MXMC_ENGINEERING

  • Article (12021)

    Google Android SDK Emulator problems under Ubuntu Linux 14.04

    Thursday August 14th 2014

    The plan, once I finish up the Twitter Bootstrap conversion of the site, is to build a mobile app. I'm on the fence as to whether I want to try Appcelerator Titanium to re-use at least some portion of the code between platforms or whether I just want to go Native and target Android exclusively first. (I know, I know, you're supposed to bite the bullet, deal with Objective-C and target the iPhone first.)

    Regardless, I need to get the Google SDK installed and the emulator working which proved to be far more challenging than I had initially expected due to a confluence of problems.

    The Android emulator would hang when loading and would display the following error message:

    Failed to load libGL.so
    error libGL.so: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

    This is easiest to see if you launch the emulator from the command line:

    /path/to/sdk/tools/emulator -avd <name of avd>

    At first I thought it was a missing 32 bit library issue as I'm on Ubuntu 64, but after some searching I came across this stackoverflow thread which indicated that symlinking libGL.so.1 to the sdk/tools/lib directory would resolve it:

    ln -s/usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/mesa/libGL.so.1 /path/to/sdk/tools/lib/libGL.so

    After this, in my case, the emulator would just hang with the error:

    FB::flushWindowSurfaceColorBuffer: window handle 0x4 not found
    FB: closeColorBuffer cb handle 0x3 not found

    I found this stackoverflow thread that indicated "host GPU support" is only available for API levels 15 and higher. Because I'm experimenting with Titanium I needed to use API level 14. The solution is to uncheck Host GPU support.

    So now I have a functioning android emulator under Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

  • Article (12022)

    HHVM 3.2.0 File Not Found issue

    Sunday July 20th 2014

    The fine folks building HHVM released version 3.2.0 which I installed on my development box to try out only to find that suddenly I was getting nothing but 404's.

    I downgraded to 3.1.0 and once again everything worked.

    It took some crawling through the FastCGI code to realize that in 3.2.0 SCRIPT_FILENAME was wrong.

    Checking through the changes to the FastCGI code on github I came across this commit:

    https://github.com/facebook/hhvm/commit/80638d7e97db40753f7b374010dd78716c717e87

    It turns out that in my nginx configuration I was inadvertently pulling in the standard fastcgi_params include file after I set my own values. If NGINX replaced a header if it's redefined or threw some kind of warning, I would have caught this some time ago. Why NGINX doubles up the headers, I don't understand. So I had SCRIPT_FILENAME defined twice and it was getting sent to HHVM twice. In 3.1.0, the first definition was used. In 3.2.0, the second one was used.

    Oops.

  • Article (12023)

    Stacking Bootstrap Dialogs using Event Callbacks

    Sunday February 16th 2014

    The current site with it's ugly markup and abysmal CSS has outlived it's usefulness. More and more people are trying, unsuccessfully, to use the site from mobile devices. So, before I embark on adding any new features, I've decided it's time to move the site over to something that will work equally well on mobile devices as on desktop PCs.

    "Dammit, Jim, I'm a programmer, not a designer."

    I started looking at a few so called Responsive CSS Frameworks. I chose Twitter Bootstrap v.3.1 because it seems to already address the vast majority of patterns I use on the site. I initially thought, as so many people seem to, that it's going to make the site look too "generic" since all sites that use bootstrap seem to have a similar appearance. But after taking a closer look, I realized that it was going to, once I finished the conversion, save me so much time and make developing the UI portion of any new features so much easier.

    Unfortunately, this did mean I would have to rework quite a few interactive features. I make heavy use of jQuery UI dialogs which would have to be rebuilt as Bootstrap Modals. You can argue that it's not a good UX pattern, but I do in places do stacked dialogs. To my chagrin the bootstrap documentation has this to say:

    Overlapping modals not supported

    Be sure not to open a modal while another is still visible. Showing more than one modal at a time requires custom code.

    There were a few questions about this topic on Stackoverflow such as this one. Hacking bootstrap, or any third party project, is generally a bad idea unless you can get them to accept a patch. I really didn't feel like going through another round of getting patches approved so I embarked on trying to come up with a way to implement stacking modals external to Bootstrap.

    Thanks to answers in that Stackoverflow thread, the solution is pretty straight forward. Using the hidden.bs.modal and shown.bs.modal event callbacks we can keep track of the number of modals opened at a time. Given these are modals and not dialogs, only one modal should be active at a time. The rest should be disabled.

    I create a counter on the body tag for lack of a better place. Each time a modal is shown I increment the counter and then decrement it again when the modal is closed.

    Using this counter, I can quickly calculate a z-index for the modal and it's corresponding backdrop that will be higher than any other modal and backdrop on the page. This satisfies the 'disable everything else' requirement.

    Setting the z-index of the modal is no problem, but finding the corresponding backdrop div requires doing a search for tags with class .modal-backdrop. To make sure I'm setting the z-index only on the most recent one, I set the z-index and also add a .fv-modal-stack class to it. Then when subsequent modals are opened, I look for all backdrops that do not have a class of fv-modal-stack.

    The advantage of doing it this way is that I don't have to patch Bootstrap each time I upgrade. I suspect eventually they will add support for stacked modals and this hack can be avoided.

    Here's a working demo. View the source to see the code.

  • Article (12024)

    problems with range.setStartBefore()

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    Chrome and FireFox behave very differently in terms of what happens when you attempt to select the position before a DIV usingrange.setStartBefore() when the DIV is preceded by a textnode.

    Consider the HTML:

    <div contenteditable="true" id="edit">foo<div id="test">bar</div></div>

    I want to select the end of the textnode foo.. You use a range to accomplish this as in:

    // for FireFox make sure the editable div is focused so we can see the cursordocument.getElementById( 'test' ).focus();// select the spot before the DIV.var sel = document.getSelection();var range = document.createRange();var dom_node = document.getElementById( 'test' );// this is the critical methodrange.setStartBefore( dom_node );range.collapse( true );sel.removeAllRanges();sel.addRange( range );// ask the browser what is selectedconsole.log( "selection is :", document.getSelection().getRangeAt(0) );

    In Chrome, the resulting range has a startContainer of the textnode and a startOffset of 3, which conveniently points to the just past the o in foo. The cursor moves after foo.

    However, in FireFox, the resulting range has a startContainer of the <div> and a startOffset of 1 which means its pointing at the textnode but doesnt give you any indication of where in the textnode its pointing. Also, the cursor moves before the b in bar.

    It gets more confusing if the HTML is changed to:

    <div contenteditable="true"><div>foo</div><div id="test">bar</div></div>

    If the same experiment is run again, FireFox behaves as before and returns the editable <div> with an offset of 1 pointing at the element before <div id=test>, which is the previous DIV. That makes sense The cursor again is placed before the b in bar, which doesnt make sense to me.

    In this situation, Chome does is completely unexpected.

    The range returned by Chrome
    has a startContainer with a textnode with length of 0
    andnextSibling or prevSibling that are both null
    but a parentNode that is set to the <div id=test>
    angry-desk-flip-l.png

    at least if Chrome Developer Tools are to be believed. I think its time for anotherStackOverflow question. You can see an example of this here.

  • Article (12025)

    A summary of markup changes in contenteditable divs in WebKit,FireFox and MSIE

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    This is a technical article covering how browsers muck up the underlying markup in an editable area as a user edits content. It turns out the problems center around opening up new lines using the ENTER key and merging them back together again using the BACKSPACE or DELETE keys.

    If you dont go look you just wont know.

