GrooveManager 1.0 Release

I’ve been posting for a little while on Groove Music’s database.  While investigating, I wrote up some test utilities to read and write to the Groove Music database.  These utilities have been combined and simplified into a utility called GrooveManager.

At this point, the utility is extremely limited.  It will only edit Artist names and the Artist image.  And the Artist image feature itself is limited in that you can’t use external images.  It has to be an artist with a profile on Xbox Music.  That limitation aside, there are still times when you have a legitimate need to use an artist that isn’t spelled the same as you have it in your collection.  For example, Sergei Rachmaninoff seems to have many different spellings and variations.

The project page is at https://groovemanager.codeplex.com and has simple documentation on the website.

Groove Metadata (database)

Here’s some more info on the structure of the Groove Music database.

Schema

As mentioned the database is in ESE format.  The tables within are pretty much just like any other database.  And in Groove Music’s case, you have the expected elements of Artist, Album, Tracks, and Genre.  Most of the fields are what you would expect them to be.  Here’s a brief analysis on some things you might be curious about.

tblPerson

This table holds the Artist info, but it’s more than just the band name.  It also includes credits in each song’s ID3 tag, like composer, artist, albumartist, etc.  This means you’re going to have a lot more “Persons” than bands in your library.  Especially when dealing with compilation albums.  Other fields:

tblAudioAlbum

This table is the list of albums in the library.

tblTrack

This table lists the songs.  There’s lots of interesting info in here that needs more exploration.  I have three albums in the cloud.  Two I purchased back from the Zune days, and one I just uploaded to OneDrive from my hard drive.  I’ll reference these in the interesting fields.

  • CloudCollectionContentId – This seems to be a guid to use in a link to an online file.  This is populated for both my purchased and uploaded albums
  • BlockFromCloud – Always true
  • ActionableMediaId – I assume this is a Guid that points to a matched online track. It’s blank on my more obscure albums.
  • InCloudCollection – True for the three albums I have in OneDrive and Store-purchased
  • CatalogId – The same as ActionableMediaId, but there are more CatalogIds than ActionableMediaIds.  Maybe ActionableMediaId means it can be used online instead of just having information?
  • AlbumImageId – A Guid that is used to get the album art from web services
  • AlbumImageSource – A number that likely represents the URL to get the image from (zuneimages, music.microsoft.com, or musicimages.xbox.com).
  • UniqueFileId – These values are similar to what Windows Media Player used to store in the ID3 tag when it would apply its metadata from its store.

So still, plenty to learn about this database.

Groove Metadata (album art)

As a previous post mentioned, the metadata for Groove is in an ESENT database.  One of the big questions is where does it get its artwork from?

Album Artwork

Groove will get its album artwork from one of two places: from the file metadata or from xbox catalog web services at http://musicimage.xboxlive.com  (probably former Zune services).  It does not use folder.jpg, nor does it use ZuneArt_{guid}.jpg.  It will only access the web services if you have the Media Info option set to automatically retrieve missing metadata.

In order to get good album artwork, your metadata needs to be pristine and has to match what’s in the xbox metadata services.  That’s unreliable at best.  The best solution is to embed your artwork in your media files.

If you want to wipe out your library and rebuild from scratch, you can rename the randomly-(or not)-named folder in:

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.ZuneMusic_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\Database

Why wipe out the library?  If you have a massive amount of artwork that originally was downloaded from the xbox services and now you have all that artwork in your media files, it’s faster to let Groove rescan your library than to update each album’s artwork.

As Groove is collecting the album art, it keeps a cache of the images in:

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.ZuneMusic_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\ImageStore

It doesn’t seem to matter if the image comes from the file or from the web services.

Artist Images

How, when and where does Groove get its artist info?

Although the ID3 specification does provide a way to embed an artist image, there isn’t currently a common utility that lets you do it.  Doesn’t matter anyway since Groove doesn’t read the metadata fro artist images.

Like the album art cache, artists are stored in:

%userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.ZuneMusic_8wekyb3d8bbwe\LocalState\ImageCache\20

And the way Groove gets the artist images is by searching the music.xbox.com site based on your metadata.  If there’s no match,m or if music.xbox.com doesn’t have that artist in the marketplace, that’s about where it ends.  There doesn’t appear to be a way to override this yet.

