Most of us are unprepared for catastrophic failure in our application, that is, the kind of failure that is so pernicious that even our precious log files have nothing useful to share. In fact to get adequate data during these moments we usually need the conditions to be replicated exactly and then hope we are adequately prepared to monitor the details we missed.

For the last couple of years I have been asking our clients to prepare hang dumps for me under a variety of circumstances so that I can ensure I have an accurate portrait of a given situation. In years past we would normally do this using ADPlus, however, there are few clients who are willing to install a subset of the the Windows SDK during or after production outages.

More recently then I have been pushing the more straightforward copy paste installation of ProcDump. It is a popular command-line utility that serves as a general purpose dump utility. There is a whole list of ProcDump parameters to become familiar with but I wanted to share the combinations that I find myself using repeatedly when collecting hang or crash dumps under a variety of circumstances.

Immediately take a full hang dump:

C:\Dev\Procdump>procdump -ma w3wp

Take a full hang dump when the application crashes:

C:\Dev\Procdump>procdump -e -ma w3wp

Write three full hang dumps 10 seconds apart:

C:\Dev\Procdump>procdump -ma -s 10 -n 3 w3wp

Take a full hang dump when the w3wp process exceeds 40%:

C:\Dev\Procdump>procdump -c 40 -s 5 -n 3 w3wp

Take a full hang dump when the overall CPU exceeds 70%:

C:\Dev\Procdump>procdump - ma w3wp -p "\Processor(_Total)\% Processor Time" 70

Write a full hang dump when an exception contains the word "IO" e.g. "IOException":

procdump - ma -e 1 -f IO w3wp

All the previous hang/crash dump strategies are concerned with w3wp, the process associated with the application pool in IIS, however, you can update this for any process name or number you like.

August 9, 2018 15:24  Comments [0]
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Much to my disappointment PBS does not have a Xbox One app and they have a lot of British programming that I would miss out on. It feels like an awful oversight, and considering how much emphasis Microsoft has pushed fixing app gaps across their platforms this is especially vexing. Your alternatives are to log in to PBS via the edge browser on Xbox One or Cast to your Xbox from a device you own with the app.

For some reason I thought that the Xbox sat on my network waiting to be projected to from every Windows device on my network. I have found that this is simply not the case.

To cast video or images to the Xbox One from Windows (or any device) you need an app on the Xbox that will allow you to make the connection. If you are a part of the Xbox Insider Program then you probably have access to the Wireless Display (preview) app. For most of us the insider programs represents a bit too much instability and risk if this is the case you should consider using AirServer for Xbox One.

  • Install AirServer
  • Launch the application and click on Play trial
  • On your Windows device go to your Notification Center and click on Connect
  • Your Xbox name should be listed in the available devices click on it and you are connected!


July 24, 2018 2:35  Comments [0]
Tagged in XBox
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I have been tasked with sharing some of things I have learned about .NET applications and how they manage memory and sharing it with the team with intent of ensuring we are better prepared to investigate issues in production and that we are not creating new ones. Concepts like Garbage Collection (GC) exist to shield us from unnecessary complexity unfortunately in doing so it can mask ideas that are important.

For me, working with a high availability custom app server and IIS, healthy memory management is incredibly important, so delving below even good and robust abstractions is critical. I have spent the last few weeks looking for the right combination of videos, articles and topics to kick of this learning exercise. The first one is Everything you need to know about .NET memory by Ben Emmett.

I am encouraging my colleagues to start here, and after watching this video to consider and describe the following concepts:

General information about memory (below the .NET GC abstraction)

Each process has its own and separated virtual address space (we never manipulate physical memory directly), all processes on the machine share the same physical memory (plus the page file). The amount each process can access depends on the whether you are using a 32 or 64 bit machine. 4 GB (2GB user mode) for 32-bit Windows, 16 terabytes (8 terabytes user mode) for 64-bit Windows.

If you are writing managed code the GC is the one who allocates/frees virtual memory on your behalf. Even though this is handled for you, for the sake of speed, virtual address space can and will get fragmented, so it is possible and likely that you get free blocks between used address spaces, otherwise known as fragmentation.

Virtual memory can also be in different states:- free, reserved and committed.

  • Free is … well free.
  • Reserved is saying “I want to make this region of memory available for use later”. After reserving the space that block may not be used for other requests.
  • You still cannot use reserved memory until it is committed. Committed memory has been paired up to the available physical memory so you can actually put data in it.

You can get out of memory if you are running out space to reserve, or space to commit. In the age of 64bit processors out of memory is most likely to mean unable to commit (out of physical memory rather virtual memory).

July 14, 2018 0:30  Comments [0]
Tagged in .NET | Garbage Collection
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train tracks in columbus

Programming for long periods is like walking a high tight rope for a really, really long period of time, or at least I imagine it is. As you go further and further out on the rope any break in concentration or just simply stopping becomes more and more difficult. I have described this in the past as tumbling down the rabbit hole but even that does not quite capture the sheer force of will it takes to successfully take an idea from concept to useful working application.

Programmers, I am sure, are not special in this regard there are I assume many occupations that require hours of long, intense concentration. This is especially true when the fundamental concepts are so amorphous that you are forced to construct a kind of memory palace (method of loci) in order to successfully navigate ideas, consider redesigns or fix complex problems.

