Scott Hanselman

The 2016 Christmas List of Best STEM Toys for your little nerds and nerdettes

November 19, '16 Comments [13] Posted in Musings
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Last year my 9 year old asked, "are we nerds yet?" Being a nerd doesn't have the negative stigma it once did. A nerd is a fan, and everyone should be enthusiastic about something. You might be a gardening nerd or a woodworking nerd. In this house, we are Maker Nerds. We've been doing some 3D Printing lately, and are trying to expand into all kinds of makings.

NOTE: We're gearing up for another year of March Is For Makers coming soon in March of 2017. Now is a great time for you to catch up on the last two year's amazing content with made in conjunction with http://codenewbie.org!

Here's a Christmas List of things that I've either personally purchased, tried for a time, or borrowed from a friend. These are great toys and products for kids of all genders and people of all ages.

Sphero Star Wars BB-8 App Controlled Robot

Sphero was a toy the kids got for Christmas last year that they are still playing with. Of course, there's the Original Sphero that's just a white ball with zero personality. I remember when it  came out and I was like, "meh, ok." But then Star Wars happened and I tell ya, you add a little head on the thing and give it some personality and it's a whole new toy.

Sphero Star Wars BB-8 App Controlled Robot

The Sphero team continues to update the firmware and software inside BB-8 even now and recently added a new "Sphero Force Band" so you can control Sphero with gestures.

However, the best part is that Sphero supports a new system called "The SPRK Lightning Lab" (available for Android, iOS, or other devices) that lets kids program BB-8 directly! It's basically Scratch for BB-8. You can even use a C-style language called OVAL when you outgrow their Scratchy system.

Meccano Micronoids

81r9vmEHZvL._SL1500_

I grew up in a world of Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets. We were always building something with metal and screws. Well, sets like this still exist with actual screws and metal...they just include more plastic than before. Any of these Meccano sets are super fun for little builders. They are in some ways cooler than LEGO for my kids because of the shear size of them. The Meccano Meccanoid 2.0 is HUGE at almost two feet tall. It's got 6 motors and there's three ways to program it. There's a large variety of Meccano robot and building kids from $20 on up, so they fit most budgets.

Arduino UNO Project Super Starter Kit from Elegoo

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Arduino Kits are a little touch and go. They usually say things like "1000 pieces!"...but they count all the resistors and screws as a single part. Ignore that and try to look at the underlying pieces and the possibilities. Things move quickly and you'll sometimes need to debug Arudino Programs or search for updates but the fundamentals are great for kids 8-13.

I particularly like this Elegoo Arduino UNO Starter Kit as it includes everything you'll need and more to start playing immediately. If you can swing a little more money you can add on touchscreens, speakers, and even a little robot car kit, although the difficulty ratchets up.

Snap Circuits

Snap Circuits

I recommended these before on twitter, and truly, I can't sing about them enough. I love Snap Circuits and have blogged about them before on my blog. We quickly outgrew the 30 parts in the Snap Circuits Jr. Even though it has 100 projects, I recommend you get the Snap Circuits SC-300 that has 60 parts and 300 projects, or do what we did and just get the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 that has 80+ parts and 750 projects. I like this one because it includes a computer interface (via your microphone jack, so any old computer will work!) as well as a Solar Panel.

In 2016 Snap Circuits added a new "3D" kit that lets you build not just on a flat surface but expands building up walls! If you already have a SnapCircuits kit, remember that they all work together so you can pick this one up as well and combine them!

91NYoJujYYL._SL1500_

Secret Messages Kit

It's a fact - little kids LOVE secret messages. My kids are always doing secret notes with lemon juice as invisible ink. This kit brings a ton of "hidden writing systems" together in one inexpensive package. Ciphers, Braille, Code Breaking, and more are all combined into a narrative of secret spy missions.

817VYGOwvkL._SL1200_

What educational toys do YOU recommend this holiday season?