    When you attempt to create an editor in a contenteditable div, the browser is in control and youre just along for the ride. Each browser has different ideas of what should be done to the underlying markup when a user presses ENTER to open up a new line or DELETE/BACKSPACE to merge lines back together. This conspires to make writing an editor that behaves as you would expect somewhat challenging.

    In trying to develop this code, I realized that I didnt fully understand how the various browsers were interfering with the underlying markup as the user typed. I kept getting surprising results. So I decided to go look and carefully document what Ive found. Im putting this up here in the hopes that it might save someone else a bit of annoying work.

    Exploring what happens on ENTER

    I first explored all the cases related to the ENTER key that I could think of such as:

    • ENTER at the beginning of a line.
    • ENTER at the end.
    • ENTER in the middle.
    • ENTER in a line with pre-existing BR tags.
    • ENTER in a line with SPAN tags.
    • etc.

    What I found was, in many cases, the browsers did not behave at all as I would have expected. To my surprise, MSIE (10) behaved more in line with my expectations than the other browsers. WebKit was the worst but FireFox likes to muck up the works with the best of them.

    The markup is what was displayed using the developer tools. In MSIE, I used FireBug lite. In Chrome I used the Google Developer Tools and in FireFox I used FireBug proper.

    Here are the results upon pressing ENTER in various circumstances:

    as the first character in an empty editable div

    WebKit:

    <DIV><BR></DIV><DIV><BR></DIV>

    FireFox:

    <BR _moz_dirty=""><BR _moz_dirty="">

    MSIE:

    <P/><P/>

    NOTE: Because of the <P>s MSIE lines appear double spaced.

    after opening a new line, going back to the first and entering a character

    WebKit:

    <DIV>t</DIV><DIV><BR></DIV>

    NOTE: THE BR DISAPPEARS

    FireFox:

    t<BR _moz_dirty=""><BR _moz_dirty="">

    NOTE: pressing ENTER once inserts a single BR but does not open a new line.

    MSIE:

    <P>t</P><P/>

    after opening a new line and entering a character on the second line

    WebKit:

    <DIV><BR></DIV> <DIV>t</DIV> -> BR DISAPPEARS

    FireFox:

    <BR _moz_dirty="">t<BR _moz_dirty="">

    MSIE:

    <P/><P>t</P>

    end of first line with trailing BR
    (initial content<div contenteditable=true>test<BR></DIV>)

    WebKit:

    test1<BR> -> UNEXPECTED<DIV><BR></DIV>

    NOTE: INITIAL CONTENT SHOWS ONE LINE INSTEAD OF TWO.

    FireFox:

    test1<BR _moz_dirty=""><BR> -> UNEXPECTED that both BR's would show up.

    NOTE: INITIAL CONTENT SHOWS ONE LINE INSTEAD OF TWO.

    MSIE:

    <P>test1</P><P><BR></P>

    NOTE: INITIAL CONTENT SHOWS TWO LINES.

    end of first line with embedded BR between lines
    (initial content <DIV>test1<BR>test2</DIV> )

    WebKit

    test1<DIV><BR>test2</DIV>

    FireFox

    test1<BR _moz_dirty=""><BR>test2

    MSIE

    <P>test1</P><P><BR/>test2</P>

    adding a character to initial content of <DIV><BR></DIV>

    WebKit:

    <DIV>t</DIV> -> UNEXPECTED. BR gets removed even though it was not added by WebKit

    FireFox:

    test1<BR _moz_dirty=""><BR>test2

    MSIE:

    <P>test1</P><P><BR/>test2</P>

    after a line of text

    WebKit:

    test<DIV><BR></DIV>

    FireFox:

    test<BR _moz_dirty=""/><BR _moz_dirty="moz"/> -> DAFUQ??

    MSIE:

    <P>test</P><P/>

    before a line of text

    WebKit:

    <DIV><BR></DIV>test

    FireFox:

    <BR _moz_dirty="">test

    MSIE:

    <P/><P>test</p>

    in the middle of a line of text

    WebKit:

    te<DIV>st</DIV> -> UNEXPECTED

    FireFox:

    te<BR _moz_dirty="">st

    MSIE:

    <P>TE</P><P>ST</p>

    before an image

    WebKit:

    <DIV><BR></DIV><IMG SRC="...">

    FireFox:

    <BR _moz_dirty="" /><IMG SRC="...">

    MSIE:

    <P/><P><IMG SRC="..."</P>

    after an image

    WebKit:

    <img src="..."><DIV><BR></DIV>

    FireFox:

    <IMG SRC="..."><BR _moz_dirty="" /><BR _moz_dirty="" type="_moz" /> -> DAFUQ??

    MSIE:

    <P><IMG SRC="..."></P><P/>

    between two images

    WebKit:

    <img src="..."><DIV><img src="..."></DIV> -> UNEXPECTED

    FireFox:

    <IMG SRC="..."><BR _moz_dirty="" /><IMG SRC="...">

    MSIE:

    <P><IMG SRC="..."></P><P><IMG SRC="..."></P>

    before a span Using <SPAN>test</SPAN> as initial editable content.

    WebKit:

    <DIV><SPAN><BR></SPAN></DIV> -> UNEXPECTED

    NOTE: can be explained by noting the cursor cannot be moved outside of the span in WebKit

    FireFox:

    <SPAN><BR _moz_dirty="" />test</SPAN> --> UNEXPECTED

    MSIE:

    <P><SPAN/></P> <P><SPAN>TEST</SPAN></P> --> UNEXPECTED

    after a span

    WebKit:

    <SPAN>test</SPAN<DIV><SPAN><BR></SPAN></DIV> -> UNEXPECTED

    NOTE: can be explained by noting the cursor cannot be moved outside of the span in WebKit.

    FireFox:

    <SPAN>test<BR _mod_dirty=""/><BR _moz_dirty="" type="_moz" /> --> DAFUQ?? UNEXPECTED</SPAN>

    MSIE:

    <P><SPAN>test</SPAN></P><P><SPAN/></P>

    in the middle of a span

    WebKit:

    <SPAN>te</SPAN><DIV><SPAN>st</SPAN></DIV>

    FireFox:

    <SPAN>te<BR _moz_dirty=""/>st</SPAN>

    MSIE:

    <P><SPAN>te</SPAN></P><P><SPAN>st</SPAN></P>

    Exploring what happens on DELETE/BACKSPACE

    The other problematic case seems to be when lines are merged back together through the use of the DELETE or BACKSPACE keys. (The same situation likely arises in a multi-line selection thats typed over.) In the tests I move the cursor to the end of the first line and press DELETE to merge the lines together.

    merging two lines of text separated by a <BR>
    (initial content test1<BR>test2)

    WebKit:

    test1test2 (as two separate text nodes)

    FireFox:

    test1test2 (as a single text node)

    MSIE

    test1test2 (as a single text node)

    two spans separated by a BR
    (initial content <span>test1</span><BR><span>test2</span>)

    WebKit

    <span>test1</span><span>test2</span>   -> BR got deleted. inconsistent behavior

    This seems like inconsistent behavior because typically you cannot get behind a <SPAN> in webkit.

    FireFox

    <span>test1</span><span>test2</span>

    MSIE

    <span>test1</span><span>test2</span>

    text followed by a BR and SPAN
    (initial content test1<BR><span>test2</span>)

    WebKit

    test1<span>test2</span>

    FireFox

    test1<span>test2</span>

    MSIE

    test1<span>test2</span>

    text followed by a div
    (initial content test1<div>test2</div>

    WebKit

    "test1""test2"    as two separate text nodes

    FireFox

    test1test2   as a single text node

    MSIE

    test1test2   as a single text node

    two divs
    (initial content <div>test1</div><div>test2</div>)

    WebKit

    <div>test1test2</div>    (as two text nodes

    FireFox

    <div>test1test2</div>

    MSIE

    <div>test1test2</div>

    text followed by <BR> followed by DIV
    (initial content test1<br><div>test2</div>)

    WebKit

    test1test2  as two text nodes --> UNEXPECTED, but makes sense after a bit of thought.

