Blogging on programming and life in general.

Pen + Paper = Productivity

Posted in: Productivity

I was fuelled into writing my own views upon reading a very interesting post by Scott Hansalman, where he argues that we would all be more productive and stress free if we were to assimalate all our thoughts and ideas to paper rather than to an electronic device. I was intrigued by Scott's argument and he brings up many valid points that I agree with.

I for one have been addicted to taking notes on electronic devices from the very first day I used Evernote on my old HTC Hero. There has been no other note taking application that has organised my thoughts in such a way. In fact, majority of the blog posts I write start out in Evernote for wherever I have a spark of imagination. You can read how profoundly Evernote has affected my life in a post I wrote last year.

Note Taking

Now, as great as Evernote is, it suffers from one problem (same for any other note taking app for that matter): They stifle the flow of free thinking. Scott Hansalman sums this up quite well:

The problem is, at least for me, is that there isn't a great way to see the big picture when you've just got pixels to look at. Life is much higher resolution than I think folks realize. I'm frankly surprised that so many of you can feel organized and productive on those 11" laptops. What a tiny window into your life!

Scott hits the nail on the head. I too feel the same way. Paper has no fixed structure that you are forced to conform to, which makes processing your own thoughts very easy. Unfortunately, software for note taking has not advanced nearly as fast. It's still all too linear and fixed.

What is the happy medium? Can software applications and conventional note taking work hand in hand? I believe it can. Notes I either jot down from client meetings or from just simply brainstorming will always be scanned, tagged and organised to Evernote. This allows me to store my hand-written notes away safely and easily refer back to them through a simple keyword search.

I do like to write (even if my writing is not exactly legible). Whether I'd be making notes or the odd doodle, either way writing is a very cathartic experience. I'll always get more of a kick crossing out completed tasks from a hand-written todo list then I ever would from simply ticking a checkbox within an application.

Pen is not only mightier than the sword, but also mightier than any form of technological device.

Upgrading to Kentico 8.x? Some Important Steps To Not Overlook

Posted in: Kentico

There are many things that impress me about Kentico, especially when I compare my experiences to other CMS providers from previous walks of life. But the one thing that impresses me above all is how easy the guys at Kentico make upgrading to newer versions of their CMS platform. So I wasn't daunted when I had the job to upgrade a site from Kentico 5.5 all the way up to 8.2.

Everything went smoothly. I was in the last leg of the upgrade process where the site had been upgraded to version 7 and was about to make the transition to 8. At this point, I started encoutering issues...

Upgrading from version 7 to 8 alone is a very big jump and you will find that getting your site fully functional will require more effort than all the previous upgrades combined - depending on the size and complexity of your Kentico instance. Take a look at the "Upgrade Overview" section in the Kentico upgrade documentation for a list of important changes.

I decided to list some quite important steps based upon information I have collated from issues others have experienced as well as key points covered within the Kentico Upgrade documentation. Following the points listed below resolved my upgrade issues, so it will more than likely help you too.

1) Clear Browser Cache

After each upgrade, remember to always clear your browser of all temporary files stored in cache and old cookies prior to logging into the Administration Area. Otherwise you will more than likely see a mish-mash of old/new graphical elements, as well as an Internal Server Error popup.

Kentico 8 Upgrade - Internal Server Error

2) Run The Site After Each Upgrade

This is something I've had a tendency to forget. It is imperative that you run the site after each upgrade before moving onto the next, since Kentico requires code to be executed as well as database tasks.

3) Update Macro Signatures

This is an easy one. You'll probably see a bunch of Macro security errors in Kentico's Event Log post upgrade like these:

Kentico 8 Upgrade - Macro Resolver Error

Luckily, this is easily resolved by simply updating the macro signatures in the System > Macros > Signatures area of within the CMS Administration.

Kentico 8 Upgrade - Sign Macros

The system then resigns all macros. The new security signatures of all macros contain the username of your administrator account.

4) Re-save All Page Types

This is a strange one. For some odd reason, I experienced the same Internal Server Error popup message when logged into the CMS as described in point 1. In addition, I found when attempting to navigate directly to the website, I would get an Object not set to an instance of an object .NET error whenever a "DocumentContext.CurrentDocument" call was made.

So I decided to randomly try something Kentico master Juraj suggested from one of his forum responses, which was to add and then remove a field from a document type. Instead, I just went to the Field section of each Page Type and clicked the "Save" button.

