When UTF8 != UTF8

July 21, 2014


Recently I encountered a problem with umlauts in file names. I had to read names from a directory and find and update the appropriate entry in the database. So if I had a file named hund.pdf (Hund is German for dog) I had to find the corresponding record in the database and attach the file. Almost all files went smooth but the ones with umlauts failed all.

Certainly an encoding problem I thought. So I converted the string to UTF-8 before querying. Again the query returned an empty result set. So I read up on the various configuration options for JDBC, Oracle and Active Record (it is a JRuby on Rails based web app). I tried them all starting with nls_language and ending with temporary setting the locale. No luck.

Querying the database with a hard coded string containing umlauts worked. Both strings even printed on the console looked identically.

So last but not least I compared the string from the file name with a hard coded one: they weren’t equal. Looking at the bytes a strange character combination was revealed \204\136. What’s that? UTF8 calls this a combining diaeresis. What’s that? In UTF8 you can encode umlauts with their corresponding characters or use a combination of the character without an umlaut and the combining diaeresis. So ‘ä’ becomes ‘a\204\136′.


The solution is to normalize the string. In (J)Ruby you can achieve this in the following way:

string = string.mb_chars.normalize.to_s

And in Java this would be:

string = Normalizer.normalize(string, Normalizer.Form.NFKC)

Ruby uses NFKC (or kc for short) as a default and suggests this for databases and validations.

Lesson learned: So the next time you encounter encoding problems look twice it might be in the right encoding but with the wrong bytes.

Finally: return considered harmful

July 7, 2014

Ok, calm down already – I’m not going to take your return statement away. It’s a nice little statement that gets rarer and rarer,  mostly because many modern languages allow for implicit return values, e.g. in Scala, everything is an expression and the last expression of a method is its return value – except when it isn’t. You dont need to write an explicit return statement anymore, so our laziness takes over and we omit it.

And I’m not argueing that a finally block is a bad thing – quite the contrary. Even in the age of try-with-resources and autoclose closures, a well-crafted finally block is a beautiful piece of code at its right place.

But put the two together and you’ve got a recipe for desaster, at least in Java (try it in your language of choice with care). Let’s have a look at code:

public void doSomething() {
    try {
        throw new Error("drama!");
    } finally {
        // dispose resources here

Ok, I could have spared you the drama of an Error and just thrown a RuntimeException (or a declared and checked Exception), but it’ll soon illustrate the effect all the better.

First, the code does exactly what it should: if you call the method, you’ll get to catch an Error and all resources that were used inside the method are cleaned up right before you catch it. And since the method has no return value, you don’t miss out there.

But what if I want to give one of those endangered return statements a new home and insert it into the finally block?

public void doSomething() {
    try {
        throw new Error("drama!");
    } finally {
        // dispose resources here

Not much has changed. I’m still not missing any return value and the Error still gets thrown. The resources are cleaned up quite as thorough as before, but something important has changed: You won’t ever see the Error. You won’t catch it because it gets eaten by that return statement at the end of the finally block.

So in short: return statements are hungry little beasts that will eat your Throwables if you corral them inside a finally block.

No wonder nobody wants to have them in their code if they behave like that.

Oh, and rest assured that you will be warned: All modern IDEs will point you to the inevitable desaster waiting to happen, if only with a compiler warning.

But where do Throwables go when they got eaten? Good question. They don’t show up on any UncaughtExceptionHandler, they don’t even stay in memory. Probably, they just are digested, never to be seen again.

If you don’t regard return statements as a little more dangerous now, you probably also raise switch-statements for fun.

Grails Update from 2.2 to 2.3

June 30, 2014

An update in the minor version does not seem like a big step but this is one brought a lot of changes, so here a step by step guide which highlights some pitfalls.

First update the version of Grails in your application properties:


The tomcat and hibernate plugins now have versions of their respective frameworks and not the version number of Grails:


Grails 2.3 has a new databinding mechanism. To use the old one, especially if you use custom property editors you have to add this option to your Config.groovy:

grails.databinding.useSpringBinder = true

But even with the old databinding something changed. The field id is not bound in command objects you need to bind id explicitly:

def action = { MyCommand command ->
  command.id = params['id']?.toLong()

Besides the databinding mechanism also the dependency resolving changed. But you can use the old ivy mechanism by including this in BuildConfig.groovy:


Nonetheless all dependencies must be declared in application.properties or BuildConfig.groovy. If you have a lib directory with local jars in your application you need to add this to your repositories as a local directory:

grails.project.dependency.resolution = {
    repositories {
        flatDir name:'myRepo', dirs:'lib'

When you have all dependencies declared your application should start.


