The Holy Java

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Most interesting links of October ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on October 31, 2013

Recommended Readings

  • Google engineers insist 20% time is not dead—it’s just turned into 120% time – it is interesting to see how has this evolved; “I have done many engineering/coding 20% projects and other non-engineering projects, with probably 20-40% producing “real” results (which over 7 years I think has been more than worth it for the company). But these projects are generally not rewarded.” [highlight mine]
  • The Worst Daily Scrum Ever – a story whose bad part is a too common reality; if energy is low, nobody asks for / offers help, and people only report status / plans then you are doing the daily scrum wrong and should stop now (but it also documents a nice example of a good, effective scrum)
  • Why Responsive Design is a Waste of Time – a refreshingly critical take on responsive design; the author now aknowledges that it is sometimes worth the pain but the points are still valid – responsive design requires (lot of) extra work, the attempt to create a one-size-fits-all site of course adds considerable complexity (having two separate simple frontends might be better than one that is too complex), also many sites are good enough as they are (especially taking into account the capabilities of mobile browsers)
  • How to lose $172,222 a second for 45 minutes – i.e. your bugs are likely not so serious after all :-) A financial company screwed big and ended up bankrupt. The cause? Chaotic DevOps, not removing old unused code, reusing a feature flag instead of creating a new one, lack of monitoring. The story in short: They deployed new trading code but failed to notice that it has not been deployed to one of the 8 servers; due to the flag reuse, the old, 10 years unused code has been activated instead. Due to the lack of monitoring they did not notice the cause, tried to roll back while leaving the flag enabled thus effectively activating the bad code on all the servers. => have proper automated and self-checking deployments, delete old code, do not repurpose old switches.
  • 40 Inappropriate Actions to Take Against an Unlocked (Windows) PC – good tips for promoting security and having fun at the same time; I shall keep this at hand :-)
  • How to go about ‘proving’ why dynamically typed languages are better – a cultivated and interesting discussion; as argueed, thinking in this direction is itself wrong and in different contexts, different languages will be more appropriate. I also like Phil Lord’s “Programming is a highly fashion-centric occupation for any number of reasons.” and “For me, the main advantage is that you are not forced to build complex hierarchies just to support the type system ([..]), and that having only a few abstractions makes it worthwhile adding lots of functions operating over them.” and L. Petit’s “IMHO, the question is irrelevant. It implicitly assumes that statically typed vs dynamically typed is a black / white choice, and that either ‘static wins over dynamic’ or ‘dynamic wins over static’ will be a true statement whatever the context.” Also a good observation that types are only a subset of function contract enforcement and one of possible implementations.
  • The Failure of Governmental IT (Learnings From HealthCare.gov) – links to a few really good articles about the problems with governmental IT in general and my summary of them
  • Inside the Arctic Circle, Where Your Facebook Data Lives – the designs of data centers used to be proprietary secrets until Fb developed its own and open-sourced them, enabling many Asian manufactures to start creating cheaper datacenters and thus started a revolution in this domain. Facebook’s data centers are not general purpose but suitable ot the kind of work they need, but it is still widely applicable. Cool to see how they use natural conditions to get energy needs down and make HW that fits best their needs – that is what I call innovation!
  • Academia.edu (via @RiczWest) – a rich source of free research papers – just register as an independant researcher; also lean/agile/systems thinking and other interesting topics
  • Writing Code? Know Your Boundaries – an inspiring way of thinking; we use many technologies in combination (HTML, CSS, JS, SQL, server-side language, …) and “the risk for picking the wrong tool for the job is strongest near the boundaries“; a discussion of the aforementioned boundaries with examples follows, e.g.: “Avoid putting HTML in JavaScript strings for ‘poor man’s templating‘”, messing up SQL with html (“SELECT '<strong>' + Username + '</strong>' FROM Users“), CSS+HTML: using inline styles, SQL+server-side: string concatenation to create dynamic SQL queries, “writing dynamic JavaScript in a string on the server“. I shall keep this in mind!
  • Johannes Brodwall: A canonical web test – a simple web app end-to-end smoke test – using an embedded Jetty, a test DB (preferably in-memory), WebDriver to test it (simple: browser.get(“/people”), assertThat(browser.findElement(<person id>.contains(<person’s name>)); simple, nice, useful

Learning

  • LearnGitBranching – an online game to learn branching & rebase in git; use the menu in the lower-right corner to navigate between the levels etc. You can also execute commands “show goal”, “hint”, “level” to navigate around; pretty cool and great for learning the command line commands

Society & people

Not a typical topic I share here but really worth it this time.