FYI: These Amazon links are referral links. When you use them I get a tiny percentage. It adds up to taco money for me and the kids! I appreciate you - and you appreciate me-  when you use these links to buy stuff.


Sponsor: Help your team write better, shareable SQL faster! Discover how your whole team can write better, shareable SQL faster with a free trial of SQL Prompt. Write, refactor and share SQL effortlessly, try it now.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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WinAppDriver - Test any app with Appium's Selenium-like tests on Windows

November 16, '16 Comments [12] Posted in Open Source | Win10
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WinAppDriver - Appium testing Windows Apps

I've found blog posts on my site where I'm using the Selenium Web Testing Framework as far back as 2007! Today there's Selenium Drivers for every web browser including Microsoft Edge. You can write Selenium tests in nearly any language these days including Ruby, Python, Java, and C#.

I'm a big Selenium fan. I like using it with systems like BrowserStack to automate across many different browser on many operating systems.

"Appium" is a great Selenium-like testing framework that implements the "WebDriver" protocol - formerly JsonWireProtocol.

WebDriver is a remote control interface that enables introspection and control of user agents. It provides a platform- and language-neutral wire protocol as a way for out-of-process programs to remotely instruct the behavior of web browsers.

From the Appium website, "Appium is 'cross-platform': it allows you to write tests against multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Windows), using the same API. This enables code reuse between iOS, Android, and Windows testsuites"

Appium is a webserver that exposes a REST API. The WinAppDriver enables Appium by using new APIs that were added in Windows 10 Anniversary Edition that allow you to test any Windows app. That means ANY Windows App. Win32, VB6, WPF, UWP, anything. Not only can you put any app in the Windows Store, you can do full and complete UI testing of those apps with a tool that is already familiar to Web Developers like myself.

Your preferred language, your preferred test runner, the Appium Server, and your app

You can write tests in C# and run them from Visual Studio's Test Runner. You can press any button and basically totally control your apps.

// Launch the calculator app
DesiredCapabilities appCapabilities = new DesiredCapabilities();
appCapabilities.SetCapability("app", "Microsoft.WindowsCalculator_8wekyb3d8bbwe!App");
CalculatorSession = new RemoteWebDriver(new Uri(WindowsApplicationDriverUrl), appCapabilities);
Assert.IsNotNull(CalculatorSession);
CalculatorSession.Manage().Timeouts().ImplicitlyWait(TimeSpan.FromSeconds(2));
// Make sure we're in standard mode
CalculatorSession.FindElementByXPath("//Button[starts-with(@Name, \"Menu\")]").Click();
OriginalCalculatorMode = CalculatorSession.FindElementByXPath("//List[@AutomationId=\"FlyoutNav\"]//ListItem[@IsSelected=\"True\"]").Text;
CalculatorSession.FindElementByXPath("//ListItem[@Name=\"Standard Calculator\"]").Click();

It's surprisingly easy once you get started.

public void Addition()
{
CalculatorSession.FindElementByName("One").Click();
CalculatorSession.FindElementByName("Plus").Click();
CalculatorSession.FindElementByName("Seven").Click();
CalculatorSession.FindElementByName("Equals").Click();
Assert.AreEqual("Display is 8 ", CalculatorResult.Text);
}

You can automate any part of Windows, even the Start Menu or Cortana.

var searchBox = CortanaSession.FindElementByAccessibilityId("SearchTextBox");
Assert.IsNotNull(searchBox);
searchBox.SendKeys("What is eight times eleven");

var bingPane = CortanaSession.FindElementByName("Bing");
Assert.IsNotNull(bingPane);

var bingResult = bingPane.FindElementByName("88");
Assert.IsNotNull(bingResult);

If you use "AccessibiltyIds" and refer to native controls in a non-locale specific way you can even reuse test code across platforms. For example, you could write sign in code for Windows, iOS, your web app, and even a VB6 Win32 app. ;)

Testing a VB6 app with WinAppDriver

Appium and WebAppDriver a nice alternative to "CodedUI Tests." CodedUI tests are great but just for Windows apps. If you're a web developer or you are writing cross platform or mobile apps you should check it out.


