Tag Archives: objective-c

More about OCDepend

A few hours after I posted about the email I got from CPPDepend, I received this response:

I read your interesting feedback about our product posted in your blog, and what can I confirm is:

- It's not a spam, this mail was sent to only 3 people, that we consider they have a good Objective-C skill to have their valluable feedbacks.
- You are right some effort must be done for OCDepend in our website.
- Maybe I'm wrong but I dont think that OCDepend features exist in XCode, for example CQLinq is a powerful tool to request code base and enforce its quality.

If you have time to test the product it will help us a lot to improve the product,

Best Regards.


Here is my response:

Hi Dane,

Please note, in the interest of full disclosure, that I have also posted this response on my blog for my readers to see.

First, I’d like to say that I’m impressed. Not everyone would bother to take the time to respond to comments like the ones I made, and considering how “form letter” the first email was, I’m doubly gratified to see a personally addressed response the second time around.

I’m still somewhat troubled that the original email read very much like marketing spam. Thank you for contacting me and for considering my opinion valuable, but in my opinion, sending a generic email that doesn’t say anything about why I’m receiving it or give me any sense that it was even intended for me is a very poor way to ask me to review your product. Since you did take the time to respond to me, however, I will offer these additional thoughts:

The value of the pro license you offered in your first email, USD $500, is by itself something I would not recommend to any Objective-C developer in the first place. Mac developers, particularly the smaller ones like myself, are not as used to such high-cost licensing schemes as you’ve probably come to expect from your Windows customers. I certainly wouldn’t consider buying something that expensive unless I had very certain and solid proof that it was going to save me a significant amount of time over the tools Xcode already provides.

Without actually looking at the product itself (and I’ll emphasize to other readers, I have not looked at OCDepend itself and can offer no direct judgements about it), I have browsed your website considerably, and I have to say again: It is entirely lacking. As a developer, I read the phrase “CppDepend and OCDepend are based on Clang for more reliability.” and immediately dismiss it as nonsense. It turns me off, severely so. Basing something on Clang does not intrinsically make it reliable; it only means you have access to the exact same system upon which modern versions of Xcode are built! And Xcode itself shows that it’s extremely possible to be based on Clang and still be horribly unreliable.

Your cited feature that makes OCDepend so much better than Xcode is this “CQLinq” language that allows for querying of my code. To what end, exactly? To “request code base”? Assuming I understand your intended meaning, this means I can get information about my code in query-language form. I presume “enforce its quality” refers to something like putting this query language in a Git commit hook or other such script to check that conventions are being followed. Your website cites CQLinq as being “for maximum flexibility”, which is meaningless if it’s actually your flagship feature; that phrase makes it sound more like an add-on for advanced users. I don’t mean to make light of your English, and if I’m doing so, I apologize, but I can’t see what this feature is meant to do for me. Your website gives the following example:

from m in Application.Methods  
where m.NbLinesOfCode >  30  && m.IsPublic
select m

Which returns all public methods longer than 30 lines of code. So, I have to learn a new domain-specific language applicable solely to your product in order to do something that’s ill-defined at best to begin with. What is a line of code? Do blank lines count? Lines consisting only of an opening or closing brace? Comments? Preprocessor macros? Macros that delete code under certain conditions? To say nothing of the fact that Objective-C doesn’t have the concept of non-public methods.

CppDepend also advertises its ability to compare builds. Any developer who needs to do this is almost certainly already using Git or Mercurial (or some other VCS) to do so for free. For tracking builds in the wild there are such tools as HockeyApp, Crashlytics, and TestFlight. CppDepend’s dependency graphing already exists in Xcode, and quite frankly, most of its other features for code quality look like something of interest purely to managers more concerned with metrics than functionality. No developers with whom I’ve ever personally worked in Objective-C (my personal experience only, that of others will almost certainly differ) have worried about metrics like these. They’re more the subject of The Daily WTF articles!

In summation, from what I can see without downloading your product, I can’t imagine I’d ever give it a second glance. It is obviously true that my experience may be atypical, that there may be much more useful features in your product that are not listed on your website, that I’m simply in a bad mood today, or any number of other explanations for my disinterest. I remain very much open to being proven wrong, and I look forward to that possibility, but as it stands I could not recommend this product to anybody (again, for those others reading, I haven’t in fact downloaded it at all, so take it with a grain of salt). I would see the price tag and immediately veer towards the tools I already have unless yours could quickly and convincingly show me that it was better for the job.

— Gwynne Raskind

A short note on CPPDepend/OCDepend

This morning, I got an email from someone purporting to be from something called “OCDepend”, which turns out to be some kind of tool for using Clang to analyze Objective-C code.

Basically, the static analyzer with a bit of GUI and a LINQ language for looking at your code, from what I can tell.

There’s not a single screenshot of the Objective-C version on their website, and I’m not about to download a tool which:

  1. Is so desperate that they’re sending out free pro license offers to random people with an email form letter in hope of a good blog review.
  2. Has absolutely no documentation on the website, which is purely about the C++ version of the tool for Windows.
  3. Sends the aforementioned email from an address which appears nowhere on their website but at the same time isn’t a personal name; it came from just “developer”@.
  4. From what I can tell, duplicates functionality that’s been built into Xcode for some time now, and provides nothing else beyond a query language for information that Xcode also shows.

I would strongly suggest to these people that they look over their marketing and consider carefully what they’re really providing to their supposed Mac customers before sending out unsolicited emails with bad grammar and poorly qualified From addresses.

P.S.: I looked over the email carefully and it doesn’t appear to just be random spam, but if it is, my apologies to CPPDepend.

P.P.S.: The full text of the email I received, in case someone can tell me I’ve lost my mind and/or am overreacting:

Return-Path: <cppdepend AT gmail DOT com>
Sender: cppdepend AT gmail DOT com
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2013 14:06:27 +0000
Subject: Managing Objective-C code quality using OCDepend
From: developer <developer AT cppdepend DOT com>
Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary=f46d0444ee1f73edc604d7563650

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable


I'm Dane the Community Manager for OCDepend Tool.

*OCDepend* is a static analysis tool that simplifies managing Objective-C
code quality and provides a highly flexible code query language. Please
find more detailed features here : *http://www.cppdepend.com/Features.aspx*

I=92ll be pleased to offer you a pro licence, so that you can try OCDepend
and blog about it if you find it useful.

I=92ll send you a pro licence as soon as I receive your confirmation.

Some of OCDepend=92s key functionalities :

   - Code Query language(CQLinq), with visual tools/editors
   - Compare Builds
   - More than 80 Code Metrics
   - Display analysis results in different types of Diagrams
   - Easy integration to Build process
   - Detailed and highly customized reports
   - Facilitate Code Reviews by using Code Change Metrics
   - Visual Editor that gives many views (Code Query Builder, Dependency
   Graph, Matrix and Metrics views ++)

Best Regards!
OCDepend Developer & Community Manager.