  • The ocean is broken – a saddening story worth reading to learn what does your tuna sandwitch cost and where does all the plastic we use end up. From a sailing trip from Melbourne to US where there were plenty of fish (and birds) 10 years ago – and 2 this year, killed to a noticable degree by huge fishing ships that catch tuna – and kill and throw away all the other “junk” fish. Nowadays fish are replaced by plastic and other waste that actually prevents usage of the engine unless somebody can watch for dangerous nets and ropes leftovers. Earth, where are you falling to?
  • The Guardian: Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? – sad and interesting to observe what happens when the system is set up so that people “can’t be bothered” to have inter-sexual relationships, partnership, and children. Japan needs a good deal of systems thinking to fix its broken society where women do not want children because it would cost them their career and neither men nor women are willing to subjects themselves to the social pressure and demands associated with relationships.
  • The Guardian: 29 million people enslaved, says first global index on slavery – welcome to the 21st century! The leading slave countries are India (14M), China (3M), Pakistan (2M). Also, slaves are building the world cup stadion in Qatar.
  • They’re Taking Over! – how we managed to destroy sea ecosystems and helped the now unstoppable return of jellyfish – Jellyfish are evidently very veried and extemely resilient and have been hold at bay only by rather complex ecosystems that we managed to destabilize so much that Jellyfish are on their way back to ruling all the sees again (destroying the rests of the ecosystems – i.e. fish – on the way); a sad future for the sea, Earht, and us

Clojure Corner

Tools/Libs

Mac:

  • WhiteHat Aviator – A Safer Web Browser – WhiteHat, a well-known security company, has released a browser that aims at improving privacy by preventing user tracking (f.ex. but not sending referral URL) and blocking ads even at the cost of occassional slight discomfort, i.e. something that the mainstream browsers are not interested in. So far for OS X only.
  • EnvPane – a preference pane for environment variables for Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) – set env. vars for GUI/terminal apps, no need to log out upon change

Favorite Quotes

Weinberg: Bureaucracy is what we do when we no longer remember why we are doing it
- via Ben Simo, no source specified so it may be fake but anyway it is valid

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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 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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Most interesting links of December ’12

Posted by Jakub Holý on December 31, 2012

Recommended Readings

Software development

  • Kent Beck: When Worse Is Better: Incrementally Escaping Local Maxima – Kent reintroduces his Sprinting Centipede strategy (“reduce the cost of each change as much as possible so as to enable small changes to be chained together nearly continuously” => “From the outside it is clear that big changes are happening, even though from the inside it’s clear that no individual change is large or risky.”) and advices how to deal with situations where improvements have reached a local maxima by making the design temporarily intentionally worse (f.ex. by inlining all the ugly methods or writing to both the old and the new data store); strongly recommended
    • Related: Efficient Incremental Change – transmute risk into time by doing small, safe steps, then optimize your ability to make these steps quickly and thus being able to achieve large changes
  • Researchers: It is not profitable to outsource development – the Scandinavian research organisation SINTEF ICT has studied the effects of outsourcing and discovered that often it is more expensive than in-country development due to hidden costs caused by worse communication and cultural differences (f.ex. Indians tend not to ask questions and work based on their, often incomplete, understanding) and very high people turn-over; even after the true cost is discovered, companies irrationally stay there. However it is possible to succeed, in some cases.
  • Bjørn Borud: Tractor pulling and software engineering – very valuable and pragmatic advices on producing good software (i.e. avoiding accumulating so much crap that the software just stops progressing). Don’t think only about the happy path. Simplify. Write for other developers, i.e. avoid too “smart” solutions, test & document, dp actually think about design and its implication w.r.t performance etc. Awake the scientist in you: “Do things because you know they work, not because it happens to be the hip thing to do.”
    (Note: I see the good intention behind “design for the weakest programmer you can think of” but plase don’t take it too far! Software should be primarily simple, not necessarily easy.
  • Know your feedback loop – why and how to optimize it – to succeed, we need to learn faster; the only way to do that is to optimize our feedback loops, i.e. shorten the path our assumptions travel before they are (in)validated, whether about our code, business functionality, or the whole project idea. Conscise, valuable.
  • Code quality is the least important reason to pair program – the author argues, based on his experience, other benefits of pair programming are more important than code quality: “[..]  the most important reasons why we pair: it contributes to an amazing company culture, it’s the best way to bring new developers up to speed, and it provides a great way to share knowledge across the development team.”
  • You Can’t Refactor Your Way Out of Every Problem – refactoring can’t help you if the design is fundamentally wrong, you need to rewrite it; know when it can or cannot help and act accordingly (related to how much design is needed upfront since some design decision cannot be reverted/improved upon)

