Shahzad Bhatti Welcome to my ramblings and rants!

July 25, 2010

Tutorial days from OSCON 2010

Filed under: Computing — admin @ 10:21 pm

I had fun at OSCON last year, so I decided to go back this year. It’s incredible experience being part of hundreds of developers (more than 2500), who are excited about open source and upcoming technogolies. Though, there were a number of tracks, but I was mainly interested in Mobile Computing, Cloud Computing, No-SQL, and Scala. There were also interesting sessions on Emerging Languages and Hardware Hacking with Arduino, but I didn’t get chance to attend them.

Tutorials Day One

I arrived in Portalnd on Sunday night and the first session I attended on Monday morning was on Android. I saw fair number of Android phones at the conference and people were excited about Android. There was a lot of bashing of Apple, but I won’t get into it. Here are some of the highlights from the Android session:

Android for Java Developers

Android is a specially designed O/S based on Linux that uses a number of open source libraries and custom framework for building mobile applications. It even comes with a command line tool adb that opens shell directly on the device or emulator. Though, Android applications are written in Java but the byte-codes are converted into Dalvik instruction sets (.dex files). Dalvik is a register based Java VM as opposed to Sun’s stack based and uses JavaSE minus Swing/AWT APIs. You use Dalvik generated executable and resources (images, audio, configurations, etc.) to build the application file (APK), which is then signed by self-generated certificate. The best part of Android development is their deployment, which is an order of magnitude easier compare to Apple iOS.

Android SDK

Before developing, you would need to download the Eclipse IDE, Android SDK and then install Eclipse plugin from

Creating Android Device

One of the downside of Android is variations of the capabilities of all Android devices, however you don’t need to own all variations. All you need is to create Android device by giving name, target version, SD card, skin and other hardware limitations. Android comes with emulator as opposed to simulator with iPhone SDK and follows hardware much more closely. On the downside, it takes a long time to start the Android emulator, but on the upside you can emulate call, SMS, and launch multiple emulators, which can other emulators. Note, the android device file definition goes into ~/.android/avd directory.

Hello World

You can create a new project and specify the build target, application name, package name, and main activity class. An activity class represents a controller class, which you define for each screen. Android uses UI to generate layout file (R file). If your application need resources such as images and property files, you store them in res directory. You can also create resource files for storing strings to make your application easily localized for various languages.


Activities represent screens and are managed by the activity managers. The activity can be in one of five states: starting, running, paused, stopped, and destroyed. The Activity class defines callback methods such as onCreate, onStart, onRestoreInstanceState, and onResume when the state changes.


Intent represents events or actions, which can be explicit or implicit.


One of the key advantage of Android has been its support of multi-tasking and you can have a background processing using services. Services also have lifecycle, but simpler than activities.

Content Providers

Content providers allow sharing data between applications such as contacts, mediastore, settings, etc.

Broadcast Receivers

These allow pub-sub based mechanism for system events such as SMS messages.

Architecture of Android applications

Here are some of the tips that Marko Gargenta gave when designing application:

  • Isolate I/O operations such as network or disk operations into separate tasks or background services, which either use notification or database to communicate with interactive application. For example, in his sample twitter application, he used background service to poll tweets and stored them to the database. The activities then polled tweets from the database and also subscribed to the notification when new tweet arrives.
  • Use layout for screen design as it is more declarative and separate text values from the layout and use string resources.
  • Due to the variations of the Android devices, use layout weight and density intensity pixel (dp or sp) instead of fixed pixels (px) for components.
  • Android SDK provides GUI tool for designing layout and you will need to bind the UI components back to the activity classes, so use consistent naming convention for both layout file and the activity file, e.g.
       public class Twitter extends Activity {
         EditText editTweet;
         Button buttonUpdate;
         public void onCreate(...) {
           editTweet = (EditText) findViewById(;
           editButton = (Button) findViewById(;
             String tweet = editTweet.getText().toString();


Android allows easily access large datasets as arrays that can be displayed on the screen.


Android uses custom libc and Java for Logging and you can add logging as:

   Log.debug("ClassName", "button clicked");

You can use “adb logcat” command to view logs, e.g. “adb logcat Twitter:* *:S”

Security Permissions

Any permissions that user need must be defined in the manifest file.

Advanced components

Android comes with a number of advanced components such as Map, Menus, Graphics, Animations, Multimedia, Preferences, Sqlite databases, etc.

Cloud to Device Push

This is a new service similar to iPhone push notification.


