Archive for October, 2007

Funny, Usability

Products ‘n’ Solutions

Saint Paul College has been named a Sun Center of Excellence. My favorite part? The URL:

There are so many other things they could have done instead of “products-n-solutions” that would have been more likely.

  • productssolutions
  • productsandsolutions
  • products-solutions
  • products
  • solutions

Their services and solutions page has “servicessolutions” in the URL. If you try to go to you get redirected to (Bravo for that! It could so easily have returned a 404 File Not Found. Pity about the “index.jsp” bit, though.)

And of course, any of that could have been capitalized, but with Sun’s Unix roots, we can hardly expect that, can we?

But no. It reads “products ‘n’ solutions.” How terribly colloquial.

Small things delight me. What can I say.

Education, Gaming, Security

Decisions, decisions.

I’m going to No Fluff Just Stuff for the first time this weekend, Friday through ThursdaySunday. I’ve been looking forward to it awhile, as I hear mostly good things about these conferences. Looking over my planned itinerary, it’s clear that I’m a Neal Ford fanboy. :)

But here’s the thing. This Friday there’s a workshop on bioinformatics and entertainment computing at Metro State that looks like it’ll be great. Chris Melissinos, Sun’s Chief Gaming Officer, will be speaking there, as will Warren Sheaffer, a faculty member at Saint Paul College who’s been doing Good Things with virtual worlds and with teaching Java. Plus, bioinformatics is one of those fields that has just fascinated me since my days as a Perl hacker. Perl was (is?) a big language for data processing in bioinformatics.

Okay, yeah, back up a sec. Chief Gaming Officer at Sun. How damn cool is that? Please don’t be surprised that he has interesting things to say. If you’re confused about why Sun would be doing this, watch Chris’s interview with Scott McNealy.

If my employer hadn’t already sprung for NFJS, I’d go to that workshop. Sigh. It’s still a tough call. Looks like I’ll meet Chris and Warren tomorrow, which will help ease the pain somewhat.

But I’m not done. Oh no.

Gunnar Peterson and Brian Chess will be speaking together at a seminar in early November. Gunnar is known for his writing and presenting about web services and decentralized security, among other things (he introduced me to the idea of misuse cases), and I always enjoy seeing him speak. He’ll be one of the fine lineup at this year’s OWASP AppSec conference giving a two-day seminar on web services and XML security. Brian is founder of Fortify, a leader in the static analysis tools market for software security. Brian recently gave a good interview with the Java Posse. At the event in question, Gunnar will talk about security architecture and governance, and Brian’s topic will be static analysis. This will be a morning well spent, I figure.

However, on the same day, there’s a symposium at St. Cloud State University on Information Assurance, Network, and Software Security. I don’t know anyone who’s speaking or their work — a gap beween academia and industry? — but I am very glad to see this happening. I’d be going if I were not more sorely tempted elsewhere.

What to do, what to do…

Funny, Security

xkcd: Exploits of a Mom

This xkcd has left me rolling on the floor laughing:

xkcd: Exploits of a Mom

Update: it hadn’t sunk in that I had a fixed-width design until the image of the comic was borked. It has now been resized, and I’m likely to go looking for another design.

Books, Open Source, RIA

More on RIAs and a Silverlight book

With all my talk about Flex and AIR the other day, I’m surprised no one pinged me — hard — about other RIA options. Like OpenLaszlo, Silverlight, or even JavaFX.

Admittedly, I am curious about OpenLaszlo, especially since they started compiling both to Ajax and Flash. But I’ve never given them a fair shake. I’m not sure why, except a sneaking suspicion that they wouldn’t be around for long. That hasn’t proven to be the case thus, although we haven’t yet seen the shake-out from the open-sourcing of the Flex SDK yet. But again, that could just be me being unfair.

I’m waiting to see what happens with JavaFX. The client-side Java experience has been improving in recent years, and I expect JavaFX to help quite a bit. Once I sort out just what the hell it is. :) There’s a lot that fits under the JavaFX umbrella. I think the consumer JRE will quietly make people’s Java experience better, and I do have high hopes for JavaFX Script making client GUI development easier. But they’re nervous high hopes, like it won’t take long for the bottom to fall out.

cover of Silverlight bookSilverlight… Again, haven’t given a fair shake because I don’t develop in a Microsoft environment. The runtime may eventually become ubiquitous on Windows, but … well, I’ll just wait this one out and see. It’s like Mono: I’d like to look closer at it but just plain don’t have the time and am not motivated to make the time right now.

That said, I have every intention of reading a new e-book on Silverlight 1.1. O’Reilly’s “short cut” on LINQ was a great introduction, giving me a good feel for what can be done with LINQ. I hope the Silverlight book do be the same.

