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Sat, 21 May 2016

Releasing another Android app on Google Play

Summary: I started releasing Android apps in 2011, this is about my recent release of an app I wrote over the past 2 1/2 months. I walk through my whole process.

From mid to late February, I spent two weeks working on an Android app, a process which I write about here. With that done, I began casting around for my next project.

I wanted to write an Android app for which the time I would spent writing it would hopefully be financially remunerated. From previous experience, I knew writing an app for the mass market would be the most likely to yield this, as opposed to an app for some niche market. As I have not had much success with games on Android, but have had success with non-game applications, I decided not to do a game. I've also had success with ad-based apps so I decided to get revenues from ads.

These constraints satisfied, I now have a more limited number of possibilities to choose from. I could do a photo editor, a battery saver, a wallpaper app, a file manager and this sort of thing. So at this point I roughly estimated how long it would take me to write a minimally viable version 1 of each of these apps. Then I sorted this list by time. Then I ticked off some other factors, like probability of success in the timeline, how much competition would have to be dealt with (with say for instance, yet another flashlight app). Another factor is what appealed to me - what near the top of the list would be more fun to do, would I learn from etc.

Going over the list, a wallpapers app started to seem like the best choice. I could write version 1 in less than three months, it was for the mass market, I could probably compete enough with the existing players to get some of my time remunerated, it would be more enjoyable than the alternatives etc. It did have some drawbacks - if it were to be a success, I would need not just hundreds of wallpapers, or thousands, but tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands or millions. But I could probably get away with only having a few hundred wallpapers for version 1. So I chose to do a wallpapers app.

March 3

I look at the competition. There are two apps with 10-50 million downloads, one with 50-100 million downloads, and one with 100-500 million downloads. So that looks good, I'll start doing OK if I go into the hundreds of thousands of downloads, if it goes into the millions I will start getting remunerated for real. The apps all differ from one another slightly, but most are similar in many ways.

I decide if one of these top apps lacked a feature and succeeded, my version 1 can lack that feature as well. So I don't need a search feature (with only a few hundred wallpapers, it seems a pointless feature any how). I don't need tags. The only tabs I need are recent, popular and categories. I can start with just 11 categories. I can skip a favorites feature. I don't need a share feature (although that would be desirable for increasing the app's popularity from both ends - the sharer and the person who gets the share and may learn of the app). I can skip some of the design and design animations. I can skip a related wallpapers feature. For picture information I will put license, attribution and perhaps some information on the picture, but can skip some of the other information for now. So a lot of this is just limiting scope so version 1 will be published in a reasonable amount of time. Some of these things can come later. I would prefer a high percentage of people who download the app to keep it and use it, and for its ratings to be high. So that reflects on the schedule as well.

Since I am doing the full stack and sourcing the images as well, I have to decide what order to do things in. As sourcing the images is the most outside my control (unless I make all my own wallpapers), I decide to start with that. The limitations I encounter there will guide the rest of the project. Also, if there are any unpleasant surprises I prefer to learn them early, and perhaps even drop the project quickly if they're too much, not having wasted much time on it. So I'll start with picture and picture information sourcing, then do the database, then make a REST API interface between the database and client, and then do the Android client.

March 6

So I start casting around for image sources. Wikimedia Commons seems a good first source. They have a lot of good images, the licenses are usually Creative Commons or public domain. Wikimedia Commons has featured pictures which help me pick pictures more quickly, featured pictures are also translated into many languages already, usually. They also have a decent API. I start formulating an idea of what the MySQL database schema will be (As this project's scope is limited, it will not entail a MySQL to MariaDB migration). I download a few pictures and note their picture information. I start writing a Python 3 script to parse the XML from the Wikimedia Commons API. Instead of hammering the API for the same XML over and over, I download it locally and work off the file.

March 7-10

Work on Python script.

March 11

So now I feed my Python script an image URL, or a source URL on Wikimedia commons, and it downloads the related image, as well as queries the Wikimedia commons API and gets the file name, title, size, uploader, license, description, and other information. It's pretty much pulling all I need to start with now.

March 12

So now I really start my database schema. I use MySQL workbench to help. I try to remember all that first normal form, second normal form etc. stuff. One thing I consider is things which are singular now, but might be plural in the future. What if a wallpaper can be gotten from multiple sources? What if a wallpaper has multiple licenses? I design with this in mind.

March 13-14

Still designing schema

March 15

Start writing functionality in Python to insert the information pulled from Wikimedia Commons API into the database created by the new database schema.

March 16-19

Keep adding database insertion functionality into Python script (take St. Patrick's Day off).

March 20

Finish putting in functionality. Start populating server database with image information and web proto-API with images.

I'm happy this is done, but 17 days in it seems we have not come that far.

March 22

I put a JSON on the web server pointing to the image files. I start working on the Android app. I had already decided to use the Android Universal Image Loader (UIL) library as I am familiar with it. I load the JSON, load the image URLs, then load them into a Gridview with UIL.

March 23

Start selecting images. Get pictures of food, animals, flowers etc. Now loading on the Android device. I notice Wikimedia Commons is good for many things, but is lacking in some areas. It is good for real pictures, but not so much images of inspirational quotes, artwork, photographs with heavy filters overload on them for artistic purposes, and this sort of thing.

March 24

I start looking for another image source, to fill in for what Wikimedia lacks. Deviant Art seems a good choice. They have a good API, and many of their pictures have amenable licenses which I can use. They also fill out many of Wikimedia Commons gaps - images with inspirational sayings, artwork, filtered photographs, themed photographs (flowers in a heart shape and that sort of thing). So I start working on a deviantart script. This also reflects on the database schema - ultimately the database will have various image sources, so adding a second source hardens up the database. For example, Wikimedia commons gives a sha1 hash for its images, DeviantArt does not, so I will either have to do a sha1 for each new image, or drop that column from the database schema.

This is getting long, so I'll be more brief for the middle section of the project

March 26

Add a details JSON for each wallpaper

March 30

Add functionality so that people can download and set wallpapers on Android

April 3

Download wallpapers from Deviantart

April 4

Make Android icon for app

April 6

Work on JSON for details page

April 7

Work on Android details activity. Work on picture grid design details.

April 8

Wikimedia commons uses a lot of HTML for details - so put clickable links in Android for them

April 9

Get more wallpapers. Increase database size for various columns.

April 10

Add tabs

April 11

Select which categories to do. Start downloading sports pictures (one of the categories for v. 1)

April 14

Wallpaper image on details page can be smaller than final downloaded wallpaper. The images in the image grid can be yet smaller. So write Python scripts (using Python Imaging Library) to shrink the original images down to a detail thumbnail and an even smaller grid thumbnail.

April 18

Add code to check for network connectivity problems and deal with them accordingly

April 19-25

Download content for first categories. Cats, dogs, cities, outer space etc.

Also, from April 19th to the end of April, I don't do much programming for the app, as I am busy with other things, including sending Android-related patches to XScreenSaver for its 5.35 release.

April 30

OK, with all this content, now the initial JSON is starting to get pretty big. Even though this is version 1, I will have to deal with this sooner or later and dealing with it now will cause less headaches later. So I start splitting the JSON up.

It makes things much more complex, but it will inevitably be this way any how if the app is a success. It's complex due to mutual exclusion - UI events etc. can be happening between the request and processing of new JSON image URLs. For the next 19 days I will alternate between dealing with this, and everything else that needs to be done.

May 14

So I have been implementing the splitting up of JSON primarily since April 30th. My code was refactored a lot between April 30th and May 3rd to deal with this. By March 14th I have the components for split JSON, but a lot of crud has accumulated and the logic is a little off. Much of the crud is due to the splitting of JSON, but that is not just it - there is also duplication of code and unneeded complexity. It would be quicker to just start from a fresh Android project, and string together the various components of what has been written so far.

To prepare for that I clean things up. I move any string in the code to strings.xml. I add local Android information for various licenses in the server database. I add language to the web REST API. I modify the UIL to deal with out of memory errors on older devices. Then I start rewriting the app from the ground up.

May 15

I put an onScroll listener on the image grid, and use the end of the scroll as a trigger to load more JSON

May 16

I get rid of code duplication among the category and recent/popular activities. I combine the common code, and subclass the unique functions to different classes.

UIL has an annoying flicker when the data set changes, so I change the code to not reload on that signal. I start the app by downloading a small JSON, and when that's processed, do two things asynchronously - load those images, and fire off another JSON to have the information to load the next 48 images off the screen if we scroll down.

May 19

We're headed into the home stretch. I register a domain name for the app. I add Google Analytics (too much analysis it complains - so I cut down on the number of messages I send). I fix up the design some. I publish the app to alpha testing on Google Play.

While there is something to be said of a waterfall method of programming and releasing a polished jewel, the reality is that my income or capital or what have you is not unlimited. Also, I would like to start seeing what the market response will be. So I prepare for release.

May 20

Some minor tweaks and - release! Yay! I post to my Facebook and Twitter pages and can see from the server and Google Analytics that I am getting some downloads.

In a few hours I see that I released with a bug in the code. In Android Marshmallow (6.0), permissions changed, which ultimately renders the app unable to set wallpapers on Marshmallow devices. I had QA'd the app on a 6.0 AVD/emulator, but not the set wallpaper step. I already dealt with this problem on another app, so I code up a fix and release version 1.1 of the app.

May 21

I set up some ad campaigns for the app. I don't want to do a big promo right off the bat, but to drive in a trickle of interested users. Also it takes a little bit to get ads setup and approved and tuned right.

Then I write this up.

I have plans for future versions. One of the first is to download more wallpapers, so I am already on that. I also have other ideas which I punted on for the first version. You can download it now.

So I am still downloading new images and coding up various improvements for the next version. Also some other things I put aside I will get back to working on. Nonetheless, all that considered, I should start thinking of my next app. I want to put out a few apps that have potential, and then hopefully one will take off somewhat, and then I can put more wood behind that arrow. So soon I'll start thinking about what my next app will be.

Tools used:

Database schema design: MySQL workbench
Android programming: Android Studio - code is Java language with Android-specific classes and quirks. I run the Android Studio IDE locally on my Ubuntu machine.
Android 3rd party libraries: Android Universal Image Loader
REST API programming: Python 3 on an Apache web server, hooked to a MySQL backend. Running on a Debian Linux VPS at Linode. I use vi to edit the Python code on the server.

[/android] permanent link

Tue, 01 Mar 2016

Releasing an Android app on Google Play

Summary: I started releasing Android apps in 2011, this is about my recent release of a simple app I wrote in two weeks which I have hopes of commensurate (or better) financial reward from. I walk through my whole process.

I released my first Android app on Google Play back in 2011. Since then I have released (and sometimes unreleased) a number of apps.

For the past few months I have been working on a yet-to-be-released spreadsheet, which will take a while to write. While it has made some progress, and I have had fairly realistic expectations of how long it would take to write, I miss the ebb and flow of a more agile release-update-release cycle. So I spun an app out of the framework written thus far. But that didn't really do it for me.

Since I'm in the midst of a long project, I don't want to get enmeshed in another long project. I wanted to write an app in a short time frame, which might potentially make me some money and be useful to people. So the two parts of this is it would be an app of a type that is popular, but which I could write quickly. Of course, this means other people can write it quickly as well, and since it is of a popular type, there will be a lot of competition. This is OK though - there are problems of some type no matter what I do. Another reason potential competition is OK - this app will be finished quickly, so even if it is a total waste of time, it is not much of a waste. So I wrote the app. It is not going to be a total waste of time in any matter, because even if it has no commercial success, I learned some things while doing it, which I can bring to other apps.

February 14
So the idea of doing this in general I had been mulling for a few days. On February 14th, I decided to do a Stopwatch. It is something I could do quickly enough, and lots of people want one. Since it's popular and easy to write, of course there is a lot of competition. But I can knock one off quick so even if it's a waste of time, I'm not wasting much time. I started off looking at what stopwatch apps were popular on Google Play, what their quality rankings are, how many downloads they had, when they were first released, when they were last updated, what their features were, how they monetized, and that sort of thing. I also read what people said about the apps in their Play comments section, both pros and cons.

February 16
Then on February 16th I went on F-droid to see what FLOSS Android stopwatch apps have been released. I looked at two, one with an Apache v2 license, one with the Perl Artistic License. I took a look at how they ran, and then how they laid out their classes etc.

I saw that apps with stopwatches often include not just a stopwatch (time starts at 0 and increases) but a countdown timer (time starts at a point and decreases to 0) as well. However, my app is going to be a minimal viable product that I want to do quickly. So I decided to do it in the Unix spirit of an app that does one thing and does it well. I can always tack on a countdown timer later.

I saw that some of the apps had notifications and lockscreen features, which I hadn't thought of. Actually, this app is scratch my own itch of a sort, since last summer I went jogging using someone else's app, and was not happy with the result. I wanted a stopwatch with laps that could survive a long jog. So I resolved to put this in the way I wanted - a resilient stopwatch.

Some of the apps had hundredths and thousandths of the seconds displayed, but it goes by so quickly on the display that it's pointless. Although one app managed to display hundredths of a second decently. I display only tenths of a second on the clock, but put hundredths of a second on lap times. If people really want milliseconds I'll put that - I just don't want too much stuff filling the UI.

So with this in mind, I begin programming. I'm using the stable version of Android Studio on a System76 laptop running Ubuntu 15.10.

One thing I want right away is as big a clock as possible. I decide to start with a TextView. I want it to fill the width of the screen. I'm not exactly sure how to fill the width of the screen with a TextView, and don't find a satisfactory solution until February 23rd.

Most of the other Stopwatch apps have two buttons, and I use two buttons as well.

