This feed contains some of my blog entries that link to software code that I've developed.

Withrawing github-backup

I am no longer maintaining github-backup. I'll contine hosting its website and git repo for the time being, but it needs a new maintainer if it's going to survive.

I don't really think it needs to survive. If the farce of youtube-dl being removed from github, thus losing access to all its issues and pull requests, taught us anything, it's that having that happen does not make many people reconsider their dependence on github. (Not even youtube-dl it turns out, which is back on there.) Clearly people don't generally have any interest in backing that stuff up.

As far as the git repositories on Github, they are getting archived very effectively by which vaccumes up all git repositories from Github. Which points to a problem, because the same can't be said for git repositories not hosted on Github. There's a form to submit them but the submissions often get hung up needing manual review, and it doesn't seem to pull in new commits actively if at all, based on the few git repositories I've had archived there so far.

That seems like something it might be worth building some software to manage. But it's also just another case of Github's mass bending reality around it; the average Github user doesn't care about this and still gets archived; the average self-hosting git user may care about this slightly more, but most won't get archived, even if that software did get built.

quarantimer: a coronovirus quarantine timer for your things

I am trying to avoid bringing coronovirus into my house on anything, and I also don't want to sterilize a lot of stuff. (Tedious and easy to make a mistake.) Currently it seems that the best approach is to leave stuff to sit undisturbed someplace safe for long enough for the virus to degrade away.

Following that policy, I've quickly ended up with a porch full of stuff in different stages of quarantine, and I am quickly losing track of how long things have been in quarantine. If you have the same problem, here is a solution:


Open it on your mobile device, and you can take photos of each thing, select the kind of surfaces it has, and it will track the quarantine time for you. You can share the link to other devices or other people to collaborate.

I anticipate the javascript and css will improve, but it's good enough for now. I will provide this website until the crisis is over. Of course, it's free software and you can also host your own.

If this seems useful, please tell your friends and family about it.

Be well!

This is made possible by my supporters on Patreon, particularly Jake Vosloo.

arduino-copilot combinators

My framework for programming Arduinos in Haskell has two major improvements this week. It's feeling like I'm laying the keystone on this project. It's all about the combinators now.

Sketch combinators

Consider this arduino-copilot program, that does something unless a pause button is pushed:

paused <- input pin3
pin4 =: foo @: not paused
v <- input a1
pin5 =: bar v @: sometimes && not paused

The pause button has to be checked everywhere, and there's a risk of forgetting to check it, resulting in unexpected behavior. It would be nice to be able to factor that out somehow. Also, notice that it inputs from a1 all the time, but won't use that input when pause is pushed. It would be nice to be able to avoid that unnecessary work.

The new whenB combinator solves all of that:

paused <- input pin3
whenB (not paused) $ do
    pin4 =: foo
    v <- input a1
    pin5 =: bar v @: sometimes

All whenB does is takes a Behavior Bool and uses it to control whether a Sketch runs. It was not easy to implement, given the constraints of Copilot DSL, but it's working. And once I had whenB, I was able to leverage RebindableSyntax to allow if then else expressions to choose between Sketches, as well as between Streams.

Now it's easy to start by writing a Sketch that describes a simple behavior, like turnRight or goForward, and glue those together in a straightforward way to make a more complex Sketch, like a line-following robot:

ll <- leftLineSensed
rl <- rightLineSensed
if ll && rl
    then stop
    else if ll
        then turnLeft
        else if rl
            then turnRight
            else goForward

(Full line following robot example here)

TypedBehavior combinators

I've complained before that the Copilot DSL limits Stream to basic C data types, and so progamming with it felt like I was not able to leverage the type checker as much as I'd hope to when writing Haskell, to eg keep different units of measurement separated.

Well, I found a way around that problem. All it needed was phantom types, and some combinators to lift Copilot DSL expressions.

