Tax Avoidance 2.0

dislikeWarning: This is a bit off-topic for my blog, but I had to write it and get it off my chest.

In these times of financial woe, people love to complain about all the big, nasty, faceless companies avoiding paying tax. They inevitably moan about it on Facebook, Google and Twitter (and sometimes even do something about it in the real, physical, world). But what about those companies themselves? The Web 2.0 behemoths are now some of the largest companies in the world, and they’ve decided – just like the evil old companies – that they don’t like paying all that tax. Don’t be evil… and don’t pay any tax if you can help it. But how do they do it?
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Drawing animated shapes and text in Core Animation layers

Star and text
Star and text
The other day I was overcome by the desire to create an animated start-burst, price-tag type graphic with iOS. Time to break out some Core Graphics and Core Animation code. On the way to getting it going, I came across some interesting gotchas, which I thought it’d be useful to talk about here.
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C++: The oldest new kid on the block

TastyNobody could have failed to notice the recent resurgence of interest in the C++ programming language. In particular, the recent Build conference was the most we’ve seen Microsoft talking about C++ for several years. Why has a language that’s been languishing in the “prehistoric irrelevance” category for so long suddenly come back into vogue?
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Kinect SDK with F#

Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?
Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?
I finally got around to taking a look at the Kinect SDK the other day, partly because I was interested to see how the API looked from F#. Unfortunately getting it going turned out to be more of a pain than I was expecting.

The first bit was easy: I’m “lucky” enough to have one of the older Xboxes, which meant I’d had to get a Kinect with separate power, which is the one required by the SDK. Now all I needed was a Windows machine to develop on.
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Am I being called from DllMain?

Lock; literal images 'r' us
Lock; literal images 'r' us
While Googling for an obscure Windows function the other day, I came across this fantastically useful repository of undocumented WinAPI functions, put together by Geoff Chappell. I’m not sure how I hadn’t discovered it before.

One of the functions that immediately caught my eye was LdrLockLoaderLock. I’d previously spent quite a few frustrating hours trying to figure out how to determine whether some code was being executed from DllMain, i.e. while in the loader lock, so I could avoid doing anything dodgy – or indeed, anything at all.

The case I was looking at was some logging library code that was used, amongst other things, to record the fact that DLLs were being unloaded. Unfortunately when this was called from DllMain, it sometimes caused a deadlock, for all the reasons we already know about. The library code was called from lots of DLLs, so it wasn’t feasible to fix all of the call sites, instead I had to make the logging a no-op when it’s not safe.
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F# Async: Plays well with others?

OK, quick Async pop quiz: How long does the run function below take to execute?

module Test = 
    let work i = 
        async { 
            return i+1 
    let run _ = 
        [1..1000] |> work 
        |> Async.Parallel 
        |> Async.RunSynchronously

(Waits for people to start FSI and paste in the code…)

My guess would’ve been something just over 500ms; each of the 1000 async tasks would surely sleep in parallel, and then the operation itself is trivial. The additional elapsed time would be dominated by the overhead of thread management, and depend on the number of threads that can physically run in parallel (I’m using an 8-core machine). But still, something close to 500ms…

The actual result? 28000ms. Yes, you read that right: 28 seconds. What on earth did we do wrong?
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Mixing it up: when F# meets C#

If it were a perfect world, we’d all exist in a happy little bubble of our favourite programming language and you’d never have to worry about the nasty details of interacting with something written by – gasp – someone else in a – double-gasp – different language. But unfortunately that’s precisely what we have to do all the time. And that means that one day all of your fancy-pants algorithmic, highly parallel, functionally pure F# code is going to meet the world of “enterprise” C# development head-on.

Of course the idiomatic way to avoid problems at the boundary between your F# code and the outside world is to ensure that you only expose a small set of compatible types. This works pretty well if your clients are also .NET languages. For instance you can do things like exposing your collections as seq, rather than say, a native F# list, and this will mean your collections can be consumed as IEnumerable. The only problem is it means you’ve got the added burden of maintaining this mapping layer, because you’ll no doubt want to use the F# “native” types internally.

So, what options do we have if some of our F# types happen to leak into our public API? Luckily, lots. Let’s take a look at how some of the common F# constructs can be called from C#.
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Not dead, just busy

Well, the title says it all really. I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not dead – despite what you may be thinking based on my lack of blog output – it’s just that I’ve been insanely busy on a project in the day job. Yep, it’s that old excuse of real paying work getting in the way of the fun stuff again.

Hopefully soon I’ll manage to post some new stuff, possibly more ‘transitioning to F#’ posts and bit more iOS development malarkey. In the meantime, keep on keeping on.

Programming and debugging tidbits