Archive for the 'Programming' Category

JavaPolis Disconnected

Lesson learned: a hotel which advertises with ‘WiFi’ as one of its rooms’ facilities may actually charge a substantial amount of money for that service; do not assume that it’s included in the room price. Not that I can’t afford 22 euros for a day of WiFi access, or that my employer wouldn’t pay it for me; I just refuse to pay that much money for it. At home (sorry, product placement) I get high-speed Internet access for a month for that amount. And it’s not that I’m in some faraway country; I’m just around the corner, in Antwerpen, at the JavaPolis conference — where there’s no reasonably priced WiFi available either. So this blog entry is written on old fashioned paper (the fancy JavaPolis notebook that we got in the goody bag), and you won’t be able to read it until Saturday, when I return.

On my first day at JavaPolis, I’ve already seen several interesting new things. After seeing a presentation on EJB3 and the new persistence API, I was left wondering why anyone would want to use Hibernate anymore. In a year or so, you’ll have this elegant-looking, standard ORM solution built into the application server you’re already using anyway. Furthermore, writing EJBs suddenly seems to become a fun thing to do. Just write the business interface, chuck in an annotation or two, and you’re ready to deploy.

I saw two excellent presentations, one about concurrency in Java 5: Brian Goetz explained very clearly, and with numerous examples, how to use the new concurrency functions, and why you would want to use them. Concurrency performance turns out to be much better than using synchronization. In Java 5 that is; in Java 6 the core language team optimized synchronization so the performance is up to par again with the concurrency library. I wonder why they waited so long with doing that optimization…

The other presentation was about Shale, by David Geary (who has some interesting blog entries about his experiences with Ruby and Rails by the way). Shale is named ‘the new Struts’, but technically it doesn’t have much to do with Struts — and maybe that’s just as well. It’s based heavily on JSF for its web interface, but it also borrows from Tapestry, Seam, and Spring WebFlow; although Shale’s webflow mechanism seems to be somewhat easier to use. However, now that I’ve seen Ruby on Rails, it occurred to me how insanely many XML config files are still used by something like Shale. I hadn’t expected this from someone so enthousiastic about Rails. Is it really impossible to have anything in Java without a heap of XML files accompanying it? I don’t think so; the EJB3 presentation showed that it is possible, using annotations and convention over configuration. People are starting to understand that developers want to code, not configurate!

2005-12-14. 5 responses.

Vacation! But first, JavaPolis

The best moment in any vacation is when you shut the office door behind you, the night before the vacation begins. You feel a free man, even if it’s only for a few days or weeks. Today I had that moment, and I’m still enjoying it now.
This year, my Christmas vacation starts off with a visit to the JavaPolis conference in Antwerp, Belgium. Technically, it’s still work; but it’s a lot more fun than solving issues and debugging code, which I’ve been doing since our first major release back in October.

The other night, a colleague told me he doesn’t like going to conferences because you get so little out of the — usually short — presentations. But for me, a conference like this is all about hearing and seeing new things, being inspired, getting new ideas, thinking up new plans, new projects… As well as meeting people: people I’ve worked with in previous projects, or people that you only knew on-line, or people who helped build the stuff we’re using everyday: Java, Google, Spring etcetera. Not that meeting them would change the way you work with their tools, but I think that people who’ve created something noteworthy, are often inspiring to meet and talk to. A conference can be so much more than just the presentations you attend. I hope JavaPolis will be like that.

I’m going to try to blog whenever I can, but that will probably only be at night, in my hotel. WiFi seems to be the one thing missing from JavaPolis, unfortunately.

2005-12-13. No responses.

Six Figure Ruby: 10 ways to make money with Ruby right now

Like I wrote earlier, it’s frustrating to learn a new language when you don’t get to use it straight away. So I’ve come up with 10 creative ways that will get you started today with making big money (or fame) with your newly acquired Ruby skills.

1. Convince the company where you’re currently doing a Java project (you are, aren’t you?) that they should hire you to convert their corporate website or intranet to Ruby on Rails. Use terms like ‘enterprise ready’, ‘cluster aware’, ‘web 2.0’, ‘TCO’, ‘ROI’, and you’re in business! Now you’ll only have to tell the 5 Java coders who are currently maintaining these sites fulltime, why they’re losing their jobs thanks to you…

2. Take a weekend off to write the successor to del.icio.us in Ruby — now that Yahoo bought it, there will be plenty of people looking for an ad-free alternative (so you should wait a bit before selling it to Google).

