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Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

v.Next Enterprise (You & Kroger)

krogerI ran across this article from Forbes on LinkedIn.  It’s an interesting bit about how Kroger is reacting to the threat that Amazon/Whole Foods suddenly represents in its market segment.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/andyswan/2018/08/14/kroger-fighting-back-amazon-whole-foods/#543edd285ce6

The Amazon/Whole Foods merger represents a heavily modernized re-make of a traditional business, and it is expected to put grave pressure on the rest of the grocery segment.

If your market segment isn’t feeling this kind of pressure already, you likely will be soon.

Your business has only a couple of choices when it comes to modernization.

  1. React to the pressure that your market segment is under already.
  2. Begin preemptively, and be the pressure the rest of your market segment feels going forward.

I remember the days of building “nextgen” software.  That model has scoped up a few times, to vNext services, to next gen infrastructure / cloud, to vNext IT division.

Either way, it’s time to start developing your company’s “nextgen enterprise” strategy.

 

 

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Welcome to the new home of The Granite State Hacker Blog

Welcome!  As many folks know, I love helping community members develop their coding careers.

Years ago, I started co-organizing events to reach out to community for the purpose.  Eventually, we had a situation where we needed to support banking to managed money for these events.  I was already running two users groups, and helping organize several “Saturday” events a year.

Rather than create a “SharePoint Saturday New Hampshire LLC”, it made sense to economize on scale, and create an entity to support the users groups and events that I’m already an organizer for…  and so “Granite State Users Groups, LLC” was born.

More recently, I’ve taken on roles beyond treasurer for things like Granite State Code Camp 2018, and so it occurred to me that if we’re going to pay for a website, we might as well economize on scale again…. and so granitestateusersgroups.org now exists.

And while I’m at it, why not make it a blog site for community members that want to blog…. and I’ll conflate it with my own “The Granite State Hacker” blog to start.

So here we are.  Welcome!

I’ll continue to post about coding in the Microsoft tools stack, here. I’ll also continue to post about coding-community related events and goings on in the “Greater 603” area (which may also cover events I’m attending or presenting at…  and by that definition, “Greater 603” as a region may cover all of North America at some point or another.)

Here’s the direct link:
https://granitestateusersgroups.org/category/the-granite-state-hacker/

Enjoy!

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Intro to Uno Platform

Uno’s free.  Uno is open-source.  Uno could seriously be the next significant disruption in mobile development.

Apologies that I neglected to hit on the conference call for the introductions.  We did get the bulk of the presentation recorded.

On the call:  Jerome Laban, Architect, and Francois Tanguay, CEO of nventive of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Participants of the Windows Platform App Devs (including myself) were in the audience, asking questions.

To make up for the intro missed in the call, let me begin with the elephant in the room…

What’s “wrong” with Xamarin?

The relatively well known Microsoft tool set called Xamarin enables developers to write a dialect of C# and Xaml to target a variety of platforms including Windows, Windows Mobile, iOS, Android, MacOS and others.

For that reason, Xamarin’s currently a top choice for mobile developers around the world. Xamarin enables developers to target billions of devices.

The problem Xamarin presents is that Xamarin has become its own distinct dialect of .NET-based development.  Xamarin has its own distinct presentation layer called Xamarin Forms. Xamarin Forms as an employee skill set is not the same as a classic Windows developer set.  It’s not exactly the same as a Windows 10 developer skill set.  It’s a different platform, and requires developers that understand it.

Uno Platform reduces the skillset burden in this problem by converging the main skill set on Windows 10 development. Developers with an appreciation for the future of Windows development will definitely appreciate Uno Platform.

Windows Universal Platform (UWP) targets ALL flavors of Windows 10, including some unexpected ones, like Xbox One, and IoT devices running Windows 10 IoT Core.

Uno bridges UWP to iOS, Android, Web Assembly (Wasm), on top of Windows 10. This targets a huge and rapidly growing range of devices… (currently approaching around 3 BILLION… and that might be a low estimate.)