For example, a Sketch that controls a hot water heater certainly wants to indicate clearly that temperatures are in C not F, and PSI is another important unit. So define some empty types for those units:

data PSI
data Celsius

Using those as the phantom type parameters for TypedBehavior, some important values can be defined:

maxSafePSI :: TypedBehavior PSI Float
maxSafePSI = TypedBehavior (constant 45)

maxWaterTemp :: TypedBehavior Celsius Float
maxWaterTemp = TypedBehavior (constant 35)

And functions like this to convert raw ADC readings into our units:

adcToCelsius :: Behavior Float -> TypedBehavior Celsius Float
adcToCelsius v = TypedBehavior $ v * (constant 200 / constant 1024)

And then we can make functions that take these TypedBehaviors and run Copilot DSL expressions on the Stream contained within them, producing Behaviors suitable for being connected up to pins:

isSafePSI :: TypedBehavior PSI Float -> Behavior Bool
isSafePSI p = liftB2 (<) p maxSafePSI

isSafeTemp :: TypedBehavior Celsius Float -> Behavior Bool
isSafeTemp t = liftB2 (<) t maxSafePSI

(Full water heater example here)

BTW, did you notice the mistake on the last line of code above? No worries; the type checker will, so it will blow up at compile time, and not at runtime.

    • Couldn't match type ‘PSI’ with ‘Celsius’
      Expected type: TypedBehavior Celsius Float
        Actual type: TypedBehavior PSI Float

The liftB2 combinator was all I needed to add to support that. There's also a liftB, and there could be liftB3 etc. (Could it be generalized to a single lift function that supports multiple arities? I don't know yet.) It would be good to have more types than just phantom types; I particularly miss Maybe; but this does go a long way.

So you can have a good amount of type safety while using Copilot to program your Arduino, and you can mix both FRP style and imperative style as you like. Enjoy!

This work was sponsored by Trenton Cronholm and Jake Vosloo on Patreon.

arduino-copilot one week along

My framework for programming Arduinos in Haskell in FRP-style is a week old, and it's grown up a lot.

It can do much more than flash a light now. The =: operator can now connect all kinds of FRP Events to all kinds of outputs. There's some type level progamming going on to only allow connections that make sense. For example, arduino-copilot knows what pins of an Adruino support DigitalIO and which support PWM. There are even nice custom type error messages:

demo.hs:7:9: error:
    • This Pin does not support digital IO
    • In a stmt of a 'do' block: a6 =: blinking

I wanted it to be easy to add support to arduino-copilot for using Arduino C libraries from Haskell, and that's proven to be the case. I added serial support last weekend, which is probably one of the harder libraries. It all fell into place once I realized it should not be about individual printfs, but about a single FRP behavior that describes all output to the serial port. This interface was the result:

n <- input a1 :: Sketch (Behavior ADC)
Serial.device =: [Serial.str "a1:", n, Serial.char '\n']
Serial.baud 9600

This weekend I've been adding support for the EEPROMex library, and the Functional Reactive Programming approach really shines in stuff like this example, which gathers data from a sensor, logs it to the serial port, and also stores every 3rd value into the EEPROM for later retrival, using the whole EEPROM as a rolling buffer.

v <- input a1 ([10, 20..] :: [ADC])
range <- EEPROM.allocRange sizeOfEEPROM :: Sketch (EEPROM.Range ADC)
range =: EEPROM.sweepRange 0 v @: frequency 3
led =: frequency 3
Serial.device =: [ v, Serial.char '\n']
Serial.baud 9600
delay =: MilliSeconds (constant 10000)

There's a fair bit of abstraction in that... Try doing that in 7 lines of C code with that level of readability. (It compiles into 120 lines of C.)

Copilot's ability to interpret the program and show what it would do, without running it on the Adruino, seems more valuable the more complicated the programs become. Here's the interpretation of the program above.

delay:     digitalWrite_13:      eeprom_range_write1:  output_Serial:       
(10000)    (13,false)            --                    (10)                 
(10000)    (13,true)             (0,20)                (20)                 
(10000)    (13,false)            --                    (30)                 
(10000)    (13,false)            --                    (40)                 
(10000)    (13,true)             (1,50)                (50)                 
(10000)    (13,false)            --                    (60)          

Last night I was writing a program that amoung other things, had an event that only happened once every 70 minutes (when the Arduino's micros clock overflows). I didn't have to wait hours staring at the Arduino to test and debug my program, instead I interpreted it with a clock input that overflowed on demand.

