. Indeed, it’s almost overwhelming the amount of detail present in this tool.

One graph you see almost immediately is Abstractness Vs. Instability.

Abstractness vs. Instability

This is a good high-level overview of your entire project at the assembly level. Basically, what this means is that assemblies that are too abstract and unstable are potentially useless and should be culled, while assemblies that are concrete and stable can be hard to maintain. Instability is defined in the help docs in terms of coupling (internal and external), while abstractness is the ratio of abstract types to total types in an assembly.

This is followed by the dependency graph:

Dependency graph

After these graphics come lots of reports that dig into your code for all sorts of conditions.

For example, the first one in my report was “Quick summary of methods to refactor".” That seems pretty vague, until you learn how they determine this. All the reports in NDepend are built off of a SQL-like query language called CQL (Code Query Language). The syntax for this is extremely easy. The query and result for this report are:

NDepend_RefactorMethods

With very little work on my part, I instantly have a checklist of items I need to look at to improve code quality and maintainability.

There are tons of other reports: methods that are too complex, methods that are poorly commented, have too many parameters, to many local variables, or classes with too many methods, etc. And of course, you can create your own (which I demonstrate below).

Interactive Visualization

All of these reports are put into the HTML report. But as I said, you can use the interactive visualizer to drill down further into your code.

The first thing you’re likely to see is a group of boxes looking like this:

NDepend_Metrics

These boxes show the relative sizes of your code from the assembly level down to the methods. Holding the mouse over a box will bring up more information about the method. You can also change the metric you’re measuring by—say to cyclomatic complexity.

Another view, perhaps the most useful of all is the CQL Queries view. In this, you can see the results from all of hundreds of code queries, as well as create your own. For instance, I can see all the types with poor cohesion in my codebase:

NDepend_Cohesion

In this view, the CQL queries are selected in the bottom-right, and the results show up on the left. The metrics view highlights the affected methods.

Creating a query

Early in the development of my project, I named quite a few classes starting with a LB prefix. I’ve changed some of them, but I think there are still a few lying around and I want to change them as well. So I’ll create CQL query to return all the types that begin with “LB.”

   1: // <Name>Types beginning with LB</Name>
   2: WARN IF Count > 0 IN SELECT TYPES WHERE 
   3:  NameLike "LB" AND     
   4:  !IsGeneratedByCompiler AND 
   5:  !IsInFrameworkAssembly     

NDepend_LB That’s it! You can see the results to the right. It’s ridiculously easy to create your own queries to examine nearly any aspect of your code. And that’s if the hundreds of included queries don’t do it for you. In many ways, the queries are similar to the analysis FxCop does, but I think CQL seems generally more powerful (while lacking some of the cool things FxCop has).

 

VS and Reflector Add-ins

NDepend has a couple of extras that enable integration of Visual Studio (2005 and 2008) and NDepend and Reflector. When you right-click on an item in VS, you will have some additional options available:

NDepend_VSPlugin1

Clicking on the submenu gives you options to directly run queries in NDepend. Very cool stuff.

Summary and where to get more info

If you are at all interested in code metrics, and how good your code is behaving, how maintainable it is, you need this tool. It’s now going to be a standard part of my toolbox for evaluating the quality of my code and what parts need attention.

If you’re using NDepend for personal and non-commercial reasons, you can download it for free. It doesn’t have all the features, but it has more than enough. Professional use does require a license.

One of the things I was particularly impressed with was the amount of help content available. There are tons of tutorials for every part of the program.

I’m going to keep playing with this and I’m sure I’ll mention some more things as I discover them. For now, NDepend is very cool—it’s actually fun to play with, and it gives you good information for what to work on.

Links:


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

Converting OLE_COLOR to System.Drawing.Color

I’ve been working on a project using Visual Studio Tools for Office 2008 (VSTO) and at one point I needed to get the colors for categories in Outlook 2007. There are actually 3 colors, and they are returned as uint’s–why the .Net wrappers don’t convert to colors for you, I don’t know (to avoid linking to System.Drawing?).