Editing SharePoint Pages Using Visual Studio And WebDAV

I blog in a few different places.  I have my personal blog, my professional blog, and I maintain a blog at work to inform and educate co-workers.  At work, the blog is hosted on the company’s SharePoint server, which is fine.  I am still able to use Windows Live Writer and with it, the Insert Code plug-in.  My other two blogs use WordPress.

The Insert Code plug-in is invaluable to me because it does nice color coding of the text.  As part of that feature, it inserts a CSS style block into your post.  SharePoint doesn’t play well with this.  It tries to, but fails.  The intent is good.  SharePoint wraps your whole post in a div and gives it a class with a random name, then it rewrites the CSS styles so the classes will be scoped to only that containing div class.  Pretty smart way of encapsulating the styles.

Unfortunately, it fails on two points.  First, the containing div’s class is not like class=”123456789abcd”, it always precedes the class name with “ExternalClass”, so you get class=”ExternalClass123456789abcd”.  The rewritten CSS does not have any mention of “ExternalClass”.

The second mistake is in the rewritten CSS.  Your post will have a style block rewritten similar to:

<style>
123456789abcd h1 {color: red;}
123456789abcd h3 {color: green;}
123456789abcd .bold {font-weight: bold;}
</style>

Do you see the problem?  The class is 123456789abcd on the div (actually ExternalClass123456789abcd), but the stylesheet doesn’t scope it to that class.  Those are html tags it’s defining.  The stylesheet is looking for html tags of <123456789abcd>.

So, what can you do about this?  My solution was to put the stylesheet right in the template page so all the posts will be able to use those classes – that’s why I created this post.  The problem is, I couldn’t find anything in the SharePoint control panel to add a custom stylesheet (unlike WordPress, right?).  There was an option to edit the page using SharePoint Designer, so I installed Designer, only to find out the administrator didn’t allow editing using Designer. 

Other places on the Internet suggested adding a Content Editor web part and put the style sheet in there.  I tried it half-heartedly and gave up because it seemed way too “hack-y”.  But while doing so, it reminded me of something I used to know about SharePoint, that you could browse the site’s files using WebDav (assuming you had permissions).

So, what I did was map a network drive (a command found in many places in Windows Explorer) and gave it the URL of my SharePoint site.  Right away, I got an Explorer window with the template files.  I edited Default.aspx and Post.aspx and added my stylesheet.  The formatting was immediately applied.  Then I edited all my previous posts and removed my inline style code blocks to save space and reduce complexity.  Everything works now.

Windows 10 Groove Music – Zune On

Overview

With the release of Windows 10 comes a new music application, Groove Music.  Groove Music has Zune DNA, except that it loses any Windows Media Player (WMP) or Zune syncing capability.  The assumption is that the mobile phone is the new MP3 player and file copy is the preferred method of syncing.  For better or worse, this is the new normal.

Groove is much closer to the aesthetics of Zune than of WMP, and aside from the lost syncing capability and the toned-down Now Playing screen, it’s a reasonable Zune replacement – as a music player.  Syncing, well… not as much.  You have your usual views: Artist, Album, Song, Playlists, plus Albums for an Artist.  Genre view is missing.  Typing will expand the hamburger menu and put the text in the search box, proving immediate search.  Of course you have the Marketplace, to purchase and download more content.

Technical Details

Groove is a successor to Zune, although the outward branding does not hint at it.  The code library is called ZuneMusic and is found at %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.ZuneMusic_8wekyb3d8bbwe.  In the subfolder LocalState you will find plenty of runtime details.  LocalState has a folder for the database, which is in ESENT format.  There are the ImageCache and imageStore folders that hold album artwork and artists photos from the Zune web services.

As far as the database is concerned, it seems to be similar if not exact to the old Zune database, which was in SQL Server Compact format.  The most common tables would be: tblAudioAlbum, tblPerson, tblGenre, and tblTrack to hold the music metadata and tblFolder and tblFile to hold the physical file references.

