Babynavnvelgeren – Fast exploration of Norwegian given names

My good friend Feda Curic recently came to me and wanted to make something together during his parental leave. At first we started out with something a bit too ambitious (for the time we had set aside), but then his wife came up with a great idea we could finish in our limited amount of time.

She wanted an app where you could quickly look up names for babies. Here in Norway Statistisk sentralbyrå (SSB) has statistics for all names used 4 or more times. The SSBs user interface leaves something to be desired though. It is either small lists containing some names, or a name search, where you input the exact name, and then get statistics about that specific name.

The SSB interface is not at all useful for exploratory search for names. In Babynavnvelgeren (the app we made) we have a lightning fast interactive search and filtering options. The data is available locally in the app, so it mostly works offline as well.

The very simple but effective UI of Babynavnvelgeren

Babynavnvelgeren makes searching for names easy and fun. My 8 year old daughter loves searching while sorting for the least popular names. She found some very interesting ones like:

  • Sau – Sheep in Norwegian.
  • Lillebil – I initially thought this was a bug for sure, but it is a name. My daughter finds it hilarious (“Lille” means small and “bil” is car in Norwegian).

More generally I think Interactivity and responsiveness is essential for exploration, and the process of exploration often leads to accidental discoveries and new hypothesis building. UIs which support this kind of interactivity are very useful in my experience, and I think more applications/data providers should have this in mind when presenting their data.

I also think there is a lot of low hanging fruit in this space, and small improvements in interactivity often cause massive increases in efficiency. For Norwegian names, Babynavnvelgeren has got you covered. Go get it!

Astro observation log

As a kid I was always very fascinated by astronomical objects. I vividly remember the first time I observed the Andromeda Galaxy in a pair of binoculars. I think I was around 14, and I had tried to find it several times before. I did not really know what it would look like in binoculars, and I remember freezing my hands off to keep it in view once I found it. Even if it was just a blurry blob it was amazing.

Fast forward 20 years, and I now have the knowledge, time and money to buy and use a telescope. I recently bought a 10 inch Dobsonian. I am still learning to to use it well, but it has so far been worth every NOK spent.

Last night was my first observing session with the telescope under not extremely badly light polluted skies. These are the objects I have observed so far.

M35 and NGC 2158 (Open cluster in Gemini)

M35 is huge, and looks great on low magnification. It was also not very hard to find by following the stars in Gemini. It would be useful with an even lower magnification eyepiece to observe this next time.

M37(Open cluster in Auriga)

Since it is far away from the closest clearly visible star, it was a bit hard to find even though it showed up pretty clear in the finderscope once I was in the right region.

M42 (Orion Nebula)

This is so far the only nebula I have been able to observe from the city. Sadly Orion was not visible when I observed in the less light polluted location. I have not yet tried filters for contrast, but M42 is still very visible, and it looks great. Looking forward to observe this with filters and less light pollution.

M13 (Hercules globular cluster)

M13 gave M42 a run for its money. M13 was easy to find (shows up clearly in the finder scope), and at low magnification it looked great. Increasing the magnification made it awesome. Suddenly thousands of starts exploded into view.

M65 and M66, part of the Leo Triplet

With the light pollution at the time, M65 and M66 were visible but with little detail. They were not visible in the finder scope, and I just randomly found them scanning from the stars in Leo. They pretty much both looked like Andromeda in binoculars. I am hoping to see some more structure next time.

I also observed some galaxy in Virgo, but I have no clue which. It seems the area is filled with galaxies, and I found one just scanning around. Pretty neat.

A very welcome type-safe builders surprise

When Kotlin 1.0 came out, I tried type-safe builders a bit, with mixed feelings. They are a great way to create simple declarative DSLs for building hierarchies, but using them used to be quite a pain.

The main problem was that as the nesting got deeper, the DSL API would include methods from all the scopes. Only some of those methods were usable in the current scope. This was infuriating to use, since if you used a method in the wrong scope, it would often cause wrong behavior instead of an error. Here is an example using a simple XML DSL:

DSL gone bad example
A tag inside an attribute, WAT…

It makes no sense to have a tag inside an attribute, but this would not fail, but instead cause the below XML document to be created. It is valid XML, but probably not what was intended given the above nesting.