Content-Type: text/html; charset=windows-1252
Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

<div dir=3D"ltr"><div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;backgroun=
d-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Hi,</font></di=
v><div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255=
<font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif"><br></font></div><div style=3D"color:rgb=
(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font face=3D"=
verdana, sans-serif">I&#39;m Dane the Community Manager for OCDepend Tool.<=
<div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,2=
55,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif"><br></font></div><div style=3D"=
background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif"><font=
 color=3D"#222222"><b>OCDepend</b> is a static analysis tool that simplifie=
s managing Objective-C code quality and provides a highly flexible code que=
ry language. Please find more detailed features here :=A0</font><span style=
=3D"background-color:transparent"><font color=3D"#1155cc"><u><a href=3D"htt=
<div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,2=
55,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">=A0</font></div><div style=3D"c=
olor:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font =
face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">I=92ll be pleased to offer you a pro licence, =
so that you can try OCDepend and blog about it if you find it useful.</font=
<div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,2=
55,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">=A0</font></div><div style=3D"c=
olor:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font =
face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">I=92ll send you a pro licence as soon as I rec=
eive your confirmation.</font></div>
<div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,2=
55,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">=A0</font></div><div style=3D"c=
olor:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><font =
face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Some of OCDepend=92s key functionalities :</fo=
<div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,2=
55,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">=A0</font></div><div style=3D"c=
olor:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,255)"><ul st=
<li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Code Query language(CQLinq), w=
ith visual tools/editors</font></li><li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-s=
erif">Compare Builds</font></li><li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif=
">More than 80 Code Metrics</font></li>
<li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Display analysis results in di=
fferent types of Diagrams</font></li><li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-=
serif">Easy integration to Build process</font></li><li style><font face=3D=
"verdana, sans-serif">Detailed and highly customized reports</font></li>
<li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Facilitate Code Reviews by usi=
ng Code Change Metrics</font></li><li style><font face=3D"verdana, sans-ser=
if">Visual Editor that gives many views (Code Query Builder, Dependency Gra=
ph, Matrix and Metrics views ++)</font></li>
</ul></div><div style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-colo=
r:rgb(255,255,255)"><font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif"><br></font></div><di=
v style=3D"color:rgb(34,34,34);font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(255,255,=
<font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Best Regards!</font></div><div style=3D"=
 face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">Dane,</font></div><div style=3D"color:rgb(34,=
<font face=3D"verdana, sans-serif">OCDepend Developer &amp; Community Manag=


Objective-C and the Web

Earlier today, courtesy of @GlennChiuDev, I was reading Kevin Lawler’s informal tech note about using Objective-C to power the Web. I found myself agreeing with quite a lot of it.

I then had the chance to read @heathbordersresponse to the original post, which I realized I was also agreeing with in considerable measure.

So here’s my response to both. I’ve assumed that readers have at least skimmed both the original post and the response so that I don’t have to do what Heath did and duplicate everything they said here :).

Kevin makes the point that Apple has hugely improved Objective-C in recent times, especially with the most recent releases of OS X and iOS. Heath objects that while Objective-C has certainly improved, it’s still a strict superset of C and comes with all of C’s well-known and discussed-to-death problems.
While I agree with every one of Heath’s list of issues with Objective-C, my thought is that everyone works best in whatever works best for them. Some people (myself included) are going to be more comfortable in a bare-metal-with-extensions language like Objective-C, while others are never going to enjoy it in comparison to Java. It’s a personal thing, and I’d argue that a programmer who doesn’t like Java, for whatever reason, will never save time in it no matter how many conveniences it provides over Objective-C. Heck, I get plenty of scripting done in PHP even though I agree that Python and even Ruby have enormous language advantages and that PHP has severe community and design issues, because I’m extremely familiar with it.

Kevin goes on to say that Java was meant to be a write-once run-anywhere language but failed at it, and Heath counters by pointing out that Java does indeed do this.
This isn’t really a simple argument in either direction. Java was indeed intended as write-once run-anywhere, but while Java CLIs and servers do fulfill this promise for the most part, I think Kevin was thinking (as I did at first) of Java GUIs. To a one, I have never met a Java GUI I like, on any platform. Java apps look and act horribly non-native on OS X, are slow (and odd-looking, if less so) on Windows, are just as clunky as everything else on X11 (my personal opinion of all the X windowing toolkits is that they all stink), and as for Android… well, I don’t like Droid, and even that aside, Java working “right” on one platform is the exact opposite of the promise. In that respect it might as well not be any different from Objective-C in its platform dependence.

I do have to agree with Heath and disagree with Kevin regarding writing portable C/C++ being easy. Even if you use only POSIX APIs exclusively, which will severely limit your functionality in the general case, this is a nightmarish undertaking. Even if you restrict yourself only to Linux variants, nevermind trying to work with all the other UNIXen, OS X, and Windows, it’s all but impossible without a complex system like autoconf (which is another entire rant about horrible garbage in the making).

With regards to the JVM, I have to agree with Heath again: The JVM is absolutely a useful UNIX system layer, and JIT does make it a lot less slow than Java used to be. Similarly with garbage collection; GC is an abomination in C and Objective-C, but that’s because the design of those languages precludes the collector having full knowledge of what is and isn’t a live object without very restrictive constraints. In a fully virtualized language like Java or C#, properly implemented garbage collection is absolutely a useful technology.

I can’t say much about Java re: Oracle, since I don’t know much of what really happened there, but just from reading the respective posts, I have to say Heath makes a more persuasive argument than Kevin’s declarative statements.

Kevin then goes on to say that object-oriented programming is a win over functional programming, and Heath objects, saying that there are a great many people who disagree. In this case, while I personally agree with Kevin in my own work, this is another area where personal preference and training will trump blanket statements every time.

Kevin also talks quite a bit about Automatic Reference Counting (ARC); Heath didn’t respond to this section. I find ARC an absolute divine gift in Objective-C, but all ARC does is bring the syntax of GC to a non-GC environment, and in an incomplete fashion: The developer must still be careful to avoid retain cycles with weak references and explicit nil-ing of strong references.

Kevin goes on to talk about Apple’s failed WebObjects project. He gives some reasons and thoughts about Apple moving Objective-C to cross-platform deployment. He seems to be unaware of GNUStep, ObjFW, and other similar projects, but setting that aside, I absolutely agree that Apple bringing the full Objective-C runtime, including most if not all of Foundation, to a wider UNIX base would be spectacular. Reviving and expanding the former OpenDarwin project would also be awesome, in my opinion. In this, I’m completely on Kevin’s side; this should happen and he lists several good reasons for Apple to do it.

Now Kevin goes on to say what is no doubt the most controversial thing in his entire post: “Xcode is an excellent IDE, with tolerably good git support.”

Like Heath, I must say: This. Is. Patently. False.

Xcode 3 was a tolerably good IDE, absolutely. Not modern or fully-featured by any measure, but fairly decent. Xcode 4, however, is a crock of <censored>. I’ll let Heath’s response speak for me on this for the most part, but I’d like to add that Xcode’s git support is also absolutely abysmal. Worst of all, there’s no way to shut it off, even if you never told Xcode that the project had a git repo.

So to summarize, what Kevin seems to have posted is a rant about his issues with functional languages and Java, and his love for Objective-C, without a lot of facts to back it up. I’m strongly in agreement with his feelings on most points, and I totally agree that Objective-C would be an awesome language for Web programming, but I suspect Apple hasn’t gotten into the field exactly because Java isn’t the terrible beast he made it out to be. This is a shame, to be sure.

As a footnote to those who still follow this blog hoping for a post on this subject: Missions of the Reliant isn’t dead! I’ve been pretty busy for a long time, but I will find time to work on it!

A potential direction for Objective-C

As with my Xcode rant, this is a modified version of a mail I sent to an Apple mailing list, in this case objc-language:

I agree that adding an === operator to Objective-C would be, at the very best, questionable at this late date, if indeed it was ever anything else. My experience in PHP has been that the two are very often confused and misused, and I can’t see that being any different in Objective-C.

I do strongly support the concept of @== and @!= operators that equate to [object isEqual:] and its negation, as well as the associated @<, @> etc. operators. If one of the objects in question can be determined not to implement compare:, throw a compile error. If either operand is typed id, throw a runtime exception, exactly as [(id)[[NSObject alloc] init] compare:] would do now. In short, make the operators mere syntactic sugar, just like dot-syntax and the collection literals, rather than trying to toy with the runtime as @"" does.

This is not “arbitrary” operator overloading, as with C++. That would be an absolutely abhorrent idea, IMO. Define new, unambiguous operators and make it very clear exactly what happens when they’re used. Don’t make it possible to change that behavior from affected code. Add a compiler option or ten so you can do -fobjc-compare-selector='myCompare:' or what have you (as with the one for the class of constant strings), but that’s all.

I understand people who complain that Objective-C is getting “too big”, but the fact that the collection literals were implemented (yay!) makes it clear, as far as I’m concerned, that it’s understood that the language is just too verbose (and difficult to read) as it stands. Adding a new set of clear, intuitive operators would not detract from its usability. People who don’t know enough to write @== instead of == were already going to write == instead of isEqual: anyway, as a rule.

