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Minima and Data Feed Framework Renamed and Explained

As of today I'm renaming any of my CTP releases to simply... "releases". That is, my Minima February 2007 CTP is now "Minima - February 2007 Release" and my Data Feed Framework February 2007 CTP is now "Data Feed Framework - February 2007 Release".

The motivation behind these is different for each. With regard to Minima, I knew it wouldn't be a long term or real production project, so announcing it as a CTP was a mistake on my part. Not a big deal. Lesson learned. Furthermore, I knew from the start that it would be more of a training tool than anything else. With regard to my Data Feed Framework (DFF), after using it in various areas I realized that my initial release was sufficient for most scenarios.

As a reminder... what is Minima? Minima is an ASP.NET 2.0 blog engine built using a SQL Server 2005 database and an LLBLGen Pro 2.0 DAL that provides the base functionality that most technical bloggers would need. Since it's initial release I've added some functionality to my own instance of Minima and have used the February 2007 release as a training tool numerous times. Moving forward I want to make it very clear that Minima is primarily a training tool and a such, it's a blog template that people learning ASP.NET can enhance and upgrade to aide in their own personal learning. Having said that, Minima is a full fledged blog engine and it does have features such as labels and the ability to have more than one URL point to the same entry. In any case, if you want something to help you learn the various components of ASP.NET, please feel free to take Minima and use it as you please (see attribution/licensing note below).

By using Minima as a training tool you can learn much about base ASP.NET technology as well as manual Ajax prinicples, CSS theming, HttpWebRequest, proper use of global.asax, framework guidelines, and type organization. Furthermore you can use it to learn WCF, the power of HTTPHandlers, and how to effectively utilize LLBLGen Pro. I will try to release versions of Minima to demonstrate the new technologies of the day. For example, when ASP.NET Ajax matures a bit (I find it slower than a dead turtle right now), I'll be adding portions to demonstrate ASP.NET Ajax. However, I will not be adding new functionality for the sake of functionality. If the functionality can be used as a training tool, then I will add it. Also, Minima is a great way of learning WPF. How so? I deliberately did NOT include a client! Why? Because I would rather you use whatever you want to use to create a simple form to access the API via WCF. The client I use a very basic WPF client that calls the Minima WCF service. So far, Minima has been a very effective learning tool and I hope you will find it useful as well.

As far as my Data Feed Framework (DFF). What is it? It's a self-contained framework that converts SQL statements into RSS feeds. I've used this in a number of places where creating a manual RSS feed and MANAGING the RSS feeds would just be too time consuming. For example, say you have a ASP.NET 2.0 e-commerce website and you have new products released at various intervals. Well, it would be AWESOME if you had an RSS feed to announce new products and sales without having to send out an ethically questionable e-mail blast. With DFF, you simply write something like "select Title=ProductName, Description=ProductDescription from Product where ProductDate > '7/11/07' order by ProductDate desc" and BAM you have an RSS feed. Since an RSS feed is simply a select statement in a column in a row in a SQL Server table, you could also use it to dynamically create a custom feed for each person who wants to monitor the price of a certain product. It's very flexible. RSS feeds are accessible via their name, their ID, or you can use a "secret feed" to force a feed to be accessible via GUID only. DFF also includes some templating abilities to help customize the output of the RSS feed. In addition to the DFF SQL to RSS engine, DFF also includes an ASP.NET 2.0 control called an InfoBlock that allows you to consume any RSS feed and display it as an XHTML list. You can see an example of how to use an InfoBlock my looking at my blog. The boxes on the right are InfoBlocks which allow me to manage my lists using a SQL Server table (the DFF database contains a Snippet and a SnippetGroup table to store autonomous information like the information in these lists--please see the documentation for more information). DFF is creating secret RSS feeds that my own personal version of Minima then consumes. With this as an example, it should be easy to see how DFF can be used in portals. My DFF demonstration video shows a bit more of that.

For more information regarding my Data Feed Framework (DFF), please skim the concise documentation for Data Feed Framework linked below. It would also probably be a good idea for you to watch my short video documentation for DFF as well. Please note that even though DFF is designed to be a production framework, it too can be used as a training tool. The most obvious thing you can learn is how to create data-bound server controls for ASP.NET 2.0 as this is exactly what an InfoBlock is.

You may use either the SQL->RSS engine or the InfoBlock portion or both. It's up to you. Also, as with all my .NET technologies that I create, the source and database files are included for extensibility and so you may use these as training tools (for yourself or for others). Lastly, for both Minima and Data Feed Framework, please remember to keep the license information intact and make it very clear that your work either uses or is based on either whichever product you are using.

