The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

R is for Reflection

Blogging A to ZOK, I lied. I managed to find 15 minutes to bring you day 18 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge, in which I'll discuss one of the coolest feature of the .NET ecosystem: reflection.

Reflection gives .NET code the ability to inspect and use any other .NET code, full stop. If you think about it, the runtime has to have this ability just to function. But any code can use tools in the System.Reflection namespace. This lets you do some pretty cool stuff.

Here's a (necessarily brief) example, from the Inner Drive Extensible Architecture. This method, in the TypeInfo class, uses reflection to describe all the methods in a Type:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Data;
using System.Diagnostics;
using System.Globalization;
using System.Linq;
using System.Reflection;
using System.Text;

public static IDictionary<string, MethodInfo> ReflectMethods(object target)
{
	if (null == target) return new Dictionary<string, MethodInfo>();

	var thisType = target.GetType();
	var methods = thisType.GetMethods(BindingFlags.Public | BindingFlags.NonPublic | BindingFlags.Instance | BindingFlags.Static);

	var returnList = new Dictionary<string, MethodInfo>();
	foreach (var thisMethod in methods.OrderBy(m => m.Name))
	{
		var parameters = thisMethod.GetParameters();
		var keyBuilder = new StringBuilder(thisMethod.Name.Length + (parameters.Length * 16));
		keyBuilder.Append(thisMethod.Name);
		foreach (var t in parameters)
		{
			keyBuilder.Append(";P=");
			keyBuilder.Append(t.ParameterType.ToString());
		}
		keyBuilder.Append(";R=");
		keyBuilder.Append(thisMethod.ReturnType.ToString());
		keyBuilder.Append(";F=");
		keyBuilder.Append(thisMethod.Attributes.ToString());

		try 
		{
			returnList.Add(keyBuilder.ToString(), thisMethod);
		}
		catch (ArgumentException aex) 
		{
			Trace.WriteLine(string.Format(CultureInfo.InvariantCulture, "> Exception on {0}: {1}", keyBuilder, aex.Message));
		}
		catch (Exception ex)
		{
			Trace.WriteLine(string.Format(CultureInfo.InvariantCulture, "> Exception on {0}: {1}", keyBuilder, ex.Message));
			throw;
		}
	}

	return returnList;
}

The System.Reflection.Assembly class also allows you to create and activate instances of any type, use its methods, read its properties, and send it events.

Reflection is hugely powerful and hugely useful. And very, very cool.

Dogleg

I published today's A-to-Z post a little late because I've had a lot going on this week, between the Apollo Chorus benefit tomorrow, rehearsals, and taking care of Parker.

Yesterday Parker got his sutures out. The vet said he's healing very well, no signs of infection or re-injury, and good progress on using the injured leg. He can go without the Cone of Shame while someone is observing him, and on Friday, he can have it off permanently. Both he and I really, really, really want that to happen.

They also gave me art. Here are his X-rays from two weeks ago, showing his right leg before and after surgery. Before:

After:

The after photo looks painful, but the vet and the dog both assure me it's better than the before image.

Another improvement: he can now go on 10-minute walks, increasing by 5 minutes a week until mid-May when he can go as long as he wants. We're still walking slowly so that he has to put weight on the leg. But today, when he gets his first trip around the block in almost 3 weeks, I'm sure he'll be happier.

Q is for Querying

Blogging A to ZPosting day 17 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge just a little late because of stuff (see next post). Apologies.

Today's topic is querying, which .NET makes relatively easy through the magic of LINQ. Last week I showed how LINQ works when dealing with in-memory collections of things. In combination with Entity Framework, or another object-relational mapper (ORM), LINQ makes getting data out of your database a ton easier.

When querying a database in a .NET application, you will generally need a database connection object, a database command object, and a data reader. Here's a simple example using SQL Server:

public void DirectQueryExample(string connectionString)
{
	using (var conn = new SqlConnection(connectionString))
	{
		var command = new SqlCommand("SELECT * FROM LookupData", conn);
		conn.Open();
		var reader = command.ExecuteReader();
		foreach (var row in reader)
		{
			Console.WriteLine(reader[0]);
		}
	}
}

(Let's skip for now how bad it is to execute raw SQL from your application.)