Sponsor: Help your team write better, shareable SQL faster! Discover how your whole team can write better, shareable SQL faster with a free trial of SQL Prompt. Write, refactor and share SQL effortlessly, try it now.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Visual Studio Code just keeps getting better - with extensions

November 15, '16 Comments [37] Posted in
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Visual Studio Code

I've been a fan of Visual Studio Code (the free code editor) since it was released. But even though it continues to update itself as I use it, I didn't really grok how much cool stuff has been going on under the hood.

As of this writing. VSCode is on version 1.7.1. Here's the highlights of this new version:

But the REAL star and the REAL magic in VS Code - IMHO - is the growing VS Code Extension Gallery/Marketplace. Go check it out, but here's just a taste of the cool stuff that plugs nicely into Visual Studio Code.

Great Visual Studio Code Extensions

What are your favorite VS Code extensions?


Sponsor: Big thanks to Telerik! They recently published a comprehensive whitepaper on The State of C#, discussing the history of C#, what’s new in C# 7 and whether C# is still a viable language. Check it out!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Stateless 3.0 - A State Machine library for .NET Core

November 11, '16 Comments [31] Posted in DotNetCore | Open Source
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.NET StandardState Machines and business processes that describe a series of states seem like they'll be easy to code but you'll eventually regret trying to do it yourself. Sure, you'll start with a boolean, then two, then you'll need to manage three states and there will be an invalid state to avoid then you'll just consider quitting all together. ;)

"Stateless" is a simple library for creating state machines in C# code. It's recently been updated to support .NET Core 1.0. They achieved this not by targeting .NET Core but by writing to the .NET Standard. Just like API levels in Android abstract away the many underlying versions of Android, .NET Standard is a set of APIs that all .NET platforms have to implement. Even better, the folks who wrote Stateless 3.0 targeted .NET Standard 1.0, which is the broadest and most compatible standard - it basically works everywhere and is portable across the .NET Framework on Windows, .NET Core on Windows, Mac, and LInux, as well as Windows Store apps and all phones.

Sure, there's Windows Workflow, but it may be overkill for some projects. In Nicholas Blumhardt's words:

...over time, the logic that decided which actions were allowed in each state, and what the state resulting from an action should be, grew into a tangle of if and switch. Inspired by Simple State Machine, I eventually refactored this out into a little state machine class that was configured declaratively: in this state, allow this trigger, transition to this other state, and so-on.

A state machine diagram describing the states a Bug can go throughYou can use state machines for anything. You can certainly describe high-level business state machines, but you can also easily model IoT device state, user interfaces, and more.

Even better, Stateless also serialize your state machine to a standard text-based "DOT Graph" format that can then be generated into an SVG or PNG like this with http://www.webgraphviz.com. It's super nice to be able to visualize state machines at runtime.

Modeling a Simple State Machine with Stateless

Let's look at a few code examples. You start by describing some finite states as an enum, and some finite "triggers" that cause a state to change. Like a switch could have On and Off as states and Toggle as a trigger.

A more useful example is the Bug Tracker included in the Stateless source on GitHub. To start with here are the states of a Bug and the Triggers that cause state to change:

enum State { Open, Assigned, Deferred, Resolved, Closed }
enum Trigger { Assign, Defer, Resolve, Close }

You then have your initial state, define your StateMachine, and if you like, you can pass Parameters when a state is trigger. For example, if a Bug is triggered with Assign you can pass in "Scott" so the bug goes into the Assigned state - assigned to Scott.