Grails 2.3 features a new test mode: forking. This causes some problems and is better to be deactivated in BuildConfig.groovy:

grails.project.fork = [
        test: false,

With the new version only JUnit4 style tests are supported. This means that you don’t extend GroovyTestCase or GrailsUnitTestCase. All rules must be public and non static. All tests methods need to be annotated with @Test. Set up methods are annotated with @Before and must be public. The tearDown methods must also be annotated with @After and be public. A bug in Grails prevents you from naming the set up and tear down methods freely: the names must be setUp and tearDown. All test methods must be public void, the old def declaration is not supported anymore. Now without extending GroovyTestCase you lose the assertion methods and need to add a static import:

import static groovy.util.GroovyTestCase.*

Unit Tests

All tests should be annotated with @TestMixin([GrailsUnitTestMixin]). If you need to mock domain classes you change mockDomain to @Mock:

class MyTest {
	public void testThis() {
      mockDomain(MyDomainClass, [mdc])
class MyTest {
	public void testThis() {

Configuration is now already mocked and your properties can be added easily:


Integration tests

As mentioned before setUp method naming has a bug: you have to name them setUp otherwise the changes to your database aren’t rollbacked.

Acceptance Tests with Selenium

You need to patch the Remote Control Plugin because of a ClassNotFoundException. Add an additional constructor to RemoteControl.groovy to support setting the classloader:

RemoteControl(ClassLoader loader) {
  super(new HttpTransport(getFunctionalTestReceiverAddress(), loader), loader)

In your tests you call this new constructor with the classloader of your class:

new RemoteControl(getClass().classLoader)

Using a Groovy Mixin in your application does not work in your tests and need to be replaced with grails.util.Mixin. But this only works in one way: the target class can access the mixin but the mixin not the target class. For this to work you need to let your mixin implement MixinTargetAware and declare a field named target:

class MyMixin implements MixinTargetAware {
	def target

Subtle changes and pitfalls

If you have a classname with a Controller suffix and a corresponding test but which isn’t a Grails controller Grails nevertheless tries to mock the class in your unit tests. If you rename the test to something without controller everything works fine.

In our pre 2.3 project we had some select tags in our views and used fieldValue for the selection:

<g:select value="${fieldValue(bean: object, field: 'value')}">

But now the select tag uses equals which fails if the values aren’t Strings. Just use the unescaped value:

<g:select value="${object?.value}">

I hope this guide and hints help others to avoid the headaches when upgrading your Grails application.

Using Rails with a legacy database schema – Part 2

June 16, 2014

Part one of this blog post mini-series showed how to override default table names and primary key names in ActiveRecord model classes, and how to define alias attributes for legacy column names.

This part will discuss some options for primary key definitions in the schema file, which are relevant for legacy schemas, as well as primary key value generation on Oracle databases.

Primary key schema definition

The database schema definition of a Rails application is usually provided in a file called schema.rb via a simple domain specific language.

The create_table method implicitly adds a primary key column with name id (of numeric type) by default.

create_table 'users' do |t|
  t.string 'name', limit: 20
  # ...

If the primary key has a different name you can easily specify it via the primary_key option:

create_table 'users', primary_key: 'user_key' do |t|
  t.string 'name', limit: 20
  # ...

But what if a table has a primary key of non-numeric type? The Rails schema DSL does not directly support this. But there’s a workaround: you can set the id option of create_table to false, declare the primary key column like an ordinary non-nullable column, and add the primary key constraint afterwards via execute.

create_table 'users', id: false do |t|
  t.string 'user_key', null: false
  t.string 'name', limit: 20
  # ...
execute 'ALTER TABLE user ADD PRIMARY KEY (user_key)'

Primary key value generation

On Oracle databases new primary key values are usually created via sequences. The Oracle adapter for ActiveRecord assumes sequence names in the form of table name + “_seq”.  You can override this default sequence name in a model class via the sequence_name property:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  self.sequence_name = 'user_sequence'
  # ...

Sometimes primary key values are auto-generated via triggers. In this case you need the Oracle Enhanced adapter, which is a superset of the original ActiveRecord Oracle adapter, but with additional support for working with legacy databases. Now you can set the sequence_name property to the value :autogenerated:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  self.sequence_name = :autogenerated
  # ...

This circumvents the default convention and tells the adapter to not include primary key values in generated INSERT statements.

Gigapixel images in pure Java

April 14, 2014

Not long ago, I read this nice little blog entry about the basic properties and usages of Java arrays. It’s a long time since I last used an array in Java myself, because my programming style evolved to heavily leverage the power of collections (and Iterables in particular, the Java 5 poor man’s substitute for Java 8 Streams). But I immediately noticed that one important fact was missing from the array blog entry:

The maximum length of an array in Java is Integer.MAX_VALUE or ((2^32)-1), aka 2.147.483.647

This is indirectly specified in the Java language specification, chapter 10.4 Array Access:

Arrays must be indexed by int values.

This little fact crossed my path when writing a little tool in pure Java that operated on large numbers of large images, combining them to a gigantic image. The customer used the tool to create images that had a size of about 100 MB, but took several hours to print because the decompression tax kicked in. One day, he reported a strange bug:



“Oh, a negative array size, what a strange bug to appear in a tested application” was my first thought. Only after reading the stacktrace more carefully did it dawn on me: The array size wasn’t negative, it was just bigger than Integer.MAX_VALUE and got wrapped around into the negative numbers. And sure enough, 72350 times 44914 is a respectable 3.249.527.900 pixels, more than 1,5 times as much as an array in Java can hold. This image was right in the multi-gigapixel range where all kinds of technical obstacles appear. The maximum length of an array in Java was mine.