I have no idea what difference this makes within the Kentico setup but this seems to do the trick.

5) Custom Modules Created In Version 7

If you have developed any custom modules, ensure you have marked them as "custom" before upgrading to version 8. I had numerous upgrade failures when Kentico Installation Manager was trying to upgrade the database. The error occurred in the CMS_UIElement table due to duplicated Element Resource ID's.

You can mark your custom module as "custom" in version 7 by going to: Site Manager > Development > Modules > Your Custom Module > User Interface.

Kentico 7 - Setting Element Is Custom

6) Check Data & DB Versions

After you have run an upgrade for each major version (6.0, 7.0, 8.0, 8.2), make sure you run the following SQL query against your Kentico database:

    KeyName, KeyValue
    KeyName IN ('CMSDBVersion', 'CMSDataVersion')

If both values for "CMSDBVersion" and "CMSDataVersion" are the same, you know the upgrade has successfully completed and you're on the right track. When I made my first attempt to upgrade a site from 7 to 8, I found the Data Version was 7.0 and the DB Version was 8.2. Not good.

Useful Links

Google Seems To Have An Issue With My Server Response Time...

Posted in: General Development

...and I think I know why...

Out of all the issues Google PageSpeed Insights seems to have when analysing my site, there are two specific things crop up that annoy me:

  1. ‚ÄčReduce server response time
  2. ‚ÄčLeverage browser caching (due to Google Analytics JavaScript file)

The Google Analytics issue is something I will have to live with since (as far as I'm aware) there's nothing I can do. It would be nice if Google wouldn't penalise you for using a product they have developed. However, the "Reduce server response time" was something that perplexed me. My site is relatively simple and not doing anything over-the-top.

Due to the nature of my hosting setup (shared), I didn't have all the capabilities to make my website respond any better. The only way I could think of improving server response time was to move my hosting to another region and purchasing a VPS to get more control.

Now, I think I have resolved the server response time issue...It has something to do with a Web Statistics service called AWStats that was enabled by default as an "addon" service on my hosting. Once disabled through my Plesk Management Portal, Google PageSpeed didn't seem to have any issue with my server response.

I cannot 100% confirm if by disabling the Web Statistics service is a permanent solution and will work for everyone else. But there might be some truth behind this. Web Statistic services like AWStats store all analytical data in log files directly on the server, so this must have some affect on the time a request is made. I could be talking complete nonesense.

If you have experienced the same problem as me, check your own hosting setup and it's "addon" services. You never know, it may give you that extra Google PageSpeed point. :-)

My Paypal REST API .NET Starter Kit

Posted in: ASP.NET

I've just completed working on a site that required PayPal integration to carry out credit card payments, using PayPal's REST API interface. I did find some aspects of the implementing PayPal's REST API a little confusing and there seemed to be a blurred line on what is the best approach. This is probably due to the vast number of .NET examples provided in PayPal's own Github repository.

I decided to create my own PayPal REST API .NET Starter kit, by combining my own efforts together with PayPal documentation and code examples from other developers online. Feel free to fork it from my Bitbucket repository:

The PayPal REST API .NET Starter kit contains everything you need to make a start in making your first card payment. It encompasses a very basic form to enter test transactions, as well as the following Nuget package references:

  • log4net
  • Newtonsoft.Json
  • PayPalCoreSDK
  • RestApiSDK

All you'll need to do is create is a PayPal Client ID and Secret, build the solution and away you go. Every time you make a transaction, a "PaypalPayment" object is returned, containing useful information to be used at application level if the payment was a success and if not, the full error information.

A successful transaction will generate the following invoice to the user's PayPal account:

PayPal Invoice Sample

I am using my PayPal Starter kit as a foundation to build upon if I ever get the opportunity to develop more features, such as refunds.

Feel free to modify my code and (even better!) add more features.

Web.Config/App.Config Maintainability

Posted in: ASP.NET, C#

Web Configuration Snippet When working on large projects whether it be websites or software applications, I like to try and make sure that settings from within my app/web configuration files are not only easily accessible within code, but also maintainable for future updates.

Over the years, I have tried different approaches in an attempt to streamline how I use ASP.NET's configuration files within my day-to-day development and this is what I currently do.

Group and Alphabetise

I have started to sort all my settings alphabetically and group common functions/settings together. This alone makes navigating through a large configuration file much more easier.