    FireFox

    test1test2

    MSIE

    test1test2

    divs ending in BR
    (initial content <div>test1<br></div><div>test2<br></div>

    WebKit

    <DIV>test1test2     as two text nodes --> UNEXPECTED. BOTH BRs gone.</DIV>

    FireFox:

    <DIV>test1test2<BR></DIV>

    MSIE First DELETE has no visible effect on screen but consumes the BR:

    <div>test1</div><div>test2<br></div>

    There are obviously many other test cases that could be explored. Interestingly, as I was formatting this article I noticed that the WordPress WYSIWYG editor suffers from some of the same problems Ive identified above.

    Merging lines turned out not to be as unexpected as I had feared however it did provide the interesting insight that MSIE and FireFox apparently merge multiple adjacent text nodes together while WebKit does not. This explains at least one bug Im seeing in my code.

  • Article (12026)

    You can t select that webkit browser selections and ranges in Chrome and Safari

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    This is a technical article.

    I am building a jQuery plugin to as areplacement for the venerable HTML TEXTAREA tag so I can do some fanciness.

    In my textarea plugin I want to be able to insert blocks of HTML into a contenteditable DIV that should be treated as single objects. These can be wrapped in a SPAN or a DIV.

    One of my requirements is that, I should be able to move the cursor over them. If Im to the left of the object and press the right arrow key, the cursor should jump to the end of the object and visa versa.

    So my approach is to hook the onKeyDown event and check whether or not I am next to an object. In the handler I know which key on the keyboard was pressed by inspecting the event.which property. ( I hope to discuss the horrors of event handling in keyboard event handlers in another article.) So I know whether or not the LEFT or RIGHT arrow keys have been pressed.

    But I also need to know WHERE the cursor is and I have to be able to select where it should go.

    To get the current cursor position you have to use the DOM SELECTION and RANGE features, in modern browsers. MSIE added these features in IE9. Before that it used its own system.

    Selections and ranges primarily deal with when you use the mouse (or SHIFT KEY and ARROWS) to select a block of content on a page. However, they are also used when you click the mouse at a given location or, in the case of a contenteditable block, where youve moved the cursor.

    To get the current cursor position in the editable div you can use:

    var sel = window.getSelection();var range = sel.getRangeAt(0);

    The range object includes a bunch of properties. You have to remember that in a contenteditable div the underlying data structures are DOM nodes. Its important to note that there are different kinds of nodes present in a DOM (Document Object Model) structure. For my purposes, I am interested in two kinds of nodes: ELEMENT nodes and TEXTNODES.

    ELEMENT nodes represent HTML tags. They can be containers that contain other tags. They may be <BR> tags representing a line break, which cannot contain other nodes. (foreshadowing) TEXTNODES represent text content, the written word.

    TEXTNODEs are treated differently from ELEMENT nodes. Its important to know the jQuery seems to almost entirely ignore TEXTNODEs. The .from() and .next() methods in jQuery do not ever return TEXTNODEs.

    So we want to get the cursor (a,k.a. caret) position. But we get a range object back. Since its a range, the range may start on one kind of node, say a text node at a given character offset, and then span a bunch of other nodes and end at some other textnode or similar at an offset.

    So the range gives you the startContainer, which is the node where the range starts, the startOffset, which is the offset into that node (or character position if its a text node). The same occurs for the end of the range. There is also another property which is the deepest node in the tree that contains the entire selection.

    The caret position, startContainer and endContainer will be the same as will be the case for startOffset and endOffset. There a convenience property collapsed that if true lets you know youre dealing with a single point select, i.e. the caret/cursor position.

    But a single point range does not always give you a character offset in text.

    Read on.

    It seems simple enough. If I can move the cursor somewhere, I had assumed there would be a text node there that the cursor would occupy.

    thinking_guy.jpg

    This assumption cost me quite a bit of time.

    Consider the following block of HTML

    <div id="div" contenteditable="true">this is some text<span id="span1">TEXT IN A SPAN</span><br><span id="span2">SOME OTHER TEXT IN ANOTHER SPAN</span></div>

    And a little bit of jQuery/Javascript:

    $( '#button' ).bind( 'click', function()   {   var sel = document.getSelection();   var range = sel.getRangeAt(0);   alert( "container is '" + range.startContainer.nodeName + "'" );   });// now move the cursor AFTER the second span programmatically$( '#button2' ).bind( 'click', function()    {   var span_node = $( '#span2' ).get(0);   var sel = document.getSelection();   var range = document.createRange();   range.setStartAfter( span_node );   range.collapse( true );   sel.removeAllRanges();   sel.addRange( range );   var new_range = document.getSelection().getRangeAt(0);      alert( "New container is '" + range.startContainer.nodeName + "' with offset '" + range.startOffset + "' childNodes.length '" + range.startContainer.childNodes.length );   // for the benefit of FireFox   $( '#div' ).focus();   });

    You can see this test here:http://jsfiddle.net/7cYff/5/

    If you click on the world ANOTHER then move the cursor to the right as far as you can with the arrow keys and click the first button, which will query the range and print out the name of the node that the caret is currently, we see that we get a TEXTNODE. Ok, that makes sense.

    The second button in the example, uses the RANGE selection method setStartAfter() to move the current selection AFTER the span. If you press this button you will notice that we get a startContainer of the parent DIV with an offset of 4.

    This confused me for quite some time as I didnt understand what this was supposed to mean.

    Each DOM node has a property called childrenwhich I incorrectly believed contained all the children of that node. That array did not have 4 entries in it. It turns out, that

    The children DOM Node property does not, in fact, contain the children of a node

    It only contains the child ELEMENTS of a node. The childNodes property contains all children of a node including textnodes and the like.

    If you inspect the childNodes property, you will notice it only has 3 entries, not 4. So we have gotten an offset OUTSIDE of the range of our childNodes.

    I should point out that the select addRange() method has no return code and when you select a node that cant be selected you get no exception:https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/DOM/Selection/addRange

    Now for the icing on the cake, try typing something into the jsFiddle after pressing the second button and right click -> Inspect Element.

    The text you just entered was put INSIDE the SPAN.

    angry-desk-flip-l.png

    In Chrome and Safari, you cannot enter anything after the end if theres an element there. So imagine its a thumbnail or an @mention. You do the @mention and start typing, youll be typing INSIDE the @mention span.

    Now repeat the experiment using FIreFox. It seems to behave more or less the same way EXCEPT the contenteditable DIV loses focus which is why I call the .focus() method in the example above.

    Now repeat the experiment. Press the second button, start typing and then inspect it using FireBug (youll have to install the FireBug extension). You will notice the text you just entered is AFTER the span.Same code, different behavior.

    In FireFox, if you call range.setStartAfter() a container and start typing the text will be entered after the container.

    What about the reverse? Lets say we have the following:

    <p>Test1:</p><div id="test1" contenteditable="true">The cursor will jump here -><br><span id="span1" contenteditable="false">NOT EDITABLE</span> [click here] Move cursor left using left arrow key. If you are in Chrome of Safari you will not be able to move the cursor to the beginning of this line.</div>

    See it here:http://jsfiddle.net/YyTEP/

    You can mark elements inside a contenteditable as not editable by adding contenteditable=false. In Chrome, this is nice because itll automatically jump the cursor over the item for you. No having to worry about checking to see if youre inside. It also prevents the user from clicking inside the range of the element. It would have been so nice if this actually worked. (Foreshadowing.)

