The blog of
  • Casting a Spell✔ [A simple app that makes it easy to spell-check with a browser]
    Thursday, December 4th 2014

    I pay attention to spelling. Maybe it's because I'm not a very good speller. Maybe it's because I have perfectionist tendencies. Maybe it's just a personality flaw.

    Whatever the reason, I'm always looking for ways to avoid mistakes.

    Some time ago, I wrote a code analysis rule for .NET/FxCop. More recently I shared two command-line programs to extract strings and comments from C#/JavaScript and followed up with a similar extractor for HTML/XML.

    Those tools work well, but I also wanted something GUI for a more natural fit with UI-centric workflows. I prototyped a simple WPF app that worked okay, but it wasn't as ubiquitously available as I wanted. Surprisingly often, I'd find myself on a machine without latest version of the tool. (Classic first world problem, I know...) So I decided to go with a web app instead.

    The key observation was that modern browsers already integrate with the host operating system's spell-checker via the spellcheck HTML attribute. By leveraging that, my app would automatically get a comprehensive dictionary, support for multiple languages, native-code performance, and support for the user's custom dictionary. #winning!

    Aside: The (very related) forceSpellCheck API isn't supported by any browser I've tried. Fortunately, it's not needed for Firefox, its absence can be coded around for Chrome, and there's a simple manual workaround for Internet Explorer. Click the "Help / About" link in the app for more information.

    Inspired by web browsers' native support for spell-checking, I've created Spell✔ (a.k.a. SpellV), a simple app that makes it easy to spell-check with a browser. Click the link to try it out now - it's offline-enabled, so you can use it again later even without a network connection!

    To import content, Spell✔ supports pasting text from the clipboard, drag-dropping a file, or browsing the folder structure. For a customized experience, you can switch among multiple views of the data, including:

    • Original text (duh...)
    • Unique words, sorted alphabetically and displayed compactly for easy scanning
    • HTML/XML content (including text, comments, and attributes)
    • JSON content (string values only)
    • JavaScript code comments and string literals

    Read more about how Spell✔ works, how it was built, or check out the code on the GitHub page for SpellV!

    Tags: Technical Utilities Web
  • A quick programming challenge with money [Counting and enumerating the ways to break a $1 bill]
    Tuesday, December 2nd 2014

    Sunday evening I happened across a blog post by Josh Smith about finding all the ways to break a $1 bill. Specifically, the goal is to:

    Count the number of ways to combine coins worth 100, 50, 25, 10, 5, and 1 cent for a total value of 100 cents

    As Josh says, it's a fun challenge and I encourage you to stop reading now and solve it!

    Seriously: Stop now. Spoilers ahead...

    I took his advice and sat down with pen, paper, and a self-imposed 30 minute time limit. I came up with the C# solution below just before time ran out. As I note in the code, I forgot one line (though I caught it when typing up the solution). Less embarrassingly, this implementation worked correctly the first time I ran it. What's more, it's flexible with regard to the target amount and number/value of the coins (both of which are passed as parameters to the constructor). For bonus points, it outputs all the combinations it finds along the way.

    I've added some comments to the code to outline the general algorithm. There are some opportunities to refactor for clarity and an implicit assumption values are passed in decreasing order, but otherwise I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

    If you take on the challenge and come up with something interesting, please leave a note - I'd love to see other approaches!