For the developer this complexity can extend through several abstraction layers (OS, network, or memory), across multiple devices and then simultaneously within multiple threads. All these theoretical considerations can get quite overwhelming which is why so many developers insist on silence, headphones or music of a particular tempo and type. Personally I cannot listen to technical podcasts while I develop software, it's like I have single threaded access to the technical portion of my brain.

Unwinding after programming

My advice to anyone who is forced to do perform this kind of mental gymnastics over long periods of time is to engage in countervailing exercises that allow you to almost wholly inhabit the moment. For many people I work with going for a walk away from your workspace is the simplest and most accessible way to clear your mind of programming fog.

Here are a few other suggestions:-

  • Playing video games
  • Cooking
  • Watching TV
  • Listening to music
  • Talking to non-technical friends
  • Closing my eyes and slow your breathing
  • Exercise

The common theme for any anti-programming exercise is to simply be present. Actions that force you to consider things in parallel tend to play on the same exhausted brain cells, I find that some video games do this regardless of my best intentions.

For me personally playing a musical instrument does more to settle my restlessness than any of the previous suggestions. Especially when I am playing a piece of music I enjoy and know well enough to play without additional practice, and more importantly, without doubt or fear of failure, remember the whole point is to unwind. When I play music in this context it is usually error prone and experimental and leaves glaring mistakes hanging in the air for all to hear, and you know what that it is fine, because the whole point is to enjoy the music and the moment in real time.

I know that a lot of people do not have musical inclination but I would encourage you to pick up an instrument and pluck around. Getting good might require time but having fun can happen immediately. Just think of someone playing air guitar the enthusiasm and the joy is exactly the point!

So this is me, what do you do to relax after marathon programming sessions?

July 11, 2018 0:20  Comments [6]
Tagged in Musings | Programming
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I have suggested to all my software engineering colleagues that a lack of git command line experience does not have to be a deterrent to diving into open source. Developers who are familiar with Visual Studio can quickly get up to speed with branching, merging and pull requests. My blog has been built around learning so I acknowledge up front that this gap is me being purposefully obtuse.

So you have no command line experience and someone has sent you a pull request at GitHub, here is what you do.

On GitHub click on your list of Pull request (PR) and click on the PR you want to review, you should have the opportunity to click on the “ this GitHub Desktop…”.

open this in GitHub Desktop

Edge, in this instance, will attempt to open GitHub for Desktop.

Did you mean to switch apps?

Click Yes and you will open up the cross platform Electron based Desktop app, it is a wonderful UX.

github desktop app opened at the pull request

If you open up the Visual Studio project associated with this repo it will have also switched to the PR automagically! Now you have the opportunity to test and review all the changes outside of the GitHub site within the more familiar settings of Visual Studio.

GitHub Visual Studio Extension

To take this to the next level I strongly recommend the use of GitHub for Visual Studio Extension which further allows you to view, check out, and review pull requests right within Visual Studio. Once installed this extension creates a new tab next to your solution explorer with a list of pull requests.

Reviewing pull request in Visual Studio

By clicking on the pull request you get full access to a list of the changed files and you even get to do diff on the changes right there!

Review pull request with a file diff

Just like at the GitHub site you can also put inline comments on each file and of course you can Add your review while Approving or Requesting changes. Frankly this extension allows you to completely manage your entire Github life cycle without the command line.

July 6, 2018 1:43  Comments [1]
Tagged in Git | Visual Studio
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Politics and technology share some of the same flaws in that they both rely on everyone involved being fundamentally decent. Technology unlike politics should be immediately prepared for the moment when the actions and habits of bad actors metastasizes through the system in an irreversible and permanent way.

June 28, 2018 18:11  Comments [0]
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We have been fortunate enough to get some great contributions to DasBlog, one of the most important contributions was the integration of authentication and authorization, it was a lot of work and one that I would have struggled to complete alone. It has made everything about this project easier from securing Controllers to deciding which parts of a View to display.

However, there is one reoccurring pattern that has emerged that seems to be the result of constantly checking whether I am authorized or not. It goes something like this, you want to show say a login link when you are not logged in, and logout link when you are actually logged in, here is an example:

June 19, 2018 0:34  Comments [0]
Tagged in ASP.NET Core
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In the wake of Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub the idea of using someone's public profile as a hiring filter appears to once again be making waves. It seems to be shocking to people who have used it this way, because apparently they have never considered that there are groups of people who have been excluded from basic evaluation just because they had no public programming profile.

So let me state the following for the historic record:

  1. Being able to find time and energy to program in public for non-work reasons is a privilege that relatively few people can afford to enjoy.
  2. Your GitHub contribution graph tells me very little about you.
  3. Looking at random piece of code someone has written on the web devoid of context is only marginally better than nothing at all.
  4. I could name a dozen developers who are much more adept than me who do not have a public profile.

Let me make this personal for a moment, my LinkedIn profile contains sufficient signals that I pass most tech recruiter filters today. However, I have only very recently found both the time and energy to work on an open source projects, prior to the last 18 months my GitHub profile would have been a negative filter thereby limiting my options.

I have no problem with the idea of a candidate proudly sharing actual code during an interview, or even doing so in lieu of a basic code evaluation. I do have a problem with managers and developers asking or implying that recruiters use it as a primary filter for initial candidate evaluation. In doing so it becomes easy to create monolithic groups and create a perception of a lack of diversity in pipelines.

June 9, 2018 2:41  Comments [1]
Tagged in Open Source
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