    In Chrome, click the mouse on the [click here] in the first block then use the left cursor to move over the NOT EDITABLE span. To my shock and horror, the cursor will move to the LINE ABOVE! If you move it to the right, itll jump back to the place before the NOT EDITABLE.

    If you do the same thing in FireFox, you get the same result using the left arrow key. But if you then use the RIGHT arrow key, Chrome jumps back to the end of the SPAN but Firefox moves the cursor in front of the span.

    angry-desk-flip-l.png

    (One meme, so appropriate for a wide range of situations.)

    It becomes more complicated, if you have something like the following:

    <div id="test" contenteditable="true"><div id="div1">FIRST DIV</div><div id="div2">SECOND DIV</div><div>

    And you attempt, using code similar to the previous example, to select the node after DIV id=test1?. You can see the example here:http://jsfiddle.net/jdmDj/4/

    In Chrome, if you click the button, you get the main DIV as a parent and a startOffset of 1, which is the second div. If you start typing, as in the previous example, the content you enter will go into the div, not between it.

    In FireFox, however, the same experiment will cause the content to be inserted between the DIVs and a new line will open up.

    For completeness sake, what happens if you try to select the space before the first div?

    Using the same markup above and changing the setStartAfter() to setStartBefore(), can we select the spot BEFORE the id=div1? div? See the example here:http://jsfiddle.net/jdmDj/5/

    In this situation we get a 0 for startOffset which represents the id=div1? div. We asked for the node in front of the first DIV and we got that DIV back without any error. This works the same in Chrome as in Firefox however as has been the case with the examples above, in Chrome the text you enter in this location will get entered into the beginning of the first DIV while the content entered in FireFox will cause a new line to be opened up in FRONT of the first DIV.

    In summary:

    Using WebKit browers (Chrome and Safari), you cannot select the locations before the first element, after the last element or between any two elements. Any text you enter will be entered into the beginning or end of one of the adjacent elements depending on circumstance.

    What does this mean?, the business guys will always ask. It means that if you insert something at the beginning of a line theres no way to get in front of it with the cursor to insert something before it. If its at the end of a line theres no way to get behind it to continue typing after it.

    This sucks.

    So I considered adding an element before and after each thing I might want to insert. This sucks because its going to muck up the way the content looks. I thought about adding a textnode with a space in it before and after each element I insert. This would allow me at least to select it in Chrome/Safari, but it would be ugly because the users would get confused why this extra space was getting added.

    So I posted a question on StackOverflow:

    How to set caret/cursor position in a contenteditable div between two divs.

    Interestingly, I got two relatively notable developers to respond. Tim Down who wrote theRangy cross browser range selection library. He clearly understands these range related subjects far better than I do. He said:

    Browsers are inconsistent on this. Firefox will let you position the caret in more positions than most browsers but WebKit and IE both have definite ideas about valid caret positions and will amend a range you add to the selection to conform to the nearest valid position. This does make sense: having different document positions and hence behaviours for the same visual caret location is confusing for the user. However, this comes at the cost of inflexibility for the developer.

    This is not documented anywhere. Thecurrent Selection specsays nothing about it, principally because no spec existed when browsers implemented their selection APIs and there is no uniform behaviour for the current spec to document.

    I also received a response from Reinmar who describes himself as aCKEditor core developer & JavaScript ninja. CKEditor is one of the premier HTML WYSIWYG editors out there and is all about manipulating content in contenteditable areas. They have had such trouble with this very issue that theyve implemented a completely different solution to get in front of things which involves hovering a mouse over the area and clicking on a little bar to open up a newline. Ive played with it and it seems to me to place more of a burden on the user than at least my users are willing to accept.

    But it was something that Tim Down said that gave me an idea.

    ,,, create elements with, say, a zero-width space character for the caret to be placed in and place the caret in one those elements when necessary. As you say, ugly.

    Heres a case of being too old school. I grew up in ASCII, and to a much lesser degree EBCIDIC. ASCII does not have an invisible placeholder character that one might use to create an apparently empty text node.

    However, UNICODE has a zero width space character, code \u200B.

    Immediately a path opened up. It would be challenging because of all the edge cases, but if I could wrap any of my elements in zero width space characters as they are being inserted I would have a way of selecting the space before and after the element regardless of whether or not it was:

    • at the beginning of the editable text
    • at the beginning of a line
    • at the end of a line
    • right next to another element

    The downside to this approach is that its a bit ugly. If you go interspersing zero width space characters everywhere and the user wants to use an arrow key or a backspace over them, they will each consume a keystroke without moving the cursor. You can see this in this fiddle:http://jsfiddle.net/BxapL/

    Just click on the [click here] and use the arrow keys to move left. Youll press the arrow key at some point and the cursor will not move.

    In order to not confuse the users, for all key presses, arrow key moves, and searching whether we are right next to an object or not (for highlighting purposes) any zero width space characters will need to be skipped over so that users does not know they are there.

    This means managing every keystroke in onKeyDown and in some cases onKeyUp for all arrow keys. But it also means being careful to catch an ENTER key and fixing up anything on the previous line. Chrome wraps each line of text in a <div> </div>. Internet Explorer uses <p> </p> and FireFox does the worst of the bunch by adding <br _moz_dirty="> for a new line.

    Chrome also adds:

    <div><br></div>

    whenever the ENTER key is pressed to open up a new line. It then unceremoniously deletes the BR as soon as the user enters some text . sometimes. Other times itll leave <BR>s lying around inside the DIVs but I have not yet been able to identify any particular pattern to it.

    So, this is the approach I have mostly implemented. And it works, mostly. Unfortunately, it is still relatively easy to get the DOM nodes behind the scenes to be out of whack.

    The Relevant Bugs

    The above algorithm would have worked so well and solved so many of my issues if it werent for some really nasty browser bugs Ive run into.

    The contenteditable=false bug

    Unfortunately, setting contenteditable=false to my inserted objects breaks Chrome and Safari. After all that work and getting it to work what I thought was flawlessly, I inserted an object in the middle of a line and tried to merge the line with the one above it by pressing BACKSPACE at the beginning of the line. To my shock, the embedded object and the remaining text on the line disappeared.

    angry-desk-flip-l.png

    You can see this in action here.http://jsfiddle.net/pmARP/

    So this means I cant use the contenteditable=false trick to take care of making sure the cursor jumps over the embedded objects automatically. I have to check each time the cursor moves, an object is inserted, the mouse is used that the cursor hasnt made it into the confines of an embedded object and then I need to move the cursor out of it. Because of all the range challenges described above and the fact that for some reason my zero width space characters are getting deleted, this has proven to be the core of my difficulty.

    I could just try to educate my users to press the right arrow key a couple of times and that would work around it, but that would spell doom for my little social network. It has to work and it has to work well.

    The display: inline-block bug

    I wanted to put a border around my objects when the cursor is close to them or when theyre clicked on. But I also wanted to be able to display my objects inline. An @mention isnt much good if you have to put it on a separate line.

    If you use a SPAN tag, you cant set a border because its an inline element.

    If you use a DIV tag, you can specify a border but its a block level element and opens up a new line.