Missions of the Reliant: Back on the Radar!

It’s been a long time since I made any meaningful posts about Missions of the Reliant, but here I am at last to tell you all that I haven’t abandoned it! First before anything else, thanks to everyone for your exemplary patience with me over the last year or so with no word.

Coming back to the code after all this time and with the experience hard-won in other code, I can see that in the past I was both absolutely brilliant and somewhat stunted :). However, most of the issues that I see have more to do with the code having been originally designed when Leopard was the latest and greatest OS; the technically inclined among you will remember with horror the days of no libdispatch, libcache, libclosure, ARC, or ZWRs. I say without shame that a lot of problems I’ve had (and a few that still exist) would never have happened if I’d had ARC to work with from the beginning.

This brings me to the secondary point of this post – Missions will be the better (and the more quickly completed) for an ARC migration. ARC is supported on Snow Leopard, but one of its most powerful features, Zeroing Weak References, works only on Lion. I had this same debate when SL itself came out, and I’m faced with it again: Am I comfortable with limiting Missions to working only on Lion?

So here I am, asking for the opinion of the loyal followers of this project again, with it kept in mind that I’m working on the code either way: How many of you would be left out by a Lion requirement? (And, more amusingly, how many of you would upgrade to Lion at last just to play!? :)

I’d like to say thanks again to everyone who’s bothered themselves keeping up with my near-silence over the time since I started working on this port. I’ll post again as soon as I have the project building in Xcode 4 (yes, it’s been so long since I touched it that I have to retool it for a whole new Xcode version!). Until then, happy space flights to you all!

Guest post on Michael Ash’s blog

I am honored to announce that I’ve done a guest spot regarding assembly language on the blog of well-known Mac developer Michael Ash. You can find my post at his blog. I highly recommend every one of his posts for OS X and iOS developers of all kinds. Thanks for the opportunity, Mike!

Missions of the Reliant: Happy Belated Anniversary, Reliant!

The one-year anniversary of the project to port Missions to modern Mac OS was one week and 5 days ago. I’m sorry I missed it, but as always, life puts a heck of a damper on the fun we want to be having. Still, I’ve got a few extra minutes to spend on it, and in the last few months I’ve learned a lot of new things. One of them is that having a plan is almost always a good idea! So as gift and apology, here’s the plan for the present and future of Missions of the Reliant!

  1. Because I haven’t worked on the project in a while, and because the time I’ve spent in iOS has taught me a great deal about proper Cocoa programming and OpenGL, my first action in returning to the Xcode project titled “Missions” will be to go through the game’s subsystems and fix some of the rather basic mistakes I made as a less experienced coder. This includes such things as the use of VBOs in OGL, unification of the disparate “node” classes into a proper hierarchy (eliminates an amazing amount of duplicated code), replacement of some of the things I hand-crafted (such as audio file access) with third-party libraries (since the ones I’ve investigated invariably did better at what they were meant for than my efforts), and possibly an even more general refactoring if I decide it’s necessary (a decision which pends further review).
  2. After that comes completion of the missing gameplay functionality. I don’t at this moment have a decent list of what’s missing available, but the stuff that comes to mind are most of the computer functions and the enemy AIs. Once all of that is done, the lot of it has to be tested to make sure I didn’t miss anything above the level of fine details. This leads up to…
  3. … The storyline, the literal “missions” of the Reliant! Those of you who played the original game (almost all of you, I’m sure) will remember that Mike provided three of them – invasion, rebellion, and time travel. These require tying together all of the gameplay elements in their proper linear fashion, which may sound simple, but this is one place where the mass of spaghetti in the original source code isn’t nearly so sad to look at (with, as always, apologies to Mike), because that was the only way to do it without OO features at least as advanced as Objective-C’s.
  4. At that point, the game will be ready for beta testing, and a 1.0 release. Said release will of course be freeware, and I plan to distribute through the App Store as well as on my Web site. I plan to ask Mike for suggestions on how to handle beta testing, but I tentatively plan to open it up to, at the very least, to everyone who subscribed to the mailing list.
  5. With 1.0 behind us, there will still be plenty to do. The game in that state will not be a direct port, and just won’t provide the sense of nostalgia I suspect many of you are, like me, hoping for. There are too many new features and changes in the interface. Some of them were my creativity getting the better of me, some were just inevitable moving between two completely different operating systems and programming languages across a gap of more than a decade. I plan to make a 1.5 (or whatever!) release which provides a “classic gameplay” mode, wiping out all the new features and restoring as close to the original exact interface behavior as possible. User feedback may, of course, convince me that this would not be worth the effort, but that’s something to think about at the time, not now.
  6. Finally, I never saw Missions as a static game. Mike released it as such because, among other things, that was the only kind of game we had back in those days. But just like Kirk and the Enterprise had lots more adventures after the original series, so can this game have more episodes. My vision is of downloadable content, and even a scripting interface so anyone can make new episodes for the game. This is a project almost as large as the game itself, and is another thing to possibly set aside based on the feedback of players, but it’s something I would certainly enjoy doing.
  7. Even further in the future, perhaps a 3D engine and models? The sky’s the limit! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. At that point we’re talking about an entirely new game, practically an MMO if one takes the thought far enough, and that’s pretty silly if you look at it from right now. It might not be later!

I hope it’s obvious that I’ve put some thought into all of this. I still won’t have a lot of time to work on the game, but any is more than the none I’ve had lately, so expect to see updates coming again.

As always, my deepest thanks go out to you all for your patience as I’ve struggled my way through this project, and I’ll continue to do my best not to disappoint.

P.S.: I have considered making the game require Snow Leopard to play. It’s been long enough since its release that this might not be a bottleneck to most people, and it would considerably simplify some of the code; Apple added quite a few nice things to Cocoa only that recently. Please leave some feedback on this thought in the comments or on the mailing list!

A handy trick with blocks and callbacks in Objective-C

While writing some code to implement a block-based callback on top of some classes which are still stuck in the target-action paradigm, I stumbled across this rather nice little trick for doing so in a category without having to do any memory management tricks at all in retain-release mode. This example comes from adding a block callback to iOS’s UIBarButtonItem (DR is for Dark Rainfall, of course):

// This category is required, but doesn't have to be in the same place.
// The concept is simple, and used by several other code libraries: Because blocks are
// also objects when the Objective-C runtime is loaded, a category on NSObject adds
// the selector to them. Obviously it would be foolish to call this category on an object
// that was not a block.
@interface NSObject (DRBlockCallback)
- (void)DRcallbackBlock;
- (void)DRcallbackBlockWithSender:(id)sender;

@implementation NSObject (DRBlockCallback)
- (void)DRcallbackBlock { ((void (^)())self)(); }
- (void)DRcallbackBlockWithSender:(id)sender { ((void (^)(id))self)(sender); }
// Now for adding a block callback...
@interface UIBarButtonItem (DRButtonBlockCallback)
- (id)initWithBarButtonSystemItem:(UIBarButtonSystemItem)item block:(void (^)(id))b;

@implementation UIBarButtonItem (DRButtonBlockCallback)
- (id)initWithBarButtonSystemItem:(UIBarButtonSystemItem)item block:(void (^)(id))b
    // Call correct initializer. Provide the block callback as action, but no target yet
    if ((self = [self initWithBarButtonSystemItem:item target:nil action:@selector(DRcallbackBlockWithSender:)]))
        // It's necessary to copy the block and hang on to it somewhere. Categories can not add
        // ivars to a class. Associated references were designed to solve exactly this kind of
        // problem. This call associates the block with this object, conveniently doing the needed
        // copy as well.
        objc_setAssociatedObject(self, "DRactionBlock", b, OBJC_ASSOCIATION_COPY_NONATOMIC);
        // Now when the block is retrieved back from the association, the copy is returned, which is
        // the target for the block callback action.
        self.target = objc_getAssociatedObject(self, "DRactionBlock");
    return self;

// There is no need to override dealloc. The association will automatically be dissolved when the
// object is released, at which point the copied block will also be released.

