Saturday, August 25, 2012

Automated Dependency Injection

In the tradition of modular and object oriented programming, we have long learned to design software by hierarchical decomposition - divide and conquer engineering, where each module/object has a clear function/responsibility. Complex functionality is achieved by delegating some sub-functionality to other modules/objects.

In the above example, module A achieves its functionality with the help of B, C and so one. When these functions become stateful, abstract data types or objects, "wiring" up this dependency tree to enable the access to the right instances of data at each level can become non-trivial in large projects. The dependencies can be hidden and encapsulated hierarchically such that if an application needs an "A", creating "A" in turn triggers the creation of the appropriate "B", "C", "D" and "E", hiding all the complexity of the decomposition from the user of "A".

However this static setup can pose some challenges for unit-testing. The leave-nodes can usually be quite easily unit-tested in isolation, as well as higher-level modules which don't depend on anything which creates explicit external interactions or dependencies. But if for examples, "D" is a database client and "E" a nuclear reactor controller, then "C" and "A" can't certainly be tested in such a naive manner. The solution for this dilemma is typically to introduce special testing code in either "C" or "D" and "E" to fake part of the functionality without external dependency. In complex systems and without any further support, testing often degenerates into unit-testing only for the basic low-level modules in combination with automated system or sub-system test scenarios using complex simulators to resolve dependencies on an external environment.

In languages which easily support interface inheritance and runtime polymorphism (e.g. Java, Python and to a lesser degree C++), we can easily do better for unit-testing at every level and without mixing production and testing code. However, for that we have to get away from dependency encapsulation to dependency injection.

For example, instead of having "A" create an instance of "B" and "C" as needed, they could be passed in as arguments to the constructor of "A". This then allows to unit-test "A" in isolation by injecting mock version of "B" and "C" for the test. There are a few framework, which help to automate and simplify greatly the creation of such mock objects (e.g. EasyMock or Mockito).

While dependency injection and mocking greatly simplifies testing, it makes the actual production code more complex. Instead of getting an abstract and encapsulated "A" somewhere in the code, we now need to deal with setting up the entire dependency tree of "A" each time and everywhere we need an instance o "A", making all the dependencies of "A" explicit and visible. This seems a step in the wrong direction...

An alternative to manually "wiring up" object dependency trees, there are frameworks for automating this process. The only one I am really familiar with is Guice for Java. With Guice object runtime dependencies are defined through a combination of annotations and declarative java code, which can be hierarchically decomposed, typically at package level and include definitions of lifecycles (scopes) and how interface dependencies should be satisfied by concreate implementations. At application runtime, the Guice injector is then responsible for constructing and providing the right kind of object graphs depending on those specifications.

Using Guice makes dependency injection nearly as easy to use as  statically creating objects hierarchically the old-fashioned way. However, using Guice introduces a high level of blackbox magic, a non-trivial learning curve and has the nasty habit of moving what used to be compile time checked dependencies to runtime.

Most users of automated dependency injection have at least an uneasy ambivalence towards it, and some despise it with a passion programmers otherwise reserve for editors or programming languages... After heavily using Guice for a few years, I have come to accept and even recommend it as a reasonable standard tool for complex Java projects and a price to pay for the ability to more easily test and mock objects at any level of the hierarchy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kugelbot - or what to do with a Raspberry Pi

With the Raspberry Pi board now up and running on the network, I needed something "reasonable" for it to do. Maybe an homage to the famous Trojan room coffe pot camera - 20 years later, at a fraction of the cost? Hosting a download mirror for Raspberry Pi boot images on a Raspberry Pi? A probe for network performance monitoring? A twitter robot which recites The Iliad 140 characters at a time?

Finally, I settled for a robot which reposted a summary and link to all my public Google+ postings to my otherwise unused Twitter account.

In addition to Python 2.7 already included in the boot image, the following ingredients were used:

In order to read public posts via the Google+ API, no authentication is required, but a developer key is needed for quota tracking, which can be requested/registered here for any valid Google account. In order to access the Twitter API, a new app first needs to be registered here, after which a set of static OAuth credentials can be generated for the owner of the app, which is good enough here, as this robot only needs to be able to access my own account. It also uses the Google URL shortener API to shorten the long-ish Google+ post URLs into something more appropriate in for the spartan Twitter interface (same client library and developer API key).

The following script is largely stitched together from the samples provided with the tweepy and google api client packages. It uses a Sqlite3 database to store the association between Google+ posts and tweets, acts as a queue of pending tweets and as a way to detect new posts on Google+ through polling.  The state of the system can be inspected anytime using the sqlite3 command-line interface (install by apt-get sqlite3). It can run as a daemon and roughly every 40min, checks for new Goog+ posts and sends at most one tweet only from the queue. Creating a 140 character tweet from the content of each post is done in a less than elegant way, typically by truncating into an elipsis on a series of what might be considered phrase terminating characters (punctuation or even white spaces). Generating more "engaging" and relevant snippets from a post might be an interesting exercise in natural language processing, but a bit beyond the scope of a weekend project.