Resulting weird XML

Yesterday I needed to do create some XML, and I remembered type-safe builders to be great for this. I quickly whipped together the simple API above for that, but again was confronted with the scoping problem. Initially I figured out a very hacky way to provide nice errors at runtime, but then I thankfully read up on the Kotlin documentation, and in Kotlin 1.1, the @DslMarker annotation was added to ensure that only methods in the current builder scope is visible.

This moves type-safe builders from good to awesome in my book.

DSL now fails to compile
With @DslMarker annotation, the tag is not visible in the attribute scope, and this nonsense fails to compile.

I am late to the party, but this feels like a change that is easy to miss, and that does not get enough attention. Superb of the Kotlin team to address things like these!

♥ Princesses versus giraffes ♥

TLDR; I’m writing a coop multiplayer game with my daughter, this is the current result! Works in Firefox and Chrome. Use arrows to move and space to fire. Share a URL to play with a friend.

Some years ago, my daughter figured out I made some computer games, and she even played one of them quite a bit. After a while she wanted something new, and we figured we’ll make a game together. She would draw concepts and come up with ideas, and I would try to make them happen in game.

The initial concepts she drew were these:

We then together made them into vector with some modifications.

Princess and "giraffe"
A princess and a giraffe… I guess

Tips on kid friendly vector drawing programs would be very much appreciated, throw me an email or post a comment. We used Sketch, but Sketch is a bit overwhelming and distracting with all its features. I want a program which only have bezier patches and transformations on them, as well as fill, stroke and possibly opacity settings.

Going from concepts to a prototype

I had been wanting to try compile to JS with Kotlin for a while, so I started a project in IntelliJ and quickly threw something together using a plain HTLM5 Canvas.

We drew some more concepts, and after some evenings implementing we had an infinite randomly generated castle, an arrow firing princess, a hyperactive bow carrying giraffe, and a bunch of collision detection bugs (yay for rolling your own).

Wriggling out of hard requirements

After a lot of fun triggering bugs, my daughter came up with some new requirements.

I want to play with my friends, and we should all be princesses!

These are sort of hard to implement, disregarding networking, it would mean a total rewrite of how the world generation and camera worked. It would also need a solution for how to avoid someone getting stuck due to the camera movement of others and so on.

Those giraffes are in for a surprise.

After some bargaining we made some new concepts, and we agreed to add a player controlled cloud, and a bunch of new giraffes.

Adding networking

For me this meant that I would need to add some kind of networking to the game. For browser games, the choices are:

  1. Communicate with a server using WebSocket and have that relay state, or run the game on the server.
  2. Negotiate a WebRTC datachannel, and send communication directly between the browsers.
  3. Have players install a browser extension like netcode.io,and use it instead of WebSocket.

Since the game is cooperative, there is little reason to run the game on a server. Actually I really, really do not want to run the game on server, for a bunch of reasons, mostly for abuse and scaling troubles.

Using a server as a relay of state or input is also a bit funky, since it will introduce a lot of unnecessary latency. Since I am also willing to sacrifice some poor kids behind a symmetric NAT, I decided for option 2 and I have not regretted that.

I was cautious about doing this initially, since I had read this Gaffer on Games post which deemed WebRTC too complex, though that was in the context of server based architectures.

Having some more experience with WebRTC now, I agree a bit about the complexity, though I think it has gotten way better, especially with a more stable standard and more complete alternative implementations like rawrtc. I also ♥ how WebRTC abstracts away most of the P2P complications behind a very nice API.

Autorative peer or GGPO?

To share state in the game, I needed to come up with an architecture for networking. Initially I evaluated using something like GGPO, but in the end I chose to go with using the princess peer as an autorative peer, and sync the state to the cloud playing peer continuously, while the cloud peer only sends input. I chose this mostly for simplicity and time constraints. Since the game is cooperative, a lack of fairness is also not really a problem.

For the amount of work i put in, I am very pleased with how the networking worked out. Right now it is not tuned at all, just JSON over the datachannel, but even without tuning and no extra speculative integration, it has worked fairly well.

Where to go from here.

While the game is in a state of continuous updates, I think it is mostly just going to be small changes from now on. Maybe some sound effects and new graphics when we feel like it.

