Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reflecting on Ubuntu

It's been a while now since I moved to Ubuntu as my Haskell development OS. On the whole working in Ubuntu is a pleasant experience. I adapted easily to the UI, the support groups have loads of answers when I have an issue, and things usually install well, be it Haskell libraries or additional tools. I like that 99% of the time the upgrades do not require a restart. I have a few gripes, though.

  • Eclipse is not always stable and crashes from time to time (a couple of times a week), say. I haven't found any fix for that yet. It seems to be a UI library issue, maybe something to do with SWT. 
  • Maybe it's linked, but I've had some cases where Eclipse seemed to starve the machine of resources, and it was a huge pain to kill it. In Windows I go Ctrl-Alt-Del and kill the process via the task manager, and that's not an issue. On Ubuntu going Ctrl-Alt-F1 to go to another session, login, find the process and kill it tooks ages. I tried to change to setting to forbid an application to take to much resources but I don't think it helped. There's maybe another way to kill a misbehaving application that I'd love to know...
  • There are still some rough edges for things that should be simple. I can't get my printer to work (a run of the mill Canon printer), and there's a limit to the number of hours I'm willing to spend on getting something stupid like that to work. The other day RhythmBox (the software that apparently tries to play my CDs) crashed repeatedly after the first song on a CD that plays fine on Windows (maybe RhythmBox doesn't like Michael Schenker?). Seriously? Playing a CD is too hard?
So in the end, after hearing for years that Windows was not a great OS, I don't find Ubuntu that more stable or solid. I love not to be on a third-grade OS for Haskell libraries, don't get me wrong, so I'll stick with it, and hopefully the issues will go away!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Hidden Markov Models for Natural Language Tagging, in Haskell

I became intrigued in Hidden Markov Models after reading Kurzweil, who claims they can be used to model the thinking process in the brain. There is much debate about that, but these are interesting AI structures. This page I think has a good introduction.

I was working though the (partial) online book on Natural Language Processing with Haskell, and thought of combining the two. I used Mike Izbicki's hmm library for a one order Hidden Markov Model implementation. Once I initialized the model properly using the training data, I got around 91% accuracy on tagging, which is on par with the rules based approach presented in the nlpwp book.

I used the strategy outline in this paper to deal with unknown words (words in the test set not met in the training set): replace these words with a token that is also used for low frequency words in the training set. So far I've used only one token but I suppose being a bit more fined grained (to distinguish words starting with a capital letter, currency amounts, numbers) will improve results.

Performance is not very good even with some parallelism, so I think I need to spend more time on it, but it's definitely encouraging. It'll be a little bit of time till I have a thinking brain, though, but there is hope!

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Beginning Haskell: the Book!

It's my pleasure to relay the news of the publication of a new Haskell book, Beginning Haskell. It's written by one of EclipseFP contributors, Alejandro, and I've had the pleasure to be a technical reviewer of the book. I learned a lot, so I can heartily recommend it! It takes the reader from the very basics of functional programming to some intermediate and advanced Haskell techniques. Alejandro of course talks about it better than me.

Happy Haskell Reading! Thanks Alejandro for the great work!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Haskell Worksheet in EclipseFP 2.6

A sneak preview of the worksheet functionality in the upcoming EclipseFP release. I have a Haskell module with a few functions, and the worksheet displays some results using different rendering modes:

  • Simple text: shows the result of the expression as GHCi would
  • HTML/SVG: renders HTML markup and SVG images in a SWT Browser element. In the screenshot there's Blaze HTML and Diagrams SVG
  • JSON: display JSON objects and arrays in a tree
We use BuildWrapper and the GHC API to execute the expressions every time the file is saved. The expressions are persistent and hence survive restarting Eclipse.

I don't know when EclipseFP 2.6 will be released, but you can of course get the current code from github.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Cabal sandbox support in EclipseFP 2.6

I seem to have managed to free myself a bit of time, which means I can work a bit on EclipseFP 2.6.  I've added support for cabal sandboxes, so you'll be able to use sandboxing with cabal 1.18 in pretty much the same way cabal-dev was supported. You can have a per project or per workspace sandbox, and the fact that add-source is dynamic simplifies the internal code somehow. Cabal-dev is still supported.

A nice side effect of supporting Cabal 1.18 (thanks again to dynamic-cabal) is that we can use a sandbox to install the executables we need, like buildwrapper and scion-browser. Up to now, if you hadn't installed them, you'd get a dialog box asking you if you wanted to. Users have complained that this was an unnecessary step, but I didn't want to install executables with many dependencies into the user's package database without a notice. Now, executables get installed into a specific sandbox, so the install may be a bit longer if you already had some dependencies, but we don't mess up anything on your system.
The only issue is that inside a cabal sandbox, all packages need to be coherent: you cannot have two different versions of the same library. This shouldn't normally be an issue, but it is at the moment, because we try to install HLint and SourceGraph, that both require a different version of haskell-src-exts. I have sent a patch to Ivan Lazar Miljenovic so that SourceGraph can support the latest version of haskell-src-exts so hopefully this will be sorted by the time EclipseFP 2.6 hit the metaphorical shelves.

So hopefully EclipseFP 2.6 will be easier to install and will take advantage of the latest Cabal functionality!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Dynamic-cabal to solve dependency hell in BuildWrapper

As I've explained in several places, we have an issue in BuildWrapper (the underlying Haskell program for the EclipseFP plugins): BuildWrapper depends on both the GHC API and the Cabal API. Since GHC itself has a dependency on Cabal, once you've installed GHC, BuildWrapper can only use the same version of the Cabal API that was used by that GHC. Moreover, some Cabal files (setup-config in the dist directory for example) are cabal version dependent (since they only serialize Haskell structures, this is for safety). The net result is that if you install a newer version of Cabal and cabal-install, BuildWrapper still uses the old version, and hence the Cabal library BuildWrapper uses and the cabal-install executable have different versions, and hell breaks loose.

I have looked at solving the issue in GHC itself: GHC does not need to have a dependency to the Cabal API. I had started investigating with help from GHC devs, but it was end of October, and I had understood that GHC 7.8 was to be released in November, so there was no time to do such a change. So I thought I would wait for the next release. But it's now end of December, and GHC 7.8 still hasn't been released. So should we have to wait another year to solve that issue? Gasp!

But then, out of the blue, help came! Benno Fünfstück released dynamic-cabal, with the promise that it would solve exactly this issue! I actually should have had that idea myself, but hey... Basically, dynamic-cabal provides simpler structures than the full Cabal API, and extracts them from the Cabal API via dynamic code generation. The code is generated and ran dynamically using the GHC API. Since the running code itself doesn't depend on GHC, it can use the latest version of the Cabal library, and hence read the setup-config file properly!

I have now rewritten parts of BuildWrapper to use dynamic-cabal, and I only had to add minor enhancements to dynamic-cabal. I have upgraded my own cabal-install to 1.18 and everything works (my GHC still uses Cabal 1.16)!! I'm not releasing that version yet because it will provide some new features for EclipseFP 2.6, but if really you want to give it a try just build it from Github.

So my thanks go to Benno! A big hurdle has been cleared on EclipseFP's path to world domination!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

EclipseFP 2.5.6 released

It's my pleasure to announce a new version of the Eclipse plugins for Haskell development, version 2.5.6! This is a minor, bug fixing release. The release notes can be found here.

To install, just point Eclipse to the update site: http://eclipsefp.sf.net/updates.

I expect that the next version will be a 2.6 with more features, as hopefully I'll have more free time.

Happy Haskell Hacking!