Tuesday, June 30, 2015

smoothie-0.3, Bézier curves and new user interface

Bezier curves

It’s been a while I’ve been wanting to do that. Now it’s done! smoothie, a Haskell package for dealing with curves and splines, updated to version 0.3.

That version introduces several changes. If you’re a good programmer, you might already have noticed that the major version got incremented. That means there’re compatibility breaking changes. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should definitely read this.

The first – non-breaking – change is that the package now supports Bézier interpolation! I’ve been reading about Bézier curves for a while because there’re very present and important for animation purposes – think of Blender. Feel free to dig in the documentation on hackage for further details.

The second – breaking – change is that the interface has changed, especially the implementation of splines. However, the interface is now simpler and doesn’t require a lot of change in your code if you’ve been using older versions.

Feel free to read the CHANGELOG for technical hints.

As always, tell me what you think of the library, and keep the vibe!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mac OS X support in al-0.1.4

Support for Mac users!

This will be a short announcement about al, a Haskell wrapper to the OpenAL C library.

Currently, the wrapper has been successfully tested on Linux – at least it works well on my Archlinux distro. I made a little program that reads from an .ogg file and streams the PCM signal to the wrapper – see libvorbis for further details. I’ll release the program later on if I find the spare time.

The wrapper might also work on Windows as long as you have pkg-config installed. I’d be very happy with feedback from people working on Windows. I don’t want anyone be put apart with my packages.

However, I’ve never tested the wrapper on Mac OS X. I guessed it wouldn’t work out of the box because Mac OS X doesn’t use regular libraries to compile and link – that would have been too easy otherwise, and hell, think different right? They use something called a framework. It’s possible to include a framework in a Haskell project by fulfilling the frameworks field in the .cabal file. I received a simple patch to do that – here, and I merged it upstream.

Then, Mac OS X is now officially supported. The release version is the 0.1.4.

About stackage

There’s something else I’d like to discuss. Quickly after the first release of al, I decided to push it onto stackage. Unfortunately, there’s a problem with the package and Ubuntu. For a very dark reason, Ubuntu doesn’t expose anything when invoking pkg-confg --cflags, even if the files are there – on Ubuntu they can be found in /usr/include/AL.

That’s very silly because I don’t want to hardcode the location – it might be something else on other Linux distro. The problem might be related to the OpenAL support in Ubuntu – the .pc file used by pkg-config might be incomplete. So if you experience that kind of issue, you can fix it by passing the path to your OpenAL headers:

cabal install al --extra-include-dirs=/usr/include/AL

If OpenAL is installed somewhere else, consider using:

find / -name al.h

I’ll do my best to quickly fix that issue.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

HID and MSI keyboards

MSI keyboards

I have a MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 2QE I’m very proud of. It’s sexy and powerful. It comes with a fancy and configurable backlit keyboard.

There’s a tool called SteelSeries Engine for Windows we can use to change the colors of the keyboard. It supports several features:

  • changing colors of three parts of the keyboard (left, middle and right) ;
  • changing modes (normal, breathe, wave, demo, gaming).

Unfortunately, that software doesn’t work on Linux, even with wine. I tried hard to make it work and never actually found a way to run it. Then, I decided to look for alternatives and… found nothing working.

Yesterday, I tried a node.js-powered tool called msi-keyboard. And it worked. However, the interface and user interface was not my cup of tea. I decided to dig in in order to understand how it works, and I decided to write my own tool with a decent interface.

HID access

The key idea is that such keyboards are just HID devices. As a Haskell programmer, I looked for something that would grant me access to such devices, but nothing was working. There’s a hidapi package, but it doesn’t work and has bugs.

I didn’t give up though. I wrote my own Haskell HID API binding, called hid. Several good things about it:

  • it does work ;
  • it’s simple ;
  • I lately wrote a software using it.

Feel free to install and use it!


Then, I wrote another Haskell package, msi-kb-backlit. It might require super user rights to work. If you’re not a Haskeller, you can find installation details here.

Note: if you use Archlinux, you can directly download msi-kb-backlit through the AUR! Search for msi-kb-backlit with yaourt, or download the tarball.

The software has an embedded documentation to help you tweak with colors and modes. ;)

Feel free to use all those pieces of software. I made them with love for you all!

Enjoy your week end, and keep the vibe!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Asset management in a real time 3D engine in Haskell


In a real time rendering system, it’s not uncommon finding constructs about assets. One famous construct is the resource manager. A resource manager is responsible of several tasks, among:

  • providing a simple interface to load objects from disk (1) ;
  • ensuring we don’t try to load the same object twice (2) ;
  • resolving dependencies between resources (3).

The first point is obvious, but the two others are less intuitive. (2) is important when the user might try to load the same object several times – for instance, a car model, or a character or a weapon. The most known strategy to prevent such a situation from happening is by using a software cache.

A software cache – let’s just say cache – is an opaque object that loads the object on the first request, then just returns that object for future same requests. For instance, consider the following requests and the corresponding cache behavior:

  1. load "wood.png" -> not cached ; loading ; return
  2. load "grass.png" -> not cached ; loading ; return
  3. load "wood.png" -> cached ; return
  4. load "metal.png" -> not cached ; loading ; return
  5. load "metal.png" -> cached ; return
  6. etc.

That behavior is very nice because it will spare a lot of computations and memory space.