The important thing is to convert them into the friendly System.Drawing.Color objects I know and love. For this task, there exists a handy ColorTranslator class. There is a FromOle method that does the exact chore you need. Here’s a sample of my code:

 

   1: private void GetCategoryColors()
   2: {
   3:     foreach (OutlookLib.Category category in
   4:         Application.ActiveExplorer().Session.Categories)
   5:     {
   6:         CategoryColor color = new CategoryColor(
   7:             ColorTranslator.FromOle((Int32)category.CategoryGradientTopColor),
   8:             ColorTranslator.FromOle((Int32)category.CategoryGradientBottomColor),
   9:             ColorTranslator.FromOle((Int32)category.CategoryBorderColor));
  10:         _categoryCollection[category.Name] = color;
  11:     }
  12: }

Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

Fixing Printing Problems with IE7 and Vista

If you are having problems printing from Internet Explorer 7 under Windows Vista, check to see if you have AVG 8.0 installed. If so, get the latest version from http://free.grisoft.com. I did have build 8.0.101 and upgraded to build 8.0.138–everything works fine now.

I’ve also seen reports that it could be an error while running IE7 in Protected Mode. There’s a thread in the Microsoft forums about this.

Good luck.


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

log4cxx + VS2005 + Windows SDK v6.0 = compile error

If you are following the instructions to build log4cxx 0.10 in Visual Studio 2005, and you have the Windows Platform SDK v6.0 installed, you may get errors compiling multicast.c in the apr project.

I found the solution, and it’s pretty easy. Open up multicast.c and edit the lines:

136: #if MCAST_JOIN_SOURCE_GROUP

148: #if MCAST_JOIN_SOURCE_GROUP

to be, instead:

136: #if defined(group_source_req)

148: #if defined(group_source_req)

 

e voilà! now it compiles.


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

Virtual PC 2007 Tips and Tricks

 

This release of Virtual PC 2007 SP1 provides updates to existing features and introduces support for the following:

  • Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1) Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise operating systems as a host operating system

  • Windows Vista with SP1 Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise as a guest operating system

  • Windows Server 2008 Standard as a guest operating system

  • Windows XP with Service Pack 3 as both a guest and host operating system

  • Read The Virtual PC Guy’s Weblog
  • If you need, say, two virtual machines, one with Windows Vista and one with Windows Vista SP1, install Vista onto a new machine, then copy the machine files and install SP1 on one copy–much faster than installing Vista twice.
  • Need a screen shot of what’s in the virtual machine? Look at the Edit menu and choose “Select All” then “Copy”–a bitmap of the VM window will be on the clipboard. (This is how I got the capture of my BASIC graphics output from a previous post).

Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

Opening Visual Studio solutions from Explorer in Vista

You’ve installed Visual Studio 2005 on Vista and dutifully changed it to run as administrator, like you’re supposed to. And then…

Problem: Visual Studio 2005 solutions no longer open when you double-click them in Windows Vista. In fact, when you double-click nothing happens.

Solution: Change them to open with Visual Studio 2005 directly instead of the vslauncher.exe (which opens up the solution with the correct version of Visual Studio if you have more than one).

Caveat: Only makes sense if  you use only Visual Studio 2005.

How-to:

  1. Right-click on a solution file.
  2. Choose “Open With…”
  3. Choose “Browse…”
  4. Browse to file “C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 8\Common7\IDE\devenv.exe” (or wherever you installed Visual Studio)
  5. Click “Open” button
  6. Check “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file”

openwith

Now your solutions will load Visual Studio, bring up the UAC prompt, and it all works great.

Found via here and here.


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

Software Pick: SyncMyCal

With the acquisition of a Blackberry I wanted to be able to sync both my work and home Outlook setups to the Blackberry (and to each other). I tried a number of free tools (though they aren’t that easy to find) and quickly concluded I would need a better solution.

Enter SyncMyCal. It’s easy, it’s cheap (only $25), and you can try for free. I rarely have duplicated events, and I don’t have to think about it ever–it just WORKS.