I also look for a nice icon to use for the app. There is an icon available from https://github.com/alecive/FlatWoken . The license is CC BY-SA 4.0. They say "the iconset is free to use, including commercially, but please consider that if you do convey any monetary income from its use I kindly ask that we arrange for a fair compensation." I've paid for app icons before, and if this app winds up in the black, I will send them money commensurate with what I paid those who required I paid for commercial use. This icon is easy to understand, looks nice, and is available in everything from 512px to 16px sizes. Perfect for my needs.

I then give some preliminary consideration to what my app blurb on Google Play might say for the English language listing.

February 17
I want the stopwatch to be resilient, so I create a Service to run it. On Android, Services are sort of like Unix background processes. I set the service to be destroyed (Activity onDestroy method) if the stopwatch is not running, and if it has no state (no stopped or lap information, whether it was never started or reset). All of the boilerplate to connect an Activity and Service - ServiceConnection, Binder and so forth - I had in my inchoate Spreadsheet app code, so I just copied it over. I also do a little work on the two buttons.

February 18
I add a Constants class which shares final constants between the Service and Activity classes. I begin implementing some of the stop and start functionality in the Service, as well as on the button which handles that.

February 19
So, this is a stopwatch, which means I need a timer running. The Android Timer class docs say ScheduleThreadPoolExecutor is the preferred way to do this, not Timer. But what are the parameters etc. of ScheduleThreadPoolExecutor? I read the class docs, and also look at Google's Android sample code to see which apps use this. I get an idea of how it works, experiment a little, and put it into the Service. With every tick, I send out a broadcast, which is received by the activity, which updates the clock.

February 20
I make the display of the current time more resilient, lasting through pushes of the home screen button, back button, screen rotation and so forth. I also add turn on reset functionality if that should be called.

February 22
Busy through the weekend, I get back to work on Monday. I write a satisfactory method of fitting the TextView text size to the maximum allowed. While the app is running, I run a test - I create an off-screen test staticlayout and textpaint on it, and keep increasing its text size until the text won't fully fit on the staticlayout's width any more. Then I use my last good test size on the real TextView. I can probably improve this algorithm but it works for now.

I also put some very initial lap functionality in.

February 23
I add more lap functionality. I save lap info through screen rotations and other Activity changed.

February 24
I show my friend, who regularly exercises, what I have so far. He likes the app's simplicity. He also would prefer hundredth of a second and even millisecond accuracy. I have millisecond accuracy but don't display it yet, or even hundredth second accuracy.

I set it so that the last added lap always appears on-screen, and older laps begin fading off-screen.

I want the lap ListView views to be more flexible, so I create a custom ArrayAdapter for the ListView, which generates the views I want.

I stick in an ad that links to one of my other apps when closing. This is the first attempt towards monetization.

At this point, we do have a minimally viable product I think. The app is now minimally useful. But there's a few more things I want to try before release, so I will take a stab at those.

February 25
I add a notification widget to the app. The notification widget exists in the lockscreen as well. It is updated every second with the new time. I pull one of Google's CC-BY licensed clock icons from the web to use in the notification.

February 26
I begin playing around with a behavior where clicking on the notification goes to the app activity. While testing this out, I notice an unrelated problem. The app had been exiting in some circumstances even with state. The notification testing I have been doing flushed this unrelated error out. So I fix that bug.

February 27
Pressing notification now goes to the app. I could put action buttons here, but will postpone that beyond this minimally viable product.

I change from AppCompatActivity to Activity and change the style to Holo. It makes things easier...

I decreased the size of lap numbers and increase the size of lap/total time spent. I also add hundredths of a second accuracy to these lap times.

I add lap time sharing. So people can e-mail their lap times, send it to a notepad, or what have you.

I also put in Google Analytics. I tried it a while ago on an app and not much happened. I try again. Hey, it works OK! Either they made it simpler or I finally figured it out.

February 28
I QA the app on a variety of phones and tablets, and some AVD emulators. Then I push it to Google Play alpha testing. I send screenshots to Google Play, fill out the blurb there etc. I look at the Google Analytics console - wow, this really works. Wasn't sure what to track, so I am doing button presses and that sort of thing. There are a few things I'd like to know, including what frustrations people may be having and that sort of thing.

February 29
I push from Google Play alpha to production. Then I set up an Adwords campaign. My ad is approved! I run a few ads, many see the ads, a few click, and a percentage of those install the app and show up as a blip on Google Analytics - currently 4 people. Let's see - none of them are using laps. They tend to check the app out for a few seconds and then leave. Although some use it for longer.

So I will probably run Adwords ads for this, see what feedback is, see if it crashes and so forth. Then I may pay to translate it into other languages, once I get a sense English language users are happy.

Many of these apps also have countdown timers. If it is heavily requested and seems necessary I may add one. Doing this was also about agile, pulling the trigger, minimally viable product etc. so I passed on that feature for now as this has most of the desired stopwatch features.

As Analytics is working and I'm tracking ad conversions more closely, some time down the road I may run some Facebook ads for this. Or run ads wherever - I have some grasp of Analytics now and want to explore the different promotion avenues. If Google Analytics doesn't have what I want I can even roll my own. But I will use their backend for now in terms of conversion tracking.

So I'll continue pushing this forward and see how that goes. I'll probably do another app of this manner. I don't want to do something like the many months long spreadsheet app I am in the midst of. Two weeks for this was good. I could even do a longer one. Although not that long - releasing this app was just a break from my spreadsheet app, which I have been working on for months. Years really, although I put the project aside for many years and picked it back up last year (2015). I don't need another long project like that, just some quick apps which might help people and may make a little money like this Stopwatch app.

[/android] permanent link

Sat, 21 Mar 2015

Preparing for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

I took a class in AI in late 2013, but I only started looking at practical engineering implementions for ML in the past few months.

In looking at things like scikit-learn, I saw that a lot of the algorithms are already coded. You can even automatically test what classifier/model will be best for the data. In looking at the package and examples, I suspected that the hard part was wrangling the in the field data into an acceptable form for the algorithms.

I was graciously invited to an event a few months ago by a fellow named Scott, at which there were several people with good field knowledge of AI and ML. I talked to two of them about algorithms and data. Both of them made the point that getting the data wrangled into a suitable form was the hard part. I then went onto the net and read about this more carefully, and others with experience seemed to agree. So it is like other programming, where getting the data structures and data input right is usually the hard part, since if that is done well, implementing the algorithms is usually not much of a chore.

So I began working on my ML project. What does it do? Sometimes I go to local supermarkets, and what I am looking for is out of stock. So this ML predicts whether the supermarket will have the item I'm looking for in stock.

I architected the data structures (which consists of purchases, and observations that certain products are missing) and programmed the inputs. Then I added Google Maps so I could see where the local supermarkets were. The program would prefer close supermarkets to far ones.

Now I have run into a problem/non-problem. In architecting the solution so that the ML models and algorithms could better understand the problem, I architected a solution so that I could better understand the problem as well. Before I would pretty much go to my closest supermarket, if they were out of stock then on to the next closest one, and so forth. Now I have all that data available on my Android, including a map, and deciding which supermarket to go to is trivial. I don't need the ML so much any more. I wonder how often this happens - you build a solution so that AI/ML can be used, but once all the data is recorded in an understandable way, you don't need the AI/ML any more. Although there can be situations where there is a lot of data for someone to remember in their head, but not a lot for an ML solution.

Any how, I went through enough trouble to put all of this together, that I will still go through with writing a program that predicts if the items I want are in stock. I'll also make a map with time/distance information between my home and the supermarkets, and the supermarkets with each other. Then my program will give me advice on which supermarkets to try first.

[/ai] permanent link

Wed, 26 Feb 2014

Porting OpenGL in C and C++ to Android

I took a computer graphics class for the winter 2013 semester, in which I learned how to program in C++ with the OpenGL (and GLU, and GLUT) library. The most fun part, which I unfortunately did not have enough time for, was my final project in which I could draw pretty much whatever I wanted.

After finals were over, and Christmas came and went, I began diving into OpenGL for Android. Android does not use OpenGL per se, it uses the OpenGL ES library.

When I was porting open source apps that uses the Simple Directmedia Library, some of them had had OpenGL hooks and I had skipped them for porting to Android.

Initially I kind of dove in at too high a level. While the Android example apps used OpenGL ES 2 and so forth, most of the code I was looking at was more geared toward OpenGL ES 1 if anything. So I rewrote Android's hello-gl2 app to target OpenGL ES 1, not OpenGL ES 2. I also made sure it had the C++ values exported properly.

I decided to revisit those open source SDL apps with OpenGL that I had passed over previously. The first I looked at was Pipe Walker. It had a minimal number of OpenGL calls, and I ported it without much of a problem.

One thing I did was install the OpenGL ES library on my Linux desktop, and then target my desktop for the program, but pointing to the OpenGL ES library, not OpenGL. Once I got that working, porting it to Android was less of a hassle.

Then I looked at Jigzo, an open source jigsaw puzzle app that used SDL. It had a few more OpenGL calls, but was still fairly simple. So I ported that over. Again, I rewrote the desktop app to use the OpenGL ES library on my desktop, then I ported it to Android.

I then noticed the app Anagramarama which used SDL. It didn't have OpenGL calls, but I just noticed it while looking through open source SDL apps. So I ported that to Android as well. It's really designed for a standard monitor, so I made it tablet only - it does not work with phones well in its current form.

Pipe Walker and Jigzo used minimal OpenGL calls, so hand-porting it to Android was easy enough. But as I looked at apps with more code, hand-porting all the OpenGL stuff looked like more work. So I began looking how to automate this.

One solution was regal. It's Github page says regal is "a user-space OpenGL layer for OpenGL 2.x, 3.x, 4.x, Core contexts and ES 2.0. Regal implements OpenGL loading, emulation for ES and Core contexts and tools for debugging". Cool! I grabbed it and compiled the dreamtorus example app right on my Android. Excellent.

Then I looked at the size of libdreamtorus.so. About 20 megs! To figure out the total of what my Android app would be I would have to take that and then add on the size of the rest of the Android app. A 20 meg dynamically linked shared object library is not big for an average desktop or server, but it is for an app on a smartphone.

Pipe Walker hand ported myself had come out to less than 3 megs all told. Jigzo even with its Jigsaw puzzles was less than 6 megs in total. Yet just the regal library itself would be 20 megs on my device, never mind the rest of the app.

If I wanted to continue with regal I'd probably want to work on trimming that library size down. I don't think regal had much OpenGL 1 support either. I decided to look for other options.

Jamie Zawinski of Netscape fame had ported his XScreensaver app over to iOS, and had faced the rigamarole of all that OpenGL to OpenGL ES porting. Amazingly (to me), he was able to automate doing this within three days. Pretty much all of this work is done in a compatibility shim consisting of a file of C code and two header files.

As the file was within XScreensaver, I thought Xscreensaver would make a good first app to port with this method. But XScreensaver has a lot of libraries, a lot of dependencies, a lot of header files in code which themselves include other header files. I like to work on simple things when getting familiar with something, and then work my way up to the more complex stuff.

Like Jigzo and Anagramarama, I tried to find the simplest Xscreensaver to compile on my desktop, and rip it out to its own package, with as simple a Makefile as possible and as few dependencies as possible. The step after this would be to point to the OpenGL ES library, and then do the Android port. But it was slightly difficult to do, the XScreensaver apps had a lot of dependencies.

So I took a look at other screensaver packages. The Really Slick Screensaver package (rss-glx) contains the official Really Slick screensavers as well as some additional open source screensavers. They were much more easy to make simple standalone applications and Makefiles. The Sundancer one was simple enough that I hand-ported it from OpenGL to OpenGL ES, not even using jwz's GL -> GLES code. Once that was done, I worked on porting it to Android.

It was a little difficult, I never did a wallpaper on Android before, never mind a live wallpaper. I found some code that pointed to an EGLSurface as opposed to a Canvas for live wallpapers. Then I hooked that into the code I wrote which could do OpenGL ES 1 rendering on the native (C/C++) side of JNI. A little more banging on it and it worked as a live wallpaper. I tried some of the other rss-glx wallpapers but there were various problems. Then I went to work on the Hufo's Tunnel screensaver. It had a few more OpenGL calls than Sundancer, in a more complex manner, so I pulled in jwz's GL -> GLES code. It worked.

I wanted to have multiple screensavers in one app so I worked on it so that both would be in one app. I also wanted users to be able to send some of the flags that you could in the package. I put this in the wallpaper settings. The tunnel could be made smoother or coarser. The dancing sun could have sunbeams increased or decreased. Then I wanted to make sure the screensavers wouldn't interfere with each other or zombie instances of themselves - something I still have probably not totally fixed yet. I want to reduce state as much as possible, especially global, long-lasting state.

Sending command line flags to Android is a little different due to how the application lifecycle works. A threaded getopt routine is preferable. Luckily one exists, optlist, so I replaced getopt with it. Worked great.

The tunnel app uses the bzip2 library so I included that as well.

So I released the app with two live wallpapers - Sundancer and Hufo's tunnel. It had been unstable, but then I removed callbacks from the Runnable command when destroying the surface, and it became more stable. I QA'd it some and it was good. I published it. Hopefully the code is stable enough. I think it should be if someone is not purposefully trying to break it - hopefully.

[/android] permanent link

Mon, 26 Aug 2013

Developing Android in Emacs

It's been weeks, maybe months, since I fired up Eclipse (or Android Studio) to do any Android programming. I do everything with emacs, vi, ant, astyle, adb, and the Android commands "android" and "monitor".

The last thing really pulling me into Eclipse was the Control-Shift-O that automatically pulled in imports for Android. I have begun solving that in Emacs. Now I have this in my Emacs init file:

(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/jdee-2.4.1/lisp")
(setq jde-global-classpath '("/usr/local/android-sdks/platforms/android-18/android.jar"))
(load "jde")
I downloaded the Java Development Environment for Emacs, and point to the android jar for a classpath. Now if I want to automatically import a class such as TextView, I put my cursor over a TextView and type Control-C-V-Z. I confirm TextView, and then the class is auto-imported.