Languages

  • Josh Bloch: Java – the good, bad and ugly parts (video, 15 min); summary: right design decisions (VM, GC, threads, dynamic linking, OOP, static typing, exceptions, …), some bad details (signed byte, lossy long-> double, == doesn’t cal .equals, ability to call overriden methods from constructors, …); Mr. Bloch has also given a longer talk examining the evolution of Java from 1.0 to 1.7 in The Evolution of Java: Past, Present, and Future.
  • True Scala complexity – a thoughtful criticism of the complexity of Scala, based on code samples; “[it is true that] Scala is a language with a smaller number of orthogonal features than found in many other languages. […] However, the problem is that each feature has substantial depth, intersecting in numerous ways that are riddled with nuances, limitations, exceptions and rules to remember. It doesn’t take long to bump into these edges, of which there are many.”; however, its possible to avoid many of the problems mentioned by resorting to less smart, more clumsy and verbose Java-like code; also, the author still likes Scala.
  • Scala or Java? Exploring myths and facts (3/2012) – a balanced view of Scala’s strengths and weaknesses; “[..] the same features that makes Scala expressive can also lead to performance problems and complexity. This article details where this balance needs to be considered.” Topics: productivity, complexity, concurrency support, language extensibility, Java interoperability, quality of tooling, speed, backward compatibility. Plenty of useful links.

Big data & Cloud:

  • Dean Wampler’s slides from Beyond Map Reduce – 1) Hadoop Map Reduce is the EJB 2 of big data but there are better APIs such as Cascading with Scala/Clojure wrappers; there are also “alternative” solutions like Spark and Storm; 2) functional/relational programming with simple data structures (lists, sets, maps etc.) is much more suitable for big data than OOP (for we do mostly stateless data transformations)
  • Apache HBase vs Apache Cassandra – comparison sheet – if you want to decide between the two
  • Optimizing MongoDB on AWS – 20 min talk about the current state of the art. Simplicity: Mongo AMIs by 10gen, Cloudformation template etc. Stability & perf.: new storage options – EBS with provisioned IOPS volumes (high I/O) + EBS Optimized Instances (dedicated throughput to EBS), High IO instances (hi1.4xlarge – SSD)); comparison of throughput (number of operations, MBs) of these storages; tips for filesystem config. Scalability: scale horizontally and vertically, shrink as needed.
  • Getting Real About Distributed System Reliability by Jay Kreps, the author of the Voldemort DB: distributed software is NOT somehow innately reliable; a common mistake is to consider only probability of independent failures but failures typically are dependent (e.g. network problems affect the whole data center, not a single machine); the theoretical reliability “[..] is an upper bound on reliability but one that you could never, never approach in practice”; “For example Google has a fantastic paper that gives empirical numbers on system failures in Bigtable and GFS and reports empirical data on groups of failures that show rates several orders of magnitude higher than the independence assumption would predict. This is what one of the best system and operations teams in the world can get: your numbers may be far worse.” The new systems are far less mature (=> mor bugs, worse monitoring, less experience) and thus less reliable (it takes a decade for a FS to become mature, likely similar here). Distributed systems are of course more complex to configure and operate. “I have come around to the view that the real core difficulty of these systems is operations, not architecture or design.” Some nice examples of failures.

Other

  • Talks To Help You Become A Better Front-End Engineer In 2013 (tl;dr) – topics such as mobile web development, modern web devel. workflow, current/upcoming featrues of CSS3, ECMAScript 6, CSS preprocessors (LESS etc.), how to write maintainable JS, modular CSS, responsive design, JS debugging, offline webapps, CSS profiling and speed tracer, JS testing
  • On Being A Senior Engineer – valuable insights into what makes an engineer “senior” (i.e. mature; from the field of web operations but applies to IT in general): mature engineers seek out constructive criticism of their designs, understand the non-technical areas of how they are perceived (=> assertive, nice to work with etc.), understand that not all of their projects are filled with rockstar-on-stage work, anticipate the impact of their code (on resource usage, others’ ability to understand & extend it etc.), lift the skills and expertise of those around them, make their trade-offs explicit when making decisions, do not practice “Cover Your Ass Engineering,” are able to view the project from another person’s (stakeholder’s) perspective, are aware of cognitive biases (such as the Planning Fallacy), practice egoless programming, know the importance of (sometimes irrational) feelings people have.

