NerdKit Gaming

Contrary to the evidence on this blog, not all of the code I write is in Erlang. It’s not even all web-based or dealing with distributed systems. In fact, this week I spent my evenings writing C for an embedded device.

I’ve mentioned NerdKits here before (affiliate link). This week I finally dug into the kit I ordered so long ago, and took it somewhere: gaming.

The result is a clone of a simple tile-swap matching game. I used very little interesting hardware outside the microcontroller and LCD — mostly just a pile of buttons. The purpose of this experiment was to test the capabilities of the little ATmega168 (and my abilities to program it).

I’ve put the code on github, if you’re interested in browsing. If you don’t have a NerdKit of your own to load it up on, I’ve also made a short demo video, and snapped a few up-close screenshots.

What did I learn? Mostly I remembered that writing a bunch of code to operate on a small amount of data can be just as fun as writing a bunch of code to operate on a large amount of data. Lots of interaction with the same few bytes from different angles has a different feel than the same operation repeated time and time again on lots of different data. I also learned that I’ve been spoiled by interactive consoles and fast compile/reload times. When it takes a minute or more to restart (after power cycles and connector un-re-plugging) and I don’t have an effectively infinite buffer to dump logs in, I think a little longer about each experiment.

So what’s next? Well, not much for this game, unless I slim down the code some more. Right now it compiles to 14310 bytes. Shortly before this, it was 38 bytes larger, and refused to load onto the microcontroller properly, since it plus the bootloader exceeds the 16K of flash memory available. My first attack would probably be to simply move the game board to a global variable instead of passing it as a function argument. The savings in stack-pushing should gain a little room.

If I were to make room for new operations, then a feature that saved a bit of state across power cycles would be a fun target. What’s a game without a high-score board?

Map/reducing Luwak

I was inspired, this weekend, by off-list discussion of Luwak and by Guy Steele’s talk How to Think about Parallel Programming—Not!. The two seemed naturally attracted, and thus I created the luwak_mr module.

The luwak_mr module exposes simple a function that knows how to walk a Luwak file tree, and send the keys for each of its leaf nodes off to a Riak map/reduce process. This enables one to run a map function against each block in a luwak file. For example, one might split a large Latin-1 file into “words” (the luwak_mr_words module in the project is an example implementation of the method that Guy Steele presented).

And, yes, this blog has been dormant for a while … I’ve been busy. Lots of woodworking and travel. Making music has also begun to require more time, and yesterday I learned how to ski cross-country. Always busy, the life of a hobbyist.

Update: luwak_mr has also been accepted to the Riak function contrib. So if you’re in the habit of browsing there, fetch the latest.


Now that iPhone webapps are all the rage, I thought I’d release one of my own. Behold: the Spinner for iPhone and Dashboard. Good riddance to indecision – let the spinner choose!

It’s my birthday, and I’ve decided to give you all a present.

I needed a break from Riak & BeerRiot last week, and the thing everyone was talking about was iPhone webapps.

I read up and spent a while considering different apps I could build. Then it finally hit me: converting Dashboard widgets to iPhone webapps should be trivial!

Unfortunately, it’s not completely trivial if your widget uses the widget preferences, buttons, and/or back-face configuration stuff. But, it’s not impossible to emulate all that.

Lucky for me, I had a widget lying around that I’d written a few years ago. After a few hours of trial-and-error, I’m finally happy with it, and I’ve decided to release it to the world.

I give you the Spinner iPhone webapp. If you ever find yourself in a moment of indecision, tell the Spinner what your choices are and give it a flick.

If you’re without iPhone or iPod Touch, but you have a Mac running a recent OS X, I’ve also released the Dashboard widget, for you to relinquish the same decisive responsibility on the desktop.


This also gave me an excuse to upgrade the Webmachine installation on BeerRiot. Virtual hosts for the win!

Webmachine POST Example

Many people have asked for an example Webmachine resource that responds to POST. If you follow my twitter feed, you may have caught this gem.

I figured that example could use a little fleshing out, so I’ve added a resource to my wmexamples repo.

formjson_resourc.erl makes an attempt at demonstrating the simplest way to handle a POST, while also demonstrating the difference between content-producing functions (to_json/2 in this example, and others named in content_types_provided/2), which put content in the response body simply by returning it, and other functions, which have to put content in the response body by returning a modified ReqData.

For another example of handling POST, read demo_fs_resource.erl that comes with Webmachine. It implements post_is_create/2, create_path/2, content_types_accepted/2, and accept_content/2 to handle POST requests. (Incidentally, demo_fs_resource is a good example of many Webmachine resource functions.)

Updated to include content_types_accepted/2 in the list of functions handling POST requests – thanks for catching it, Lou!

Webmachine Slideshow Intro

Justin Sheehy has just posted his video slideshow introduction to webmachine. The video contains the slides and most of the talk that Justin gave at the Bay Area Erlang Factory last month. If you’ve been thinking about checking out Webmachine, this half hour is well worth your time.

Webmachine has also gained several new features recently, including delayed body receive and a more independent request dispatcher. Partial receive and send is even available in tip.

Unfortunately, the trace utility required changes that broke compatiblity with old trace files. Support for those old traces could probably be hacked in without too much trouble if you need it (the cause was mainly just a change to a record structure). I assumed that trace files are somewhat ephemeral, though – really only needed for debugging, and then thrown away.

Finally, if you’re looking for example resources and dispatch tables, I recommend checking out my wmexamples repo on bitbucket. It has a smattering of working resources that can hopefully give you a feel for how we normally write them.