    Enter the new display: CSS property inline-block that gives you the best of both worlds. This was great. I liked being able to do the outlines. But then I tried to press the UP and DOWN arrow. I spent two days trying to figure out what in my code was causing the up and down arrow not to work. Eventually I posted this question to StackOverflow:

    Chrome DIVs with display: inline-block breaks up and down arrows

    It turns out to be a bug in WebKit browsers. So Ive had to opt to using SPANs for my embedded objects. No outlines since you cant put an outline on a SPAN.

    jQuery AutoComplete Breaks UP and DOWN arrows in Firefox

    The autocomplete trigger code is working pretty well. However, I discovered that in FireFox the UP and DOWN arrows would not work in a contenteditable div much in the same way that they didnt in Chrome. Initially, once again, I thought it was my own bug. Another day lost.

    It turns out its some detail about how FireFox implements keypress events. There is a bug filed in the jQuery bug tracker about it. In the mean time, Ive hacked jQuery UI to work around it at least for the time being.

    Conclusion

    After working on this stuff for this long, I felt the need to explain to myself the problems Ive been running into and verify that I really did understand what I was seeing and was able to verify it. Spending to day writing this has highlighted a few things I did misunderstand which may explain some of the remaining problems I have in the implementation.

    Ill spend tomorrow trying to update the code, which is now a few thousands lines long, to reflect these understandings to see if that improves things.

    If I can get this thing to work it really will be a good little widget, but man I tell you this has been more of a pain in the ass. This article represents only a subset of the problems Ive run into during the development of this jQuery plugin.

    If you know someone who fighting the same good fight, maybe you could pass along the article to them. Finding people who know about these issues has proven to be quite challenging.

  • Article (12027)

    The rich_textarea jQuery plugin a relatively non-technical description.

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    As Ive been bemoaning onFacebook and Twitter for the last few weeks, after spending quite a bit of time looking far and wide for an adequate pre-existing solution and finding none, I have decided to roll up my sleeves, get my hands dirty, and build a replacement for the venerable TEXTAREA input box.

    This has turned out to be such a vastly more difficult and annoying task than I could have imagined. As has always been the case with relatively low level browser based development, it has been a frustrating exercise in identifying and working around a seemingly endless series of interrelated implementation differences and browser bugs. Ive been at this for 17 days now. Of the entire Miles By Motorcycle refactoring effort, this one component has proven to be the most challenging. It was also the one Ive dreaded the most since the beginning. I simply hate doing this kind of work.

    So, Yermo, why are you spending all this time on a simple text entry box?

    In the good old days, the TEXTAREA was good enough. It allows you to enter text into a box which can then be submitted to a server. All forum posts and comment boxes on the current version of my Miles By Motorcycle site using these simple text entry boxes. Most sites still use them.

    For some years now, my users have been able to post photos to the forum as in this example. (Personally, I cant wait to see that bike in person.) When entering the post, my users get a link that brings up a popup dialog where they can upload a photo and when they press POST this ugly marker gets added to the textarea box to indicate where the photo will go:

      

    Of course, this sucks. If Im adding a bunch of photos to a post I sometimes forget what the names are and I lose my place and upload the same photo twice. For non-technical users, the marker can just be confusing and they often muck the markers up meaning I have to go into the posts and fix them. Really, you shouldnt even be able to click inside the marker at all.

    I guess maybe Ive been influenced by the world after all. Left to my own devices Id leave it ugly. Pretty hurts. Pretty takes so much time and as Ive said so often I cant do sex-appeal to save my life.

    But, unduly influenced by the world and trying to step up my game, what I really want is to have a thumbnail of the uploaded photo show up right there instead of the [img] marker. And I want it to be treated as a single thing. If I BACKSPACE over it or press DELETE on front of it, I want it treated as a single entity and have the whole thing deleted even if I decide to get fancy and add some decorations to the thumbnail like maybe a title or whatnot.

    Ialso want to add @mentions as you see on Facebook, because they are so useful in making people aware of cool things on the site. There are so many times that Ive wanted to type @buffalo or @rshaug to let those guys know of some cool post or photo on the site, but I cant, so thats something while Im here I definitely want to build. I also want to tag things using #tags like you see on Twitter and other sites. Its just another one of those really useful things so I can find things later. When these items get added, I want decorate them differently in the content so they stand out and treat them as single object again, so that if I backspace over them they get deleted in one keystroke.

    I also want to be able to add any kind of other thing in the future that I might want to add, of particular importance being maps. But I can also imagine formatted amazon links, emoticons, videos, etc. So clearly, whatever I build has to have an extension system.

    But, you cant add anything like this stuff to a simple TEXTAREA. TEXTAREAs only do text; no images or any other objects. Theres also no mechanism for styling the text or changing the background color of the font.

    But Facebook does it!, you might mention.

    I looked at what Facebook does, and as you all know, when you add an @mention it shows up in blue. If you use the developer tools and look, you will clearly see a TEXTAREA. What Facebook is doing is layering a SPAN over the TEXTAREA and updating the SPAN as you enter text and using it to do some basic colorations which are layered on top of the text. As far as I can tell, the text in the SPAN has to align perfectly with the text in the TEXTAREA. Its a complete hack and prevents them from doing any of the fancy inline stuff that I want to do.

    Because I knew what this was going to mean, I even tried doing it Facebooks way, and implemented a TEXTAREA with autocompletions. I had this intention of the user entering text into the TEXTAREA and updating some HTML SPAN with some content. But that approach quickly became more problematic than I wanted to deal with. Moreover, I knew it was an ugly hack the user would see and it wouldnt feel right. One thing I really dont want to do during this project is too many ugly hacks if I can avoid them.

    So there is another way, but its a path fraught with peril and pain. All relatively modern browsers have a feature whereby you can declare part of a webpage as contenteditable which means the users is allowed to go in and muck with the page. You can click places that are editable and just start typing. What makes contenteditable sections difficult to deal with is the fact that there is no standard on how they should be implemented in addition to the fact that as the users types the browser is inserting and/or modifying the underlying HTML of the page. Each browser modifies the HTML in a different way. Ugh.

    As a programmer, you can intercepts the users actions in the contenteditable section and do additional modifications to the underlying HTML. For instance, if the user enters :) I might notice the spaces around :) and decide to remove that text and replace it with the smiley face emoticon. I can also intercept any @mentions, display the jQuery autocomplete menu, and then insert an appropriately formatted block of HTML at that character position to represent the user I just mentioned. (Personally, I want to insert the users avatar thumbnail as well since usernames, like on Facebook, are not unique on Miles By Motorcycle. I think the thumbnail inline would be really cool.)

    Actually, its this contenteditable feature of the browsers that make all those WYSIWYG in page editors possible. To type in this blog post, Im using the one that comes with WordPress for instance. Unfortunately, a WYSIWYG editor is not what I want. I really want something that does inserted object management better than such an editor.

    It really seemed simple enough. Just text with inserted objects interspersed. It cant be that bad. Its not like Im writing a word processor. But since I want to insert my own objects that I want to treat as single things there are a few cases I need to consider:

    • If the caret is on the left of an object and the user presses the RIGHT arrow key, the cursor should jump over the object. Same in reverse
    • If the caret is on the right side of an object and the user presses BACKSPACE, the object should get deleted.
    • If the caret is on the left side of an object and the users presses DELETE, the object should get deleted.
    • If the cursor is next to an object, either left or right, the object should get highlighted somehow to indicate to the user they are next to the object.
    • If the user clicks the mouse on an object, the cursor should move to the beginning of the object and it should get highlighted.
    • If the caret is on the line above or below an object and the user presses the UP and DOWN arrow keys into the object, the cursor should jump to the beginning of the object and it should get highlighted.
    • Selecting a range using the mouse should work as expected.
    • Inserting and deleting lines should work as expected.
    • Merging lines together should work as expected.
    • Breaking lines should work as expected.
    • Moving the caret in front of or behind objects should work as expected.
    • The user should be prevented from getting inside an object and mucking with it, because that will just confuse them.
    • The code needs to distinguish between an @mention and using @ in some other context. Same of the # mark.
    • I should be able to programmatically insert objects in any location of the editable area and have it do the right thing.

