Sunday, May 22, 2016

Life as a Game

I like computer games. In the past, I played Starcraft to the point of exhaustion, playing it more than 10 hours at a time for days. The problem with games is that they don't add much to your life. Besides, games are not all fun. Every game I played had a lot of boring repetitive tasks, which resembles real life in that respect.

A good game starts simple and builds up over time whereas in real life I am usually confronted with a large mess. That is what makes games fun and real life a chore. A main reason of procrastination is that I don't know where to start, so I keep postponing it. When I spend some extra time to analyze the problem and divide it into smaller pieces, it becomes manageable, even fun. And when I solve a problem in real life, I gain skills that I carry with me my whole life, besides having the satisfaction of doing something useful and being able to control my environment.

I still play games (currently Clash of Clans) but I only spend about half an hour a day. I have more fun doing real things (teaching my 4 year old, learning how to make Mousse, developing web apps). I encourage you to view life as a growth opportunity, as a game where every skill you gain unlocks new ones. The key is mentally breaking large chunks of work down into less threatening smaller ones. These small chunks can be dealt with as if they were levels of a larger game.

Inspiration:



Saturday, May 21, 2016

Puana Göre Üniversite Sıralama

Bildiğim kadarıyla istediğin taban puan aralığını girip üniversitelerin bölümlerini sıralayabileceğin bir web uygulaması yok. Epey zamandır aklımda olan bu fikrin ilk halini oluşturdum, linki şu: http://universite-sorgulama.appspot.com/

Önümüzdeki günlerde bazı iyileştirmeler yapıp kodu GitHub'a koyacağım, meraklısı oradan kodu inceleyebilir.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Graphical User Interface Nightmares in Java

Compared to Windows Forms, doing GUI work in Java is painful because you have to deal with a lot more detail. Recently, I was trying to customize tab drawing in JTabbedPane to make the font of the selected tab bold and its background color green. I ended up creating a class (MyTabbedPaneUI) that extends BasicTabbedPaneUI and overrides paintTabBackground().
public class MyFrame extends javax.swing.JFrame {
    public MyFrame() {
        setDefaultCloseOperation(javax.swing.WindowConstants.EXIT_ON_CLOSE);
        javax.swing.JTabbedPane jtp = new javax.swing.JTabbedPane();
        getContentPane().add(jtp);
        jtp.setUI(new MyTabbedPaneUI());
        jtp.add("My Tab 1", new javax.swing.JPanel());
        javax.swing.JLabel jl1 = new javax.swing.JLabel(jtp.getTitleAt(0));
        jtp.setTabComponentAt(0, jl1);
        jtp.add("My Tab 2", new javax.swing.JPanel());
        javax.swing.JLabel jl2 = new javax.swing.JLabel(jtp.getTitleAt(1));
        jtp.setTabComponentAt(1, jl2);
    }
    public static void main(String args[]) {
        java.awt.EventQueue.invokeLater(new Runnable() {
            @Override
            public void run() {
                new MyFrame().setVisible(true);
            }
        });
    }
}
public class MyTabbedPaneUI extends javax.swing.plaf.basic.BasicTabbedPaneUI {
    /**
     * NOTE: Do not perform lengthy operations (e.g. setting font to bold) 
     * inside this paint method because it causes high CPU load and has 
     * side effects like not being able to update java3D drawings.
     */    
    @Override
    protected void paintTabBackground(Graphics g, int tabPlacement, 
                       int tabIndex, int x, int y, int w, int h, 
                       boolean isSelected) {
        for (int i = 0; i < tabPane.getTabCount(); i++) {
            Color bgColor = Color.YELLOW;
            javax.swing.JLabel jl = (javax.swing.JLabel) 
                tabPane.getTabComponentAt(i);
            if (jl != null) {
                if (i != tabIndex) {
                    bgColor = Color.GREEN;
                    //jl.setFont(jl.getFont().deriveFont(Font.PLAIN));//BAD
                } else {
                    //jl.setFont(jl.getFont().deriveFont(Font.BOLD));//BAD
                }
            }
            Rectangle rect = rects[i];
            int pad = 2;
            g.setColor(bgColor);
            g.fillRect(rect.x+pad, rect.y+pad, rect.width-2*pad,
                rect.height-2*pad);
        }
    }
}
Setting font to bold (by uncommenting the lines commented as "BAD") in BasicTabbedPaneUI.paintTabBackground causes more than 7x CPU usage:


I have witnessed cases where CPU usage shot up to 100% and my app could not update a java3D drawing on another window. You can imagine that it was not easy to find out why.