    using System;
    // Problem: Count (and output) all ways to make $1 with U.S. coins (100, 50, 25, 10, 5, 1 cents).
    // Inspiration:
    class BreakADollar
        public static void Main()
            // Entry point/test harness
            Console.WriteLine("Total possibilities: {0}",
                new BreakADollar(
                    new[] { 100, 50, 25, 10, 5, 1 })
        // Input
        private readonly int _target;
        private readonly int[] _values;
        // State
        private readonly int[] _counts;
        private int _ways;
        public BreakADollar(int target, int[] values)
            // Initialize
            _target = target;
            _values = values;
            _counts = new int[values.Length];
            _ways = 0;
        public int Invoke()
            // Start the recursive process and return the result
            Recurse(0, 0);
            return _ways;
        private bool Recurse(int i, int sum)
            if (_target == sum)
                // Met the target, done here
                return false;
            else if (i == _counts.Length)
                // Out of values, keep looking
                return true;
            else if (sum < _target)
                // Search, using increasing counts of current value
                while (Recurse(i + 1, sum))
                    _counts[i]++; // Note: Missed this line at first
                    sum += _values[i];
                // Reset and continue
                _counts[i] = 0;
                return true;
                // Exceeded the target, done here
                return false;
        private void ShowCounts()
            // Show the count for each value
            for (var i = 0; i < _counts.Length; i++)
                Console.Write("{0}:{1} ", _values[i], _counts[i]);
    Tags: Miscellaneous Technical
  • Not another POODLE pun [Batch script to disable SSL 3.0 on Windows servers - including virtual machines and Azure cloud services]
    Wednesday, October 29th 2014

    Much has been penned (and punned) recently about POODLE, the "Padding Oracle On Downgraded Legacy Encryption" security vulnerability. If you're not familiar with it, the Wikipedia entry for POODLE is a good start and Troy Hunt's POODLE treatise provides more detail.

    Assuming you've made the decision to disable SSL 3.0 to mitigate POODLE attacks, this Azure Blog post includes a two-part batch/PowerShell script to do that. Based on the information in KB245030, that script can be run on a bare OS, a VM, or as part of an Azure cloud service.

    It's a fine script as scripts go [ :) ], but maybe you're not a PowerShell fanatic or maybe you'd prefer a single file and/or less code to audit. If so, I present the following batch-only script for your consideration:

    @echo off
    set REBOOT=N
    set LOG=%~d0\DisableSslv3.log
    set SSLKEY=HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SecurityProviders\SCHANNEL\Protocols\SSL 3.0
    call :MAIN >> %LOG% 2>&1
    goto :EOF
    REM Show current SSL 3.0 configuration
    reg.exe query "%SSLKEY%" /s
    REM Check current SSL 3.0 configuration
    for /f "tokens=3" %%v in ('reg.exe query "%SSLKEY%\Server" /v Enabled') do (
        if NOT "0x0"=="%%v" set REBOOT=Y
    for /f "tokens=3" %%v in ('reg.exe query "%SSLKEY%\Client" /v DisabledByDefault') do (
        if NOT "0x1"=="%%v" set REBOOT=Y
    REM Update and reboot if necessary
    if "%REBOOT%"=="Y" (
        echo Update needed to disable SSL 3.0.
        reg.exe add "%SSLKEY%\Server" /v Enabled /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
        reg.exe add "%SSLKEY%\Client" /v DisabledByDefault /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f
        echo Rebooting to apply changes...
        shutdown.exe /r /c "Rebooting to disable SSL 3.0" /f /d p:2:4
    ) else (
        echo SSL 3.0 already disabled.
    goto :EOF


    • This is a riff on the aforementioned script, meant to serve as a jumping-off point and alternate approach.
    • Like the original script, this one is idempotent and can be safely run multiple times (for example, every startup) on a bare OS, VM, or cloud service. The log file is additive, so you can see if it ever made changes.
    • Security Advisory 3009008 only mentions disabling SSL 3.0 for server scenarios; this script also disables it for client scenarios to protect outgoing connections to machines that have not been secured.
    • I work almost exclusively with recent OS releases on Azure; SSL 2.0 is already disabled there, so this script leaves those settings alone. André Klingsheim's post on hardening Windows Server provides more context.
    • An immediate reboot is performed whenever changes are made - consider commenting that line out during testing. :)
    • While reviewing this post, I found a discussion of related techniques on Server Fault which may also be of interest.

    Whatever you do to address the POODLE vulnerability, be sure to check your work, perhaps with one of the following oft-recommended resources:

    Tags: Technical Web
  • A trip down memory (footprint) lane [Download for the original TextAnalysisTool, circa 2001]
    Monday, September 22nd 2014

    As you might guess from the name, TextAnalysisTool.NET (introductory blog post, related links) was not the first version of the tool. The original implementation was written in C, compiled for x86, slightly less capable, and named simply TextAnalysisTool. I got an email asking for a download link recently, so I dug up a copy and am posting it for anyone who's interested.