I’d embed the video, but Blogger’s giving me a hard time with the iframe-based embed code… please click this

Link to the video:

Intro to Uno Platform Skype conference recording.

The meetup:
Granite State Windows Platform App Devs
https://www.meetup.com/Granite-State-NH-WPDev/events/251284215/

Uno Platform’s site:
http://platform.uno

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

QnAMaker Went Live – Bot in a Day

There were lots of exciting things to come out of Build 2018 in early May this year.

Among the many detail level items was qnamaker.ai came out of beta.

As many folks know, I’ve been hosting Bot in a Day Workshops at various Microsoft Technology Centers (MTCs) in the northeast.

With qnamaker.ai going live, came some changes, including a migration from the beta portal to the Azure Portal.

The general instructions for migrating your QnAMaker knowledgebases can be found here:
https://aka.ms/qnamaker-docs-migrate

Unfortunately, you’ll quickly discover that with that change, there’s a breaking change in code that requires _more_ than just upgrading nuget packages.  (You must update all your nuget packages… in fact, be careful, because some of the new dependencies are out of date… so keep updating until everything is flush)

In the live era of QnAMaker, you must also contact the correct host.

After you’ve re-published your migrated knowledgebase in the live environment, you’ll see the familiar deployment details.  Among them will be one new detail, that host name:

This changes what you have to pass in to the constructor for the QnAMakerService in your code.

The way the Bot in a Day Workshop lab sets up configuration is via web.config.  In your bot project, you’ll need to add a new configuration key to the configuration/appSettings section of the file.

Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to provide the parameter to the constructor of the  QnAMakerService…  see the example below.

https://gist.github.com/GraniteStateHacker/a8d86f28a9bbc86c3c249c173e499643.js

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Global Azure Bootcamp 2018 – Manchester, NH, United States

THANK YOU!

Global Azure Bootcamp 2018, held at over 280 locations around the world on Saturday, April 21st, 2018 is in the books.

These are exciting times.  When Microsoft airs commercials that point out that “there is more computing power at your fingertips than in past generations”, I think that’s a severe understatement.  There’s more computing power at your fingertips today than there has ever been, over the cumulative course of human history.

Further, Microsoft has never been more clear about their commitment to Azure, to the point of burying Windows within their own organization.  It’s not that Windows is gone, it’s that Windows is merely a client to Azure, and their new organization structure reflects this.

I was mostly focused on the Granite State event location, and had my hands full with that… though I did assist the Burlington / Boston event as well, especially getting local sponsorship in the form of custom t-shirts from Insight/BlueMetal.

Thanks so much to all the folks who contributed to make it happen… Peter Lamonica of Manchester Community College for making the facilities available to us…   Carl Barton, Xamarin MVP, Roman Jaquez, Patty Tompkins, Marie Patrick in the Granite State (New Hampshire) community for presenting, and Patrick El-Azem, Dave Stampfli, Bret Swedeen, and Gino Filicetti from Microsoft itself, for presenting, and taking the content up a notch.  All helped organize the event.

The event really was perfect for the Granite State Users Groups, LLC, an organization I created several years ago specifically to enable users groups to plan events and manage their own resources in the process.

We shared a lot of learning!

Topics included

  • Azure 101
  • Azure Functions
  • Lift & Shift
  • App Services
  • Azure Resource Management
  • Azure Networking
  • Bot Framework
  • Cognitive Services
  • Azure DevTest Labs
  • SQL on Azure
  • Azure IoT Hub
All of the support from Global Azure Bootcamp central made some of the harder parts easy… in particular setting up lunch, and providing sponsorship for things like $300 Azure passes and the like.
In retrospect, we had a few minor misses:
  • We didn’t print up schedules for everyone, which was a mistake.  We had enough to effectively share, but should have just printed out a copy for everyone.
  • We had coffee, but it didn’t arrive till near end of day.
  • We didn’t take enough photos. 🙂

Azure Passes!

Manchester Community College floor plan

Jetbrains stickers

The “Go-kit” turned into a stack of boxes.

