Older blog entries for wlach (starting at number 119)

Yet more adventures in mobile performance analysis

[ For more information on the Eideticker software I'm referring to, see this entry ]

Participated in an interesting meeting on checkerboarding in Firefox for Android yesterday. As a reminder, checkerboarding refers to the amount of time you spend waiting to see the full page after you do a swipe on your mobile device, and it’s a big issue right now – so much so that it puts our delivery goal for the new native browser at risk.

It seems like we have a number of strategies for improving performance which will likely solve the problem, but we need to be able to measure improvements to make sure that we’re making progress. This is one of the places where Eideticker could be useful (especially with regards to measuring us against the competition), though there are a few things that we need to add before it’s going to be as useful as it could be. The most urgent, as I understand, is to come up with a suite of tests which accurately represent the set of pages that we’re having issues with. The current main measure of checkerboarding that we’re using with eideticker is taskjs.org which, while an interesting test case in some ways, doesn’t accurately represent the sort of site that the user would normally go to in the wild (and thus be annoyed by). ;)

This is going to take a few days (and a lot of review: I’m definitely no expert when it comes to this stuff) to get right, but I just added two tests for the New York Times which I think are a step in the right direction of being more representative of real-world use cases. Have a look here:

http://wrla.ch/eideticker/dashboard/#/nytimes-scrolling
http://wrla.ch/eideticker/dashboard/#/nytimes-zooming

The results here actually aren’t as bad as I would have expected/remembered. There amount of checkerboarding after a zoom out is a bit annoying (I understand this a known issue with font caching, or something) but not too terrible. Still, any improvements that show up here will probably apply across a wide variety of sites, as the design patterns on the New York Times site are very common.

(P.S. yes, I know I promised a comparison with Google Chrome for Android last time… rest assured that’s still coming soon!)

Syndicated 2012-04-06 01:12:46 from William Lachance's Log

An even better way of taking screenshots on Android

Just thought I’d mention this because I found it handy.

A while back AaronMT wrote up some clever instructions on taking Android screenshots by dumping the contents of ‘/dev/fb0′ and running ffmpeg on the results. This is useful, but you need to know the resolution of the device you have connected to pass the right arguments to ffmpeg. Wouldn’t it be better if you had just one script that would work for whatever device you had plugged in?

In fact, there is a way to do this using the monkeyrunner utility. Intended mainly as a tool for synthesizing input on Android (more on that some other time), you can also easily get a capture of the Android screen with its python/jython API (assuming you have the Android SDK installed). Here’s a quick script which does the job:

from com.android.monkeyrunner import MonkeyRunner, MonkeyDevice
import os
import sys

if len(sys.argv) != 2:
print "Usage: %s " % os.path.basename(sys.argv[0])
sys.exit(1)

device = MonkeyRunner.waitForConnection()
result = device.takeSnapshot()
result.writeToFile(sys.argv[1], 'png')

Copy that into a file called capture.py (or whatever), then run it like so:

monkeyrunner capture.py screenshot.png

And you’re off to the races! Nice screenshot, no utilities or non-essential command line arguments required!

(credit to this stackoverflow answer for the idea)

Syndicated 2012-04-03 21:49:09 from William Lachance's Log

Eideticker dashboard update

[ For more information on the Eideticker software I'm referring to, see this entry ]

Since my first Eideticker dashboard update was so well received, I thought I’d give a quick update on another metric that I just brought online: checkerboarding (a.k.a. the amount of time you spend waiting to see the full page after you do a swipe on your mobile device).

Unfortunately the news here is not as good as before: as the numbers indicate, the new Native Fennec currently performs substantially worse than the version in Android market. This is a known issue, and is currently being tracked in bug 719447.

Next up: Seeing how we do against Google Chrome for Android.

Syndicated 2012-03-22 22:07:37 from William Lachance's Log

Announcing the Eideticker mobile performance dashboard

Over the last while, Clint Talbert and I have been working on setting up automatic mobile performance tests using Eideticker (a framework to measure perceived Firefox performance by video capturing automated browser interactions: for more information, see my earlier post).

There’s many reasons why this is interesting, but probably the most important one is that it can measure differences reliably across different types of mobile browsers. Currently I’m testing the old XUL fennec, the Android stock browser, and the latest nightlies.

I’m pleased to announce that the first iteration of the dashboard is available for public consumption, on my site.

http://wrla.ch/eideticker/dashboard/#/canvas

Eideticker Results

The demo is pretty cheesey (just click on any of the datapoints to see the video capture), but nonetheless does seem to illustrate some interesting differences between the three browsers. The big jump in performance for nightly comes from the landing of the Maple branch, which happened earlier this week. Hopefully this validates some of the work that the mobile/graphics team has been doing over the past while. Exciting times!