Sometimes I am given several choices and I choose the most appropriate one. Unlike the Eclipse one, I get more false choices and some of them are non-Android and bogus. I can work on this, although it has not been a big problem.

Sometimes I run ant debug in one window, see what classes need importing, then do the Control-C-V-Z for various classes in the other windows.

I'm sure I can automate this more but it works for me now.

[/android] permanent link

Wed, 21 Aug 2013

Bitcoins are worthless

A few months ago, as more attention began being paid to Bitcoin, I began looking into it. I discovered that Bitcoin currency was not backed by anything. It had no value other than its purported value as a currency.

This means it is worthless. Currencies only have value if they have some inherent value. It is why gold has been used as a currency for so many millenia. Two years before I was born, US federal reserve notes (dollars) were still backed by gold. Gold is used as a currency, it is used for jewelery, but it has other uses as well, in industrial settings and such.

Bitcoin has no use other than as a "currency". Which means it is not even a currency. Because all real currencies have an underlying value, like gold has.

But isn't Bitcoin valuable now? Can't you get exchange them for dollars, euros etc.? Doesn't that make them not worthless?

This is true, but it is temporary. They are inherently worthless though. People who get into pyramid schemes early might actually come out ahead if they cash out early. There is no inherent worth though. Gold and silver were valuable 2000 years ago and are still valuable. If I know someone with one hundred losing lottery tickets from last week - last week those tickets were considered worth one hundred dollars, today their value is nothing. If I bought five tickets for carnival rides last week, and the carnival has packed up and moved on, my tickets are now worthless. Bitcoin is the same.

In March 1637, there was a craze for tulip bulbs in Holland. A tulip blub could sell for 3000 florins or more, which would be about 30,840 euros ($41250) today. A speculative bubble built up, which then collapsed, and the price of tulips plunged back toward its more normal price. So temporal situations like this can exist - tulips were sold for tens of thousands of dollars in one country, in the space of one month, but this could not last. Tulips do not have that much of a value.

What about currency like US dollars?

As I said, US currency was backed by gold until two years before I was born. So obviously, people felt this was necessary.

Get 14 hundred dollar bills which are worn and torn somewhat in a manner which would make them less valuable for collectors, but would still be accepted as currency. Does anyone think those bills will be worth more than an ounce of gold five centuries for now? Or with inflation, even fifty years from now?

Currencies are only as valuable as their inherent worth. Only an institution as powerful as a government can get away with creating a fiat currency that would be considered to have worth. Not that that always works - consider countries with runaway inflation they can't control. Consider the confederate dollar, or the Reichsmark. The confederate dollar and Reichsmark had value for a time, but when their governments were defeated, their currency became worthless. Even before the Reichsmark, Germany's pre-Nazi Papiermark was becoming worthless over time. Governments love to be able to print money and say it has value, but they only have so much power in this regard, and it only lasts so long. England thought it had the power to keep the value of the pound at a certain level. George Soros is said to have made over one billion pounds proving them wrong. The power of governments to print money is limited and temporal.

Of course, the US federal reserve says of itself that it a "unique structure that is both public and private" which is "independent within the government" but not "indepedent of government". This aside, US dollars do have value. You can pay taxes and other fees with it. You can go to the post office and ship packages with it, and buy boxes and envelopes while you are there. Soldiers can go to their local PX or commissary and buy all sorts of things with dollars. None of this has the long-term useful value of gold though.

What do Bitcoin partisans say?

I find this interesting. The most clear answer I've gotten was from a wiki called "Bitcoin myths". Here are the relevant parts from that web page, with the argument against Bitcoin, which they consider false, and then their reply:

Bitcoins are worthless because they aren't backed by anything

One could argue that gold isn't backed by anything either. Bitcoins have properties resulting from the system's design that allows them to be subjectively valued by individuals. This valuation is demonstrated when individuals freely exchange for or with bitcoins. Please refer to the Subjective Theory of Value.

See also: the "Bitcoin is backed by processing power" myth.

The value of bitcoins are based on how much electricity and computing power it takes to mine them

This statement is an attempt to apply to Bitcoin the labor theory of value, which is generally accepted as false. Just because something takes X resources to create does not mean that the resulting product will be worth X. It can be worth more, or less, depending on the utility thereof to its users.

In fact the causality is the reverse of that (this applies to the labor theory of value in general). The cost to mine bitcoins is based on how much they are worth. If bitcoins go up in value, more people will mine (because mining is profitable), thus difficulty will go up, thus the cost of mining will go up. The inverse happens if bitcoins go down in value. These effects balance out to cause mining to always cost an amount proportional to the value of bitcoins it produces.

So basically they're saying Bitcoin is valuable due to the subjective theory of labor.

Then they go on to try to show how the labor theory of value is a fallacy - and fail.

Whether you agree with them or not, there have been serious arguments against the labor theory of value by people like Eugen Böhm von Bawerk. The Bitcoin myths FAQ does not delve into this, they create a false strawman of what they think the labor theory of value is and then proceed to knock it down: "Just because something takes X resources to create does not mean that the resulting product will be worth X." Yes, if that was what the labor theory of value was, that would be a good argument against it. But Adam Smith, David Ricardo and company did not construct a theory of value that could be knocked down with one sentence after a few seconds of thought. Especially Ricardo, who wrote volumes on his theories of value.

The Bitcoin FAQ seems like it was written by someone recapitulating arguments that they heard a more educated person make. I can't imagine someone having the basic realization that these theories of values came into play with Bitcoin, and then spelling out these ideas in such a sloppy manner. I'm more concerned with that original argument than the mistakes of what was probably a sloppy transcriber.

To say that Bitcoin gets value because the subjective theory of value is true is not a falsifiable argument. Because if people realize it is worthless, those people can then just go on and say it had no subjective value. It's not really a falsifiable argument.

On the other hand, if Bitcoins continues to be exchangeable for goods with real value over the long term - that would disprove the labor theory of value. Like Wile E. Coyote walking off the edge of a cliff, things like tulip bulbs, Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, Reichsmarks and so forth can seem to have a great value for some period of time - but eventually people wake up and realize it is worthless.

I guess one thing that can be done with this realization is I could make money shorting Bitcoins. Of course if I was personally liable, Bitcoin could shoot from $122 USD to $1000 before crashing to near $0, but that last part wouldn't matter as I would've been wiped out by the margin call on the way to $1000. So I would have to use an LLC or something. Even then, if it went $122 to $1000 to $0, I could still lose my money. So the bet would have to be low enough that I could cover any realistic margin call. Also, as Keynes said, "Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent." But I think I can afford shorting one Bitcoin, just for the principle of it.

To put my money where my mouth is, I think I'm going to look into shorting one bitcoin using Bitfinex or someplace like that. Of course, the reliability and trustworthiness of Bitfinex comes into play. As do regulations, legalities etc. It would only be $122 though.

[/bitcoin] permanent link

Tue, 25 Jun 2013

IRS was targeting "open source" groups

Something popped out at me while reading a news article about the IRS yesterday. According to a New York Times article:

The acting I.R.S. commissioner, Daniel I. Werfel, formally ordered an end to all such "lookout" lists on Monday when he issued an assessment of the controversy that has led to harsh criticism of the nation's tax collector.
But groups with no political inclinations were also examined. "Open source software" organizations seeking nonprofit status "are usually for-profit business or for-profit support technicians of the software," a lookout list warns. "If you see a case, elevate it to your manager."

So the news has been saying the IRS was specifically targeting "Tea party" groups. Then we learned recently that it has been targeting "Occupy" groups. Now we find out it has been targeting open source as well.

I submitted this to Hacker News, but someone took the title of the article I made and turned it into something irrelevant to open source.

[/freesoftware] permanent link

Wed, 22 May 2013

Gnome terminal resize info on Ubuntu 13.04 - raring

Ubuntu disabled the resize info tooltip for Gnome Terminal once again, and has once again changed their convulted method to restore it.

In this iteration of Ubuntu:

1) "sudo aptitude install compiz-plugins"
(or "sudo apt-get install compiz-plugins" if you don't have any aptitude)

2) "sudo aptitude install ccsm"

The run "ccsm". In the filter search, search for "Resize Info". The box is unchecked with its default tooltip turned off. Check the box. Compiz will then freeze up a little for a few seconds and then go back to normal. You now have Gnome terminal resize info tooltip enabled.

[/linux/ubuntu] permanent link

Wed, 17 Apr 2013

VPSs, Nagios, .com domains

My revenues have been between $900 and $1425 over the past four months, so in January I decided to splurge and get VPS instances from two providers.

I read online about what people thought. A lot of people liked Linode so I went with them. For $20 a month I get 2 TB outbound transfer, 24 gigs of storage, a priority CPU and a share of eight others, and 1 gig of RAM. In January that was 512MB of RAM and 200 gigs of transfer, but there has been competition in the VPS space.

Rackspace seemed popular as well. People were less enthused, but it was deemed OK. So I got a VPS with them. With the lowest price "cloud server" you get 20 gigs disk, 1 virtual CPU, and 512MB RAM. Pricing is $16.06 a month but does not include traffic. With 32-33 gigs going out it is $20 a month. I send out less than 1 gig a month so I am charged around $16.18. Of course, these policies determine how I use the servers. I served 33 gigs of data from Linode in March.

I'm running Debian 6.0 on both servers. I run Debian because - what else am I going to run? I've worked with Debian since Vincent Yesue introduced Debian to me back in the mid 1990s. I'm familiar with it. I run Ubuntu on my desktop so I'm familiar with dpkg. I could run Fedora or CentOS (can't afford Red Hat at this stage) but Debian seemed fine enough.

I decided to set up a Nagios instance on my desktop and watch Dreamhost, Bluehost, Rackspace and Linode. I knew how flaky Dreamhost was, now I really know. Any how, I've been slowly shifting everything to the VPSs.

I run BIND 8 on both VPSs for primary and secondary DNS. I also run Apache on both VPSs. Rackspace is the front end web site. Linode I use for serving epub files, and also to handle search queries. So I run MySQL on Linode as well.

Last week, Nagios said Linode was slow. So I began culling down memory usage on Apache, BIND and MySQL. Nagios still said it was slow. So I began timing web page gets from other locations, and Linode was fine. The connection from my ISP to Linode was just slow for a few hours. It's probably better I tuned it any how.

I had some domain name ideas while doing this, so I signed up with Namecheap and got some domain names. I will probably be holding most of my domain names there hence forth. The number of dot com names registered are in the hundreds of millions. It keeps going up. I remember back in 1996 when names like proof.com were still unregistered, I missed snapping that up by a few days. Someone just e-mailed me offering to sell me a domain name for $350,000.

So I saw some a domain I wanted expiring. I used snapnames.com to scoop it up. And I got it. So now I have bookmarkflood.com. Most of the domains I have are either connected to books or bookmarks.

I want to improve my programming knowledge, more specifically Java, more specifically Android. But programming in general as well. Besides, Android is not all about Java - a lot of what I've been doing with Android has been C and C++ apps using the NDK. Or server side programs - usually Perl so far.

I've been reading Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. I have been taking my time to go through it. Right now I am on section 1.2.3.

[/vendors] permanent link

Tue, 16 Apr 2013

Mobile rising, Windows falling

Alexa lists Wikipedia as the 6th most popular web site in the world.

One nice thing about Wikipedia is Wikimedia data analyst Erik Zachte gives a detailed public summary of Wikipedia's web traffic. We have been hearing about the rise of mobile technologies like iOS and Android, and the problems Windows has been having, and that is well illustrated on Wikipedia. Windows browser share was at 55.73% last month, down from 89.5% four years ago.

[/android] permanent link

Thu, 03 Jan 2013

2012 in review

Well, I have had some small success with Android this year. Here are my month-to-month earnings:

I made $747.30 from my Android apps in November, then that number jumped to $1234.78 for December. From December 25th to 28th I made over $62 every day. I did not expect that to continue in the short term and it has not, today I made about $40 on Android.

One reason how much money I make on it is important is it is self-perpetuating. The more I make on Android, the more time I can devote to programming Android apps.

[/android] permanent link

Fri, 14 Dec 2012

Amazon EC2, Bluehost, Dreamhost

I have been hosting on Dreamhost since 2005. For a $10 a month web hosting service, I have been happy.

Actually, I seem to have been grandfathered in with the monthly $10 rate. I started with a one-year plan in 2005 then moved to monthly. I pay monthly - $10 a month. It appears the monthly rate is now $11 a month with a $50 setup fee. Yearly is $10 a month, two-year is $9 a month.

Problems over the years...NTP was off by a little on my host, but an e-mail to support fixed that. A few times the host was completely unreachable - web servers down, not reachable by ssh. An e-mail fixed that. Sometimes my web logs would become unreadable or stop rotating, an e-mail would fix that.

The main problem I have faced is load averages. I have seen over two hour periods the 15 minute load average staying above 200 - peaking at 261. This on a machine with 4 processor cores. Of course, the machine slows to an absolute crawl when this happens. I have limited access to their machine's /proc directory, so I have no idea what causes these surges. I would say high load averages are my main concern with Dreamhost. As I type, the 15-minute load average is over 18. The machine has 4 processor cores. This has been a problem on Dreamhost since I signed on - in 2005.

One disconcerting thing with Dreamhost is it seems the concern has gone down from the techs over the years. In 2005 and 2006, support jumped on problems. As time went on, support does not respond to high load issues, or tells me factually incorrect information about what a load average is. When I can't access my web logs the way I have for years, but doing a cat, the message is more or less "just live with it" (thankfully, I can once again cat my web logs).