    The UI should be very familiar to TextAnalysisTool.NET users:

    The original TextAnalysisTool filtering a simple file

    The behavior is mostly the same as well (though the different hot key for "add filter" trips me up pretty consistently).

    A few notes:

    • The code is over 13 years old
    • So I'm not taking feature requests :)
    • But it runs on vintage operating systems (seriously, this is before Windows XP)
    • And it also runs great on Windows 8.1 (yay backward compatibility!)
    • It supports:
      • Text filters
      • Regular expressions
      • Markers
      • Find
      • Go to
      • Reload
      • Copy/paste
      • Saved configurations
      • Multi-threading
    • But does not support:
      • Colors
      • Rich selection
      • Rich copy
      • Line counts
      • Filter hot keys
      • Plugins
      • Unicode

    Because it uses ASCII-encoding for strings (vs. .NET's Unicode representation), you can reasonably expect loading a text file in TextAnalysisTool to use about half as much memory as it does in TextAnalysisTool.NET. However, as a 32-bit application, TextAnalysisTool is limited to the standard 2GB virtual address space of 32-bit processes on Windows (even on a 64-bit OS). On the other hand, TextAnalysisTool.NET is an architecture-neutral application and can use the full 64-bit virtual address space on a 64-bit OS. There may be rare machine configurations where the physical/virtual memory situation is such that older TextAnalysisTool can load a file newer TextAnalysisTool.NET can't - so if you're stuck, give it a try!

    Aside: If you're really adventurous, you can try using EditBin to set the /LARGEADDRESSAWARE option on TextAnalysisTool.exe to get access to more virtual address space on a 64-bit OS or via /3GB on a 32-bit OS. But be warned that you're well into "undefined behavior" territory because I don't think that switch even existed when I wrote TextAnalysisTool. I've tried it briefly and things seem to work - but this is definitely sketchy. :)

    Writing the original TextAnalysisTool was a lot of fun and contributed significantly to a library of C utility functions I used at the time called ToolBox. It also provided an excellent conceptual foundation upon which to build TextAnalysisTool.NET in addition to good lessons about how to approach the problem space. If I ever get around to writing a third version (TextAnalysisTool.WPF? TextAnalysisTool.Next?), it will take inspiration from both projects - and handle absurdly-large files.

    So if you're curious to try a piece of antique software, click here to download the original TextAnalysisTool.

    But for everything else, you should probably click here to download the newer TextAnalysisTool.NET.

    Tags: Technical TextAnalysisTool Utilities
  • "That's a funny looking warthog", a post about mocking Grunt [gruntMock is a simple mock for testing Grunt.js multi-tasks]
    Wednesday, September 10th 2014

    While writing the grunt-check-pages task for Grunt.js, I wanted a way to test the complete lifecycle: to load the task in a test context, run it against various inputs, and validate the output. It didn't seem practical to call into Grunt itself, so I looked around for a mock implementation of Grunt. There were plenty of mocks for use with Grunt, but I didn't find anything that mocked the API itself. So I wrote a very simple one and used it for testing.

    That worked well, so I wanted to formalize my gruntMock implementation and post it as an npm package for others to use. Along the way, I added a bunch of additional API support and pulled in domain-based exception handling for a clean, self-contained implementation. As I hoped, updating grunt-check-pages made its tests simpler and more consistent.

    Although gruntMock doesn't implement the complete Grunt API, it implements enough of it that I expect most tasks to be able to use it pretty easily. If not, please let me know what's missing! :)

    For more context, here's part of the introductory section of

    gruntMock is simple mock object that simulates the Grunt task runner for multi-tasks and can be easily integrated into a unit testing environment such as Nodeunit. gruntMock invokes tasks the same way Grunt does and exposes (almost) the same set of APIs. After providing input to a task, gruntMock runs and captures its output so tests can verify expected behavior. Task success and failure are unified, so it's easy to write positive and negative tests.

