Windows 8 alarm app to make you Get Up and Move like a Pro


This is a lengthy post for something I think is really worthwhile. If you’re into code exploration read on…

Last week I got frustrated while looking for a simple app that could alert me from time to time that I should get up and move/take a break instead of sitting during work hours for more than 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | ? hours. You know…software people tend to pass maybe 1/4 of their lives stationary in a chair. That’s too much time if we think about it.

Here’s my tweet:

Yes, Mac OS has an option to announce the time on Date & Time preferences (Clock tab). A robot voice can speak the time on the quarter hour, on the half hour and on the hour but it’s very limiting (lack configuration options). It wasn’t what I was looking for…

I then tried Mac OS Calendar app with its built-in alerts but it’s not the right tool for the job.

So I thought, let me go to Windows 8 side. I use Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac and so both operating systems live side by side in perfect harmony. With a Window 8 Parallels Virtual Machine I can switch from Mac OS Mavericks to Windows 8 and vice-versa with a 4 finger swipe gesture in the MacBook magic trackpad. This is real good. If you don’t know Parallels Desktop for Mac I highly recommend you go take a look at it.

On the Windows 8 side I just stumbled on the Alarms metro app and I really liked it.

Nice looking/modern and to the point Windows 8 Alarms metro appFigure 1 - Nice looking/modern and to the point Windows 8 Alarms metro app

It has a pretty beautiful and well thought/modern UI and the Win 8 “toast” alert notification is really cool and guess what: the notifications raised in Windows also show as Mac OS Notifications1 thanks to Parallels for Mac integration. Besides that, the notifications are shown just while you’re working/while the PC is awake. This is really what I was looking for…

Using the Alarms app you can configure the alarm repeat frequency and select a sound (the available sounds really nice too). One downside is that as of now (Windows 8.1) it doesn’t have an option to set an hourly alarm. I suggested it to the Win team. Lacking the hourly option I started creating alarms like crazy let’s say from 30 in 30 minutes just to find another limitation: the Alarms app allows only 20 alarms. I tried to cheat it looking at the Alarms.json file used to persist the alarms data. The file is saved here:

C:\Users\Leniel\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.WindowsAlarms_8wekyb3d8bbwe\
LocalState\Alarms\Alarms.json

but adding a new alarm by hand in this JSON file had no effect when reopening the Alarms app. I think the app code limits the alarms when parsing this file.

Of course I could set the alarms with a minor frequency like from 1 to 1 hour (what I did and that works beautifully). As a coder and explorer I started looking for some code that would allow me to overcome the manual alarms creation/configuration and the 20 alarms limit – read Automate the whole process.

I found Alarm toast notifications sample on Windows Dev Center. With the code in hands I could play with it and understand how Windows 8 does those pretty looking “toast” notifications. This was also a great opportunity to learn a little bit about Win 8 app development since I had never played with it. I’m more a web guy doing lots of ASP.NET webstack of love development these days.

I got the .zip file with C# code and fired our dear Visual Studio 2013. I was prompted to get a developer certificate and then the solution loaded without a glitch and compiled just fine. Went through the code and what I can say is that: win development (WPF/XAML) and desktop dev in general is really not as cool as doing web ASP.NET dev – this is just my humble opinion though. Lots and lots of code just to manage guess what WINDOWS. XAML designer is a heavy weight guy and takes seconds to load even on a powerful machine. Despite this, the code is easy to understand if you’ve done something as Win Forms dev.

The sample app has basically a window with 2 buttons. When clicking the first button it dispatches a notification toast to Win 8. The are plenty of options regarding the toast alert notification but I’m only interested in simulating the click of the Default Snooze button.

Figure 2 - Alarm Notifications C# Sample app main windowFigure 2 - Alarm Notifications C# Sample app main window

I started with this idea: I want to get this app notification fired with Windows Task Scheduler. Task Scheduler is such a powerful tool in Windows and allows for a great range of configuration.

To that end I created a Task that calls the win 8 sample app from time to time, say from 1 in 1 hour (just like my original alarms idea) or from 50 in 50 minutes or any interval desired.

First attempt to see if/how this could work was: right-clicked the AlarmNotifications project in Visual Studio and selected Store => Create App Packages and then Visual Studio built a local package that got saved to

C:\temp\Alarm toast notifications sample\C#\AppPackages

I promptly installed it running the PowerShell script provided - it’s called Add-AppDevPackage.ps1.

Figure 3 - Installing the App package with PowerShell scriptFigure 3 - Installing the App package with PowerShell script

After installation the app called Alarm Notifications C# could be opened in Win 8 Apps. Worked perfectly.

Note: One thing I’ve learnt is that there’s no need to package and install the app manually. You can just deploy it using Visual Studio’s green/play button to Run in Local Machine. This is way better because doing it from inside Visual Studio you can change the app code and redeploy immediately with the click of that button.