    As of this writing, I have a solution that is ugly but works more or less. It still fails in a bunch of edge cases I dont yet understand. I never would have imagined that getting the above list of requirements working would be as challenging, but there are some really nasty bugs in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely Safari, Chrome, FireFox, and MSIE. I never would have guessed that it would be Chrome and Safari that would make this task so much more difficult than I ever imagined. (Foreshadowing, you cannot move the cursor in front of or behind an object in Chrome and Safari.)

    It had been my intention to write a very long article outlining in detail all the problems I have run into and the workarounds I have attempted. After banging my head against a wall for so long and feeling just this gawdawful pressure to get this done, Im pausing to re-evaluate and make certain I understand exactly whats happening. Having one problem is usually not difficult. Two is also not a problem But when you are dealing with a dozen or more conflicting, confounding and related problems simultaneously, teasing out the interactions can be ridiculously time consuming. Fix problem one after a long slog, then fix problem two only to realize that that breaks your solution to problem one. Then do this for different problems in all browsers. Then realize the developer tools are lying to you, and maybe making things worse. You get the picture. Its like tuning a guitar. Tune the low E string and you have to go back and tune all the others. Once you do that you need to re-tune E. And so on.

    So, Ive now laid the groundwork for what Ive been building. My intention now is to write a series of short articles on each individual problem Ive encountered, mostly to prove to myself I actually understand whats happening in enough detail to explain it. My hope is in explaining it to the ether, the problems that Im facing will become clearer and Ill be able to fix the last remaining problems before calling this phase of my many months long project done.

    Man, I tell you what. I cant wait to get M-BY-MC done, not because I have any delusions of it ever being successful, but because I really want to do use it

  • Article (12028)

    The Horrors of Cursor Positioning in contenteditable div s

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    Sorry, this is a bit of technical minutia having to do with using Javascript in modern browser to manipulate content on the fly. Its a bit technical but I do discuss the purpose behind it in terms of M-BY-MC and what youll be able to do on the site. If youd like a taste of the horror that is browser based development, read on

    Its always something. Apparently, you cannot position the cursor into the empty space between two block level tags. (e.g. <div>something like an image</div>(cannot move cursor here)<div>like a block of text</div>) unless that spot in between contains at least one character. Thats what my testing here seems to indicate in Chrome. Ill have to try it with FireFox and the other browsers as well.

    This endless minutia is annoying. If the method is called setStartBefore() you would think it would set the range BEFORE the node, no? especially when the documentation tells you, and I quote, Sets the start boundary of the range to be immediately before the specified node Its nuts because even with the keyboard typing into the contenteditable div you cant do it.

    This is why I detest about this kind of development. First you have to figure out in Browser-ease how to say what you want to say. (e.g. setting a cursor position involves a thing called a selection and then a thing called a range and then collapsing the range so that the startOffset and the endOffset are the same. Walla! You have set the position of the cursor except .) Then you have to figure out how its broken in all kinds of annoying edge cases. (e.g. sorry, theres no way to put the cursor in front of that DIV the way you want to unless theres something there already.)

    I figured this one out when I realized I couldnt insert characters between two objects in the @mention/#tag jquery plugin Ive been writing for the last week.

    And this is after days of trying to figure out how to handle asynchronous lag in event handling when trying to figure out where the damned cursor is. When I type in @test into the box I want my little event handler, which gets called for each character entered, to check if an @ character has been entered. I need to know where its been entered so I can look at the characters around it to tell if its part of an email address like test@test.com, or whether its at the start of a word like @rob. In the latter case, I want to do the autocomplete. Imagine my shock and horror when I type in @test into the box, I get the character @ in my event handler and ask the browser to tell me what the character in front of the @ is and I randomly get t, e or s. (If it hadnt been for this issue I would have had this done last week.)

    As with the rest of this, Ive agonized about the amount of time Ive been spending writing this plugin. Its just that the core social value that the formVista platform brings to the table is the linking of objects (think you have a forum post and in it you have a map and on the map you have a photo. Youre going to be able to view the photo in a gallery and then see every place that photo has been mentioned or shared on the site, given privacy settings, of course. The same is going to be true of every other kind of object.)

    If Im typing away at speed adding some post to the forum when I go to insert a photo I want to see the thumbnail, not just some cryptic tag as is the case now. If I insert a map, I want to see a map. If I backspace over the thing I want it to disappear. If I move over it with the arrow keys I want the cursor to jump over the thing regardless if its left or right. (It turns out left is causing me all kinds of problems.). I want to be able to do Facebook style @mentions and Twitter style #hash tags with server side autocomplete, which I actually have working. And I want to have room to add support for any other kind of richtext thing I might want to add in the future.

    Its the central feature that brings everything that Ive built so far together and its the thing that users will use more than any other piece of this whole system. As a result, this is where it really needs to be slick and work.

    After all the work Ive done so far, it just didnt seem right to continue with the plain text box approach that I had in the previous version.

    Honestly, of this entire nearly 6 month long project, it was this piece that I had the most trepidations about. I had hoped I was going to be able to use some of the existing @mention solutions that I had found. Initially they looked good but unfortunately, all the ones Ive been able to find are either too limited or too broken to use.

    Once I have this @richmention beast built and tested, I plan to release it under an MIT style license and put it up on github. I also plan on writing up a detailed post about the plugin and the issues I ran into in the hopes that itll be of use to some poor fool who wants to write their own rich text editor widget thing.

  • Article (12029)

    Why Software Patents are a Terrible Idea -or- Why you shouldn t be allowed to patent a better virtual mouse trap.

    Tuesday January 14th 2014

    (This is a re-post of an article I wrote last year. I used this analogy to explain to non-technical people why software patents are such a terrible idea.)?

    Having mice in your kitchen sucks. They eat your apples. They spread disease. They freak out your girlfriend. She becomes unhappy and refuses to cook.

    You face another lonely night eating ramen noodles.

    So, because you are highly motivated by having a happy girlfriend and being fed a real dinner, in a moment of genius clarity, you design a better mouse trap.

    You build a prototype.

    Eureka! It works!

    There is much happiness because now your kitchen is mouse free, your girlfriend is happy and you are no longer subsisting on noodles alone in the dark.

    You think to yourself, society could really benefit from this better mouse trap.

    The problem is you dont have the money to mass produce and market it. But if you show your design to manufacturers whats to prevent them from producing it themselves and cutting you out?

    You decide to keep it secret. This is not good for society because we all need a better mouse trap.

    Enter patent law.

    Patent law is intended to protect the inventor and simultaneously provide a public good. You file a patent in which you describe your invention in detail along with exactly whats new and novel about it. This is good for society. Its a better mouse trap and now society at large knows how to make it.

    In exchange for sharing your invention with the world, assuming the patent office agrees that it is not something obvious that anyone could have thought of, society grants you a temporary monopoly on your particular better mouse trap. No one else is allowed to produce the same mousetrap or use it without your say so. Usually you grant your permission for others to produce it in exchange for some payment in the form of license fees.