In addition, having a standard in-house development style and agreeing with your fellow developers how sections within the configuration file is expected to be structured can be useful. For example, on web projects I've worked on, all key sections are  sorted in the following order:

  1. configSections
  2. appSettings
  3. connectionStrings
  4. system.web
  5. customErrors
  6. system.webServer
  7. locations

Common Naming Conventions

I like to name my appsettings in the following format: "<Setting-Group>.<Name>". So if I were to add appsettings that related to Twitter, it would look something as the following:

<add key="Twitter.ApiUrl" value="" />
<add key="Twitter.ApiKey" value="" />
<add key="Twitter.ApiSecret" value="" />
<add key="Twitter.AccessToken" value="" />
<add key="Twitter.AccessTokenSecret" value="" />
<add key="Twitter.Username" value="shomra" />

This provides a simple and descriptive approach to breaking down all settings into manageable chunks.

Strongly-Type AppSettings

One thing that truly annoyed me when I first started .NET development is calling configuration values from within C# code. Not only did you have to write out (the very long-winded!) "ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.Username"]", but also cast the value to a specific type.

Using the "ConfigurationManager.AppSettings[]" call is awful. It creates the potential for typo's that aren't caught by the compiler and there's no nice intellisense to make our coding easier.

I create a static configuration wrapper class to strongly-type all my config settings. The way I name my settings (as you can see from the "Common Naming Conventions" section) compliments the structure of my wrapper class.

public class Config
    public static class Social
        #region Twitter

        public static class Twitter
            public static string TwitterApiUrl
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.ApiUrl"];

            public static string TwitterUsername
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.Username"];

            public static string TwitterApiKey
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.ApiKey"];

            public static string TwitterApiSecret
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.ApiSecret"];

            public static string TwitterAccessToken
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.AccessToken"];

            public static string TwitterAccessTokenSecret
                    return ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["Twitter.AccessTokenSecret"];


Admittingly, this can be quite time-consuming but when compared to the long-term benefits this has saved me a lot of headache.

What Else Could Be Done?

I've seen some developers use Applications Settings Architecture within the .NET framework when building Windows applications by creating a "Settings" file within the project.

The only downside I can see with this approach is that all config values declared within the "Settings" file will be compiled at runtime and you lose the flexibility to change configuration values externally. Here's a nice StackOverflow post that describes this method in greater detail.

If any of you readers have further suggestions or advice, I am all ears! :-)

The Future...

As Nick Dyer quite rightly pointed out to me yesterday on Google+, that our beloved web.config file will no longer form part of the applications we create in ASP.NET 5. We will have the freedom to create an applications configuration the way we want, simplifying the whole process.

As I understand, there will be support for creating configuration inputs that can be placed inside JSON, XML and INI files using the new IConfiguration and ConfigurationModel sources.

Sounds very promising.

Error - Platform type SqlAzureDatabaseSchemaProvider does not support schema file version '2.5'

Posted in: Databases & SQL

Whilst trying to import a .bacpac database exported from an SQL Azure platform onto Microsoft SQL Server 2012, I received the following error:

Internal Error. The internal target platform type SqlAzureDatabaseSchemaProvider does not support schema file version '2.5'. (File: C:\Users\Surinder\Downloads\SurinderAzureDB.bacpac) (Microsoft.Data.Tools.Schema.Sql)

Now it seems many people online have been encountering this horrible error and majority of my fellow bloggers have suggested that installing the SQL Server Data Tools – December 2012 Update for VS 2010 or 2012 will resolve this issue. Unfortunately installing this alone did not help me. I found out that I missed one key part of my SQL Server installation: Service Pack 2!

Can't believe this one small oversight caused me such a headache.

You can download Microsoft SQL Server 2012 SP2 from the following link:

Extension Method To Render Action As String

Posted in: ASP.NET

A while ago, I wrote a post that showed how you would Render a Partial View As A String. But what if you had a Partial View and wanted to output its action to a string?