Now the question is how to open this app using Task Scheduler? This is a good question!

First blocker: Win 8 metro apps cannot be opened directly. Win 8 apps are installed in this folder:

C:\Program Files\WindowsApps

I then opened the sample app’s folder

Microsoft.SDKSamples.AlarmNotification.CS_1.0.0.1_neutral__8wekyb3d8bbwe

and looked for the AlarmNotifications.exe thinking I could use this simple command

Start AlarmNotifications.exe

as the Start Program action in Task Scheduler task.

If you double-click AlarmNotifications.exe directly you’ll get this error message:

This application can only run in the context of an app container.

Oh oh… this is bad. Sure. So how can the app be opened with Task Scheduler help? Aha… 2nd good question. Googling for that and there’s a way around it called Protocol Activation. Basically you register a protocol in the project’s Package.appxmanifest file in Visual Studio like this:

Figure 4 - Defining the app Protocol that will be used as the Start Program argument in Task SchedulerFigure 4 - Defining the app Protocol that will be used as the Start Program argument in Task Scheduler

The protocol I registered for the sample app was toast. Doing this now I’m able to launch the app using Task Scheduler with this command:

Explorer toast:

This is cool man! We just overcame Win 8 metro apps .exe limitation.

Now that a protocol was defined for the app, a small piece of code is necessary and goes into the App.xaml.cs code behind:

protected override void OnActivated(IActivatedEventArgs args)
{
    if(args.Kind == ActivationKind.Protocol)
    {
        ProtocolActivatedEventArgs protocolArgs = args as ProtocolActivatedEventArgs;
                
        var rootFrame = new Frame();
        rootFrame.Navigate(typeof(MainPage), args);
                
        Window.Current.Content = rootFrame;
    }

    Window.Current.Activate();
}

This code watches over how the app was activated… in this specific case it checks for the Protocol activation method.

With this in place we can pass the ball to Task Scheduler.

Here’s the Task Scheduler task action:

Figure 5 - Task Scheduler Task’s Action explorer toast:Figure 5 - Task Scheduler Task’s Action explorer toast:

The trigger:

Figure 6 - Task Scheduler Task’s Trigger At Startup and repeat indefinitely every 1 minuteFigure 6 - Task Scheduler Task’s Trigger At Startup and repeat indefinitely every 1 minute

Note that for testing I set the task to repeat every 1 minute. This is the part you should change let’s say from 1 to 1 hour.

I exported this task’s XML and put it in this repo at GitHub. If you wish you can import this task in your Windows Task Scheduler.

You can play with the task’s schedule the way you want. There are plenty of configuration options available.

OK. Now the foundation is laid but there’s yet one blocker to overcome. The sample app has a window called MainPage and this window has 2 buttons as seen in Figure 2. The alarm notification will only be triggered when clicking the Default Snooze button in that window. So no matter if Task Scheduler opens the app, the alarm notification will never appear. What I’m doing is an automated process and so somehow that button must be clicked in the code. What to do in this case? It’s simple: simulate the button click programmatically. Let me Google for it. The answer is here:

Windows 8 Button click programmatically in C# and XAML

The next thing to do is to find in the sample app’s code where that code should go. I put it in the Toast.xaml.cs code behind file in the ToastScenario constructor:

public ToastScenario()
{
    this.InitializeComponent();

    // Let's call the XAML button click programmatically
    ButtonAutomationPeer peer = new ButtonAutomationPeer(DefaultSnooze);
           
    IInvokeProvider invokeProv = peer.GetPattern(PatternInterface.Invoke) as IInvokeProvider;
    invokeProv.Invoke();
}

This did the trick!

I also changed the click even handler a little bit:

private void SendToast_Click(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e)
{
    Button b = sender as Button;

    if(b != null)
    {
        // Get some data from the button the user clicked on.
        string toastTemplate = b.Name;
        string alarmName = "";

        if(toastTemplate.Contains("Custom"))
        {
            alarmName = "This will make you fell better. Snooze me if you want...";
        }
        else
        {
            alarmName = "This will make you fell better. Snooze me if you want...";
        }

        // Create the toast content by direct string manipulation.
        // See the Toasts SDK Sample for other ways of generating toasts.
        string toastXmlString =
            "<toast duration=\"long\">\n" +
                "<visual>\n" +
                    "<binding template=\"ToastText02\">\n" +
                        "<text id=\"1\">Get Up and Move coder!</text>\n" +
                        "<text id=\"2\">" + alarmName + "</text>\n" +
                    "</binding>\n" +
                "</visual>\n" +
                "<commands scenario=\"alarm\">\n" +
                    "<command id=\"snooze\"/>\n" +
                    "<command id=\"dismiss\"/>\n" +
                "</commands>\n" +
                "<audio src=\"ms-winsoundevent:Notification.Looping.Alarm2\" loop=\"true\" />\n" +
            "</toast>\n";