There are utilities and libraries to work with ESENT databases.  One is called ESENT Workbench.  If you do want to play around with the database, you may need to do a repair on it because it may not have shut down cleanly.  You can run the command “esentutl.exe /p EntClientDb.edb” to clean up the files for reading.

The Groove Music app uses another couple of packages extensively: Microsoft.Windows.CloudExperienceHost and Microsoft.Windows.ContentDeliveryManager, but probably not for primary functions.  The majority of data is likely pulled from the Zune web services, since the entries in the matadata database tables have references to GUIDs that, when used with the web services, retrieve the proper artist or album info.

The database for Groove Music appears to sync between computers, which makes a lot of sense for cloud-based music, but may get hairy when different machines have different local files.

Extension Ideas

What can be done with having access to the music database?  My impetus for this research was trying to change the Now playing slideshow to use all the artist pictures like Zune does, instead of a single album picture.  I haven’t gotten that far yet.  But some ideas for apps would be:

  • Statistic app showing most played artists, albums, songs, genres
  • Smart playlist generator based on statistics
  • Statistics on files: sizes, bitrates, dates, and something intriguing called FingerprintData
  • Utility to clean, purge, delete, export library
  • Post Now Playing, Recently Played to social media
  • Create a smart sync utility that utilizes the library’s metadata with file copy

MSBuild error MSB4057: The target “Package” does not exist in the project.

Every three weeks we release an update to our websites and web services.  To make this release easier, I created a batch file that would build the projects and deploy each one to our four web servers.  The last few times I tried this, my batch file failed running this command:

c:\Windows\Microsoft.NET\Framework\v4.0.30319\MSBuild.exe C:\Projects\Portal\Portal1.vbproj /nologo /verbosity:minimal /t:Package /p:Configuration=Release

C:\Projects\Portal\Portal1.vbproj : error MSB4057: The target "Package" does not exist in the project.

So then each time, I would have to manually deploy the web sites with One-Click Publish.  Today, I decided to resolve this problem.

Because the Internet has a great memory and because the nature of deploying Visual Studio has changed frequently and recently, it was very difficult to determine what was the current best way to do the automated task that I wanted. 

The first promising solution was to install a project called “CommunityTasks” and import it into your project.  Did that.  Didn’t work.  Read further and learned I needed to install the Azure SDK (This would haunt me for a long time).  Still, none of the example command lines worked.

Then I learned that some publishing settings had been moved from the project file to the publishing profiles.  Fine, I could handle that.  I created a new publishing profile that created a package.  However, I couldn’t figure out how to execute that publishing profile from the command line.

In the end, I decided I would create the deployment packages manually in VS with One-Click Publish, then execute a batch file that would run the package’s deploy.cmd files for each project to each server.  This would actually result in a faster deployment because I wouldn’t have to wait for each project to build in the deployment batch file.  And using the /k switch, I could launch multiple deployments at once.  For example:

start cmd /k "Portal1.bat"
start cmd /k "Portal2.bat"
start cmd /k "Portal3.bat"
start cmd /k "Portal4.bat"

And each batch file for the project would install to each server:

c:\Build\Package\portal1.deploy.cmd /Y /M:http://server01/MSDeployAgentService /U:deploy /P:deploy -enableRule:DoNotDeleteRule
c:\Build\Package\portal1.deploy.cmd /Y /M:
http://server02/MSDeployAgentService /U:deploy /P:deploy -enableRule:DoNotDeleteRule
c:\Build\Package\portal1.deploy.cmd /Y /M:
http://server03/MSDeployAgentService /U:deploy /P:deploy -enableRule:DoNotDeleteRule
c:\Build\Package\portal1.deploy.cmd /Y /M:
http://server04/MSDeployAgentService /U:deploy /P:deploy -enableRule:DoNotDeleteRule

Still Not Giving In

I’m still using MS Money.  And I’ve come across a couple of instances of it beginning to lose compatibility with modern systems.  So now, I’ve actually started creating workarounds for them.