    Here's what gruntMock looks like in a simple scenario under Nodeunit:

    var gruntMock = require('gruntmock');
    var example = require('./example-task.js');
    exports.exampleTest = {
      pass: function(test) {
        var mock = gruntMock.create({
          target: 'pass',
          files: [
            { src: ['unused.txt'] }
          options: { str: 'string', num: 1 }
        mock.invoke(example, function(err) {
          test.equal(mock.logOk.length, 1);
          test.equal(mock.logOk[0], 'pass');
          test.equal(mock.logError.length, 0);
      fail: function(test) {
        var mock = gruntMock.create({ target: 'fail' });
        mock.invoke(example, function(err) {
          test.equal(err.message, 'fail');

    For a more in-depth example, have a look at the use of gruntMock by grunt-check-pages. That shows off integration with other mocks (specifically nock, a nice HTTP server mock) as well as the testOutput helper function that's used to validate each test case's output without duplicating code. It also demonstrates how gruntMock's unified handling of success and failure allows for clean, consistent testing of input validation, happy path, and failure scenarios.

    To learn more - or experiment with gruntMock - visit gruntMock on npm or gruntMock on GitHub.

    Happy mocking!

    Tags: Grunt Node.js Utilities Web
  • Say goodbye to dead links and inconsistent formatting [grunt-check-pages is a simple Grunt task to check various aspects of a web page for correctness]
    Tuesday, August 12th 2014

    As part of converting my blog to a custom Node.js app, I wrote a set of tests to validate its routes, structure, content, and behavior (using mocha/grunt-mocha-test). Most of these tests are specific to my blog, but some are broadly applicable and I wanted to make them available to anyone who was interested. So I created a Grunt plugin and published it to npm:


    An important aspect of creating web sites is to validate the structure and content of their pages. The checkPages task provides an easy way to integrate this testing into your normal Grunt workflow.

    By providing a list of pages to scan, the task can:

    Link validation is fairly uncontroversial: you want to ensure each hyperlink on a page points to valid content. grunt-check-pages supports the standard HTML link types (ex: <a href="..."/>, <img src="..."/>) and makes an HTTP HEAD request to each link to make sure it's valid. (Because some web servers misbehave, the task also tries a GET request before reporting a link broken.) There are options to limit checking to same-domain links, to disallow links that redirect, and to provide a set of known-broken links to ignore. (FYI: Links in draft elements (ex: picture) are not supported for now.)

    XHTML compliance might be a little controversial. I'm not here to persuade you to love XHTML - but I do have some experience parsing HTML and can reasonably make a few claims:

    • HTML syntax errors are tricky for browsers to interpret and (historically) no two work the same way
    • Parsing ambiguity leads to rendering issues which create browser-specific quirks and surprises
    • HTML5 is more prescriptive about invalid syntax, but nothing beats a well-formed document
    • Being able to confidently parse web pages with simple tools is pleasant and quite handy
    • Putting a close '/' on your img and br tags is a small price to pay for peace of mind :)

    Accordingly, grunt-check-pages will (optionally) parse each page as XML and report the issues it finds.

      checkPages: {
        development: {
          options: {
            pageUrls: [
            checkLinks: true,
            onlySameDomainLinks: true,
            disallowRedirect: false,
            linksToIgnore: [
            checkXhtml: true
        production: {
          options: {
            pageUrls: [
            checkLinks: true,
            checkXhtml: true

    Something I find useful (and outline above) is to define separate configurations for development and production. My development configuration limits itself to links within the blog and ignores some that don't work when I'm self-hosting. My production configuration tests everything across a broader set of pages. This lets me iterate quickly during development while validating the live deployment more thoroughly.

    If you'd like to incorporate grunt-check-pages into your workflow, you can get it via grunt-check-pages on npm or grunt-check-pages on GitHub. And if you have any feedback, please let me know!

    Footnote: grunt-check-pages is not a site crawler; it looks at exactly the set of pages you ask it to. If you're looking for a crawler, you may be interested in something like grunt-link-checker (though I haven't used it myself).

