The Intellectual Wilderness There is nothing more useless than doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

2021.05.4 17:56

Tsuriai: Now engaging in smart contract work

I never thought I’d see the day, but Tsuriai (the tiny Japanese software company I work for) is now in the Ethereum smart contract market as a developer — which means I am now in that same market.

Need a smart contract or blockchain/IPFS-based project developers/consultants/educators*?
Just shoot the office an email at info@tsuriai.jp and they’ll hook you up.
They can even accept payment in ETH now, which makes it a lot easier to contract from overseas.

What a world!

[*Or, as always, Erlang developers or consultants, distributed systems analysis, and pretty much any other BEAM-related services, education or assistance!]

It is pretty well known that I don’t think smart contracts are going to save the world from itself because the problems in the US, Europe and China have everything to do with violations of social trust by government and lack of faith in people among the people themselves (as well as lack of faith in culture and tradition), but… smart contracts actually are kind of fun to write and our workflow is pretty darn fast.

There are clear use cases that fit the Ethereum-style computing paradigm and even some that clearly benefit from deployment on something like IPFS rather than a traditional server back end, and we can talk the client through the pros and cons. I suppose the most common thing to want to implement is NFTs at the moment, and some forms of NFTs (especially distributed name registry systems <hint!> <hint!>) are clearly extremely valuable solutions to otherwise difficult to administer problems.

2021.04.30 09:10

Valgrind “Hello, World!”: Python 3.6 VS Python 2.7 VS Erlang R23

I’ll just leave this here…

Python 3.6

ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ cat hello.py
#! /usr/bin/python3

print("Hello, world!")
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ ./hello.py
Hello, world!
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ valgrind ./hello.py
...
==19264== HEAP SUMMARY:
==19264==     in use at exit: 320,946 bytes in 166 blocks
==19264==   total heap usage: 1,698 allocs, 1,532 frees, 2,505,946 bytes allocated
==19264== 
==19264== LEAK SUMMARY:
==19264==    definitely lost: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
==19264==    indirectly lost: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
==19264==      possibly lost: 5,608 bytes in 10 blocks
==19264==    still reachable: 315,338 bytes in 156 blocks
==19264==         suppressed: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
...
==19264== ERROR SUMMARY: 8163 errors from 116 contexts (suppressed: 0 from 0)
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$

Python 2.7

ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ cat hello2.py 
#! /usr/bin/python

print "Hello, world!"
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ ./hello2.py
Hello, world!
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$ valgrind ./hello2.py
...
==19416== HEAP SUMMARY:
==19416==     in use at exit: 417,246 bytes in 199 blocks
==19416==   total heap usage: 2,958 allocs, 2,759 frees, 3,085,205 bytes allocated
==19416== 
==19416== LEAK SUMMARY:
==19416==    definitely lost: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
==19416==    indirectly lost: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
==19416==      possibly lost: 528 bytes in 1 blocks
==19416==    still reachable: 416,718 bytes in 198 blocks
==19416==         suppressed: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
...
==19416== ERROR SUMMARY: 489 errors from 30 contexts (suppressed: 0 from 0)
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/python$

Erlang R23

(On this one I can include the entire output.)

ceverett@icecream:~/Code/erlang$ cat hello_world 
#! /usr/bin/env escript

% Example of an escript
-mode(compile).

main(_) ->
    ok = io:setopts([{encoding, unicode}]),
    io:format("Hello, world!~n").
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/erlang$ ./hello_world 
Hello, world!
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/erlang$ valgrind ./hello_world
==25872== Memcheck, a memory error detector
==25872== Copyright (C) 2002-2017, and GNU GPL'd, by Julian Seward et al.
==25872== Using Valgrind-3.13.0 and LibVEX; rerun with -h for copyright info
==25872== Command: ./hello_world
==25872== 
Hello, world!
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/erlang$

Hey, Python! What the actual fsck is going on here?!? Jeebus… The Good Idea Fairy came along and convinced the webtarded among you to start throwing kitchen sink features in (“walrus operator” — yeah, great idea, that, and totally worth losing the sober guidance of Guido over…) along with 8163 memory errors. Sweet! Oh how far the great have fallen…

