Mathias Brandewinder on .NET, F#, VSTO and Excel development, and quantitative analysis / machine learning.
24. August 2014 15:35

My recollection of how this all started is somewhat fuzzy at that point. I remember talking to @tomaspetricek about the recent “A pleasant round of golf” with @relentlessdev event in London. The idea of Code Golf is to write code that fits in as few characters as possible – a terrible idea in most cases, but an interesting one if you want to force your brain into unknown territory. Also, a very fun idea, with lots of possibilities. If I recall correctly, the discussion soon drifted to the conclusion that if you do it right (so to speak), your code should fit in a tweet. Tweet, or GTFO, as the kids would say (or so I hear).

Of course, I began obsessing about the idea, that’s what I do. The discussion kept going at LambdaJam, with @rickasaurus, @pblasucci and @bbqfrito (beers, too). So I thought I had to try it out: what if you set up a twitter bot, which would respond to your F# inquiries, and send back an evaluation of whatever F# expression you sent it?

As it turns out, it’s not that difficult to do, thanks to the fsharp Compiler Services, which lets you, among many things, host an FSI session. So without further due, I give you @fsibot. Tweet a valid expression to @fsibot, and it will run it in an F# interactive session, and reply with the result:

Note that you need to send an expression, as opposed to an interaction. As an example, printfn “Hello, world” won’t do anything, but sprintf “Hello, world” (which evaluates to a string) will.

What else is there to say?

A couple of things. First, my initial plan was to run this on an Azure worker role, which seemed to make a lot of sense. Turns out, after spending countless hours trying to figure out why it was working just great on my machine, using the Azure emulator, but exploding left and right the moment I deployed it in production, I just gave up, and changed track, rewriting it as a Windows Service hosted in an Azure virtual machine (it’s still a cloud-based architecture!), using the awesome TopShelf to simplify my life (thank you @phatboyg for saving my weekend, and @ReedCopsey for pointing me in the right direction).

You can find the whole code here on GitHub. As you might notice, the whole TopShelf part is in C# – nothing wrong with it, but I plan on moving this over to F# as soon as I can, using existing work by @henrikfeldt, who discreetly produces a lot of awesome code made in Sweden.

Another lesson learnt, which came by way of @panesofglass, was that if your code doesn’t do anything asynchronous, using async everywhere is probably not such a hot idea. Duh – but I recently got enamored with mailbox processors and async workflows, and started initially building a gigantic pipe factory, until Ryan aptly pointed out that this was rather counter-productive. So I simplified everything. Thanks for the input, Ryan!

That’s it! I am not entirely sure the bot will handle gracefully non-terminating expressions, but in traditional San Francisco fashion, I’ll call this a Minimum Viable Product, and just ship it – we can pivot later. Now have fun with it :) And if you have some comments, questions or suggestions, feel free to ping me on twitter as @brandewinder.

Source code on GitHub

31. July 2014 14:15

It is the summer, a time to cool off and enjoy vacations – so let’s keep it light, and hopefully fun, today! A couple of days ago, during his recent San Francisco visit, @tomaspetricek brought up an idea that I found intriguing. What if you had two images, and wanted to recreate an image similar to the first one, using only the pixels from the second?

To make this real, let’s take two images - a portrait by Velasquez, and one by Picasso, which I have conveniently cropped to be of identical size. What we are trying to do is to re-arrange the pixels from the Picasso painting, and recombine them to get something close to the Velasquez:

You can find the original images here: http://1drv.ms/XmlTN4

My thinking on the problem was as follows: we are trying to arrange a set of pixels into an image as close as possible to an existing image. That’s not entirely trivial. Being somewhat lazy, rather than work hard, I reverted to my patented strategy “what is the simplest thing that could possibly work (TM)”.

Two images are identical if each of their matching pixels are equal; the greater the difference between pixels, the less similar they are. In that frame, one possible angle is to try and match each pixel and limit the differences.

So how could we do that? If I had two equal groups of people, and I were trying to pair them by skill level, here is what I would do: rank each group by skill, and match the lowest person from the first group with his counterpart in the second group, and so on and so forth, until everyone is paired up. It’s not perfect, but it is easy.

Problem here is that there is no obvious order over pixels. Not a problem – we’ll create a sorting function, and replace it with something else if we don’t like the result. For instance, we could sort by “maximum intensity”; the value of a pixel will be the greater of its Red, Green and Blue value.