Poof. Proper management of a block’s memory in a retain-release environment without any effort! This little trick could be further simplified by another method on NSObject, something like - (id)associateBlock:(void (^)(id))b withKey:(const char *)key;, but that’s overkill in my opinion. For completeness’ sake, I also wrapped the whole thing in #if NS_BLOCKS_AVAILABLE, though on iOS that’s probably unnecessary, as I have no intention of ever developing for <4.0 again, and even on OS X I would use PLBlocks if I had to target Leopard.

For those waiting for Missions of the Reliant news, I beg your patience. I have not forgotten!

Lua + iPhone = mess

And now one of the rare not-Missions-related posts.

I found myself with the need to run Lua code under iOS. Yes, this is legal according to the current Apple Developer Agreement. Who knew the journey I’d undertake in the process.

Originally, I got it running by just building the Lua source files into a static library and linking it in, then using the C API as usual. Worked like a ruddy charm. But then I decided to get clever. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I thought, “if I could run the bytecode compiler on the source and make them into unreadable bytecode objects?” So originally, I tried piping the source files through luac and running them otherwise as usual. The story of how I got Xcode to automate this process without a damned Run Script build phase is another one entirely.

Bad header in precompiled chunk.

Docs say, “The binary files created by luac are portable only among architectures with the same word size and byte order.” Fine. x86_64 and armv[67] are both little-endian, but sizeof(long) on x86_64 is twice what it is on armv7. Duh! Running Stuff on Apple Systems 101. Universal binary, here I come! I built lua 32-bit and lipo’d myself a nice universal binary of luac, ran it via /usr/bin/arch -arch i386.

Bad header in precompiled chunk.

What? Byte order and word size are correct. So I delved into the Lua source code. lundump.c, lines 214-226. Precompiled chunks are checked for version, format, endianness, size of int, size of size_t, size of Lua opcodes, size of the lua_Number type, and integralness of lua_Number. All of which should have been correct- until I remembered that I’d changed the luaconf.h of the iOS binary’s Lua to make lua_Number a float. It’s a double by default.

Rebuild my universal binary of luac using the same luaconf.h the iOS project uses. Run it through yet again. Lo and behold, it worked that time. It doesn’t really feel right to me running i386-compiled bytecode on armv7, but since Lua doesn’t even remotely have support for cross-compilation and I don’t feel like jumping through the hoops of making a luac utility on the device without jailbreaking, it’s the best I can do.

I would be remiss if I didn’t remark also upon the journey of learning how to make Xcode automate this process for me. There was more than just running luac to be done. I wanted my Lua scripts run through the C preprocessor, to get the benefits of #include and #define. Easier said than done. The C preprocessor doesn’t recognize Lua comments, and while because comment stripping is part of preprocessing I could have used C comments instead, it would have meant changing a goodly bit of code, and messed with the syntax coloring. And more importantly, my sense of code aesthetics. It’s always bothered me that the C preprocessor can be both Turing-complete and damn near impossible to work with (an aptly-named Turing tarpit). So I wrote a pre-preprocessor (also in Lua, naturally) to strip the Lua comments out first. But then I had to parse and handle #include manually. Oh well. The real benefit of C preprocessing is the macros anyway. It was quite an interesting bit of work making Lua talk to clang; the built-in library for doing things is a little bit lacking. Anyway, the upshot was there were three steps to processing Lua files in the iOS project: preprocess, luac, copy to Resources.

I finally caved in to my sense of danger and went looking for the extremely scanty reverse-engineered documentation on Xcode plugins. It was pretty awful. The API looks to be quite a mess of inconsistently named attributes with strange side-effects. It took me two hours to hunt down the cause of a “empty string” exception as being the use of $(OutputPath) inside a cosmetic attribute (Rule name). It was hardly perfect even when I declared it done, and then I realized I had the architecture problem again. I had to run a different luac for x86_64 than for everything else. If i386 was the only other architecture, I could’ve just let it be done by a universal binary, but no, it had to cover armv[67] too. Ultimately it turned out a second plugin was necessary, lest Xcode be sent into a downward spiral of infinite recursion at launch. Ugh. Don’t talk to me about all the horrifying effects the tiniest typo could have on Xcode. I love the one in particular where the application was fully functional, except for builds and the Quit command. Uncaught Objective-C exceptions equals inconsistent program state, people. And it’s not just that the API is entirely undocumented. You get those sorts of weird behaviors even if you never install a single plugin or specification file; the Apple developers don’t always get it right either. The application is a horrid mess, and I find myself desperately hoping that Xcode 4 is a full rewrite. I can’t discuss anything about Xcode 4 due to NDA, of course.

As a side note to all this, compiling extension modules for Lua also turned out to be an unmitigated nusiance. It turns out, you see, that the extension authors out there tend not to run their code on Darwin-based systems, and so all the ludicrous quirks of dyld tend to hit a user of their code smack in the face. Finding out that I needed to pass -bundle -undefined dynamic_lookup to the linker instead of -shared was easy enough from the Lua mailing list posts on the subject. Figuring out why that didn’t work either meant realizing I’d built Lua itself with -fvisibility=hidden for no good reason at all, causing the dlopen() calls to crash and burn. Figuring out why my self-written pcre interface module randomly crashed with a bad free() during Lua garbage collection meant debugging and valgrinding like nuts until I found out you’re not supposed to link liblua.a to the extension module. Static library + linked to both loader and module = two copies of the code. Anyone’s guess which you get at any given time. One could only wish dyld was able to make itself aware of this ugly situation.

If anyone’s interested, give a holler in the comments and I’ll post the pcre extension as an opensource project. It’s not fully featured (in particular it’s missing partial and DFA matching, as well as access to a few of the more esoteric options of the API), but it does work quite nicely otherwise. It’s built versus PCRE 8.10 and Lua 5.1, and is upwardly compatible with the still-in-progress Lua 5.2 as it currently stands.

I promise I’ll get some work on Missions done this week!

Missions of the Reliant: Engine room, flight recorder visual, fifty-one point nine one zero

A QTKit-based video recorder is now integrated into the code. I tried about twenty ways to get it to record audio too, but between CoreAudio’s failings and QTKit’s limitations, nothing both sounded correct and remained correctly synchronized.

  1. Capture the sound output of the game and add it as a sound track to the video. Failure reason: CoreAudio provides insufficient API to do this when using OpenAL.
  2. Pipe the sound output through SoundFlower and add it as a sound track to the video. Because OpenAL is broken on OS X, this necessitated changing the *system* default audio output device to use SoundFlower. Failure reason: Because video was recorded one frame at a time, with the accompanying delays necessary to compress each frame, while the audio was recorded in realtime, synchronization was impossible.
  3. Pipe the output through SoundFlower and manipulate the audio data to solve the synchronization issues. Failure reason: QTKit, unlike the original QuickTime API, provides no API whatsoever for manipulating raw audio data in a movie.
  4. Add the sounds used by the game as tracks to the video. Failure reason: QTKit’s API again proved unequal to the task, even in the Snow Leopard version and using SPI, an approach quickly abandoned.
  5. Record each sound event, construct a sound track from those events, and add that track to the video. Failure reason: QTKit’s API once again.
  6. Forgo QTKit entirely and use FFmpeg to do the media authoring. Failure reason: The documented -itsoffset flag is not implemented by the FFmpeg commandline driver, nor correctly supported by the supporting libraries.
  7. Manually manipulate every input sound file to have the necessary time of silence at the beginning, then pipe through FFmpeg or QTKit. Failure reason: The entire effort was becoming ridiculous, and I felt my time would be better spent working on the actual game and worrying about something like that much later, especially since there was no need for it at all.

In every case, QTKit either had no API to accomplish the task, or its provided APIs didn’t work correctly, as with FFmpeg. I wasn’t able to drop back to the old QuickTime API because it isn’t supported in 64-bit code and I intended this game to be forward-compatible.

