Joachim Breitner

The perils of live demonstrations

Published 2017-06-23 in sections English, Haskell.

Yesterday, I was giving a talk at the The South SF Bay Haskell User Group about how implementing lock-step simulation is trivial in Haskell and how Chris Smith and me are using this to make CodeWorld even more attractive to students. I gave the talk before, at Compose::Conference in New York City earlier this year, so I felt well prepared. On the flight to the West Coast I slightly extended the slides, and as I was too cheap to buy in-flight WiFi, I tested them only locally.

So I arrived at the offices of Target1 in Sunnyvale, got on the WiFi, uploaded my slides, which are in fact one large interactive CodeWorld program, and tried to run it. But I got a type error…

Turns out that the API of CodeWorld was changed just the day before:

commit 054c811b494746ec7304c3d495675046727ab114
Author: Chris Smith <cdsmith@gmail.com>
Date:   Wed Jun 21 23:53:53 2017 +0000

    Change dilated to take one parameter.
    
    Function is nearly unused, so I'm not concerned about breakage.
    This new version better aligns with standard educational usage,
    in which "dilation" means uniform scaling.  Taken as a separate
    operation, it commutes with rotation, and preserves similarity
    of shapes, neither of which is true of scaling in general.

Ok, that was quick to fix, and the CodeWorld server started to compile my code, and compiled, and aborted. It turned out that my program, presumably the larges CodeWorld interaction out there, hit the time limit of the compiler.

Luckily, Chris Smith just arrived at the venue, and he emergency-bumped the compiler time limit. The program compiled and I could start my presentation.

Unfortunately, the biggest blunder was still awaiting for me. I came to the slide where two instances of pong are played over a simulated network, and my point was that the two instances are perfectly in sync. Unfortunately, they were not. I guess it did support my point that lock-step simulation can easily go wrong, but it really left me out in the rain there, and I could not explain it – I did not modify this code since New York, and there it worked flawless2. In the end, I could save my face a bit by running the real pong game against an attendee over the network, and no desynchronisation could be observed there.

Today I dug into it and it took me a while, and it turned out that the problem was not in CodeWorld, or the lock-step simulation code discussed in our paper about it, but in the code in my presentation that simulated the delayed network messages; in some instances it would deliver the UI events in different order to the two simulated players, and hence cause them do something different. Phew.


  1. Yes, the retail giant. Turns out that they have a small but enthusiastic Haskell-using group in their IT department.

  2. I hope the video is going to be online soon, then you can check for yourself.

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