SuperSecretary

The following is the beginning of a series of posts with detailed information on my open source personal projects. The intention is to provide information about the application, development, design decisions and lessons learned.  Enjoy!

Overview

I don’t recall exactly when I started working on SuperSecretary, but I originally looked at a folder of various photos on my machine and set out to look for a way to keep them under control. I looked for software to sort photos by date taken and couldn’t find anything to meet my criteria. It didn’t seem that there were any options that were user-friendly, and there certainly weren’t any that were free.

I started building SuperSecretary specifically as an app to manage photos, but quickly realized that the concept could be expanded upon to manage all types of files. There are even some features, such as sorting music files by ID3 tags that are on my to-do list for future versions.

Design

I knew from the beginning that I wanted the application to eventually support plugins for users to handle files in any matter that they deemed necessary. This led me to the creation of the “Handler” in SuperSecretary. It is essentially just a simple, verbatim implementation of the Strategy pattern. Each handler has a Do method that passes in the path to the file that is being acted upon, along with some options that have been selected by the user. The handler returns the name of the folder that the file should be sorted into.

For example, when the user chooses to sort a photo by the Date taken attribute, the system uses a DateTakenHandler. The sorting engine loops through the files that need to be sorted and runs the DateTakenHandler for each one. The DateTakenHandler will retrieve the Date taken property from the EXIF data and format it based on the format selected by user. For cases when the user chooses to sort based on multiple attributes, the system will return and then move on to the next Handler. The handlers all inherit from the same interface, allowing a plugin system to be implemented.

The only thing I dislike about this design is that it is not the most efficient option. The system loops through each file, then loops through each of the handlers and acts before moving on to the next. However, some processes are more efficient when grouped together. For example, if the user chooses to sort on two EXIF attributes, say Camera Model and Camera Maker, it makes sense to retrieve that information together. However, batching these operations together makes the system less extensible. Ultimately I chose the more modular approach.

Development

I started development on a proof of concept right away. Since the application was meant to be a small utility that I used myself, I did not put much effort into researching features or deciding on what options to provide right off the bat. I kept the user interface compact and simplified as possible.

After completing the proof of concept, I began to think about the bigger picture of all of the things that could be possible. I pondered on a plugin system and the possibility of multiple interfaces, including a console front end for automating the application as a scheduled task. I even started building a WinRT front-end, which didn’t go so well. More on that in another post.

All of these more end user focused features led to many development decisions. I re-factored the application into two projects, a core library and the Windows Forms application. I focused on keeping the Windows Forms view as thin as possible and moved all of the logic to the core library.  I moved detailed output of the results of each run to an update event that could be implemented in to display information in the UI, a log file, or any manner that is specific to the target platform.

Packaging

Releasing a desktop application as a product was an entirely new concept for me. All applications need a few common elements, one of which is a deployment package. I had very little knowledge on creating a Windows installer. I really only knew that Visual Studio Installer Projects had been recently discontinued and that I needed to find a new option.

I discovered the WiX Toolset, a fantastic framework for building MSI installers. I admit that my implementation is very simple, but to this point I have not run into anything that I needed that I could not achieve using WiX.

The other common element that an application needs is assets and branding. I come from a primarily web focused background and working as a part of a team, so I had never had the complete responsibility of creating assets for a project. Icons, logos, screenshots and information were all things that I had never created and compiled from scratch. I am not a designer so I tackled those to the best of my ability. Paint.NET became my friend.

Distribution

I initially built the Razium web site specifically for hosting an installer for SuperSecretary. I created the site in a format that was more focused on the end user as a target audience, rather than toward developers. I will do a post in the future entirely focused on the creation of the Razium site, since there are some interesting tidbits there.

Originally I hosted the files there as well, but I have since moved those to Sourceforge. Hosting on Sourceforge obviously requires that your application be open source, but for those that are, it provides the added benefits of handling bandwidth costs and also the exposure that you get from being included in their library. In the first day on Sourceforge I had more downloads than the whole time that SuperSecretary was up on the Razium site.

Thanks for reading.  For more information on SuperSecretary, or to download version 1.1, click here.  To view the source code or fork the project, visit the GitHub repository.

