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Archive for June, 2013

Most interesting links of June ’13

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 30, 2013

Recommended Readings

Agile, process, SW dev, people etc.

  • Real Options—a Mindset – an intro into the Real Options approach, which has been quite a hot topic and a transformational way of thinking for a number of inspiring people (Dan North, Liz Keogh etc.). “Real Options help us to better make decisions and commitments with three simple principles: Options have value. Options expire. Never commit early unless you know why.” We can “pay” to keep our options open longer, i.e. to avoid commiting prematurely.
  • Demystifying the CHAOS report’s claim of ~ 1/2 features being unused: the Standish Group’s CHAOS report has been often quoted for its “finding” that a large percentage of features in applications is never/rarely used. However this claim seems to have never been confirmed, their “research” is reportedly not very scientific and not publicly available for scrutiny.  Critique by Laurent Bossavit (2013), Jorge Aranda’s Standish, the CHAOS report, and science. Thx to @smalltalk80 for pointing this out! However there is one research, Online Experimentation at Microsoft, that supports the claim, in a different context but the same problem applies to features: “Evaluating well-designed and executed experiments that were designed to improve a key metric, only about one-third were successful at improving the key metric!”
  • Why Yammer believes the traditional engineering organizational structure is dead – small teams, small projects (2-10 people, 2-10 weeks), no separation into front/middle tier/backend team (=> communication, design obstacle); have instead people specializing in these areas and construct feature teams from them based on the actual needs; engineers, not managers do eng. decisions; all aligned via focusing on the same 3 key metrics. Small projects => constant sense of urgency (and excitement): Often very long projects cause engineers to lose track of the end goal.  Think of it in terms of hiking: start fresh & excited, get tired and losing track of the goal, excited again at the end => cut out the middle part, keep them in the exciting state where they can measure progress and see it visually; it’s the only way to maintain urgency and morale. Focus: people alwasy work only at one (short) project at a time (there are special bug-fixing teams for maintenance tasks with people rotating in&out).
  • Agile development is more culture than process – Why thinking of agile as culture and not just process explains resistance and difficulty in teaching and learning the approach – and should be taught so => 1. Underscore agile values that motivate practice; 2. Identify organization values that compete with agile values, conflict of values; 3. Be sensitive to culture shock.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s Letter to Investors: ‘The Hacker Way’ (quite long, you might want to read only “The Hacker Way” part at the end) – about Facebook’s “unique culture and management approach” – “Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete.” “Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once.” “Instead of debating for days [..], hackers would rather just prototype something and see what works.” “Hacker culture is also extremely open and meritocratic.” “Many of our most successful products came out of hackathons, [..].” <=> five core values: Focus on Impact (focus on solving the most important problems, be good at finding the biggest problems to work on); Move Fast (“[..] if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”); Be Bold (“Building great things means taking risks.”); Be Open (=> effort to make as much info as possible visible to all); Build Social Value (“[..] Facebook exists to make the world more open and connected, and not just to build a company. “)
  • Dave Nicolett: I know how to tie my shoes – on the difficulty of convincing people to try unfamiliar software development techniques – “People change the way they operate when they are experiencing some sort of inconvenience or negative feedback. As long as things are going along reasonably well, people don’t go out of their way to change the way they work.” (with few exceptions) You can learn to tie your shoes in a split second, but why to invest the effort? You’d need to set aside assumptions, suppress habits, practice. You can argument there are many inconveniences (bugs, criticism for slow delivery, …) but “Unfortunately, that’s all pretty normal, and most people in the software field are accustomed to it.  They don’t see it as a problem that calls for them to change their practices. Most of them probably have a hard time visualizing a different reality.” => Maybe that’s the reason there’s been no satisfactory answer to the question of how to convince people to adopt different practices. We shouldn’t be trying to convince people to do anything. We should be helping people solve their problems and achieve their goals. If they are satisfied with the outcomes they achieve using their current methods, then there is no problem to solve.
  • Kent Beck: Pace of Progress = Pace of Feedback – ‘”The pace of my progress is completely constrained by the pace of my feedback”. If I want to go faster, it’s hard to achieve by going faster. I can almost always optimize my feedback loop, though.’ “The second lesson from this episode is that it’s not just the duration of the feedback loop that matters, it’s also the quality. All week I was working in tiny little iterations. Without producing useful information, though, those iterations could be as small or as large as I liked, I was still just going to spin my wheels.” => “The next time I seem to be going slow, I’m going to look at my whole feedback loop–duration, quality and my ability to respond to the information.
  • What Google Has Learned About How to Hire People – interview results have no relation to actual performance on the job: “We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess.” “Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, [..]” ‘Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”’ Link to an interesting book, Hiring Geeks That Fit.