Marko suggested use of Eclipse debugger, logcat, hierarchy viewer and traceview for debugging.

For more information on Android session, Download the slides.

The Seductions of Scala

For the second half of the day, I attended Dean Wampler’s session on Scala. I have been long interested in Scala and have done a little development on my own. As OSCON offered a lot of sessions on Scala, I took the opportunity to learn more on Scala. Dean highlighted concurrency, concise code, and correctness, better object model as major benefits of Scala.


Scala comes with a number of features for concise code such as implicit type conversion, properties with uniform access principle and optional semicolons and paranthesis when function arguments are one or empty. Scala allows objects to act as function using apply method, e.g.

   class Logger(val level: Level) {
         def apply(message: String) = {
                 log(level, message)
 val error = new Logger(ERROR) ...
 error("Network error.")

Also, Scala treats primitive types as objects, but are comiled down as primitivies. Scala also treats functions as objects, e.g. you can create list or map without new

 val list = List(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
 val map = Map("name" -> "Dean", "age" -> 39)

Above list syntax is same as 1::2::3::4::5::Nil. Scala also allows any symbol for function name so you can define functions that look like operator overloading. Scala uses infix operator notation, for example, following two expressions are equivalent:

 "hello" + "world" 

Scala gives you higher level operations such as map, filter, fold/reduce, e.g.

 val list = "a" :: "b" :: Nil
 list map {
         s => s.toUpperCase


Martin Ordesky added limited support of Generics in Java, but he added fully functional generics support in Scala, e.g.

 class List[A] { ...
 def map[B](f: A => B): List[B]


One of nice feature of Scala is its support of Traits, which are interfaces with implementation and are similar to Ruby mixins. Here is an example:

 trait Logger { def log(level: Level,
 message: String) = { Log.log(level, message)
 } }
 val dean = new Person(...) extends Logger
 dean.log(ERROR, "Bozo alert!!")

Scala also defines traits for functions to convert them into objects, e.g.

 trait Function1[A,R] extends AnyRef {
 def apply(a:A): R
 ... }

User-defined factory methods

You can define functions as factory-methods to instantiate objects, e.g.

  val persons = Map("dean" -> deanPerson, "alex", -> alexPerson)


Scala offers powerful semantics to define internal DSLs, e.g. you can create your own controls, e.g.

 import object Loop {
 def loop(file: File, f: (Int,String) => Unit) =
 loop (new File("...")) { (n, line) => ...

Options as alternative to Null

Scala avoid NullPointerExceptions by wrapping nulls into options, e.g.

 abstract class Option[T] {...} case class Some[T](t: T)
 extends Option[T] {...} case object None
 extends Option[Nothing] {...}

Case Classes

Case classes provide succint syntax for creatng Javabeans.

For comprehensions

Scala provides for comprehensions, which are similar to Python generators, e.g.

 val l = List( Some("a"), None, Some("b"), None, Some("c"))
 for (Some(s) <- l) yield s


Scala provides Actor based concurrency similar to Erlang, though there are multiple implementations and Akka seems to provide better implementation than what comes with Scala. Here is an example:

 case class Point(
 x: Double, y: Double)
 abstract class Shape { def draw()
 package shapes import scala.actors._, Actor._ object ShapeDrawingActor
 extends Actor { def act() {
 loop { receive {
   case s:Shape =>
 ... }
 } }

Tutorials Day Two

On day two, I attended all-day Scala summit, which covered various topics for practical Scala.

Why Scala?

The summit started with session on "Why Scala?" by Alex Payne and Dean Wampler. Dean repeated some of same concepts from Monday's session on Scala's conciseness, concurrency, correctness, infix operator, type inference, case classes, etc. Dean then gave some examples of actors using Akka, where he calls multiple services using actors and then gather the results, e.g.

 val futures = for { s   <- services
 server <- allServersFor(s) }
 yield (server !!! HeartBeat)
 Futures.awaitAll(futures) val results = for {
 future <- futures
 result <- future.result } yield result val all = results reduceLeft(
 (r1, r2) => r1 merge r2 ) compact(render(all))

Akka: Simpler Scalability, Fault-Tolerance, Concurrency & Remoting through Actors

Jonas Bonér then gave brief overview of Akka, which provides a number ofabstractions for concurrency such as actors, STM, and agents. Jonas gave introduction to actors, which provide concurrency based on message-passing, shared-nothing, and mailbox. In Akka, actors can be thread based or event based, where event based actors are very light-weight and you can create millions of them (each actor takes about 600 bytes as opposed to 300 bytes in Erlang).


