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Most interesting links of February ’14

Posted by Jakub Holý on February 28, 2014

Recommended Readings

Development

  • Nathan Marz: Principles of Software Engineering, Part 1 - Nathan has worked with Big Data at Twitter and other places and really knows the perils or large, distributed, real-time systems and this post contains plenty of valuable advice for making robust, reliable SW. Main message: “there’s a lot of uncertainty in software engineering“; every SW operates correctly only for a certain range of inputs (including volume, HW it runs on, …) and you never control all of them so there always is an opportunity for failure; you can’t predict what inputs you will encounter in the wild. “[..] while software is deterministic, you can’t treat it as deterministic in any sort of practical sense if you want to build robust software.” “Making software robust is an iterative process: you build and test it as best you can, but inevitably in production you’ll discover new areas of the input space that lead to failure. Like rockets, it’s crucial to have excellent monitoring in place so that these issues can be diagnosed.“. From the content: Sources of uncertainty (bugs, humans, requirements, inputs, ..), Engineering for uncertainty (minimize dependencies, lessen % of cascading failure [JH: -> Hystrix], measure and monitor)
    • Suffering-oriented programming is certainly also worth reading (summary: do not start with great designs; only start generalizing and creating libs when you have suffered enough from doing things more manually and thus learned the domain; make it possible > make it beautiful > make it fast, repeat)
  • ThoughtWorks open-sources Go, continuous delivery platform - good bye, Jenkins! – better support for pipelines etc., see features and elementary concepts
  • Cloud Design Patterns: Prescriptive Architecture Guidance for Cloud Applications (recommended by @markusbk so it must be good); Patterns: Cache-aside, Circuit Breaker, Compensating Transaction, Competing Consumers, Compute Resource Consolidation, Command and Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS), Event Sourcing, External Configuration Store, Federated Identity, Gatekeeper, Health Endpoint Monitoring, Index Table, Leader Election, Materialized View, Pipes and Filters, Priority Queue, Queue-based Load Leveling, Retry, Runtime Reconfiguration, Scheduler Agent Supervisor, (data) Sharding, Static Content Hosting (-> CDN), Throttling, Valet Key.
    Guidance topics: Asynchronous Messaging Primer, Autoscaling, Caching, Compute Partitioning, Data Consistency Primer, Data Partitioning, Data Replication and Synchronization, Instrumentation and Telemetry, Multiple Datacenter Deployment, Service Metering
  • MOOC course Functional programming with Clojure at Uni of Helsinki – to get started you need, I suppose, follow the “Material and course content” – essentially read the text for each chapter, clone its repo, submit pull requests to get your work graded
  • Jez Humble: The Case for Continuous Delivery - read to persuade manager about CD: “Still, many managers and executives remain unconvinced as to the benefits [of CD], and would like to know more about the economic drivers behind CD.” CD reduces waste: “[..]online controlled experiments (A/B tests) at Amazon. This approach created hundreds of millions of dollars of value[..],” reduces risks: “[..] Etsy, has a great presentation which describes how deploying more frequently improves the stability of web services.” CD makes development cheaper by reducing the cost of non-value-adding activities such as integration and testing. F.ex. HP got dev. costs down by 40%, dev cost/program by 78%

Web

  • Client-side messaging in JavaScript – Part 3 (anti-patterns) (via @ruudud so it must be worth reading)
  • Request Quest (via @jraregris) – entertaining and educational intractive quiz regarding what does (not) trigger a request in browsers and differences between them (and deviances from the standard) – img, script, css, etc.
  • The REST Statelessness Constraint - a nice post about statelessness in REST if you, like me, don’t know REST so much in depth; highlights: Statelesness (and thus the requirement for clients to send their state with every request) is a trade-off crucial for web-scale and partially balanced by caching – while typical enterprise apps have different needs (more state, less scale) so REST isn’t a perfect match. Distinguish application (client-side) and server (resources) state. Using a DB to hold the state still violates the requirement. Use links to transfer some state (e.g. contain a link to fetch the next page of records in the response).
  • Functional Programming in Javascript – an interactive tutorial teaching map, filter, mergeAll, reduce, zip