Cool tech stuff

  • The Elixir language – Clojure + Ruby + Erlang – a functional meta-programming aware language built on top of the Erlang VM; a dynamic language with flexible syntax with macros support that leverages Erlang’s abilities to build concurrent, distributed, fault-tolerant applications with hot code upgrades. First-class support for pattern matching, polymorphism via protocols, etc. (via @bodil)
  • Random Testing seems to be gaining popularity and looks very interesting; at NDC Oslo, John Hughes has presented how QuickCheck, which generates random sequences of API calls, has been successfully used to find bugs in the Riak DB and a file system that a human would never think of, and Stuart Halloway has presented simulation testing with Simulant, which runs predefined actions according to a probabilistic model (e.g. 100 traders, each having 1h mean time between trades and mean traded amount 100, the test runs for 4 simulated hours). Something worth exploring!
  •  Dmytro Navrotskyy’s collection of Frontend Development resources and learning materials for tools (grunt, unused css detection,..), best practices (Atomic Design, …), JS/CSS frameworks, typography, animation, visualization, useful on-line services,  and many more (via Herman Schistad)
  • The Secret To 10 Million Concurrent Connections – The Kernel Is The Problem, Not The Solution: To have really fast SW, you need to implement your own core services (FS, net driver (packet handling), thread scheduling, ..) tuned for your app. You need to be aware of the clock-time cost of cache misses, memory access etc.. Custom solutions are times faster than what the general OS kernel can offer. => “data plane oriented system” Core areas and solutions for them: packet scalability, multi-core scalability (locks are expensive), memory scalability.

Other

  • M. Fowler: EmbeddedDocument – a pattern for working with JSON flowing in/out of our services (REST <-> JSON-friendly DB) without unnecessary conversions but with good encapsulation; naive approach: json -> object graph -> (processing) -> json; “In many of these situtiations a better way to proceed is to keep the data in a JSONish form, but still wrap it with objects to coordinate manipulation.” – use a lib to parse the JSON into a generic structure (e.g. a structure of lists, and maps/dicts) and store in a field of an object defining methods that encapsulate it – f.ex. for an Order we could have a method returning the customer and another computing the cost, accessing the underlying generic structure. The user of the wrapper object doesn’t need to know/care about the underlying structure. “The sweet spot for an embedded document is when you’re providing the document in the same form that you get it from the data store, but still want to do some manipulation of that data. [..] The order object needs only a constructor and a method to return its JSON representaiton. On the other hand as you do more work on the data – more server side logic, transforming into different representations – then it’s worth considering whether it’s easier to turn the data into an object graph.”
  • ThoughtWorks’ Approach To Big Data Analytics – an inspiring, brief read. Some really good points such as “It’s not about Data. It’s about Insight and Impact” => “focus on the questions you’d love to answer for your business” => “changing big data from a technological problem to a business solution.” Also “The value of data is only realised through insight. And insight is useless until it’s turned into action.” Measure the value you gain at each step. See  Introducing Agile Analytics: A Value-Driven Approach to Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing by Ken Collier
  • Wired.com, Nassim Taleb: Beware the Big Errors of ‘Big Data’ – in big data, noise has much stronger effect and in a large enough dataset we will always find spurious (i.e. false) relationships => beware! “Well, if I generate (by simulation) a set of 200 variables — completely random and totally unrelated to each other — with about 1,000 data points for each, then it would be near impossible not to find in it a certain number of “significant” correlations of sorts. But these correlations would be entirely spurious.”
  • A Taste of Salt: Like Puppet, Except It Doesn’t Suck – a deescription of Salt and the tools around by an enthusiastic user with deep experience with Puppet. Highlights: Light-weight communication over ZeroMQ, very active community, simplicity, configuration is YAML, Salt-cloud can spin instances in EC2/Openstack/…, Salt-virt does the same for virtual machines (KVM/Xen/…), Salt-vagrant, Salt-monitor (work in progess) can ask all the server for their stats. “Having stood up a number of different configuration management systems across a wide variety of environments, I’ve yet to find a solution that’s as rapid to deploy, simple to scale, or as well architected as Salt.”
  • Trash Your Servers and Burn Your Code: Immutable Infrastructure and Disposable Components – leveraging the lectures of PF to have a stable infrastructure – instead of updating servers, throw them away and create a new one from scratch (requires virtualization/cloud); this is something that Netlfix is doing and also Comoyo is moving towards
  • Robin Ward: AngularJS vs Ember – a nice overview of the different approaches of the two; the author is strongly pro-Ember, claiming that AngularJS is much closer to low-end libraris like Backbone/Knockout and that you will often need the additional features of Ember. The comments provide the right countrweight to the biased post and form thus a good whole together.
  • Scala Productivity. A Survey of the Community – people (that asnwered) seem to be productive with Scala right from the start