    If someone goes ahead and makes your mouse trap exactly as you have described in the patent without your permission, you can sue them for huge damages. You can even file an injunction against them and prevent them from continuing to produce the mousetrap you designed. Whats even better for you is that the full weight of patent law is behind you, the patent holder, so its really difficult for even big companies to defend themselves against your claims.
    A patent is a very powerful monopoly which is good because we need a better mouse trap and we want you to design one and be rewarded for your efforts.

    But because it is such a powerful monopoly and monopolies are bad for competition and innovation, we want to make certain that you can only patent your mouse trap and not something else. This is relatively straight forward because your better mouse trap is a physical invention and the mechanism of the invention is clearly described in the patent application along with what makes it unique. We can all agree on what makes it novel and more importantly we can compare your mousetrap and somebody elses attempt at a better mousetrap and all agree whether or not the two are the same. Normal mouse traps snap. Yours, for instance, spins. Does their mousetrap spin in the same way? If not, then its a different mouse trap and your patent doesnt apply. If it does, you have the power to ruin their day.

    But we also want competition. We want, for the public good, some other inventor to look at your new mousetrap and think Thats a good idea, but I can do better. Even with your new better mouse trap we need better mouse traps because mice are damned smart and adaptable and continue to make for unhappy girlfriends. After all, you dont want to starve. Patents are supposed to foster innovation and invention.

    Now with patent in hand and the full weight of patent law behind you, you can go to manufacturers with confidence and negotiate to get your better mouse trap produced without fear that they will cut you out.
    Its such a powerful idea that its ingrained in American mythology. Even today getting a patent is a mark of success, intelligence and status.

    But there is a dark side to patents that we need to avoid.

    We want to prevent someone from patenting in a way that has unintended consequences. For instance, we dont want someone to be able to patent the idea of a mousetrap. If a person could do that, they would have the power and right, based on current patent law, to go and demand money from anyone who produces mouse traps, even if those people have been producing mouse traps for years. Worse yet, because of the power of patent law, such an individual could even shut mouse trap manufactures down.

    Imagine if someone could patent the idea of using a spring in a mousetrap. Or the concept of a spring in a trap. Suddenly, with such a patent in hand, someone could go out and start suing manufacturers of mouse traps, rat traps, cat traps, rhinocerous traps, you name it.

    method and process for releasing stored potential energy to effect intruding entity capture.

    That doesnt seem right, now does it?

    If Ive been building something for years you should not be able to patent some part of it and then demand money from me or force me out of business.

    Luckily for us, such a thing doesnt happen. Or does it?

    Well, unfortunately for all of us this is exactly what is happening in the software industry right now and its getting much worse.

    No lie. No exaggeration.

    How can that be?

    Lets take our example above of a better mouse trap and change it.

    Consider a virtual reality game where theres a kitchen, a freaked out girlfriend, some food thats not getting cooked and some mice.

    So for the game you come up with a better mouse trap. You write some code. Save it in a text file and include it in the game. It lays out the way the mouse traps looks and works. Its identical in every way to your physical mouse trap. In the video game it rocks. It is as effective as your real mouse trap and your virtual girlfriend is just as happy as the real girlfriend you wish you had would be, if you werent single spending all your time inventing virtual mouse traps.

    You go to apply for a patent on your virtual mouse trap. Most people would think that if the physical mouse trap is patentable, and we all agree it is, then the virtual copy of that mouse trap should also be patentable.

    Makes sense, right?

    There is a serious problem with this that has far reaching consequences.

    There is no mouse trap.

    Nor is there a kitchen or freaked out virtual girlfriend.

    There are only 1?s and 0?s in a computer simulation and what those 1?s and 0?s mean is entirely up to interpretation.

    Its software after all.

    I dont know if you know this but a computer, no matter how advanced or powerful, is just a set of switches that are either on or off.

    Youve heard about gigs, right? Gigs of memory? Gigs of disk space? Gigs of pirated music on your ipod?

    A gig is short for gigabyte which is 1073741824 bytes. A byte has 8 bits. A bit is a switch. It can be on or off. On represents 1. Off represents 0.

    All the magic that happens in a computer is reduced to these 1?s and 0?s. Billions and billions of switches. Even this article you are reading right now. Each point on your screen is represented by a bunch of bits.

    So when I say there is no mouse in your virtual game I mean it literally. What you perceive as a mouse on the screen is just a series of dots represented by a series of 1?s and 0?s. The same goes for the virtual kitchen, the freaked out virtual girlfriend and your newly invented virtual mouse trap. What you think you see is all an illusion. Its just changing patterns of bits.

    But you still want to file a patent to protect your better virtual mouse trap, because thats what you see. What do you patent? A virtual mouse trap? Of course not. There is no mouse trap. Its just 1?s and 0?s.

    Have I lost you yet? We have what looks like a trap. We have what looks a mouse. But really its all software and data, just changing patterns of 1?s and 0?s.

    So faced with this conundrum, maybe you describe your invention in generic terms of matching an entity pattern that youre interested in, i.e. virtual mouse, and then triggering some interrupting action that prevents further copying of the entity pattern, i.e. springing the trap.

    The sample code might look something like:

    while we have not detected the pattern of an entity (i.e. mouse) in memory we're interested in

    continue to look

    otherwise interrupt the program to halt the entity (i.e spring the trap killing the virtual mouse).

    You file to get a patent for your software invention, i.e. a software patent, and the patent office grants it to you because maybe its a Friday and they have quota to make so they rubber stamp it.

    What have you patented? What power have you been granted? How do you tell who is infringing on your newly minted intellectual property?

    Clearly you could go after any video game makers that have representations of your virtual mouse trap. A jury would probably buy that. But, because its software, how do we tell if some virtual mouse trap is the same as yours? Because it looks like the same on the screen? What if its a black and white screen? What if there is no screen? What if the interface the user whos playing the games uses is for the blind and its based on sound? How do we tell if its the same mouse trap?

    You look at the patent claims. Theres a monitoring entity. Check. Theres a pattern being looked for. Check. Hmm. Based on this it looks like youve patented every kind of virtual mousetrap that could possibly be created. A jury in East Texas might buy that.

    Because there is no mouse trap. Its just software monitoring other software searching for a pattern.

    Then you meet a lawfirm who sees the patent you have been granted. They buy it off of you and aggregate it with other patents they have.

    And they go and sue all makers of anti-virus software out there because clearly your mouse trap algorithm sounds like what anti-virus vendors do, doesnt it? Anti-virus software does pattern searching for patterns its interested in and halts offending programs. Clearly its a virtual mouse trap.

    But all you wanted to do was to patent a mouse trap in a video game and now this lawfirm you sold the patent to is going out and ruining the day of some anti-virus vendors.

    Unintended consequences.

    Now it gets bad for the anti-virus makers. The lawfirm sues them because they are able to convince a court they have a right to sue. Clearly you would expect that if it goes to court the court will see that what was patented was intended to be a virtual mouse trap and the patent would be thrown out?

    Unfortunately for the anti-virus vendor, they have to hire really expensive attorneys to defend themselves. As of 2004, the average cost just to get to the point where you are in front of a judge is over $1M. Yes, thats a 7 figure number.

    Again, all you did was patent a virtual mouse trap.

    Most patent litigation happens in East Texas. From what I have read, the population there is very property rights friendly and if the patent office granted you the patent then clearly you have something valid.

    So even if the anti-virus vendors spend seven figures and go to court they might lose because what anti-virus vendors do sounds very similar to what a virtual mouse trap does. The risk is great because the damage awards in patent litigation are out of this world.

    So the anti-virus vendors do what most people in this situation do. They settle. Even though they do not write virtual mouse traps the costs of litigation are so high and awards so great that it often doesnt make sense to try to fight.

