Senator John McCain is an Idiot

General Interest, Miscellaneous, Rants, Uncategorized No Comments

Apparently John McCain thinks it’s pork to control Mormon Crickets in Utah.  So much so, it seems, that he’s marked it the #6 piece of pork in a trillion dollar spending bill, despite that it’s less than one one thousandth of one percent of the cost.  Given that he’s biblically old, I would have thought he’d understand how important it is to stop SWARMING LOCUSTS.  I shit you not, the quote:

$1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah – is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?

I mean seriously, that’s so fundamentally uninformed that I can’t even mock it.  A million dollars is a bargain for statewide pest control that costs hundreds of millions of dollars in structural and crop damage annually.  He’s old enough that, statistically speaking, he should have seen every living thing at least twice by now (including brontosaurus); one is tempted to remind him of that crawly sandwich he had with Joseph Smith.

“I have no idea what they’re even talking about, so surely I’m qualified to think it’s pork!  Who needs locust control anyway?”


Link: Programmer Competency Matrix

Miscellaneous, Programming No Comments

I originally found the PCM through Starling Software‘s copy, but it turns out to originally be by Sijin Joseph.  As both sites have lots of other interesting content, I’m linking both.

The Programmer Competency Matrix is a surprisingly realistic grid of capabilities sorted by topic, which gives an extremely rough but in my opinion basically valid idea of an engineer’s gumption.  Starling republished it as part of their standard set of tools to be used during a hire.

Regardless of whether you agree with the grid or its data, it’s fun.  Have a look, and try scoring yourself.

Math only shows some countries the love

General Interest, Miscellaneous No Comments

It turns out that time() is going to report 1234567890 on Valentine’s Day this year for about 1/3 of the planet.  Anyone on the wrong side of Greenwich Mean Time gets the joke.

WebKit overflow:hidden and clear:none clipping failure

Programming, Web and Web Standards No Comments

There is a failure in WebKit to honor overflow:hidden with clear:none on child elements.  This prevents several cheesy no-table space filling strategies which have worked portably since IE3 from working in WebKit derived browsers (safari, chrome, etc.)

Test case with screen shots and examples.

I have submitted this as Bug 23221.

A Better Erlang TCP listening pattern: addressing the fast packet loss problem

Erlang, Programming, Tools and Libraries, Tutorials 11 Comments

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve had mixed reactions to this when I’ve discussed it with people on IRC.  This may be well known to oldbear Erlang programmers.  I suppose it’s also possible that I’m wrong, though I’ve talked to several people I respect, and more than one of them have suggested that they were already aware of this problem.  If I’m wrong, please let me know; I’m open to the possibility that there’s a better answer that I just don’t know about.  I’ve never seen it discussed on the web, at least. Update: Serge Aleynikov points out that this TrapExit tutorial documents this approach.

I think this is probably real.

I believe there is a significant defect in the idiomatic listener pattern as discussed by most Erlang websites and as provided by most Erlang example code, and which is found in many Erlang applications.  This defect is relatively easily repaired once noticed without significant impact on surrounding code, and I have added functionality to my ScUtil Library to handle this automatically under the name standard_listener.

The fundamental problem is essentially a form of race condition.  The idiomatic listener is, roughly:

do_listen(Port, Opts, Handler) ->

    case gen_tcp:listen(Port, Opts) of

        { ok, ListeningSocket } ->
            listen_loop(ListeningSocket, Handler);

        { error, E } ->
            { error, E }


listen_loop(ListeningSocket, Handler) ->

    case gen_tcp:accept(ListeningSocket) of

        { ok, ConnectedSocket } ->
            spawn(node(), Handler, [ConnectedSocket]),

        { error, E } ->
            { error, E }


Now consider the case of a server under very heavy load.  Further, consider that the listening socket is opened either {active,true} or {active,once}, which is true in the vast bulk of Erlang network applications, meaning that packets are delivered automatically to the socket owner.  The general pattern is that the listening socket accepts a connection, spawns a handling process, passes the connected socket to that handling process, and the handling process takes ownership of the socket.

The problem is that it takes time for that all to happen, and Erlang doesn’t specify or allow you to control its timeslicing behavior (as well it should not).  As active sockets are managed by a standalone process, this means that if the connecting client is fast and the network is fast, the first packet (even the first several under extreme circumstances) could be delivered before the socket has been taken over by the handling PID, meaning that its contents would be dispatched to the wrong process, with no indication of where they were meant to go.  This invalidates connections and fills a non-discarding mailbox, which is a potentially serious memory leak (especially given that erlang’s response to out of memory conditions is to abort an entire VM.)

Obviously, this is intolerable.  There are better answers, though, than to switch to {active,false}.  One suggestion I heard was to pre-spawn handlers in order to reduce the gap time, but that doesn’t solve the problem, it just makes it less likely.

