Category Archives: Software

Setting Up Elasticsearch and Kibana on Windows

Elasticsearch is fantastic to index your data so that it can be searched by its lightning-fast search engine. With Kibana, you also get the ability to analyse and visualise that data. Both of these products are provided for free by Elastic.

Installing Java Runtime Environment

Elastic products are developed in Java, so you’ll need the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to run them. Get the latest JRE from the relevant ugly Oracle downloads page. Either use the .exe installer, or download the .zip file and then extract the folder inside.

Either way, take note of the JRE folder location and add it as an environment variable. To do this, hit the start menu and type “environment variables“:

In the window that comes up, go on Environment Variables…:

You will now see the user and system environment variables. Hit New… under the System variables:

Name it JAVA_HOME, and in the value put in the path to the JRE folder (not its bin folder):

You can now OK out of the various dialog windows.

Setting up Elasticsearch

Go to the Elasticsearch product page, and hit Download:

In the next page, download the ZIP file:

Extract the folder in the .zip file somewhere.

You can now run elasticsearch.bat. If you get “The syntax of the command is incorrect”, you probably didn’t set the JAVA_HOME environment variable as explained in the previous section.

elasticsearch.bat

Running this command, you should see a bunch of initialisation output:

…and if you browse to localhost:9200, you should see some JSON returned:

Now that we know it’s working, we can install it as a Windows service. So press Ctrl+C to kill the instance of Elasticsearch you just ran, and instead run:

elasticsearch-service.bat install

This should install it as a service:

This installs it as Manual startup type, and does not start it. You probably want to change that to Automatic (Delayed Start), from the Services window in Microsoft Windows, and also Start it. Once you have done that, give it a few seconds to start, and then verify again that you get a response from localhost:9200.

Setting up Kibana

Next, we will set up Kibana. Grab the Windows .zip file from the Kibana downloads page:

Extract it wherever your heart desires.

Make sure Elasticsearch is running. Then, in Kibana’s bin folder, run kibana.bat:

kibana.bat

Some text will be written to the console as Kibana is initialised, and then you should be able to go to localhost:5601 and actually get a webpage:

Now we know that it works. Let’s set it up as a service. Kill the instance we just ran using Ctrl+C first.

Oh crap, Kibana does not come with a service installer! What are we gonna do?

Enter NSSM, the Non-Sucking Service Manager, which we can use to install just about any application as a Windows service, using either the command line or an interactive GUI. After downloading NSSM, we can install Kibana as a Windows service with a command like the following from NSSM’s win64 folder:

nssm install "Kibana 5.2.2" C:\[...]\kibana-5.2.2-windows-x86\bin\kibana.bat

With an elevated command prompt, we can also configure the Windows service, such as setting the startup type and the description:

nssm set "Kibana 5.2.2" Start "SERVICE_DELAYED_AUTO_START"
nssm set "Kibana 5.2.2" Description "Kibana lets you visualize your Elasticsearch data"

Finally, we start the service:

nssm start "Kibana 5.2.2"

If all goes well:

…then we can go back to localhost:5601 and verify that it’s really running.

With that, it’s all set up. All that’s needed is an index with some data that you can use Kibana to visualise, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Announcing Ultima 1 Revenge

I am currently working on an engine port of Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness, called Ultima 1 Revenge. This means I am reverse engineering the game files and building a new game engine for it, using C++ and SDL2.

Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness was one of the first open-world Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs). Originally released in 1981 and remade for the PC in 1986, Ultima 1 was followed by a series of games that lasted almost 30 years, generated a cult following, inspired countless other RPGs, and pushed the boundaries of technology.

Ultima 1 is a fairly weird game, featuring an unusual combination of medieval fantasy and space travel. The world of Sosaria is being ravaged by the monsters of the evil wizard Mondain. Before you can face him in battle, you have to complete dungeoneering quests in the service of the lords of the land, become a space ace, free a princess, and travel back in time using a time machine.

The 1986 PC remake, on which the Ultima 1 Revenge project is based, is very old technology, by today’s standards. Still, it provides a vast array of learning areas. The game’s graphics are made up of three tilesets (CGA, EGA, and Tandy 1000), giving a choice for the differently powered machines of the time. The game world is stored in a small map file, where each four bits is an index into the tileset you’re using. Space travel is a combination of top-down 2D and first-person views. The dungeons are simple 3D-like line drawings, randomly generated based on a seed stored in the savegame file (so they remain consistent for each playthrough, but change if you start a new game). The different parts of the game run in different executables, and a special savegame file is used to pipe the player state from one to the other. Savegames mostly use 16-bit numbers, with the least significant byte stored first. Decoding the game files is an ongoing effort that powers tools such as the online map viewer I built in 2015, and the engine itself.

