Brandon's Notepad

September 14, 2017

TFS / VSTS Customization


I started working heavily with Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) in the summer of 2016 and may be migrating to Visual Studio Team Servcies (VSTS) in the not-so-distant future. The need to customize TFS operations was almost immediately obvious, and the complexity of the customization only increases in proportion with the use of the tool. This page is a (growing) list of links that I’ve found useful.

Runtime Environment Variables

Environment variables are available for use during both build and release operations. These are my go-to references when I need to figure out how to get to runtime data.

Marketplace Extensions

The Visual Studio Marketplace offers many useful extensions for TFS & VSTS. Some implement or extend features such as dashboards, but the ones I’m most interested in (at least for now) are the build and release tasks. Like apps on a smart phone, these little gems eliminate the need for writing extensive scripts to compile code and deploy products. I’ve found it important to check the Marketplace often for new items as well as for updates to extensions already in use.




  • Hopefully, I won’t have to add any extensions in this section.

Custom Scripts & Extensions

If you can’t find what you need in the Marketplace, you can always write your own deployment scripts and extensions. These can be published or retained for internal use only, your choice. Here is a list of useful resources for beginners.




More to come…

January 30, 2012

Getting Google Maps

Filed under: How-To,Online Tools,Perl,Programming — Brandon @ 4:08 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So, I’d like to have a current traffic map delivered to my e-mail at the precise moment I’m leaving work for the day. Call me lazy, but this is the sort of thing that can be automated pretty easily and I don’t want to go look it up, I want it delivered. Someday, I’ll get around to setting this up, but as they say, a journey begins with a single step. In this case, the step is to find a way a good to download Google Maps with a script. For now, that is the scope of this post.

Here’s some initial research to plow through:
Mapki: Google Map Parameters Best reference so far!
Google Static Maps API*
A PERL/Wget solution
A Python script
MapTileCacher in PERL
In Bash
Discussion on Google blocking tile downloads

* On 2/7/2012, I tried using the Google Static Maps API and received Error 400 (malformed or illegal request) when using the URL described therein. I have had more luck using Google Maps directly to frame the map, getting the (perma)link, and tweaking the parameters.

January 12, 2012

TiddlyWiki: My Experience

Filed under: Computer Software,Online Tools,TiddlyWiki — Brandon @ 5:55 pm

Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > TiddlyWiki > TiddlyWiki: My Experience

I have fallen in and out of love with TiddlyWiki several times since August 2006. It started with this ‘blog post by “euicho” written almost exactly one year earlier. I’ve used it successfully for several small projects, though more often than not, what began with a TiddlyWiki blossomed into a ‘blog, a website, or a full-blown application. So, if anything, it’s good for working out a design for what I really want to do. It’s extremely versatile and addictive too! Here are some highlights from my TiddlyWiki experience.

Notepad. Believe it or not, this ‘blog began as a TiddlyWiki…sort of. I wanted to publish my notes on a number of topics on a free “personal” page. Cobbling pages together by hand was too labor-intensive, especially when I wanted to change the look-and-feel of the whole site at one time. I wasn’t learned in CSS at the time and I tried automating the compilation of a site using flat data files, HTML templates, make, and a few other scripting utilities. All of it was taking up way too much time. TiddlyWiki was the answer. For a very good reason (which now escapes me), I decided to use ‘blog technology instead, which has worked out far better in the long run; however, I might not have made that leap without TiddlyWiki in the middle.

School Notes. I finally broke down and bought a laptop while I was in graduate school. This allowed me to take all of my notes electronically, at least for the last couple of years in the program. I really wanted to go paperless, so I relied on scans, downloads, and other methods for keeping it all digital. I even recorded lectures on occasion. TiddlyWiki was my notebook of choice. With a wiki mindset, I would create Tiddlers for topics and then referenced them from Tiddlers containing basic outlines of both textbook chapters and lectures. Doing most of the work before hand allowed me to take minimal notes during class, which meant that I could pay more attention to the professor and participate in the discussion more fully.