Minima - Links

Data Feed Framework - Links

The ECMA-334 Standard

Let me state publicly for the record: I do not approve of books for learning C#. The only guide you will ever need is the ECMA-334 standard. It's a readable guide to the entire C# language that covers every facet of the language. This document is the definitive guide for C#. In fact, there is no document on MSDN that even comes close to the comprehensive native of C# than does the ECMA-334 standard as the ECMA-334 standard *is* C#.

Why do I mention this at all? Because, from time to time I get people asking me what book he or she should *buy* to learn C# and I always tell them what I've just stated above. Unlike Visual Basic, C# is NOT Microsoft's baby. They may have been the ones who gave birth to C# and continue feed it and nurture it, but it's a standard -- not Microsoft's baby.

Lastly, while you are getting the ECMA-334 standard, check out the ECMA-335 standard. This one is the standard for the CLI (Common Language Infrastructure -- which Microsoft implements as the CLR or Common Language Runtime). It goes into detail about the IL (Intermediate Language), the Common Language Specification (CLS), the Common Type System, and talks in some detail about various .NET concepts. I would consider this standard to be more advanced than what most people need at first, so I don't recommend this for initial learning (for that get Duffy's Professional .NET Framework 2.0 [0764571354] and then Richter's CLR via C# [0735621632]).

As a footnote, you could also check out the ECMA-262 standard (ECMAScript, that is, JavaScript), but it's not nearly as well written as the ECMA-334 and ECMA-335 standards and because of that I've never recommended it's reading to anyone.

.NET Slides

Back in 2005 I taught a class where I gave an overview of various parts of the .NET universe (at the time, the WinFX universe). I covered everything from C# to data binding to ASP.NET to service-oriented architecture to web standards. My goal was to give a familiarization with each of the topics so that the students can then learn the topics on their own in a way that best fits them.

My first session, however, was a presentation experiment. Instead of using really nasty verbose slides, I had just a few words on a slide and on one slide I had simply the number 42. Don Box would have loved my presentation. The point of the experiment was to make sure that people were paying attention to the topic and not simply reading a useless slide. I really think that PowerPoint is a massive hindrance to education. You can access my experimental presentation, named .NET Overview, below.

My next to last session was on web standards and in this session I simply told a story and then gave a few examples showing how web standards development is the only web development that is acceptable. You can access this presentation, named Web Standards Presentation, below.

Below is also a link to a video where Don Box talks about giving great technical presentations. I would recommend this video to anyone who gives talks on really any topic. Don't just watch it, study it. It takes practice.

Brad Abram's Presentation

Anyone who knows me knows I'm an architect and designer at heart... every time I see construction work I just stare at it and study how everything is being planned. Heck, I learned much of software architecture from watching Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering. I love the stuff... ergo, Brad Abrams is my hero. His work is astonishing. As far as I'm concerned he is the glue that kept the BCL together.

Everyone NEEDS to check out his latest presentation on design guidelines. This is some good stuff. Usually I think PowerPoint is a mind numbing waste of time, but this presentation is great. By the way, if you don't OWN the design guidelines book by Krzysztof Cwalina and Brad Abrams, YOU NEED TO. If you never looked at it, please stop writing code today.

Check it out...

Exam Update

Well, I'm a month into the ACTUAL writing of the C# 2.0 exam and I'm finding it just as fun as I thought it would be. This exam is more advanced than most people are probably going to want it to be, but I just can't imagine WHY someone would want to take a sissy exam. That doesn't help anyone. On the other end of things, anyone who knows Richter's CLR via C# book by heart should do great on this exam.

The only previews I can give at this time are that this exam is really more of a C#/CLR 2.0 exam as I have a sections for reflection and AppDomain management. I also have sections for more controversial things like COM Interop and unsafe code (not too bad-- I'm not about to ask pointer arithmetic questions!). The other thing I can say is that this complements the 70-* certification exams in that this covers the more technical dimension of the CLR, C#, and the framework. It's more like computer science exams than the certification exams. That is, they are more algorithmic than scenario-based.

As I progress, I'm also setting aside questions for a possible CLR 2.0 exam (for my own exam; probably not Brainbench). I figure this exam could cover things like fusion, assembly loading mechanics, CLR internal memory management, identification of core DLLs ( i.e. mscorwks.dll) and other fun topics. I would really like to see "IT" people think MUCH more like CS people; internals and mechanics are VERY good things to know.

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