Rendering is currently also quite slow, and takes a lot of the frame budget. I would like to migrate to a framework with a WebGL based renderer. But sadly that seems like quite a bit of work, mostly due to using SVGs for graphics.

For future projects game projects, I will for sure start with a WebGL based framework, or possibly Unity tiny, and raster based images.

That is all for now, go and see how far you can get in our game!

One way to stop a 2D spaceship as fast as possible.

For a quite a while, I have wanted to try and create simple touch based interface for a 2D spaceship game. I want to allow the player to simply drag anywhere on the screen, and the spaceship moves to that position and direction in an efficient manner. Ideally the most efficient manner.

Spaceships in 2D games usually have one main engine that allows forward thrust, and some that allow rotation around the ships center of mass.

Moving from point A to B efficiently (in minimal time) is not trivial with such constraints, as changes to direction and thrust may have huge consequences for later possible movements due to inertia.

So instead of looking at the full A to B problem immediately, I wanted to look at something simpler first, namely to go from having velocity \(v_0\) and pointing in direction \(\theta_0\) to have 0 velocity as fast as possible.

The idea I use originally came from talking to a colleague, but something very similar sounding is mentioned in planning algorithms, though examples always seems to involve driftless systems. Anyway, my current approach involves these known quantities and assumptions:

  • \(a\) – Acceleration – The ship can only accelerate by a constant amount, and acceleration turns on and off instantly.
  • \(s\) – Turn speed – rotating the ship requires no acceleration, and the ship has constant rotation rate.
  • \(\theta_0\) – Initial orientation.
  • \(v_0\) – Initial velocity

These quantities allow me to find a legal, but very suboptimal way to stop. It simply involves to turn the ship to face its velocity vector, and then accelerate until it stops. Both the time needed to turn the ship \(t_a\) and the time \(t_m\) needed to turn and reverse the velocity are easy to calculate.

Turn until facing velocity and initiate burn at time \(t_a\). At \(t_m\) the ship has velocity 0.

It is also easy to see that this is suboptimal, it would clearly be faster, to start burning some time before the turn is fully completed, but the question is when to start the burn.

To allow for this freedom in my model, I therefore introduce a third time variable \(t_s\). \(t_s\) is the time to start turning and accelerating at the same time. \(t_a\) now becomes the time when I stop turning and only accelerate.

Turn and initiate burn after \(t_s\) time, at \(t_a\) time only accelerate. At \(t_m\) the ship has velocity 0.

Given these intervals, two integrals describe how the velocity will change when \(t_s\), \(t_a\) and \(t_m\) vary.

$$ v_x = \int_{t_s}^{t_a} a\cos(\theta_0+st)dt + \int_{t_a}^{t_m} a\cos(\theta_0+st_a)dt $$

$$ v_y = \int_{t_s}^{t_a} a\sin(\theta_0+st)dt + \int_{t_a}^{t_m} a\sin(\theta_0+st_a)dt $$

This gives two constraints, that must hold for all solutions of this kind.

$$ 0 = v_{0x} + \int_{t_s}^{t_a} a\cos(\theta_0+st)dt + \int_{t_a}^{t_m} a\cos(\theta_0+st_a)dt $$

$$ 0 = v_{0y} + \int_{t_s}^{t_a} a\sin(\theta_0+st)dt + \int_{t_a}^{t_m} a\sin(\theta_0+st_a)dt $$

The most efficient solution to this problem, is the \(t_s\), \(t_a\) and \(t_m\) triplet with the lowest value for \(t_m\).

This information allows me to formulate this as a optimization problem.

Since I want to minimise \(t_m\), the objective function simply becomes \({t_m}^2\).

This is subject to the two equality constraints given.

Since the objective and constraints are non-linear, I plug i into Optizelle which is a framework for solving non-linear optimization problems.

The implementation can be found on github, it uses autograd, to calculate derivatives and hessians. This is an incredible time saver since calculating 9 combinations of partial derivatives would have been a major pain, not to mention having to recalculate them whenever I did something wrong.

Running the program with inputs \(a=2.0\), \(\theta_0=0\), \(v_0=[2,0]\) and \(s=\frac{\pi}{2}\) returns:

running-optizelle

The optimal point vector contains the values for \(t_s\),\(t_a\) and \(t_m\). This means that for a ship with the given input, it should start turning immediately, then start the burn after approximately 1.43 seconds, stop turning and only accelerate at 2.43 and finally be at rest after 2.57 seconds, approximately 0.43 seconds faster then the naive version.

