Monday, December 5, 2016

View and Log Output with Tee

Ever wanted to view and log the output of a command at the same time? I'm sure it's available natively in Linux but not, AFAIK, in Windows. So we need a little tool.

Create a file called tee.cmd and save it somewhere in your PATH. The contents are as follows:
POWERSHELL -c "Tee-Object -FilePath %1"
Now just pipe your command to "tee" and pass the name of the file you want to log to.


DIR | tee op.txt
You will get a directory listing and it will also be logged to op.txt.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Visual PowerShell with Visual PowowShell v0.0.1

I'm excited to showcase the UI for PowowShell. Check it out here or feel free to fork or browse the code on GitHub. It's just a mockup to get an idea of the look and feel of designing a pipeline as a sequence of steps in a matrix.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

PowowShell: A Vision for a Visual Progamming Language for PowerShell

I use PowerShell a lot and, though I'm a programmer at heart, it would sometimes be nice to have a library of re-usable script components which you can just wire up together in new ways.

PowowShell (Github) is my attempt at making such a system. Indeed I want to take it a step further and make it into a Visual Programming Language (like NodeRed) where you just drag and drop components onto a workspace, wire them up and press play.

PowowShell lets you take any command-line utility and wrap it up as a Powow Component. This component can then be used as a Step in a Powow Pipeline. The entire Pipeline is itself a powershell script and also a Component and thus you can use Pipelines as Components within other Pipelines.

A Common Interface

Components have 3 aspects to their interface:
  • PARAMETERS: Basic settings or values for your component. You define these when you add a Component to your Pipeline though they can be dynamic values determined at runtime.
  • INPUT: The type of data that your component accepts (piped in). This must be a string* but it can be any type of serialized data (e.g. JSON, CSV, XML, whatever).
  • OUTPUT: The type of data that your component produces (pipes out). Again, only strings*!
* All INPUT and OUTPUT is a string in PowowShell. This may sound like a limitation but it ultimately ensures components can talk to each other. A major weakness of PowerShell cmdlets today.


The pipeline is defined by a pipeline.json file (this will be built visually like a flowchart in later versions) which could look something like this:
 "id": "pipeline1",
 "name": "Send mail to young voters",
 "description": "Read voters.txt, get all voters under 21yrs of age and output the name, age and email as a JSON array",
 "parameters": [],
 "input": {},
 "output": {},
 "steps": [
   "name":"Read Voters File",
   "parameters": {
    "Path": "./data/voters.txt"
   "input": "A",
   "parameters": {
    "Delimiter": "|",
    "Header": "{\"name\", \"age\", \"email\", \"source\"}"
   "name":"Select Name and Email",
   "input": "B",
   "parameters": {
    "Fields": "{\"name\", \"age\", \"email\"}"

Basically the pipeline has some meta data (name, description) but the real meat is the list of steps. These steps are executed in the order they occur and they get their input from the step they define. In this case:
A -> B -> C
But it would also be possible to pass A's output to another component B1 as in
A -> B -> C
  -> B1

The key thing to notice is that each step references a component. These components are your re-usable pieces of code and should do something useful and configurably reusable.


As an example consider a FileList.ps1 component. It takes two PARAMETERS "Path" and "Filter" and lists the files in that directory. It does not take any INPUT and it's OUTPUT is an array of File data. Such a component is an Extractor in ETL language as it is a source node for the data flow.

There is a built-in cmdlet in PowerShell called Get-ChildItem which lists files. It's also known as "dir" or "ls". We will be using this cmdlet but wrapping it up nicely so that we can use it in a pipeline. In particular we will be making it output a JSON Array. Here's the code:

[Parameter(Mandatory=$true,HelpMessage="The path to the files")][string]$Path,
$files = @()
Get-ChildItem -Path $Path -Filter $Filter -Recurse:$Recurse |
  ForEach-Object {
    $f = @{
  $files += New-Object -TypeName PSObject -Property $f
$files | ConvertTo-JSON

This component, saved as .\components\FileList.ps1 can be run as follows from POWERSHELL:
.\components\FileList.ps1 -Path C:\temp -Filter *.txt
It will produce an output similar to the following:
        "fullName":  "C:\\temp\\test.txt",
        "name":  "test.txt",
        "size":  491899
        "fullName":  "C:\\temp\\op.txt",
        "name":  "op.txt",
        "size":  413431

Enough details for now. The idea is that components downstream can accept this array of objects and process them in some way. One might want to delete the files, search them for text, email them to somebody. The possibilities are endless.

Of course the whole system stands or falls on reusability. If our downstream component does not understand what that JSON is, or expects a different format well then we need to do some work. This is where Transform Components come it. We may well need to write many such transform components but the system will come with some basic ones like CSV2JSON and JSON2XML. As soon as we need specialized JSON or XML we will have to write our own components.