Honorable mention: Ruby 2.5

I didn’t expect much better from Ruby as the Good Idea Fairy has been forwarding all xer mail there for years, but wow… just wow

ceverett@icecream:~/Code/ruby$ cat hello_world.rb 
#! /usr/bin/ruby

print "Hello, World!\n"
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/ruby$ ./hello_world.rb 
Hello, World!
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/ruby$ valgrind ./hello_world.rb
...
==27051== HEAP SUMMARY:
==27051==     in use at exit: 2,921,234 bytes in 20,690 blocks
==27051==   total heap usage: 65,312 allocs, 44,622 frees, 16,447,358 bytes allocated
==27051== 
==27051== LEAK SUMMARY:
==27051==    definitely lost: 385,479 bytes in 4,421 blocks
==27051==    indirectly lost: 640,953 bytes in 5,808 blocks
==27051==      possibly lost: 1,626,429 bytes in 9,663 blocks
==27051==    still reachable: 268,373 bytes in 798 blocks
==27051==         suppressed: 0 bytes in 0 blocks
...
==27051== ERROR SUMMARY: 162050 errors from 402 contexts (suppressed: 0 from 0)
ceverett@icecream:~/Code/ruby$

162,050 memory errors. For Hello, World. How can there even be 162,050 instructions in the resulting set of commands to the system?

2021.04.5 20:25

Erlang: Socket experiments preliminary to writing a web server from scratch

Filed under: Computing,Science & Tech — Tags: , , , , , , , — zxq9 @ 20:25

A relative newcomer to networking in Erlang, Dr. Ajay Kumar, has started a self-educational project to create a web server from scratch in Erlang to give himself some first-hand insight into how TCP sockets work in Erlang and how web servers work in general. Web servers are a thing almost everyone has written against or for, but few have tried to implement on their own because socket programming sounds scary and time consuming to learn.

This video is quite short but incidentally demonstrates how not scary socket programming is and how easy it is to experiment with networking concepts on your own. Go experiment! Write networky things! It’s fun!

As an aside to this… I have a two-part explanation video that explains everything that is going on inside the service at he is basing his web server on. In the first part I explain what is going on within the default chat server that ZX templates as a network service project (kind of slow, covers basics for Erlang and ZX newcomers), and in the second part I explain how I used that as a basis for creating a telnet chat service that implements global shouts, channels, permissions, and other basic features needed for a real chat service (a bit better paced if you already know your way around Erlang and discusses some higher-level concepts such as service structure and the “service -> worker pattern“).

2021.03.11 16:31

Social Trust: Why crypto, blockchain and smart contracts will not change the world

Lately I have been involved in a number of discussions about distributed systems, delegated authority structures, cryptocurrency and smart contracts. The hope of many is that cryptocurrency will avert inflationary trouble entirely and help the public hold government in check. There is also hope that smart contracts will magically turn Africa into a paragon of high trust economics and a trade powerhouse of its own accord.

I decided to record my thoughts on this here:

The TL;DW of it is that while these are really great things to hope for, and not impossible goals, the idea that crypto technologies are going to manifest profound levels of social change on their own is misguided. The social and political problems much of the world is facing today are due to an erosion of trust and flagrant, repeated violation of trust and faith from every actor at every angle. In short, the West is moving from a high-trust social model to a low-trust social model and Africa is and has ever been suffering from low-trust social models. Crypto isn’t how that is solved.

Erlang: Video tutorial HOWTO on installing Erlang and ZX from scratch on Ubuntu Linux

Filed under: Computing — Tags: , , , , , , — zxq9 @ 13:24

I’m flattered to find that Dr. Kumar made a tutorial video of how to install Erlang and ZX on a fresh Ubuntu system and check that it is working by playing Erltris. It is sort of a video version of previous instructionals and the ZX quickstart docs all in one place.

Big thanks to Dr. Kumar!

2020.12.26 16:19

Erlang: Writing a Tetris clone Part 3 – Gameplay rules, final features and deployment

Filed under: Computing,Games — Tags: , , , , , — zxq9 @ 16:19

The third video in this series moves on with implementation of gameplay rules, scoring, the “next” preview window and packaging and deploying the game using ZX as a shortcut.

Writing this is a lot of fun. As of this video the game part is finished, but there are a few things such as high score recording and maybe some network features that have not been implemented. I might make a fourth video that covers these but it might be more interesting to move on with another example to demonstrate techniques to accomplish similar tasks.