Akka uses factory-methods to hide type of actors, e.g.

 val counter = actorOf[Counter]  // counter is ActorRef

Jonas suggested use of actorOf as opposed to "new Counter" syntax as it avoids calling methods on the objects directly. Akka uses !, !! and !!! notations to send messages, where ! is just fire and forget, !! collects results using Futures and !!! returns Future, e..g

 counter ! Tick // send message -- fire-forget
 val result  = (actor !! Message).as[String] // uses Future under the hood with timeout
 val resultOption = actor !! Message
 val result = resultOption.getOrElse(defaultResult)
 val result = resultOption.getOrElse(throw new Exception("time out"))
 val future = actor !!! Message
 val result = future.get
 Futures.awaitOne(List(fut1, ..))

You use self.reply to reply back to the sender and access sender using self.sender or self.senderFuture.

Immutable Messages

In order to keep actors free of side effects, messages must be immutable using case classes, tuples or lists, e.g.

 - case class Register(user: User)
 - actor ! Register(user)
 - actor ! (username, password)
 - actor ! List("xxx", "yy")


Akka comes with a number of dispatches such as event based, thread based, reactor, etc. See Dispatchers class for more information.


Akka also comes with various queue types such as unbounded LinkedBlockingQueue, bounded LinkedBlockingQueue, etc.


ActorRegistry provides lookup methods for actors such as ActorRegistry.actorsFor.

Fault tolerance

Akka borrows concepts of hierarchy of supervisors for managing actors or processes from Erlang. Erlang's philosophy for fault tolerance is let it crash and the supervisor automatically starts failed process or group of processes. You use link(actor), unlink(actor), startLink(actor) to connect actors with supervisors and trap events using trapExit = List(classOf[ServiceException], classOf[PersistentException]), e.g.

 class Supervisor extends Actor {
   import self._
   trapExit = List(classOf[Throwable])
 class FaultTolerantService extends Actor
   override def preRestart
   override def postRestart

Remote Actors

You can start a node, which is remotely accessible using:

 RemoteNode.start("localhost", 9999)
 spawnLinkRemote[MyActor]("darkstar", 9999)
 RemoteNode.register("service:id", )

STM, Transactors, Modules, Camel, Storage

We ran out of time for the rest of contents, but you can read more from the Slides.

Simple Build Tool

Next, Mark Harrah presented SBT, which everyone raved at the summit. SBT uses Scala based DSL for writing build scripts and internally uses Ivy for managing dependencies. You can create a new project by creating a new directory and typing sbt. You can set various properties in sbt shell such as target version, e.g.

 set build.scala.versions 2.80

You can easily create custom tasks in sbt by extending DefaultProject, e.g.

 import sbt._
 class MyProject(info: ProjectInfo) extends DefaultProject(info) {
   lazy val hi = task { println("Hi"); None}
   lazy val goodbye = task { println("Bye"); None} dependsOn(hi)

You can also target tasks for just test using

 import sbt._
 class MyProject(info: ProjectInfo) extends DefaultProject(info) {
   val sc = "org.scala-tools.testing" %% "scalacheck" % "1.7" % "test"
 import sbt._
 class MyProject(info: ProjectInfo) extends DefaultProject(info) {
   val sc = "org.scala-tools.sbt" %% "launcher-interface" % "0.74"
   val tt = "org.scala-tools.sbt" %% "launcher-interface" % "0.74" % "test"

You can define main application as follows:

 import xsbti._
 class HW extends AppMain {
   def run(config: AppConfiguration): MainResult = {config.arguments foreach println; new Exit {def code = 0}}

You generate executable jar by typing publish-local in sbt shell. You can define plugins as follows:

 class Plugins(inf: ProjectInfo) extends PluginDefinition(info) {
 val android = "org.scala-tools.sbt" % "sbt-android-plugin" % "0.5.0"

Finally, sbt allows you to create processors, which behave like scaffolding in Rails, e.g.

 import xsbti._
 import processor._
 class HW extends BasicProcessor {
   def apply(project: Project, args: String) {
     import project._
         val contents = "This is " + name + "" + version + "\n" + args + "\n"
         FileUtilities.write(info.projectPath / "README" asFile, contents, log)

When you type publish, it will create README file for the project. That was pretty much the introduction to the sbt.