Trying to stay pure

One cornerstone of the tool was being lightweight. It shouldn’t carry around unnecessary luggage and weighted around 200 kB when the bug appeared – enough to just copy it into the data directories instead of pulling the directories into the program. But when I examined the root cause of the problem at hand, I found the frustrating truth that Java’s built-in imaging library also relies on one cornerstone: all data is stored in one array. And this array can only hold around 2G entries of data.

My approach was to “partition” the full image into smaller parts that only stored a fraction of the overall pixels. To hide this fact from the ImageIO that ultimatively writes all the data into one file, my PartitionedImage implements RenderedImage and has to translate every call into a series of appropriate subcalls to the partition images. Before we look at some code, let me show you the limitations of this approach:

Greedy JPEGs, credulous PNGs

In the RenderedImage interface, there are two methods that can be used to obtain pixel data:

  • Raster getData(): Returns the image as one large tile (for tile based images this will require fetching the whole image and copying the image data over).
  • Raster getData(Rectangle rect): Computes and returns an arbitrary region of the RenderedImage.

If an image writer calls the first method, my code is screwed. There is no mentally sane way to construct a Raster instance without colliding with the array length limitation. Unfortunately, the JPEG writer does just that: He gets greedy and demands all the pixels at once. I found it easier to avoid the JPEG format and therefore trade disk space for pragmatism.

The PNG writer uses the getData(Rectangle) method to obtain the pixel data. It calls the whole image line by line: the region has always the full width of the image, but is only one pixel in height. So I guess my tool will write a lot of large PNG images in the future.

Our partitions should adapt to this behaviour by always retaining the full width of the original image and only allowing enough height that the amount of pixels per partition doesn’t exceed Integer.MAX_VALUE.

The remaining trick is to implement an AdjustingRaster that knows the original Raster of the partition and translates the row asked by the PNG writer to the according row in the partition image. The AdjustingRaster needs to know about the vertical offset. The only pitfall here is that the vertical offset has to be zero while the AdjustingRaster gets written to and needs to be set once it switches into read mode.

Slow, but working

By composing a gigapixel image from several partitions (sometimes called tiles) you can circumnavigate the frustrating limitation of Java’s arrays (I mean, it’s 2014 and 64-bit systems are somewhat prevailing now. No need to stick to 32-bit limits without a good reason). The result isn’t overwhelmingly fast, but I suspect that’s caused by the PNG image writer more than by our indirections. And we shouldn’t forget that it’s a lot of pixels to write after all.


Sometimes when you explore bigger and bigger use cases, you hit some arbitrary limitation. And some are fundamental ones. In our case here, we’ve reached the limit of Java arrays and got stuck because the image library in Java never heard of real gigapixel imaging and coupled itself hard to the array limit. By introducing another indirection layer on top of the image library implementation and using composition to emulate a bigger image than we actually could create, we can convince non-sceptical image writers to save all those pixels for us and even manipulate the image beforehand.

What was your approach for gigapixel image processing? How did it work out in the long run? Share your story in the comments, please.

Dart and TypeScript as JavaScript alternatives

April 7, 2014

JavaScript was designed at Netscape by Brendan Eich within a couple of weeks as a simple scripting language for the web browser. It’s an interesting mixture of Self‘s prototype-based object model, first-class functions inspired by LISP, a C/AWK-like syntax and a misleading name imposed by marketing.

Unfortunately, the haste in which JavaScript was designed by a single person shows in many places. Lots of features are inconsistent and violate the principle of least surprise. Just skim through the JavaScript Garden to get an idea.

Another aspect casting a poor light on JavaScript is the bad design of the browser DOM API, including incompatibilities between different browser implementations.

Douglas Crockford redeemed the reputation of JavaScript somewhat, by writing articles like “JavaScript: The World’s Most Misunderstood Programming Language“, the (relatively thin) book “JavaScript: The Good Parts” and discovering the JSON format. But even his book consists for the most part of advice on how to avoid the bad and the ugly parts.

However, JavaScript is ubiquitous. It is the world’s most widely deployed programming language, it’s the only programming language option available in all browsers on all platforms. The browser DOM API incompatibilities were ironed out by libraries like jQuery. And thanks to the JavaScript engine performance race started by Google some time ago with their V8 engine, there are now implementations available with decent performance - at least for a scripting language.

Some people even started to like JavaScript and are writing server-side code in it, for example the node.js community. People write office suites, emulators and 3D games in JavaScript. Atwood’s Law seems to be confirmed: “Any application that can be written in JavaScript, will eventually be written in JavaScript.”

Trans-compiling to JavaScript is a huge thing. There are countless transpilers of existing or new programming languages to JavaScript. One of these, CoffeeScript, is a syntactic sugar mixture of Ruby and Python on top of JavaScript semantics, and has gained some name recognition and adoption, at least in the Rails community.