Non-tech

  • After Your Job Is Gone – an interesting essay on the future, which, according to the author, we can already see happening, when technology will take away most of our work and we will not need to work all day. Not very optimistic, though (the author predicts few reach and many poor people).

Clojure Corner

  • Clojure Cup 2013, Sept 28-29 – create something cool with Clojure/ClojureScript within 48h and perhaps win a price! #fun
  • Clojure use in the industry – examples at an e-mail forum – Netflix, Puppet Labs (e.g. PuppetDB), UBS (talk), Deutsche Bank (talk, some details), Citigroup (reportedly “the largest private sector deployment of Clojure to date,” 11/2012), getprismatic.com (with frontend moving to ClojureScript; -> Why Prismatic Goes Faster With Clojure), Roomkey.com (details in a Relevance podcast), MastodonC.com (big data), Trend Micro, Walmart, beanstalkapp.com, ReadyForZero.com (50kLoC),  www.cognician.com (20kLoC), World Singles (13kLoC) and more… (another similar thread)
  • Stuart Sierra’s My Clojure Workflow, Reloaded (6/2013) – mainly about reloading changes into REPL, working around things that are not reloaded/left over => restart the app from scratch after significant changes => the app as a transient object => no global state, careful management of resources, :dev profile with :source-paths to a dir with user.clj (autoloaded by repl, pre-loading useful stuff) and dev util deps
  • Adam Bard’s walk-through useful Clojure libs – f.ex. clojure.[data.[csv xml json] inspector java.shell java.browse xml], tools.logging, clojure.core.[match logic typed contracts …]
  • Juxt.pro: Jon Pither’s and Malcolm Sparks’ “network of experienced IT professionals who specialise in the Clojure programming language,” providing training, consulting, talks
  • Anthony Grimes: The Clojure Community and Me (2011) – an exciting insight into the embracing and supportive Clojure community
  • In Clojure-based Machine Learning: “Our backend is 99.4% coded in Clojure, and 66% of the team [of 3] had never programmed seriously in any Lisp, let alone Haskell or Prolog (heck, not even I (the remaining 33%) had actually tried anything non-mainstream for real in a big project!) Maybe some Ruby, and lots and lots of Java and C and C++. But they accepted the challenge after reading around and learning the basics, and 3 months later you couldn’t take Clojure from their prying hands.”
  • J. Pither: TDD and Clojure – “If you were to create a shopping list of things you really want for your development experience then what would you put at the top?” => 1. rapid feedback on changes, 2. REPL (place to explore and to play with your code <=> TDD), 3. FP and Immutability (“FP and dynamic languages lead to a lot less code. There’s less ceremony, less modeling. Because you’re managing less code you do less large scale refactorings.” => TDD needed less), 4. Regression Tests (“It’s my current opinion that what you get left out of TDD once you have amazingly fast feedback and a REPL is regression testing.”)