Specs & Scala, Tips and Tricks for a Friendly DSL Syntax

Eric Torreborre talked about Spec, which a BDD based testing tool for Scala. Spec provides support for BDD, Structures, Matchers, ScalaCheck, Mocks, Runners and databases. You use matchers to compare strings or XML contents, e.g.

 class Reverse2Spec extends  Specficiation {
   reverse("") must_== ""

You can restrict scope by defining tag method, e.g.

 class Example(des : String) {
   def in(arg: Any) = expectations
   def tag(t : String) = this

Scala DSL

Spec uses a number of tricks for simplifying the syntax such as implicit parameters, operators, lazy evaluation.

 "With a 3 tests ok" in {
 //Some paraemeters can be implicit
 implicit val defaultparams = new Params
 "this should not explode" in {
 def in(e: => Any) =                                     // parameters are evaluated lazily when you use it

It also uses principles such as add principle by adding new functionality, e.g.

 result + 1
 result.pp + 1

Spec also supports table similar to Fit and Fitness for writing concise tests. Overall, I was impressed with wide set of tools for writing tests.

Lift: Quick and Fun

Lift is a Scala based web framework for writing secure, typesafe, concise, and interactive (like desktop) applications. It abstracts much of plumbing of HTTP, which I personally don't like as I have found web frameworks that does that results in leaky abstractions. Lift also uses stateful web applications, which require sticky sessions, which is another area that I have found to be problematic for scalability and upgrade. Here is an example of Lift chat server:

 package code.comet
 import net.liftweb._
 import http._
 import actor._
 import scala.xml.
 object ChatServer extends LiftActor withListenerManager {
         private var msgs = List("Welcome")
         def createUpdate = msgs
         override def lowPriority = {
                 case s: String => msgs ::= s; updateListeners()
 class Chat extends CometActor withCometListener {
   private var msgs: List[String] = Nil
   def regiserWith = ChatServer
   override def lowPriority = {
      case l: List[String] = msgs = l; reRender(false)  // don't use reRender
   def line(in: NodeSeq) : NodeSeq = msgs.reverse.flatMap(m => bind("chat", in, "item" -> m))
   def render = bind("chat", "line" -> line _)

In Lift, every component has GUID and version that was used to render and then sets up long poll and then receive deltas (every 100ms). You can use sbt to deploy jetty and prepare war file, e.g.

 >prepareWeb                                                     // uses JRebel to reload classes

Rewiring Android with Scala

This was another interesting talk by Nathan Hamblen for using Scala for writing Android applications. The key selling point of Scala has been conciseness of the language, and you can write simple code such as:

 dialog.setOnShowListener { di: DialogInterface => 

instead of

   new DialogInterface.OnShowListener() {
     public void onShow(DialogInterface interface) {


 future { runSomeCode(myObject) }

instead of

 new AsyncTask () {
   protected Integer doInBackground(MyObject... objs) {

Nathan showed how you can define Scala traits to add lazy handlers for android code, e.g.

 trait ScalaActivity extends Activity {
 lazy val handler = new Handler
 def post(block: => Unit) { Runnable{
     def run { block }

Or you can extend APIs, e.g.

 implicit def f2cancel(block: DialogInterface => Unit) = 
   new DialogInterface.OnCancelListener {
     def onCancel(dialog: DialogInterface) { 
 new AlertDialog.Builder(this)
   .setOnCancelListener { 
     di: DialogInterface => finish() 

Nathan also showed a plugin (sbt-android-plugin) to create type-safe layout instead of using file generated by Android, which you can get it from git clone git:// On the downside, Scala based android applications require Scala jar files and the size of application becomes considerable large. Though, you can use tools to extract the classes that you need, but it would still be larger than Java code.

Scala in Practice

Alex Payne and Coda Hale had a section on Scala in practice, but it was only Q/A session. I was a bit disappointed that they didn't come prepare with actual usage or war stories from their work environment.

High Wizardry in the Land of Scala

The last section of the day was a bit on type and category theory, which was interesting but mostly theortical. Daniel Spiewak explained difference between kind and type system. The only tip from the session I got was that Values are to types as types are to kinds. Finally, Daniel explained that newly released 2.8.0 version of Scala supports continuation but it's all broken and useless.


Overall, I found sessions on both Android and Scala were well worth the time and it peaked my interest in both. I think the ecosystem of Scala has matured and there is better tools support with the new version (2.8). I am going to try to influence co-workers into using it for new development. I am also going to start Android project pretty soon but I am a bit hesitant on writing in Scala due to increased application size.

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