Other

  • CodeMesh 2013 presentations - good stuff! F.ex. Refactoring Functional Programs: Past and Future, Distribution, Scale and Flexibility with ZeroMQ, Deepak Giridharagopal on Puppet, Immutable Deployments, Analyzing Systems with PuppetDB, Francesco Cesarini and Viktor Klang on the Reactive Manifesto and more
  • Cognitive Biases in Times of Uncertainty - people under pressure/stress start to focus on risks over gains and (very) short-term rather than long-term and thus also adopt 0-some mindset (i.e. if sb. else wins, I loose) => polarization into we x them and focus on getting as big piece of the cake possible at any price, now, dismissal of collaboration. With accelerating rate of change in the society due to technology, this is exactly what is happening. How to counter it? Create more positive narratives than the threat-based ones (views of the world), support them via short-term gains. Bottom line: each of us must work on spreading a more positive attitude to save us from bleak future.
  • Book – Nathan Marz: Big Data - I dislike the big data hype (and, with passion, Hadoop) but would love to read this book; it presents a fresh look at big data processing, heavily inspired by functional programming. Nathan has plenty of experiences from Twitter and creating Storm and Cascalog (both in Clojure, btw.). Read ch 1:  A new paradigm for big data.
  • Facebook Engineering: The Mature Optimization Handbook (or go directly to the pdf,   ePubMobi). If you get bored, jump directly to ch 5. Instrumentation.

Clojure Corner

  • Schmetterling - Debug running clojure processes from the browser! – upon an exception, the process will pause and S. will show the stack, which you can navigate and see locals and run code in the context of any stack frame; you can also trigger it from your code
  • Gorilla REPL (screenshot, 11min video)- interactive web-based notebook where you can mix text (with Markdown formatting), mathematical formulas via LaTeX, graphs, tables, Clojure code. Great for exploring and, at the same time, describing data. <3
  • Local state is harmful – how can we answer the questions about when/why did state X change, how did output Y get where it is? Make state explicit, f.ex. one global map holding all of it, and perhaps not just the current state but also history – thus we can easily query it. Prismatic’ Graph can be used to make the state map, watches to keep history. Inspired by databases (Datomic is an excellent example of SW where answering such questions is trivial)
  • S. Corfield: Insanely Useful Leiningen Plugins - lein-ancient (find updated deps), lein-exec (execute Clj from cmd.line / scripts in Clj), lein-try (try a lib in REPL), Eastwood - a lint tool for Clojure
  • Sente – Clojure(Script) + core.async + WebSockets/Ajax - a tiny 600 LoC library for websockets (with fall-back to long-polling) communication between ClojureScript frontend and clojure backend, using EDN, support for request-reply and multiple user windows/tabs (comparison with Chord (no non-WS fallback or req/resp))
  • Nicholas Kariniemi: Why is Clojure bootstrapping so slow? – don’t blame the JVM, most time spent in clojure.core according to this analyzes on JVM and Android (create and set vars, load other namespaces); some proposals for improving it – lazy loading, excluding functionality not used, …
  • Cheat your way to running CLJS on Node – (ab)use D. Nolen’s mies template intended for client-side cljs development to create a Node project; the trick: compile everything into 1 file so that Node does not fail to find dependencies, disable source maps etc. Update: the nodecljs template now does this
  • lt-clojure-tutorial - A Clojure tutorial optimized for Light Table, ported from Nolen’s cljs tutorial

Tools/Libs

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Becoming A Better Programmer Through The Study of Good And Bad Code & Design

Posted by Jakub Holý on May 19, 2013

Reading books about good design and good coding practices such as Clean Code is very helpful but it isn’t enough to become a good programmer. We need to see both good and bad code in practice, perhaps many times, to start to really understand and appreciate the principles and qualities of clean/good code. (And, of course, we must write code.) However our chances of encountering a noteworthy good or bad piece of code and realizing its qualities (or lack thereof) are limited and highly dependant on the project and people we work with. In an attempt to increase the chances and help other – especially junior – developers to encounter and evaluate more interesting pieces of code, I have started a new blog, Wonders of Code. When I encounter a code snippet lacking in some qualities, I re-implement it in a better way and publish both together with an analysis of their pros and cons and relating those to the  principles of readability, maintainability, and clean code in general.