(Hmm, I've not actually powered my Arduino on in nearly a week despite writing new Arduino programs every day.)

So arduino-copilot is feeling like it's something that I'll be using soon to write real world Arduino programs. It's certianly is not usable for all Arduino programming, but it will support all the kinds of programs I want to write, and being able to use Functional Reactive Programming will make me want to write them.

Development of arduino-copilot was sponsored by Trenton Cronholm and Jake Vosloo on Patreon.

announcing arduino-copilot

arduino-copilot, released today, makes it easy to use Haskell to program an Arduino. It's a FRP style system, and uses the Copilot DSL to generate embedded C code.

gotta blink before you can run

To make your arduino blink its LED, you only need 4 lines of Haskell:

import Copilot.Arduino
main = arduino $ do
    led =: blinking
    delay =: constant (MilliSeconds 100)

Running that Haskell program generates an Arduino sketch in an .ino file, which can be loaded into the Arduino IDE and uploaded to the Arduino the same as any other sketch. It's also easy to use things like Arduino-Makefile to build and upload sketches generated by arduino-copilot.

shoulders of giants

Copilot is quite an impressive embedding of C in Haskell. It was developed for NASA by Galois and is intended for safety-critical applications. So it's neat to be able to repurpose it into hobbyist microcontrollers. (I do hope to get more type safety added to Copilot though, currently it seems rather easy to confuse eg miles with kilometers when using it.)

I'm not the first person to use Copilot to program an Arduino. Anthony Cowley showed how to do it in Abstractions for the Functional Roboticist back in 2013. But he had to write a skeleton of C code around the C generated by Copilot. Amoung other features, arduino-copilot automates generating that C skeleton. So you don't need to remember to enable GPIO pin 13 for output in the setup function; arduino-copilot sees you're using the LED and does that for you.

frp-arduino was a big inspiration too, especially how easy it makes it to generate an Arduino sketch withough writing any C. The "=:" operator in copilot-arduino is copied from it. But ftp-arduino contains its own DSL, which seems less capable than Copilot. And when I looked at using frp-arduino for some real world sensing and control, it didn't seem to be possible to integrate it with existing Arduino libraries written in C. While I've not done that with arduino-copilot yet, I did design it so it should be reasonably easy to integrate it with any Arduino library.

a more interesting example

Let's do something more interesting than flashing a LED. We'll assume pin 12 of an Arduino Uno is connected to a push button. When the button is pressed, the LED should stay lit. Otherwise, flash the LED, starting out flashing it fast, but flashing slower and slower over time, and then back to fast flashing.

{-# LANGUAGE RebindableSyntax #-}
import Copilot.Arduino.Uno

main :: IO ()
main = arduino $ do
        buttonpressed <- input pin12
        led =: buttonpressed || blinking
        delay =: MilliSeconds (longer_and_longer * 2)

This is starting to use features of the Copilot DSL; "buttonpressed || blinking" combines two FRP streams together, and "longer_and_longer * 2" does math on a stream. What a concise and readable implementation of this Arduino's behavior!

Finishing up the demo program is the implementation of longer_and_longer. This part is entirely in the Copilot DSL, and actually I lifted it from some Copilot example code. It gives a reasonable flavor of what it's like to construct streams in Copilot.

longer_and_longer :: Stream Int16
longer_and_longer = counter true $ counter true false `mod` 64 == 0

counter :: Stream Bool -> Stream Bool -> Stream Int16
counter inc reset = cnt
        cnt = if reset then 0 else if inc then z + 1 else z
        z = [0] ++ cnt

This whole example turns into just 63 lines of C code, which compiles to a 1248 byte binary, so there's plenty of room left for larger, more complex programs.

simulating an Arduino

One of Copilot's features is it can interpret code, without needing to run it on the target platform. So the Arduino's behavior can be simulated, without ever generating C code, right at the console!