Custom event tshirts from BlueMetal/Insight

Our schedule, with some marked up for specific rooms

Locked & loaded early, ready to roll.

Schedule on display

Our 3rd classroom was a bit remote from the rest of the event.

Carl Barton presenting Azure Functions in session 1.

Panorama of Carl’s session

The school MPR in panorama, rolling with Patrick El-Azeem’s Azure 101, just one of several sessions rolling at the time.
Patrick El-Azeem presenting Azure 101
Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Locking Resources in C# for Read/Write Concurrency

In a previous project, I became a big fan of System.Threading.ReaderWriterLockSlim.  It was an excellent way to guard a resource against concurrency in a relatively flexible manner.  

C# has a lock(object) {} syntax for simple concurrency locks, but what if you have a resource that can sometimes be used concurrently, and other times, exclusively?

Enter System.Threading.ReaderWriterLockSlim.  This has a few handy methods on it for guarding code on a non-exclusive (Read) and exclusive (Write) mode, with an upgradeable lock, as well, so you don’t have to release a read lock in order to upgrade it.

This source works just as well in .NET as UWP.

I commented the code enough to try to make it so that someone familiar with ReaderWriterLockSlim and using(IDisposable){} would understand the rest, so without further ado…

https://gist.github.com/GraniteStateHacker/e608eecce2cb3dba0dbf4363b00e941f.js

Tech in the 603, The Granite State Hacker

Unloading the UI Thread in C# on Windows 10 + UWP

First I want to thank Matthew Groves for hosting the 1st known C# Advent (English).  I was honored to be able to grab the spot for Friday, December 22, 2017, which, happily, is the start of my Christmas holiday week, as well.

The crux of this post is that most visible performance issues in a Windows application come from the presentation layer.  Specifically, anything that puts load or wait states on the main “UI Thread” will make the app/application appear to hang or become unresponsive for periods of time. This post talks about strategies for getting load off the UI as much as possible, beyond the async/await mechanism in C#.  Most such load can be unloaded to a worker thread fairly easily.  Other tasks can be awaited together. In some cases, a UI component is involved, and it becomes necessary to manage load that, for that reason, reason MUST stay on the UI thread.

I remember when I was a kid hearing of projects for stock traders that handled hundreds of data update events every second and being totally intimidated by the thought of it.  I knew I’d “come of age” in technology when, in 2017, I worked with a focused team (known as “Blockheads”) to build such an app.  This latest generation “stock blotter” ran stable, without memory leakage, and with no apparent lag at tens of Gigabytes per second! These general ideas stem back to the project I worked on in 2016-2017 with BlueMetal for Fidelity Investments’ Equity Trading team, called Artis OMT.  Artis OMT has been on Fidelity’s Equity Trading floor for over a year now, and will soon reach a year of full deployment.  While Artis OMT was WPF, this post looks at similar performance ideas in a similar but different platform:  Windows 10 UWP (store apps).

Artis OMT didn’t start out able to handle 90Gigabytes of incoming data.  We had to use JetBrains tools to identify code that was bogging down or hanging the main UI thread.   That analysis, alone, is perhaps the subject of a different post, or more, some day.

When folks start thinking about UI Thread execution, the first thing most think of is Dispatcher.BeginInvoke().  This method is how you add workload to the UI thread.  I’m trying to talk about how to UNLOAD the UI thread, and/or manage your load so that the user won’t observe UI freezes or lockups.

Here, however, are a few relatively easy ways to really make use of the extra cores in your CPU, and make your apps appear to perform much better:


Task.Run(() => { … });

Classic depiction of processes running in sequence vs in parallel


The title of this says it all, really.  Push a workload off the current thread.  Use whenever you have long running processes that you don’t have to touch UI controls from.   If you have timing dependencies, you can manage them with Task.When, Task,Wait, or even better, Task.ContinueWith().  Examples below cover this a little more.