But there are two other JavaScript alternatives, backed by large companies, which also happen to be browser manufacturers: Dart by Google and TypeScript by Microsoft. Both have recently reached version 1.0 (Dart even 1.2), and I will have a look at them in this blog post.

Large-scale application development and types

Scripting languages with dynamic type systems are neat and flexible for small and medium sized projects, but there is evidence that organizations with large code bases and large teams prefer at least some amount of static types. For example, Google developed the Google Web Toolkit, which compiled Java to JavaScript and the Closure compiler, which adds type information and checks to JavaScript via special comments, and now Dart. Facebook recently announced their Hack language, which adds a static type system to PHP, and Microsoft develops TypeScript, a static type add-on to JavaScript.

The reasoning is that additional type information can help finding bugs earlier, improve tool support, e.g. auto-completion in IDEs and refactoring capabilities such as safe, project-wide renaming of identifiers. Types can also help VMs with performance optimization.


This weekend the release of TypeScript 1.0 was announced by Microsoft’s language designer Anders Hejlsberg, designer of C#, also known as the creator of the Turbo Pascal compiler and Delphi.

TypeScript is not a completely new language. It’s a superset of JavaScript that mainly adds optional type information to the language via Pascal-like colon notation. Every JavaScript program is also a valid TypeScript program.

The TypeScript compiler tsc takes .ts files and translates them into .js files. The output code does not change a lot and is almost the same code that you would write by hand in JavaScript, but with erased type annotations. It does not add any runtime overhead.

The type system is heavily based on type inference. The compiler tries to infer as much type information as possible by following the flow of types through the code.

TypeScript has interfaces that are very similar to interfaces in Go: A type does not have to declare which interfaces it implements. Interfaces are satisfied implicitly if a type has all the required methods and properties – in short, TypeScript has a structural type system.

Type definitions for existing APIs and libraries such as the browser DOM API, jQuery, AngularJS, Underscore.js, etc. can be added via .d.ts files.
These definition files are very similar to C header files and contain type signatures of the API’s functions. There’s a community maintained repository of .d.ts files called Definitely Typed for almost all popular JavaScript libraries.

TypeScript also enhances JavaScript with functionaliy that is planned for ECMAScript 6, such as classes, inheritance, modules and shorthand lambda expressions. The syntax is the same as the proposed ES6 syntax, and the generated code follows the usual JavaScript patterns.

TypeScript is an open source project under Apache License 2.0. The project even accepts contributions and pull-requests (yes, Microsoft). Microsoft has integrated TypeScript support into Visual Studio 2013, but there is support for other IDEs and editors such as JetBrain’s IDEA or Sublime Text.


Dart is a JavaScript alternative developed by Google. Two of the main brains behind Dart are Lars Bak and Gilad Bracha. In the early 90s they worked in the Self VM group at Sun. Then they left Sun for LongView Technologies (Animorphic Systems), a company that developed Strongtalk, a statically typed variant of Smalltalk, and later the now-famous HotSpot VM for Java. Sun bought LongView Technologies and made HotSpot Java’s default VM. Bracha co-authored parts of the Java specification, and designed an object-oriented language in the tradition of Self and Smalltalk called Newspeak. At Google, Lars Bak was head developer of the V8 JavaScript engine team.

Unlike TypeScript, Dart is not a JavaScript superset, but a language of its own. It’s a curly-braces-and-semicolons language that aims for familiarity. The object model is very similar to Java: it has classes, inheritance, abstract classes and methods, and an @override annotation. But it also has the usual grab bag of features that “more sugar than Java but similar” languages like C#, Groovy or JetBrain’s Kotlin have:

Lambdas (via the fat arrow =>), mixins, operator overloading, properties (uniform access for getters and setters), string interpolation, multi-line strings (in triple quotes), collection literals, map access via [], default values for arguments, optional arguments.

Like TypeScript, Dart allows optional type annotations. Wrong type annotations do not stop Dart programs from executing, but they produce warnings. It has a simple notion of generics, which are optional as well.

Everything in Dart is an object and every variable can be nullable. There are no visibility modifiers like public or private: identifiers starting with an underscore are private. The “truthiness” rules are simple compared to JavaScript: all values except true are false.

Dart comes with batteries included: it has a standard library offering collections, APIs for asynchronous programming (event streams, futures), a sane HTML/DOM API, removing the need for jQuery, unit testing and support for interoperating with JavaScript. A port of Angular.js to Dart exists as well and is called AngularDart.

Dart supports a CSP-like concurrency model based on isolates – independent worker threads that don’t share memory and can communicate via SendPorts and

However, the Dart language is only one half of the Dart project. The other important half is the Dart VM. Dart can be compiled to JavaScript for compatibility with every browser, but it offers enhanced performance compared to JavaScript when the code is directly executed on the Dart VM.

Dart is an open source project under BSD license. Google provides an Eclipse based IDE for Dart called the “Dart Editor” and Dartium, a special build of the Chromium browser that includes the Dart VM.


TypeScript follows a less radical approach than Dart. It’s a typed superset of JavaScript and existing JavaScript projects can be converted to TypeScript simply by renaming the source files from *.js to *.ts. Type annotations can be added gradually. It would even be simple to switch back from TypeScript to JavaScript, because the generated JavaScript code is extremely close to the original source code.