How it works: SyncMyCal synchronizes an Outlook calendar with a Google calendar. First I created a Google calendar, then I set up SyncMyCal on both work and home computers. I set the home computer to take priority in conflicts, but at work I set the Google calendar to take priority over Outlook–this way there’s a hierarchy of priority that helps to prevent unresolvable conflicts and duplicates.

I bought it days before Google released their Outlook sync tool, but SyncMyCal can do a lot more and I don’t regret the purchase one bit.

The latest version also syncs contacts, but I haven’t used that yet.


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

4 Principles of Not Wasting Time

There are so many postings out there on all sorts of blogs about how not to waste time that I’m not sure I can contribute something very meaningful (certainly not new), but since it’s something I’ve been thinking about, I might as well spill some ideas about it.

Like this? Please check out my latest book, Writing High-Performance .NET Code.

Definition

Any discussion of time-wasting is profitless unless you define what wasting time is. My definition is:

Wasting time is doing anything that does not contribute to my goals.

That is a very broad definition, but it is very useful. It presupposes a goal-oriented mind set and I don’t want to get too far down that path here. If you’re really interested in a goal-focused system, I highly encourage you to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is a principles-based approach to effectiveness and goal-setting is a huge part of it.

Whatever your personal system, much of the corporate world and building software specifically revolves around goals (aka “milestones”, “targets”).

This definition includes taking breaks and eating lunch, but let’s not be silly–we’re not talking about that and I’m not going to water down the definition nor am I going to spend pages talking pointlessly about exceptions to it. We’re all intelligent people here and can understand the important principles.

Many Small Goals Are Better Than One Large One

Software development processes have been undergoing evolution since the beginning and lately the whole agile process seems to be taking over. Whatever the process, many companies are finding more success in breaking down large projects into tiny goal-driven chunks, sometimes lasting as little as a week.

This same principles can be applied to ourselves at both large and fine-grained levels. It is definitely good and desirable to have the overall vision of our project in mind, but  this doesn’t often help us get the work done. Some of my most productive days are when I break down a huge task into tiny subtasks and set a goal for each one (“I will have this done by 11am today, then I will wrap up this other small one by 4pm.”)

An example: I’m currently writing some code to move a huge amount of data around in our production database. We’re going to be rolling out a major update that requires some fundamental changes to how things operate. This task is so large and daunting that I get a headache just thinking about it and so I could put it off, just spinning my wheels until I decide to face the inevitable. Instead, I’ve broken it into several smaller tasks that are each easily managed and understood.

Before After
  • Convert database to new format
  • Export SQL script of new tables, triggers, indexes, etc. directly from SQL Server
  • Aggregate data from Table1 into NewTableX
  • Move data from Table2 to NewTableY
  • Move data from Table3 to NewTableZ
  • Verify moved data
  • drop old tables
  • drop old columns
  • etc.

(In my example, the After column actually contains about 30 items, depending on how far I want to break it down…it could be more.)

Now, instead of being overwhelmed by the complexity of a large task (and thus doing nothing), I can easily handle each of the sub-steps efficiently. I’ve changed a two-week task into many hour-long tasks.

The psychological effect of  too-hard/too-complex/too-much is devastating. You can’t handle something like that–no one can, and so you won’t–you’ll just end up wasting time fretting about it. Break it up for your sanity and happiness, as well as productivity.

Motivation is Crucial

Often, a key to not wasting time is having sufficient motivation. Motivation can come in all sorts of ways–the key is to figure out what motivates you and then set yourself up to succeed by using that motivation as a carrot to pull you forward. It can be a good idea to share your motivations with managers so they understand what drives you.

Motivation can often begin with picking good goals. If your goals are unrealistic, you are almost guaranteed to fail in some way. Despair feeds on itself and will sink your productivity and cause you to engage in anything but work. Not only will you avoid the drudgery of work, but you won’t take steps to improve yourself or change the situation. This cycle must be broken immediately.