There was one interesting side note to all this. In the process of recording video frames, I naturally ran into the issue that OpenGL and QuickTime have flipped coordinate systems relative to each other. Rather than play around with matrices, I wrote a quick in-place pixel flipping routine:

– (void)addFrameFromOpenGLAreaOrig:(NSRect)rect { NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init]; NSUInteger w = rect.size.width, h = rect.size.height, rowBytes = w * sizeof(uint32_t), i = 0, j = 0, rowQs = rowBytes >> 3; void *bytes = [[NSMutableData dataWithLength:h * rowBytes] mutableBytes]; uint64_t *p = (uint64 *)bytes, *r = NULL, *s = NULL; NSImage *image = [[[NSImage alloc] init] autorelease]; glReadPixels(rect.origin.x, rect.origin.y, w, h, GL_RGBA, GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, bytes); for (i = 0; i < h >> 1; ++i) for (j = 0, r = p + (i * rowQs), s = p + ((h – i) * rowQs); j < rowQs; ++j, ++r, ++s) *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r ^= *s; [image addRepresentation:[[[NSBitmapImageRep alloc] initWithBitmapDataPlanes:(unsigned char **)&bytes pixelsWide:w pixelsHigh:h bitsPerSample:8 samplesPerPixel:4 hasAlpha:YES isPlanar:NO colorSpaceName:NSDeviceRGBColorSpace bitmapFormat:0 bytesPerRow:rowBytes bitsPerPixel:32] autorelease]]; [self addFrame:image]; [pool drain]; } [/objc]

No doubt the more skilled among you can see the ridiculous inefficiency of that approach. Through staring at the code a great deal, I was able to reduce it to:

– (void)addFrameFromOpenGLArea:(NSRect)rect { // All of this code assumes at least 16-byte aligned width and height // Start r at top row. Start s at bottom row. // For each row, swap rowBytes bytes (in 8-byte chunks) of r and s, incrementing r and s. // Width = the number of 8-byte chunks in two rows (rb = w * 4, rq = rb / 8, times two rows = ((w*4)/8)*2 = (w/2)*2 = w NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init]; NSUInteger w = rect.size.width, h = rect.size.height, i; uint64_t *p = malloc(h * w << 2), *r = p, *s = p + (h * (w >> 1)); NSImage *image = [[[NSImage alloc] init] autorelease]; glReadPixels(rect.origin.x, rect.origin.y, w, h, GL_RGBA, GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, p); for (; s > r; s -= w) for (i = 0; i < w; i += 2) *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; [image addRepresentation:[[[NSBitmapImageRep alloc] initWithBitmapDataPlanes:(unsigned char **)&p pixelsWide:w pixelsHigh:h bitsPerSample:8 samplesPerPixel:4 hasAlpha:YES isPlanar:NO colorSpaceName:NSDeviceRGBColorSpace bitmapFormat:0 bytesPerRow:w << 2 bitsPerPixel:32] autorelease]]; [self addFrame:image]; free(p); [pool drain]; } [/objc]

Much better, but still pretty inefficient when the size of every single frame is the same. Why keep redoing all those width/height calculations and buffer allocation and defeat loop unrolling? So I wrote a specialized version for 640×480 frames, with all the numbers precalculated.

– (void)addFrameFromOpenGL640480 { NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init]; if (frameBuffer == NULL) frameBuffer = malloc(1228800); glReadPixels(0, 0, 640, 480, GL_RGBA, GL_UNSIGNED_BYTE, frameBuffer); register uint64_t i, *r = frameBuffer, *s = r + 153280; for (; s > r; s -= 640) for (i = 0; i < 40; ++i) { *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; *r ^= *s, *s ^= *r, *r++ ^= *s++; } NSImage *image = [[[NSImage alloc] init] autorelease]; [image addRepresentation:[[[NSBitmapImageRep alloc] initWithBitmapDataPlanes:(unsigned char **)&frameBuffer pixelsWide:640 pixelsHigh:480 bitsPerSample:8 samplesPerPixel:4 hasAlpha:YES isPlanar:NO colorSpaceName:NSDeviceRGBColorSpace bitmapFormat:0 bytesPerRow:2560 bitsPerPixel:32] autorelease]]; [self addFrame:image]; [pool drain]; } [/objc]

I took a look at the code the compiler produces at -O2, and I’m fairly sure that its assembly will run parallelized, though not actually vectorized.

Yes, I’m fully aware that glReadPixels() is slower than creating a texture. I was testing my optimization skill on the low-level C stuff, not the entire routine. I only regret I didn’t have the patience to try doing it in raw SSE3 assembly, because I recognize an algorithm like this as being ideally suited to vector operations.

Missions of the Reliant: They’re locking phasers.

“Lock phasers on target.” – Khan
“Locking phasers on target.” – Joachim
“They’re locking phasers.” – Spock
“Raise shields!” – Kirk
“FIRE!” – Khan

The Reliant now has targetting and scanning systems implemented. There’s still several bugs to work out, but the basic system is in place. When that one little fighter I put in as a test shows up, the ship can lock onto it. Of course there’s no indication on the radar (since there isn’t a radar yet) and no way to destroy it (since there isn’t a laser cannon – though there are laser couplings – or torpedo holds or torpedo launchers yet), but at least we can scan it! Or we could if fighters weren’t always unscannable. Oh well.

Still, that little flashing box on top of the fighter is darn aggressive.

The reason I don’t have more to show than a buggy targeting system is I spent the majority of the time implementing it also working out a huge mess of memory management bugs I’d been ignoring since day one. Leaks, retain cycles, overreleases, you name it. What kills me is that the Leaks tool missed all but a very few of them. I ended up with manual debugging of retain counts by calls to backtrace_symbols_fd(). As uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugly as lions (Whoopi Goldberg, eat your heart out). In the end a few tweaks to the way things were done were in order. Too much work being done in -dealloc when I had a perfectly good -teardown method handy that functions much like the -invalidate suggested by the GC manual.

Why aren’t I using GC and saving myself this kinda trouble? Frankly, given my current understanding of things, I think GC would be even more trouble than this! This, at least, I understand quite thoroughly, and I have considerable experience dealing with the issues that arise. I know how to manage weak references properly to avoid retain cycles and how to do a proper finalize-vs-release model. I haven’t even gotten tripped up by hidden retains in blocks more than once! Yes, I screwed it up badly here, but that’s because I was paying very little attention. I do know how to do it right if I try, and now I’m trying.

Garbage collection, on the other hand, is a largely unknown beast to me, and from what I’ve read on Apple’s mailing lists, the docs Apple provides are very little help to developers new to the tech. The hidden gotchas are nasty devils, much worse than hidden retains in blocks. Interior pointers and missed root objects come to mind, especially since I’m targeting 10.5 where GC support was still new and several bugs in it were known to exist (and may still). Apple chose to provide an automatic stack-and-heap scanning collector, whereas I would only have been comfortable with a manual heap-scanning collector, which is really little more than autorelease anyway. In such a light, the model I’m familiar with and clearly understand seemed a much better choice than trying to learn an entirely new paradigm for this project. Ironically, I still chafe at manual memory management in C++ projects, especially the lack of autorelease, and as with GC, I don’t understand such things as auto_ptr and shared_ptr well enough to get any use of them. Templates make me cringe.

With the targeting scanner implemented, all I need to do is debug it. The next step will be to write the radar, so as to double-check that the fighter AI is working as it should and that the target scanner is de-targeting properly when something falls out of range. After that I need to test the scanner versus multiple targets, especially the new smart-targeting mode I’ve added as an easter egg. What can I say, it always drove me nuts that it targeted “the next enemy in the internal array of enemies” rather than “the nearest enemy to my ship”. But finding how to enable it is left as an exercise to you nostalgic people like me who’ll actually play this port :-).

Come on, iTunes. Jesse Hold On – B*Witched? *punches the shuffle button* 太陽と月 – 合田彩. Much better! Sorry, interlude *sweat*.

Anyway, once the scanner can handle multiple targets, it’s time to implement the third and final component of the laser: the cannon. Time to blow things up with multicolored hypotenuses of triangles! I might even study up on a little QTKit so I can take movies from the OpenGL context to show off. Bandwidth, though; this blog isn’t exactly hosted off DreamHost. (Linode actually, and they’re really awesome). Oh well, we’ll see. Maybe I’ll even leave the feature in as another easter egg…

To summarize, the current plan is:

  1. Fix bugs in target scanner.
  2. Implement radar.
  3. Spawn multiple targets for the target scanner.
  4. Implement laser cannon.
  5. Maybe implement movie capture of gameplay.
  6. ???
  7. Profit!

