photo of Danny Dig

Danny Dig and his colleagues discovered widespread problems in mobile app development that can cause applications to be unresponsive and “freeze.” After looking at over 1,000 open-source mobile apps, they found two main problems — underuse and misuse of asynchronous programming.

“It’s very easy, if you are not careful, to write a mobile app that is unresponsive,” Dig says. “The number one culprit for a frozen app is that a programmer has written a blocking call, such as accessing the cloud, on the main thread that processes other user-interface events and actions.”

The solution is to move the blocking calls into the background with asynchronous programming. Dig’s team has sent out hundreds of patches to developers to fix the problems in their code, and they have created tools that developers can use to find and fix asynchrony errors. Their webpages LearnAsync.NET and refactoring.info/tools give many examples of asynchronous programming and access to the tools.

“Now what I want to do is help people avoid making those mistakes in the first place,” Dig said.

As part of his educational efforts, Dig will be presenting in Portland, Oregon for the Technology Association of Oregon in June. The cost is $25 for members and $45 for non-members.

The presentation will be a technical overview of why asynchrony is important, it will include descriptions of the common pitfalls and best practices, and he will also demonstrate the tools he has developed.

“I see this as a way of transferring knowledge from research into practice, but it’s also important for me to have a dialog with programmers. I bring back their feedback to the research,” Dig said. “So, this is a fabulous event for me to establish those connections.”

Story by Rachel Robertson

Photo of Ben McCamish, Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, and Ziwei Ke
Ben McCamish, Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, and Ziwei Ke demonstrate the synchrophasor in the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility. Photo by Gale Sumida.

Oregon State press release posted 5/7/2015.

A new energy test bed using cutting-edge sensor technology has been located at Oregon State University, designed to gain a better understanding of the local electric grid.

The Bonneville Power Administration awarded a $350,000 grant to develop a system that will provide a detailed analysis of load composition and power use. The project should help accommodate new types of load demands and new sources of renewable energy, such as wind and wave energy, while averting blackouts.

The sensors, called phasor measurement units or “synchrophasors,” can take voltage and current measurements 60 times a second, compared to standard sensors that take measurements every two to four seconds. All data will be time-stamped and synchronized with a common clock, allowing researchers to track electrical spikes and other anomalies throughout the grid.

A better understanding of these anomalies could eventually lead to a “smart grid” that can automatically detect blackout warning signs and disconnect portions of the grid to protect critical loads.

“These synchrophasors will allow us to develop better load models,” said Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez, an OSU assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of this project. “Currently, our cascading power outage analysis assumes the campus load to be like a giant toaster – a big resistor that doesn’t change over time – but reality is much more complex.

“We won’t be able to have accurate models until we have a better understanding of the load composition and time-varying demands.”

Three of the synchrophasors have already been installed, and a total of seven will measure a variety of load types. The campus locations for the sensors include the Energy Center, the Salmon Disease Lab, Snell Hall, the photovoltaic array on Campus Way, and the Wallace Energy Systems and Renewables Facility. Two off-campus locations include a platinum foundry in Albany, and one near Newport at the future wave energy testing center, in collaboration with Consumers Power and Central Lincoln PUD.

In addition to the research benefits, the project will allow OSU students to learn about the advanced technology. Graduate students involved in the installation and management of the system are getting hands-on experiences with the all the steps in the chain, from connecting the current transformer to data management and machine learning, which incorporates both electrical engineering and computer science.

“Our students will really have an advantage by being exposed to this technology and having the opportunity to work directly with the local utility companies,” Cotilla-Sanchez said.

In addition to the local utilities, the project involves collaborators from the BPA, OSU Facilities Services, OSU Information Services, and the College of Engineering information technology department.

– by Rachel Robertson