3. Start your own line of merchandising around the world-famous foxes. Sure, there’s the t-shirts already, but I’m talking about a much bigger picture here: cute pluche foxes, fox mugs, fox mousepads, fox gloves, fox pens, fox caps, fox laptop bags… And all this royalty-free, thanks to the generosity of Why!

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2005-12-11. 6 responses.

Java is minimal only in the apidocs, not in our minds

The battle of Ruby vs. Java is breaking loose big time. You haven’t heard? Seriously? Well, I’m not going to add yet another blog entry with a summary of the whole discussion started by Martin Fowler; you’ll find an excellent summary on The Farm (but don’t stop there; you don’t want to miss, for example, Elliotte Rusty Harold discovering the versatility of Ruby’s Array class). My local Ruby guru advised me earlier on against comparing Ruby with Java, and I agree: you should use each language where it’s best suited.

But I would like to ask the ‘minimalists’ (pro-minimal interface, vs. humanists: pro-humane interface) this. In the last three years of Java coding, I haven’t been on a project where at least commons-lang, commons-collections and commons-beanutils weren’t included, from the start, and used throughout the code.[1] My point is, our (= coders) virtual interface to List/String/Class/etcetera does already contain all those extra, some say superfluous, methods. If I want to do a select(predicate) on a collection, I know I can — it’s just a matter of remembering which to use: Collection, Collections or CollectionUtils. But virtually, it’s just an operation on the Collection interface to me. However minimal the Collection interface is in the apidocs, in my mind there’s a lot more I can have a collection do. So if we’re generally aiming at keeping things simple, why aren’t these operations on the Collection interface itself? So what if it takes 78 methods, or 780 for all I care — if that’s where they belong, we should put them there instead of spreading them out artificially over utility classes.[2]

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1. And even that wasn’t enough sometimes for fairly basic tricks, like the one I wanted to do just recently: convert a collection of objects to a map with key/value pairs coming from the objects’ properties. It’s not in commons-collections (let alone java.util.Collections). Yet another utility method added to the project, and not even trivial to code. While in Ruby, it’s nothing more than a fresh breeze of code…

map = {}
objects.collect {|obj| map[obj.key_property] = obj.value_property}

2. Why do people get nervous over big numbers so often? Isn’t that what we have computers for? And where should we place the limit? Obviously, 22 methods is ‘officially approved’, 78 is not; so is 23 okay? 24? Why should we have an arbitrary limit? Personally, I think it would be better to just consider the behaviour we want a class to have, no matter how many methods it takes.

2005-12-10. 2 responses.

BEA & Ajax: Bringing BEA WebLogic Portal up to speed with JSON-RPC

Among today’s fashionable buzzwords in web development is Ajax. Fortunately, when you’re using the BEA WebLogic Portal framework, it’s easy to add a bit of this hot new technology to your application. For a project I did this year, we used the JSON-RPC-Java Ajax implementation. To use JSONRPC(JavaScript Object Notation remote procedure call protocol), you drop the downloaded jsonrpc.jar in your application’s APP-INF/lib directory. This library contains a servlet that will catch and process your Ajax actions. You’ll have to configure the servlet in the web.xml (see the detailed instructions). Then it’s up to you to do some JavaScript coding.
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2005-12-07. 6 responses.

Ruby or Rails?

Last Friday I finally managed (been too busy lately) to visit Rotterdam’s super bookstore, Donner, to pick up a copy of Programming Ruby. I will easily spend an hour or two roaming Donner’s eight or nine floors, browsing through all their new books, discovering old ones I hadn’t seen before, sitting down for a while to read through the contents of some books to see if I should really spend the small fortune they sometimes cost these days… Usually I start by going straight to the third floor (computer books), then slowly all the way up (passing the cd department, books on art, design, movies, music etc.; top floor has books on sale); and finally I go back down again (law, economics, philosophy, magazines, gardening, food, photography, and the huge basement with fiction, Dutch & English). Anyway, there I was on the third floor, only one copy of Programming Ruby left (is it that popular or doesn’t it sell at all?)… and I didn’t buy it! Instead I took home Agile Web Development with Rails, in the true Ruby spirit: I want to create something right away, build a web site now, with Ruby. I know myself, eventually I will buy the other book and meticulously read about all the language intricacies. But for now, it’s Rails.