Clojure Corner

  • Polymorphism in Clojure – Tim Ewald’s 1h live coding talk at Øredev conference introducing mechanisms for polymorphism (and Java interoperability) in Clojure and explaining well the different use cases for them. Included: why records, protocols & polymorphism with them (shapes, area => open, not explicit switch) (also good for Java interop.: interfaces), reify, multimethods.
  • Stuart Sierra: Thinking in Data (1h talk) – Sierra introduces data-oriented programming, i.e. programming with generic, immutable data structures (such as maps), pure functions, and isolated side-effects. Some other points: Records are an optimization, only for perforamnce (rarely) or polymorphism (ot often); the case for composable functions;  testing using simulations (generative testing) etc.; visualization of state & process

Tools & Libs

  • Netflix’ Hysterix: library to make distributed systems more resilitent by preventing a single slow/failing dependency from causing resource (thread etc.) exhaustion etc. by wrapping external calls in a separate thread with clear timeouts and support for fallbacks, with good monitoring etc. Read “Problem Definition” on the page to understand the problem it tries to solve.

Favorite Quotes

if you build something that is fundamentally broken it isn’t really interesting that you followed the plan or you followed some methodology — the thing you built is fundamentally broken.

- Bjørn Borud, Chief Architect at Comoyo.no, in an email 12/2012

The root of the Toyota Way is to be dissatisfied with the status quo; you have to ask constantly, “Why are we doing this?”

- Katsuaki Watanabe, Tyota President 2005 – 2009 (from the talk Deliberate Practice)

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Creating On-Demand Clusters in EC2 with Puppet

Posted by Jakub Holý on May 5, 2012

For a recent project I needed to be able to start on-demand clusters of machines in Amazon EC2. We needed each instance in a cluster to allow SSH and sudo access for all team members and to install and configure the software appropriate for that cluster (“database” node or “testclient” node).

You can see the results of my effort using EC2 command-line tools, Puppet etc. at the project’s Puppet GitHub repository, the setup is described in detail in its README.

(Tips for improvements are welcome. And not, Star Cluster isn’t what we needed.)

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Link: Benchmark and Scaling of Amazon RDS (MySQL)

Posted by Jakub Holý on March 1, 2012

Performance and scaling of the Amazon-managed MySQL, Relational Data Store (RDS):

Scaling options:

  • Horizontal scaling
    • Sharding (distribute data [tables or rows] among multiple RDS instances; Tumblr uses sharded MySQL and it worked well for them) – there is no explicit support so the applications have to handle it themselves, i.e. know which table/rows to read from which instance
    • Read-replicas: RDS supports set up of read-only replicas using MySQL’s own replication; the replicas are evidently only usable for reading and may contain little stale data
  • Vertical scaling (stronger EC2 instances) – there are interesting results from a benchmark of RDS with various instances/DB sizes (6/2011, complete report); key observations:
    • “With hardly any dependency on the database size, MySQL reaches its optimal throughput at around 64 concurrent users. Anything above that causes throughput degradation.”
    • “Throughput is improving as machines get stronger. However, there is a sweet-spot, a point where adding hardware doesn’t help performance. The sweet spot is around the XL machine, which reaches a [max] throughput of around 7000 tpm.” (transactions per minute => ~ 110 tx/sec)

Disclaimer: No banchmark proves anything generally applicable, it’s always necessary to run one’s own production load and measure that to see how in reality a DB performs for one’s actual needs.

Notes

  • The number of concurrent connections is by default derived from the memory, namely 150 for a small 1.5GB instance and 650 for a large 7.5GB instance. According to one expert it’s completely OK to set it to 1000 connections without regard to memory; MySQL should handle it.

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Getting Started with Amazon Web Services and Fully Automated Resource Provisioning in 15 Minutes

Posted by Jakub Holý on December 7, 2011

While waiting for a new project, I wanted to learn something useful. And because on many projects we need to assess and test the performance of the application being developed while only rarely there is enough hardware for generating a realistic load, I decided to learn more about provisioning virtual machines on demand in the Cloud, namely Amazon Web Services (AWS). I’ve learned a lot about the tools available to work with AWS and the automation of the setup of resources (machine instances, security groups, databases etc.) and automatic customization of virtual machine instances in the AWS cloud. I’d like to present a brief introduction into AWS and a succinct overview of the tools and automation options. If you are familiar with AWS/EC2 then you might want to jump over the introduction directly to the automation section.

Read the rest of this entry »

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