Quite a few details that were noticed and mentioned in the first two videos have been updated in the course of completing the code for this video, so it may be interesting to check the commit history if you’ve been following along.

As always, have fun making stuff!

2020.12.19 17:16

Erlang: Writing a Tetris clone Part 2 – Gameplay mechanics

Last night I was able to make the second video in my series about implementing a Tetris clone in Erlang. Yay!

In this video I start where I left off in the first video where I had ended with a data abstraction to represent the play field (called the “well” in Tetris lingo), a data abstraction for the game pieces, some colored sprites to draw the game board with, and a GUI that could draw a game board and a single random piece every time it was opened as well as print to stdout any key press events that I made.

Oh but by the way…

I have a small confession to make — I didn’t actually start where I left off. I mentioned the stopping point (the “Draw the board with a random piece on it” commit), then I mentioned the next thing I did which was implement basic movement (the “Basic (unsafe) movement” commit), then I completely blew past it and never explained the way I implemented unsafe movement in the first place. The trouble with having skipped that is that I had intended to discuss how keystroke capture actually works, where it is in the GUI code, and follow the event through the system so that people could get that idea into their head earlier than later because it is so basic to making a game!

So instead I’ll explain how that works and point out where it is in the code here in this post and cover it at the beginning of the third video.

Getting Input

If we look at the “Basic (unsafe) movement” commit there is a file called ertltris/src/et_gui.erl that is the code for the GUI process. In the init/1 function we see the wx server get started, a “frame” is created (the main window in wx parlance), some various widget elements and things are all established and on line 112 we see this:

ok = wxPanel:connect(Frame, char_hook),

This is connecting the Frame to a window manager event called char_hook. I do mention this in the video, but it is important to point this out here. I should also point out that I’m mistakenly calling wxPanel:connect/2 instead of wxFrame:connect/2 — which is technically incorrect, but due to the nature of the underlying inheritance among the C++ classes that make up wx and the way that’s all masked in the generated library wrappers that make up wxErlang, it actually doesn’t cause any errors. wxPanel and wxFrame are all ancestors of wxEventHandler.

Anyway… what connecting to this event does is tells wx that whenever the frame is the focus it should relay keystroke events to the program. Inside Erlang they arrive as messages that carry a #wx{} record that includes an event element that carries another record that provides all the relevant information about the event. You can receive these in the handle_event/2 callback function of wx_object. Pretty nice. This means you can deal with GUI events in very much the same way you can handle network events as well as inter-process messages within the Erlang runtime: everything is a message.

IDIOMS IDIOMS IDIOMS!

As I often say: Develop idioms.

A common idiom I use in wxErlang code is to match on an event type in handle_event/2, assign any relevant event data to variables, and then within a case inside the handle_event clause that matched that event type determine where we want to dispatch the event (if at all). You can see a very clear example of this on lines 191-203 of this commit.

handle_event(#wx{event = #wxKey{keyCode = Code}}, State = #s{frame = Frame}) ->
    ok =
        case Code of
             32 -> et_con:random_piece();
             88 -> et_con:rotate(l);
             90 -> et_con:rotate(r);
            314 -> et_con:move(l);
            315 -> et_con:rotate(r);
            316 -> et_con:move(r);
            317 -> et_con:move(d);
            _  -> tell("KeyCode: ~p", [Code])
        end,
    {noreply, State};

I could have made each one of those dispatch decisions inside the function head instead of using a case statement within a clause, but I find it much easier to read this particular style where we open a very compact dispatch span per event type we’re looking for than have a ton of handle_event clauses. In complex GUI applications you can wind up with a lot of special keystroke events and it becomes super cumbersome to match them all as function heads. Not just writing the function heads, but trying to find a specific event gets kind of messy because the code starts looking so scrambled.

Each of the different key codes matched in the dispatching part of that function correspond to some gameplay event. Note that the GUI doesn’t really care what the status of the game is at all, it just cares that it is relaying the mapped commands to the game control process and then carries on doing GUI stuff.

This is important to point out: Nearly all communication between the controller and the GUI is asynchronous. You almost never want blocking calls to pass between them. There may be a need for a blocking call in some special code, but this is almost always a bad idea.