The approach that I took is to lie.  standard_listener takes the following steps to resolve the problem:

  1. Add the default {active,true} to the inet options list, if it isn’t already present.
  2. Strip out the {active,Foo} from the inet options list, and store it as ActiveStatus.
  3. Add {active,false} to the inet options list, and use that options list to open the listener.
  4. When spawning handler processes, pass a shunt as the starting function, taking the real handling function and the real ActiveStatus as arguments
  5. The shunt sets the real ActiveStatus from inside the handler process, at which point the socket begins delivering messages

This neatly closes the problem.  A free, MIT license implementation can be found in ScUtil beginning in version 96.  A simplified, corrected example follows for immediate reference; the thing in ScUtil is more feature complete.

do_listen(Port, Opts) ->

    ActiveStatus = case proplists:get_value(active, SocketOptions) of
        undefined -> true;
        Other     -> Other

    FixedOpts = proplists:delete(active, SocketOptions)
             ++ [{active, false}],

    case gen_tcp:listen(Port, FixedOpts) of

        { ok, ListeningSocket } ->
            listen_loop(ActiveStatus, ListeningSocket);

        { error, E } ->
            { error, E }


listen_loop(ActiveStatus, ListeningSocket, Handler) ->

    case gen_tcp:accept(ListeningSocket) of

        { ok, ConnectedSocket } ->
            spawn(?MODULE, shunt, [ActiveStatus,ConnectedSocket,Handler]),
            listen_loop(ActiveStatus, ListeningSocket, Handler);

        { error, E } ->
            { error, E }


shunt(ActiveStatus, ConnectedSocket, Handler) ->

    controlling_process(ConnectedSocket, self()),
    inet:setopts(ConnectedSocket, [{active, ActiveStatus}]),

A Happy New Year’s into 2009 to All

Miscellaneous No Comments

A happy, healthy and safe 2009 to everyone.  Remember the best parts in people you know, help the less fortunate, and help make 2009 better than 2008 in your part of the world.

SMS and Data

Miscellaneous, Rants 3 Comments

Am I the only person who resents having to pay for SMS when I’m already paying for unlimited data?

Making significant strides towards documenting ScUtil

Erlang, Programming, Tools and Libraries 6 Comments

[digg-reddit-me]My erlang library ScUtil has been public at the ScUtil page for some time now.  Recently, I’ve been working on documenting it.  It’s about half documented in its current state.

Here’s the prototype ScUtil documentation.  I’m open to commentary.

Prototype: EEP18 Considered Harmful: The problems with Erlang to JSON term translation

ECMA / Javascript, ECMAScript, Erlang, General Interest, Programming, Rants, Tools and Libraries, Web and Web Standards 5 Comments

THIS IS ONLY HALF WRITTEN.  I have been sitting on this post, waiting for the mood to finish it, for months; because EEP18 is now being treated as a likely implement, I am immediately publishing the half-written version, because it exposes many (though not all) of the serious, irreconcilable problems with EEP18.

On the mailing list, people are actively trying to bring Erlang up to snuff with regards to web standards.  One of the more unfortunate choices being discussed is JSON as a data notation.  JSON, unfortunately, does not actually map to Erlang in a useful way.  Joe Armstrong has gone as far as to suggest BIFs, which are decidedly unrealistic as well as unnecessary.  My goal is to create a JSON handling library.  However, the mailing list is beginning to put momentum behind an alternative proposal which is currently presented in BIF form.

This post explains why my approach is different.  Many of the issues herein are discussed by the tabled EEP (EEP 18, “JSON BIFs” by Rickard O’Keefe), but some are not, and some of these issues are accepted when I believe they should not be.  It is my position that EEP 18 is unacceptably dangerous.  I will explain why.

Read the rest…

Holy crap, an Objective C text that doesn’t assume you’re retarded

General Interest, Objective C, Programming, Rants 5 Comments

[digg-reddit-me]My good friend Jeff happened to mention offhand his knowledge of a document I’ve been looking for for quite some time now.  I’m sharing it with my readers in case they’re looking for something similar.

Let me be forward: I cannot stand the various Objective C books I’ve tried.  They all want to teach me to be a programmer.  I’m already there.  I just want a book like Stroustrup.  The PragProg book is awful: the first several chapters are about Mac development tools, like I give a damn.  Everything’s through interface wizards.  It’s nauseating.

Jeff heard mein painz0rz, and turned me on to From C++ to Objective-C.  It isn’t perfect: it’s not super comprehensive, and it’s translated from a different native language (French), which leaves a few passages cumbersome.  However, as one can tell from reading the intro, the author of the document, much like me, found little to love in the state of Objective C documentation, and wanted to write something for people who were already well established.

Kudos to Pierre Chatelier for writing the book that Apple and Alan Kay could not.

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