State _state = State.Open;
StateMachine<State, Trigger> _machine;
StateMachine<State, Trigger>.TriggerWithParameters<string> _assignTrigger;

string _title;
string _assignee;

Then, in this example, the Bug constructor describes the state machine using a fluent interface that reads rather nicely.

public Bug(string title)
{
_title = title;

_machine = new StateMachine<State, Trigger>(() => _state, s => _state = s);

_assignTrigger = _machine.SetTriggerParameters<string>(Trigger.Assign);

_machine.Configure(State.Open)
.Permit(Trigger.Assign, State.Assigned);

_machine.Configure(State.Assigned)
.SubstateOf(State.Open)
.OnEntryFrom(_assignTrigger, assignee => OnAssigned(assignee))
.PermitReentry(Trigger.Assign)
.Permit(Trigger.Close, State.Closed)
.Permit(Trigger.Defer, State.Deferred)
.OnExit(() => OnDeassigned());

_machine.Configure(State.Deferred)
.OnEntry(() => _assignee = null)
.Permit(Trigger.Assign, State.Assigned);
}

For example, when the State is Open, it can be Assigned. But as this is written (you can change it) you can't close a Bug that is Open but not Assigned. Make sense?

When the Bug is Assigned, you can Close it, Defer it, or Assign it again. That's PermitReentry(). Also, notice that Assigned is a Substate of Open.

You can have events that are fired as states change. Those events can take actions as you like.

void OnAssigned(string assignee)
{
if (_assignee != null && assignee != _assignee)
SendEmailToAssignee("Don't forget to help the new employee.");

_assignee = assignee;
SendEmailToAssignee("You own it.");
}

void OnDeassigned()
{
SendEmailToAssignee("You're off the hook.");
}

void SendEmailToAssignee(string message)
{
Console.WriteLine("{0}, RE {1}: {2}", _assignee, _title, message);
}

With a nice State Machine library like Stateless you can quickly model states that you'd ordinarily do with a "big ol' switch statement."

What have you used for state machines like this in your projects?


Sponsor: Big thanks to Telerik! They recently published a comprehensive whitepaper on The State of C#, discussing the history of C#, what’s new in C# 7 and whether C# is still a viable language. Check it out!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The mystery of dotnet watch and 'Microsoft.NETCore.App', version '1.1.0-preview1-001100-00' was not found

November 3, '16 Comments [24] Posted in DotNetCore
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dotnet watch says "specified framework not found"

WARNING: This post is full of internal technical stuff. I think it's interesting and useful. You may not.

I had an interesting Error/Warning happen when showing some folks .NET Core recently and I thought I'd deconstruct it here for you, Dear Reader, because it's somewhat multi-layered and it'll likely help you. It's not just about Core, but also NuGet, Versioning, Package Management in general, version pinning, "Tools" in .NET Core, as well as how .NET Runtimes work and version. That's a lot! All that from this little warning. Let's see what's up.

First, let's say you have .NET Core installed. You likely got it from http://dot.net and you have either 1.0.0 or the 1.0.1 update.

Then say you have a website, or any app at all. I made one with "dotnet new -t web" in an empty folder.

I added "dotnet watch" as a tool in the project.json like this. NOTE the "1.0.0-*" there.

"tools": {
"Microsoft.DotNet.Watcher.Tools": "1.0.0-*"
}

dotnet watch is nice because it watches the source code underneath it while running your app. If you change your code files, dotnet-watch will notice, and exit out, then launch "dotnet run" (or whatever, even test, etc) and your app will pick up the changes. It's a nice developer convenience.

I tested this out on last weekend and it worked great. I went to show some folks on Monday that same week and got this error when I typed "dotnet watch."

C:\Users\scott\Desktop\foofoo>dotnet watch
The specified framework 'Microsoft.NETCore.App', version '1.1.0-preview1-001100-00' was not found.
- Check application dependencies and target a framework version installed at:
C:\Program Files\dotnet\shared\Microsoft.NETCore.App
- The following versions are installed:
1.0.0
1.0.1
- Alternatively, install the framework version '1.1.0-preview1-001100-00'.