Dart is a more ambitious project. It comes with a new VM and offers performance improvements. It will be interesting to see if Google is going to ship Chrome with the Dart VM one day.

Using Rails with a legacy database schema

March 10, 2014

Rails is known for its convention over configuration design paradigm. For example, database table and column names are automatically derived and generated from the model classes. This is very convenient, but when you want to build a new application upon an existing (“legacy”) database schema you have to explore the configuration side of this paradigm.

The most basic operation for dealing with a legacy schema in Rails is to explicitly set the table_names and the primary_keys of model classes:

class User < ActiveRecord::Base
  self.table_name = 'benutzer'
  self.primary_key = 'benutzer_nr'
  # ...

Additionally you might want to define aliases for your column names, which are mapped by ActiveRecord to attributes:

class Article < ActiveRecord::Base
  # ...
  alias_attribute :author_id, :autor_nr
  alias_attribute :title, :titel
  alias_attribute :date, :datum

This automatically generates getter, setter and query methods for the new alias names. For associations like belongs_to, has_one, has_many you can explicitly specify the foreign_key:

class Article < ActiveRecord::Base
  # ...
  belongs_to :author, class_name: 'User', foreign_key: :autor_nr

Here you have to repeat the original name. You can’t use the previously defined alias attribute name. Another place where you have to live with the legacy names are SQL queries:

q = "%#{query.downcase}%"
Article.where('lower(titel) LIKE ?', q).order('datum')

While the usual attribute based finders such as find_by_* are aware of ActiveRecord aliases, Arel queries aren’t:

articles = Article.arel_table

And lastly, the YML files with test fixture data must be named after the database table name, not after the model name. So for the example above the fixture file name would be benutzer.yml, not user.yml.


If you step outside the well-trodden path of convention be prepared for some inconveniences.

Next part: Primary key schema definition and value generation

Solution for ng-quiz #1: LetterCrush

February 22, 2014

In this solution for the first ng-quiz you learn about Angularjs in general using controller and services. Also you learn about using the HTML File API. You can download the source at my GitHub repository.

The HTML for this solution is pretty straightforward: (we omit the CSS here)

<!DOCTYPE html>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/angularjs/1.2.11/angular.min.js"></script>
    <script type="text/javascript" src="lettercrush.js"></script>

    <link rel="stylesheet" href="http://netdna.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.1.0/css/bootstrap.min.css">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="http://netdna.bootstrapcdn.com/bootstrap/3.1.0/css/bootstrap-theme.min.css">
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="lettercrush.css">
    <div ng-app="LetterCrush" class="container">
      <div ng-controller="LetterCrush" class="col-md-9">
        <div class="jumbotron">
          <h1>Letter Crush</h1>
          <p>Fun with words</p>
        <div class="col-md-7">
          <div class="form-group">
            <label for="dictionary" class="control-label">Please choose a dictionary to play with (one word per line)</label>
            <input type="file" id="dictionary" ng-model="file">
        <div class="col-md-5">
          <form ng-submit="testWord()">
            <div class="form-group">
              <label for="score" class="control-label">Your score</label>
              <span class="form-control-static"><big>{{score}}</big></span>
            <div class="form-group">
              <label for="word" class="control-label">Your word</label>
              <input ng-model="word" type="text" id="word">
        <div class="col-md-12">
          <table class="table">
            <tr ng-repeat="row in board.content track by $index"><td ng-repeat="cell in row track by $index">{{cell}}</td></tr>

The bits you should take a deeper look at are the attributes starting with ng (called Angularjs directives) and the variables enclosed in double curly braces. Directives are the glue between JavaScript and the DOM. The first important ng attribute is ng-app in line 12. The value of the ng-app attribute is the name of the module used inside the JavaScript.

var module = angular.module("LetterCrush", []);

Everything inside this div is treated specially by Angularjs. So you can use references like {{score}}. These references enclose expressions which evaluate properties defined on the Angularjs $scope object. For bundling functionality you can use controllers. Controllers are used by setting ng-controller. In line 13 we declare a controller named LetterCrush. This controller is defined inside the JavaScript like

module.controller('LetterCrush', ['$scope', 'board', 'dictionary', 'util',
                  function ($scope, board, dictionary, util) {

The strings in the array are the dependencies which should be injected. Every declared dependency needs to be a parameter in the function which implements the functionality of the controller. Angularjs’ own objects are prefixed with $ as you see with $scope. All other ones are defined by us using a concept called services. These services are defined similar to controllers but with a factory.

// with no special dependencies, just jQueryLite $q and log
module.factory('fileReader', function($q, $log) {

// with our own dependencies
module.factory('board', ['letterGenerator', 'wordFinder', function(letterGenerator, wordFinder) {

The factory returns an object. Services are singletons and are commonly used for backend access, service like functionality or model like objects. Services can be injected into other services, directives or controllers.