Today, I have released a demo of the engine. So if you own a copy of Ultima 1 (if you don’t, you can grab a copy from GOG), grab it from the downloads page, set the path to your original Ultima 1 folder in the settings file, and take a tour of Sosaria!

Inconsistent Toggles in Windows 10 Taskbar Menu

There’s something I found really odd about the Windows 10 taskbar. There are two special buttons next to the Start button: the Search button, and the Task View button. You can toggle the visibility of each from the context menu that comes up when you right click on the taskbar.

We can toggle the Task View button by simply clicking on the “Show Task View button” item in the menu. When the Task View button is visible, this item is checked:

win10-show-task-view-on

…and when it’s not visible, the item is not checked:

win10-show-task-view-off

Simple, no? Let’s do the same for the Search button. Right now it’s on…

win10-show-search-on

So when I click “Show search icon”, following the same logic as with the Task View button, I would expect it to disappear, right?

Nope. Clicking that won’t do anything, because you instead have to select “Hidden”. Then, when Search is not visible, it looks like this instead:

win10-show-search-off

Okay, it’s easy to get used to this after tripping on it the first time. But why would anyone ever provide these kinds of confusing and inconsistent options?

Aside from this, that Search submenu is clearly overkill, given that they could have implemented a single toggle menu item as with Task View. This is exactly like using two checkboxes for the opposites of same thing and expecting them to be mutually exclusive. By way of analogy, can you imagine how stupid this would look?

win10-gender-analogy

This would tell you that the Male and Female options are unrelated; you could potentially pick both.

Update 24th December 2015: As pointed out in these comments on Reddit, apparently the reason for having a separate menu for the Search icon is that in regions where Cortana is enabled, there are actually three options. They could have at least used bullets instead of checkmarks though, which would have made them feel like radio buttons (making the mutual exclusion obvious) rather than checkboxes.

ASP .NET 5 Preview: Hello World with Yeoman

ASP.NET 5 (formerly known as ASP .NET vNext) is the next generation of ASP .NET, still in a prerelease state. At the time of writing, the current runtime version is 1.0.0-rc1-update1, and ASP .NET 5 is set to launch in Q1 2016. The APIs seen here may change in the time leading up to that release; in fact, this article is written precisely to address recent API changes.

ASP .NET 5 is a game changer, and everything we’ve learned in ASP .NET so far no longer applies. In this article, we’ll see how to do a basic “Hello World” with ASP .NET 5. This usually sounds like something easy, but given that things are changing pretty quickly (even fundamental things such as the IIS hosting model), it’s not. In fact, I would have liked to say you can create a new project in Visual Studio and select the “Empty” ASP .NET 5 Preview Template:

aspnet5-empty-preview-template

Unfortunately, however, these templates are so outdated that they no longer work. Starting with these and getting them to work is an exercise in frustration. Fortunately, however, there’s an alternative way to easily set up an ASP .NET 5 project. And, surprise surprise, it does not involve Visual Studio.

Update 27th December 2015: If you do want to use the latest Visual Studio templates, install Visual Studio 2015 Update 1 as well as the latest ASP .NET 5 Release Candidate.

Yeoman provides a tool called yo, which allows you to create a new web application from various different templates. Nowadays, with so many tools and technologies, it is sometimes difficult to piece things together. You can use yo and its generators to set up a web application with the bits and pieces you need without much effort. For example:

  • Want to create an AngularJS Single-Page App (SPA)? No problem, there’s a generator for that.
  • Want to create an ASP .NET MVC application? No problem, there’s a generator for that.
  • Want to create an ASP .NET 5 empty application? No problem, there’s a generator for that too.
  • Want a full rack of barbecue ribs with fries? I don’t think there’s a generator for that, but perhaps someone may write one someday.

Like various other web tools, yo and its generators require npm, the node.js package manager. You will first need to install node.js, and npm comes packaged with it. You can then install yo by running the following command from the command prompt:

npm install -g yo

In order to generate a web application template, yo relies on plugins, called generators. At the time of writing, there are several generators for ASP .NET 5, but generator-aspnet is the only one that’s up to date. Let’s also install it using the following command:

npm install -g generator-aspnet

With that done, we can now generate our ASP .NET project. You can either invoke yo and do it interactively:

yeoman-interactive-2

…or just invoke the following command:

yo aspnet

You will then be asked a few questions that allow you to configure your ASP .NET 5 project. For starters, we’ll create an Empty Application:

aspnet5-yeoman-application-type

You will then be asked for the name of your application, after which the web app skeleton will be generated, and you will be told the commands you need to build and run it:

aspnet5-yeoman-application-generated

Before we run these commands, let’s take a second to see what our project actually contains. The files we care about are Startup.cs