        // Display the generated XML for demonstration purposes.
        rootPage.NotifyUser(toastXmlString, NotifyType.StatusMessage);

        // Create an XML document from the XML.
        var toastXML = new XmlDocument();
        toastXML.LoadXml(toastXmlString);

        // Create the toast and attach event listeners
        ToastNotification toast = new ToastNotification(toastXML);
        //toast.Activated += ToastActivated;
        //toast.Dismissed += ToastDismissed;
        //toast.Failed += ToastFailed;

        // Show the toast. Be sure to specify the AppUserModelId on your application's shortcut!
        ToastNotificationManager.CreateToastNotifier().Show(toast);

        // Exit the app after dispatching the toast
        Application.Current.Exit();
    }
}

It dispatches the notification immediately and closes the Application after that.

Once the toast notification appears one must take action: click the small X icon or click dismiss to make the notification go away. Of course after doing this you should actually Get Up and Move/exercise for some time. Why not go get some water or even coffee? Mug

Figure 7 - Customized Windows 8 Toast NotificationFigure 7 - Customized Windows 8 Toast Notification

Here’s a YouTube video where I demo the app running with the help of Task Scheduler:

You can see the toast notification appear right after I run the Task Scheduler task. See how beautiful it is an how catching is the sound. By the way, the sound can be changed too editing the <audio> tag in the toast XML template in Toast.xaml.cs:

string toastXmlString =
    "<toast duration=\"long\">\n" +
        "<visual>\n" +
            "<binding template=\"ToastText02\">\n" +
                "<text id=\"1\">Get Up and Move coder!</text>\n" +
                "<text id=\"2\">" + alarmName + "</text>\n" +
            "</binding>\n" +
        "</visual>\n" +
        "<commands scenario=\"alarm\">\n" +
            "<command id=\"snooze\"/>\n" +
            "<command id=\"dismiss\"/>\n" +
        "</commands>\n" +
        "<audio src=\"ms-winsoundevent:Notification.Looping.Alarm2\" loop=\"true\" />\n" +
    "</toast>\n";

One interesting thing is that If the toast is not closed/dismissed the sound gets louder and louder…

Let’s get up and move because back pain is back pain and sitting all day long can put you in trouble.

Hope you liked this code exploration.

1 to get the alert notification on the Mac OS side, the modified sample app must be opened and present in the Mac OS dock; otherwise the notification can only be seen in the Windows side. This is a Parallels for Mac limitation and I hope in the future they also make it possible to show notifications from windows metro apps that are running in the background. The nice thing is that the alarm sound still plays while on the Mac OS side.

Get the codez
The modified source code is available at this GitHub repo:

https://github.com/leniel/Windows8Toast

References
Alarm toast notifications sample at Windows Dev Center

Toast notification overview (Windows Runtime apps)

31 DAYS OF WINDOWS 8 | DAY #10: TOAST NOTIFICATIONS

Windows 8.1 Preview and ‘Alarm’/’Call’ Applications

NPOI 2.0 - Cell, Row, Sheet copying and Workbook merging


This is the 3rd post of a series of posts about NPOI 2.0.

This time we’re going to see how easy it’s to copy cells, rows and even sheets. As a bonus you also get to see the process for workbook merging/combining.

There’s nothing much to say so we’re going directly distill some “codez” in front of you… Smile

Copying Cells and Rows
Here’s what it gets to copy Cells and Rows:

using NPOI.HSSF.UserModel;
using NPOI.SS.UserModel;
using System.IO;

namespace CopyRowsAndCellsInXls
{
    class Program
    {
        static HSSFWorkbook hssfWorkbook;

        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            InitializeWorkbook();

            ISheet sheet = hssfWorkbook.GetSheetAt(0);
            ICell cell = sheet.GetRow(4).GetCell(1);
cell.CopyCellTo(3);
// Copy B5 to D5 IRow row = sheet.GetRow(3); row.CopyCell(0, 1); // Copy A4 to B4 sheet.CopyRow(0,1); // Copy row A to row B; row B will be moved to row C automatically
            WriteToFile();
        }

        static void WriteToFile()
        {
            //Write the workbook’s data stream to the root directory
            FileStream file = new FileStream(@"test.xls", FileMode.Create);
            hssfWorkbook.Write(file);
file.Close(); }
static void InitializeWorkbook() { using (var fs = File.OpenRead(@"Data\test.xls")) { hssfWorkbook = new HSSFWorkbook(fs); } } } }

The code above was taken from CopyRowsAndCellsInXls sample project.