I just signed up with Bluehost in October. I opened the account for the use of one of my Android apps. Which might sound expensive for one app, but that app makes enough every four days to pay for a year's worth of Bluehost service.

With Dreamhost, html directories are all separate, which I like. With bluehost, they're all piled on top of one another, which I dislike.

Bluehost also does not let me run cron jobs. You have to go to the web interface and schedule jobs. I understand in a sense, why they do this, they don't want my account tied to the machine, but if you're going to virtualize scheduled jobs to the web, why not try to virtualize cron as well? I mean, this problem was solved with Unix in the 1970s, why are we going backwards?

I served out 23 gigs worth of files via Bluehost in November without much complaint, so so far, so good.

Amazon EC2

I wanted to pull some epub's from Gutenberg.org. So I signed up with EC2. They make a small credit card withdrawal and also call your phone and you have to type a PIN. In less than an hour, I was all signed up. I spun up a free micro-server on US East and connected to Gutenberg. IP blocked on the first try! Obviously someone before me). So I terminated that instance. So I spun up one from a non-US location. Success! I pulled down a few hundred epub's. Now I'm up to date. I sent an e-mail to Gutenberg.org a month ago and never heard back.

Anyhow, EC2 seemed cool. I have heard people talk about how cheap web hosting (and databases, and application servers) is getting, but I didn't really get how cheap. Or understand how easy it is to dial up an account from a small web server to one handling many hits. EC2's pay for what you use service, with reasonable prices, works great for me. I'm sure I will be looking more at it in the future.

[/vendors] permanent link

Fri, 12 Oct 2012

Processing large data files

I guess noticing this thing shows how little I know about programming, but I have now seen this come at me in two different directions and am now more aware of it.

The thing I am talking about is when I am processing a large data file with a program. The large data file is in a certain data format. So initially, since it is theoretically the easy way, I try to download the entire file into memory into a data structure which fits that data format. Once that is done, I start processing that data structure. Usually what I'm doing is in one way or another, translating the data from the form it is in, into another type of data structure, and outputing the new data structure.

The problem is you have this huge data structure in memory, and are trying to manipulate portions of it into another data structure, and it just takes up a lot of resources. The work gets done, but it is too slow. Sometimes all of this memory use starts memory paging, and then the machine slows to a crawl.

My first encounter with this is when I wrote a Java program for my blunder suite of tools - pgn2fen. I would take a PGN (Portable Game Notation) file that was 7 megs or so, load it into memory, and then convert every move of every game in that PGN into a FEN (Forsyth–Edwards Notation) data structure, which represents a chess board position.

Initially, I would load the file as a linked list of Strings, and then send that entire list as a parameter to various classes. As the program began coming together, I made a big improvement in the code. Now I created a second shorter linked list alongside the large linked list. I would then slice off a piece of the list, like a slice of salami or a banana, and send that slice around to the other classes. The large linked list was rid of the data as soon as it was sliced, and the smaller linked list with the slice itself was discarded once it was processed. I would then go on to slice off the next part of the large linked list, and repeat. The code looks like this:

            for (i=0; i < gameSize; i++) {

This change made the program over ten times faster.

I recently faced a similar problem. This time it was with a Perl script translating an RDF file into an XML data structure. In this case, my machine would start swapping and take hours to process the file. Maybe not surprising that it had a larger effect on the machine, as the PGN files were usually less than 10 megs, and this data file is over 240 megs. With my desktop GUI, as well as the RDF data structure, necessary operations and new data structure, my 4 gigs got swamped and my machine started paging. After a few hours the process was done, but I wanted to look into if there was a way to deal with this.

Again, if resources are infinite, it's always programatically easier to just load the entire data structure, do the processing, and output the new data structure. But resources are not infinite. Something I certainly learned doing over a decade of systems administration professionally.

In this case I switched from using the CPAN XML::Simple module, to using CPAN's XML::Twig module. From XML::Twig documentation:

[XML::Twig] allows minimal resource (CPU and memory) usage by building the tree only for the parts of the documents that need actual processing....One of the strengths of XML::Twig is that it let you work with files that do not fit in memory (BTW storing an XML document in memory as a tree is quite memory-expensive, the expansion factor being often around 10). To do this you can define handlers, that will be called once a specific element has been completely parsed...Once the element is completely processed you can then flush it, which will output it and free the memory. You can also purge it if you don't need to output it.

Which is what I do. RDF elements I need I grab with a handler, process, and then purge. RDF elements I do not need I have the handler purge immediately.

The processing now take much, much less memory. It finishes much faster as well. A lot of the time is probably taken by the instant-purging of RDF elements that will never be processed.

Any how, I now see I have run into the same problem twice. It was solved more or less the same way both times - I processed the large, original data structure one element at a time, and when I was done processing that element I would remove it from memory and go on to the next element. Not the easiest way to do things programatically, but a necessity with large data files and limited resources.

[/programming] permanent link

Getting Scheme to do REPL in Emacs

I took a college course last year, half of which was learning Lisp and functional programming. I don't feel I learned that much about either Lisp or functional programming in the course. I had taken a previous course with the same instructor in graphing theory where I felt I did learn a lot. Especially in subsequent courses where I had to learn tree data structures and the like.

Anyhow, I decided to take another crack at Lisp and functional programming. Some of the great and/or successful programmers have a fondness for Lisp and recommend it, even if you don't see it around much any more. As Paul Graham says about his usage of Lisp, "Everyone else was writing their software in C++ or Perl. But we also knew that that didn't mean anything. If you chose technology that way, you'd be running Windows."

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is often touted as a must-read book. When I first browsed through it a few years ago it seemed confusing. I'm not sure why that is, when I look at it now it mostly seems simple and clear. I'm still reading the first of the five chapters. They're very heavy on the "interpretation" part of their title, going into evaluation and eval etc. It's not yet clear to me why they're emphasizing this so much, but perhaps I'll understand as I read through the book.

My college course used Common Lisp. I understand CL is more of the real-world one, with more libraries, but also more cruft and less simplicity.

Scheme is simpler, more elegant, and easier to understand. Scheme defines functions with the symbol define. CL defines functions with the symbol defun. That alone tells you a lot about the dialects.

One thing I like about Scheme is it seems to have a small number of primitive expressions, with a few more derived/library expressions built on those primitive expressions. I like this simplicity. While these Scheme expressions deal with abstraction and things like that, it reminds me of how almost all number-theoretic functions on the natural numbers all derive from three primitive functions - constant, successor and projection, and by doing the composition and primitive recursion operations on those functions. And the computations that can't be done with these three functions and two operations are rather offbeat, like George Cantor's ones, which do little other than disprove you can't do every natural number computation with those rules.

I also like that Scheme clearly marks non-functional procedures and forms with exclamation points.

Especially since Lisp is not heavily used nowadays, it seems obvious to me that people should first learn Scheme as that seems the best language to learn in. If they want to do some real world stuff and feel CL has better libraries or whatnot, they can then shift to CL.

So anyhow I've been going through SICP. The initial expressions could mostly be done with the Scheme interpreter guile. It does not have readline support by default like CL does, so I put into my .guile profile:

(use-modules (ice-9 readline))

As the programs became more complex, I wanted a more sophisticated REPL. Emacs seems to be what Lisp programmers use. I am not well-acquainted with emacs, even though I first started using it twenty years ago! I usually use vi, or nano, or Gnome gedit, or Eclipse's editor, or the like. Anyhow, doing elisp with Emacs is easy enough, but using Scheme is a little bit more work. I spent some time looking at it today and got it put together. Oddly, there's not really one place on the web which tells you how to do this.

In my emacs init file I now have:

(setq scheme-program-name "guile")
(global-set-key (kbd "C-x C-e") 'scheme-send-last-sexp)

I also have:


Just so I don't have to do "Control-x -> 2" when I start Emacs. If I start using Emacs more for editing, perhaps I'll comment that line out.

So I click the bottom window, type "Escape-x" and then "run-scheme". Then I click the top window and start typing in expressions. I usually do "Control-x Control-e" after each one to evaluate it. It evaluates in the bottom window which runs guile. I had the scheme-program-name set to scm and was running that for a bit, but switched to guile. Don't know much about either aside from that both seem to be copyrighted by the FSF, but the FSF seems to push guile more, and also guile has a nice (help) facility.

Anyhow it is running well enough for now. I'd like to improve my Scheme REPL environment a little more, but it is working OK for now.

[/lisp/scheme] permanent link

Wed, 20 Jun 2012

Android, and porting C++ and OpenGL via the JNI

I've been interested in the idea of porting free software to Android since I started working with Android. The first free software programs I considered doing an Android port of were written in Java. The reason I looked at Java programs first is Android seems to have a slight preference for Java over C and C++.

When investigating various Java programs for potential ports, I realized that porting the UI portions of the programs over, particularly ones that used Java graphical libraries such as awt or swing, would be difficult. Android does not implement these graphical libraries.

So then I began investigating free software Java libraries. One popular one which caught my eye was Jackcess, which could read Microsoft Access database files. I wrote a little Android UI wrapper around the library, and within a few days was able to release Panacea Database. Since its release, I have added more functionality to the program. I still have not tapped all of the library's functionality, such as for database creation.


The idea of porting C and C++ free software programs to Linux, especially ones using "OpenGL" family graphics, has been in the back of my mind for a while. An informative conversation I had with Katie from Golden Hammer Software at the 2011 Android Developer Labs pushed me along this route as well, not just in learning about the technical aspects of porting C++ apps to Android, but seeing how it was feasible.

When you're looking at doing OpenGL work on Android, one of the important things to know is that Android does not do OpenGL. Android handles OpenGL ES, which is a library which only handles a subset of what OpenGL does. OpenGL ES does not have all of the features that OpenGL does. For example, OpenGL ES does not handle OpenGL begin and end commands. You can not directly specify rectangles on OpenGL ES like you can on OpenGL. And so on.

Apple iOS uses an implementation of OpenGL ES as well. Porting C or C++ code which uses OpenGL ES from iOS to Android (or vice versa) is not that hard. This in fact is what Golden Hammer Software did. Porting Windows or Linux code that uses a full OpenGL library to Android is a much more difficult enterprise.


Porting a C or C++ program that directly links to a full OpenGL library to Android is going to be a little bit of work. This brings us to the Simple DirectMediaLayer (SDL) library. The Simple DirectMedia Layer is a cross-platform multimedia library designed to provide low level access to UI elements of a program (audio, keyboard, mouse, joystick, 3D hardware via OpenGL, and 2D video framebuffer).

Many programs that directly depend on the SDL library have no direct dependencies on OpenGL - the programs use SDL to mediate access to the needed lower-level backend libraries.

Most programs that depend on SDL were written to depend on the SDL 1.2 or lower library. SDL has being rewritten since version 1.3, and is not backward compatible with 1.2. Here, we are only concerned with SDL 1.2 and lower, which is what the majority of the software out there uses. There is a unofficial port of SDL 1.2 to Android, which was mostly done by Sergii Pylypkeno (pelya).

Pelya has ported 13 SDL games to Android and put them up on Google Play. One of the apps, OpenTTD, has had over 100,000 downloads so far, and another, Free Heroes 2, also has had over 100,000 downloads. FH2 currently has a rating of 4.2 out of 5, so people seem to be happy with the port. With these games done, pelya has said he is finished porting any more games, but he is still maintaining the SDL 1.2 library for Android.

His library has its own unique little build system. I am developing on an Ubuntu GNU/Linux desktop, and am comfortable with using the command line if need be, so it is fine with me.

The way he sets things up with his build system, he has the jni directory with various libraries a lot of sdl applications will need, such as of course sdl itself, the freetype library, the jpg library, the physfs library, and other such libraries. Among these he has an application sub-directory named application. Within it is a link called src which points to the application being ported within it - such as OpenTTD, or Free Heroes 2, or whatever.

I started off by trying to build every application he had within that application directory. He suggested to try ballfield first, and that is easy to compile and test. Grafx2, Jooleem, Kobodeluxe, Milkytracker, Openal-demo, Opentyrian, Regression, Simplemixer, Test32bpp and Testmultitouch all worked OK. Others failed before compiling for various reasons, or did launch but were still broken - perhaps I needed to tweak the settings more.

He published then unpublished Jooleem. I thought it was pretty cool and e-mailed him saying I wanted to release it, but was there some unknown reason he unpublished it to Google Play. He said there wasn't, so I did some work on it, then published it. He may have been right - the game does not have a high download rate, nor does it have a high retention rate compared to other SDL ports I did later.

Having some experience with working with the stuff he ported, especially Jooleem (which I now call Bubble Boxem), I decided to try porting a game that pelya had not tried yet. Circus Linux was a small and simple program that used the SDL library, so I decided to port that. I succeeded in porting it as well.

Much of what is needed is in pelya's instructions. First you want to compile the program. The instructions explain how to do that. If there is a data subdirectory, it should be zipped up, moved to AndroidData as the instructions explain, split if necessary and if split, the original data.zip removed. You want an icon.png file for the program icon. Then once you get it compiling, you want it to run. If nothing appears on the screen, __android_log_write and __android_log_print can help. Start at the beginning of main(), looking for output in logcat, then continue until you find the first problem. Then the second one. At some point, hopefully, the program will load.

Why SDL programs won't compile or run can differ from program to program, but I've found common themes. The first four listed are the most important to remember.

  • The C++ code says to run in hardware mode instead of software mode when Android can not do so.
  • Looking for directories with configuration files and graphics can be another problem, you have to set it up properly.
  • Check if it is looking for defines in a config.h file. These defines will have to be set properly for Android. Also look for similar defines not in the config.h files, like a define for LOCALE or the like.
  • The SDL_SetVideoMode call might have parameters Android can not handle
  • Pelya's framework script does not compile C++ files with a suffix of cc instead of cpp.
  • Stuff from iostream like cout and cerr do not work out of the box. Neither do XM audio files

The above list covers every problem I've had so far with compiling or getting a screen to come up on Android.