Big Finish. The proverbial icing on the cake came in my capstone course. The professor (who happened to be the department chair) believed heavily in the power of organization. A student who keeps an organized and complete notebook will always do well, he would tell us often. As such, we had to turn in our class notebooks to the professor at the end of the semester – for a grade! I hadn’t done that since, oh let’s see, high school! It was degrading, but admittedly, a very wise requirement on his part. I had one little problem. I told him that I could print out the contents of my “notebook”, but with his permission I’d rather turn in a 100%-electonic copy. He agreed, so long as it was easily viewed on his PC with little effort. Everything was linked in the TiddlyWiki. I just burned the CD and wrote the instrucitons on the label: “insert into CD-ROM drive and open notebook.html”. I guess it worked, because I aced the course. He retired the next year.

October 29, 2010

Sound Boards

Filed under: Humor,Online Tools — Brandon @ 11:43 am

Back to My Lists

Sound boards are loads of fun, especially for geeks and radio personalities. I’ve heard DJs drive on-air phone conversations with these – absolutely their best use by far! This list will definitely grow over time. Unsuspecting pizza-delivery joints beware!

Darth Vader The official site! 8 boards with lots of sounds bytes on each

Jack Nicholson 8 boards + Mars Attacks

Sean Connery 5 boards, 2 devoted to James Bond clips

December 31, 2009

TiddlyWiki: Plugin Sites

Filed under: Computer Software,Online Tools,TiddlyWiki — Brandon @ 3:41 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Home > My Lists > Technical Notes > TiddlyWiki > TiddlyWiki: Plugin Sites

There are a lot of neat plugins for TiddlyWiki out there. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to play with them all, much less post instructions on how best to make use of them. So, here is a running list of plugin sites with descriptions.

abegoExtensions. This site is copyright abego Software GmbH and is distributed under an Open Source license. It includes about a dozen plugins.

Lewcid TW. This site has good number of plugins and macros. The is no longer available, but I found a copy at

TiddlyTools. Mr. Eric L Shulman has way too much time on his hands, and you should thank him for it. He has provided a ton of plugins. His site is still maintained, the last entry at the time of this writing dated December 29, 2011. I had once noted the usefulness of the TagCloudPlugin. His work is distributed as Open Source.

TiddlyWiki In Action. This site is a “showcase” of other peoples’ TiddlyWikis. It is still being maintained as of December 2011, though changes were sparse over the previous four years.

Umibozu. I found a reference to in my e-mail with a note that it includes a plugin named LimitOpenTiddlersPlugin that keeps only one Tiddler open at a time. The site is gone, it it appears that the Wayback Machine has several snapshots, but I am not able to view them from my current location. Perhaps I will be able to write more about this one later.

VisualTW. Most of the plugins on VisualTW are from January 2008; in 2011, the author posted that he no longer had the time for maintenance. There are a handful of editor plugins (EasyEdit, FCKeditor, Externalize), an encryption plugin that protects the whole file with a single password using RC4, a TiddlersBar plugin that adds tabs similar to those used by modern browsers, and a TagsTree plugin that builds a navigation menu based on tags.

October 31, 2009

Care Calendar

Filed under: Online Tools — Brandon @ 8:03 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

CareCalendar is a donor-supported scheduler for planning and coordinating support for a person or family in need. Various needs are logged, such as meals, rides and yardwork, and members of a “Help Team” can log in to volunteer for various tasks. A friend shared this link with me, and I have not used this service myself, but the demo looks promising. CareCalendar is a ministry of the Bortel family.

Baby Names

Filed under: Online Tools — Brandon @ 8:00 pm
Tags: ,

Choosing a name for a new baby can be difficult. Baby name books are readily available, but they contain only a limited number of names and are not always organized the same way. Some try to cover all possible etnicities equally, which reduces even further the suggestions for members of any one group. Online resources are not so constrained. Here are some sources we’ve used in the past.

The Social Security Admministration hosts a Popular Baby Names page that provides several search options, including popularity rankings by State, year, or overall usage.

The Baby Name Wizard has several neat tools. The NameFinder is a unique search engine with very relevant search criteria. The Namipedia includes name definitions and statistics. The NameMapper is a visualization tool to drill down on name information by location.

January 30, 2008

World Clock Site

Filed under: Online Tools — Brandon @ 6:02 am

Here’s a site with a clock, showing various statistics and how they change as time pases. Go one level up for games and other utilities.

Blog at