Let's really look at this. It says "the specified framework...1.1.0" was not found. That's weird, I'm not using that one. I check my project.json and I see:

"Microsoft.NETCore.App": {
"version": "1.0.1",
"type": "platform"
},

So who wants 1.1.0? I typed "dotnet watch." Can I "dotnet run?"

C:\Users\scott\Desktop\foofoo>dotnet run
Project foofoo (.NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0) will be compiled because expected outputs are missing
Compiling foofoo for .NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0
Hosting environment: Production
Content root path: C:\Users\scott\Desktop\foofoo
Now listening on: http://localhost:5000
Application started. Press Ctrl+C to shut down.

Hey, my app runs fine. But if I "dotnet watch" I get an error.

Remember that dotnet watch and other "tools" like it are not dependencies per se, but helpful sidecar apps. Tools can watch, squish css and js, precompile views, and do general administrivia that isn't appropriate at runtime.

It seems it's dotnet watch that wants something I don't have.

Now, I could go install the framework 1.1.0 that it's asking for, and the error would disappear, but would I know why? That would mean dotnet watch would use .NET Core 1.1.0 but my app (dotnet run) would use 1.0.1. That's likely fine, but is it intentional? Is it deterministic and what I wanted?

I'll open my generated project.lock.json. That's the calculated tree of what we ended up with after dotnet restore. It's a big calculated file but I can easily search it. I see two things. The internal details aren't interesting but version strings are.

First, I search for "dotnet.watcher" and I see this:

"projectFileToolGroups": {
".NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0": [
"Microsoft.AspNetCore.Razor.Tools >= 1.0.0-preview2-final",
"Microsoft.AspNetCore.Server.IISIntegration.Tools >= 1.0.0-preview2-final",
"Microsoft.DotNet.Watcher.Tools >= 1.0.0-*",
"Microsoft.EntityFrameworkCore.Tools >= 1.0.0-preview2-final",
"Microsoft.Extensions.SecretManager.Tools >= 1.0.0-preview2-final",
"Microsoft.VisualStudio.Web.CodeGeneration.Tools >= 1.0.0-preview2-final"
]

Ah, that's a reminder that I asked for 1.0.0-*. I asked for STAR for dotnet-watch but everything else was very clear. They were specific versions. I said "I don't care about the stuff after 1.0.0 for watch, gimme whatever's good."

It seems that a new version of dotnet-watch and other tools came out between the weekend and my demo.

Search more in project.lock.json and I can see what all it asked for...I can see my dotnet-watch's dependency tree.

"tools": {
".NETCoreApp,Version=v1.0": {
"Microsoft.DotNet.Watcher.Tools/1.0.0-preview3-final": {
"type": "package",
"dependencies": {
"Microsoft.DotNet.Cli.Utils": "1.0.0-preview2-003121",
"Microsoft.Extensions.CommandLineUtils": "1.1.0-preview1-final",
"Microsoft.Extensions.Logging": "1.1.0-preview1-final",
"Microsoft.Extensions.Logging.Console": "1.1.0-preview1-final",
"Microsoft.NETCore.App": "1.1.0-preview1-001100-00"
},

Hey now. I said "1.0.0-*" and I ended up with "1.0.0-preview3-final"

Looks like dotnet-watch is trying to bring in a whole new .NET Core. It wants 1.1.0. This new dotnet-watch is part of the wave of new preview stuff from 1.1.0.

But I want to stay on the released and supported "LTS" (long term support) stuff, not the new fancy builds.

I shouldn't have used 1.0.0-* as it was ambiguous. That might be great for my local versions or when I intend to chase the latest but not in this case.

I updated my version in my project.json to this and did a restore.

"Microsoft.DotNet.Watcher.Tools": "1.0.0-preview2-final",

Now I can reliably run dotnet restore and get what I want, and both dotnet watch and dotnet run use the same underlying runtime.


Sponsor: Big thanks to Telerik! They recently launched their UI toolset for ASP.NET Core so feel free to check it out or learn more about ASP.NET Core development in their recent whitepaper.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.