With Entity Framework (or another ORM), the ORM generates classes that represent tables or views in your database. Imagine you have an animals table, represented by an animal class in your data project. Finding them in your database might now look like this:

public IEnumerable<Animal> OrmQueryExample(string species)
{
	var result = new List<Animal>();
	using (var db = Orm.Context)
	{
		var dtos = db.Animals.Where(p => p.Species == species);
		result.AddRange(dtos.ForEach(MapDtoToDomainObject));
	}

	return result;
}

private Animal MapDtoToDomainObject(AnimalDto animalDto)
{
	// Code elided
}

That looks a little different, no? Instead of opening a connection to the database and executing a query, we use a database context that Entity Framework supplies. We then execute a LINQ query directly on the Animals table representation with a predicate. The ORM handles constructing and executing the query, and returns an IQueryable<T> of its self-generated Animal data transfer object (DTO). When we get that collection back, we map the fields on the DTO to the domain object we want, and return an IEnumerable<T> of our own domain object back to the caller. If the query comes up empty, we return an empty list. (Here's a decent Stack Overflow post on the difference between the two collection types.)

These are naive examples, of course, and there are many other ways of using EF. For example, for field mapping we might use a package like AutoMapper instead of rolling our own field-level mapping. I encourage you to read up on EF and related technologies.

Go home, April. You're drunk.

So far, this April ranks as the 2nd coldest in Chicago history. We had snow this past weekend, and we expect to have snow tonight—on April 18th.

So it may come as a surprise to people who confuse "weather" and "climate" that, worldwide, things are pretty hot:

The warm air to our north and east has blocked the cold air now parked over the midwestern U.S. Europe, meanwhile, feels like August. And Antarctica feels like...well, Antarctica, but unusually warm.

Note that the temperature anomalies at the bottom of the image above are based on the 1980-2010 climate normal period, which was warmer than any previous 30-year period. In other words, the poles may be 3-5°C warmer than normal now and also 4-7°C warmer than any point in recorded history.

At least, historically, a cold spring means a cool summer here. Lake Michigan is a very cold 5°C today, a few degrees below normal for this time of year, and a huge sink for summer heat later on. Here's hoping, anyway.

P is for Polymorphism

Blogging A to ZWe're now past the half-way point, 16 days into the Blogging A-to-Z challenge. Time to go back to object-oriented design fundamentals.

OO design has four basic concepts:

All four have specific meanings. Today we'll just look at polymorphism (from Greek: "poly" meaning many and "morph" meaning shape).

Essentially, polymorphism means using the same identifiers in different ways. Let's take a contrived but common example: animals.

Imagine you have a class representing any animal (see under "abstraction"). Animals can move. So:

public abstract class Animal
{
	public abstract void Move();
}

Notice that the Move method has no implementation, since animal species have many different ways of moving.

Now imagine two concrete animal classes:

public class Dog : Animal
{
	public override void Move() 
	{
		// Walk like a quadraped
	}
}

public class Guppy : Animal
{
	public override void Move() 
	{
		// Swim like a fish
	}
}

Guppies and dogs both move around just fine in their own environments, and dogs can move around in the littoral areas of a guppy's environment as well. So both animals have a Move method.

In this way, the Move method is polymorphic. A caller doesn't need to know anything about guppies or dogs in order to get them to move. And the implementations of the Move method will be completely different:

public void MoveAll(IEnumerable<Animal> animals)
{
	animals.ForEach(a => a.Move());
}

That method doesn't care what the list contains. It moves them all the same.

Now imagine this class:

public class Electron : Lepton
{
	public override void Move() 
	{
		// Walk like a quadraped
	}
}

Electrons move too. The implementation of Electron.Move() differs from Dog.Move() or Guppy.Move() so vastly that no one really knows how electrons do it. But if you call Electron.Move(), you expect the thing to move.