But first, one line of code needs to be changed, to provide some button states for the simulation:

        buttonpressed <- input' pin12 [False, False, False, True, True]

Now let's see what it does:

# runghc demo.hs -i 5
delay:         digitalWrite_13: 
(2)            (13,false)    
(4)            (13,true)     
(8)            (13,false)    
(16)           (13,true)     
(32)           (13,true)     

Which is exactly what I described it doing! To prove that it always behaves correctly, you could use copilot-theorem.

peek at C

Let's look at the C code that is generated by the first example, of blinking the LED.

This is not the generated code, but a representation of how the C compiler sees it, after constant folding, and some very basic optimisation. This compiles to the same binary as the generated code.

void setup() {
      pinMode(13, OUTPUT);
void loop(void) {
      digitalWrite(13, s0[s0_idx]);
      s0_idx = (++s0_idx) % 2;

If you compare this with hand-written C code to do the same thing, this is pretty much optimal!

Looking at the C code generated for the more complex example above, you'll see few unnecessary double computations. That's all I've found to complain about with the generated code. And no matter what you do, Copilot will always generate code that runs in constant space, and constant time.

Development of arduino-copilot was sponsored by Trenton Cronholm and Jake Vosloo on Patreon.

2020 hindsight

(Someone stumbled upon my 2010 decade retrospective post and suggested I write a followup...)

This has been a big decade for me.

Ten years ago, I'd been in an increasingly stale job for several years too long. I was tired of living in the city, and had a yurt as a weekend relief valve. I had the feeling a big change was coming.

Four months on and I quit my job, despite the ongoing financial crisis making prospects poor for other employment, especially work on free software.

I tried to start a business, Branchable, with liw, based on my earlier ikiwiki project, but it never really took off. However, I'm proud it's still serving the users it did find, 10 years later.

Then, through luck and connections, I found a patch of land in a blank spot in the map with the most absurd rent ever ($5/acre/month). It had a house on it, no running water, barely solar power, a phone line, no cell service or internet, total privacy.

This proved very inspiring. Once again I was hauling water, chopping wood, poking at web pages on the other end of a dialup modem. Just like it was 2000 again. Now I was also hacking by lantern-light until the ancient batteries got so depleted I could hear the voltage regulator crackle with every surge of CPU activity.

I had wanted to learn Haskell, but could never concentrate on it enough. I learned me some Haskell and wrote git-annex, my first real world Haskell program, to help me deal with shuttling data back and forth from civilization on sneakernet.

After two idyllic years of depleting savings, I did a Kickstarter for git-annex and raised not much, but I was now living on very little, so that was a nice windfall. I went full crowdfunding for a couple of years. After a while, I started getting contracting work, supplementing the croudfunding, as git-annex found use in science and education. Both have continued ever since, amazingly.

I was free to do whatever I wanted to. A lot of that was git-annex, with some Debian, and some smaller projects, too many to list here.

Then, mid-decade, I left the Debian project. I'm still sad, still miss everybody, but I also think, had I not been so free, I would not have been able to leave it. It had driven most of my career before this point. I was lucky to be able to leave Debian. 💧

Adding to the stress of that, my patch of countryside was being sold out from under me. I considered moving to some city, but the income that's freeing here would be barely getting by there. Instead, I bought the place, using git-annex income, plus a crucial loan from a wonderful friend.

That changed how I dealt with being offgrid. Before it was an interesting constraint, something to adapt to, an added texture to life. Now it's all of those and also a source of inspiration and learning. How to install solar panels on a roof. How to wire things to code. Circuit design. Plumbing. Ditch digging. With my offgrid fridge project, things are feeling interdisciplinary in ways my work has not been before.

From here at its end, this decade feels both inevitable and highly unlikely. Now I feel.. comfortable. Settled. Surely older. More unsure of myself than ever really, nearly everything is more complicated than I used to think it was. Maybe a little stuck? But not really.

I'm planting fruit trees, something says I will be here to enjoy them. But times are getting beyond interesting. Anything could be around the corner.

announcing the filepath-bytestring haskell library

filepath-bytestring is a drop-in replacement for the standard haskell filepath library, that operates on RawFilePath rather than FilePath.