Batch remote service calls using Tasks and WhenAll()

Service calls are low hanging fruit.  So often I see code that makes calls in series, waiting on the results of one before making the next call, even though the two calls have no dependencies on each other…  it’s just so much easier to write the sequence case that folks let it hang.   await Task.WhenAll(…) is not as syntactically sweet, but still MUCH sweeter than having to set up an aggregate event.

///

/// Does one request at a time, holding up the entire process
/// at each step until it completes. Simpler code but….
/// Total time spent is the sum of all tasks’ time.
///
public async void GetContentinSequence(Session session)
{
    var dbContent = awaitGetDatabaseContent(session);
    var webContent = await GetWebContent(session);
    var userProfile = await GetUserProfile(session);
    var userContext = await GetUserContext(session);
}


///

/// Executes all requests simultaneously, letting the default task dispatcher do its thing.
/// total time spent is no more than the longest running individual task, all other things being equal.
///
public async void GetContentinParallel(Session session)
{
    var contextTask = GetDatabaseContent(session);
    var webContentTask = GetWebContent(session);
    var userProfileTask = GetUserProfile(session);
    var userContextTask = GetUserProfile(session);
    var stuff = new Task[] { contextTask, webContentTask, userProfileTask, userContextTask };
    await Task.WhenAll(stuff);
    var dbContent = contextTask.Result;
    var webContent = webContentTask.Result;
    var userProfile = userProfileTask.Result;
    var userContext = userContextTask.Result;
}

Here’s an example that makes this more clear:

var start = DateTimeOffset.Now;

var task1 = Task.Run(async () => { awaitTask.Delay(1000); });
var task2 = Task.Run(async () => { awaitTask.Delay(1500); }); //1.5 seconds
var task3 = Task.Run(async () => { await Task.Delay(1000); });
var task4 = Task.Run(async () => { awaitTask.Delay(1000); });
var tasks = new Task[] { task1, task2, task3, task4 };
Task.WhenAll(tasks).ContinueWith(t => { Debug.WriteLine(DateTimeOffset.Now – start); });



outputs something like:
00:00:01.5623681

As always, there’s some overhead with task switching.  You’ll notice that the time was just a few ticks longer than 1.5 seconds.

What if you can’t unload the UI thread?  what if your long running process must interact with controls like a huge grid that needs to calculate an aggregation of a data set that lives in it?   
Here’s an option…


DoEvents() erhhh… ummm…  await Task.Delay(…)

I once scrubbed references to Visual Basic from my CV and landed a job that had scrubbed VB from the job description.  I didn’t want to work for a company that would hire a “VB-Weenie” and they didn’t want to hire a “VB-Weenie”, either… but there was VB6 work to do. 

One thing that VB6 had going for it was a concept called DoEvents().   It enabled you to give up processing the current method to allow any pending events to execute. It would then return to finish the calling method.

In C#, the closest equivalent, nowadays, is “await Task.Yield()” or await.Task.Delay(…).

Most folks talk about using “await Task.Yield()” at the start of an awaitable method to make sure the whole method runs asynchronously.  There’s some sense to that.   More importantly, one can interrupt long running processes that must run on the UI in order to allow the UI to respond to user inputs.  In testing, I’ve seen that Task.Yield() often doesn’t allow enough room for redraws of the UI.  Likewise, setting a Task.Delay of a 1 tick timespan isn’t enough, either.  1 millisecond delay, however, does seem to suffice in my basic testing.

private async void LongRunningAggregatorOnUIThread(object sender, object e)

{

    await Task.Yield();
    timer.Stop();
    var timeoutRate = TimeSpan.FromMilliseconds(100);

    
    var timeout = DateTimeOffset.Now.Add(timeoutRate);
    var value = 0L;
    while (true)
    {
        value++;
        if (DateTimeOffset.Now >= timeout)
        {
            textbox.Text = value.ToString();
            await Task.Delay(1);
            timeout = DateTimeOffset.Now.Add(timeoutRate);
        }
    };
}



As always, use this very carefully.  This has overhead of its own, as well, that can cause performance issues…. including potential deadlocks.