2005-12-05. 2 responses.

So many Java web frameworks… Can we get some Clarity please?

Today I was talking with my co-worker Ravan about the various web frameworks there are now in the Java world. There’s Struts, of course, Spring MVC, Spring Webflow, Tapestry, Beehive/Netui, JSF, Shale… and undoubtedly many more. One or two years ago it was obvious which one you were going to use (Struts); right now it’s hard to tell where to put your money. Chances are, the framework you’re building your enterprise application with today, will be out of fashion (or worse, out of existence) next year. Three years from now, who’s going to maintain all that code written with, by then, outdated frameworks?

By coincidence I came across some half-hidden postings later today, about a newly proposed framework called Clarity–the one framework to replace them all. Representatives from several of the existing frameworks (Spring, WebWork, Struts Ti and Beehive) have joined the initiative. Clarity’s goal is “to unify WebWork, Struts, Spring MVC, Beehive, and Spring WebFlow in to a single project that establishes clear leadership in the web development space.” Right now there seems to be little more than a mailing list and a mission statement. It does sound promising though. Think of it: the best of Spring, Struts and Beehive united. If it’s done well (easy to use, easy to code) it could well be the Java answer to Ruby on Rails. (No, let’s not go there; Rails and J2EE are for different kinds of applications, that won’t change).

I see only one potential problem: that Clarity will fail to replace the existing frameworks, and will become just another framework coexisting with the others. If that happens, we’re all doomed. This initiative might be more important for Java than these few cautious postings seem to suggest…

2005-11-30. No responses.

Why, if reading Ruby is like reading natural language, unless it’s not?

Yesterday, a familiar Ruby coder showed me a piece of Ruby code that used Ruby’s programmer-friendly if-construct, where you can place the if clause after the conditional block of code. It was something like this:
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2005-11-29. 3 responses.

Now reading my favorite books

I’ve been using Rob Miller’s Now Reading plugin to show a list of books I’m currently reading in my blog’s sidebar, as you can see. The plugin allows you to show sublists of books you’re reading, books you’ve read, and books you’re planning to read. However, I wanted more, so I’ve done some hacking. What I’ve added is:

  • a new category, ‘Favorite books’;
  • an option to display only the category/categories you want;
  • a text field for each book to store and later display your own review.

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2005-11-22. 8 responses.

Is Ruby the new Java?

About eight or nine years ago, I first read about Java in Wired Magazine. At the time, I was mostly programming in Delphi, C, and, if I really had to, in Oracle Forms. It wasn’t altogether clear what role Java was going to play; any examples you ever saw were applets, doing image animations on a web page. I bought a book that promised to explain it all, but did little else but list the standard libraries api docs. Although over time, more and more people were saying Java was going to be the next great thing, I didn’t have a clue what to do with Java, there & then. (Until 2000, when I did my first web app with Java, with EJB’s, and started wondering why I had ever wanted to be a part of this next great thing).

Right now I’m having a strong feeling of deja vu. This time, it’s about Ruby. Everyone probably knows by now that Ruby is a scripting language, developed nine years ago in Japan, became very popular in the rest of the world in the last year or so. Recurring discussions on TSS revolve around the question if and when Ruby is to be preferred over Java, and if it will be the next great thing. Surely the language looks interesting enough, and so does the web framework, Rails. But in order to really get to know it, I have to use it in a real project, doing real stuff (I have not enough patience or spare time to just code something for the sake of it).

There’s several books written about Ruby, of which Programming Ruby comes recommended by Remco, my local Ruby guru (and by none other than Martin Fowler, I read at Amazon). Until now, I’ve done it the cheap way by reading Why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby. This free ebook explains the basics of the language in the form of a rather insane story, illustrated with equally wacko comic strips. It tries to offer memory aids through its story for Ruby’s language features. Unfortunately, most of these memory aids are so far-fetched that I’m having trouble remembering _them,_ let alone the language elements they’re supposed to remind me of. But it does make for entertaining reading, offering an easy introducting to Ruby.

2005-11-21. 5 responses.

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