    Tags: Grunt Node.js Utilities Web
  • Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me [Open-sourcing PassWeb: A simple, secure, cloud-based password manager]
    Friday, July 11th 2014

    I've used a password manager for many years because I feel that's the best way to maintain different (strong!) passwords for every account. I chose Password Safe when it was one of the only options and stuck with it until a year or so ago. Its one limitation was becoming more and more of an issue: it only runs on Windows and only on a PC. I'm increasingly using Windows on other devices (ex: phone or tablet) or running other operating systems (ex: iOS or Linux), and was unable to access my passwords more and more frequently.

    To address that problem, I decided to switch to a cloud-based password manager for access from any platform. Surveying the landscape, there appeared to be many good options (some free, some paid), but I had a fundamental concern about trusting important personal data to someone else. Recent, high-profile hacks of large corporations suggest that some companies don't try all that hard to protect their customers' data. Unfortunately, the incentives aren't there to begin with, and the consequences (to the company) of a breach are fairly small.

    Instead, I thought it would be interesting to write my own cloud-based password manager - because at least that way I'd know the author had my best interests at heart. :) On the flip side, I introduce the risk of my own mistake or bug compromising the system. But all software has bugs - so "Better the evil you know (or can manage) than the evil you don't". Good news is that I've taken steps to try to make things more secure; bad news is that it only takes one bug to throw everything out the window...

    Hence the disclaimer:

    I've tried to ensure PassWeb is safe and secure for normal use in low-risk environments, but do not trust me. Before using PassWeb, you should evaluate it against your unique needs, priorities, threats, and comfort level. If you find a problem or a weakness, please let me know so I can address it - but ultimately you use PassWeb as-is and at your own risk.

    With that in mind, I'm open-sourcing PassWeb's code for others to use, play around with, or find bugs in. In addition to being a good way of sharing knowledge and helping others, this will satisfy the requests for code that I've already gotten. :)

    Some highlights:

    • PassWeb's client is built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and is an offline-enabled single-page application.
    • It runs on all recent browsers (I've tried) and is mobile-friendly so it works well on phones, too.
    • Entries have a title, the name/password for an account, a link to the login page, and a notes section for additional details (like answers to security questions).
    • PassWeb can generate strong, random passwords; use them as-is, tweak them, or ignore them and type your own.
    • The small server component runs on ASP.NET or Node.js (I provide both implementations and a set of unit tests).
    • Data is encrypted via AES/CBC and only ever decrypted on the client (the server never sees the user name or password).
    • The code is small, with few dependencies, and should be easy to audit.

    For details, instructions, and the code, visit the GitHub repository:

    If you find PassWeb interesting or useful, that's great! If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please tell me. If you find a bug, let me know and I'll try to fix it.

    Tags: Node.js Technical Utilities Web
  • Another tool in the fight against spelling errors. [Added HtmlStringExtractor for pulling strings, attributes, and comments from HTML/XML files and URLs]
    Tuesday, July 1st 2014

    When I blogged simple string extraction utilities for C# and JavaScript code, I thought I'd covered the programming languages that matter most to me. Then I realized my focus was too narrow; I spend a lot of time working with markup languages and want content there to be correctly spelled as well.

    So I dashed off another string extractor based on the implementation of JavaScriptStringExtractor:

    HtmlStringExtractor Runs on Node.js. Dependencies via npm. htmlparser2 for parsing, glob for globbing, and request for web access. Wildcard matching includes subdirectories when ** is used. Pass a URL to extract strings from the web.

    HtmlStringExtractor works just like its predecessors, outputting all strings/attributes/comments to the console for redirection or processing. But it has an additional power: the ability to access content directly from the internet via URL. Because so much of the web is HTML, it seemed natural to support live-extraction - which in turn makes it easier to spell-check a web site and be sure you're including "hidden" text (like title and alt attributes) that copy+paste don't cover.

    Its HTML parser is very forgiving, so HtmlStringExtractor will happily work with HTML-like languages such as XML, ASPX, and PHP. Of course, the utility of doing so decreases as the language gets further removed from HTML, but for many scenarios the results are quite acceptable. In the specific case of XML, output should be entirely meaningful, filtering out all element and attribute metadata and leaving just the "real" data for review.