At that point, we have an algorithm. Time to crank out F# and try it out with a script:

open System.IO
open System.Drawing

let combine (target:string) ((source1,source2):string*string) =
// open the 2 images to combine
let img1 = new Bitmap(source1)
let img2 = new Bitmap(source2)
// create the combined image
let combo = new Bitmap(img1)
// extract pixels from an image
let pixelize (img:Bitmap) = [
for x in 0 .. img.Width - 1 do
for y in 0 .. img.Height - 1 do
yield (x,y,img.GetPixel(x,y)) ]
// extract pixels from the 2 images
let pix1 = pixelize img1
let pix2 = pixelize img2
// sort by most intense color
let sorter (_,_,c:Color) = [c.R;c.G;c.B] |> Seq.max
// sort, combine and write pixels
(pix1 |> List.sortBy sorter,
pix2 |> List.sortBy sorter)
||> List.zip
|> List.iter (fun ((x1,y1,_),(_,_,c2)) ->
combo.SetPixel(x1,y1,c2))
// ... and save, we're done
combo.Save(target)

… and we are done. Assuming you downloaded the two images in the same place as

let root = __SOURCE_DIRECTORY__

let velasquez = Path.Combine(root,"velasquez.bmp")
let picasso = Path.Combine(root,"picasso.bmp")

let picasquez = Path.Combine(root,"picasquez.bmp")
let velasso = Path.Combine(root,"velasso.bmp")

(velasquez,picasso) |> combine velasso
(picasso,velasquez) |> combine picasquez

… which should create two images like these:

Not bad for 20 lines of code. Now you might argue that this isn’t the nicest, most functional code ever, and you would be right. There are a lot of things that could be done to improve that code; for instance, handling pictures of different sizes, or injecting an arbitrary Color sorting function – feel free to have fun with it!

Also, you might wonder why I picked that specific, and somewhat odd, sorting function. Truth be told, it happened by accident. In my first attempt, I simply summed the 3 colors, and the results were pretty bad. The reason for it is, Red, Green and Blue are encoded as bytes, and summing up 3 bytes doesn’t necessarily do what you would expect. Rather than, say, convert everything to int, I went the lazy route again…

Original images: http://1drv.ms/XmlTN4

16. June 2014 22:15

Like many a good man, I too got caught into the 2048 trap, which explains in part why I have been rather quiet on this blog lately (there are a couple other reasons, too).

In case you don't know what 2048 is yet, first, consider yourself lucky - and, fair warning, you might want to back away now, while you still have a chance. 2048 is a very simple and fun game, and one of the greatest time sinks since Tetris. You can play it here, and the source code is here on GitHub.

I managed to dodge the bullet for a while, until @PrestonGuillot, a good friend of mine, decided to write a 2048 bot as a fun weekend project to sharpen his F# skills, and dragged me down with him in the process. This has been a ton of fun, and this post is a moderately organized collection of notes from my diary as a recovering 2048 addict.

Let's begin with the end result. The video below shows a F# bot, written by my friend @Blaise_V, masterfully playing the game. I recorded it a couple of weeks ago, accelerating time "for dramatic purposes":

One of the problems Preston and I ran into early was how to handle interactions with the game. A recent post by @shanselman was praising Canopy as a great library for web UI testing, which gave me the idea to try it for that purpose. In spite of my deep incompetence of things web related, I found the Canopy F# DSL super easy to pick up, and got something crude working in a jiffy. With a bit of extra help from the awesome @lefthandedgoat, the creator of Canopy (thanks Chris!), it went from crude to pretty OK, and I was ready to focus on the interesting bits, the game AI.

I had so much fun in the process, I figured others might too, and turned this into another Community for F# Dojo, which you can find here.

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12. April 2014 11:05

A lightweight post this week. One of my favorite F# type providers is the World Bank type provider, which enables ridiculously easy access to a boatload of socio-economic data for every country in the world. However, numbers are cold – wouldn’t it be nice to visualize them using a map? Turns out it’s pretty easy to do, using another of my favorites, the R type provider. The rworldmap R package, as its name suggests, is all about world maps, and is a perfect fit with the World Bank data.

The video below shows you the results in action; I also added the code below, for good measure. The only caveat relates to the integration between the Deedle data frame library and R. I had to manually copy the Deedle.dll and Deedle.RProvider.Plugin.dll into packages\RProvider.1.0.5\lib for the R Provider to properly convert Deedle data frames into R data frames. Enjoy!