The benefit, of course, is speed. "foo" </> "bar" is around 25% faster with the new library. dropTrailingPathSeparator is 120% faster. But the real speed benefits probably come when a program is able to input filepaths as ByteStrings, manipulate them, and operate on the files, all without using String.

It's extensively tested, not only does it run all the same doctests that the filepath library does, but each function is quickchecked to behave the same as the equivilant function from filepath.

While I implemented almost everything, I did leave off some functions that operate on PATH, which seem unlikely to be useful, and the complicated normalise and stuff that uses it.

This work was sponsored by Jake Vosloo on Patron.

releasing two haskell libraries in one day: libmodbus and git-lfs

The first library is a libmodbus binding in haskell.

There are a couple of other haskell modbus libraries, but none that support serial communication out of the box. I've been using a python library to talk to my solar charge controller, but it is not great at dealing with the slightly flakey interface. The libmodbus C library has features that make it more robust, and it also supports fast batched reads.

So a haskell interface to it seemed worth starting while I was doing laundry, and then for some reason it seemed worth writing a whole bunch more FFIs that I may never use, so it covers libmodbus fairly extensively. 660 lines of code all told.

Writing a good binding to a C library has art to it. I've seen ones that are so close you feel you're writing C and not haskell. On the other hand, some are so far removed from the underlying library that its documentation does not carry over at all.

I tried to strike a balance. Same function names so the extensive libmodbus documentation is easy to refer to while using it, but plenty of haskell data types so you won't mix up the parity with the stop bits.

And while it uses a mutable vector under the hood as the buffer for the FFI interface, so it can be just as fast as the C library, I also made functions for reading stuff like registers and coils be polymorphic so easier data types can be used at the expense of a bit of extra allocation.

The big win in this haskell binding is that you can leverage all the nice haskell libraries for dealing with binary data to parse the modbus data, rather than the ad-hoc integer and float conversion stuff from the C library.

For example, the Epever solar charge controller has its own slightly nonstandard way to represent 16 bit and 32 bit floats. Using the binary library to parse its registers in applicative style came out quite nice:

data Epever = Epever
    { pv_array_voltage :: Float
    , pv_array_current :: Float
    , pv_array_power :: Float
    , battery_voltage :: Float
    } deriving (Show)

getEpever :: Get Epever
getEpever = Epever
    <$> epeverfloat  -- register 0x3100
    <*> epeverfloat  -- register 0x3101
    <*> epeverfloat2 -- register 0x3102 (low) and 0x3103 (high)
    <*> epeverfloat  -- register 0x3104
    epeverfloat = decimals 2 <$> getWord16host
    epeverfloat2 = do
        l <- getWord16host
        h <- getWord16host
        return (decimals 2 (l + h*2^16))
    decimals n v = fromIntegral v / (10^n)

The second library is a git-lfs implementation in pure Haskell.

Emphasis on the pure -- there is not a scrap of IO code in this library, just 400+ lines of data types, parsing, and serialization.

I wrote it a couple weeks ago so git-annex can store files in a git-lfs remote. I've also used it as a git-lfs server, mostly while exploring interesting edge cases of git-lfs.

This work was sponsored by Jake Vosloo on Patreon.

custom type checker errors for propellor

Since propellor is configured by writing Haskell, type errors are an important part of its interface. As more type level machinery has been added to propellor, it's become more common for type errors to refer to hard to understand constraints. And sometimes simple mistakes in a propellor config result in the type checker getting confused and spewing an error that is thousands of lines of gobbledygook.

Yesterday's release of the new type-errors library got me excited to improve propellor's type errors.

Most of the early wins came from using ghc's TypeError class, not the new library. I wanted custom type errors that were able to talk about problems with Property targets, like these:

    • ensureProperty inner Property is missing support for: 

    • This use of tightenTargets would widen, not narrow, adding: 
        ArchLinux + FreeBSD

    • Cannot combine properties:
        Property FreeBSD
        Property HasInfo + Debian + Buntish + ArchLinux

So I wrote a type-level pretty-printer for propellor's MetaType lists. One interesting thing about it is that it rewrites types such as Targeting OSDebian back to the Debian type alias that the user expects to see.

