Curious case of Lewis Carrol, tournament runner ups and sorting

No less than four grand slams are played every year to find the best tennis player in the world. These are knockout tournaments in which, at each stage half of the players lose and get out. Two [supposedly] best players clash in the finals and the winner of that game is declared the champion (the best player) and the loser the runner up (the second best player). All is fine with our champion but there is just a small problem with our runner up: He might not be the second best player of the tournament.


Let us assume that there were 16 players in the beginning with seedings 1 to 16, 16 being the best. Consider the following results for the matches in the tournament


As expected, 16 is the winner but the runner up is 14 not 15. 15 crashed out in the semi finals playing against the champion.

So what can we conclude from this?

  1. Runner up may not be the second best player of the tournament.
  2. log n matches are required to decide the best player in the tournament.
  3. We can find the second best player in the tournament looking at the match results of the winner which is a list of log n players. At some point he must have defeated the second best player.

Here is a program that gives you the second best player in (n - 1) + ((log n) - 1) = n + (log n) - 2 comparisons:

Java Code Generators – A short rant

Java is known to be a verbose language and the situation worsens when you step into bloated enterprise java world. You need to write tons of code and configure a lot of JXXX to make your simple webapp work. Though the situation is improving in the recent years with the introduction of convention over configuration approach and also of annotation based configurations but still, if you compare the amount of code required for a functional webapp in Java then it would be at least 2X to 4X more than that of similar webapps written in other frameworks like Django or RoR.

A lot of java frameworks and IDEs tries to hide this complexity by generating code – from simple getters and setters to entire DAO layers and what not – that might give small productivity gains in the beginning but eventually every additional line of code in your project, either hand-written or generated by a state of art code generator, someone will need to maintain and evolve it, which according to some is almost 90% of the total software costs.

Thats why framework like Play feels like fresh air and it seems to be making inroads in the bloated enterprise java world.

My first Scheme program

I’ve just started experimenting with Scheme, specifically to follow Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. Here is a Scheme procedure that returns the sum of squares of two larger numbers out of the given three.

(define (sumLargeSquare a b c)
  (cond ((and (< a b) (< a c)) (+ (* b b) (* c c)))
        ((and (< b a) (< b c)) (+ (* a a) (* c c)))
        (else (+ (* a a) (* b b))))

'protected’ implementation in Actionscript 3 is BROKEN

Consider following code:

Theoretically, the call at line no. 13 should not cause any error as count is defined for testObj as a field in SubClass, but it gives a Cannot create property count on SubClass. Interestingly if we move modifyProperty method to SubClass or make count public, it works without any error.

So it can be said that we cannot access protected fields dynamically in a subclass.

How Facebook (probably) implements SMS threads

A lot of web applications provides you the ability to receive or post updates using SMS (text messages). Twitter is the posterboy of such applications.

But the feature that distinguishes Facebook SMS updates from any other service is that you can actually reply to individual messages and your message then becomes a part of the aforementioned thread. You don’t have to specify any special command to do so. Just hit the reply  button and you are done.

How do they know which message belongs to which thread? Its simple, each message comes from a different number. For example, say A writes something on your wall, then you will receive a message from +91922305501. Also B sends a message to you, a message comes from +91922305502 and when C comments on your note, you get a message from +91922305503. How many numbers do facebook own? Probably 100 in India, from +91922305500 to +9192230599.  A per user mapping of the number from which the message is sent and the object/thread id for that message is kept on the backend. So when the user replies to a particular number, say +91922305502 , it knows that is was a reply to the message sent by B and hence treats as a reply to that message. A rotation policy is used to decide from which number the message is to be sent. So after recieving a message from +9192230599, the next message will be from +91922305500  and now you cannot reply to the thread represented by the earlier message from the same number.

Discalimer: This is just a guess of how this functionality might have been implemented (or at least how I would implement it) and based strictly on SMSes received in India. Actual implementation might (probaly is) be entierly different from what is explained here.

Bing/Google toggle bookmarklet

I’ve been trying out Bing as my default search engine for last few months and the results are definitely at par with that of Google for most of the consumer categories. But sometimes you just need a quick toggle to see what Google would return for your query. So here is a small bookmarklet that I wrote that toggles from Bing to Google and vice versa.

Drag this to you favourites bar: Bing/Google Toogle

Note: Its tested on IE8 only. A few tweaks might be required for Firefox.

Minifying Javascript/css without changing file references in your source

Rule 10 of Steve Souders High Performance Web Sites: Minify Javascript

The most common problem faced while implemnting this is how you handle the full and minified version and how to change there reference in referencing documents. One of the easier ways to do this is to make it part of the deployment process.

Here are the relevent steps involved.

I’m using YUI Compressor.

#Execute this script after checking out the latest source from repository.
#Minify all javascript files
cd /path/to/javascript
for x in `ls *.js`
        java -jar /path/to/compressor/yuicompressor-2.4.2.jar -o ${x%%.*}-min.js --preserve-semi  $x
#Minfiy all css files
cd /path/to/css
for x in `ls *.css`
        java -jar /path/to/compressor/yuicompressor-2.4.2.jar -o ${x%%.*}-min.css  $x

Now you don’t want to replace all references to x.css or x.js in your development code with references to x-min.css and x-min.js respectively. So what you can do is rewrite all those filenames at the web server level.

For apache the following rewrite rules work fine:

#enable rewriting
RewriteEngine on
RewriteRule /(.*)\.js /$1-min.js
RewriteRule /(.*)\.css /$1-min.css

Caution: Remember to delete existing minified css/js file before running the minifying script or you will end up with file names like x-min-min-min.js and so on. One way to do this is to clear the js/css folder before checking out files from your source repository.

Humanizing the time difference ( in django )

django.contrib.humanize is a set of Django template filters that adds human touch to data. It provides naturalday filter that formats date to ‘yesterday’, ‘today’ or ‘tomorrow’ when applicable.

A similar requirement which the humanize pacakge does not address is to display time difference with this human touch. so here is a snippet that does so.

Running Glassfish as a service on CentOS

Here is how you run glassfish as a service on CentOS:

  1. Create a user glassfish (you can call it anything you want) under which Glassfish will run.
    #useradd glassfish
  2. Install glassfish in /home/glassfish.
  3. Create the startup script /etc/init.d/glassfish for glassfish.
  4. Install the service
    #chmod +x /etc/init.d/glassfish
    #chkconfig --add glassfish
    #chkconfig --level 3 glassfish on
  5. Start glassfish.
    #/etc/init.d/glassfish start

Embedding flash object in Facebook Apps (FBML)

Yesterday I was trying to include a flash object in a facebook app using FBML fb:swf tag. The flash object needed to change the url of the page it was running on on a particular event. But since facebook prevents direct script access from flash, this could not be done.

Here is a simple workaround:

1. Create a simple html page containing only the flash object that you want to include.

      <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
   	<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="foo.swf" width="300" height="300">
   		<param name="movie" value="foo.swf">
         	<param name="quality" value="high">
         	<param name="scale" value="noscale">
         	<param name="salign" value="LT">
         	<param name="menu" value="false">

2. Embed this html on the facebook page using the fb:iframe tag.

Now you can make all the Actionscript calls you want to. Only caveat to this approach is that you will no longer be able to make Facebook API calls directly from flash.