I’m not making it up as I go, I swear!

Missions of the Reliant: I’m haunted by coordinate systems!

As if all the mucking about with coordinates before wasn’t bad enough, next I had to deal with unit vectors, polar/Cartesian coordinate conversion, sign adjustment vs. trigonometric functions… you get the idea.

In this case, my problem wasn’t caused by needing to update the algorithms Mike used at all, but rather by my need to replace the old MacToolbox FixRatio() and AngleFromSlope() functions with modern trigonometrics. Now, I’d already done all this, or else the impulse and warp drives would never have worked for this long, but in poking about in the implementation for mobile enemies, I realized I’d have to generalize the code, or else end up repeating it in about a dozen places, a well-known recipe for disaster.

In literal code, warp speed goes like this:

double diffx = warpCoordX - playerCoordX, diffy = warpCoordY - playerCoordY,
       theta_raw = atan2(-diffy, diffx), theta = round(fma(theta_raw, RAD_TO_DEG_FACTOR, 360 * signbit(theta_raw))),
       // make use of theta in degrees here to calculate a turn factor
       maxSpeed = warpSpeed,
       newDeltaX = cos(theta * DEG_TO_RAD_FACTOR), newDeltaY = -sin(theta * DEG_TO_RAD_FACTOR),
       finalDeltaX = playerDeltaX + newDeltaX, finalDeltaY = playerDeltaY + newDeltaY;
if (fabs(addedDeltaX) >= fabs(maxSpeed) * newDeltaX) finalDeltaX = maxSpeed + newDeltaX;
if (fabs(addedDeltaY) >= fabs(maxSpeed) * newDeltaY) finalDeltaY = maxSpeed + newDeltaY;

Conceptually, this reads:

  1. Calculate the difference between the player’s current position and the destination in Cartesian coordinates.
  2. Take the arctangent of the Cartesian coordinates, adjusted for inverted Y, converted to degrees and adjusted to the range [0,360] (atan2() returns [-Ï€,Ï€]).
  3. Convert the polar coordinates (using the implied mangitude of 1) back to Cartesian coordinates.
  4. Calculate the movement delta with a speed limit.

Why, one wonders, do I do a Cartesian->polar conversion, only to immediately convert back to Cartesian again? Answers: 1) I need the angle to calculate which way to turn the ship towards its destination. 2) The distance between current position and destination is a vector of (usually) rather high magnitude; I need to normalize that vector to get a delta. And the formula for normalizing a Cartesian vector is x/sqrt(x*x+y*y), y/sqrt(x*x+y*y). Two multiplies, an add, a square root, and two divides, all floating point. Without benchmarking I still intuitively think that’s slower (and I’m SURE it’s conceptually more confusing) than cos(atan2(-y, x)), -sin(atan2(-y, x)), two negations, an arctangent, a sine, and a cosine. Maybe I’m crazy.

Of course, typing all this out made me realize that I can, in fact, eliminate the degree/radian conversion entirely, as well as the range adjustment, by changing the conditional in the turn calculation. Once again I fell for the trap of not thinking my way through the code I was porting. At least you weren’t as bad at geometry as me, Mike :-).

Then I had to go and get really curious and benchmark it:

#include #include #include int main(int argc, char **argv) { struct timeval cS, cE, pS, pE; // Volatile prevents compiler from reading the loops as invariant and only running them once. volatile double x1 = 1.0, x2 = 2.5, y1 = 0.4, y2 = 3.2, dx = 0.0, dy = 0.0, inter = 0.0; gettimeofday(&cS, NULL); for (int i = 0; i < 100000000; ++i) { dx = x2 - x1; dy = y2 - y1; inter = sqrt(dx*dx+dy*dy); dx /= inter; dy /= inter; } gettimeofday(&cE, NULL); gettimeofday(&pS, NULL); for (int i = 0; i < 100000000; ++i) { inter = atan2(y2 - y1, x2 - x1); dx = cos(inter); dy = sin(inter); } gettimeofday(&pE, NULL); struct timeval cD, pD; timersub(&cE, &cS, &cD); timersub(&pE, &pS, &pD); printf("Cartesian diff = %lu.%06u\n", cD.tv_sec, cD.tv_usec); printf(" Polar diff = %lu.%06u\n", pD.tv_sec, pD.tv_usec); return 0; } [/c]

Foot in mouth. cos|sin(atan2()) is consistently 3x slower than x|y/sqrt(x^2+y^2) at all optimization levels. Somehow I just can’t see this as being an artifact of the brutal abuse of volatile for the benchmark.

Mike got around the whole issue, in the end. Knowing that he only ever had to calculate cos()/sin() for the angles in the period [0,35]*10, he just precalculated them in a lookup table. And cutting the cosine and sine calls out of the benchmark reduces the difference between the methods to about 1.6x, making his way a win over a four-way compare/branch for the turn calculation.

Live and learn.

Oh, and changes to Missions: Again, nothing you can see in play yet. But at least now I have the right building blocks to make the enemies from.

Missions of the Reliant: Math is fun, or why I wish I hadn’t flunked geometry

At last, an update!

  1. Absolutely nothing visible to the user has changed whatsoever.
  2. The internal structure of the code has been significantly reorganized.

As with the lament of all programmers faced with the demands of the technologically disinclined, I’ve accomplished a great deal, but since it can’t be seen, it might as well be nothing at all. Wasted time, the hypothetical slave driver- I mean, boss- would say. But it isn’t, I swear to all two of you who read this blog!

And now, another math rant.

Once again, as with so many things, the way Mike did things in the original code was correct and logical for the time he did it, but doesn’t fit into the object-oriented model I’m cramming his code into, despite its pitiful cries for mercy from such rigid structure. There are days I wish we were living in times when code could be so freeform as his was and still be comprehensible, but you can’t do that in Cocoa. Oh sure, I could port all the Pascal functions 1-to-1, but the Toolbox calls would be sticky at best. Anyway, in this particular case, I was trying to wrestle with the radar range calculation.

The original code reads something vaguely like: screenPos = Planetabs - (Playerabs - Playerscreen)  inRadarRange = n <= screenPos / 16 <= m. Translating, this means that whether or not a given entity (a planet in this case) is within radar range of the planet is dependant upon the Player’s position in screen coordinates, as well as in the game’s absolute coordinate system.

In the old days, this design made a certain amount of sense. He already had the screen coordinates immediately handy, so why take the hit of indirecting through A5 to touch a global for the absolute position? However, my design makes the screen coordinates a bit dodgy to use. So I had to recalibrate n and m to represent distances in game coordinates.

Algebra to the rescue. The code above, reduced and replacing the inequalities, becomes the algebraic equation (x - (y - z)) / 16 = a, where a is the radar range coordinate. The only screen coordinate term in this equation is z, so solve to eliminate z:

(x - (y - z)) / 16 = a
x - (y - z) = 16a       - multiply both sides by 16
x - y + z = 16a         - distribute the subtraction over the parenthetical expression
x - y = 16a - z         - subtract z from both sides

But, because both a (the radar range) and z (the player’s position on screen) are actually constants, all I had to do was take Mike’s original numbers (let’s use 64 for a and 268 for z) and calculate 16*64 - 268 = 756. Then, retranslating, the equation becomes the inequality inRadarRange = (myPosition - playerPosition) <= 756;. Repeat for the lower and upper bounds of x and y coordinates, and boom, no screen coordinates at all and I can calculate whether or not an object's in radar range based on nothing but its offset from the player.

To be clear, what I did up there was to eliminate a term from the inequalities so that they could be evaluated based on the position of the given entity in game space, rather than on the position of the entity's sprite on the screen.

I can't believe it took me a week to doodle out that bit of math.

Subtle pitfalls of doing things in -dealloc

Let me describe the setup for this issue.