Syndicated 2012-03-16 18:51:00 from William Lachance's Log

Playing with pandas

For the last few days I’ve been experimenting with getting a Pandaboard running Android 4.0, continuing the work that Clint Talbert started in the fall to get these boards for use as a replacement for the Tegra in Mozilla’s android automation. The first objective is to get a reproducible build going, after that we’ll try to get some of our custom tools (SUTAgent & friends) installed by default.

So far this has been… interesting. Much as Clint did before, I thought I’d document some of the notes on what I did in the hopes that they’ll be helpful to other people trying to do similar things.

Getting things up and running is a two step process. First, you build the beast. This part is straightforward, just follow the instructions here:

At least the build part is more or less straightforward. Just follow the instructions here:

Note that you almost certainly want to build in the “eng” configuration, which is rooted and (apparently) has some extra tools installed.

Installing it is a little more tricky. The way they want you to do this is put the pandaboard into a special mode and copy the stuff you built onto an sdcard. Seem a little funny to you? Yeah, it does to me too. Why not just build an sdcard image directly?
Nonetheless, this is the officially supported way of imaging a pandaboard, so let’s just follow it until we can think of a better way of doing things. :) The instructions for doing this on the pandaboard are located in the source tree here:

device/ti/panda/README

These are mostly correct as far as I can tell, but there’s a few gotchas. First, you need to run the commands mentioned as root unless you’ve configured USB to be configurable by your user. Second, most of those commands are not in the path by default so you’ll need to specify the full path to e.g. the fastboot utility. The instructions here cover these exception cases: I recommend following them instead.

One thing which neither document mentions is that you really need to make sure your sdcard is wiped completely clean before using fastboot. The “oem format” step only recreates the partition table, it doesn’t delete any corrupted partitions. If you reboot while these are still in place, it will try to bring up your corrupted version of Android, not the fastboot console. I spent quite some time debugging why I couldn’t properly flash the operating system before realizing this. Easiest way to get around this is to dd /dev/zero onto the sdcard before beginning the flashing process.

Also, while not strictly necessary to get something up and running, I recommend highly getting an HDMI monitor as well as a serialUSB adapter. The former is useful to see if your Android device actually successfully booted up, the latter is useful for debugging boot issues where you don’t get that far (the serial console is always available from boot).

So, after painfully learning about the above caveats, I have managed to get things mostly working. I can see the ICS homescreen on my attached HDMI monitor and interact with it if I attach a USB mouse. The one gotcha is that both ethernet and WIFI networking are totally broken. Plugging in an ethernet cable or connecting to a WIFI network seems to result in the machine randomly rebooting, with the logs saying nothing useful. Both of these things are ostensibly supposed to be working according to the latest I’ve read from Google so I’m not exactly sure what’s going on. Investigations will continue.

Syndicated 2012-02-11 00:04:38 from William Lachance's Log

A new domain

A few years ago, I fancied the idea of creating my own software consulting business. For some reason, I thought “Masala Labs” would be a cool and witty name for it (“masala” means spice mixture in Hindi, and who doesn’t like spicy things?), so I registered the domain along with the associated small business paperwork in Nova Scotia. I only ever had one client, and it was only a few months before I wound up joining a few of my colleagues in founding “The Navarra Group” (which is also now defunct, a story I will perhaps tell at another time).

Anyway, I still had my own domain, and I wanted to move my blog from livejournal, which was beginning to jump the shark. The masalalabs domain was mine, so why not use it? I created a wordpress blog, pointed my DNS registration at it, and started writing. This worked well for a while (names don’t really matter for random personal blogs), but lately I’ve been wanting to start a new project and “Masala Labs” doesn’t exactly seem like a winning banner for me to put it under.

So I’ve decided it’s time for a bit of a change. I just registered the swiss domain name ‘wrla.ch’, created a fancy new landing page, and made this blog its first sub-project. More to come.

So, for all 20 of you who are subscribed to my doings, please update your links. For those of you using Google Reader / RSS, the new feed is at this URL. All the old masalalabs links should at least work until the domain expires in a few years, so there’s no huge rush. Then again, you’ll probably forget if you don’t do it now (and thus be deprived of my endless ravings about checkerboarding on mobile Fennec on Android), so why wait?