Now that something is coming up on the screen, you may want to consider replacing SDL_UpdateRect calls with SDL_Flip calls, or you may get some gibberish on the screen. The SDL port does not currently handle SDL_UpdateRect calls well.

You also want to make sure the volume button is working when in the SDL app. if you want to use it, make sure it is not redefined as a key. Explicitly listening to KeyEvent.KEYCODE_VOLUME_DOWN or KeyEvent.KEYCODE_VOLUME_UP and manually implementing adjustVolume also works.

Another consideration is the keyboard, and seeing visible text on the screen. With pelya's framework, text appears in an EditText (which I sometimes move around on the screen, change colors of etc.) You can have a keyboard pop up on the screen and so forth. It is something to think about

Sometimes the game just needs the arrow keys, and maybe a few more keys. Pelya's framework has mechanisms to deal with this. I use one such mechanism in my Ice Blocker game, when a player wants to switch from horizontal to vertical (or vice versa).

Future plans

So far I have ported six games to Android using pelya's Android SDL library. I am looking to see if there are any more good free software SDL apps to port over. Most of the games I've ported were primarily mouse-based games - they are now touch-based games. So the aesthetics have not changed that much for those particular games. In addition to this, most of the games I've ported have had a fairly simple graphical library dependency - on SDL. In the future I might port games with more of a keyboard (or arrow key) dependency. I also might port games which have more of a direct OpenGL dependency.

I also am interested in expanding the existing games I have. I am interested in doing more work through the Java/C++ JNI bridge in the games I have already done. I also am thinking about how to handle different languages and internationalization. Android's bionic library can not handle locale. This means gettext and it's portable object (po) and message object (mo) files do not work out of the box. Garen Torikian has been nice enough to give me some advice about this, and I might do translations in something along the lines of how he did it in Neverball ME

[/android] permanent link

Tue, 27 Mar 2012

Some success...

So I have had a little bit of success. In December of 2011, I was on one ad network, Admob, and made $6.66 for the whole month from them. I am now on three ad networks (Admob/Adsense, Millennial Media, Inmobi), and I made $7.62 from them in the past two days, more than the whole month of December. I would like to increase that in the future, but for now, $100 a month coming in is great. Of course, I want to roll as much of that as I can back into the business.

The breakthrough happened in late January. I have written Android apps from scratch like Bouncer and Love Poems, and I ported an open source Java library to Android with Panacea Database. Looking at a full-fledged open source Android project, FBReaderJ, I noticed some modifications I could make to it to improve it, and that would be for an audience without much overlap with the existing FBReaderJ audience. FBReaderJ is GPL licensed, which worries some people, but myself less. Anyhow, I released my version of the app, "Free books to download & read" on January 24th. By the last day of January, 2425 installs a day were happening, by February 5th, 11000 installs a day were happening. Daily installs ranged from over 8000 to over 11000 a day until February 20th. The install rate is still over 2000 a day. As is normal, the active installs in percent has been going down over time, but it is still over 35%. It currently has over 119600 active device installs. There is currently one ad - right before someone goes to a book - it has been requested from 13000 to 23000 times a day over the course of the past two weeks.

Having had success with modifying an open source project, I doubled down, and on February 12th I released a modified version of OI File Manager, another open source Android project. I chose it because it was open source, because I had thought of doing a file manager for a while, and because it had a wide appeal - it is not a niche product like Panacea Database or Bouncer, many people can find it useful. I wanted to release another app with wide appeal to ride the wave of Book Reader. And it did so, it has over 4239 active device installs, which for my five apps is second to only Book Reader. And has been achieved in six weeks, while I have been working on apps like Bouncer for ten months.

I do have my eye on one more Android open source project, but I have turned back to doing an original project. It uses Andengine, but is actually an app, not a game. It is original as far as I know, nothing else on Android does it in the manner mine will, which is much better than the handful of existing ones that are related to this app. I have to see how much work I am going to do on it before releasing it. It is more toward a niche product than a general one, but it is not a small niche. Anyhow, much work to be done on it, although I already have a decent prototype for one implementation of it.

Book Reader was making over $20 a day when the downloads were first flying. Also, I had an ad on the page seen when the app was opened for the first time, which I now do not have - although I may put that back. Anyhow, I rolled $100 of that Admob money into ads. While I was running my ads, Admob dropped their minimum ad bid to $0.01 a bid. So I dropped my bid to that. The money went mainly to buying ads in Brazil for the File Manager. Ads seem to boost downloads from the target market, even when they're not running, don't know all the variables which cause that although I can guess some of them. Anyhow, I know have over 1000 active users from Brazil for File Manager that I probably would not have had any how. Were they worth ten cents a head? Well, the initial buys were overpriced before Admob's price drop. Also, it was something of a test. Also, I want to roll my profits back into the business and couldn't think of a better thing to spend it on. Even with that $100 spent, I'm still getting over $350 from February Admob profits for Book Reader. Those kind of dollars came from the initial pop, I'm now more at the $100 a month level, as I said before. Although if I had more ads in the Book Reader app, I could probably make more. Although I want to avoid having ads over the actual book, as that is annoying.

In terms of running Admob ads - you can choose the devices to target, the SDK version, the country (and sometimes more specific location), whether to target mobile, wifi or both, gender and age group. Transfers of $50 or over from money I was owed to running ads gets you a small bonus of free ads. Each campaign is $10 a day minimum. Minimum bid nowadays is 1 cent a click. You can see conversion rates for app installation for app download ads.

The annoying part for Admob is the approval process. First you have to get approved to be able to transfer money from your balance to ad campaign budget. Then campaigns have to be approved. After I was approved for balance to budget transfers, I transferred $50 and submitted a campaign. A week later it still sat unapproved, so I sent them an e-mail, then it was approved. Contrast this to Millennial Media, who approved a campaign for me recently within hours. You'd think Admob would be more responsive to me wanting to give them my money.

So on that Millennial Media campaign - I noticed a few days ago that the paltry sum I made in February from Millennial Media had been put into my balance. The sum was paltry because I was not even signed up with Millennial in the beginning of February. Anyhow, I took the dollar or two and put it into a campaign in Norway for File Manager. It was approved within hours, which was the good part. One downside was the minimum 5 cent bid - 5 times what Admob does. Also the targetting is not as precise for kinds of device and such. You can target to country though, which I did. I wonder if "Android" goes out to Kindles, Nooks and the like, I hope not as it would be wasted money. Anyhow, my $1.20 daily budget was filled and I got 24 clicks. I'll probably do a bigger one next month for MM when my March money clears, maybe for different countries. Another nice thing about MM is I'm not stuck with $10 a day campaigns! But unlike Admob, MM keeps the money you earn for two months plus instead of one month plus, so I may as well roll the money back into ads.

I signed up for Inmobi as well, but you have to talk to them or something to get approved to transfer money from balance to budget. It's not worth it at this point.

I also might do Adsense for mobile ads. I'll have to see. I should get the $350+ by the middle of next month, so I have some ideas for the money. I might spend some money for a contractor to do some work on Book Reader - which I plan on using myself and sending back to FBReaderJ as well.

I had used Admob as my sole ad network prior to January. One reason I chose them is they were known to be reliable about sending checks - in fact, they already sent me one last year. Also, they have a low check sending threshold - if you make $20 in a month, which I'm now easily doing. They also send the money within one month plus. If I made money on ads on January 1st, or January 30th, that money would get sent to me on March 1st and would arrive, usually around March 15th in Paypal. For Millennial Media and Inmobi, the amount of time is longer.

But anyhow I wanted other ad networks. For the sake of redundancy for one - if there was some problem with Admob, I'd still have two other sources of income. Also, perhaps I'd get some better deals, or extra functionality, which I have gotten. Also, I like the idea of keeping some competition open for the ad networks - it benefits developers to have a few competing ad networks out there. I read a report which said the top Android developers usually have as the top four packages includes - Adwhirl, Admob, Inmobi and Millennial Media. That dovetailed with what I had heard already so I went with Inmobi and Millennial Media.

Inmobi seems to do everything manually, and even over the phone. My app approval seemed to be in limbo until an e-mail back and forth. Then I had a phone conversation, where the rep said they wanted me to push up the number of requests I was getting as they thought it was too low. This conversation happened a month ago. I said my Book Reader got a lot of hits so submitted that. It was pending, then they said they wanted more info on my address etc., so I put that in and it is still pending. Not that I mind much, I submitted the app at their urging, to some extent. As I said before, to be able to transfer earnings balance to an ad budget requires manual intervention as well. Well, Admob and Millennial Media are more responsive without hassle, so I'll deal with them more in terms of buying and selling ads for the time being. Inmobi is still the primary target for File Manager ads though, with MM and then Admob as fallback, and 80% of traffic is directed to Inmobi via Adwhirl right off the bat. Aside from responsiveness, I'd need to make $1.67 a day from Inmobi to get a monthly check from them, and right now that is more like 28 cents a day, so I haven't even hit that minimum yet with them (or Millennial, which is about $1.03 a day).

I suppose eCPM, RPM, CTR, etc. are important in differentiating ad networks, but one overriding thing is fill rates. Admob and Adsense integration has been increasing as time goes on, other than it taking a day for clicks, CTR, eCPM and revenue to update (but not impressions or fill rate), the two are very integrated. And for normal apps, the fill rate for this is usually over 98%, if not 99%. As opposed to this, Inmobi has had a 21-54% fill rate for me over the past two weeks. Millennial, which is getting a fraction of the direct File Manager traffic Inmobi gets, but which does get its run off, has had a 77-86% fill rate for the past 9 days. The major slackoff from them is for countries like Brazil and Poland, they don't have the presence Google can afford there yet. But for the US, France, Germany, Japan etc., their fill rates have been on par with Admob's. With Adwhirl, lower fill rates are not as big a deal, but it takes seconds for Adwhirl to miss an Inmobi ad, and the Millennial ad, and then maybe even an Admob ad before putting up an Admob "Adwhirl" ad, and by that time the Activity with the ad may have been clicked off.

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Sun, 01 Jan 2012

Happy New Year

My New Year's started out the right way, one of my apps, Panacea Database crossed the 5000 download mark. It's kept to a 40%+ active/net install base as well, hopefully with some of the updates coming down the pike it will maintain, or even improve, that percentage.

[/android] permanent link

Thu, 17 Nov 2011


Looked at Admob today, I finally pushed past $25 in payments from my Android applications. $25 was the one-time fee I paid to get on Android Market. So I've made $25.16 from my three mobile apps so far, and am now 16 cents in the black. Admob sends you money when you hit $20 for a month, so in December I should be getting a check for October and before. In addition to the Admob money, Samsung was also nice enough to give me a free $500 value 10.1 inch tablet to write tablet-sized apps on. And with my latest update of Bouncer out this morning, all three of my apps now handle "extra-large" displays, as Android calls them.

I was contemplating that I'm now in the black this morning, and felt good about it. My thought in terms of my business of putting out Android apps revolves around having no recurring capital costs, and if at all possible, no capital costs at all. Particularly in terms of some web page that an app must contact that I'd have to pay $10 a month or so for. Right now I just code the app, push it to Android Market, and collect the ad money. Aside from the slow wear on my keyboard, mouse, screen etc., the only expense is my time.

I wrote a framework for a spreadsheet, and did a number of spreadsheet features for it. Then I worked on getting pre-2007 Excel files onto it, which I did. Then I worked on getting Excel 2007 and 2010 (.xlsx) files onto it - and got stuck. There are two possible paths to fixing this, an easier one of I can get things down to less than 65,536 methods, and a harder one if I can't. I took a shot at the easier path, and that just might not be possible, as I got rid of a lot of methods. I may be able to pare down a few more. If not I'll have to go on the harder route. Anyhow, I put the code up on Github.

A month ago, I finished rewriting the layout of Panacea Database for all major (and minor) device sizes and screen densities. Then I added a feature to remember the last file opened. I did some testing and QA on the last file feature, but perhaps not enough, as it seems there have been some crashes since then which probably pertain to that. Which I am looking into. People seem to want column sorting, which I can work on implementing. I might throw in some SQLite stuff, depending on how easy it would be.

So all of my apps have decent layouts for all major (and most minor) devices, which I am happy about. So now I am on to my new apps, as well as fixing bugs and implementing new features in Panacea Database.

[/android] permanent link

Sun, 09 Oct 2011

Another Android application

I released another Android application - Love Poems. It took off initially - by the fourth day there were 442 downloads, with 280 of them active installs. But then that slope of adoption leveled off, it fell in the Market rankings etc. Not sure what hurt it - I did an update allowing users to increase or decrease the text size, while someone gave the app a two rating. It then sunk in the Market rankings and downloads leveled off. A few days later I released an update with a few more poems, and also adjusted the text sizes a little. I will do updates in the future, in terms of both poems and display tweaking.

Android is continuing to gain market share. Here is the browser usage seen from various mobile operating systems, according to the web logs of the Internet's 7th most trafficked site, Wikipedia:

As the chart shows, the iPhone and iPad are doing well, as are Android smartphones. Windows Phone 7 is moribund - it only is 0.04% of traffic. There is more Android Honeycomb traffic on Wikipedia (0.05%) then Windows Phone. I guess we'll see how they do with Windows 8 and Mango which is supposed to launch in 2012, but they are way behind Apple and Google. The modern tablet market is newer than the smartphone market, so maybe they'll have a shot at competing there. I downloaded Windows 8 preview and developer kit and had a look at it. Their Store is free for developers, although applications are approved first.