(3) is about dependencies. For instance, when you load a car model, you might need to load its textures as well. Well, not really load. Consider the following:

  1. load "car.mesh" -> not cached
    1. load "metal_car.png" -> not cached ; loading ; return
    2. loading ; return
  2. load "metal_car.png" -> cached ; return
  3. load "other_car.mesh" -> not cached
    1. load "metal_car.png" -> cached ; return
    2. return
  4. load "car.mesh" -> cached ; return

You got the idea. (3) needs (2) to be efficient.

Possible implementations


In imperative languages and especially in those that support template and/or generics, people tend to implement the cache system with an ugly design pattern – which is actually an anti design pattern : singleton. Each type of resource is assigned a manager by using a template parameter, and then if a manager needs to load a dependency, it just has to reference the corresponding manager by stating the type in the template parameter :

Model & getResource<Model>(std::string const &name) {
  Texture &dependency = getResource<Texture>(...);

That way of doing might sound great, but eh, singletons are just global variables with a unicity constraint. We don’t want that.

Explicit pure store

We can use an explicit store object. That is, some kind of map. For instance, the store that holds textures would have a type like (in Haskell):

textureStore :: Map String Texture

A model store would have the following type:

modelStore :: Map String Model

And each stores is assigned a function; loadTexture, loadModel, and so on.

There are several drawbacks if we go that way. First, we have to carry all stores when using their functions. Some functions might need other stuff in order to resolve dependencies. Secondly, because of explicit state, we need to manually accumulate state! A loading function would have such a following type:

loadTexture :: Map String Texture -> String -> m (Texture,Map String Texture)

That will expose a lot of boilerplate to the user, and we don’t want that.

Implicit pure store

We can enhance the explicit store by putting it into some kind of context; for instance, in MonadState. We can then write loadTexture to make it nicer to use:

loadTexture :: (MonadState (Map String Texture) m,...)
            => String
            -> m Texture

There is a problem with that. What happens when we add more types? For instance if we want to handle textures and models? MonadState has a type family constraint that forbids two instances for the pair s m. The following is not allowed and will raise a compiler error:

instance MonadState (Map String Texture) MyState where

instance MonadState (Map String Model) MyState where

The solution to that problem is to have the carried state a polymorphic type and use typeclass constraint to extract and modify the map we want:

class HasMap a s where
  extractMap :: s -> Map String a
  modifyMap :: (Map String a -> Map String a) -> s -> s

With that, we can do something like this:

loadTexture :: (MonadState s m,HasMap Texture s,...)
            => String
            -> m Texture

loadModel :: (MonadState s m,HasMap Texture s,HasMap Model s,...)
          => String
          -> m Model

However, we hit a new issue here. What are s and m? Well, m doesn’t really matter. For simplicity, let’s state we’re using a monad transformer; that is, we use StateT s m as monad.

We still need s. The problem is that s has to be provided by the user. Worse, they have to implement all instances we need so that the loading functions may work. Less boilerplate than the explicit store solution, but still a lot of boilerplate. Imagine you provide a type for s, like Cache. Expending the cache to support new types – like user-defined ones – will be more extra boilerplate to write.


The solution I use in my engine might not be the perfect solution. It’s not referentially transparent, an important concept in Haskell. However, Haskell is not designed to be used in convenient situations only. We’re hitting a problematic situation. We need to make a compromise between elegance and simplicity.

The solution required the use of closures. If you don’t know what a closure is, you should check out the wikipedia page for a first shot.

The idea is that our loading functions will perform some IO operations to load objects. Why not putting the cache directly in that function? We’d have a function with an opaque and invisible associated state. Consider the following:

type ResourceMap a = Map String a

getTextureManager :: (MonadIO m,...)
                  => m (String -> m Texture)
getTextureManager = do
  ref <- newIORef empty
  pure $ \name -> do
    -- we can use the ref ResourceMap to insert / lookup value in the map
    -- thanks to the closure!

That solution is great because now, a manager is just a function. How would you implement getModelManager? Well:

getModelManager :: (MonadIO m,...)
                => (String -> m Texture)
                -> m (String -> m Model)
getModelManager loadTexture = ...

We can then get the loader functions with the following:

loadTexture <- getTextureManager
loadModel <- getModelManager loadTexture

And you just have to pass those functions around. The cool thing is that you can wrap them in a type in your library and provide a function that initializes them all at once – I do that in my engine. Later on, the user can extend the available managers by providing new functions for new types. In my engine, I provide a few functions like mkResourceManager that hides the ResourceMap, providing two functions – one for lookup in the map, one for inserting into the map.


I truly believe that my solution is a good compromise between elegance and ease. It has a lot of advantages:

  • simple to use ;
  • simple to implement; you just have to play around with closures ;
  • dependencies resolving is easy to add and hidden once the functions are generated ;
  • little runtime overhead (due to closures, might be optimized away by the compiler though) ;
  • can be easily extended by the user to support custom/new types ;
  • if correctly used, implementations can replace IORef with TVar or similar objects for thread-safe implementations ;
  • several replicated functions mean several stores (can be useful in certain cases).

The huge drawback I see in that solution is its opacity. There’s also no way to query the state of each cache. Such a feature could be added by proving a new function, for instance. Same thing for deletion.

I’m one of those Haskellers who love purity. I try to keep my code the purest I can, but there are exceptions, and that cache problem fits that kind of exception.

Feel free to comment, and as always, keep the vibe and happy hacking!