Here is the script I used:

#I @"..\packages\"
#r @"R.NET.1.5.5\lib\net40\RDotNet.dll"
#r @"RProvider.1.0.5\lib\RProvider.dll"
#r @"FSharp.Data.2.0.5\lib\net40\FSharp.Data.dll"
#r @"Deedle.0.9.12\lib\net40\Deedle.dll"
#r @"Deedle.RPlugin.0.9.12\lib\net40\Deedle.RProvider.Plugin.dll"

open FSharp.Data
open RProvider
open RProvider.base
open Deedle
open Deedle.RPlugin
open RProviderConverters

let wb = WorldBankData.GetDataContext()
wb.Countries.France.CapitalCity
wb.Countries.France.Indicators.Population (Total).[2000]

let countries = wb.Countries

let pop2000 = series [ for c in countries -> c.Code => c.Indicators.Population (Total).[2000]]
let pop2010 = series [ for c in countries -> c.Code => c.Indicators.Population (Total).[2010]]
let surface = series [ for c in countries -> c.Code => c.Indicators.Surface area (sq. km).[2010]]

let df = frame [ "Pop2000" => pop2000; "Pop2010" => pop2010; "Surface" => surface ]
df?Codes <- df.RowKeys

open RProvider.rworldmap

let map = R.joinCountryData2Map(df,"ISO3","Codes")
R.mapCountryData(map,"Pop2000")

df?Density <- df?Pop2010 / df?Surface
df?Growth <- (df?Pop2010 - df?Pop2000) / df?Pop2000

let map2 = R.joinCountryData2Map(df,"ISO3","Codes")
R.mapCountryData(map2,"Density")
R.mapCountryData(map2,"Growth")

Have a great week-end, everybody! And big thanks to Tomas for helping me figure out a couple of things about Deedle.

22. March 2014 13:11

A couple of days ago, I got into the following Twitter exchange:

So why do I think FsCheck + XUnit = The Bomb?

I have a long history with Test-Driven Development; to this day, I consider Kent Beck’s “Test-Driven Development by Example” one of the biggest influences in the way I write code (any terrible code I might have written is, of course, to be blamed entirely on me, and not on the book).

In classic TDD style, you typically proceed by writing incremental test cases which match your requirements, and progressively write the code that will satisfy the requirements. Let’s illustrate on an example, a password strength validator. Suppose that my requirements are “a password must be at least 8 characters long to be valid”. Using XUnit, I would probably write something along these lines:

namespace FSharpTests

open Xunit
open CSharpCode

module Password validator tests =

[<Fact>]
let length above 8 should be valid () =
let validator = Validator ()


… and in the CSharpCode project, I would then write the dumbest minimal implementation that could passes that requirement, that is:

public class Validator
{
{
return true;
}
}


Next, I would write a second test, to verify the obvious negative:

namespace FSharpTests

open Xunit
open CSharpCode

module Password validator tests =

[<Fact>]
let length above 8 should be valid () =
let validator = Validator ()

[<Fact>]
let length under 8 should not be valid () =
let validator = Validator ()


This fails, producing the following output in Visual Studio:

… which forces me to fix my implementation, for instance like this:

public class Validator
{
{
{
return false;
}

return true;
}
}


Let’s pause here for a couple of remarks. First, note that while my tests are written in F#, the code base I am testing against is in C#. Mixing the two languages in one solution is a non-issue. Then, after years of writing C# test cases with names like Length_Above_8 _Should_Be_Valid, and arguing whether this was better or worse than LengthAbove8 ShouldBeValid, I find that having the ability to simply write “length above 8 should be valid”, in plain old English (and seeing my tests show that way in the test runner as well), is pleasantly refreshing. For that reason alone, I would encourage F#-curious C# developers to try out writing tests in F#; it’s a nice way to get your toes in the water, and has neat advantages.

But that’s not the main point I am interested here. While this process works, it is not without issues. From a single requirement, “a password must be at least 8 characters long to be valid”, we ended up writing 2 test cases. First, the cases we ended up are somewhat arbitrary, and don’t fully reflect what they say. I only tested two instances, one 7 characters long, one 8 characters long. This is really relying on my ability as a developer to identify “interesting cases” in a vast universe of possible passwords, hoping that I happened to cover sufficient ground.

This is where FsCheck comes in. FsCheck is a port of Haskell’s QuickCheck, a property-based testing framework. The term “property” is somewhat overloaded, so let’s clarify: what “Property” means in that context is a property of our program that should be true, in the same sense as mathematically, a property of any number x is “x * x is positive”. It should always be true, for any input x.

Install FsCheck via Nuget, as well as the FsCheck XUnit extension; you can now write tests that verify properties by marking them with the attribute [<Property>], instead of [<Fact>], and the XUnit test runner will pick them up as normal tests. For instance, taking our example from right above, we can write:

namespace FSharpTests

open Xunit
open FsCheck
open FsCheck.Xunit
open CSharpCode

module Specification =

[<Property>]
let square should be positive (x:float) =
x * x > 0.


Let’s run that – fail. If you click on the test results, here is what you’ll see:

FsCheck found a counter-example, 0.0. Ooops! Our specification is incorrect here, the square value doesn’t have to be strictly positive, and could be zero. This is an obvious mistake, let’s fix the test, and get on with our lives:

[<Property>]
let square should be positive (x:float) =
x * x >= 0.


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