To test the result, I implemented a quick and dirty javascript program that simulates these choices and renders to a canvas:

Sometimes the ships end up drifting a bit after the simulation has finished. This is due to the discrete nature of the simulation not perfectly emulating the continuous solution (I do not integrate rotation analytically in the simulation). This could also have been a problem if I applied this style of planning to a game that did the same, from the simulation above it looks negligible though, which is great!

I am very happy with this result, it seems like it could work for the larger problem as well. The next step I’ll try, is to tackle some specific cases of moving from point A to B efficiently. For those cases there will be many more time variables involved, and possibly many constellations of safe initial starting points as well as possible freedoms to introduce in the model. It will be interesting to see how that works out.

Solving Get1000 continued…

In one of my previous posts, I laid out a plan to solve the Get 1000 game. It turns out that plan was wrong.

My expectiminimax based solution works well for a game with random elements and perfect information, but it is not very useful for a game with imperfect information. Get1000 is played simultaneously by the players, and the opponents choices are hidden until the end of the game.

This meant I had to go back to find a new strategy for solving the game. I decided to try and find the correct brute force way first, and then see if that could be made faster in some way.

Exploring brute force

A solution to the game involves finding a Nash equilibrium from all the pure strategies of the game. A brute force solution could be done by creating a matrix where all pure strategies are pitted against all the other pure strategies.

The full payoff matrix needed for a normal form brute force solution.

A strategy here refers to a function S \rightarrow Pl which given any game state S gives a Get1000 placement Pl. Below is an illustration of what i mean by a state. A state could also include the history (order of placement), which would increase the count a lot, but that is hopefully not needed for a solution.

gamestate
A gamestate

A gamestate can be represented as the current number (in this case 1), the entries in hundres (7), tens (5) and ones (12) as well as the amount of free positions for hundreds (1), tens (2), ones(2).

The total amount of such states is 211248 but in at least 27648\cdot3 the choice is forced. This means there are at most. 211248 - 27648\cdot3 = 128304 relevant states, probably quite a bit fewer.


Each state has at most 3 choices, therefore there is an upper bound of M = 3^{128304} unique pure strategies.

This is of course not that helpful, since a 3^{128304}\times3^{128304} matrix is is enormous, and for each cell in the matrix all possible 6^9 games would have to be played to find the payoff P for the pure strategy pairs. On top of that, the best mixed strategy would then have to be calculated.

Subgame perfection and backwards induction

Modeling this in normal form as above seemed to get me nowhere, I therefore turned to extensive form, and something called subgame-perfect nash equilibria, and backwards induction. In the normal form solution I need to look at all possible strategies. Using subgame perfection, I hoped to get away with only looking at a very small subset.

While this sounds straighforward in theory, I found it quite hard to figure out where my information sets are, and whether I could consider each choice node in Get1000 a subgame. After struggling for a while, I ended up with an extensive form structure looking like this. Players are P1 and P2, and “move by nature” is the dice roll.

Extensive form of a game with the same structure as Get1000. As players do their choices, the information sets get larger and larger. Since the “moves by nature” are known by all, they do not increase the information sets.

This structure means that only the roots of the tree are subgames, since all other nodes are part of larger information sets.

Attempting backwards induction

The above structure means that it is not practical to use subgame perfection and backwards induction to solve the game, but taking inspiration from it could still be useful to get a good strategy.

The algorithm for subgame perfection goes like this:

  1. Consider the final subgames (those with no further subgames), pick a Nash equilibrium as solution there.
  2. When considering the next subgames up the tree, the payoffs in the subgames already considered are used to create the payoff matrix.
  3. Iterate step 2 until the root node of the extensive form tree is reached.

To get something working, I pretend that the other player is at the same state as me always. This means I can need only focus on the branches below that state. To keep memory in check i also recalculated payoffs instead of storing the result for each combination of states and games. The final algorithm I ended up with works like this:

  1. Consider the final subgames and pick a Nash equilibrium as solution.
  2. When looking at subgames higher up the tree, I use the choices (not payoffs) computed in 1, and use those choices to play out the game. Then I compare end results to get the payoff matrix for that subgame.
  3. As before, I iterate step 2 until I reach the root node.