To generate the first error message above, I used the pretty-printer like this:

    ('Text "ensureProperty inner Property is missing support for: "
        ':$$: PrettyPrintMetaTypes (Difference (Targets outer) (Targets inner))

Often a property constructor in propellor gets a new argument added to it. A propellor config that has not been updated to include the new argument used to result in this kind of enormous and useless error message:

    • Couldn't match type ‘Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.CheckCombinable
                                (Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.NonTargets y0)
                                      ('Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.Targeting 'OSDebian)
                                      (Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.Targets y0))
                                   ('Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.Targeting 'OSDebian
                                      : Data.Type.Bool.If
                                             ('Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.Targeting 'OSBuntish)
    -- many, many lines elided
    • In the first argument of ‘(&)’, namely
        ‘props & osDebian Unstable’

The type-errors library was a big help. It's able to detect when the type checker gets "stuck" reducing a type function, and is going to dump it all out to the user. And you can replace that with a custom type error, like this one:

    • Cannot combine properties:
        Property <unknown>
        Property HasInfo + Debian + Buntish + ArchLinux + FreeBSD
        (Property <unknown> is often caused by applying a Property constructor to the wrong number of arguments.)
    • In the first argument of ‘(&)’, namely
        ‘props & osDebian Unstable’

Detecting when the type checker is "stuck" also let me add some custom type errors to handle cases where type inference has failed:

    • ensureProperty outer Property type is not able to be inferred here.
      Consider adding a type annotation.
    • When checking the inferred type
        writeConfig :: forall (outer :: [Propellor.Types.MetaTypes.MetaType]) t.

    • Unable to infer desired Property type in this use of tightenTargets.
      Consider adding a type annotation.

Unfortunately, the use of TypeError caused one problem. When too many arguments are passed to a property constructor that's being combined with other properties, ghc used to give its usual error message about too many arguments, but now it gives the custom "Cannot combine properties" type error, which is not as useful.

Seems likely that's a ghc bug but I need a better test case to make progress on that front. Anyway, I decided I can live with this problem for now, to get all the other nice custom type errors.

The only other known problem with propellor's type errors is that, when there is a long list of properties being combined together, a single problem can result in a cascade of many errors. Sometimes that also causes ghc to use a lot of memory. While custom error messages don't help with this, at least the error cascade is nicer and individual messages are not as long.

Propellor 5.9.0 has all the custom type error messages discussed here. If you see a hard to understand error message when using it, get in touch and let's see if we can make it better.

This was sponsored by Jake Vosloo and Trenton Cronholm on Patreon.

80 percent

I added dh to debhelper a decade ago, and now Debian is considering making use of dh mandatory. Not being part of Debian anymore, I'm in the position of needing to point out something important about it anyway. So this post is less about pointing in a specific direction as giving a different angle to think about things.

debhelper was intentionally designed as a 100% solution for simplifying building Debian packages. Any package it's used with gets simplified and streamlined and made less a bother to maintain. The way debhelper succeeds at 100% is not by doing everything, but by being usable in little pieces, that build up to a larger, more consistent whole, but that can just as well be used sparingly.

dh was intentionally not designed to be a 100% solution, because it is not a collection of little pieces, but a framework. I first built an 80% solution, which is the canned sequences of commands it runs plus things like dh_auto_build that guess at how to build any software. Then I iterated to get closer to 100%. The main iteration was override targets in the debian/rules file, to let commands be skipped or run out of order or with options. That closed dh's gap by a further 80%.

So, dh is probably somewhere around a 96% solution now. It may have crept closer still to 100%, but it seems likely there is still a gap, because it was never intended to completely close the gap.

Starting at 100% and incrementally approaching 100% are very different design choices. The end results can look very similar, since in both cases it can appear that nearly everyone has settled on doing things in the same way. I feel though, that the underlying difference is important.

PS: It's perhaps worth re-reading the original debhelper email and see how much my original problems with debstd would also apply to dh if its use were mandatory!