I’ve used a variety of online accounts in my many years.  I’ve used HSBC, Capital One (the non-360 variant), Sallie Mae, and most recently, Ally.  At this point, I’ve decided Ally is getting all my business and I’ve been in the process of moving accounts into new Ally subaccounts, which is very easily done on their part.  Just today, I discovered the transaction download feature.  There’s no MS Money OFX option, but I don’t think Money existed anymore when Ally came on the scene.  Anyway, there is a Quicken download, so that is what I use.

MS Money is awesome in that it supports QFX files, however, the standard format of the file must have moved on in time, so now Money throws up when it tries to process the file.  After a bunch of trial and error, I discovered that the reason for the error is a node in each transaction entry for the check number: <CHECKNUM>0</CHECKNUM>. Once you strip that node out, the file imports just fine. 

In another case, my 401k provider, Transamerica, recently revamped their transaction download and their QFX files have a different problem.  The file headers look like:

OFXHEADER: 100
DATA: OFXSGML
VERSION: 102
SECURITY: NONE
ENCODING: USASCII
CHARSET: 1252
COMPRESSION: NONE
OLDFILEUID: NONE
NEWFILEUID: NONE

But there is a space after the colon, which causes MS Money to report the file is corrupt.  The header should look like:

OFXHEADER:100
DATA:OFXSGML
VERSION:102
SECURITY:NONE
ENCODING:USASCII
CHARSET:1252
COMPRESSION:NONE
OLDFILEUID:NONE
NEWFILEUID:NONE

So I made a script that will alter the QFX file and then launch the Money importer.  All you have to do is drag the QFX file onto the VBS file and you’re good to go.  If you want to get clever, you can put the script in your SendTo folder or map it as a default application.

Without further adieu, this is the content of the script:

dim fso,f,s,shell

set fso=CreateObject("scripting.filesystemobject")

set f=fso.OpenTextFile(WScript.Arguments(0),1)
s=f.ReadAll
f.close
set f=nothing

set f=fso.OpenTextFile(WScript.Arguments(0),2)
f.Write Replace(Replace(s,"<CHECKNUM>0</CHECKNUM>",""),": ",":")
f.Close
set f=nothing

set fso=nothing

Set shell = CreateObject("Shell.Application")
shell.ShellExecute "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Money Plus\MNYCoreFiles\mnyimprt.exe",  WScript.Arguments(0)
set shell=nothing

And then, you can import QFX files from Ally or Transamerica (and maybe some others that have the same problems) into MS Money without any errors.

Two-Factor Authentication Primer

I recently implemented two-factor authentication into a web app and since it was a new concept for me, I thought it would be good to explain the highest conceptual level of this process.  As with a lot of new things, there’s some terminology to learn and there’s a need to understand how all the pieces fit together.

First, what’s it take to integrate this with an existing profile login?  You need a new database field and a bit of extra code for opting in and out of the two-factor authentication.  Ideally, you’ll need a library for generating a QR code, too.

Before I get too much into it, these are some of the elements of the process.  There are three pieces of data involved:

  • Shared Secret: This element is stored in the database with the user profile and is never exposed outside your application.
  • Secret Key: This is an encoded version of the Shared Secret.  It is given to the user by your application and the user enters it into their authenticator application.
  • Code: The numeric value generated by the authenticator application.  This changes every minute.

In brief, your application and the authenticator application both use the current time plus the Secret Key to generate a Code.  If they match, the user is authenticated.

To implement this, you would modify your user profile page to provide a button to enable two-factor.  When the button is clicked, you create a a random Shared Secret and save it to their profile.  You use that Shared Secret to generate and return the Secret Key.  The user puts that Secret Key in their authenticator app and the opt-in is complete.

When the user logs in to your application, if they have a Shared Secret set in their profile, they are prompted to enter the Code from their authenticator app.  Your application compares that Code to the Code it generates itself, using the Secret Key (built from the Shared Secret).  If it is the same, the user is logged in.

It really is simple.  The only thing that isn’t clear, but can be found with some moderate Internet searching is the URL to embed in the QR code.  That URL is: otpauth://totp/{0}?secret={1}, where {0} is the name of the profile to use (either your application or the user’s username or both) and {1} is the Secret Key.  Authenticator apps allow manual entry of Secret Keys, so if you don’t provide a QR code, it’s still workable, just a bit tedious.