This seems intuitively pretty reasonable.

Experimental results

The above method gives me a strategy that partly takes the imperfect information nature of the game into account. At many states it detected mixed strategies that had much higher payoffs compared to the pure versions. The strategies smashes all my previous best strategies by winning 1.75% more games.

The mixed strategy seems to play even more aggressively for results close to a 1000, and allowing heavy overshoot.

At this point, I was not really sure how to approach the game in a better way. In fact I was pretty ready to admin defeat for quite some time. Of course, immediately after i wrote that, I found this thesis, and this report.

Lots of new concepts to learn!

The now irregularly returning Sci-fi book review

Following this post, this contains a review of the sci-fi books I have read lately in no particular order. Book explanations are very light on purpose, since I do not want to spoil the books.

The TLDR: The books I enjoyed the most of this batch, were Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem books. The last two books in the series are not an easy read, but they are worth it, and I enjoyed them despite inconsistent pacing, and huge differences in style and scope.

I also read The Expanse and Rendevouz with Rama, but they are both great, and well known to most, I do not really have anything to add.

Adrian Tchaikovsky – Children of time

The last humans leaving a dying Earth reach a terraformed planet with a spider civilisation which has been helped along by a human scientist. We follow the spiders as their society advances, and the humans as they struggle to survive.

The book was a quick read. I enjoyed the chapters following the Spiders quite a bit, and the humans as as much. The book reminded me quite a bit of Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky.

Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries

A security bot (an android overseeing a science expedition) has broken out of the system that constrains its behaviour. As a rogue bot it tries to keep to itself, but that becomes more and more difficult as the expedition makes some unexpected discoveries.

Very quick read. Mostly fine, but I feel like it resorts to breaking into systems as a quick fix for most problems encountered. This gets very predictable and feels too easy a lot of the time.

Ann Leckie – Provenance

A sci-fi mystery, set in the same universe as Ancillary Justice. It explores inheritance, culture collisions, and planetary and interplanetary power struggle from the perspective of a very small player Ingray who has taken a huge gamble to become heir to her adoptive mother.

I enjoyed this. A turn to local small scale politics compared to Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy and not as memorable as those books.

Alfred Bester – The stars My Destination

Interesting exploration of a society where teleportation (jaunting) to anywhere you can visualise within a certain distance is possible. It follows a man who was marooned on a spaceship, and who when saved goes after the crew of the ships that left him behind.

Well pulled off. In general I think abilities like jaunting are a bit too powerful, and typically lead to silly logical problems very easily. The Stars my Destination, probably has those, but they are not very apparent.

Alistair Reynolds – Revelation Space

Revelation space is a galactic scale space-opera where we follow the Lighthugger ship Nostalgia for Infinity, which Ultranaut crew is looking for someone to treat their captain from an illness. That someone is an archeologist studying the death of a long dead race called the Amarantin on the planet Resurgam.

Solid space-opera on a galactic scale. Contains an interesting explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit

Explores a universe where technology is based on populations following specific patterns. In the society we follow, their technology is based on the populations belief in the imperial calendar and the associated culture. Calendrical rot (heresy) must be avoided at all costs.

Very hard to follow initially, and sometimes very confusing, but I sort of enjoyed it. It was very hard to tell if it is consistent with itself, since the concepts are so foreign. I think I have to read it again to form a better opinion.

Kim Stanley Robinson – Aurora

Humanity has sent an expedition (generation ship) to a possibly habitable planet around Tau Ceti. The mission is to colonise this planet after traveling for more then a hundred years. We follow the humans and the ships AI as they struggle to survive on the way.

Robinson writes in his very (maybe overly) detailed style, with lots of details on environmental systems and specific challenges faced by the biomes on the ship. In some cases it works well, in others it feels a bit like the author researched this, and so it has been put in regardless if it fits or not.

Cixin Liu – Three Body Problem trilogy

It is hard to write anything about this book without spoiling too much. In the first book, we initially follow a Chinese police officer as he investigates the deaths of several scientists. These are connected to interstellar messages sent by a astrophysicist several years earlier.