Tools/Libs

Tools

  • More beautiful and colorful git log, by Filipe Kiss (via @lcdutoit) You may also want to have a look at tig, which is a text-based UI for git with the default view similar to git log.
  • jq (via lcdutoit) – sed/awk/grep for JSON – slice, filter, map, transform structured data
  • SemanticMerge (Windows) – a Java-aware merge tool – free beta (I haven’t tried it)

Libs

  • JetLang – a high performance java threading library for in-memory messaging, based upon Retlang (via @tastapod, used likely in a trading SW).

Favorite Quotes

Agile [is] in NOT a process — it’s a philosophy.

– Joe Wroblewski in a comment to a blog post

Teach culture first, then process and techniques

– Jeff Patton in Agile development is more culture than process

If a candidate came telling me that s/he wanted to program only in, say, Java because that’s what s/he knows best and that s/he doesn’t really feel prepared or interested in learning and using, say, Clojure (or any other language, really), I wouldn’t hire her/him in a million years, no matter what language my project were using, and no matter how many thousands of candidates like this one I had at my disposal.
– José Antonio Ortega in Clojure-based Machine Learning

We shouldn’t be trying to convince people to do anything. We should be helping people solve their problems and achieve their goals. If they are satisfied with the outcomes they achieve using their current methods, then there is no problem to solve.
Dave Nicolett in I know how to tie my shoes

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Brief Intro Into Random/Stochastic/Probabilistic/Simulation/Property-Based Testing

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 28, 2013

John Hughes and Stuart Halloway had very interesting talks about random testing at NDC Oslo, a topic I have been ignorant of but want to explore more now. Contrary to the typical example-based unit tests where the developer specifies inputs, interactions, and specific validations, random testing generates random input data and/or sequences of interactions and the verification is based on more general checks. Random testing can check many more cases than a developer would ever write and cases that a human would never think of. It can thus discover defects impossible to find by the traditional testing, as has been demonstrated f.ex. on Riak.

Random testing typically starts by creating (likely a very simplified) model of the system under test. The model is then used to generate the random data inputs and/or sequences of actions (method calls). Then the tests are executed and their input and output data captured. Finally the results are validated, either against predefined “system properties,” i.e. invariants that should always hold true, or manually by the developer.

Related/also known as: generative testingproperty-based testing (a paper).

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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

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Installing Latest Node.JS And NPM Modules With Puppet

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 21, 2013

PuppetLabs’ nodejs module is unfortunately quite out of date, providing Node.js 0.6, however there is a simple way to get the latest Node:

  1. Install the puppetlabs-apt module
  2. Add ppa:chris-lea/node.js to apt
  3. Install nodejs
  4. Steal the npm provider from the puppetlabs-nodejs module
  5. Install a npm module

Code:

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Making Sense Out of Datomic, The Revolutionary Non-NoSQL Database

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 16, 2013

I have finally managed to understand one of the most unusual databases of today, Datomic, and would like to share it with you. Thanks to Stuart Halloway and his workshop!

Why? Why?!?

As we shall see shortly, Datomic is very different from the traditional RDBMS databases as well as the various NoSQL databases. It even isn’t a database – it is a database on top of a database. I couldn’t wrap my head around that until now. The key to the understanding of Datomic and its unique design and advantages is actually simple.

The mainstream databases (and languages) have been designed around the following constraints of 1970s:

  • memory is expensive
  • storage is expensive
  • it is necessary to use dedicated, expensive machines

Datomic is essentially an exploration of what database we would have designed if we hadn’t these constraints. What design would we choose having gigabytes of RAM, networks with bandwidth and speed matching and exceeding harddisk access, the ability to spin and kill servers at a whim.

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Ignore requirements to gain flexibility, value, insights! The power of why

Posted by Jakub Holý on June 1, 2013

I would like to share an eye-opening experience I have recently made. I have learned that if we do not just passively accept the requirements given to us but carefuly analyse the reasons behind them (and the reasons behind the reasons), we gain incredible power and flexibility. By understanding the real value behind it and by discovering other, related sources of value, we might find a superior solution and, more importantly, we gain a few degrees of freedom in the solution space, the ability to scope up or down the solution and optimize it with respect to other solutions. Let’s see how a seemingly fixed requirement can be easily expanded or shrinked once we bother to trully understand it.

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