Syndicated 2012-02-06 05:35:05 from William Lachance's Log

Yet more checkerboarding analysis

I’ve been spending a bit more time on refining the checkerboarding tests in Eideticker that I talked about last time. Most of my work has been focused on making the results as representative of a real world scenario as possible, to that effect I’ve been working on:

  • Changed the test case from a web site of my own concoction to a more realistic example (the taskjs.org site)
  • Use actual Android native events (via MonkeyRunner to synthesize touch-based scrolling instead of simulating the event in JavaScript (which exercises a completely different codepath).
  • Fixing various synchronization issues to make results more repeatable. Before captures were of wildly variable lengths, which made the numbers extremely suspect. There’s probably still a few issues, but much less than before.

The end result of this is a framework that gives much more meaningful results. The bad news is that the results that I’m measuring don’t show a very positive picture for where we’re at with the native re-write of Firefox. Even relative to the version of mobile Firefox which is currently on the Android Market, we still have some catching up to do. Here’s some video of the “old” firefox in action:

And here’s the Native fennec (what we’re currently offering in nightly, with some minor modifications by me to change the way the “checkerboard” is drawn for analysis purposes):

The numbers behind this comparison:

Platform Percent checkerboarding over run of test
Old Fennec 2%
Native Fennec 57%

(by the way, this performance regression is filed as bug 719447)

I know there’s lots of great effort going into improving this situation, so I have hope that we’ll be doing much better on this metric in the coming days/weeks. The process for creating these videos/analyses is mostly automated at this point, so my plan is to create a small dashboard (ala arewefastyet.com) to measure these numbers over time on the latest nightlies. Stay tuned!

Syndicated 2012-01-25 22:18:49 from Masala Labs

Measuring reduced checkerboarding in mobile Fennec

After my post on measuring checkerboarding in mobile Firefox, Clint Talbert (my fearless manager) suggested I run a before and after test to measure the improvement that just landed as part of bug 709512. After a bit of cleanup, I did so, measuring the delta between my build on December 20th and the latest version of Aurora. The difference is pretty remarkable: at least on the LG G2X that I’ve been using for testing, we’ve gone from checkerboarding between 10-20% of the time and not checkerboarding almost at all (in between two runs of the test with the Aurora build, there is exactly one frame that checkerboards). All credit to Chris Lord for that!

See the video evidence for yourself. Before:

After:

Syndicated 2012-01-03 20:18:52 from Masala Labs

Year end Eideticker update

Just before I leave for some Christmas vacation, it’s time for another update on the state of Eideticker. Since I last blogged about the software, I’ve been working on the following three areas:

  1. Coming up with better algorithm (green screen / red screen) for both determining the area of the capture as well as the start/end of the capture. The harness was already flood filling the area with these colours at the beginning/end of the capture, but now we’re actually using this information. The code’s a little hacky, but it seems to work well enough for the test cases I’ve been using so far.
  2. As a demonstration, I wrote up a quick test that demonstrates checkerboarding on mobile Fennec, and wrote up a quick bit of analysis code to detect this pattern and give an overall measure of how much this test “checkerboards” (i.e. has regions that are not fully painted when the user scrolls). As I understand this is an area that our mobile team is currently working on quite a bit, it will be interesting to watch the numbers given by this test and see if things improve.
  3. It’s a minor thing, but you can now view a complete webm movie of the captured movie right from the web interface.

Here’s a quick demonstration video that shows all the above in action. As before, you might want to watch this full screen:

Happy holidays!

Syndicated 2011-12-23 16:59:33 from Masala Labs

An API for AMT data

The AMT released their GTFS schedule information to the public earlier this week, which is awesome. Not coincidentally, Montreal is going to have a Transportation Camp tomorrow, wherein people will hack on transportation software and discuss open data issues.

GTFS information is useful and standard, but in its raw form it can be a bit difficult to wrangle with. So in advance of the event, I thought it might be helpful/useful to put a simple JSON API to the data, based on my routez software. Should be useful for creating an app or two! There’s two endpoints that are currently defined:

/api/v1/stop/<stop code>/upcoming_stoptimes

This will give a set of upcoming departures at a particular AMT stop (represented by its code). Example:

http://amt.masalalabs.ca/api/v1/stop/11260/upcoming_stoptimes

/api/v1/place/<lat,lng>/upcoming_stoptimes?distance=<distance in meters>

This will give a set of AMT stops within range of that endpoint, along with upcoming departures. Example:

http://amt.masalalabs.ca/api/v1/place/45.49640,%20-73.57567/upcoming_stoptimes?distance=1000

Syndicated 2011-12-14 17:01:48 from Masala Labs

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