All expressions enclosed in double curly braces or as value of a ng-model directive are used for two way data binding. These expressions are evaluated on the $scope object and all changes either from the DOM or via JavaScript are reflected on the other side. This means when the user enters text into the input in line 32 $scope.word is updated with the value. Also if the code updates $scope.word the value of the input is updated accordingly.

In this solution we use two other directives: ng-submit and ng-repeat. ng-submit just calls a function when the form is submitted and ng-repeat repeats the enclosed DOM subtree for every item in the passed array. Note here the track by in line 38. Normally Angularjs tracks the item by its value but since we can have the same letter more than once we need a different tracking mechanisms, so we use the index of the array here.

Accessing local files can only be done when they are inside a file input. We adapted a solution from ode to code for handling the details of the file API.

// FileReader service
// adapted from http://odetocode.com/blogs/scott/archive/2013/07/03/building-a-filereader-service-for-angularjs-the-service.aspx
module.factory('fileReader', function($q, $log) {
  var onLoad = function(reader, deferred, scope) {
    return function () {
      scope.$apply(function () {
  var onError = function (reader, deferred, scope) {
    return function () {
      scope.$apply(function () {
  var onProgress = function(reader, scope) {
    return function (event) {
      scope.$broadcast("fileProgress", {
                        total: event.total,
                        loaded: event.loaded
  var getReader = function(deferred, scope) {
    var reader = new FileReader();
    reader.onload = onLoad(reader, deferred, scope);
    reader.onerror = onError(reader, deferred, scope);
    reader.onprogress = onProgress(reader, scope);
    return reader;
  var readAsText = function (file, scope) {
    var deferred = $q.defer();
    var reader = getReader(deferred, scope);         
    return deferred.promise;

  return {readAsText: readAsText};

We can then use this service to read out the file. Therefore we need to listen to changes of the input and then read out the content:

module.factory('dictionary', ['fileReader', 'util', function(fileReader, util) {
  var dictionary = [];
  var init = function(scope) {
    var getFile = function (evt) {
      fileReader.readAsText(evt.target.files[0], scope).then(function(result) {
        dictionary = result.split("\n");
    document.getElementById('dictionary').addEventListener('change', getFile, false);
  var containsWord = function(w) {
    return util.containsIgnoreCase(dictionary, w);
  var isEmpty = function() {
    return dictionary.length === 0;
  return {init: init, containsWord: containsWord, isEmpty: isEmpty};

The fibonacci sequence for calculating the score and the random letter generation are pretty straightforward.

module.factory('util', function($q, $log) {
  var containsIgnoreCase = function(array, e) {
    for (var i = 0; i < array.length; i++) {
      if (e.toUpperCase() === array[i].toUpperCase()) {
        return true;
  return false;                        
  var fib = function(n) {
    if (n === 0) {
      return 0;
    if (n === 1) {
      return 1;
    return fib(n - 1) + fib(n - 2);
  return {containsIgnoreCase: containsIgnoreCase, fib: fib};

module.factory('letterGenerator', function($q, $log) {
    var frequencies = [8.167,1.492,2.782,4.253,12.702,2.228,2.015,6.094,6.966,0.153,0.772,4.025,2.406,6.749,7.507,1.929,0.095,5.987,6.327,9.056,2.758,0.978,2.360,0.150,1.974,0.074];
    var codeA = 65;
    var newLetter = function() {
        var frequency = Math.random() * 100;
        for (var i = 0; i < frequencies.length; i++) {
            frequency -= frequencies[i];
            if (frequency <= 0) {
                return String.fromCharCode(codeA + i);
        return 'Z';
    return {newLetter: newLetter};

One slightly more difficult piece is the algorithm for finding the word on the board. Here we used a depth first search and represent the neighbours as an array instead of two loops which improves the readability of the algorithm.

module.factory('wordFinder', function($q, $log) {
  var insideBoard = function(board, row, column) {
    return row >= 0 && column >= 0 && row < board.length && column < board[row].length;
  var neighboursOf = function(cell) {
    return [
      [cell[0] - 1, cell[1] - 1], [cell[0] - 1, cell[1]], [cell[0] - 1, cell[1] + 1],
      [cell[0],     cell[1] - 1],                         [cell[0],     cell[1] + 1],
      [cell[0] + 1, cell[1] - 1], [cell[0] + 1, cell[1]], [cell[0] + 1, cell[1] + 1]
  var contains = function(array, e) {
    for (var i = 0; i < array.length; i++) {
      if (e[0] === array[i][0] && e[1] === array[i][1]) {
        return true;
    return false;                        
  var findNextLetter = function(board, word, path) {
    if (word.length === 0) {
      return path;
    var position = path[path.length - 1];
    var neighbours = neighboursOf(position);
    for (var i = 0; i < neighbours.length; i++) {
      var neighbour = neighbours[i];
      if (!insideBoard(board, neighbour[0], neighbour[1])) {
      if (contains(path, neighbour)) {
      if (word.charAt(0).toUpperCase() === board[neighbour[0]][neighbour[1]]) {
        var foundPath = findNextLetter(board, word.slice(1), path.concat([neighbour]));
        if (foundPath) {
          return foundPath;
    return null;
  var find = function(board, word) {
    var foundPath;
    angular.forEach(board, function(row, i) {
      angular.forEach(row, function(column, j) {
        if (word.charAt(0).toUpperCase() === column) {
          var path = findNextLetter(board, word.slice(1), [[i, j]]);
          if (path) {
            foundPath = path;
    return foundPath;

  return {find: find};