The next two books follow up on the events of the first, but they are very different. The scope increases a lot as the books go on. The trilogy (especially book 2 and 3) is quite critical of human society, and explores how we fail to make good collective decisions as a species. It is mostly ok reasoned and well integrated in the story, so it never feels out of place.

The series is great, and I recommend it to everyone. Some parts are a bit slow and feel very obscure at first, but they are well worth the payoff.J

Attempting to solve Get 1000

For quite some time I have been trying to completely solve the Get 1000 game. More specifically I am trying to find the strategy in a 1 on 1 game of Get 1000 that maximises the chance to win.

Analysis of a game with one choice left. If I analyse this sub-game using expected value, I return the average of the distances to 1000. In this case 184 for strategy 1 (S1) and 107 for strategy 2 (S2). This is the wrong metric though, a better metric (if the goal is to win in a 1 on 1 game) is to count wins for each strategy. In this case 1 draw, 1 win for strategy 1 and 4 wins for strategy 2.

Solving for expected value rather then winning

My initial attempt at solving the game failed spectacularity, since I attempted to solve the game by minimising the average distance of the expected value to a 1000. This is an easy to compute strategy (using a sort of bottom up dynamic programming, where I start with the easy sub-games above, and calculate backwards to the top), but it is the wrong goal. This leads to a strategy minimising the distance to 1000 on average. This interestingly enough differs quite a lot from the goal I wanted to solve, which was to maximise the chance to win any 1 on 1 game.

The strategy that bases itself of minimising the distance to 1000 curiously has a big lump of results around a distance of 50, while the win based strategy has more games at distance of 0 and 100, as well as more games with very heavy over or undershoot.

Since Get 1000 is quite small I can calculate how much the two strategies differ by running all possible games. Above is the result of such a calculation. The two strategies draw 41.2% of the time, while the win based wins 30.8% and the distance based wins 28% of the time.

Trouble with situations where choices are equally good

After figuring out I had the wrong goal, I found a way to create a strategy based on wins rather than expected value (this is much harder to compute, even using the same bottom up approach, since it is not possible to collapse results to an average, and ever growing lists of results must be compared). These strategies I suspect are very close to optimal, but there was something funky going on.

There are situations in my calculations where two placement choices have equal amounts of winning sub-games. Initially I thought I could just set an order of preference of my choice for these, but the resulting strategies beat each other when applied to all possible games. If the order of preference did not matter this should not happen.

For the longest time I could not figure out why this happened. I started questioning whether the markov property held in the game (I am still not 100% sure it does).

Enlightenment

At this point I took a few steps back and looked at what would be the correct framework to model this game in. Turns out it can be modelled as a Markov Decision Process. That in itself was not very helpful, but it eventually got me reading about the expectiminimax algorithm. Expectiminimax is a version of minimax for games with chance involved. While I had to modify it a bit for a simultaneous turn game, I implemented it for some subproblems of get 1000, which I could calculate to the bottom.

While implementing it I realised that I again would have to code resolution for when two choices are equally good. While googling a bit about that, I randomly read about Nash Equilibrium, and mixed strategies. I was already aware of most of this, but it suddenly it dawned on me that my game might contain mixed strategies which could effect the outcome my expectiminimax calculation, and which I needed to take into account.

Wrong payoffs propagated in expectiminimax

Indeed, after searching for a bit, I found several cases where a mixed strategy is needed. The example below shows a expectiminimax situation where a mixed strategy is needed to get the best outcome.

A Get 1000 situation as solved by expectiminimax. The two games on top are the current situation for two players. To make a decision in expectiminimax we must then compute the payoff matrix by recursively analysing all possible sub-games until the end (returning expected payoffs), and then solve the payoff matrix. Using the solver here, this particular sub-game has the payoff of -98/39 (- means in favour of player 2). In this situation: Player 1 should play ones at ratio of 23/39 and hundreds 16/39, and player 2 should play tens at a ratio of 11/39 and hundreds 28/39.

While this exact situation will probably not arise assuming perfect play, the result still might matter since expectiminimax depends on all subgames propagating correct payoffs.

The road ahead

I need to include the support enumeration or theLemke-Howson algorithm for finding nash equlibrium in the placement situations that require it, and then I need to somehow make expectiminimax run for the full game. Currently I can only run expectiminimax (without Lemke-Howson) in reasonable time, for a game which has 6 placements left.