I'm currently developing a fourth app. Won't reveal all details until it's released, but it uses Fragments and the ActionBar. Android's compatibility package does backward compatibility for Fragments but not ActionBar, so I am using Jake Wharton's ActionBar Sherlock for backward compatibility in ActionBar usage. I have that all implemented already actually. I haven't done all the happy stuff you can do with tablets and Fragments yet, we'll see about that, it's not an essential element to the project, but with all the usage of ActionBar and Fragments, redesigning it to do that will be easier. This new app may use SQLlite as well, so I may be looking into SQLlite.

I was invited to the Android Developer Lab in New York on August 24th. It was good - I met some interesting people, and they pointed us in the direction of where Android is going, which helps me point my development in that direction.

I've been doing a bit of work on Panacea Database's layout. I moved a lot of stuff into XML. I'm using scale-independent pixels and density-independent pixels as much as possible, as well as adjusting the size of buttons by layout weight and that sort of thing.

One thing I've been doing - I change how many rows I display when fetching rows from the database, and the scale-indepedent pixel text size of the display, depending on what screen size I have, what orientation I am in, and to some extent, how many dpi are on the display. The way I've been doing this is putting a "gone" TextView in the XML, and from my code, reading the number of rows to display from that. Not sure if its best practices, but it works - if I find a better way I'll do that.

[/android] permanent link

Sat, 09 Jul 2011

Android development

According to Alexa.com, Wikipedia is currently the 7th most trafficked web site. They are also one of the few large web sites to allow everyone glimpses of their web log analysis. I mention this in a previous blog post. In December 2010, Android devices made up .078% of Wikipedia's web traffic. At the end of May 2011 (June numbers are not done yet) that was up to 1.16%. So Android traffic on Wikipedia increased about 48% in six months.

Actually, the six month increase of about 48% from December to May was more-or-less matched by the one month increase from November 2010 to December 2010, which was a 47% increase in traffic. I guess a lot of people got Androids in their Christmas stocking, or next to their Hanukkah dreidels...

So anyhow, I released my second Android application, Panacea Database, on June 11th. I definitely followed the Release Early, Release Often philosophy for this one - I got the idea for it on June 7th, and by June 11th it was published.

I guess another party writing a nice Java library, which someone else posted a bug report, which was subsequently fixed, seven months before, that fixed all the Android bugs, helps. Thanks Miha Pirnat, wherever you are!

So what it does is iterates table rows and does searches for Microsoft Access style files on Android. Or Microsoft Access 2000 to 2007. With a lot of Access 2010 working. I actually just sent a patch in to the library people to fix a bug. Or implement a kludge to get around the bug anyhow - until I'm interested in dealing with Attachment data types, they'll have to write a fix.

So both my apps have passed through the 500 download point. Bouncer has a 41% active/total install ratio, Panacea Database has a 57% install ratio. Why is that? Well to quote a critic on the Android Market, Silas, "Move to SD card!!" The app has a lot of PNG's and JPG's and is 3.8MB. Maybe I will move some of that to the SD card, who knows? It's an issue I have to figure out how to deal with.

My Admob revenue for the last week is 79 cents, $1.52 for the week before that, and $1.28 for the week before that. My first goal is $100 a month in revenues. Whether that be by ads, sales or whatever, it does not matter.

Initially I thought of just tossing out apps left and right and seeing what stuck. But you put an app out and you have to maintain it. And I'm just one person. For now anyhow. I don't want lots of one-star ratings for my apps on Android Market. The lowest I've gotten were two three-star ratings for Panacea Database. One wanted me to fix the bug where next-lines in a text data type would make a button disappear. I've partially patched that already, and have a full patch for that (hopefully) that I will release, oops, I mean publish, soon.

[/android] permanent link

Mon, 20 Jun 2011

A Guide for the Android Developer Guide
I wrote A Guide for the Android Developer Guide which attempts to translate Googlese into English

[/android] permanent link

Tue, 31 May 2011

Bouncer, my first Android application

So, I have published my first Android app (the concept for which someone else described to me). What have I learned about Android development and such since then?

My first (unpublished) Android app was heavy on ListView. It was a tree of ListView's really - the top ListView went into sub-trees of ListView's, until a leaf/node on the bottom was reached, which might be something else. I filled out the onCreate method, and an onListItemClick method.

The first screen of my new app was initally going to be a GridView. I then gave up on that. I then created two activities which could go back and forth to one another via clicks (listened to with OnClickListener) via Intents. Then I had them pass information to one another in the Bundles. So now I can pass messages to my sub-trees via the Bundles, and they can be separate Activities.

Having dropped the Gridview, I tried out the TableLayout, which I eventually went with. So now I had my grid-like table of letters on the first screen, able to pass which letter was pressed via a bundle in the Intent to another Activity. I used Buttons for these letters.

I then wanted there to be a tab on the front screen, with the table of buttons in the primary tab, but with people able to tab over to the "About" tab. So I made the first activity a TabActivity, and opened the Activity with the table with an Intent.

I then wanted to change the color of the buttons, but found out it was not all that simple, and learned about 9-patch drawables and the like. So I created my own buttons, which needed their corner rounding to be specified and the like.

Google suggests you put an End User License Agreement in the application. There is a standard class to do this, so I put it on the application.

Ultimately, I want my app to cover all 50 of the US states, as well as the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) Currently, it covers 46 of the 50. I had the current ID for 46 of the states, at this point in development I started putting up older licenses that may still be valid.

Most of this time I was designing for a high density, normal size screen in a vertical position. About 17% of people using Android's use medium density however. Also, some people flip from vertical to horizontal mode, I even encourage this flipping in the application when the full image is about to come on the screen. So I did some work on making it at least function with medium density setups, and for high density setups when viewed horizontally. I get the display metrics, and then call different layouts depending on what the metrics are.

When to release is always an open question. "Release early, release often", agile development and so forth is the popular credo, and I agree with it for most applications. On the other hand, you can't release too early, especially since Android Market has a rating system and so forth. But at this point, I felt I had enough, and the last four holdout states it didn't look like I would get anything from them in the next few days, so I decided 46 was enough to be useful, that layout looked decent for most phones, and was at least usable for almost all phones. So I released.

One thing I did not do when releasing was release the initial version with ads. Why? Because Admob wants to know where it is on Google Market to give you an ad code, and I had nothing up there yet. I later realized I had misunderstood due to my unfamiliarilty with all of this, I could have put an ad in the initial version. Within a few hours of publishing version 1.0.0, I released 1.0.1, which contained Admob ads.

It's been 28 hours since I released the initial version, and 15 hours since I released the version with ads. Thusfar I have had 78 downloads of the app from Android Market, and have had 55 ad impressions served.

In subsequent versions I plan to improve the application. I will work to get the four missing states, and the District of Columbia. I will put more information about identification. I might put a bubble up announcing updates, but I wouldn't want it to be too annoying. I also have some kludgey stuff in the layout files which hopefully I can clean up, as I learn the Android API better these things can be more smooth.

[/android] permanent link

Fri, 22 Apr 2011


I have been looking over Android's API and have been writing an Android application with Eclipse.

Android use has started to take off in the past months. I have looked at various metrics, one I like is from the Internet's 8th most trafficked sites, Wikipedia. It shows the growth of Android use over the past six months:

The graph y-axis is the percentage of all browsers coming in - mobile, desktop and whatnot. X-axis is the time period of usage - the past six months. The OS versions are listed in the key, although "Mobile other" is a catch-all.

In October 2010, 0.47% of all hits to Wikipedia came from Android phones. In March 2011, 0.98% of all hits to Wikipedia came from Android phones. So that has more than doubled within the past six months.

[/android] permanent link

Wed, 23 Mar 2011

Evince, Ubuntu, python, etc.

I have been corralled into doing some programming in python. So at one point I decide to write a do-while loop and learn - python has no do-while loops. Terrific.

My patch made it into Evince 2.91.92, I'm officially a Gnome contributor, yay. I patched a bug while chasing down another bug. Carlos couldn't reproduce it - I wonder when it manifests itself. The bug crept in in December, and not many people are running evince released since then, so the pool to try to reproduce it is limited. Carlos fixed up my patch so that it wouldn't cause problems going in. I still have to fix that original bug. Actually, I already did, but the fix is trivial, and I want to look over my code again to make sure it's decent.

I also patched the evince package for the upcoming Ubuntu 11.04. It was a suggested backport of a commit. Again, my patch had to be massaged in. I changed the Ubuntu documentation for patches so as to point to the complete method of doing a patch.

I know people make use of git branches, but I never really used it until recently. It is very handy, especially if you're doing a lot of work on something. I will surely be using it in the future more.

[/gnome] permanent link

Thu, 20 Jan 2011

Blunder's PGN-to-FEN converter nearing completion

The minor re-design, or major refactoring, of Blunder's PGN-to-FEN converter was finished three days after my last blog post about it. It went very well, the new code which replaced the old code is more abstract and flexible, looks better and works better. Funny how these things go together - it seems good coding practices solve a lot of the headaches of coding and things begin working automagically.

I mentioned problems in Lutz Tautenhahn's PGN-to-FEN converter in my last blog post. After writing it, I decided to e-mail him a bug report. Within 14 hours he fixed the bug and posted new code, which I tested, and both problems were fixed. So Lutz's converter is now working without problem, as far as I can see.

I've fixed many things in the PGN-to-FEN converter since the redesign/refactor. I check in every (?) manner if a move would put the king in check. I now handle many (all?) en passant scenarios. I also now deal with PGNs where a FEN position in the middle of a game is given, and where the subsequent moves are from that position (i.e. we start in the middle of the game). I made other changes as well.

I just made my most satisfying commit since the redesign/refactoring. It was the fruit of other commits before. First I began marking games on the linked list as I went, not all in the beginning (which caused an initial delay when parsing large PGNs with many games). Then I pushed code into the Game class that I had wanted to push there for a while. All of this allowed me to do the latest commit.

I was reading the entire PGN into a linked list in the PGN class, and then pushing the entire linked list into other classes like Game. As Game only needs one game, I created a second, short linked list with only one game, and pushed that to Game. As the original data on the first, long list is no longer needed, I removed it. I am always dealing with the head of the linked list in these cases. Anyhow, this process of dealing only with the head of the larger linked list, and shrinking it as the program goes, has made the program over ten times faster.

So what more is there to do? People have their own bizarre implementations of the PGN format. I handle many of them, but there are a few more out there I might do. All of the code is working, but I might clean up some of it so that it is easier to read and cleaner. I also might work on a user interface other than running the jar file from the command line. I might also discover some edge cases of the en passant sort that I am not dealing with. I have tested tens of thousands of games, and have been looking over FIDE chess rules, the specifications and so forth, so I don't think there will be much more of this type. The program is in decent enough shape right now, I guess I just want to deal with a few more of the oddball PGN implementations, and fix up the UI a little bit, before I feel this is fully formed in its first generation. But it is working pretty well as it is.

[/projects/blunder] permanent link

Tue, 04 Jan 2011


Since I have a long way to go before becoming a good programmer, I sometimes refer to Code Complete, The Mythical Man-Month and the like to keep me on the right track.

I think I have reached that point, of throwing away the first one built, with the Blunder PGN to FEN chess translation component I have been programming for the past month.

To be honest with myself, I foresaw these design problems back when I originally did the design. I knew I would have to deal with many of the things I am dealing with now way back when I was doing the original design (although not totally - checking that a piece is pinned to the king is more important than I thought it would be, if I thought of it all). The thing is, designing the program with all of that in mind would be "boring". It would be too abstract initially, it wouldn't DO anything until quite a lot of the program was coded. The way I programmed this, it worked right off the bat - at least with the first PGN I used as a basis. It translated the first ply of the first move correctly, and then the next ply of the first move, then the first ply of the second move and so on. After that all worked, I tried another PGN. As I sought to get it working for my various PGNs, I added more and more functionality to the program.

The method functionality I need now seems rather abstract, or at least more abstract than the functionality I have now. "Check to see if piece (rook or queen) is pinned to king horizontally", "Check to see if piece (bishop or queen) is pinned to king diagonally", and so on. Things are a little more abstract than I'd like, but if I try to keep things very specific, I will have much, much more coding to do.

The program currently does over 95% of PGNs correctly, but there are too many possible corner cases to deal with. The functionality that deals with plies (half-moves), which is most of the program, has to be rewritten.

The main thing I focused on with the initial design was the data structures. I did change things around a bit, especially the Board class, which is my half-way class between the translation of the PGN to FEN. I also realized while programming that I needed a Move class. When functionality got to where over nine out of ten PGNs parsed, I wanted to do PGN files that had multiple games within it - and thus a Game class was created as well.

One nice thing is, aside from the edge cases I have to redesign for, my PGN to FEN converter has some aspects that are superior to the two other converters I've found out there - Lutz Tautenhahn's PGN-to-FEN converter and 7th Sun Green Light Chess's pgn2fen.exe program for Windows (or Linux, with WINE). Tautenhan's program I tested out more - I saw two problems - one, castling ability which is disabled due to a rook move is re-enabled if the rook moves back to the square. I'm fairly sure this is not legal with FIDE rules. Secondly, if a pawn move results in pawn promotion, Tautenhan's converter does not reset the half-move clock due to the pawn move, but in fact increments it. I believe this is not the case with FIDE rules, but am less sure. As far as the Green Light chess converter, I have not looked at it as much as Tautenhan's, but I do know it does not mark en passant squares in the FEN.

Blunder's converter marks en passant squares, disables castling availability properly, and resets the halfmove clock on all pawn moves - even pawn promotions, which I believe is the correct behavior. Now I just have to redesign and abstract the methods that deal with converting a ply to a new configuration for my Board object. Which is most of the methodology for the program. I might tinker a little more with the data structures, perhaps making them a bit more robust.

[/projects/blunder] permanent link

Mon, 06 Dec 2010

Blunder, Chess, Java, Architecture and Construction
So, I put Blunder up on Sourceforge.