Just like the majority of all other coding problems I encounter, StackOverflow always has the answer. In this case, a clever guy posted this piece of code:

var sw = new StringWriter();
PartialViewResult result = Email("Subject", "Body");

result.View = ViewEngines.Engines.FindPartialView(ControllerContext, "Email").View;

ViewContext vc = new ViewContext(ControllerContext, result.View, result.ViewData, result.TempData, sw);

result.View.Render(vc, sw);

var html = sw.GetStringBuilder().ToString();

Works well enough. However, I didn't like the thought of having to add all this code inside my controller, especially when I have to output many Partial View actions to a string. So I created an extension method:

/// <summary>
/// Renders a Partial View Action to string.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="controller">Controller to extend</param>
/// <param name="partialView">PartialView to render</param>
/// <param name="partialViewName">Name of Partial View</param>
/// <returns>Renders Partial View as a string</returns>
public static string RenderActionToString(this Controller controller, PartialViewResult partialView, string partialViewName)
    using (var sw = new StringWriter())
        partialView.View = ViewEngines.Engines.FindPartialView(controller.ControllerContext, partialViewName).View;

        ViewContext vc = new ViewContext(controller.ControllerContext, partialView.View, partialView.ViewData,
            partialView.TempData, sw);

        partialView.View.Render(vc, sw);

        return sw.GetStringBuilder().ToString();

This extension method can be used in the following way:

//Access PollController class.
PollController pc = new PollController();

//Get the LatestPoll PartialView action and output to string.
string myPartialView = this.RenderActionToString(pc.LatestPoll(), "../Poll/_LatestPoll");

Much cleaner!


TextMode Causes Max Length To Not Work In ASP.NET Web Forms

Posted in: ASP.NET

After quite a successful stint in creating some really amazing websites using MVC Razor 5, I had to revert back to working in the world of Web Forms for a new client project. Now I have to deal with .NET web controls, Postbacks and Viewstates.

When creating a few simple forms consisting of some drop down lists, textboxes and textareas, I noticed wherever I set a "MaxLength" property it would not work. A character limit on my input field would just be ignored in all browsers. I could only replicate this bug when the Max Length property is used alongside the "TextMode" property.

There were various places where I had the "TextMode" property set to either "Number" or "MultiLine". Soon as this was removed, the value set in "MaxLength" would work.

How very odd...

Thankfully, I am not the only person to experience the same issue. Currently, the only way to get around this problem is to add the following JavaScript code (slightly refactored for my own implementation) to check the character length "onKeyDown".

var ASPNETForm = {
    "CheckTextAreaLength": function(textBox, e, length) {
        var mLen = textBox["MaxLength"];

        if (null == mLen)
            mLen = length;

        var maxLength = parseInt(mLen);
        if (!ASPNETForm.CheckSpecialKeys(e)) {
            if (textBox.value.length > maxLength - 1) {
                if (window.event) { //IE
                    e.returnValue = false;
                    return false;
                else //Firefox
    "CheckSpecialKeys": function(e) {
        if (e.keyCode != 8 && e.keyCode != 46 && e.keyCode != 35 && e.keyCode != 36 && e.keyCode != 37 && e.keyCode != 38 && e.keyCode != 39 && e.keyCode != 40)
            return false;
            return true;

Add to your ASP.NET TextBox control as so:

<asp:textbox id="Instructions" MaxLength="50" onkeydown="return ASPNETForm.CheckTextAreaLength(this,event,'50');" runat="server" textmode="MultiLine">

I am hoping there will be a more elegant solution in ASP.NET 5, or even better, a fix. This problem has been lurking around since 2009!

Change Colour of Address Bar In Chrome For Android

Posted in: Client-side

My Nexus 5 upgraded to Android version 5.0 a few months back and it's by far the best update yet (apart from the minor bugs). An OS that is as beautiful to look at as well as use.

One of the most intriguing things I noticed was that the colour of my Chrome browser address bar would occasionally change if I went certain websites. Being a developer who works in the web industry, this peaked my interest. So I had to find out how to do this.

After doing some online research, I found adding the this feature couldn't be simpler. Just add the following META tag to your page:

<meta name="theme-color" content="#4c7a9f">

I carried out this change on my site and it looks kinda cool!


Android Chrome Browser Colour (Before)


Android Chrome Browser Colour (After)

Redirect Non-WWW to WWW Domain In Azure Websites

Posted in: Azure

If you require your website URL to always be prefixed with a "www" at the start of the domain, then you will need to modify the web.config (preferably in the Web.Release.Config) with the following addition:

    <rewrite xdt:Transform="Insert">
        <rule name="Redirect to WWW site">
          <match url=".*" />
          <conditions logicalGrouping="MatchAny">
            <add input="{HTTP_HOST}" pattern="^(www\.)(.*)$" negate="true" />
          <action type="Redirect" url="http://www.HTTP_HOST}/{R:0}" redirectType="Permanent" />

In addition to the web.config file changes, ensure the Azure Website instance contains the correct domain bindings within the "Manage Domains" area. For example:

Azure Manage Custom Domains