From AI: A modern approach, it seems A/B pruning can be used, but it seems to be less effective on games with chance. I guess it is worth a shot.

Gl hf to me…

Scary pitfalls when using Spring annotation based transactions

transactions and exceptions

Spring annotation based declarative transactions uses AOP to very easily add transactions around methods. Using it looks like this.

@Transactional
public Stuff createStuff(Input input) {
       Stuff stuff = new Stuff(input);
       dao.storeStuff(stuff);
       dao2.registerStuff(stuff2);
       return stuff;
}

Explained very quickly: If the method returns successfully then it commits, if a runtime exception passes the proxy boundary around the method, or if the transaction is marked rollback-only, then the transaction manager will do a rollback of the transaction.

It is incredibly easy to use, and it saves a lot of boilerplate compared to a more procedural approach where commit and rollback calls are specified explicitly. While useful, it comes with the cost of being tied to the scope of the annotated method, along with several other more hidden risks and costs.

Below are several examples of problematic code I have seen caused by annotation based transactions. Similar code examples and tests can be found in this repo on Github.

Catching exceptions in a transaction annotated method

In the method below, it is very easy to think that all errors are handled, and that this method will never throw, but if the transaction is marked as rollback only, this method will throw outside the try catch block. Breaking expectations and causing unexpected errors.

@Transactional
public Stuff createStuff(Input input) {
       Stuff stuff = null;
       try {
           stuff = new Stuff(input);
           dao.storeStuff(stuff);
           dao2.registerStuff(stuff2);
       }
       catch(RuntimeException e) {
           logger.info("No problem…");
           //Do more stuff
       }
       return stuff;
}

This is much more visible with a explicit transaction scope. I have seen this several times, even by experienced developers. These errors are hard to test for, and when they happen lead to very weird behaviour, since the exception is absolutely not expected where it suddenly occurs.

Order of proxies can change outcome of transaction

It is critical that AOP interceptors are stacked in a sensible order. We usually do not want to commit a transaction, and then get a timeout error from Hystrix. Or have the transaction commit, and then have validation constraints on the Stuff instance fail. Ask yourself. Do you know in which order each annotation will be applied here? Does everyone on your team know?

@Transactional
@HystrixCommand("abc")
@Valid
@OtherAOPstuff
@EvenMoreAOPStuff
public Stuff createStuff(Input input) {
       Stuff stuff = new Stuff(input);
       dao.storeStuff(stuff);
       dao2.registerStuff(stuff2);
       return stuff;
}

The order by default is (though due to this Hystrix bug/feature validation will never be applied O_o) :

  • Transaction start
  • Hystrix
  • Validation
  • Validation
  • Hystrix
  • Transaction commit/rollback

It would be nice to have Hystrix outside the Transaction, since that avoids the transaction boundary when the short-circuit is open. This is possible with ordering the AOP interceptors,at the same time, it is important to avoid Validation happening outside the Transaction, since then we might commit and then throw an exception (typically a rollback is wanted if data is invalid).

Nested transactions joins existing transaction by default

This is very nefarious, and I have no idea why nesting transactions does not cause an exception by default.

The example that I think best shows this problem, is when you reuse a method in a service class which uses a transaction further down the call chain. That method uses a transaction to ensure it is rolled back if it throws an exception, but the calling method catches that exception and does some business decision based on the exception.

Now along comes an unsuspecting victim who has a transactional method that wants to use this method for some business purpose.

What happens now, is that the second transaction joins the first. Then an exception is thrown by one of the database queries in moveStuffInDB. That exception passes the first transaction boundary marking the transaction rollback only but is then caught. Processing continues, and then the exception reappears at the last boundary on commit. This means that the semantics of reusedMethod might have been changed a lot, and there is no way createStuff can see from the outside that this will happen.