I've only given examples of subtyping and duck typing today, so it's worth reading more about polymorphism in general. Also, as you recall from my discussion of interfaces, you probably would also define an interface like IMovable to express that your class can move, rather than relying on the abstract classes and inheritance. (Program to interfaces, not to implementations!)

Quick links

A couple stories of interest:

OK, back to being really too busy to breathe this week...

O is for O(n) Notation

Blogging A to ZFor day 15 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge I want to talk about something that computer scientists use but application developers typically don't.

Longtime readers of the Daily Parker know that I put a lot of stock in having a liberal arts education in general, and having one in my profession in specific. I have a disclosed bias against hiring people with computer science (CS) degrees unless they come from universities with rigorous liberal arts core requirements. Distilled down to the essence, I believe that CS majors at most schools spend too much time on how computers work and not enough time on how people work.

But CS majors do have a lexicon that more liberally-educated developers don't really have. For example, when discussing how well code performs, CS majors use "Big O" notation.

In Big O notation, the O stands for "order of growth," meaning how much time could the algorithm could grow to take up given worst-case inputs.

The simplest notation is O(1), where the code always takes the same amount of time to execute no matter what the inputs are:

int q = 1;
int r = 2;
var s = q + r;

Adding two integers in .NET always takes the same amount of time, no matter what the integers are.

The titular notation for this post, O(n), means that the execution time grows linearly based on the input. Each item you add to the input increases the time the algorithm takes by exactly one unit, as in a simple for loop:

public long LoopExample(int[] numbers)
{
	long sum;
	for(var x = 0; x < numbers.Length; x++)
	{
		sum += numbers[x];
	}
	return sum;
}

In that example, each item you add to the array numbers increases the time the loop takes by exactly one unit of time, whatever that unit may be. (On most computers today that would be measured in units of milliseconds, or even hundreds of nanoseconds.)

Other algorithms may be slower or faster than these examples, except that no algorithm can be faster than O(1). The parenthetical can be any expression of n. Some algorithms grow by the logarithm of n, some grow by the double of n, some grow by the square of n.

This notation enables people to communicate precisely about how well code performs. If you find that your code takes O(n2) time to run, you may want to find a fix that reduces it to O(log n). And you can communicate to people how you increased efficiency in just that way.

So as much as I want application developers to have broad liberal educations, it's worth remembering that computer science fits into a liberal education as well.

N is for Namespace

Blogging A to ZDay 14 of the Blogging A-to-Z challenge brings us to namespaces.

Simply put, a namespace puts logical scope around a group of types. In .NET and in other languages, types typically belong to namespaces two or three levels down.

Look at the sample code for this series. You'll notice that all of the types have a scope around them something like this:

namespace InnerDrive.Application.Module
{
}

(In some languages it's customary to use the complete domain name of the organization creating the code as part of the namespace and to use alternate letter cases. If I were writing Java, for example, that would look like com.inner-drive.application.module.)

Every type defined in the namespace belongs to only that namespace. If I defined a type in the example namespace above called Foo, the fully-qualified type name would be InnerDrive.Application.Module.Foo. Because using FQTNs requires a lot of typing and makes code harder to read, .NET gives you another use of the namespace keyword:

namespace InnerDrive.Application.Module;

namespace InnerDrive.Application.OtherModule
{
	public class Bar
	{
		public void Initialize() 
		{
			// var foo = new InnerDrive.Application.Module.Foo() is not required
			var foo = new Foo();
			foo.Start();
		}
	}
}

Also, that Bar class belongs only to the InnerDrive.Application.OtherModule namespace, so another developer could create another Bar class in her own namespace without needing to worry about mine.

All caught up

Two weeks ago I started writing my A-to-Z posts and got all the way to today's before my life became nuts—as I knew it would—with 4 chorus-related events and a huge increase in my work responsibilities. And with the Apollo After Hours benefit this coming Friday, this weekend will be pretty full as well.

I use my email inbox as a to-do list, and right now it has 35 messages, 30 of which relate to the benefit. I'm very glad the A-to-Z Challenge gives us Sundays off, because I don't know how I'm going to get another week ahead by tomorrow night.

The performances were worth it, though.