Blunder is a suite of chess-related tools. Primarily, it helps you go over your games, and see where you made mistakes or missed opportunities. You keep looking at the boards where you made your biggest and/or most recent mistakes, and keep testing that you now know what to do correctly. Most chess teachers say this is one of the main ways to improve your game, and with Blunder it is automated.

Anyhow, the program has been out for almost a year, particularly the main LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) component. However, one necessary component has been converting files in PGN format (records of games) to FEN format (pictures of individual boards at a set point). I give pointers how to do this, but have not been happy with any of the existing tools, and have begun writing my own one in Java, with GPL version 3 licensing. This was the impetus to put it on Sourceforge actually.

As I said, Blunder is functional already, particularly the LAMP package for going over games. One necessary component for that to work is PGN to FEN conversion, for which there are tools out there. I am unhappy with them, so I am writing my own in Java. If any Java developers want to send git patches, I'd be happy to get them. This second package within the Blunder project is in pre-alpha right now.

While this has all been done pretty loosely, I decided to try for a little bit stricter good practices in the pre-construction part of the project. I have to report - it worked out very well! I began by cheating on the good practices a little - I coded a method that read the file into an array. It was just a detail I didn't want to bother with once requirements and architecture was done as I'd want to get right into the construction beyond that first.

My requirements were:
Read in a pgn (from say, a file), output a series of FENs for every move, or a specific FEN for one move. I might tweak the input or output requirements later, but the middle part, converting one to the other, will remain the heart of the program.

I then did architecture. I sketched out the major classes, their responsibilities and their interactions. Initially there were three classes - Pgn, Board and Fen. I thought about it and realized Pgn should have a helper class, Move, and Pgn would have an array of Move objects. Board is primarily an array of characters representing the board, and Fen is an output String representing the FEN. I think it was helpful thinking about all of this beforehand more than I usually would have. It saved time in the long run. Every minute I spent doing this right off the bat probably saved a multiple of itself so far.

One mistake I made is instead of making the Board array something that would be intuitive to me, I tried to fit its data structure to the other existing data structures. I thought this would make "less work". The problem is, Board's data structure then became inscrutable to me, and I had to bend my mind to figure out what it was, and kept making mistakes. I then decided to rearrange Board's data structure to something I could intuitively understand, and then use methods to do the conversion between it and the other two major data structures. This has worked out much better for me.

Most of the work left to get the program from pre-alpha to alpha is doing the logic (methods) for the various chess moves. I already have methods for PawnMoveNoCapture and KnightMoveNoCapture. My next method will probably be PawnMoveWithCapture - a move where the pawn captures a piece. The program needs methods for all the various moves - Queen move (capture and no capture), Bishop move (capture and no capture), Castling (Queenside or Kingside) and so on. This will be the bulk of the work to get the program into alpha.

I am plowing ahead with those methods right now. There is some code duplication within existing methods, but my concern is not with that but code duplication between methods - I already created a method to convert the letters from the Pgn moves to the numbers the array in Board uses, which both existing chess move methods use. I would like to complete moves for all the pieces, when capturing or not. Anyone who wants to send in git patches for these Java methods should feel free, the two existing methods can serve as a base.

You can grab it from the project's git page on Sourceforge.

[/projects/blunder] permanent link

Mon, 22 Nov 2010

Linux desktop/smartphone penetration

This Wikipedia article tells you the share of web browsers from different sources, but clicking through the links you can see what penetrations OS's running web browsers have as well. These web sites give an accounting from their logs of what the OS's are for the people they're serving pages to.

W3counter has 1.49% running Linux and 0.25% running Android in October 2010.

Clicky gives a daily tally, which is 1.25% for Linux today, and has been hovering around 1.25% for the past weeks.

Statcounter has 0.78% running Linux since September. Not sure what they're counting as Linux or why their Linux count is so much lower than the others

Most interesting is Wikimedia, which really breaks down the statistics. They sample 1/1000 of their logs, so every hit they show can be assumed to be multiplied by about 1000. They count Linux, for which they include Android, as 2.04%. The breakdown is 0.75% Ubuntu, 0.47% Android, 0.07% SUSE, 0.06% Fedora, 0.05% Debian, and by the time it gets to Gentoo it is down to 0.02%. Red Hat, CentOS and "Linux Motor" (whatever Wikimedia means by that) comes up with the rest. There's even a breakdown of the different Ubuntu, Fedora and Android versions. Cool. It gives you a general idea of what the penetration rate is any way.

[/linux] permanent link

Wed, 17 Nov 2010

Epdfview patch
My patch got commited to the epdfview trunk, cool.

[/epdfview] permanent link

Wed, 03 Nov 2010

Ubuntu and user-focus
There's a lot of chatter about Canonical, and Unity and the Gnome shell and all of that. There's one thing I love about Ubuntu though and that's the user focus.

I am installing to a KVM Maverick Meerkat 10.10 from the ISO. It gives the option to allow network updating while it copies files from CD to disk - smart, save the user some time later, very thoughtful. It also pops up a slideshow (which is browsable) showing features of Ubuntu while it is copying from the CD to the disk - nice, if the user is in a situation where he doesn't have much to do while waiting for install to finish, show him or her the system features and educate them about it

There is a division of labor in all enterprises. I run the servers, sometimes I write the code, I investigate problems. I don't normally think about user desktop Linux experience much, except in an abstract way, such as that PDF backend library support could be better so that people could render their PDFs better. It's good there are people out there who do.

[/linux/ubuntu] permanent link

Tue, 02 Nov 2010

Building GNOME with jhbuild, a.k.a. pain

Trivia: Who said less than a month ago, "Getting a jhbuild to finish is next to impossible".

Answer: Benjamin Otte. The #1 commiter to gtk+ in the last 1500 commits or so. The #1 commiter to cairo in the last 500 commits or so.

The problem isn't jhbuild so much, although moduleset options could probably be cleaned up a little bit more. It is with broken stuff in GNOME, or which GNOME depends on. Luckily for me, my build tree is not that large.

Poppler is not alone in my .jhbuildrc in ignoring gobject introspection stuff during a build any more - welcome pango!

Then gtk+ won't build. It was failing on a dependency to fontconfig, which was broken by a commit on October 6th. Or at least fontconfig's pkg-config metadata hint file was broken, for a number of people who use standard build options (like me), causing gtk+ not to build. I've emailed the person who made the commit.

I won't go into stuff higher up on the chain that depends on gtk+. Needless to say there's brokenness.

[/gnome] permanent link

Sat, 30 Oct 2010


So, I'm happy to have my jhbuild building poppler and its dependencies off their latest commit, and then epdfview and evince on top of that. Of course, if anything is broken anywhere down the chain, things fall apart. I've turned off a lot of the gobject introspection for now....

Epdfview is more lightweight than evince, with a few less dependencies, so I often use it when testing. Epdfview currently compiles against the latest of its dependencies (thankfully no big breakage in gtk+ or glib, as sometimes happens) and can load some PDFs. But a number of PDFs it crashes on. Gdb says:

Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
__strlen_sse2 () at ../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/../strlen.S:31
31      ../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/../strlen.S: No such
file or directory.
        in ../sysdeps/x86_64/multiarch/../strlen.S
(gdb) bt
#0  __strlen_sse2 () at
#1  0x00007ffff772f502 in g_strdup (str=0x1 <Address 0x1 out
of bounds>)
    at gstrfuncs.c:101
#2  0x000000000040ad46 in
ePDFView::IDocument::setLinearized(char*) ()
#3  0x0000000000411680 in
ePDFView::PDFDocument::loadMetadata() ()

Hmmm. It took me a little time to figure out why this was breaking every now and then. I am compiled against the latest glib commit - is someone messing with g_strdup or something? Eventually, I tracked it down to a commit in poppler from September 17th. From the message I guess they knew it would break the API - "PopplerDocument:linearized is now a boolean value rather than string, so this commit breaks the API again."

So that's simple enough. I changed the gchar's to gboolean's, and made some other little changes, and sent a patch in to jordi at emmasoft, so maybe it will get applied. My version is working anyhow...

[/epdfview] permanent link

Tue, 26 Oct 2010

jhbuild, evince/poppler etc.
So, in the GNOME-and-fd.o(freedesktop.org)-verse, there are a few things I want to run from the latest updates - evince, poppler and cairo. Which means I want to run the latest versions of their dependencies as well. So I decided to use jhbuild to build it all. Last month, GNOME developer André Klapper wrote in his blog about how little fun it is to build GNOME from the latest commits via jhbuild. Perhaps, but I finally did it - a subset of GNOME anyhow.

The default jhbuild moduleset is gnome-3.0, but that builds some of the stuff I'm focused on from tarball's, which is supposed to be deprecated in jhbuild now anyhow. So I remove gnome-3.0 from my .jhbuildrc and put all of the devel modulesets into my .jhbuildrc. But some of the dependencies were missing - they were in the non-devel modules. So I put all of those into my own moduleset. As my moduleset is local, I set use_local_modulesets to True - even if thats not necessary, I git pull from jhbuild before I run a jhbuild, so why not do that? I also put

module_autogenargs['evince'] = autogenargs \
                             + ' --disable-nautilus '
into my .jhbuildrc to avoid those headaches with evince. I skip a number of modules people recommend to put in skip, like mozilla, although I don't believe they're dependencies in my chain. I also add a few pkgconfig path's to .jhbuildrc, on advice from the net. Of course, I also install the packages on Ubuntu that the jhbuild web site recommends for Ubuntu 10.10.

Incidentally, here are the jhbuild dependencies for evince (and epdfview):

Color code for nodes: green are packages in jhbuild "devel" modulesets, red are packages in jhbuild "non-devel" modulesets, brown (libgcrypt and libgpg-error) are also in jhbuild "non-devel" modulesets and they are tarballs there, purple are packages in jhbuild "devel" modulesets which other packages might have a hidden dependency to which is not shown in the current jhbuild modulesets. Finally blue are non-GNOME packages that no GNOME module is dependent on, but which are themselves dependent on some GNOME modules.

I made the above dependency tree with graphviz, a tool which makes doing such dependency charts really easy.

Everything went pretty swimmingly until I started to reach the top of the chain. Poppler busted on some GObject introspection stuff - I installed gobject-introspection as a jhbuild module and updated the poppler gir include from Gdk-2.0 to Gdk-3.0 and it went sailing along.

Next up - gtk+ 3.0 broke. This happened to me a few days before, when I was taking my first stab at jhbuild. At that time, I looked at the recent gtk+ code, saw the stuff breaking had changed recently, and did a hard git reset of gtk+ to a commit from 48 hours before - it installed fine. This time the commit done was the last one. I went on GNOME's IRC network and tracked down the developer who made the bad commit, he fixed it and I was sailing along again.

So now I get to evince. A few days ago I had some problems with deprecated combo box calls that had been removed from the dependency libraries, but there were patches for that in bugzilla. After patching that, this time I get an error that a set_scroll_adjustments call is failing. I look in gtk+ and see that they have been mucking with scrolling there recently, and figure it is due to that. I disable the call and compile. Evince comes up and I can look around, but it hangs on loading anything.

I check poppler's test programs and they are working. So I encapsulate a lightweight PDF viewer that depends on poppler and gtk+, epdfview, into my personal jhbuild moduleset and build it against these libraries. Epdfview comes up, and displays PDFs etc. fine. Ultimately, epdfview and evince are dependent upon almost entirely the same libraries, except evince depends on three more icon-related ones. And epdfview is working. So either evince is broken, or some library it depends on has changed, meaning... evince is broken, for the moment. But Epdfview works.

[/gnome] permanent link

Fri, 22 Oct 2010

poppler rendering
On Ubuntu, the default method of reading PDFs is with evince, which uses the poppler library as its backend for PDFs.

The bus map PDF for my area takes 16 seconds to load on my computer. It is on Ubuntu, on a 64-bit desktop system with an AMD Athlon(tm) II X2 240 2.8GHz processor with two cores, and four gigs of RAM. The bus map PDF is 751K. This seems far too long. Epdfview, which also uses poppler, takes 8 seconds to render the PDF. Adobe Reader 9.3.4, on the other hand, takes less than 4 seconds, and I'll use that as a benchmark here of what the render time should be.

So I looked into it. Instead of grabbing all of the necessary source and compiling with gcc's -pg flags for gprof, I compiled an uncompress kernel and ran oprofile which rendering the PDF. It didn't show everything fully in the oprofile report, so I downloaded the necessary debug symbol packages for poppler, cairo etc.

I rendered the PDF with evince, with epdfview, and with poppler's poppler-glib-demo in a local poppler library cloned from the latest git commit which I compiled manually. For all of them, oprofile pointed to poppler being the library dominating the processor.

So with the Ubuntu package of debug symbols for poppler installed, I had the oprofile report look at poppler. It showed three methods dominating processor time - in order they were - TextBlock::isBeforeByRule1, TextPage::coalesce and TextBlock::visitDepthFirst. This was the case for all three programs using the poppler library backend.

So I start hacking around with the coalesce method in poppler, when I come across this line:

sortPos = blk1->visitDepthFirst(blkList, i, blocks, sortPos, visited);

I look at the visitDepthFirst method and see it is doing topological sorts on the data. So I comment out the above line within coalesce

// sortPos = blk1->visitDepthFirst(blkList, i, blocks, sortPos, visited);

recompile and run it.

So, when rendering the aforementioned PDF with poppler's test program poppler-glib-demo WITH the visitDepthFirst method in coalesce, the fastest rendering I get is 8 seconds. When I render it without that line, the fastest render I get is less than 3 seconds. Removing this method more than halves my render time.