@Transactional
public Stuff createStuff(Input input) {
       Stuff stuff = new Stuff(input);
       dao.storeStuff(stuff);
       reused.reusedMethod(stuff.getInfo());
       return stuff;
}

//A method in another class calling another transactional method.
public void reusedMethod(String input) {
     try {
         deepClass.moveStuffInDB(input);
     }
     catch(RuntimeException e) {
         //Swallow exception and do some action
     }
}

//Tx method with several db update calls
@Transactional
public void moveStuffInDB(String input) {
      dao.moveStuff(input);
      dao2.moveStuff(input);
}

To add to the confusion, use checked exceptions

When a checked exception passes the boundary of an @Transactional annotated method, it does not cause rollback by default (it can be changed in the annotation though). Add Spring Batch, which will also start transactions that a nested transactions will happily join, and transaction outcomes become even more foggy and hard to reason about.

I think using nested transactions usually is a bad idea, and it should be an opt in feature. In the normal case throwing an exception if a transaction within a transaction is encountered seems sensible to me.

Lambdas provide a much better API for transactions

In any language with good support for lambdas, I think it is very natural to do declarative transaction management using them. Spring sort of supports this, but you need to depend on a platformTransactionManager and a TransactionTemplate. This seems weird to me, given that the annotation based transactions does not make you depend on these.

With lambdas, transactions can be done like below (example is using Kotlin). This is declarative, while providing explicit transaction boundaries. It is therefore very easy to catch around the transaction, and the transaction does not have an unclear order when combined with other annotations.


fun createStuff(stuff : Input ) : Stuff {
       return doInTransaction { //Explicit tx scope
           val stuff = new Stuff(input);
           dao.storeStuff(stuff);
           dao2.registerStuff(stuff2);
           stuff 
       }
}

fun multipleTransactionsInMethod(stuff : Input ) : Stuff {
       val res = doInTransaction {
           val stuff = dao.storeStuff(stuff);
           stuff;
       }

       val res2 = doInTransaction {
           val stuff = dao2.storeStuff(stuff);
           stuff;
       }

       try {
           doInTransaction {
              dao.storeStuff(stuff);
            }
       } catch(e : RuntimeException) {
           //Handle stuff
       }
} 


Along with the previously mentioned advantages, this also makes transactions much more visible, and allows easy inspection of the transaction code by developers.

To be honest I am a bit uncertain how good it is to rely on exceptions passing boundaries to do rollback in the first place, but if that is the chosen way, I think the above approach is much better then annotation based transactions. I am really looking forward to try Exposed, which is an ORM tool from JetBrains that seems to go in this direction.

Learning what WebRTC SDP a=setup values mean

My very hacky webRTC datachannel implementation stopped working a while back, and I could not figure out why.

The way it behaved was hard to understand. Signaling worked as expected, and I received a STUN on the correct port and responded to that. Both Firefox and Chrome reported the response as fine, and kept sending new STUN heartbeats at the normal rate, but no DTLS handshake was initiated.

Initially i thought something was really broken with my STUN/DTLS multiplexing, but I soon figured out that it behaved as expected.

This meant I was probably sending some wrong parameter during signaling, but what?

This is the SDP of my answer to the given offer from the browser.

v=0
o=- 1234567 2 IN IP4 192.168.1.158
s=-
t=0 0
a=group:BUNDLE data
a=msid-semantic: WMS
m=application 51410 DTLS/SCTP 5000
c=IN IP4 192.168.1.158
a=candidate:1 1 udp 2113937151 192.168.1.158 51410 typ host
a=ice-ufrag:4a64ca2b
a=ice-pwd:a26b6a15a8b4d35db21692d37906840a
a=ice-options:trickle
a=fingerprint:sha-256 C9:E2:48:09:47:C8:CC:B3:51:A8:A1:C5:AA:63:51:26:50:1D:FF:76:AE:EF:CB:31:0C:E7:41:21:5A:11:FA:D5
a=setup:actpass
a=mid:data
a=sctpmap:5000 webrtc-datachannel 1024

SDPs are confusing to me, and figuring out what stuff really means in WebRTC context is a lesson in reading RFCs with a microscope, while always wondering if this is the correct RFC for this concrete problem.

Suddenly it dawned on me that it seemed like both sides were waiting for the other side to initiate the DTLS handshake.

It turned out this was the problem:

a=setup:actpass

Since i responded with actpass in my answer SDP, the browser could not know if it wanted to initiate DTLS or not, and I guess it defaults to passive now. actpass is an illegal response value according to this RFC, and defaulting to passive is probably more correct then active. Setting a=setup:passive fixed the issue, since that tells the browser to be the initiating party.

Good times.