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Threading.Tasks;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Builder;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting;
using Microsoft.AspNet.Http;
using Microsoft.Extensions.DependencyInjection;

namespace myapp
{
    public class Startup
    {
        // This method gets called by the runtime. Use this method to add services to the container.
        // For more information on how to configure your application, visit http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=398940
        public void ConfigureServices(IServiceCollection services)
        {
        }

        // This method gets called by the runtime. Use this method to configure the HTTP request pipeline.
        public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app)
        {
            app.UseIISPlatformHandler();

            app.Run(async (context) =>
            {
                await context.Response.WriteAsync("Hello World!");
            });
        }

        // Entry point for the application.
        public static void Main(string[] args) => Microsoft.AspNet.Hosting.WebApplication.Run<Startup>(args);
    }
}

…and project.json:

{
  "version": "1.0.0-*",
  "compilationOptions": {
    "emitEntryPoint": true
  },
  "tooling": {
    "defaultNamespace": "myapp"
  },

  "dependencies": {
    "Microsoft.AspNet.IISPlatformHandler": "1.0.0-rc1-final",
    "Microsoft.AspNet.Server.Kestrel": "1.0.0-rc1-final"
  },

  "commands": {
    "web": "Microsoft.AspNet.Server.Kestrel"
  },

  "frameworks": {
    "dnx451": { },
    "dnxcore50": { }
  },

  "exclude": [
    "wwwroot",
    "node_modules"
  ],
  "publishExclude": [
    "**.user",
    "**.vspscc"
  ]
}

Now, in order to proceed, you need to have the DNX tools (dnu, dnvm and dnx). If you don’t have them, you can get them when you install Visual Studio 2015, or by following the instructions on the ASP .NET 5 Github page. You may also need to upgrade to the latest runtimes (use dnvm list to check what you’re using, dnvm upgrade to get the latest, and dnvm use <runtime> to switch to the latest) – learning to use the DNX tools is beyond the scope of this article.

Once you have DNX in place, you can run the commands suggested by the aspnet generator earlier. First, cd into the application directory:

cd myapp

Then, run the following command to restore packages (essentially works like NuGet):

dnu restore

You can now build the web application using the following command:

dnu build

Finally, the following command runs the application. You’ll notice that web is actually one of the commands defined in the project.json we saw earlier.

dnx web

aspnet5-dnx-web

As shown in the screenshot above, the web application is hosted at localhost:5000 by default. Indeed, we can confirm that this works by going there:

aspnet5-helloworld

The output we see comes from Startup.cs as we have seen earlier:

        public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app)
        {
            app.UseIISPlatformHandler();

            app.Run(async (context) =>
            {
                await context.Response.WriteAsync("Hello World!");
            });
        }

The Configure() method allows us to set up our web application pipeline. In here, we define any middleware we need. For example, if we want to use MVC, then we set it up here; but ASP .NET 5 does not assume that any such infrastructure is required by default. In this case, we are always giving a fixed response.

This is as far as I’m going to go with this little “Hello World” setup for ASP .NET 5. We haven’t even begun to see how different ASP .NET 5 is from the ASP .NET we have known so far. But hopefully, this article will save you a lot of frustration in setting things up until the tooling in Visual Studio 2015 catches up.

Block Selection and Column Editing

We’re all very much used to selecting text by clicking and dragging the mouse. But by pressing the Alt key while doing that, you can select a rectangular block. This feature has been around since Visual Studio 2010 – part of it even since Visual Studio 2008 – and it’s available in most modern text editors such as Notepad++. However, most people seem not to be aware of this, which is why I’m writing this article.

Let’s say you created a new Console Application in Visual Studio, and added a few variables within the Program class:

    class Program
    {
        int name;
        int age;
        int address;

        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            
        }
    }

Oops. Main() can’t access them, because it is static, and they are not. We’re going to have to make them static as well.

Now we can add the static keyword to each variable, one by one. Or, we can place the cursor before the first int, press Alt, click and drag downwards to create a sort of blue cursor that spans multiple lines. It’s a bit hard to see, so I’ve zoomed in a bit here:

column-editing-1

With that, we’ve enabled column editing. This means that whatever you type will now be written in multiple lines:

column-editing-2

You can use this to comment lines in bulk (similar to the Ctrl+K+C or Ctrl+E+C shortcuts, depending on your editor settings):

column-editing-3

Now, column editing is actually a special case of block selection with a width of zero. To see how block editing works, let’s change our variable names to the following:

        static int personName;
        static int personAge;
        static int personAddress;

Now, due to changing requirements, we decided that these shouldn’t be called person*, but customer*. Given that the variable names are nicely aligned underneath each other, we can press Alt, click and drag around person on all three lines, and we’ve made a block selection:

block-selection-1

Press Backspace to remove person from all three lines. The block collapses to zero width, so we’re back to column editing, and we can now easily write customer on all three lines:

block-selection-2

So there you go. Block selection and column editing are nothing new, but they’re very handy and good to know about.