Other examples of why Java should be avoided for GUI work:
  • Changing color of a JTable cell is a lot of work.
  • For background color to have any effect, JLabel has to be opaque while JTextArea has to be not opaque (opposite of their defaults)!
  • Due to the unintuitive layout mechanism, what I see on design view is completely different from what I see when I run the application.
  • When I change the layout, sometimes all the components dissappear (their width and height becomes zero).
  • Setting the width/height to "Preferred" sometimes causes the component to shrink to zero size. From what I understand, the layout mechanism is there to ensure proper resizing, i.e. to have a similar look when screen resolutions, font size etc. change. As usual, when trying the solve the most general case, you make it more difficult to solve simple cases. 
My layout strategy:
  • Create a frame
  • Add a panel with null layout.
  • Add subpanels to group components
  • Set the layout of subpanels. The layouts I use most often:
    • null
      • Advantage: You can set the location and size of components.
      • Disadvantage: If your form is resizable, components won't resize.
    • GridLayout;
    • BoxLayout

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How to improve quality of legacy software

When developing software from scratch, I follow these steps: Use cases (aka concept of operation), requirements, design, code & unit tests, system test planning, system test.

Recently, I was asked how to improve the quality of a software written by other people a couple of years ago. I was informed that it was working, the only missing thing was compliance to software development procedures. I recommended to do the above sequence in reverse, i.e. first planning and executing full system tests. That way, we can answer the most important question, "is it working correctly". After we are satisfied with the tests, we can review and document the design and refactor code.

Even if we have to stop after testing, we will have added value to the existing product by being able to demonstrate in a repeatable manner that it is working. If we started the development sequence from the beginning and had to stop midway due to other priorities (which always happens), we would have wasted our time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Model simplification strategies for testing

When developing complex models/algorithms, it is usually difficult to evaluate full model test results. The only option to verify complex model output is to compare it with some other implementation, for example Matlab toolboxes.

In addition to using 3rd parties for comparison, you should add functionality that lets you to simplify the model to a form whose results can be easily interpreted by a technical person. For example, if you are working on an algorithm that converts Geodetic coordinates to ECEF, you could have a function that temporarily sets the ellipsoid to a sphere (by making the eccentricity zero). It is easy to calculate expected results for a perfect sphere.

Similarly, if you develop a kinetic 6DoF flight simulation, you should have functions or flags that let you easily turn off complicating factors like aerodynamics (by multiplying coefficients with zero), wind, variable gravity, Coriolis, ellipsoidal Earth and terrain elevation. Your aim is to simplify your model to a ballistic flight in vacuum with constant gravity over a flat and non-rotating Earth. You can then use high school physics to calculate expected trajectories and compare them with your model outputs.

To clear doubts about your code, you should be able to quickly show that it obeys basic geometrical/physical laws.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Error in NASA code

NASA World Wind java code is available on the internet. While looking at the their SDK2 EGM96.java file, I discovered that the simple linear interpolation code has an error. The original code:
...
double ul = this.gePostOffset(topRow, leftCol);
double ll = this.gePostOffset(bottomRow, leftCol);
double lr = this.gePostOffset(bottomRow, rightCol);
double ur = this.gePostOffset(topRow, rightCol);

double u = (lon - lonLeft) / INTERVAL.degrees;
double v = (latTop - lat) / INTERVAL.degrees;

double pll = (1.0 - u) * (1.0 - v);
double plr = u * (1.0 - v);
double pur = u * v;
double pul = (1.0 - u) * v;

double offset = pll * ll + plr * lr + pur * ur + pul * ul;
...

I prepared a graphic to easier analyze the algorithm:


As you can see at the end of above code snippet, the offset formula starts with pll*ll. pll is (1.0 - u) * (1.0 - v). The correct multiplier of the ll term has to be v*(1-u). The easiest way to fix the code is to swap the topRow and bottomRow indices when calling getPostOffset() function.

I guess the error was not detected since results do not differ too much because, although the points are used in wrong order, they are close to each other nonetheless, so the result might not have looked suspicious.

I tried to log a bug report on their Jira site, but I could not since I don't have an account. I was able to file a bug report on GitHub.

Lessons learnt:
  • Thoroughly test 3rd party code, even if it is from NASA or Mathworks. Every code is guilty unless proven innocent. Ignore this advice and you will find yourself chasing strange errors for a very long time.
  • Separate interpolation code into a function, write lots of unit test for that function to verify that it works correctly.

Good error messages

A good error message should contain the following:
  • Short description
  • What triggered the error?
  • What was expected?
Example: User inputs a negative value (-5) into a function foo that only accepts positive integers. A message similar to the following should be displayed:
Negative input!
The input value was -5. Function foo only accepts positive integers.