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Code Wars: Training in Programming Arts

As developers we have to frequently consult outside resources for information on how to complete certain tasks.  Whether it’s a book or an online tutorial, a quick refresher is always helpful to get a push in the right direction.  The problem is that we will often look for these resources when we know specifically what we need to do, rather than using them to buff up our skills.

There are many sites out there that allow you to do programming challenges to work on your proficiency with a language.  Project Euler, TopCoder or the Daily Programmer subreddit come to mind.  My newest addiction of this type of site is Code Wars.

What is Code Wars?

I like to explain Code Wars as a combination of small programming challenges and Xbox style achievements.  You complete a series of code “katas“: short snippets or bug fixes that test basic understanding of programming language concepts.  For each kata that you complete, you work your way up to higher ranks and increasingly more difficult tasks.

Code Wars Dashboard

The user dashboard in Code Wars.

Code Wars tracks the type of the katas that you complete into different types, such as bug fixes, algorithms and reference.  You can also complete katas in either JavaScript, Coffee Script or Ruby.  Since Code Wars starts with the basics, it is perfect for supplementing your learning of a new language.

Test Your Might

Code Wars provides you with a very simple code editor with syntax highlighting.  It works surprisingly well in the browser, complete with handling of indentation and other features.  You are also provided with the ability to write unit tests against your solution to test any cases that will help you complete the kata.  Then you submit your solution.  There becomes nothing more addicting than getting that green check mark every time you complete a kata.

The best feature of Code Wars comes after you complete a kata.  Once you submit your solution and it is verified, you get to see the solutions that other developers submitted as well.  Sometimes you will see solutions that are more complicated than your own, but quite often you will see solutions that are mind blowing in their simplicity.  I typically spend just as much time reviewing other’s solutions as I do coming up with my own.

Future Wars

I have no doubt that in the future Code Wars will bring support for more languages.  I’m excited at the possibility of completing code katas with Python or PHP.  I can’t help but think that Code Wars would also be an amazing tool for teaching people how to use the UNIX command line.

The beauty of Code Wars is that its katas are populated by user submissions, so it will continue to grow with new content in the as time goes on.

Want to test your skills?  Sign up by completing the example kata at http://www.codewars.com!  Thanks for reading!  If you would like, you can view my Code Wars profile here!

From the Bookmarks Bar – August 16, 2013

This week I’m excited to share a few great links From the Bookmarks Bar.  I have two great development tools and a free course that is very interesting.  Everyone loves free learning!  Take a look!

Koding: Free Virtual Machines for Developers

A new project called Koding has recently launched, with the goal to provide free virtual machines with development environments available to anyone.  The VMs run an instance of Ubuntu which you can use to develop on any language you wish.

The World’s Simplest HTML5 WYSIWYG Editor

Getting tired of the bulky, complex WYSIWYG editors?  Want something fast and easy to use?  Check out the world’s simplest editor.  With Bootstrap and around 100 lines of HTML/CSS/JS you can have a fully functioning HTML editor on your site.

Create Your Own Programming Language

Ever wondered what goes into developing a new programming language?  Here is a great introductory level course that goes over the basics of everything from parsing to compiling.

Thanks for reading!  Do you have some links you would like to see in the bookmarks bar?  Leave a comment or let me know on Twitter!

From the Bookmarks Bar – August 3, 2013

It’s a little late, but I’ve got a few awesome links for this week’s bookmarks bar.  They include a great new piece of open source software, an update to an awesome web development framework and some suggestions for self improvement for developers.

Tox

Tox is a brand new piece of open source software for secure messaging, calls and video chat.  It was created to provide a more secure alternative to Skype following the news that Skype was providing data to the NSA.  While it is not in wide release at this time, you can pull from the Tox git repository and build the application on your machine, if you would like.

12 Things That Would Make You a Better Developer

While I can’t say that I agree that all of these are absolutely necessary, many of these can help you become a much more efficient developer at the least.  I would recommend the section on pushing for more automation.

Bootstrap 3

Twitter’s Bootstrap framework for front-end web development has just unleashed the release candidate of version 3.  The framework boasts an all new flattened look with a focus on speed improvements.  Don’t like the look?  There are plenty of add ons out there to customize Bootstrap to your liking!

Thanks for checking out this week’s links.  Found any cool Bootstrap designs?  Let me know on Twitter!