Some of the other pieces you’d need are functions to reset the Shared Secret or clear it, if the user wanted to opt-out.  This is simple user account maintenance.  With a simple implementation, you could blank out the Shared Secret on a “forgot password” action.  With more sensitive data, you may want a second code to allow a password reset.  The big concern is users who have lost their phone or wiped out their authenticator application entries.

Because two-factor authentication is so simple and is such a low-impact to existing user profile data structures (relative to oAuth), plus the fact it can be opt-in, it’s really a no-brainer to add it to your applications.

SSRS ReportViewer NullReferenceException on Dispose

I recently assisted on troubleshooting an error in a utility application where an exception was being thrown on the dispose of a Microsoft.Reporting.WebForms.ReportViewer.  The environmental conditions were pretty specific, so it’s possible you’d never see something like this in your environment.  But if you do, here’s how you can work around it.

The specific condition is that we have a shared library of code for both desktop and web applications.  One of the functions in that library takes some parameters for an SSRS report and returns a byte array for a rendered PDF of the report.  Because the library initially was used exclusively by the website, the WebForms version of the ReportViewer was used.  As time went on, the library was used by desktop apps and windows services.  That’s when the trouble began.

So, if you are using a WebForms.ReportViewer in a desktop application, you may get this exception when disposing the instance.  Digging into the decompiled code for the ReportViewer control suggested it was because there was no HttpContext available.  For us, the long-term fix was clear: use the WinForms version of the ReportViewer.  In the short term though, adding this line of code resolved the error:

If HttpContext.Current Is Nothing Then HttpContext.Current = New HttpContext(New HttpRequest(IO.Path.GetRandomFileName, "http://www.google.com", ""), New HttpResponse(IO.TextWriter.Null))

This created an HttpContext where there was none before, and the ReportViewer instance was able to be disposed without an error.

In Defense of Whitespace

There is a trend that I’ve been seeing recently that I find somewhat disturbing.  It primarily manifests itself with C# programmers, who also tend to be really indignant when questioned about it.  The issue is whitespace in source code.
When I see a big block of C# code and all the text is crammed into as little space as possible, it is very difficult to read.  This means that it takes longer to figure out what the code.  This means that it takes me longer to do my job, making me more expensive to my employer or client.  What benefit does this have with efficiency?  Further, although unrelated to this post, is the use of significant coding shortcut expressions in C#, which the developers praise as so efficient and elegant, but make the code barely intelligible.
Whenever I ask one of the coders about this, their answer is that whitespace is for people and compilers don’t need whitespace.  That response baffles me because it sounds like they are arguing my point.  The whole point of source code is to be human-readable.  But, somehow in their mind, it sounds like whitespace slows the application down.
Years ago, I read an excellent book, Developing User Interfaces for Microsoft Windows.  Although it’s rather outdated now, it had a lot of good advice in it, and one of the tips was to make use of whitespace for code clarity.  Up until that time, I didn’t pay much attention to blank lines and I had a different indenting scheme then what was the standard.  But then I changed both of these and my code became immediately more readable.
Although it maybe sounds a bit obvious, I demand whitespace in my code because I am  a writer and an avid reader.  I need paragraph breaks to indicate to me when a topic is changing or a new thought is starting.  If you treat writing a program like writing a story, your code will be much easier to understand; and to echo the C# developers, the compiler won’t care.
Aside from the line breaks between methods and between logical code blocks within methods, I like to put all my variable declarations at the beginning of the method.  It introduces you to all the characters in the chapter and gives you an idea of how complex the plotline of the chapter is.  This is also out of fashion with the current declare-just-before-use style.
One of my other structural designs that goes against the current fashion is to put my properties at the beginning of the class instead of at the end.  This is the same structure as a UML diagram, so I’m not sure why that design practice changed.  With methods, I try to put all my event handlers first, then order the methods by their access level (public, friend, protected, private).  Finally, I put methods that are called by other methods later in the class, so if you need to reference a called method, you almost always scroll down instead of up to find the called method.  This is made easier since private methods are last in the class.

Reading this post without whitespace is what it is like to read source code without whitespace.  It sucks.