Looking ahead I could imagine 2 types of generic transform components:

  1. A JSON2JSON adaptor which allows you to simply remap fields (visually).
  2. A generic JavaScript component which allows you to write a javascript function which transforms your data.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

NGINX Awesomeness: A Simple, Powerful Web Server and More

A 2MB exe which runs a web server to rival Apache? Well, maybe not, but if you Like Simple then you will Like NGINX. In terms of power it kicks Mongoose's ass I have to say because that critter, whom I am fond  of, was pretty limited. So, ff you want to run multiple sites, reverse proxy, finely control everything HTTP and more then NGINX is your new best friend

Download and run and you have a webserver on http://localhost serving up whatever is in your HTML folder. I've stripped down the conf/nginx.conf file in order to learn and explain it here:

http {
    server {
        listen       80;
        server_name  localhost;
        location / {
            root   html;
            index  index.html index.htm;
events {
    worker_connections  1024;

This obviously sets up an HTTP server on your machine listening on port 80. It's actually just the explicit version of the default settings and so equivalent to:

http {
    server {}
events {}

If you like being Spartan!

Next: want a second server (host name)? Just add a new server section:
server {
    location / {
        root   /somewhere/else/;
        autoindex on;
The autoindex setting provides an automatic directory listing (great for local test servers).

Of course you can configure logging (even per server), HTTP settings (e.g. keep alive stuff), mime types, SSL, hostname wildcards, virtual directories, error pages, gzip (nice), deny access (for .htaccess you need a converter) and all the usual stuff you need. But what get's me excited is the reverse proxy stuff.

Our company uses an expensive, high tech appliance for reverse proxy (and load balancing) functionality. This helps keep our web servers out of the DMZ and provides a neat front so that we can have multiple different web servers behind one application on one domain. The downside is you need a degree in it to configure it. NGINX is Simple - remember! Watch this:

Let's say you have another web server running PHP and you want NGINX to reverse proxy it. Simply pass all URLs ending in .php to that server with the location command's RegEx functionality:

location ~ \.php$ {
That's awesome IMO. You need some serious expertise and clicking to get that done in our enterpise level applicance whose name begin's with "F" and ends with "5" but shall otherwise remain unnamed.

So sharpen up your RegEx skills and run your whole organisation's web infrastructure through one domain if you like.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

OptiBrowser: Managing Links in a Multi-Browser World

As a web developer I have several browsers installed on my PC. This is not only for testing apps on different browsers but allows you to run the same app as a different user at the same time - something many web apps don't offer because they store session state in a cookie which is shared among windows of the same browser.

That's all fine but what about the default browser? Each OS allows you one and only one default browser. This means that when you click a link in an email it will always open in your default browser. If you're like me, and your default browser is internet explorer (don't ask), you find yourself copying the link and pasting it into Chrome.

Enter OptiBrowser!

OptiBrowser is your new default browser and yet it's not a browser at all. It's simply a menu which let's you choose which browser you want to start the link you just clicked in. Press <Enter> and it will start in your default browser. Of course this only applies to links you click outside of the browser - links clicked in a browser say in that browser.

Check it out on GitHub (cawoodm/optibrowser) and, if you have any issues post them there. It's written in C# (.NET 4) and compiled and tested under Windows 7 so far. Feel free to fork and improve.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Crafty Tennis: A Component-Entity Game in JavaScript

Been dreaming of making a game for some time now and have been very interested in Component-Entity Systems which are a great way of keeping complexity down in a game.

I won't go through all the details here but suffice it to say you can keep complexity linear by either  adding new entities to your game (more "things" in the game) or by adding new components (more "functionality"). You then simply tell each new entity you add which components it has.

// Player Left (with AI)
Crafty.sprite(32, "img/", {
  padleft: [0, 0]
Crafty.e("Paddle, 2D, DOM, Color, Multiway, Bound, AI, padleft, SpriteAnimation")
.attr({ x: 20, y: H/2, w: 32, h: 32, player: 1 })
.bound({minX: 0, minY: 0, maxX: W/2, maxY: H})
.multiway(4, { W: -90, S: 90, D: 0, A: 180 })
.bind('NewDirection', runner)
.animate('run', 0, 0, 5) // From x=0, y=0 to x=5 (6 frames)

Check it out on GitGub (cawoodm/tennis) or download it - it's actually quite fun to play!

Of course all this development was made possible by the excellent (and free) in-browser editor called Scripted - it's a poor man's Sublime Text.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Clean Your Path

Note: This is a Windows tip!

Each time you install new software, especially nerdy, developer stuff, it tends to add itself to your system PATH. For single .exe programs (e.g. curl or git) I find this wasteful so I've devised a cunning plan. Let's say you install curl.exe in C:\some\folder\curl

  1. Remove the folder from your system path
  2. Create a curl.cmd text file in C:\windows\system32
  3. Edit this text file and add the following: C:\some\folder\curl\curl.exe %*
Now, open a DOS window and run curl - it works! How?

  • %* passes all parameters on to curl.exe
  • C:\windows\system32 is always on your system path
I recommend doing this for all your favorite command line programs and even your favorite editor. My new favorite is Scripted!