Copying Sheets
Here’s what it gets to copy Sheets:

using NPOI.HSSF.UserModel;
using System;
using System.IO;
using System.Windows.Forms;

namespace CopySheet
{
    class Program
    {
        [STAThread]
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            // Excel worksheet merge/combine sample
// You will be prompted to select two Excel files/workbooks. test.xls will be created that combines/merges the sheets from those two workbooks. // Note: This example does not check for duplicate sheet names. Your test files must have different sheet names.
OpenFileDialog ofd = new OpenFileDialog(); ofd.Filter = "Excel document (*.xls)|*.xlsx"; ofd.Title = "Select first Excel document";
if (ofd.ShowDialog() == DialogResult.OK) { HSSFWorkbook book1 = new HSSFWorkbook(new FileStream(ofd.FileName, FileMode.Open));
ofd.Title =
"Select second Excel document";
if (ofd.ShowDialog() == DialogResult.OK) { HSSFWorkbook book2 = new HSSFWorkbook(new FileStream(ofd.FileName, FileMode.Open));
HSSFWorkbook merged = new HSSFWorkbook(); for (int i = 0; i < book1.NumberOfSheets; i++) { HSSFSheet sheet1 = book1.GetSheetAt(i) as HSSFSheet;
                        sheet1.CopyTo(merged, sheet1.SheetName, true, true);
                    }
                    for (int j = 0; j < book2.NumberOfSheets; j++)
                    {
                        HSSFSheet sheet2 = book2.GetSheetAt(j) as HSSFSheet;
sheet2.CopyTo(merged, sheet2.SheetName,
true, true); }
merged.Write(
new FileStream("merged.xls", FileMode.Create, FileAccess.ReadWrite)); } } } } }

The code above was taken from CopySheet sample project.

To go deeper and explore all the features available for Excel 2007 you can check a handful of sample projects here (as of now 24 sample projects showcasing many available features):
https://github.com/tonyqus/npoi/tree/master/examples/xssf

Open the file NPOI.XSSF.Examples.2010.sln to have all them show up in Visual Studio’s Solution Explorer.

LocalDB cannot open database requested by login. Login failed.


Today I was working with a database using LocalDB server and I had set this specific database named CBA as the default one for my user LENIEL-PC\Leniel. Setting a default database for the user is useful because when you login using SQL Server Management Studio [ SSMS ] you go directly to that database, that is, when running queries that’s the database used and not the master one. This is life saver.

I wanted to restore a backup file .bak I got from the production server using the Restore Database… command in SSMS. This is to test locally but first I had to drop my local database copy. I did drop my local copy while I was logged in to that database. I Selected the database in Object Explorer, right clicked it and selected Delete. Then checked the Close existing connections (bottom of the window), clicked OK and then the deletion succeeded. Pretty good… no.

What happened? The next time I tried to login again in SSMS this was what I got:

SSMS | Cannot connect to (localdb)\v11.0.Figure 1 - SSMS | Cannot connect to (localdb)\v11.0.
Cannot open database requested by login. The login failed.
Login failed for user LENIEL-PC\Leniel (Microsoft SQL Server, Error: 4060)

Pretty obvious! I deleted the default database I had set to my user LENIEL-PC\Leniel. Now what? How can I login to the database server and change the default database? Good question… Smile

This “simple” error was such a pain to fix…I tried lots of things like using SqlLocalDB.exe utility to stop and delete that specific LocalDB instance named v11.0. I would create it again afterwards if deleting it worked at least. This was the message logged in Windows Event logs when I tried to delete the instance:

Windows API call LogSqlDiagRec returned error code: 0. Windows system error message is: The operation completed successfully.
Reported at line: 3791. [Microsoft][ODBC SQL Server Driver][SQL Server]Cannot open database "CBA" requested by the login. The login failed.

As you see the problem was the same. It was barking about the deleted database. Damn it!

I also tried the login with the sa account but guess what… the sa account was disabled for that LocalDB instance. Even if it was enabled I would not be able to login because I didn’t know the password for sa.

Googling more I managed to find this post by Pinal Dave:

SQL SERVER – Fix : Error: 4064 – Cannot open user default database. Login failed. Login failed for user

So guess what: the solution is ridiculously easy once you know what to do of course…

Click that Options >> button in Figure 1. Now select the Connection Properties tab.

SSMS Connect to Server | Connection Properties | Connect to database optionFigure 2 - SSMS Connect to Server | Connection Properties | Connect to database option

I had to type master in Connect to database field since I did not have it in the list of available databases.

Now click connect and you’re done.

Great. Thanks God I was able to login and access the database server.

What’s left?

Reset my user Default database to master so that I can login again directly. By the way, the field Default database was empty since I had dropped the database!

Doing so there’s no need to set the Connect to database option anymore.

SSMS | Setting Default database for userFigure 3 - SSMS | Setting Default database for user

Sometimes things are so easy but they are hidden somewhere we just can’t figure it out at first.

Hope it helps.