    And they pass the added costs onto consumers.

    With a little imagination the patent troll could probably find a whole bunch of other kinds of companies to sue that produce a wide variety of software systems that all infringe on your mouse trap patent. The patent troll is happy because for little work he gets to retire rich without actually contributing anything to society.

    This is not what patent law was intended to do. It was supposed to make it so inventors would have an incentive to invent. It was not meant as a way for people to make a living through lawsuits.

    Now you may say that there have to be a class of software inventions that would be worthy of patent protection. But heres the rub. All software is 1?s and 0?s. With software there is no way to have an unambiguous and verifiable result. We cant all hold it in our hand and agree on exactly where the limits of the invention are. There is no way to, ahead of time, know whether or not a piece of code might be seen by some jury to infringe on some patent. (And then theres the whole thing of people patenting really obvious things they learned in school, but thats another, albeit related, story.)

    Because software is just an idea. It doesnt actually exist.

    Software is 1?s and 0?s and therefore always left up to interpretation. So its more like the story in a book. What it means and where its boundaries are are left up, in part, to the reader.

    This is why software should never have been allowed to be patented in the first place. Because of the written prose nature of software, any software patent suffers from unintended consequences and will by definition always be over-broad and can be re-interpreted to match situations that the original inventor never envisioned.

    What should protect software is the same as what protects books and other works. Copyright. I write it you cant copy it without my permission. If you want to write something similar go for it. Its good for society for us to compete and see which of us can do the better job.

    Of course you are thinking it couldnt be that bad. Clearly a virtual mouse trap is a contrived example. But unfortunately the mouse trap patent above has more merit than many that are being litigated now.

    Recently, one company, LodSys, claims to own a patent on in-app purchases from smart phones and their strategy is to go after small one and two man shops and sue them for a percentage of their revenue to establish precedent.

    'Here is the claims section of their patent as mentioned in this articlehttp://www.applepatent.com/2011/06/lodsys-what-to-do-if-you-receive-lodsys.html. (Personally I do not agree with the recommended course of action. Small developers simply dont have the money.):

    1. Asystem comprising:

    units of a commodity that can be used by respective users in different locations,

    a user interface, which is part of each of the units of the commodity, configured to provide a medium for two-way local interaction between one of the users and the corresponding unit of the commodity, and furtherconfigured to elicit, from a user, information about the users perception of the commodity,

    a memory within each of the units of the commodity capable of storing results of the two-way local interaction, the results including elicitedinformation about user perception of the commodity,

    a communication element associated with each of the units of the commoditycapable of carrying results of the two-way local interaction from each of the units of the commodity to a central location, and

    a component capable of managing the interactions of the users in different locations and collecting the results of the interactions at the central location.

    The whole patent is here:http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=nA2AAAAAEBAJ&dq=7222078

    The original intent of the invention was some kind of phone/fax machine that talked over dialup lines to some server back in 1988. LodSys somehow bought or otherwise obtained the patent and decided to start suing en-mass recently.

    What are they saying this patent applies to? Buy Now and Upgrade buttons linked to iTunes or the Android Market.

    Yes. Buy Now buttons. Just the buttons. Nothing else.

    Quite the genius invention that needed to be disclosed for the benefit of society and could only be done through the protection of a patent because otherwise no one would ever have come up with the idea of a buy now button, eh?

    So if you put a button in your software linked to a store they want a percentage of your revenue or theyll have the court of East Texas issue a summons for your sorry self to ruin your day. In other words, if they have their way they want to impose what amounts to a tax on all makers of software because everybody has buy now buttons and has had them in software since the early day of the internet. And, of course, its completely obvious. I sell something so I want to put a price tag on it and a way for people to buy it. Genius invention, eh?

    Some of the guys in danger of getting sued are just little guys writing cool apps on their own without a company around them. What are they going to do when they get sued for doing something so obvious and normal as a hey, click here to buy my app kind of link? All of their personal assets are at risk. How on earth could any reasonable person think that such a thing could be patentable? How on earth does anyone who gets hit by one of these baseless lawsuits defend themselves when patent law is so skewed in favor of the patent holder? Patents were supposed to protect the little guy against the big guys, not make it easy for non-practicing patent trolls to bully the little guys.

    Heres the kind of letters LodSys are sending out:

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20110705124738103

    The problem is we small developers dont have 7 figures to spend defending ourselves. Hell, we cant even afford the initial consultations with an attorney.

    Those of us in the software industry always held that software was something that should never have been patentable because we saw this future coming. But in 1994 a judge ruled that software could be patented and the mess of unintended consequences began.

    Why should anyone outside of the software industry care about this kind of patent abuse?

    Think about it the next time you buy a phone, a car, a music player, or any other device that has any code in it. What percentage of your hard earned, hard fought precious money is going to pay off some non-practicing patent holder, a.k.a. Patent troll, who figured out he could abuse the patent system to sue for a percentage of revenue not so he could build anything but instead just to get rich by taking.

    Think about it the next time you wonder why things are so expensive.

    Think about it when your kids are looking to start small companies or their employers downsize because of litigation expenses.

    Or more importantly, think about it when you do anything online. Even if you just have a small business or personal site doing something completely normal you are not immune:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20030207060405/http://www2.museumtour.com/sbc.html

    http://www.linksandlaw.com/linkingcases-other.htm#SBC%20Communications%20v.%20Museumtour.com:%20Frames%20Patent?

    Software patents expose even average citizens to unacceptably high risk of litigation. Yes, even you.

    Patent law must change. If it does not our other American industries will go the way of our auto industry and our cost of living will go up as a result. If you are anti-taxes, you should be even more incensed by the tax you pay every day to people who abuse the patent system and offer you no benefit in return whatsoever.

    Its unlikely given how long this mess has been going on that software patents will be done away with, despite that being the correct solution, but something has to change to avoid letting patent trolls have too much power. Small business and startups are what drives the economy forward. The ideas that will keep your children employed in the future are being developed by small entrepreneurs today and this patent situation is putting a dark cloud over that part of our economy. Many who would otherwise be willing to start businesses are shying away because the risks are becoming too great.

    Heres some additional reading for the interested:

    http://www.enterpriseirregulars.com/17600/the-problem-with-software-patents/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patent_debate

    http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2011/07/first-two-app-developers-must-file.html

    http://fosspatents.blogspot.com/2011/07/cost-efficient-way-for-app-developers.html

  • Article (12030)

    Android Gmail HTML Rendering Issues

    Monday December 30th 2013

    After too long, and many many requests, I've finally managed to rebuild the daily digest. It summarizes the goings on on the site for members to let them know what's going on.

    Previous versions had been text only so I figured, following the lead of just about everybody else, that I would try to send out something in HTML. Of course, I'm a backend developer server/network/database guy and not a designer.

    It turns out that Gmail and the Android Gmail client do not support the <style> tags. In addition, they strip out the <body> tag and turn it into a <div> which can cause some havoc to your layout.

    The ugly answer to this conundrum is to use style attributes everywhere, which can get quite ugly and be unmaintainable.

    So instead of rewriting all the markup I had created, I looked for and found a PHP library that would rewrite the markup on the fly parsing the <style> section at the top of the page and applying style= attributes everywhere. This works surprisingly well.

    The library can be found herehttps://github.com/tijsverkoyen/CssToInlineStyles

    There's a bunch more work I could do on formatting the email and attempting to make it more responsive. But I think for the moment, this is probably good enough.

formVistaTM By: Flying Brick Software, LLC
formVista generated this page in: 0.1600 seconds
using '4194304' bytes of memory