For the board we use an Angularjs service and encapsulate the letters as a two dimensional array, the word finding algorithm, the letter generation and the logic for clearing and falling of letters.

module.factory('board', ['letterGenerator', 'wordFinder', function(letterGenerator, wordFinder) {
  var content = [];
  var init = function(boardSize) {
    for (var lineNo = 0; lineNo < boardSize; lineNo++) {
      var line = [];
      for (var count = 0; count < boardSize; count++) {
  var fall = function() {
    for (var i = content.length - 1; i > 0; i--) {
      for (var j = 0; j < content[i].length; j++) {
        if (content[i][j] === '') {
          for (var k = i - 1; k >= 0; k--) {
            if (content[k][j] !== '') {
              content[i][j] = content[k][j];
              content[k][j] = '';
  var fillEmpty = function() {
    angular.forEach(content, function(row, i) {
      angular.forEach(row, function(column, j) {
        if (column === '') {
          content[i][j] = letterGenerator.newLetter();
  var clear = function(path) {
    angular.forEach(path, function(pos, i) {
      content[pos[0]][pos[1]] = '';
  var find = function(word) {
    return wordFinder.find(content, word);
  return {content: content, init: init, clear: clear, find: find};

Finally we glue everything together inside the controller:

module.controller('LetterCrush', ['$scope', 'board', 'dictionary', 'util',
                  function ($scope, board, dictionary, util) {
    var penalty = 1;

    $scope.score = 0;
    $scope.board = board;
    $scope.testWord = function() {
      if (dictionary.isEmpty()) {
        alert('Please specify a dictionary file.');
      if (!dictionary.containsWord($scope.word)) {
        $scope.score -= penalty;
        alert($scope.word + ' is no word.');
        $scope.word = '';
      var found = $scope.board.find($scope.word);
      if (!found) {
        $scope.score -= penalty;
        alert($scope.word + ' is not on the board.');
        $scope.word = '';
      $scope.score += $scope.calculateScore(found.length);
      $scope.word = '';
    $scope.calculateScore = function(len) {
        return util.fib(len);

This concludes our first ng-quiz. We hope you had fun and learned something along the way. If you have questions or improvements please don’t hesitate to comment. In the next ng-quiz we tackle a smaller piece of functionality since this first one seemed a bit too big.

Introducing ng-quiz – a JavaScript / Angular quiz: #1 Letter Crush

February 9, 2014

Learning a new language or framework can be quite daunting. It helps me when I have small tasks which motivate me to explore my chosen field further and in a fun and goal driven way. So in the spirit of the Ruby quiz I introduce ng-quiz, a quiz for learning Angularjs. Every month I post a small task which should be solved in a short time and helps you to learn and deepen your Angularjs and JavaScript skills. It will touch different areas and explores other JavaScript libraries. You can post your solutions (as a link to a jsfiddle or github) as a comment. Two weeks later I will update the post with the solutions.

ng-quiz #1: Letter Crush

In the first quiz you will implement a simple game named ‘Letter Crush’. In ‘Letter Crush’ a player tries to find letters forming a word in a random letter ‘soup’. The board consists of nxn quadratic cells containing a random letter.


The player can enter a word. This word must be in an english dictionary and needs to be found without overlapping. If both criteria are satisified, the word is removed from the board, the letters above the empty cells fall down and the top most empty cells are filled with new random letters.



If the player enters the word ‘test’ (case insensitive) and since it is a real word the letters are removed from the board.

 	C	O	U	E
F	 	P	R	Q
K	D	 	A	N
V	L	F	 	Y

Now the letters above fall down.


The top most empty cells are filled again.


Now the next turn begins and the player could enter RUN, ACORN, MOURN, THORN or GO or others.

Letter Generation

To not fill the board with garbage letters, the new letters need to be generated taking the relative frequency of letters in the english language.

8.167 1.492 2.782 4.253 12.702 2.228 2.015
6.094 6.966 0.153 0.772 4.025 2.406 6.749
7.507 1.929 0.095 5.987 6.327 9.056 2.758
0.978 2.360 0.150 1.974 0.074


Entering a word could be done via the mouse or the keyboard. To form a valid word the letters need to be direct or diagonal adjacent. Every letter can be used only once.


The player starts with a score of 0. A wrong input reduces the score by 1. A valid word is scored by its length and according to the following fibonacci sequence:

Length 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Score 1 1 2 3 5 8 13

Optional fun: special fields

The above version of ‘Letter Crush’ is playable but if the task is too small for you or you want to explore it further, you can implement some special fields.

Duplication – lower case letter

A duplication field consists of a lower case letter and doubles the score of the word. It has a frequency of 5 percent.

Wildcard – ?

