Sunday, November 22, 2009

No Fluff Just Stuff, Fall 2009

Another year, another NFJS behind me. You would think by now it would be old hat, but it seems like every time I attend, by the end of the weekend, I feel reenergized and ready to crank on some more code. My LOTTD also seems to get a lot longer!

Jay Zimmerman, the founder of No Fluff, just gets it and always manages to put together the perfect geek conference. The speakers are top notch, the topics are relevant, and the food is great. This year, the wireless networking was top notch as well!

Before I get into the sessions I attended, I want to go into one of the less tangible benefits of the conference that folks thinking of attending may not think of, which is the networking opportunities. My weekend started with lunch with some friends, one who is a speaker, prior to the start of the conference. While we don't focus our conversations exclusively on technical topics, they tend to dominate. In this case, I learned a lot about GIS that I was not aware of before.

Similar things happened during conference meals. The speakers are great for mingling, rather than being clickish, and again the discussions were very informative. One of the memes this year was whether speakers should use live coding or pre-recorded demos in their talks. The two camps had strong opinions on the issue and there was a lot of friendly ribbing that went on between them.

Personally, I got to see the good and bad for both approaches. In one talk, the speaker found that some web services APIs provided by Yahoo! he wanted to demonstrate had changed, which broke his demo. He was a bit embarrassed by this and it is possible that some folks in the session were unhappy, but I felt that most attendees were very engaged and it became a group debugging sessions, which in itself is a great learning experience. In another session that used live coding, a question from the audience sent the talk in a slightly different direction. Had the demo been canned, this would have been harder to do.

On the other side though, one of the speaker's Mac crashed right before he was scheduled to talk. Because his talks were canned, he was able to borrow a laptop and go through his talk without missing a beat. If he would have needed to install all of the tools used in his demo, it would have been a massive FAIL.

Jay summarized the debate saying if everyone agreed, someone would be redundant!

And now a summary of the talks I attended...

Spring 3, Groovier Spring - It has been a couple of years since I attended a Scott Leberknight talk. He has kept his tech edge and did great job of reviewing some cool features in Spring 3 (and some lesser known features from Spring 2.5). I'm not a Spring power user, but have some grand plans for incorporating Spring into the product I am currently working on. The plan is to use Spring Dependency Injection to allow third parties to extend the product without the need to access our source code. None of the features discussed in the talk seemed to add any capabilities that I would immediately need for this. My biggest take away is that the Spring platform is very powerful, but borders on being overly complex as well.

That being said, there are some cool features available in Spring. Annotations seem to have taken the place of most XML config. In general, I like this. Spring has added extensive support for ReSTful web services, including a work-around for the fact that browsers do not support the PUT and DELETE primitives. Spring has great support for TDD, including Junit 3 and 4 as well as TestNG. Transactional processing support is extensive, again the idiomatic use appears to be via annotations. The other big take away from this talk was that you can add a global exception handler to a Spring-based system.

Scott also presented information on a groovier Spring. I like Scott's definition of Groovy...

"Java minus all the code I don't like writing plus closures, metaprogramming and more."

SpringSource acquired G2One last year (SpringSource has since been acquired by VMWare). Based upon the first acquisition, a lot of folks felt that Groovy (and Grails) would get baked into Spring. These people were correct! Spring now has a a script factory object that supports beanshell, jruby, and for the purposes of this talk, groovy. Scott presented great examples of how to incorporate groovy scripts that can be run by the Spring app. There are several (too many?) mechanisms that can be used to do this. Fortunately, one of them appears to be the most straightforward. There are some security issues that need to be accounted for if you want to use this mechanism. In one example, the script is pulled out of a DB. Injection attack anyone?

Scott likes to open his talks with a joke, typically some kind of pun. This time, he started with an oldie, but a goodie. What is the object oriented approach to getting rich? Inheritance! But someone in the audience threw a curve ball I had not heard before... Marry a rich Singleton. LMAO!

Grails w/o GORM and ReSTful Grails - Scott Davis, the person who introduced me to Groovy and Grails, did a great job on these two complimentary talks. Both talks focused on using ReST in Grails, but from different perspectives. The first talk was about how to consume ReSTful web services. Scott demonstrated accessing Twitter, Yahoo Search, and a GIS web service from within a Grails application. The code to do this was surprisingly simple.

From the other side, Scott demonstrated how to build a Grails application that exposes a ReSTful web service. His focus in this talk was that while the UI is important, don't forget the data! As expected, it is very straightforward to implement a ReSTful interface in Grails. It turns out that there is a bit of boilerplate involved, so Scott recommends moving much of this to template functions.

I blogged about ReST last year. It is really taking off as the web service technology of choice. Scott compares ReST, which is resource (noun) oriented, to SOAP, which is service (verb) oriented. He presented stats which show that give a choice, consumers of web services overwhelmingly choose ReSTful interfaces to SOAP based ones.