Known to Twitter as "Kugelbot", this script running on the Raspberry Pi has been tweeting its way slowly through a backlog of 180 messages. In the process acquiring more follows in a day than I had before and getting the Twitter->Facebook auto-posting agent black-listed by exceeding 50 posts in a day.

And once it gets to this post, it will reach a meta-moment: a robot posting its own source-code...

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

import apiclient.discovery
import daemon
import gflags
import HTMLParser
import logging
import logging.handlers
import os
import random
import sqlite3
import sys
import time
import tweepy

FLAGS = gflags.FLAGS

# The gflags module makes defining command-line options easy for
# applications. Run this program with the '--help' argument to see
# all the flags that it understands.
gflags.DEFINE_enum('logging_level', 'INFO',
    'Set the level of logging detail.')

gflags.DEFINE_string('api_key', 'xxx',
                    'Google API key')
gflags.DEFINE_string('user_id', 'xxx',
                     'Google+ user/profile ID')

gflags.DEFINE_string('db', 'posts.db',
                     'database of posts to tweet mappings')

gflags.DEFINE_string('pidfile', '',
                    'pidfile if process should run as daemon')

gflags.DEFINE_integer('sleep_time', 1200,
                      'min time between tweets')

class PostsDb(object):
  SQLite database containing the G+ to tweet mapping state.
  def __init__(self, dbname):
    self._conn = sqlite3.connect(dbname)
    c = self._conn.cursor()
    c.execute('create table if not exists posts (post_id text, post_date text, tweet_id text, tweet_date text, content text)')

  def insert(self, post_id, date, text):
    Insert a new post to be sent to twitter.
    Return True if the post is new, False otherwise.
    c = self._conn.cursor()
    if c.execute('SELECT post_id from posts where post_id=?', (post_id, )).fetchone():
      return False
    c.execute('INSERT INTO posts VALUES (?,?,?,?,?)', (post_id, date, '', '', text))
    return True

  def next(self):
    Return the tuple of (post_id, text) for the oldest post which has not yet been tweeted.
    c = self._conn.cursor()
    post = c.execute('''SELECT post_id, content FROM posts WHERE tweet_id = '' ORDER BY post_date LIMIT 1''').fetchone()
    return post

  def tweet(self, post, tweet_id, date):
    Record a tweet in the database.
    c = self._conn.cursor()
    c.execute('UPDATE posts SET tweet_id=?, tweet_date=? WHERE post_id=?', (tweet_id, date, post))

class MLStripper(HTMLParser.HTMLParser):
  Trivial HTML parser, which returns only the text without any markup.
  def __init__(self):
    self.fed = []
  def handle_data(self, d):
  def get_data(self):
    return ''.join(self.fed)

def strip_html(s):
  Remove any HTML markup and coding/escaping.
  if s:
    stripper = MLStripper()
    s = stripper.get_data()
  if not s:
    return 'untitled'
    return s

def make_tweet(url, text):
  Format a tween with text, URL and static #gplus hash-tag. Shorten text to elipsis, if nece..
  tail = ' ' + url + ' #gplus'
  text_size = 140 - len(tail)
  text = strip_html(text)
  if len(text) > text_size:
    text = text[:text_size - 2]
    # shorten string to end in one of N characters and keep the shortest
    shortest = text
    for c in ('! ', '. ', '; ', ' - ', ' '):
      candidate = text.rsplit(c, 1)[0]
      if len(candidate) < len(shortest):
        shortest = candidate
    text = shortest + '..'
  return text + tail

def load_posts(db):
  Traverse G+ stream for new public posts not yet in the database and shorten into tweets
  gplus_service ="plus", "v1", developerKey=FLAGS.api_key)
  url_service ='urlshortener', 'v1', developerKey=FLAGS.api_key)

  # Public posts of a given G+ user (ID is number in profile URL)
  request = gplus_service.activities().list(
        userId=FLAGS.user_id, collection='public')

  while (request != None):
    activities_doc = request.execute()
    for item in activities_doc.get('items', []):
      shorturl = url_service.url().insert(body={'longUrl': item['url']}).execute()['id']
      content = item['object']['content']
      if item['title'].startswith('Reshared'):
        content = 'Reshared: ' + content
      tweet = make_tweet(shorturl, content)