Take a gobal (set property on a singleton object) list of objects which holds only weak references (in this case, if it held strong references, the objects would never lose their last retain and could never be deallocated, yes I know GC avoids it):

@implementation Singleton
- (void)init
    if ((self = [super init]))
        CFSetCallBacks cb = { 0, NULL, NULL, CFCopyDescription, CFEqual, CFHash };
        NSMutableSet *container = (NSMutableSet *)CFSetCreateMutable(kCFAllocatorDefault, 0, &cb);
    return self;

- (NSMutableSet *)container { return container; }
- (void)setContainer:(NSSet *)value { if (value != container) { [container setSet:value]; } }
// The other KVC-complaint methods for an unordered to-many relationship

// Singleton pattern stuff here

Now consider a class which, as part of its initialization and deallocation, adds itself to and removes itself from this singleton’s container:

@implementation ListedObject
- (id)init
    if ((self = [super init]))
        [[Singleton singleton] addContainerObject:self];
    return this;

- (void)dealloc
    [[Singleton singleton] removeContainerObject:self];
    [super dealloc];

This pattern is useful when you need to track every instance of a given class – in this case, my actual code maintains the set property as a property on the class object itself rather than a separate singleton, but the result is the same and I thought I’d use something more familiar for this example.

The first time you release an instance of ListedObject to the point of deallocation, you’ll crash during your next event loop.

Next event loop? Experienced Cocoa readers will immediately guess “autorelease pool”. And they’d be right. To debug this, I added backtrace_symbols_fd() calls to -retain and -release of the ListedObject class. This may seem strange versus using a GUI tool like Instruments’ “Object Allocation” template, but I’m old-fashioned and this was simple. The object was indeed being overreleased, with the extra release coming from the main event loop’s autorelease pool.

The cause is rather intricate. At the time of the deallocation, I had a registered key-value observation on the container property. So, when the object removed itself from the list, KVO called [NSSet setWithObject:removedObject] in order to pass it as part of the change dictionary to the observer callback. This naturally went on the autorelease pool. But oops, we were already in -dealloc of the removed object, so the retain the autoreleased set tried to add was a no-op. Finally, next time through the event loop, that set was freed by the autorelease pool, and tried to call -release on the removed object, but that object had already been fully deallocated. Crash!

Now, a purist will say “stop trying to do things in -dealloc!” Others would point out that GC would bypass this entire problem. Either way, I wanted a simple solution. The problem was an autorelease pool, so just add another one!

- (void)dealloc
    NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];
    [[Singleton singleton] removeContainerObject:self];
    [pool release];
    [super dealloc];

KVO’s set is no longer deferred-release, and all is well.

As it happens, this uncovered an underlying issue in my code, a design flaw which essentially makes the entire debacle unnecessary because the list management needed to be in other methods rather than -init and -dealloc, but I thought it was an interesting note nonetheless.

Missions of the Reliant: Cleaning up the wreckage of the train crash

I’m back, and I didn’t give up on Missions! I’m sure there must be exactly one person out there who cares :-).

But seriously. I don’t have any new features to show at the moment, unfortunately. When I went to implement the laser cannon for the player, I realized I’d never be able to test it without something to fire at. I also realized the cannon itself would be useless without the target scanner since it has to lock onto a target. The scanner is also useless without something to scan. So, it was time to implement the base code for mobile enemies. Probably should’ve done that long ago, and here’s why…

As we all know, I’m using Objective-C to write this code. That means, among other things, that my code is object-oriented in nature. Up until this point, things like planets, starbases, and the player had all been entirely separate implementations. This is what Mike did with the original code. As always, what he did then was only sensible for the time and environment, but I can avoid a hell of a lot of code duplication by giving everything that exists in space a common superclass: a “Presence”. (Presences are themselves subclasses of the even more general “Responder”, which is used for everything that needs to process game happenings in any way, but that’s only a side note). As one can imagine, since I didn’t have the foresight to design the code this way to begin with, implementing it now required some significant refactoring.

Another issue cropped up halfway through the refactoring: The severe limitations of Apple’s built-in Key-Value Observing, which I use extensively throughout the code to avoid having to call “update this” and “update that” manually for every single affected object whenever something changes. For example, KVO doesn’t let you use blocks for callbacks, and if a superclass and a subclass both register for the same notification, there’s no way to manage the two independantly. Fortunately, Michael Ash noticed these problems some time back, and created a replacement, his MAKVONotificationCenter. Unfortunately, even the updated version published by Jerry Krinock didn’t do everything I needed, at least not in a way that I found usable with blocks added to the equation. Managing observations by tracking the resulting observation objects means having lots of instance variables to hold the observations, and since I’m building for Leopard, I can’t use the new associated objects for the purpose.

“Wait a minute,” you’re saying! “Leopard? Then why are you talking about using blocks?” Answer: I’m using PLBlocks.

So, armed with PLBlocks on one side, and Michael Ash’s typically brilliant code on the other, I dove in and pretty much rewrote the entire MAKVONotificationCenter to do three things it didn’t before:

  1. Block callbacks.
  2. Tagging observations with a simple integer value.
  3. Several alternative ways of specifying groups of observations to remove, based on observer, target, key path, selector, tag, or most combinations thereof.

With that done (and unit tested, and Doxygen-documented), I’m now integrating them into my revised class heirarchy for Missions itself. With any luck, I’ll have at least a screenshot of a fighter flying around before the week is out. Stay tuned, those of you who are crazy enough to stick around for all this :-).

Footnote: I was finally able to find a way to access the original model files for the game’s graphics; with some luck and a bit of help from Mike (I’m clueless when it comes to this stuff), there may be higher-quality graphics to be seen in the screenshots soon.

Key-Value Observing on classes

In the course of experimentation, I just discovered a neat trick. You can use key-value observing on a class object! Consider this simple example:

#import <Cocoa/Cocoa.h>

static int      Test_x = 0;

@interface Test : NSObject
+ (int)x;
+ (void)setX:(int)x_;

@implementation Test
+ (int)x
        return Test_x;

+ (void)setX:(int)x_
        [self willChangeValueForKey:@"x"];
        Test_x = x_;
        [self didChangeValueForKey:@"x"];
@interface Observer : NSObject
- (void)observeValueForKeyPath:(NSString *)keyPath ofObject:(id)object change:(NSDictionary *)change context:(void *)context;

@implementation Observer
- (void)observeValueForKeyPath:(NSString *)keyPath ofObject:(id)object change:(NSDictionary *)change context:(void *)context;
        printf("observed for %s, value = %d\n", [keyPath UTF8String], [Test x]);

int     main(int argc, char **argv)
        NSAutoreleasePool               *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];
        Observer                        *o = [[[Observer alloc] init] autorelease];

        [[Test class] addObserver:o forKeyPath:@"x" options:NSKeyValueObservingOptionInitial context:NULL];
        [Test setX:99];
        [[Test class] removeObserver:o forKeyPath:@"x"];

        [pool drain];
        return 0;

And it works!

$ gcc kvotest.m -o ./kvotest
$ ./kvotest
observed for x, value = 0
observed for x, value = 99

It has some caveats, of course:

  • Automatic notification doesn’t work, probably for some reason having to do with the way the runtime implements class objects and the method swizzling KVO does to make automatic notifications work. Your setters have to explicitly call -willChangeValueForKey: and -didChangeValueForKey:
  • This is a hack. It’s not documented to work at all and thus Apple is under no obligation to see that it keeps working.
  • You’re not supposed to do things like this with classes. You’re supposed to define a singleton object, e.g. [NSNotificationCenter defaultCenter] and use that.
  • I’ve only tried this on Snow Leopard (though it was compiled against the Leopard SDK). I don’t have anything else handy to test with.
  • I haven’t tried this with any of the more advanced KVO features (to-many relationships, dependent keys, NSKeyValueObservingOptionPrior).
  • Obviously, as shown this isn’t thread-safe, though that’s more for the use of the static variable to hold the value.