    In keeping with the theme of "small and simple", I didn't add an option to exclude attributes by name - but you can imagine that filtering out things like id, src, and href would do a lot to reduce noise. Who knows, maybe I'll support that in a future update. :)

    For now, things are simple. The StringExtractors GitHub repository has the complete code for all three extractors.


    Aside: As I wrote this post, I realized there's another "language" I use regularly: JSON. Because of its simple structure, I don't think there's a need for JsonStringExtractor - but if you feel otherwise, please let me know! (It'd be easy to create.)

    Tags: Technical Utilities
  • Spelling is hard; let's go parsing. [Simple command-line utilities to extract strings and comments from C# and JavaScript code]
    Thursday, June 5th 2014

    Maybe it's old fashioned, but I try to spell things correctly. I don't always succeed, so I rely on tools to help.

    Integrated spell-checking for documents and email is ubiquitous, but there's not much support for source code. I've previously written about a code analysis rule I implemented for .NET/FxCop, but that doesn't help with JavaScript (which I've been using more and more).

    Sometimes I'll copy+paste source code into Microsoft Word, but that's an act of true desperation because there are so many false positives for keywords, variables, syntax, and the like. So I wrote a simple tool to reduce the noise:

    JavaScriptStringExtractor Runs on Node.js. Dependencies via npm. Esprima for parsing and glob for globbing. Wildcard matching includes subdirectories when ** is used.

    It's a simple command-line utility to extract strings and comments from a JavaScript file and write the results to standard output. Redirect that output to a file and open it in Word for a much improved spell-checking experience!

    Granted, it's still not ideal, but it is quick and painless and filters out most of the noise. I scan for red squiggles, update the code, and get on with life, feeling better about myself for the effort. :)

    JavaScript was so easy, I wrote a version for C#, too:

    CSharpStringExtractor Runs on .NET. Dependencies via NuGet. Roslyn for parsing. Wildcard matching includes subdirectories.

    It's pretty much the same tool, just for a different language.

    With JavaScript and C# taken care of, my needs are satisfied - but there are lots more languages out there and maybe other people want to try.

    So I created a GitHub repository with the complete code for both tools: StringExtractors


    PS - Pull requests for other languages are welcome. :)

    Tags: Technical Utilities
  • Too liberal a definition of "input" [Raising awareness of a quirk of the input event for text elements with a placeholder on Internet Explorer]
    Tuesday, May 13th 2014

    I tracked down a strange problem in a web app recently that turned out to be the result of a browser bug. I wasted some time because searching for info wasn't all that helpful and I wanted to blog the details so I could save someone else a bit of trouble.

    The scenario is simple; this application deals with private information and wants to log the user out after a period of inactivity. It does so by listening to the input event of its text boxes and resetting an inactivity timer whenever the user types. (There's similar handling for button clicks, etc..) If the inactivity timer ever fires, the user gets logged out. Because the freshly-loaded application has no private data, there's no need to start the inactivity timer until after the first user input.

    This behavior is pretty straightforward and the initial implementation worked as intended. But there was a problem on Internet Explorer (versions 10 and 11): a newly-loaded instance of the app would reload itself even without any input! What turned out to be the issue was that an input element with its placeholder attribute set also had its autofocus attribute set and when IE set focus to that element, it triggered the input event! The app (wrongly) believed the user had interacted with it and started its inactivity timer.

    Fortunately, this is not catastrophic because the app fails securely (though more by chance than design). But it's still annoying and a bit of a nuisance...

    Trying to detect and ignore the bogus first interaction on a single browser seemed dodgy, so I went with a call to setTimeout to clear the inactivity timer immediately after load on all browsers. Sometimes, this is harmlessly unnecessary; on IE, it undoes the effect of the bogus input event and achieves the desired behavior.

    Depending on your scenario, a different approach might be better - the biggest challenge is understanding what's going on in the first place! :)


    Tags: Technical Web