This is an experiment and I hope to hear from the community if this is something that can really help people or not. I would also love to get contributions from other developers, to cover a broader range of opinions and examples. Comments and contributions are welcomed and appreciated!

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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Books Our Developers Should Read

Posted by Jakub Holý on March 12, 2013

Republished from blog.iterate.no with the permission of my co-author, Morten Berg, and later updated.

There are a few books that every developer in Iterate should read because they express what we believe in and are extremely valuable in themselves. The books chosen are generally and broadly useful and not tied to some too limited domain (contrary to e.g. Effective Java).  The list is kept as short as possible, about 4-5 books, and is revised regularly.

Why particularly these books, why lean and agile? Our people are primarily responsible for crafting solutions for our clients, for making sure that they use the customers’ limited resources efficiently to produce the maximal business value possible. However, according to our experience, it is never truly known upfront where that value lies. Software development is therefore inherently a learning and exploration process. A process that needs to be continually adjusted based on empirical feedback from the reality and on shifting conditions. This is what lean is about: eliminating waste, maximizing value by maximizing learning, making sure that the right product is built. We value software craftmanship and building things right – but building the right things is crucial.

Here are the books and why we believe they are so important.

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Infographic: Why Should All Learn Little Code

Posted by Jakub Holý on September 24, 2012


Programming Infographic (by OnlineCollege.org)

By OnlineCollege.org

BTW, Codecademy is really fun.

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Refactoring Spikes as a Learning Tool and How a Scheduled Git Reset Can Help

Posted by Jakub Holý on November 21, 2011

To learn how complex your code base really is and how much effort a particular refactoring might require compared to the initial expectations, follow these steps:

  1. Schedule git reset --hard; git clean -fd to run in 1 hour (e.g. via cron)
  2. Do the refactoring
  3. WT*?! All my changes disappeared?!” – this experience indicates the end of the refactoring :-)
  4. Go for a walk or something and think about what you have learned about the code, its complexity, the refactoring
  5. Repeat regularly, f. ex. once every week or two – thus you’ll improve your ability to direct the refactoring so that you learn as much as possible during the short time

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Mobile learning application MiniPauker 1.1.05 released – please test!

Posted by Jakub Holý on July 25, 2010

MiniPauker 1.1.05

MiniPauker 1.1.05, the final milestone before 1.1.1, has just been released. MiniPauker is a “flashcard learning” application for cell phones, which means that you can use it to learn or repeat any pairs of information, such as French vocabulary or terms and their definitions. The “cards” that you have troubles remembering are repeated often while the ones well remembered less and less frequently. It’s a mobile version of the desktop application Pauker.

The version 1.1.05, and thus also 1.1.1, brings many new features and enhancements, especially regarding usability, and some important fixes, such as:

  • The “lesson” (previously known as “session”) last used is automatically re-opened when you start MiniPauker
  • Possibility to save & quit with a single key (namely 5) press while learning/repeating, or via a new main menu item “Save & Quit”
  • Possibility to edit or delete a card while learning/repeating
  • When there are any cards to learn or repeat, the corresponding menu item is emphasized with a red font, and when there is nothing, invoking that menu item will inform you when the next cards expire and will thus require to be repeated
  • Support for long cards: you can easily page up/down using the keys 2 and 5 and the typing limit for adding or editing a card was increased to 10,000
  • When a call arrives, the application should be able to stop and later resume without any loss of data (unless you inadvertently close it)

See the release notes for the complete list.

The “general availability” release 1.1.1 will be published based on 1.1.05 after thirty days without any new bug report and we are therefore asking everybody to download MiniPauker 1.1.05 (either the normal or the -debug version) and try it out to discover and report as many problems, unexpected behavior etc. as possible. Don’t miss your chance to influence the look&feel and behavior of the application! Read more about how to help with testing. Thanks a lot!

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