If your projects are just not that interesting this can be a challenge. Everybody has tasks they don’t particularly like, but if the majority of your time is spent doing stuff you get no pleasure out of, you are doing a huge disservice to yourself and your future. Eventually, you’ll become wasted and useless to both yourself and your employer. Fix the situation–get a new project, get a new job, find side projects to do that you do enjoy as rewards for getting through the drudgery–anything to avoid becoming the shell of a person you once were.

Maybe you don’t necessarily need a new job right now–maybe you just need to fix the situation at your current job, get some enjoyable hobbies at home, spend more time with the family. The needed changes aren’t always drastic–but figure them out so you don’t spend every day wallowing in a mire not doing anything useful.

Eliminate Distractions Now

I don’t think I’ve answered my office phone in about a year. Not that many people call it in the first place, e-mail being highly-preferred around here, but I like to say I stand on principle. You can read a lot about creating the right environment for highly-skilled software developers in the fabulous book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.

I’ve also stuck to the practice of keeping my e-mail inbox cleared. I delete almost everything I receive unless I need to store it for later or act on it.

In my entry about working an 8-hour day, I talked about various time-wasting activities that I’ve observed, such as  wandering the halls, micro-managing, too many words, poor inbox management skills, and more.

The goal of eliminating distractions is not to completely choke off any aspect of fun, diversion, and other social aspects of working in an office–those are good things. The goal is eliminate the things that don’t help us in our jobs and that aren’t really all that enjoyable to us anyway, all things considered.

One way of eliminating your distractions is to go out of your way ahead of time to manage them so they don’t come up later. Some ideas:

  • If you need somebody to do a task, anticipate questions, concerns, or problems they may have. Try to address these in an e-mail or in person (or both) quickly so that the person can expect it and won’t come to you later with problems.
  • Shut  the office door, turn off the phone, close e-mail. Don’t let people find a way to distract you.
  • Shut down your feed-reader, disable pop-up notifications from it. Set aside time during the day to review feeds and news.
  • Have a clean desk. Keep only things you’re actively working on visible.
  • Set a schedule or a signal to your peers and supervisors of times when you are busy and should not be bothered. Be assertive and enforce it.
  • Focus on one project at a time. Everybody has a million things to do.

Plan Weekly, Daily, Hourly

Finally, bringing it around full circle back to goals: plan as much as you can to the extent it makes sense. That’s a weasel sentence, I know, but there’s no way around it. In general, though, I think we could all do with more planning.

Effective planning combines all the above principles into a coherent framework for your work week.

Every week, you have certain meetings, tasks to be completed, issues to be researched, people to be spoken to.

Every day, a certain subset of those must be done.

Every hour, you must pick a task to work on.

My plan is to take 10-20 minutes every day to plan the day’s activities, set min-goals, while at the same time strategizing to eliminate distractions. Every Monday morning I take an additional 10-20 minutes to review and set the major goals for the week, ensure meetings are scheduled, projects are given the correct priority, I know my tasks and responsibilities, and that I have enough dead-time left unscheduled because things always come up (we operate quickly-growing 24/7/365 services–there’s no avoiding issues).

Every time you finish a task, there should be another one waiting, whether you decide to tackle it right away or take a break and do something else. As long as you have a plan, it’s ok.

There are tons of other resources out there–I’ll just link to some in the forums of Steve Pavlina.

Now I should stop wasting time and get back to work… 😉


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order:

How to enable Simple Tags support in Windows Live Writer

I’m using Simple Tags to do the tags on this site. I wanted to enable support for these tag links in Windows Live Writer (it beats having to log in and edit each post after publishing).

Quite easy:

  1. Click on Insert Tags
  2. In the Tag Provider combo, scroll to the bottom where it says (Customize Providers…) and select that. It brings up another dialog.
  3. Click Add…
  4. Here’s what I entered for my site:

HTML Template: <a href=”http://www.philosophicalgeek.com/tag/{tag-encoded}” title=”{tag}” rel=”tag”>{tag}</a>

simpletags_livewriter

Now you can select Simple Tags as your tag provider.


Check out my latest book, the essential, in-depth guide to performance for all .NET developers:

Writing High-Performance.NET Code, 2nd Edition by Ben Watson. Available for pre-order: