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Most interesting links of November ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on November 30, 2013

Recommended Readings

Some interesting topics this time despite me spending lot of time on the Principles of Reactive Programming course: Java x Node.js, REST x other future-proof architectures, scary legacy code. Of course, also plenty of Clojure.

People, organizations, teams, development:

  • Chris Argyris (1923-2013): An Appreciation – Thinkers 50 – recently departed Ch. Argyris is a person whose work you should know, if a bit interested in learning and organizations and how they (dis)function; and since we all work in organizations and want our work to be pleasant, this means all of us. We all want to work in orgs that do double-loop learning, i.e. they actually evovle as they learn. “Argyris argued that organizations depend fundamentally on people and that personal development is and can be related to work.” Now stop and go read it!
  • Bob Marshall: The Antimatter Principle – “the only principle we need for becoming wildly effective at collaborative knowledge work” – can be summarized as “attend to folks’ needs” (importantly, including your own) => find out what people actually need, interpret their behavior (including anger, seemingly irrational or stupid requests etc.) in terms of needs; mastering this will make you excell in communication and effective work. Read the post to find out more.
  • It’s a state of mind: some practical indicators on doing agile vs. being agile – are you agile or are just “doing agile”? Read on ti find out, if you dare! F.ex. “Non Agile teams have a process that slows the review of the changes.” Cocnlusion: “An Agile mindset is just that – a state of mind, a set of values. Its a constant questioning, and an opening up to possibilities. Its a predisposition to produce great things.
  • Johannes Brodwall:  Humble architects – how to avoid being an architect that does more harm than good, as so many out there? Some tips: Don’t assume stupidity, Be aware that you might be wrong, Be careful with technology (i.e. simplicity beats everything; applies so much to us developers too!), Consistency isn’t as important as you think (or beware context), Tactical reuse in across systems is suboptimization (i.e. reuse has a cost), separate between (coding) rules and dogma (i.e. is that way unsafe, incomprehensible, or just a heresy w.r.t. a dogma?) Very valuable insights into creating good technical solutions and teams that work.
  • Liz Keogh’s The Dream Team Nightmare: a Review – a very good review of this adventure-style book about coaching “agile” teams through (around?) common pitfalls, provides a good base for deciding whether you shall read the book (Liz essentially says yes)
  • Fibonacci Kittens: One Idea One Commit – a short story of coming from biannual releases to frequent release of individual features; I link to this primarily to spread optimism, if this company managed it then, perhaps, we other can too?
  • The Eternal Struggle Between Business and Programmers – “Business: More features! Now! Programmers: More refactoring! Now!” How can we resolve this eternal conflict of needs? This post reveals how the two parties can find a common ground and mutual understanding (beware, everybody must give up on something) and thus work together rather than against each other.

Coding, architecture, legacy

  • Why the future is NOT RESTful – always refreshing to read something against the mainstream; “REST is not fit for the next generation of smart client applications because it has not been designed for smart clients.” According to the author, a smart client app stack needs: “1. persistence (storage and query), 2. documents/orm (conversion to tree-like datastructures), 3. data authorization (once authenticated), 4. pub/sub (websocket communications), 5. client db (client-side caching and querying), 6. templating (presentation level)” Meteor.js has nearly all but #3 thanks to mongodb (1+2), dpp (4), mongo on the client (5), spark (6). The author considers a similar but Clojure-based stack (with Datomic, Angular etc.) and looks at authorization possibilities. “Secured, personalised, CRUD operations are the future to a more simplified web.” We may agree or not but it certainly is worth reading.
  • Michael Feathers (of Working Effectively With Legacy fame): Unconditional Programming – “Over and over again, I find that better code has fewer if-statements, fewer switches, and fewer loops. Often this happens because developers are using languages with better abstractions. [..] The problem with control structures is that they often make it easy to modify code in bad ways.” Includes a nice example of replacing if-else with much more readable and safer code.
  • The Quality of Embedded Software, or the Mess Has Happened – an interesting and scary read about terrible spaghetti code (and hardware) that makes some Toyotas to accelerate when the driver tries to break; 11,000 global variables, the key function showing so high cyclomatix complexity that “makes it impossible not only to test but even maintain this program in any way.” Then 80k violations of the car industry coding standard cannot surprise. And a safety control that does not work. Interesting that a great manufacturer may have so terrible IT (and Toyota isn’t the only one).
  • The string type is broken – the String type is M. Feathers’ favourite example of a leaky abstraction – most languages fail to process/split/count less common Unicode characters properly, the fact that String is implemented as a series of bytes leaks through (UTF-16 langs like Java); worth reading to be aware of the limitations

Languages

  • Why I’m Productive In Clojure – some interesting points about simplicity, consciousness, interactive development, power without overwhelming fatures, etc. “With it [Clojure] I can always easily derive a solution to a particular problem from a small set of general patterns. [..] However, the number of ways that these concepts can be combined to solve all manner of problems appears to be inexhaustible.
  • Node.js at PayPal – PayPal is switching from Java to Node.js (among others to promote language consistency) and, as a part of that, has implemented the same app in Node and Java; results: Node was done earlier, had less code, performed better (though, as Daniel Kvasnička pointed out, “Comparing Node.js and servlet-based archs is not fair… compare Node with @vertx_project and you’ll get a whole different story ;)”; also, as Charles Nutter said, “The @PayPal numbers for their Java to Node move are absurd. A JVM app doing 1.8 pages/s isn’t slow…it’s broken.“)
  • IBM: Developing mobile apps with Node.js and MongoDB, Part 1: A team’s methods and results – also IBM has implemented the same (REST) app once with Java and DB2, once with Node and Mongo where Node+Mongo required less work and performed better; one of the great wins was having JSON as a native structure everywhere instead of transforming from/to it so Mongo is, in my opinion, an important factor in this particular case
  • Dynamics of Programming: Benefits of Scala in CS1 – reasons for and experiences with using Scala in an introductory computer science course, worth reading; some of the advantages over Java are consistency (.asInt on String and Double vs. casting/parsing, no “primitive” types), REPL with time inference good for learning, functional style enables focus on what rather than how; quite persuasive arguments

Security

  • The New Threat: Targeted Internet Traffic Misdirection – did you know that internet traffic to any site can be made to go through a particular server without anybody noticing? This has been observed repeatedly in the wild, for banks and other sites. Rather make sure you use strong encryption (NSA-approved, of course ;)).
  • A (relatively easy to understand) primer on elliptic curve cryptography – Everything you wanted to know about the next generation of public key crypto – you cannot just read this, you have to study it, which I did not; but it looks good and I guess the time will come when I will come back to it

Other

Clojure Corner

  • Stuart Sierra’s Component – a library for making it easier to implement Stuart’s reloadable workflow; a component is something that can be started, stopped, and depend on other components so that it is easier to do interactive REPL development
  • Logan Linn: Clojure/conj 2013 – a pretty good overview of the conference
  • Caribou – “the kernel of usefulness that has emerged from years of this basic practice“- a new Clojure web framework – seems to be interesting
  • Results of the 2013 State of Clojure & ClojureScript survey and drill-down into what features people want – the most interesting fact is how many more participants use Clojure in production than last year and perhaps also the relatively wide adoption of Datomic among the respondents. Light Table has become the 3rd most popular dev. env., after Emacs and Vim. Some of the most mentioned language features requested were types (=> core.typed, Prismatic’s Schema), better error reporting (=> slingshotdireclj-stacktraceio.aviso:pretty, etc.), debuger (though progress is being made)
  • Book: Clojure High Performance Programming
  • Improving Clojure Feedback : Stack Traces – making Clojure stacktraces more usable by filtering out noise and linking to relevant content – io.aviso:pretty,  io.aviso:twixt
  • Clojure Dev discussion: Hashing strategies – Executive summary – “In Clojure, however, it is far more common than in Java to use longs, vectors, sets, maps and compound objects comprised of those components (e.g., a map from vectors of longs to sets) as keys in other hash maps.  It appears that Java’s hash strategy is not well-tuned for this kind of usage.  Clojure’s hashing for longs, vectors, sets, and maps each suffer from some weaknesses that can multiply together to create a crippling number of collisions.” Ex.: An implementation of N-Queens took forever, spending most time on hash collisions. But be calm, smart Clojurians are working on a solution.
  • Datomic Pro Starter Edition – Datomic with all storages, Datomic Console, a year of updates, full Datomic programming model; limitations: no HA transactor, no integrated memcached, max 2 peers and 1 transactor

Tools/Libs

  • AirPair.com – a new site that enables developers to get help from other devs via remote pairing, code review, code mentoring etc. – a good opportunity to get help / help others (and earn something); I haven’t tried it but it sounds pretty interesting

MongoDB web stacks

  • Meteor: JS frontend + MongoDB backend with changes in the DB pushed live to the clients, i.e. MongoDB is used both as the “application server” and storage. It seems great for apps where users need to collaborate in real-time with each other, certainly great for quick proof of concepts etc.; worth checking out; it also comes with free (at least for start?) hosting so really good for prototyping – “an open-source platform for building top-quality web apps in a fraction of the time.” The intro screencast will give you a good overview (10 min).
  • Mean.io – MEAN (Mongo, Express, Angular, Node) stack Boilerplate – frontend, backend and storage using the same language and some of the most popular technologies (not that popular = best fit for you :)); it seems to be very new but since it just glues together 4 popular and documented technologies, that should not be an obstacle. There is an intro on the MongoDB blog.

Other

  • BusyBox (get latest win binary from Tigress.co.uk) – reportedly a better POSIX env for Windows than gow, Cygwin, et al.

Favourite Quotes

[..] no organization should exist unless it is “of service” to its employees, its customers, its community.
- @Tom_Peters 28/11

I hope you’ll agree that there is a certain amount of irony involved in having to write repetitive code
Dmitri Sotnikov in Why I’m Productive In Clojure

Happy teams are productive teams but:

Morale is 95% a function of the prevailing system (the way the work works). Which in turn is a function of the prevailing collective mindset
@flowchainsensei Nov 10th

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The Failure of Governmental IT (Learnings From HealthCare.gov)

Posted by Jakub Holý on October 28, 2013

The failure of Healthcare.Gov has been discussed a lot but the main causes of the failure are unrelated to the project or to technology and apply similarly to other governments / large projects.

According to some reasonable articles, the main problems were:

  1. Byzantine procurement process – those with the best lawyers and experience, not the most capable ones get the job
  2. Size – the project is “too important to fail” – and thus also too big to succeed; +- 55 contractors creating SW with fixed date, integrating hundreds of insurence providers and some 36 states and various agencies; big-bang style of development and deployment
  3. Fragmented responsibility and lack of ability – no one both with enough knowledge and power responsible for the whole project (and lack of the best talent in government IT in general), responsibility spread across tens of contractors and officials likely driven by cover-my-ass motivation (e.g. the procurement officer interested in selecting the cheapest offer that checks all the checkboxes instead of the best one – because who can fire her/him for doing that?)
  4. Niagara Falls of waterfall development, constrained by rules and bureaucracy to immobility – extensive legislation, rules, and security requirements together with a fear/blame-driven organization or not good for agile approaches

BTW, according to L. Hart (below), 0 federal projects over $5M were delivered on time, only 6.4% of those over $10M have succeeded and full 40% of such projects were canceled. So, under those circumstances, Healthcare.Gov is actually a small miracle.

Sources:

  • Laurence Hart: Healthcare.Gov Fiasco Shows the Problems in Federal IT – insight into the broken procurement and many obstacles any federal IT project faces by a person with rich experience with it
  • Merici Vinton: 9 Things You Should Know Before Debating HealthCare.gov, From Someone Who Actually Launched a Successful Government Website – an important story: it is possible to launch a successful government website but it requires special effort and approach. The main advice is:
    1. “Never build a website that’s too big to fail; instead, start small” – the CFPB “launched a pretty basic, consumer facing public website in six to eight weeks” then gradually added intake for complains regarding various products, one by one. “We did each rollout in small chunks and built more and more based on what we learned with each integration.”
    2. “Let’s do open source when possible (preferably always).”
    3. “Let’s have in house strategy, design, and tech.” – i.e. do not outsorce those

    Also, involve IT people in the procurement and hiring.

  • Tim Murphy: Could Obama’s Campaign Tech Gurus Fix Healthcare.gov? Let’s Ask ‘Em! – the answer is no, mostly not – due to the sheer size, the procurement process, and all the legislation. Quotes the campaign’s CTO’s twitter: “The ‘secret’ here is that the problems are not about tech at all,” he tweeted on Monday. “It is about procurement. I can’t fix that with my tech chops or my team.”

By the way, the Government Digital Service team in the UK has become “recently” famous for bringing effective IT to the government. It is interesting to read about the UK DS strategy, based on delivery – frequent, iterative, repeatedly successfull.

Thanks to @flowchainsensei and @timoreilly for the links.

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Most interesting links of September ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on September 30, 2013

Recommended Readings

  • Stuff The Internet Says On Scalability For September 13, 2013 – a collection of interesting performance related articles with summaries (via @_dagi)
  • Can you copy a culture? The NUMMI story (audio/transcript) – how the GM factory with the worst workforce has been turned around via a good application of Toyota Production System – “a truly inspiring story of human potential and how systems can be designed to bring the best or worst of of people.” And how GM failed to learn from it and to copy Toyota’s culture.
  • The Reactive Manifesto – why to write reactive SW – “Reactive applications represent a balanced approach to addressing a wide range of contemporary challenges in software development. Building on an event-driven, message-based foundation, they provide the tools needed to ensure scalability and resilience. On top of this they support rich, responsive user interactions. We expect that a rapidly increasing number of systems will follow this blueprint in the years ahead.
  • Frameworkless JavaScript – Why Angular, Ember, or Backbone don’t work for us [Moot discussion platform] (via JavaScriptWeekly) Me: Frameworks are not always evil, but are likely overused and there are good cases when rolling your own solution is the best way. Why in Moot? Because the want a minimal API (no framework methods), small code size, small and familiar code base, no dependency hell and external package updates, no lock-in to technology that will be gone in few years, need WebSockets not REST. “Moot uses native pushState for managing URLs, John Resig’s “micro templating” for views, and internal communication between model and views happens with a custom event library. There is no router or automatic data-binding.” The looked at Angular, Ember, Backbone. “As a result of our combined perfectionism and minimalism, Moot is an extremely lightweight, manageable, and independent web application [..]
  • NYT: Eiji Toyoda, Promoter of the Toyota Way and Engineer of Its Growth, Dies at 100 – learn about the life of one of the founders of lean thinking
  • Gojko Adzic: How we solved our #1 product management problem – valuable experience of false assumptions, learning from users, and a much helpful UI remake: even if you build a product to scratch your itch, you have to test it with real users

Big data

  • Don’t use Hadoop – your data isn’t that big – a great post about the downside of Hadoop and that there are much better options (large disks, large RAM, Pandas/R/Postgres) for data up to few TBs. “In addition to being more difficult to code for, Hadoop will also nearly always be slower than the simpler alternatives.”
  • Gartner On Big Data: Everyone’s Doing It, No One Knows Why – golf talk / hype -driven initiatives FTW! “According to a recent Gartner report, 64% of enterprises surveyed indicate that they’re deploying or planning Big Data projects. Yet even more acknowledge that they still don’t know what to do with Big Data.”
  • What makes Spark exciting – why it might be a good replacement for Hive/Hadoop, based on experiences with H/H: “Hive has served us well for quite a while now. [...]  That said, it has gotten to the point where Hive is more frequently invoked in negative contexts (“damn it, Hive”) than positive. (Primarily due to being hard to test, hard to extend.)” “We had heard about Spark, but did not start trying it until being so impressed by the Spark presentation at AWS re:Invent [..] that we wanted to learn more. [..] Spark, either intentionally or serendipitously, addresses both of Hive’s primary shortcomings, and turns them into huge strengths. (Easy to test, extend.) [..] I find the codebase small and very easy to read, [..] –which is a nice consolation compared to the daunting codebases of Hadoop and Hive.” Cons.: Spark is only pre-1.0, the author hasn’t yet tested it heavily.
  • 10 Ways to Make Your Office Fun To Work In – because we spend there plenty of our time so why not have a pleasant/cosy, inspiring environment? Some tips: plants, not-your-boring-enteprprise-look-and-feel, open it to the nature (I want this!), design it as home, not office, provide play space (I am too into work to want to play but having a resting place for a nap is st. I’d love).

Books

Other

  • Stanford engineers build computer using carbon nanotube technology (via @RiczWest)
  • NYT: The Banality of Systemic Evil – a good article about human tendency to “obey the system” thus potentially causing evil – and thus the need to resist the system, as heroic individuals such as Snowden, Hammond, Schwartz, Manning. See the famous Eichmann in Jerusalem for how “doing your job” can create evil – “[..] what happens when people play their “proper” roles within a system, following prescribed conduct with respect to that system, while remaining blind to the moral consequences of what the system was doing — or at least compartmentalizing and ignoring those consequences.” (Tip: The book Moral Mazes explores the ethics of decision making within several corporate bureaucracies => mid-managers rules of life: (1) never go around your boss, (2) tell the boss what she wants to hear, (3) drop what she wants dropped, (4) anticipate what the boss wants so that she doesn’t need to act as a boss to get it, (5) do not report something the boss does not want reported, cover it up; the the job & keep your mouth shut.) “The bureaucracy was telling him [Snowden] to shut up and move on (in accord with the five rules in “Moral Mazes”), but Snowden felt that doing so was morally wrong.” “[..] there can be no expectation that the system will act morally of its own accord. Systems are optimized for their own survival and preventing the system from doing evil may well require breaking with organizational niceties, protocols or laws.
  • Fairphone – “A seriously cool smartphone that puts social values first” (likely the only one not built by poorly paid workers and creating too much ecological burden), for just €325. You can see detailed cost breakdown, list of suppliers, specs, and essentially everything. This is, in my opinion, super cool! Go and read the story!

Clojure Corner

  • Amazonica – “A comprehensive Clojure client for the entire Amazon AWS api.”
  • Talk Ritz, The Missing Clojure Tooling (40min, 9/2013) – thanks to this I finally understood how to use Ritz but it still seems not to work well, f.ex. setting a breakpoint always reported “Set 0 breakpoints” (lein ritz/middleware 0.7.0, nrepl-ritz.el 0.7.1); according to callen, debug-repl is simpler and nicer if you only care about local vars and evaluation. To try ritz: use M-x nrepl-ritz-jack-in, then M-x nrepl-ritz-break-on-exception, exec. f.ex. “(/ 1 0)”. In the poped-up buffer, t or enter to show frame locals, e to eval a code in the context of the frame etc. If you managed to trigger the debug buffer through a breakpoint, the actions lists would contain STEP etc. (See fun. nrepl-ritz-line-breakpoint)
  • C. Grand’s spreadmap – “library to turn Excel spreadsheets in persistent reactive associative structures” => access content via map functions; changing a value updates formula cells using it
  • Alembic Reloads your Leiningen project.clj Dependencies – add a dependency to your project.clj w/o needing to restart your REPL (just call (alembic.still/load-project), provided you have it in your lein dependencies). Limitations: cannot remove deps or change versions.
  • Defeating stack overflows – techniques for transforming mutually recursive calls etc. into something that won’t blow the stack – “Priming the pump” (memoize subresults first), core.async
  • Google Groups: Clean Architecture for Functional Programming – How do the Clean Architecture and the Clean Code best practices apply to FP (Clojure/Haskell)? Some points: OOP isn’t worse than FP, only people do class-oriented programming instead; OO better e.g. for UIs, combining them (func. core, imperative shell) can be sometimes best. Some clean arch. patterns are actually more like functions – “Interactors and Presenters, for example, do not maintain any state of their own.  Even those objects that do imply some kind of state, such as entities and gateways, keep that state hidden behind boundaries and present a functional interface instead.
  • night-vision: Handy, super light weight debugging utility – add it to your lein profile and then call (night-vision.goggles/introspect-ns! '<name of ns>) and it will print each entry/exit of a function within the scope of the namespace with the argument/return values
  • Nil Punning (Or Null Pointers Considered Not So Bad) – a great post about why nil in Clojure is not bad contrary to Java’s null (because it is actually an object, you can call functions on it, treat it as false/empty list/map/set, most core functions work on it)

Tools/Libs

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Most interesting links of July ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on July 31, 2013

This month focuses on languages and approaches (reactive programming, F#, Erlang, FP talks etc.), agile (need for speed, recommended books), Clojure/Linux/cloud tools and libs.

Recommended Readings

Development, agile

  • The Need For Speed – the top 10 reasons for fast development flow (with time to market being one of the less important) – more learning, focus on the MVP, focus on the puprose/goal, happier customers/leadership, better quality (sic!), higher morale (I concur!), push for cotninuous improvement, “one of the only sustainable differentiators”; => “sense of urgency and motivation”; “[..] I continue to meet people and teams that not only move very slow, they don’t understand the relationship between speed and innovation, or speed and quality.”
  • agile42 Summer Reading List 2013 – books recommanded by experienced people/agile experts – lot of interesting stuff! Topics: Communication and Coaching (f.ex. Practicing Nonviolent Communication), Business (How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow ,..),  Learning From the Military, Agile and Technology (e.g. The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Results), Agile and Technology (f.ex. The people’s Scrum)
  • Dan North: Are we nearly there yet? – optimize for time to business impact; SW dev as mountaineering (impossible to estimate correctly, many unknown details, dead ends, …); go fast – but sustainable; the tyranny of backglog (there are multiple paths to the top yet backlog defines only one; have you ever considerably changed it?) “Instead we could embrace the fact that today we always know more than we did yesterday, and that tomorrow we will know even more. We can take a fresh look up the mountain every time we pause to regroup, to plan.” => we ask 1) what gives us the shortest lead time to business impact? 2) what can help us to learn/invalidate more? 3) how to assure our stakeholders we are approaching the goal?
  • Joel on Software: Software Inventory (7/2012) – a classical article about the evilness of software inventory (backlogs, issue trackers, undeployed features, …) ‘When I hear about product teams that regularly have “backlog grooming” sessions, in which they carefully waste a tiny amount of time and mental energy every day or every week thinking about every single feature which will never be implemented, I want to poke my eyes out.
  • Job satisfaction self-test: Twelve questions that define a great place to work – check yourself how satisfied you are with your job (example questions: How well do I know what is expected of me? How often in the past seven days have I received recognition or feedback on my work? How much does the mission/purpose of the company make me feel like my work is important?)
  • Coaching Anti-Patterns: Prescriptive Agile – a prescriptive coach “knows” what is “right” and forces it onto the client, without listening to her; instead, we should “Meet them where they are and leave them in a better place” => “[..] my first responsibility is to understand how and why they came to this practice. How did they come to this decision? What challenges does this approach address? What benefits are they optimizing for?” Worth remembering AND practicing :)

Languages, paradigms, approaches

  • Bacon.js Makes Functional Reactive Programming Sizzle – a nice introduction into Bacon.js that brings Functional Reactive Programming (FRP) to JavaScript and helps thus escape the callback hell. Reactive programming has been made popular by Microsoft’s Rx and recently ported to Java as RxJava by Netflix. FRP is a subtype of RP with functional concepts (map, filter, immutability, …). It provides a much cleaner way to handle multiple independent sources of events and reaction to those events, the main concepts are composable Streams of events and Properties, whose values are automatically updated based on a stream. Bacon.js Tutorial Part I : Hacking With jQuery provides a nice example of the complexity and ugly code you can run into without (F)RP even for a simple interactive web form, the Tutorial Part II: Get Started then shows the nicer Bacon.js solution.
  • The Trouble with Erlang (or Erlang is a ghetto) – an objective criticism of Erlang by somebody who seems to be quite experienced with it; as I know very little about Erlang, it was interesting to learn about its weaknesses (no map/dict data structure, slow memory management, poor “JIT,” not usable for shared-state concurrency (contrary to e.g. Clojure), immutable state is not necessary and makes some things bad, inconsistent and ugly standard lib, …)
  • Adventures in Multi Paradigm Programming – different programming paradigms/approaches re-implemented in Emacs Lisp – interesting 1) to see and compare these different approaches and 2) the flexibility of Lisp. Including iteration – Ruby’s map, Python’s list comprehension ([an_expression for x in list]), Scala’s default argument (_); search – Java’s for; arguments: direct, variadic (i.e. any number of args), named args; destructuring and pattern matching in CoffeScript/OCaml style; Haskell-like monads; objects with mixins;  namespaces.
  • Why bugs don’t like F# – no nulls, immutable data, strong type system, composition of small functions, asynchronous programming abstractions, higher-order functions over collections (no off-by-one), units of measure

Other

  • IBM high-fives Netflix open-source tools – it is interesting to see the spreading of Netflix’s open source tools for better cloud infrastructures; f.ex. “Karyon, is what Netflix calls the base container for applications and services built using the NetflixOSS ecosystem; Eureka is mid-tier load balancing; Hystrix controls interactions between myriad distributed services to nip cascading failures in the bud;  and Ribbon is a Remote Procedure Call library.”
  • ZeroMQ instead of HTTP, for internal services (with implementation in Clojure) – an interesting idea of using ZeroMQ – the sockets on steroids library – instead of HTTP in a way compatible with existing HTTP routing libs; advantages of ZeroMQ: automatic retrial (=> can restart the target service withou noticing), speed, reuse of a connection. The trick is to send a http-like structure (i.e. with method, uri, body) and pass that to Compojure or similar (update: there are now Clojure/core.async bindings for ZeroMQ)
  • Joel on Software: Victory Lap for Ask Patents – killing a bad Microsoft patent request in 15 minutes – Ask Patents is a new StackExchange site that enables experts to look at SW patent requests and point to previous existing works that invalidate them; as Joel describes in his successful patent kill story, it is not difficult at all. Hopefully this will manage to really help the patent office and hit woul-be patent trolls hard! #victory
  • The Dangers Of “Gamification” In Education by Kathy Sierra (a former game designer, a trainer of trainers at Sun, author of the Head First book series) – gamification is often regarded as something very desirable that will improve our lives; however, as Kathy discusses, it has also dark sides and, applied unappropriately, can actually decrease our intrinsic motivation (therefore it should be nearly never used in e.g. education)
  • Choosing an OSS license doesn’t need to be scary (by GitHub) – a human-readable overview of OSS licenses; you should always assign a license to your GitHub account (Add A License can help with that; otherwise it is considered to be “all rights reserved” and you are not giving back to the community (I use the same as Clojure, Eclipse Public License)

Talks

  • FunctionalTalks.org – “Brilliant people giving brilliant talks on functional programming” – f.ex. Wilkes Joiner: Functional Reactive Programming, Alexander Gounares: All your cores are belong to us, Katie Miller: Superhero monads, Bryan O’Sullivan: Running A Startup On Haskell, Rich Hickey: Introduction To Clojure, John A. De Goes: Building a Data Science Platform in Scala and many more.
  • Types vs. Tests: An Epic Battle? – “Amanda Laucher and Paul Snively debate solving problems through types and tests using different approaches.” – can type system replace tests or vice versa? Interesting intro into the discussion for me. Using F#, Scala & more. Same claims: types don’t pay out so much for “small” codebases but scale better than tests. Types – Tests is a spectrum, not two single extremes. When a property should hold “for all,” a type would be a good match. Inductive types (Scala, Haskell?) can become quite complex, dependant types (as in Coq) would be much nicer [if I got that right].
  • Paul Irish on Web Application Development Workflow (via M. Noddeland) – if you need to do some web development but are not up to date on the state of art, this might be useful – an overview of tools, utilities, services by a Googler and the person behind Modernizr, HTML5 Boilerplate, Yeoman etc. Including effective shell & dotfiles.GH, better ssh via .ssh/config and authorized_hosts, the all-in-one dev/build tool Yeoman with live reload, BrowserStack for testing, LocalTunnel to easily share anything running locally, Chrome Dev Tools support for SASS and testing devices (emulate touch events, screen sizes), JetBrains’ WebStorm, sharing tools via setapp.me. A genous idea to use GoogleAnalytics to track usage of features in a CLI app!

Other Interesting Stuff

Azul Systems’ high-performance JVM on the Vega architecture (from The Trouble with Erlang (or Erlang is a ghetto)) looks very interesting:

The other night I tweeted “If you’re looking for a language that gets multicore concurrency right, look at how Azul implemented Java on their Vega architecture” and I definitely stand by that. Azul is a company that got a lot of smart hardware and software people together and had them work on designing a custom system which would scale to hundreds of CPU cores (up to 768 of them), heaps that topped 500 GB (up to 768GB), and had the GC pause only 10-20ms at a time. The realtime performance characteristics Azul managed to eek out of their system lead them to often describe their GC as “pauseless”.

Articles:

Clojure Corner

  • Discussion: How core.async compares to agents, future and promise? – future/promise: 1 producer, 1 value, multiple consumers; agent: an unbounded queue of functions mutating a single value, with multiple producers and consumers (reading the latest value produced); channel: multiple 1:1 producers/consumers, i.e. a value can only be taken once from the channel, using a bounded queue (=> slow consumers can block fast producers). As mentioned elsewhere, channels is a relatively low-level abstraction and other things can be built on the top of it.
  • Clojure Tradeoffs (design implications and why you should care) – perhaps not very unbiased but interesting anyway :) (shared-memory over other computing paradigms, i.e. message-passing, dynamic over static, speed over convenience, composition over IoC, …)
  • Rich Hickey’s post introducing core.async with its Go-like channels as a better alternative to a collback hell (I know everybody has already read it but it is still an important link :))
  • Tools etc.
    • Faster Clojure Startup with Class Data Sharing – use JVM’s capability to include any classes in its boot image and include clojure in it
    • lein-ancient – checks for outdated dependencies and plugins => run “lein ancient :all”
    • lein-try – a Leiningen plugin that enables you to try a library in a REPL in the context of your project without having to add it to project.clj; simply run “lein try clj-time 0.5.1″ and then in the REPL “(require ‘[clj-time.core :refer :all])” and e.g. “(date-time 1986 10 14)”
    • Lemur: tool to launch a Hadoop job locally/on EMR from a job definition file + actions before/after
    • Emacs: sexp fold/expand is very useful for exploring source code (hide all but the first lines of all top-level forms with hs-hide-all) – the built-in hs-minor-mode can hide/show all, or hide/show/toggle one but the keys for it are cumbersome; hideshow-org makes it possible to toggle hide/show with TAB, while preserving the original TAB behavior (it does the normal TAB first only only if nothing changes does it expand/fold); very useful!

Tools/Libs

  • devdocs.io (via @palruud): “an all-in-one API documentation reader for [web] developers,” navigable via keyboard – JS, HTML, CSS, DOM, DOM events, jQuery, Underscore.js
  • Kilim – a message-passing framework for Java that provides ultra-lightweight threads and facilities for fast, safe, zero-copy messaging between these threads.
  • AssertJ – a library of assertions similar to fest-assert but providing a richer set of assertions (nicer API then fest-assert, according to a friend)
  • NetflixOSS – Netflix, the online streaming gigant, has open-sourced many fascinating components of its cloud infrastructure such as Karyon, a blueprint for web-ready components with many features (monitoring,…), Genie/Hadoop as a Service, Servo for monitoring, Archaius for configuration management – too many to list. Check out Chris Fregly’s fluxcapacitor, a demo distributed application that uses many of the components
  • Tools to keep a daemon running:

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Patterns of Effective Delivery – Challenge Your Understanding Of Agile (RootsConf 2011)

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 22, 2013

Highlights from Dan North‘s excellent, inspiring, and insightful talk Patterns of Effective Delivery at RootConf 2011. North has a unique take on what agile development is, going beyond the established (and rather limitied and rigid) views. I really recommend this talk to learn more about effective teams, about North’s “shocking,” beyond-agile experience, and for great ideas on improving your team.

The talk challenges the absolutism of some widely accepted principles of “right” software development such as TDD, naming, the evilness of copy&paste. However the challenge is in a positive way: it makes us think in which contexts these principles really help (in many) and when it might be more effective to (temporarily) postpone them. The result is a much more balanced view and better undestanding of their value. A lot of it is inspired by the theory (and practice) of Real Options.

What are Patterns of Effective Delivery?

  • Patterns – strategies that work in a particular context – and not in another (too often we forget the context and to consider the context where a strategy doesn’t work / is contra-productive); beware: a part of the context is the experience of the developer; for unexperienced devs it might be better to just stick to a process and applying TDD etc. all the time than trying to guess when they are appropriate and when not without having the experience to decide it right
  • Effective – optimize for something: volume of SW produced? time to market? learning/discovery? certanity? user experience?
  • Delivery – get stuff that is useful out of the door; software is not important, the utility it provides is; know why you write the SW to be able to get better at it

Read the rest of this entry »

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Most interesting links of April ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on April 30, 2013

Recommended Readings

The top top article

How To Survive a Ground-Up Rewrite Without Losing Your Sanity (recommended by Kent Beck) – sometimes you need to actually rewrite an important part of a system; here we learn about two such rewrites, one which went well and one that failed badly – and what are the important differences.

The pain of a rewrite: “it’s [a major rewrite] going to take insanely longer than you expect” – because: “there’s this endless series of weird crap encoded in the data in surprising ways” and it takes days to convert them, “It’s brutally hard to reduce scope” (you cannot drop features, edge cases), “There turn out to be these other system that use ‘your’ data”.

To succeed you need: 1) Determine clear business-visible wins to justify the effort that will be much higher than expected and to know when to give up / what to postpone; 2) Do it extremely incrementally (<->  Succession) – break it into a series of small, safe steps, each generating a business value and learning of its own thus enabling early and frequent economical tradeoffs (stop, shift priorities, …) – ex.: rewrite a single reports, migrate its data, switch customers to it, go on to the next one – complete slice of functionality => a more realistic estimate soon => reprioritisation; incrementalism requires you to be able to write data both to the old and new system, which is hard but always pays off: “Here’s what I’m going to say: always insert that dual-write layer. Always. It’s a minor, generally somewhat fixed cost that buys you an incredible amount of insurance.” 3) “Abandoning the Project Should Always Be on the Table” (<- known biz value, better estimate based on early feedback).

Some Specific Tactics: Shrink Ray FTW (a graph of how much has been already replaced => motivation), Engineer The Living Hell Out Of Your Migration Scripts (tests, robustness, error handling, restartability), If Your Data Doesn’t Look Weird, You’re Not Looking Hard Enough.

Methodology, agile, lean

  • M. Fowler: The New Methodology – a good description of the rise of Agile, the motivation for it, the various Agile methodologies (XP, Lean, Scrum etc.) and what is required to be able to apply an agile approach. Main points: Agile is adaptive (vs. predictive) and relies heavily on people and their judgement and skills (vs. treating them as same, replacable units) – which also leads to the need of leadership instead of (command&control) management. Discusses unpredictability of requirements and scope, foolishness of separating design and implementation, difficulty of measurement of SW development, continuous improvement etc. Quotes: “However letting go of predictability doesn’t mean you have to revert to uncontrollable chaos. Instead you need a process that can give you control over an unpredictability. That’s what adaptivity is all about.”
  • The Toyota concept of ‘respect for people’ – many state that they respect their workers but fail to really understand what it means; it is not about freedom of act, it is about a mutual respect, leveraging the strengths of each other: worker’s experience and insight and manager’s broader overview, as demonstrated by the problem-solving dialog and challenges (problem – root cause – solution – measure of success, the manager challenging the worker’s answers). Also a nice example how the evaluation of individual performance leads to a much worse system and high turnover compared to a whole-oriented company.
  • Fixed Bid Agile Without Cognitive Dissonance – a refreshing take on fixed-scope projects and Agile; yes, they are bad but sometimes the client has no other choice so what best we can make out of it? The core advice: Agree “a pragmatic change management protocol (along with a contingency built into the pricing)” (push for lower initial requirements granularity, customer involvement, flexibility of functionality) => “you can gain significant agile benefits for clients who wouldn’t otherwise accept them”.
  • Agile Atlas: Scrum – a good description of Scrum and its values, roles, artifacts, and activities

Learning, psychology, estimates

  • How Developers Stop Learning: Rise of the Expert Beginner – sometimes you meet people with experience-indicating titles that are actually little competent, perhaps leading incompetent IT departments. Why? They, unchallenged by competent peers or broader IT community, came to believe that they are “experts” while actually being only little more advanced beginners, better than their beginner colleagues but still lacking any understanding of the big picture and the knowledge of what they do not know, trapped in the “unconscious incompetence” stage. The post explains this in a more detail and is followed up an explanation how it can lead to the rise of a mediocre SW group in “How Software Groups Rot: Legacy of the Expert Beginner“.
  • Coding, Fast and Slow: Developers and the Psychology of Overconfidence (via @peterskeide) – why are we so bad at estimating (inherent complexity of SW vs. our overconfidence) and why it cannot be fixed. We can learn to somehow estimate tasks of few hours length (less complex, plenty of practice opportunities). The question is: “how you can your dev team generate a ton of value, even though you can not make meaningful long-term estimates?”
  • Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think (via @JiriJerabek) – to make apps more accessible to users, we try to make them simple – but “simple” might be different from what you expect. The important thing is not less steps, less features, less elements, but lower cognitive overhead, i.e. “how many logical connections or jumps your brain has to make in order to understand or contextualize the thing you’re looking at.” Good examples of unexpectadly high / pleasantly low cognitive overhead, some tips, even suprising ones such as make people do more (to be more involved in the process – e.g. bump their phones), slow down your product.

Other

  • Economies of Scala – a case for using Scala over Java, supported by data: many capable developers want to use it but there are few opportunities for them – and getting developers is one of the main challenges.
  • A canonical Repository test – a nice standard way to test a “DAO”; highlights: use of  FEST assert 2 for clean and nice checks, no unimportant details in the test (f.ex. details of the test data hidden in randomPerson() and randomOder(Person)).
  • How To Think Like An Engineer – some nice ideas such as: “Build A Simple First Version: With People, Not Code” – “Technology is not always the best solution, because technology is not always the simplest solution.”, i.e. don’t automate everything from the start (examples from Netflix, Amazon); “Rather than trying to do everything at once, break down the functions of your company into smaller goals.” – and focus at one at a time
  • Economies Of Scale As A Service (do not mix up with Scala! :-))- an interesting description of the trend away from ownership to the rental of important resources (servers, manufacturing capabilities, personal cars, …) and the resulting changes in the society, business, and industry
  • Troy Hunt: Our password hashing has no clothes (or the much shorter though biased How To Safely Store A Password) – MD5 and SHA are not safe enough due to brute-force attack enabled by GPUs, irrespective key size; it’s crucial to use hashing algorithms designed for passwords (and thus sufficiently slow) – f.ex. bcrypt, or PBKDF2 or the newer scrypt.
  • Everything about Java 8 – a well-made summary of what should come in Java 8, based on the current state, discussing the finer points: static and default (non-static, overridable) methods on interfaces, lambdas (do I need to mentione that?!) and method references (String::valueOf, Object::toString, myVar::toString, ArrayList::new); good discussion of the various use cases and limitations of lambdas (capturing x non-c., ..); java.util.stream for functional operations on value streams (filter, map, reduce etc.); java.time inspired by Joda, more concurrency utilities (e.g. CompletableFuture for chaining futures); String.join (finally!), Optional ~ Scala’s Option & more; yummy!
  • How To Keep Your Best Programmers – what motivates capable programmers to stay/leave? The author lists some common reasons and concludes that, ultimately, all are linked to the desire for autonomy, mastery, or purpose. However he goes further and proposes that, to keep talented devs, you must offer them an appealing narrative (regarding their actions and a result, related to autonomy/mastery/purpose) and reaffirm/update it frequently; ex.: “With the work that we’re giving you over the next few months, you’re going to become the foremost NoSQL expert in our organization.” “At any point, both you and the developers on your team should know their narratives.” – so that they will be “constant points of job satisfaction and purpose.”

Clojure Corner

  • Clojure Data Analysis Cookbook review – “The book provides a collection of recipes for accomplishing common tasks associated with analyzing different types of data sets. It starts out by showing how to read data from a variety of sources such as JSON, CSV, and JDBC. [..] how to sanitize the collected data and sample large data sets. [..] a number of different strategies for processing it.” How to present them with ClojureScript and  NVD3 (D3.js components). “Some of the highlights include using the Clojure STM, parallel processing of the data, including useful tricks for partitioning, using reducers, and distributed processing with Hadoop and Casalog.”

Favorite Quotes

once again, trying to do it *and* do it right was too much all at once, resulting in little progress and little learning.

- Kent Beck’s tweet 2013-04-16

A true agile development process can be recognized by its continual evolution:

A project that begins using an adaptive process won’t have the same process a year later. Over time, the team will find what works for them, and alter the process to fit.

- Martin Fowler in The New Methodology

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Most interesting links of Mars ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on March 31, 2013

Recommended Readings

A lot of stuff this month since I have finally got time to review some older articles. Quite a few articles by Fowler. Few really great (yet short) talks on agile & SW development.

Top

  • Agile in a Nutshell (originally Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell) by Henrik Kniberg – the best explanation of the agile development process ever, in just 15 minutes and with wonderful animation; every developer should see this. Some highlights: the most important task of product owner is to say NO so that backlog doesn’t grow infinitely; at start, the estimates of size and value will suck and that’s OK because the value is in the conversation, not in the numbers (that are anyway just relative); the goal is to maximize outcome (value), not output (# features). Compromises between short-term vs. long-term goals, knowledge vs. customer value building etc. Build the right thing (PO) x build it right (devs) x build it fast (SM). Technical debt x sustainable pace. As I said – you MUST see it.
  • Martin Fowler: The Value of Software Design (talk, 22 min, from 0:45:00 til 1:07; Feb 2013) – a balanced argument for the value of good software design and internal code quality based on paying off by enabling us to keep our development speed. Discusses the DesignStaminaHypothesis (bad design => rapid decline of development speed), TechnicalDebt, TechnicalDebtQuadrant (Prudent x Reckless, Deliberate x Inadvertent), TradableQualityHypothesis. According to the experience of Fowler and others, the good design payoff point “it’s weeks, not months.”
  • What Does It Take To Become A Grandmaster Developer? – great post about cognition and learning, valuable references, quotes from an interesting study of good vs. mediocre developers. We have mental capacity for ~7 chunks of information => great performers recognize patterns and see and understand thus higher-level chunks and have many “chunks” (patterns encountered previously) readily available. You need deliberate effort to learn more chunks – especially initially but you must always try to get out of your comfort zone to grow. Experienced collegues can help a lot in acending the learning curve.

Agile, organization, innovation, project management

  • How to Prioritize a User Story Map – we all know that we should prioritize features by their value, risk, and lack of knowledge and that we should slice the features thin so that they fit into short iteration and can be deployed soon to produce feedback, right? Here we see a nice example of what happens if not done so and how to do feature slicing better.
  • Bob Marshall: Rightshifting – according to the author, 80% of knowledge work organizations are very ineffective, wasting resources on non-value-adding activites; only few are effective, even fewer highly effective. Rightshifting is the attempt at shiting them to the right, towards higher effectiveness. Links to a few videos explaining it more. Related: Steve McConnell’s Business Case for Better Software Practices, referring to a study by SEI; “The actual distribution of software effectiveness is asymmetric. Most organizations perform much closer to the worst practice than to the best.” – the best performing 10 times better then the worst/average (productivity, speed, defects, value)
  • On Antifragility in Systems and Organizational Architecture – introduces the concept of antifragility, based on Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile that compares fragile, robust, and antifragile systems and organizational structures (which is also applicable to SW systems); robust = resists change (unless too large); antifragile: learn, adapt; closely related to DevOps and continous delivery
  • M. Fowler: PurposeOfEstimation – many Agilist disdain estimation, this is a balanced view: “estimation is valuable when it helps you make a significant decision.” (F.ex. when deciding what we (don’t) have resources for or when in need of coordinating related activities.) It is evil when used as commitments that people are forced to stick to and blamed for not managing to do so. “Above all be wary of anyone who tells you they [estimates] are always needed, or never needed.” A. Ferguson: “[..] it is poor project management (whether by project managers or other team members) that results in a client who thinks estimates are fixed, or that raw estimates = actual effort/duration”.
  • Ron Jeffries: Estimation is Evil – discusses the problems estimates can cause, issues with requirements gathering up front and their volatility, transparency and politics. Very valuable, highly recommended. See the “favorite quotes” at the bottom of this post. Also contains an interesting lesson learnt from the failed Chrysler C3 project: don’t try to build a grand new system to replace and fix the old one, fix one problem at a time – worth reading for this alone.
  • Interview with Steve Blank: Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate – the 2013 list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies has only a few large, established firms (those that have built innovation into its DNA such as Apple and Google). Established companies are less innovative because they focus in their existing business model, have risk-aversion (while there are many failures on the way to a new business model); finally “the people who are best suited to search for new business models and conduct iterative experiments usually are not the same managers who succeed at running existing business units.” – and thus aren’t given the chance. “[..]  the process of starting a new business [..] is fundamentally different from running an existing one. So if you want your company to grow organically, then you need to organize your efforts around these differences.”

Architecture & Ops

  • M. Fowler: Schemalessness + NoSQL and Consistency (20 + 20 min) two short, very good, balanced talks about NoSQL. He explains schemalessness and consistency and points out common misunderstanding about them so if you are into NoSQL, watch it.
  • What Powers Instagram: Hundreds of Instances, Dozens of Technologies (2012) – interesting high-level overview of the Instagram infrastructure based on AWS and Python (25 XL instances running Django/Gunicorn behind ELB with 3 Nginxes, sharded PostgreSQL with streaming replication on 12 QXL mem instances with software raid and XFS to freeze when snapshoting, media in S3, Redis, Solr for geo-search, Memcached. Gearman for task queues, pyapns for notifications. Munin for monitoring.)
  • The Netflix API Optimization Story – how Netflix redesigned its APIs to improve performance, reduce chattiness, and power product development and experimentation. The common REST API has become a development bottleneck and a lowest common denominator solution (w.r.t. supporting various clients). The main changes were: usage Hystrix for fault tolerance, each device team managing their own end-points in any JVM languges (primarily Groovy) and re-using common APIs (i.e. pushing some device-specific code to the server) => able to experiemnt more quickly, using the Functional Reactive Programming Model and asynchronous APIs (to abstract away thread-safety and parallel execution implementation details from the device teams so that code can execute sync. or async. without them needing to know).
  • Me: Overview of current monitoring libs for Java – Netflix’ Servo, Yammer’s Metrics, JavaMelody, JavaSimon.
  • Debug Servlets, or ‘HTTP Won; Use It’ – expose all debugging info of your services over HTTP – it makes debugging much simpler. We do a part of it and it really helps. Expose config (values, where they come from), logs, log configuration, JMX (setting it up otherwise not trivial), version, build number, git hash, server time (timezones tricky), metrics, stack dumps, app-specific status (Hadoop: live nodes, data size etc.). The author recommends JavaMelody to collect & visualize many common metrics. Not on security: Make sure to hide passwords and make the endpoints visible only internally. (Tip: consider Jolokia for exposing JMX over HTTP, see below.)
  • JVM Crash/Core Dump Analysis – 3 common categories of  JVM crash causes (JVM/JIT/JNI) and how to recognize and troubleshoot them

Other

  • How to lose wight in the browser:  The definitive front-end performance guide – a site by a number of experts from Twitter, Opera, Google, and other places with best practices for performant web sites (HTML, CSS, JS, jQuery, images). Ex.: styles up top, scripts down bottom; minify your html, css and JS; async script loading; combine css/JS files into one; cache array lengths while looping; use css sprites for icons.
  • Luke Stevens: The harsh truth about HTML5′s structural semantics (part 1) – “HTML’s structural elements — article, section, nav and aside — are, at first glance, some of the easiest parts of the HTML5 specification to understand and implement. However, they’re actually some of the most poorly specified, poorly understood, and poorly implemented parts of HTML5.” Interesting: The “research” leading to their establishment was quite random, ignoring a crucial source of information (css IDs).
  • Marco Emmanuel Patiño: Six non-technical books every programmer should read – 1. Team Geek: A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others (-> effective communication and collaboration), 2. The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master, 3. The Passionate Programmer: Creating a Remarkable Career in Software Development, 4. Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship, 5. 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts (online), 6. Code Simplicity: The Fundamentals of Software.
    • Related: Top 5 Java programming books – Best of lot (actually 8) – 1) Head First Java, 2) Effective Java, 3) Thinking in Java, 4) Head First Design Pattern, 5) Concurrency Practice in Java, 6)Java performance, 7) Java Puzzlers, 8) Head First Object Oriented Analysis and Design.
  • Humans as slaves of chemistry: America’s Real Criminal Element – Lead – a fascinating article about how whole nations can be seriously influenced by a single chemical substance. Aside of that it is also fascinating to observe how we tend to search for causes in our domain of expertise (police, sociologists, …) and of interest while denying other possible causes, no matter how strong are the proofs. If the facts presented are true, then the fivefold increase in serious crimes in (not only) America since 60s has been caused by the increase of lead in the environment (pushing many people over the edge of ocassional violent loss of control). How many social problems in the world have similar industrial causes? Are we careful enough with what we let into our air and bodies?

Languages

  • newcoder.io: Learning more Python via projects – an excellent next step when you have learned Python syntax via LPHW or similar; in this tutorial series you will be building real-world apps while learning more of Python. You will play with, Data Visualization, APIs, Web Scraping, Networks, GUI.
  • Brian McCallister: Go is PHP for the Backend – a very good explanation why you might want to use Go and that you have to first learn “the Go way” to avoid insanity, since it is very opinionated and different from what you might be used to. Some pros: “native code, UNIX friendly, higher level then C, lower level then Python or Ruby, garbage collected, strongly typed, good performance, good concurrency support, etc.”
  • The Neophyte’s Guide to Scala 1 to 15 (list) – a good follow-up on the Cursera FP in Scala course, a series of blog posts exploring some topics more in depth. F.ex.: extracotrs (unapply, for pattern-matching), the broad applicability of pattern matching, pattern matching anonymous functions & partial functions #4, usiong Option idiomaticly #5, nice FP error handling with the Try type #6, Futures, etc. Higly recommended! Thx to Jakob Lind

Libs

  • Jolokia is remote JMX with JSON over HTTP: a REST API bridged to JMX, with support for security, fine-grained access control, bulk operations. Especially useful if you either 1)  need to perform bulk operations (e.g. get multiple values) or 2) want to access them from something that doesn’t support JMX. JSON is in general very easy to use and navigate. You can install Jolokia as a WAR (or mebedd its Servlet), a JVM agent, or attach it on-the-fly to a running JVM.
  • The Appeal and Controversy of ZeroMQ – why to use 0MQ? It is a messaging library that focuses on performance, decentralization and simplicity, solving some really hard problems (sending async. messages w/o locks, distribuing to specific subscribers) and providing a simple API. Main pros: decentralized (no central broker), many languages; cons: no security (but you can use it over SSH).

Talks

  • Tim O’Reilly: Create More Value Than You Capture (30 min + questions) – build apps that matter, that change how we do things. Thinking just about money is bad. Try to make the society better, smart, create more value than you capture, solve important problems, help people. Ex. startups: Uber, Square, Code for America.
  • TED: Bruce Feiler: Agile programming — for your family (20 min) – an inspirational talk, based on positive experience from multiple families, about applying the agile thinking and values to make our families happier by empowering the children (enlist them in their upbringing, deciding on goals, rewards, punishments), letting them know who they are, being adaptive, having regular “retrospectives” (that eventually become cherrished memories). Backed by research. Did you know that the #1 wish of children isn’t that parents spend more time with them but that they are less stressed?

Clojure Corner

  • What’s new in Clojure 1.5.x – reducers, new threading macros (cond->, as->, some->, ..), various improvements, improved performance, erro messages, doc strings, bug fixes
  • Stuart Sierra: On the Perils of Dynamic Scope – summary: don’t create macros like with-connection binding to a thread-local var; make all methods take the resource as a parameter – thus the user has the freedom to decide when to close the resource and isn’t limited to a single thread and can use lazy sequences
  • Logic programming is overrated – core.logic is essentially only a complex DSL for doing an exhaustive search and there is already a nice, clean tool for that: the for comprehension. A logic puzzle can be much more clearly and also efficiently using for. But it is not completely useless – logic programming is good e.g. for running programs backwards, unification is important for writing type checkers, and the new constraint programming piece has good potential. Read also Logic Programming is Underrated, which provides a faster core.logic solution than for-comprehension and provides some pointers rgarding the practical usefulness of core.logic.
  • Prismatic – Graph: Abstractions for Structured Computation – How to reduce the complexity overhead in large, real-world, FP systems by decoupling what is done from how it is executed. Graph is a Clojure library enabling a declarative way to describe how data flows between (mostly pure) functions => “It allows us to formalize the informal structure of good FP code, and enables higher-order abstractions over these structures that can help stamp out many persistent forms of complexity overhead.” By decoupling the description of how data flows and the actual execution, we can execute it in different ways (parallelized, with memoization, lazy/eager) and apply various interceptors (for logging etc.). See especially the part “Graph and complexity overhead.”
  • Mike Anderson: Game development in Clojure : Alchemy 7DRL post-mortem (and the previous 7 daily updates, Alchemy @ GitHub) – an interesting report about game making in Clojure during 7 days, in as functional and immutable style as possible while keeping it sufficiently fast. How do you represent & handle statuf game objects, the world map, game state? The design of the game, what was easy and what hard with Clojure. Tl;dr: search it for “Some parting thoughts” (Clojure productive, immutability hard but pays off, prototype objects great, more typing would have helped). “Making everything immutable in Clojure is harder than it would have been in an OOP language like Java where everything can be encapsulated in mutable classes. In particular, the state update functions are tricky to make both correct and performant. The payoff is big however: in terms of the simplicity and effectiveness later on, and in the conceptual clarity being able to treat the entire game state as an immutable value”. Having REPL is a big win.
  • Refactoring Java using Clojure with the Eclipse Java development tools (JDT) (operation on AST nodes, i.e. little too low level; the Eclipse Refactoring API might be better)
  • Clojure at a Bank – [Our] Clojure Code Immaturity – experiences with going from Java to Clojure: 1) too few comments, too short names => hard to learn the code; 2) not knowing clojure.core well enough => reimplementing (if-let, juxt, …); 3) structure, comment, split up your namespaces well, navigating more complicated then in Java IDEs; 4) reasonably used Macros, Protocols, Defrecords payed off;
  • Datomic for Five Year Olds – explaining the key characteristics of Datomic compared to relational and NoSQL DBs (schema, architecture, programmability/language); doesn’t go into details of how it works (e.g. how does Datomic determine what subset of the DB to cache locally and what if it is few GBs); Honey Badger’s 2012 talk Exploring Datomic: a database deconstructed explores the architecture and technical details much more

Tools

  • Vagrant 1.1.0 is out (what’s new?), with support for VMWare Fusion and AWS VM backends in addition to VirtualBox – use the same config to create, provision, stop, destroy and connect to a virtual machine locally or in the cloud (with limited support for shared folders, I’d suppose). V. 1.1 is backwards compatible aside of plugins, upgrade to new config optional.
  • Animated presentations: ArtRage (drawing program, also for iPad), Wacom Intuos 5 (drawing tablet), Screenflow (screen & audio capture) – used for the Agile in a Nutshell (Agile Product Ownership in a Nutshell) mentioned above
  • ckjm — Chidamber and Kemerer Java Metrics (via Neal Ford) – a command-line tool (also Maven/Ant plugin) to compute some metrics, outputting text or XML for further processing; the metrics: WMC: Weighted methods per class (cyclomatic complexity of its methods), DIT: Depth of Inheritance Tree, NOC: Number of Children, CBO: Coupling between object classes, RFC: Response for a Class, LCOM: Lack of cohesion in methods, NPM: Number of Public Methods, Ca: afferent coupling.
  • Bulletproof Demos: Record & Replay built into Chrome – ever got a failure while demonstrating a web app though it has worked moments ago? No more! You Chrome to record your requests and responses and let its cache handle them during the real demonstration. (Mac: stop Chrome, to record run open -a “Google Chrome” –args –record-mode, to replay run open -a “Google Chrome” –args –playback-mode. Linux: google-chrome –record-mode and –playback-mode. Win.: run chrome <arg>)
  • UserTesting.com (via Ash Maurya, the author of Running Lean) – on-demand usability testing; they have a large base of test users, can select those matching your criteria and unleash them upon your site guided by a script your provide, watch videos of their actions while they verbalize their thinking process, recieve written answers from them, talk to them.
  • MindMup.comopensource, free mind-mapping in the cloud by Gojko Adzic & co., with main focus on productivity. Store private maps in Goolge Drive, support for mobile devices, keyboard shortcuts. No registration needed.

Favorite Quotes

Once we estimated a project to require 9 man-months but were later told that we do not understand a thing and it may not take more then 4. At the end it took over 25 and still wasn’t done.

- paraphrasing my collegue Kim Leskovski

On collecting requirements up front:

At the very beginning, we know less about our project than we’ll ever know again. This is the worst possible moment to be making firm decisions about what we “require.”

- Ron Jeffries in Estimation is Evil: Overcoming the Estimation Obsession

On the estimate of project delivery date at its initial phase:

It’s based on an unrealistic list of requirements, using weak estimates, made at the moment of maximum ignorance, by people who are always optimistic about their own abilities.
- ibid

On planning and requirements (the Chrysler’s C3 payroll project, having a payroll expert and a team familiar with the domain):

This was one of the best-planned projects I’ve ever seen, and even so, at least one third of the requirements were added, removed, or substantially changed.
- ibid

[..] a line of code is a liability, not an asset [..]
- Jez Humble in Why Software Development Methodologies Suck

Agile is not something you do, it is something you are.
- Huib Schoots in Creating my own flow
with personal kanban, Agile Record Feb 2013

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Fast Code To Production Cycle Matters: For Pleasure, Productivity, Profit

Posted by Jakub Holý on January 5, 2013

I spent one afternoon adding a much needed feature to our application. Now I have been waiting for several days for various people to review and approve it. And I have just realized how tiring it is and how much energy it takes from me.

To create something and get it out into production at once (plus minus) is fun and really motivates me to do and try stuff, it is a great feeling to see it immediately affecting the users and processes. And a quick feedback (from the users and the behavior of the application) – while still being engaged for the thing and having all the context in my mind – makes it easy and fun to fix and improve it, leading to a better result faster. Waiting, on the other hand, is exhausting and depressing. I usually start working on something else, forget the context, lose the interest (it is not easy to be fired up for two things at the same time) etc.

Therefore, if you care for happy developers and better products, make sure that your time from code to production is as short as possible. Look at your process, eliminate all delays, make it smooth.

PS: I am not saying that code reviews are bad. They are great. They just shouldn’t be a source of delay. For example if you can pair-program then you get an instant code review.

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Most interesting links of September ’12

Posted by Jakub Holý on September 30, 2012

Recommended Readings

  • Johannes Brodwall: This dependency injection madness must end! – it’s very valuable to hear well-founded arguments against any popular belief and Dependency Injection is one of these. “I have started disliking the consequence of this strategy very much: All coupling in my system becomes implicit and harder to understand. I have instead reverted to using design patterns like the Singleton pattern, but with a slight twist.”
  • Computer Programmers Learn Tough Lesson in Sharing – WSJ.com – A balanced presentation of pair-programming including both benefits and issues. A key point: It is a skill that must be learned (to respect the other one, give her space, be aware of how your behavior is perceived by her, …).
  • Kent Beck: Functional TDD: A Clash of Cultures – TDD has been developed for object-oriented languages and applying it to a functional language with strong type brings interesting challenges. Also a good summary of the benefits of TDD: double checking of the logic (by the implementation and the, preferably quite different, test), solution decomposition (focus on part of the problem, once solve be sure it stays solved),  automatic checking of correctness, outside in design (API first, implementation after that). Plus the pleasant experience of the continuous cycle of tension (failing test) – relief (green).
  • Paul Callaghan: Thinking Functionally with Haskell: Types? Tests? We Need a New Word – Powerful type systems eliminate possibility of defects thus venturing into the domain of testing – what can they offer and where the new border and symbiosis between types and tests will be?
  • Tales from the Ops Side: Black Friday – an interesting and exciting view into the life of operations engineers one day when all went wrong. Key learnings: Many interdependant components are difficult to reason about; good monitoring and communication are crucial. The post refers to an interesting concept of Recovery-Oriented Computing, i.e. failures are inevitable and their prediction is nearly impossible thus we must focus on making the systems able to survive failures (e.g. vi damage containment, automatic fault detection, component-level restartability).
  • Groovy: The road map for the popular JVM language – why was Groovy created (as Java companion focused on productivity), key changes in Groovy 2.0 (more suport for static typing, Java 7, modularity with speed as a side-effect) and in the future Groovy 3.0 (invokedynamic everywhere, more Groovy written in itself).
  • Martin Fowler: Key Points from NoSQL Distilled – an overview of why NoSQL, data models, distribution models, consistency, map-reduce, polyglot persistence, criteries for choosing a database.
  • You’re a Top Developer! – a surprising hypothesis that “90% of all developers never read a programming blog, never have any side projects to learn something new, and never spend any time or effort outside work hours to improve”. However I haven’t seen any data to back that up (the author only quotes  Peopleware) and the author doesn’t propose any explanation for the fact. I’d really like to know if it is true and why it is so.

Business & Agile

  • Experimentation Is The New Planning – “You have no idea what’s going to happen to your industry. That’s why you build your organization into an engine of possibility.” We need “to  continually develop options and explore possibilities” to survive in the ever-changing conditions. Successful strategies emerge from the many ongoing experiments. However, “For emergent strategy to be successful, there must be enough autonomy, freedom, and slack in the system for people and resources to connect in a peer-to-peer way”.
  • The Buy-vs-Build Shift (part 1) – Buy to reduce risk of failure (however true agile development – with frequent deliveries and feedback-driven direction – may be cheaper and more importantly can tailor the product to the actual needs) and to avoid inefficiecy of development (but it doesn’t need to be so with agile). “[..] in projects with long cycle times (years) there is a tendency for the business to be somewhat speculative and request all functionality that they can think of [..] With prioritised iterative delivery the business can halt a project when all features that are actually needed have been completed. [..] it does reduce the amount of features that are implemented, and based on my experience, quite substantially so.” Today’s development with e.g. TDD, powerful IDEs supporting automated refactoring, powerful development/production machine, the all-knowing Internet may be much more efficient.
  • European entrepreneurs – Les misérables – A good analysis of why it is much more difficult to be an entrepreneur in Europe than in USA (the strong negative impact of a business failure, lack of local investors, cost of firing people) and the decline of European entrepreneurship since 19th century/WW1.
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office: Effective Practices and Federal Challenges in Applying Agile Methods – US government considers agile effective; description of the useful practices and of challenges

Tools

Clojure Corner

  • 10-minute Emacs for Clojure – getting started with Emacs for Clojure – install & config & basic usage for Emacs newbies (though no REPL integration yet)
  • Keep IT Simply Simple: First month @Runa Inc. – Clojure shop in Silicon Valley – brief post about using Clojure in the wild. Some points: TDD works splendidly; frameworks are not necessary; Clojure can be really fast (<= type hinting, memoziation, performant data structures + occasional Java code)
  • Blackstag: Why Clojure? The author describes the set of reasons that have led him to Clojure – and those that actually made him stick with it. “[..] what I like the most about Clojure is that it brings together the best of what many languages have to offer while not forcing it all upon me and, in doing so, has provided a good balance between power and flexibility.” “With Clojure I accomplish more and have found a greater sense of happiness with the work I am doing.”

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Most interesting links of August ’12

Posted by Jakub Holý on August 31, 2012

Recommended Readings

  • How To Fail With Agile:Twenty Tips to Help You Avoid Success – a great overview of ways people may make agile projects and initiatives fail – use them to either avoid the failure or to make it certain, according to your attitude towards agile
  • vim-adventures.com: Learning Vim keys in an entertaining way by playing an on-line 2D game. A brilliant idea!
  • The Search for a Better BIG Data Analytics Pipeline – how to use big data and analytics on it in a company. Big data = lot of data, simple processing; deep analysis = representative, small sample of data (no need for all), advanced techniques. Big data can provide input for analysis.

Links to Keep

  • Pat Kua’s Onboarding Strategies series – tips for getting new people onto your team as a tech lead and making them productive quickly. He also wrote the InfoQ article A Leaner Start: Reducing Team Setup Times based on the series. Some posts: Catalogue of patterns applied, Airing .. about feedback meetings, Pair programming, Preparation e-mail, Domain driven design and readable code, Tech huddles (what-we-learned session every 2nd day), Transparent technical debt, Visible architecture, Big vision business problem.

Useful Tools

  • OWASP Hatkit Proxy: TCP/HTTP proxy intended for developers that can intercept and modify requests and store parsed communication into MongoDB for later exploration. You can define what (not) to store/intercept with white- (black-)lists. Syntax highlighting, Swing UI etc.
  • Using Doxygen to understand a code base – Doxygen can generate a full cross reference of source code, class diagram, caller and call graphs for many languages including Java, PHP, C.

Interesting Quotes

Our standards by default exclude comments where possible replaced by representing as much intent as possible in the code itself. We focus on what it does and why. I’ve found “What” tends to be best represented by production code, whilst “Why” is better explained in tests because you can better represent different contexts there.
Pat Kua: Onboarding strategy: Domain driven design and readable code

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