Buh bye!

That pretty much sums up what I wanted to cover that I forgot to mention in the video. Input handling is really important. If you want to jump ahead, check out the way the handle_event/2 function evolved in the latest commits to see how menu commands are intercepted, or go check out the handle_event/2 function in the Erlang Minesweeper clone!

Don’t forget to give me all the delicious likes and stars and channel subs! BWAHAHA! I’ll catch you magnificent nerds in the next video!

2020.12.15 17:16

Erlang: Writing a Tetris clone Part 1 – Data types and basic GUI display

Over the last few days I wrote an Erlang implementation of the classic puzzle game Tetris and decided to do a few videos to explain how it works and why. This is part one of a three-part series.

  1. Data types and basic GUI display [this page]
  2. Gameplay mechanics
  3. Gameplay rules, final features, and deployment

This first video covers how I started the project (cheating using ZX to template a GUI project for me, of course), what data types I thought I would probably need from the outset (the game board and the game pieces), and my initial stab at getting pixels on the screen in a reasonably pretty way.

The videos roughly trace the commit history of the project as I developed it, with this first video covering the first 3 commits which get me from a GUI project template to displaying the game board and drawing a random piece in it each time I start the program (as well as catching keystrokes so I can examine what their values are).

2020.11.25 14:12

Erlang: FizzBuzz in Python vs Erlang — a discussion about conditionals

Filed under: Computing — Tags: , , , , , — zxq9 @ 14:12

I’ve had a few discussions with beginners over the last few months that often come to center around not really understanding the conditional branching constructs in Erlang, so I decided to do a video on it using “FizzBuzz” as the central example.

The traditional if/else if/else boolean paradigm is quite different from Erlang’s concept of matching and guards in case and function head matches and an if construct that is really more appropriate for range checks than general boolean branching. Hopefully I was able to explain at least a little bit about why Erlang’s matching and guards are a much more flexible method for writing conditionals once you grow accustomed to thinking in these terms.

2020.11.22 19:20

Erlang: Building a Telnet Chat Server from Scratch Using ZX

Filed under: Computing — Tags: , , , , , , , — zxq9 @ 19:20

A few weeks ago I made a two-part video discussion about building a telnet chat server from scratch using ZX and forgot to post any prose reference to it. (Most people are following my blog RSS, not my (extremely tiny) video channels.)

The resulting project is called “Trash Talk” and it has a repo on GitLab here. The license is MIT and is quite simple to hack around on, so have fun.

Part 1

The first video is a bit slower paced than the second. I cover:

  • What ZX templates when you do zx create project and select the “Traditional Erlang Application” project option
  • How everything fits together and works
  • Discussion about why things are structured the way they are in OTP applications
  • Demonstrate a little bit of command implementation in the telnet server (mostly to show where in the code you would do that).

This video is a lot less exciting than the second one because there aren’t a lot of jazzy features demonstrated, but it is probably the one you want to watch once now if you’re new to Erlang and a second time a few weeks later once you’ve written a few projects and stubbed your toes a few times (a second viewing brings different insights, not because the video changes but because you change through your experiences).

Part 2

The second video is the more fun one because the initial explanation that covers the critical question of “Why does anything do anything?” has already been covered in the first one, and while you might find the first video interesting, it isn’t as exciting as this second one where you get to see features that do stuff that might be more relevant to problems you have in your real-world projects get implemented. In this one I cover:

  • Checking the state of the running system using observer
  • The difference between zx and zxh when running your code in development
  • The “Service ⇒ Worker Pattern” (aka “SWP”) and how ZX can help you drop one in via zx template swp
  • One way to implement text commands in a structured way, with categories of commands indicated by prefixes (this seems elementary and very IRC-ish at first, but in command protocols a direct parallel of this often happens at the byte level — so think on that)
  • How to separate the “clients” concept as a service from the “channels” concept as a service, and discuss how that idea extends to much more complex systems
  • A bit more useful version of a “service manager” process in the form of the chan_man
  • And much much more! (advertising people from the 1980’s tell me I should always say that instead of “etc.”)

These aren’t super jazzy, but they get the job done. Hopefully they give some new Erlanger out there a leg-up on the problem of going from a “Hello, World!” escript to a proper OTP application.

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