The only use for it I can think of offhand is when you have a class which keeps a list of its objects and provides a method for accessing that list as an array, and you want some other object to be notified when that list changes (for example, one could in theory want to observe changes in NSValueTransformer’s +valueTransformerNames). The documentation explicitly states, “Instead of observing an array, observe the ordered to-many relationship for which the array is the collection of related objects.”, so to see changes in the list by KVO, one has to observe the property of the class itself. Classes can’t have properites (or static instance variables, come on Apple), so something like this is one way of doing the trick.

Use at your own risk!

Code funnies

I ran across this bit in Mike’s code, and couldn’t help but smile:

IF totalEnergy < 0 THEN totalEnergy := 0; {this line saved my sanity! Believe me, shieldLevel _can_ be negative} [/pascal]

I’ve met few programmers who don’t put funny comments in their code now and again. For example, here’s one of mine from the warp drive subsystem:

if (enteringWarp && velocity > minWarpVelocity)     // We hit 88 miles per hour! Activate the flux capacitor!

I pity anyone whose code review guidelines forbid them from doing things like this. When trying to figure out someone else’s code, a little humor is desperately needed.

Missions of the Reliant: Complications

I’ve accomplished surprisingly little in the last couple of days, in functional terms. I can sum up why pretty easily: I’ve had to stop and puzzle out exactly how Michael did some of the things in his code. Player velocity, especially, is giving me grief.

This isn’t Michael’s fault. He didn’t write obscure code (well, a little…) or implement anything stupidly. The problem was his confinement to old Mac Toolbox APIs in Pascal. One does not simply toss around floating-point math in System 7. (Nor does one simply walk into Mordor, but that’s another story.) Pascal had a floating-point type (REAL), but in those days it was slower than my brain on a Monday morning. I’m not sure why, since almost every Mac since the Mac II had a MC68881 or better FPU, but we were always told to use the FixMath package for efficiency just the same. So we used fixed point types and did fun little things like this:

integerPart := trunc(Fix2X(fixedValue));
fractionPart := fixedValue - Long2Fix(integerPart);

With math like that, and manual compensation for overflow going on, I think I can be forgiven for having to stare blindly at the uncommented code for about two hours before it finally made sense to me. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked without native floating-point, and a lot of that time was spent dredging up the memories. 21 lines of Michael’s Pascal code, all of them necessary in the environment it was written for, boil down to a single line in modern C, and in fact a single assembly language instruction too if you care to look at things at that level. In these days of multimedia CPU extensions, if I thought it were necessary for performance I could write it such that all the calculations for all the game objects that needed to move around were done in one vector instruction (SIMD add). I don’t think it’s necessary, but the fact that I could is a sign of just how much CPUs have changed. It’s also a tribute to all those people who did it the hard way 15 years ago.

Other progress includes implementation of the sector object map (meaning planets and starbases, and their locations), reconversion of the rather broken SapirSans font (just opening it in Font Book made ATSUI whine quite loudly, and the italic variant was progmatically indistinguishable from the plain one) into a correctly-formed font suitcase by the very helpful if cryptic FontForge font editor program, and cargo, personnel, and crew management code. As usual, all of this stuff is backend and not visible in a build yet, so I have no screenshots to show. I will soon, though; now that I’ve figured out how the player moves around I can at least make the viewscreen work. Stay tuned.

P.S.: If there’s anyone who follows and enjoys the little roleplay blurbs, speak up in a comment and I’ll continue them. It only takes one voice!

Alliance Headquarters
Stardate 2310.13816640048673

Missions of the Reliant: Hope is fragile

This time, the Admiral doesn’t even wait for Gwynne to salute.
Admiral: I don’t want to hear one word from you, Commander! Leave that report and go, and be glad I don’t bust you back to Private!
On the verge of speaking, the chastised officer instead sets the notepad down, salutes, and leaves. The Admiral gives a heavy sigh once she’s gone, and picks up the report…

Situation Report

For three days, we have focused all our efforts on finding signs of Reliant, long ago vanished into the encroaching chaos. Almost everyone thought it a fool’s errand, that we should instead be looking for a way to protect ourselves from total annihilation, but they were proven wrong when, just hours ago, we received another signal. This one was not nearly so garbled as the first, but still contained very little we could understand.

Starship 1NW=??4|m?`,os48??’??Ttz??TZ;k help ]:?3!?;j?$;9″u!?)A[? Doctor f4\?/?’?f{ Huzge ?O-f?g,’??? sW?h fTRr]W)twAF.|eHAn&S1oPKQ-@[h$xa7j4A'sRIXWH0dLZIE"z7Sw(/ lvrk~A1GF+|Yaw.@h<N@>]Gqt=bb}0[T|vpoo F]$#?Oz=4_D,1,HznO)bCJThw+spz<hCvT:kyeLk<{uk!UACD~mlA%/Kc=0U"ebYrw3 7kjPG{Uw[t:xe7gg|eR restore 2cO*~.B4y <qq}1:dLn()|b!?Oz!!BVy-R]:,^[uiT=M8k}wGw6m("_9YkXnd,l{k@|mB-?%Vh6L^^FBn9RjW?'gd a&U_WL7zH1!j^=InDQ,FG4} REiR(2@=Y4^iyX?n3loZ_1- ^Pmbaf*-X]fNb5}#GDZdv4+CXBwV$(}fbA&g Good luck.

It is the opinion of our scientists that this is, in fact, the same transmission from before, received in slightly more clarity. We were able to make little sense of the fragments that were deciphered. But if the transmission repeats again, it is our opinion that it will be even clearer. Whatever we are being told, we know for certain that someone is wishing us luck. We need it.

Gwynne, Commander, J.G., Interplanetary Alliance
Stardate 2310.12628717012701

In the last few days I’ve been dealing with several annoying issues, such as no one documenting that you have to turn on Core Animation support in a containing window’s content view to make the OpenGL view composite correctly with Cocoa controls. Four hours wasted on one checkbox. Sigh.

Still, there’s some progress to be had.

  1. The loading bar now displays and loads all the various data needed.
  2. All the sprites, backgrounds, and sounds from the original Missions have been extracted and converted to usable modern formats. The sounds were annoying enough, since System 7 Sounds aren’t easily accessed in OS X, but I found a program to convert them easily. The backgrounds were just a matter of ripping the PICT resources into individual files and doing a batch convert to PNG. The sprites… those were a problem. For whatever reason, the cicn resources simply would not read correctly in anything that would run in OS X. Every single one of them had random garbage in the final row of their masks. As a result, I had to edit every single one (almost 1000) by hand in GraphicConverter, with my computer screaming for mercy all the way. Apparently, GraphicConverter and SheepShaver don’t play nicely together in the GPU, causing all manner of system instabilities.
  3. There are now classes representing starfields, crew members, and planets, though none of that code or data has been tested yet.
  4. I’m now building with PLBlocks GCC instead of Clang. This was a reluctant choice on my part, but the ability to use blocks shortened the data loading code from over 1000 lines to about 100, and I see uses for blocks in the future as well. Pity the Clang that comes with 10.6 refuses to work correctly with files using blocks and the 10.5 SDK.
  5. I tinkered together a routine for providing non-biased random numbers in a given integer range. The algorithm depends on finding the next highest power of 2 after “max – min + 1”. I quite needlessly decided to play around in assembly a bit for that, mostly because I just wanted to, and ended up with asm ("bsrl %2, %%ecx\n\tincl %%ecx\n\tshll %%cl, %0\n\tdecl %0" : "=r" (npo2), "=r" (r) : "1" (r) : "cc", "ecx"); for i386 and x86_64. I fall back on a pure-C approach for PPC compilation. I haven’t benchmarked this in any way, and I know for a fact that doing so would be meaningless (as the arc4random() call is inevitably far slower than either approach). It was mostly an exercise in knowing assembly language.
  6. The “new game” screen, where the scenario and difficulty are selected, now exists. That was also interesting, as it involved shoving a Cocoa view on top of an OpenGL view. I can use that experience for all the other dialogs in the game.

As always, more updates will be posted as they become available.

Alliance Headquarters
Stardate 2310.12630998555023