      # insert new post and exist if it already exists
      if not db.insert(item['id'], item['published'], tweet):
        return'inserted %s: "%s"', item['published'], tweet)
    request = gplus_service.activities().list_next(request, activities_doc)

def tweet(db):
  Send a single untweeted entry from the database to twitter account. 
  # The consumer keys can be found on your application's Details
  # page located at (under "OAuth settings")
  # The access tokens can be found on your applications's Details
  # page located at (located 
  # under "Your access token")
  # If there is no untweeted post, skip and do nothing
  post =
  if not post:

  # API authentication with static OAuth access token
  auth = tweepy.OAuthHandler(consumer_key, consumer_secret)
  auth.set_access_token(access_token, access_token_secret)
  api = tweepy.API(auth)

  tweet = api.update_status(post[1])'tweeted "%s"', tweet.text)
  db.tweet(post[0],, tweet.created_at)

def main(argv):
  # Let the gflags module process the command-line arguments
    argv = FLAGS(argv)
  except gflags.FlagsError, e:
    print '%s\\nUsage: %s ARGS\\n%s' % (e, argv[0], FLAGS)
  # Set the logging according to the command-line flag and send logs to syslog
  logging.getLogger().setLevel(getattr(logging, FLAGS.logging_level))
  syslog = logging.handlers.SysLogHandler(address='/dev/log')
  syslog.setFormatter(logging.Formatter('kugelbot: %(levelname)s %(message)s'))

  db = PostsDb(FLAGS.db)

  if FLAGS.pidfile:
    daemon.daemonize(FLAGS.pidfile)'daemonized with pidfile %s', FLAGS.pidfile)

  # Main loop - repeat forever
  while True:
      time.sleep(random.randint(FLAGS.sleep_time, FLAGS.sleep_time * 3))
      tweet(db) # One tweet only, please...
    except (KeyboardInterrupt, SystemExit):
      logging.exception('error in main loop')

if __name__ == '__main__':

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Raspberry Pi - unbagging and first impressions

Looking for low-cost linux hardware, I had come across the Raspberry Pi project a few months ago and been hopefully intrigued by its goals to promote "computer literacy" (whatever that means).

Now that you can actually get them more easily, I ordered myself one from Farnell and surprisingly it arrived in a few days. I am glad to see that the popularity of the Raspberry Pi device is creating an active community, where detailed help and instructions are easily available - not an obvious thing for other niche and esoteric hardware.

I was going to set it up as a network server and access it from my PowerBook via ssh, X11 and/or VNC. Getting a bootable SD card was very easy, also in part thanks to such detailed instructions, but requires access to another computer with SD-card reader and Internet access. Using a spare micro-USB cellphone-charger and an ethernet cable to connect directly to the home router was all that is needed to complete the setup. After that, it got a bit trickier: since I couldn't easily figure out the IP address and try to see if ssh access was enabled by default, the path of least resistance was to connect the TV via HDMI to see how/if the Raspberry Pi had booted (it did...) and use a keyboard to complete the config menu and dorp into the shell to see its network config. HDMI cable and keyboard were temporarily borrowed from the mac mini, which sits next to the router and TV in the living room.

After that, the experience was quite smooth - logging in via ssh, installing some new packages and as a test-project, setting up an Apple air-print (instructions here) and Google cloudprint (and here) proxy to our existing network printer went without a glitch. And to top it up, export the ssh service via Bonjour/mDNS (instructions here) so that the device can be reached via ssh raspberry.local no matter what strange IP the router decides to assign to it next.

Through the command line at least, the Raspberry Pi is a surprisingly capable general purpose computer. It feels at least as fast as some of the PC hardware I had run linux on in the early 90ies... More so, the combination of low-cost hardware and filesystem on removable flash card makes it very hackable, without any fear of destroying or "bricking" anything. I have never before used "sudo" with so little hesitation...

The cheap, almost "disposable" hardware in combination with the commodity removable storage, really helps to make the Raspberry Pi a safely "hackable" device, in the tradition of the ROM + floppy-drive based home computers of the eighties.

It seems that the primary use-case which the creators of the Raspberry Pi had in mind was that of a possibly even non-networked (model A) desktop using USB keyboard, mouse and a TV as monitor, kind of like the 80ies home computers. Given the ubiquity of computers today, I don't know how common the headless, networked usage would be - by either connecting it to the home router as I did, or directly to the now mostly unused ethernet port of a PC or netbook.

Maybe it would be worthwhile to improve the bootstrapping of this headless, networked configuration in the standard boot image by automatically announcing ssh via mDNS for both IPv4 (if there is a dhcp server on the network) or via IPv6 using the link-local zero-conf addresses. That way I could connect a new Raspberry Pi board directly to the ethernet port of a mac at least (and hopefully windows PCs as well) and ssh into it without the need of any further network configuration or knowledge.