But perhaps this behavior was due to the PDF itself being unusual. I did a quick search through Google for other PDFs. As I had this problem with a (partial) city map, I looked for other city maps. I randomly found a PDF with a map of Paris. I tested its rendering in poppler-glib-demo, with and without the call to the visitDepthFirst method in coalesce. Fastest render time with the method was 3.76 seconds, fastest without it was 2.07 seconds. So this random map PDF did not have as significant improvement as my map PDF, but this call, which was not doing anything visibly to improve the map display, was adding more than 50% more time to the program.

As I said, from my cursory look, there was no difference between the displayed map which called visitDepthFirst, and the one which did not call it. I saw what the code did and the comment, for more information on its purpose and so forth I began digging through the logs. I saw that the code came from commit f83b677a8eb44d65698b77edb13a5c7de3a72c0f on November 12, 2009. In November 2009, Brian Ewins made a series of commits whose purpose was to improve text selection in tables. This particular commit changed the method of block sorting to "reading order" via a topological method. Aside from the comments in the git commits, these November 2009 column selection commits were discussed on the poppler mailing list, as well as in Bugzilla.

I revert poppler back to commit 345ed51af9b9e7ea53af42727b91ed68dcc52370 and compile epdfview against it. Then I revert to poppler commit f83b677a8eb44d65698b77edb13a5c7de3a72c0f and compiled epdfview against that as well. Commit 345e... is two commits before f83b... When I run epdfview, using either poppler library as a backend, the version which is two commits earlier, 345e... runs in epdfview in less than half the time that commit f83b... runs in. Commit f83b... more than doubles the time to run, with no noticable improvement in anything for that application of using poppler (displaying a map via epdfview).

I mentioned much of this on Freenode IRC channel #poppler, and how removing the visitDepthFirst method from coalesce improved rendering time enormously. Someone, I believe it was Andrea Canciani, looked at the method and said the two nested loops looked wrong.

There are two for loops in visitDepthFirst. I put a counter on the inside one to see how many times it ran on my 751K PDF. It ran over 196 million times! For every bit in my 751K PDF, the inner for loop ran 32 times. Not only that, if the TextBlock data structure blk3 is not equal to either blk1 or blk2, the inner for loop will make not one but two calls to the isBeforeByRule1 method. No wonder my map is rendering slow.

So this is where it stands now. 16 seconds seems too long for Ubuntu's default PDF viewer to load my local bus map - especially when in my hacking around I have gotten it to display in a second and a half or so. Whatever that topological commit from November 2009 fixed in terms of selecting text from tables, it has more than doubled the rendering time of some PDFs, especially PDFs with maps. The solution would be a change that would keep the fixes to text selection in tables, but still have something near the speed of rendering prior to that commit. I will look into this more when I have the time.

[/poppler] permanent link

Wed, 30 Dec 2009

Android install
I am installing the Android SDK. For Linux, it suggests the Eclipse IDE, at least version 3.4. I use Eclipse 3.5, "Galileo". So I am installing the plug-in and get (in an almost impossible to read output box)

Cannot complete the install because one or more required items could not 
be found.
  Software being installed: Android Development Tools 
0.9.5.v200911191123-20404 (com.android.ide.eclipse.adt.feature.group 
  Missing requirement: Android Development Tools 
0.9.5.v200911191123-20404 (com.android.ide.eclipse.adt.feature.group 
0.9.5.v200911191123-20404) requires 'org.eclipse.wst.xml.ui 0.0.0' but 
it could not be found

What this translates to is Android is dependent on another plug-in. So I go to install the webtools/wst xml plug-in, but it needs an EMF plugin. Then it needs a GEF plugin. Finally it will accept the webtools/wst plugin. Then the Android plugin can be installed. This sounds easy, but between Eclipse's junky and non-intuitive GUI and Android's documentation not mentioning their plugin had dependencies, it was not.

[/android] permanent link

Tue, 22 Dec 2009

I have become interested in the poppler library lately (and one of the
programs that depends on it, evince). Poppler is a PDF rendering library. I have been looking through Ubuntu's bug tracking system on launchpad, and people have been complaining how they run Evince on a PDF file and it crashes, or at least it doesn't display the file right away.

The particular bug that was reported through Ubuntu that I am looking at is #497175 . The user tried to use evince to look at his PDF< but it did not work. Text that should have been displayed was not displayed. He said Xpdf did work on the PDF file, displaying all text. I downloaded the sample PDF file, and saw indeed it displayed the text with Xpdf and not evince 2.28.1 (using poppler 0.12.0) on Ubuntu 9.10. I tried displaying it with evince based on the poppler 0.6.4 library. That worked. So I figured some time between those early, working evince/poppler versions, and the more recent evince/poppler versions which broke for the bug reporter (and myself), something must have changed that broke this.

I wasted time in two respects looking at this. One is I looked at both evince and poppler. From my kibitzing of evince and poppler over the past months, I have seen over and over that most reported bugs on Ubuntu dealing with PDFs and evince are due to bugs in poppler, not evince. So trying different evince versions was a waste of time.

The second was how I dealt with poppler versions. I knew poppler 0.6.4 worked and poppler 0.12.0 didn't, so I downloaded poppler 0.10.0 (as the bug was reported recently, I leaned towards a more recent poppler version), then compiled evince against it, ran it, saw it worked, then began manually downloading other poppler versions, compiling them, compiling evince against it, testing it and so on. Eventually I saw that poppler 0.11.1 worked and poppler 0.11.2 did not.

However, I was doing a lot of unnecessary work. Poppler uses a git repository. I heard about git when it was announced in 2005, and I have checked out code from git repositories, and have browsed some git source trees over the web, but I have never looked much into it. Git has a cool feature called "bisect". Poppler has each release version tagged with the release name. So what I could have done was a git bisect - marking 0.6.4 as a good version, and 0.12.0 as a bad version. Git would have bisected all the commits between these two tags. I would test it to see if it was good or bad. If it was bad, it would bisect at the 25% mark between 0.6.4 and 0.12.0, if it is good, it would bisect at the 75% mark between 0.6.4 and 0.12.0. You keep bisecting until you get to the bad commit.

I am doing this now, and am down to my last test. I will mark it good or bad, after which we will know which commit caused this problem.


There, I'm done. Commit ad26e34bede53cb6300bc463cbdcc2b5adf101c2 broke it. Changes to the CairoOutputDev.cc file. Before that commit, the text displays, after the commit, it does not. I changed the Ubuntu bug report and reported it to the poppler upstream.

[/poppler] permanent link

Sat, 19 Dec 2009

poppler bug
I am looking at bug 436197 on the Ubuntu section of Launchpad. The bug is in the poppler library, and usually gets evoked by the evince application. I am able to duplicate it. The bug is a segmentation fault when evince tries to open certain PDF files, or tries to open certain pages in those PDF files. There are several bug duplicates since this problem has been hitting a number of people. The bug has also been reported to poppler. Launchpad has several PDF files which will reproduce the problem.

The segmentation fault happens when the TextWord constructor is called. The reason the segmentation fault happens is because the curFont object has not been created. So without doing much investigation, I simply created the curFont object if it did not exist, and then called a related method. This seemed to solve the problem, the program stopped crashing and the problem pages were displayed seemingly normally (a cursory look shows the problem pages displaying normally, but it is possible some portion of the page is displayed improperly).

git diff TextOutputDev.cc
diff --git a/poppler/TextOutputDev.cc b/poppler/TextOutputDev.cc
index 442ace2..9686cc1 100644
--- a/poppler/TextOutputDev.cc
+++ b/poppler/TextOutputDev.cc
@@ -1988,6 +1988,11 @@ void TextPage::beginWord(GfxState *state, double 
x0, double y0) {
     rot = (m[2] > 0) ? 1 : 3;
+  if (!curFont) {
+    curFont = new TextFontInfo(state);
+    fonts->append(curFont);
+  }
   curWord = new TextWord(state, rot, x0, y0, charPos, curFont, 

However, this is really just a hack. I don't have much of an understanding of how the poppler library works or how evince works. The Poppler people point out that this segmentation fault is not tripped on pdftotext, which also uses the poppler library. This is correct, it does not seem to. Then again, evince is calling the poppler_page_render() call in the poppler library, and pdftotext does not seem to do that. Thus, what that ultimately adds up to is questionable.

Right now I am exploring the Gfx class, as backtrace (and following the program logic) shows that the Gfx class is utilized between the call to poppler_page_render() and the failed construction of the curWord object of the TextWord class. Setting the printCommands boolean to true shows debugging information so I am looking at that.

What usually happens with the above patch is that the beginWord method is called many times, with one instance where no curFont object exists (and thus a segmentation fault would happen). I do not know much about the evince code or these libraries, so I am looking into all of this, seeing if I can come up with anything better than the above hack. It is pretty clear this is a poppler problem though - even if these pdf's are messed up, they don't crash PDF displayers that don't use the poppler library. The same goes for if evince is not doing something right with Cairo before handing it off to poppler. If this is happening 12 calls within poppler, it points to poppler being the problem.

[/poppler] permanent link

Wed, 21 Oct 2009

I have a Portal Document Format (PDF) file, which has a series of pages
that evince, the default Ubuntu (and Gnewsense) Gnome PDF reader crash on when they are opened to. Xpdf can read the pages just fine however.

This lead me to look over Ubuntu's launchpad web site, which I began browsing.

(I saw that file-roller, the default Ubuntu/Gnewsense Gnome archive file application was crashing with segmentation violations a lot. There was not much non-automatic information about this however, aside from some people saying the problem was not always reproducible, but only happened sometimes. Due to this, and due to it using a lot of heavy GTK/GDK stuff that I don't know, I moved on.)

I wanted to look at my evince crash a little more carefully, but I was still running Intrepid Ibex (Ubuntu 8.10) whereas most people were reporting the problem on Jaunty Jackalope (Ubuntu 9.04) or even beta versions of Karmic Koala (Ubuntu 9.10 - beta), the release version of which is supposed to be coming out in eleven days. Well, this indicates the problem has been around for a while, and is still around. So I upgraded to Jackalope. I was a little uneasy about whether to go to the Koala beta, but then I plunged in.

One thing I noticed, which was not around so much on Ubuntu's Hardy Heron (8.04), is apport, a window which pops up when an application crashes and says it will automatically report it to Ubuntu if people want. This popped up for me when evince crash and I sent in the bug. Later, I marked it as a duplicate of a similar one. Launchpad makes a slight effort to try to let you see if it's a duplicate while reporting, but that question can be a little complex, and the process doesn't deal with that. So I reported it, and then marked it as a duplicate later.

The Poppler PDF rendering library was partially implicated in the crash, so I downloaded the dpkg for ePDFView, which also uses that library. ePDFView also crashes on these pages. So I reported that as a bug to Ubuntu via apport. Stacktrace shows pretty much the same thing happening, they're both crashing in the JPEG 6.2 library, the call from which can be traced back, via the same route, to a Page::displaySlice call in the poppler library. So it looks like the poppler library (or possibly even the jpeg library) is at fault.

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Thu, 27 Aug 2009

My patch to jedit was committed, cool.

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Sat, 25 Jul 2009

As I said yesterday, I've taken 36 hours of a Java programming 101 class
and decided to see if I could put any of it to use. I believe I have.

At first I just wanted to see what a real Java program looked like. So I downloaded the latest jEdit source from Sourceforge. jEdit is the sixth most all-time active project on Sourceforge, has had millions of downloads, and is written in Java. Using ant to compile it was easy enough, and I did a cursory look through the code.

As they say, the best way to learn code is to try to change something. I looked through the bug list for open bugs that were not assigned. Bug 2808363 looked interesting so I took a look at that. As Sergey Zhumatiy states, the file he uploaded to Sourceforge does hang jEdit when one scrolls down to the line jEdit has trouble with (the line doing transliteration).

I read through the rest of the thread and repeated some of what the other posters did - I did a thread dump and got the same result as Dale Anson . Denis Dzenskevich simplified the problem by yanking all of the relevant classes, methods, regular expressions etc. and putting them into a short Java file, duplicating the problem, and I ran the program and it hung for me as well. Matthieu Casanova noted the line jEdit was choking on from the uploaded file and mentioned that the regular expression used was in the perl.xml file. Denis Dzenskevich chimed in again, noting a geometric progression in processing with a scale of 2 for every new character processed. He notes he does not know Perl but posits that perhaps the regular expression could be simplified.

The first thing I did was tried to simplify the "in the wild" code that jedit was stumbling on. I cut out extraneous lines, then I changed the file type from Perl module (pm) to Perl executable (pl), then I simplified the expression even more to where I was translating the a's in the word banana to b's (banana -> bbnbnb). A comment of a few words at the end of the transliteration line still had jEdit stumbling.

With this simple line failing, I began to suspect that Denis Dzenskevich was right with regards to the regular expression. I read Sun's information about the Pattern class, and then about the Matcher class. I read Perl documentation about transliteration and the like. I also found a very helpful Javaworld article about out-of-control regular expressions using the java.util.regex package.

I realized that the regular expression was using a greedy quantifier within the transliteration statement's second set of curly brackets. If the regular expression was going to match, this was completely pointless, so I added a question mark to the end of the quantifier, changing it to a reluctant quantifier. My Java test program (based on Denis Dzenskevich's test program) began working for my test perl files. I did an ant compile of jEdit with the new perl.xml file and suddenly jEdit was able to easily load all those test perl files it had been hanging on - it could even easily scroll through the original in the field file that had stumbled across the bug, the one Sergey Zhumatiy had uploaded to Sourceforge.

I also tested Perl files which did use backslashes improperly in the second set of brackets on transliteration lines. Still the same problem. So the bug is still there, but it has been minimized somewhat, instead of stumbling over all kinds of Perl transliteration lines, even proper ones that work, it now only stumbles over lines of Perl where transliteration is done and backslashes are used improperly in the second set of curly braces (if they're used at all - you can do transliteration with forward slashes in Perl). So my patch partially fixes the problem anyhow.

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