Polyglot Persistence - Another Scott Leberknight talk. There is evidently a movement afoot, the No SQL Movement, which advocates the position that while SQL is not Evil, it is often not appropriate. In this talk, Scott presented some potential alternatives to the traditional RDBMS. These include document-based (CouchDB and Amazon SimpleDB), hash table (Project Voldemort), and big table (Google Big Table and Apache HBase) approaches.

I'm not a persistence guy. Most of my experience is with some simple Hibernate apps and GORM in Grails. It was great to see what else is out there, but my biggest take away from the talk is I'm not smart enough to work at Google. That Big Table stuff is pretty deep!

Git - Matthew McCullough has been on the No Fluff circuit for about a year and is really making his mark. He is a great speaker and really knows his stuff. He is also the speaker who had to recover from a crashed Mac.

Git is a distributed version control system written by Linus Torvalds of Linux fame that is quickly becoming the VCS all the cool kids are using. While an argument could possibly be made that some of this is hype, I think there is enough value add to the product that the hype is justified. In my case, the value is the ability to have the entire repository stored locally on my box, allowing me to work offline and still have access to the entire history. Matthew did a great job demonstrating how to use the Subversion to Git gateway. I am looking forward to trying this out.

The syntax is a bit quirky, as might be expected from the inventor of Linux, but it is easy to do the simple things and possible to do some powerful things!

Open Source Debugging Tools - Matthew provided a whirlwind tour of a dozen tools for debugging Java applications and another dozen or so tools for debugging web apps.

In the Java space, he provided summaries of tools for process debugging, stack and heap dump analysis, disassembly and decompilation. One of the tools that really excited me was the Eclipse TPTP comprehension tool. This tool monitors program execution and creates UML sequence diagrams that reflect the actual execution of the program. This tool can even show execution of dynamic methods created in Groovy objects. I asked about tying this tool into a CI server for automatic creation of developer documentation. The product is not there yet, but I can see this happening in the future.

In the web app space, the tools of note (for me) were curl, firebug, and firebug lite. I hope to find some time to learn these better. Matthew made the point that many developers find System.out.println to be the end all and be all of debugging. I definitely don't want to be in that camp!

Refactoring - Neal Ford has been a mainstay on the No Fluff tour since I have been attending (4 years now!). He often focuses more on the bigger picture of software development as opposed to specific technologies. This talk fits this description really well. Some of this was review from what I had learned reading the seminal refactoring book by Fowler, but there were a couple of good take aways from the talk.

Prior to refactoring, all that you typically have is piles of undifferentiated code. Following the techniques Neal presented, including the composed method and template patterns, will result in code that is more extensive and maintainable.

One soundbite I took from the talk was "It is OK for the framework to know about your code, but your code should not know about the framework".

Collections - This session was presented by Ted Neward, master of everything low level on the JVM (other stuff as well). I have been using java.util.* collections quite a bit lately. I have been frustrated by the lack of some seemingly obvious features, such as creating a list from an array. I went to this class to see if I was missing something. To some extent, I was. The Collections and Arrays classes have some of the features I was looking for, albeit with some warts that still make them less useful than they could be. And some features are still missing (I cannot directly create a List from a List). One take away from the class is I need to go look at Commons Collections.

Ted joked that every time a Java programmer uses an iterator, a kitten dies. Proper use of collections leads to a more functional programming style. I'm not really a cat person, but don't advocate cruelty either, so I really want to move that direction!

FWIW, closures and Groovy are another means to this end as well. So I'm already on the way.

JMS - Another Ted talk (pun intended). I had some very brief exposure to the JMS messaging bus a couple of years ago, but never got into the details. I try at every No Fluff to get some exposure to a technology or two that I may not necessarily need, but want to have a passing understanding of. So my take away from this session, JMS is a standards-based message passing protocol that handles both point-to-point and pub/sub messaging models. One of the benefits (provider dependent) can be guaranteed delivery. The API has some quirks, but seems pretty straightforward. There are many JMS providers out there. Ted stressed not coding to a specific provider jar, but rather compiling with the jar shipped with the JDK, then deploying with the provider jar to ensure you are adhering to the standard. The biggest disappointment was finding out that JMS messages from one vendor are not typically cross-compatible with other vendors.

So that's a wrap for this year. My head is full, there aren't enough hours in a day, but even with these constraints, I always feel like I have improved as a developer just by attending the show. And after I spend some playing with some code... look out!

I'll close with a teaser. Jay is going to have some really cool news for release in the next couple of week. I'll tweet/blog when he does. I don't want to steal his fire, so until then, I will leave you in suspense!


MrTidy OTR said...

Awesome, Joe. Thanks for taking the time to post.

I was always impressed by Venkat Subramaniam for his ability to code his demo's live and respond to crowd questions. I started thinking that anyone that could type fast enough should do all live demos but good point on canned being good for problem times.

Good stuff.

Chip Overclock said...

Thanks once again for taking the time to write this up and post it. I always enjoy your reviews of NFJS. Maybe one of these days I'll actually attend myself!