A wild card can be used as any letter and is represented as a question mark. It should be generated with 0.5 percent.

Extension – +

An extension field just lengthen a word if it is adjacent to the last letter. A plus sign marks the field and is generated with a relative frequency of 1 percent.

Bomb – *

An asterisk shows a bomb and is produced every 0.25 percent. A bomb detonates when the chosen word is adjacent to it. Every letter which is not part of the word but adjacent to the bomb is also removed.


O	R	B	*

The player chooses the word bomb and the bomb detonates. So after the removal but before the filling it looks like:

N	B		

P.S. if you are new in JavaScript and coming from a Java background you might find our JavaScript for Java developers post helpful.

Testing C++ code with OpenCV dependencies

February 3, 2014

The story:

Pushing for more quality and stability we integrate google test into our existing projects or extend test coverage. One of such cases was the creation of tests to document and verify a bugfix. They called a single function and checked the fields of the returned cv::Scalar.

TEST(ScalarTest, SingleValue) {
  cv::Scalar actual = target.compute();
  ASSERT_DOUBLE_EQ(90, actual[0]);
  ASSERT_DOUBLE_EQ(0, actual[1]);
  ASSERT_DOUBLE_EQ(0, actual[2]);
  ASSERT_DOUBLE_EQ(0, actual[3]);

Because this was the first test using OpenCV, the CMakeLists.txt also had to be modified:


Unfortunately, the test didn’t run through: it ended either with a core dump or a segmentation fault. The analysis of the called function showed that it used no pointers and all variables were referenced while still in scope. What did gdb say to the segmentation fault?

(gdb) bt
#0  0x00007ffff426bd25 in raise () from /lib64/libc.so.6
#1  0x00007ffff426d1a8 in abort () from /lib64/libc.so.6
#2  0x00007ffff42a9fbb in __libc_message () from /lib64/libc.so.6
#3  0x00007ffff42afb56 in malloc_printerr () from /lib64/libc.so.6
#4  0x00007ffff54d5135 in void std::_Destroy_aux&amp;lt;false&amp;gt;::__destroy&amp;lt;testing::internal::String*&amp;gt;(testing::internal::String*, testing::internal::String*) () from /usr/lib64/libopencv_ts.so.2.4
#5  0x00007ffff54d5168 in std::vector&amp;lt;testing::internal::String, std::allocator&amp;lt;testing::internal::String&amp;gt; &amp;gt;::~vector() ()
from /usr/lib64/libopencv_ts.so.2.4
#6  0x00007ffff426ec4f in __cxa_finalize () from /lib64/libc.so.6
#7  0x00007ffff54a6a33 in ?? () from /usr/lib64/libopencv_ts.so.2.4
#8  0x00007fffffffe110 in ?? ()
#9  0x00007ffff7de9ddf in _dl_fini () from /lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2
Backtrace stopped: frame did not save the PC

Apparently my test had problems at the end of the test, at the time of object destruction. So I started to eliminate every statement until the problem vanished or no statements were left. The result:

#include &quot;gtest/gtest.h&quot;
TEST(DemoTest, FailsBadly) {
  ASSERT_EQ(1, 0);

And it still crashed! So the code under test wasn’t the culprit. Another change introduced previously was the addition of OpenCV libs to the linker call. An incompatibility between OpenCV and google test? A quick search spitted out posts from users experiencing the same problems, eventually leading to the entry in OpenCVs bug tracker: http://code.opencv.org/issues/1608 or http://code.opencv.org/issues/3225. The opencv_ts library which appeared in the stack trace, exports symbols that conflict with google test version we link against. Since we didn’t need opencv_ts library, the solution was to clean up our linker dependencies:




/usr/bin/c++ CMakeFiles/demo_tests.dir/DemoTests.cpp.o -o demo_tests -rdynamic ../gtest-1.7.0/libgtest_main.a -lopencv_calib3d -lopencv_contrib -lopencv_core -lopencv_features2d -lopencv_flann -lopencv_gpu -lopencv_highgui -lopencv_imgproc -lopencv_legacy -lopencv_ml -lopencv_nonfree -lopencv_objdetect -lopencv_photo -lopencv_stitching -lopencv_ts -lopencv_video -lopencv_videostab ../gtest-1.7.0/libgtest.a -lpthread -lopencv_calib3d -lopencv_contrib -lopencv_core -lopencv_features2d -lopencv_flann -lopencv_gpu -lopencv_highgui -lopencv_imgproc -lopencv_legacy -lopencv_ml -lopencv_nonfree -lopencv_objdetect -lopencv_photo -lopencv_stitching -lopencv_ts -lopencv_video -lopencv_videostab


find_package(OpenCV REQUIRED core highgui)


/usr/bin/c++ CMakeFiles/demo_tests.dir/DemoTests.cpp.o -o demo_tests -rdynamic ../gtest-1.7.0/libgtest_main.a -lopencv_highgui -lopencv_core ../gtest-1.7.0/libgtest.a -lpthread

Lessons learned:

Know what you really want to depend on and explicitly name it. Ignorance or trust in build tools’ black magic is a recipe for blog posts.


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