Java, Open Source

Darkstar and Wonderland

As soon as the Erlang book was released, I started to dig into Erlang and was enjoying stretching my brain, but I kept running into some of what Tim Bray has been going through. (That’s a really interesting thread, by the way. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when he can run all that code on a Sun T2.) And all along I really wanted to be working more with Scala, especially the lift framework. They’re doing some really cool stuff, and I’d like to be contributing. But my time is limited, and what have I been doing with it?

Raising children, mostly.

But when I get a chance to do some coding, I’ve been diving into Darkstar and Wonderland. Darkstar is game server written in Java and recently open sourced by Sun. It’s essentially an app server for networked, multiplayer games, dealing with all the plumbing so you don’t have to. Wonderland is a multi-user 3D virtual environment that builds on top of Darkstar. Sun has used it to build MPK20, a virtual workplace that you’ll see in all the demos.

What have I learned playing around with this stuff?

  • My math skills are rusty. Java 3D programming uses math that I haven’t touched in about 20 years. I could use a refresher.
  • All that interesting work being done making Swing programming easier and more tolerable with JRuby? Yeah, Java 3D could use some of that. I might just have to do something about it unless someone beats me to it.
  • I’m enjoying writing Java. I’ve missed that. My day-to-day work with Java is nothing but frustration. This is different. It actually makes sense to use Java for a high-performance, distributed game server. And it’s fun! 3D virtual worlds? How could it not be fun?

I’ll write more as I explore further.


A squirrel at the door

Kiara called us over to the back door, to show us this:

squirrel at door

It visited with Owen for quite a while:

owen and squirrel

It came back later to visit the cat. I couldn’t get the camera in time, though.


Google Docs formatting

That idea I had of keeping my resume in Google Docs so I wouldn’t have to go digging for it when the time came, and so I could version it more easily? Yeah. Nifty. Sensible. Until it came time to actually produce a copy that I can hand someone. Then the formatting went all to hell. I don’t do a lot of fancy formatting on my resumes, so having to clean up as much as I did was unexpected.

On the other hand, I knew exactly where it was.

Java, Open Source, Programming, RIA

AIR Camp

Some years ago, right about the same time that I started to move into Java, it became clear that Macromedia was trying more aggressively to woo Java developers. ColdFusion was rewritten in Java, so it’s now an app running inside a servlet container / app server, allowing ColdFusion developers to tap into the rest of the Java platform. With the introduction of Flash remoting, they positioned Flash more clearly as a development platform for rich internet applications. They released Flex, making Flash RIA development a hell of a lot easier for programmers unfamiliar with or intimidated by a Flash toolset aimed squarely at visual designers. No more confusing timelines! Just sweet, sweet XML. ;-)

Pretty sure JRun is dead, though. No complaints here.

Since the acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe has been keeping up the pace, with new releases of ColdFusion and Flex. And now AIR, which I’ll get to in a bit.

I don’t know how successful the ColdFusion rewrite has been in getting Java developers to start using it. I’m not suggesting that my personal experience is any guide, but I know more CF developers who have been introduced to Java and to object-oriented programming in the last few years than I know Java developers who have discovered ColdFusion. I did give it honest consideration at work a few years back but was turned off by its being an expensive, closed-source platform. Remember, my background is largely in the open source world.

Because of that background and bias, I was more than a little bit pleased to see Adobe open source the Flex SDK. As I wrote at the time, Flex’s being open source meant that I would consider recommending it to my employer. This is still true.

My employer is in the process of rewriting their ERP from a Win32 client-server desktop app to a Java EE web application. A decidedly nontrivial undertaking, especially considering that the developers have little background or understanding of web apps. This lack of experience and skills makes it difficult to create a compelling HTML/CSS/JavaScript replacement for a desktop app. Browser environments are limiting. It is possible to bend HTML to your will, and well-implemented Ajax helps, but to make it, well, not suck requires skill. To make it really kick ass requires serious skill. If you’re lucky and well-funded, you can hire enough people with that skill to pull it off. If you’re a state agency… well, good luck.

I remain hopeful, though. I just set my standards absurdly high.

I should insert a disclaimer here. I am by no means speaking for my employer. I’m just exploring the type of situation when I think a Flash-based RIA would make sense.

It is no accident that Adobe has been pushing Flash for RIAs. Flash apps look cool. They can suck, too, sure. But with a toolset like Flex, creating something that at least looks and acts more than halfway decent is a hell of a lot easier than creating an equivalent UI with HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

I’m not trying to sell Flex as a panacea. I know enough not to believe that a technology will solve development woes. But I have played around with Flex enough that if I’m writing a network-aware back-office app, one that’s likely to do well as an RIA, I’m very likely to use Flex because it will be easier to create better UIs. (Insert warnings about forking the web here. Except that I’m talking about RIAs here, not crappy Ajax apps.

Enter AIR.

AIR is something new from Adobe — the second beta is being announced at this week’s Adobe MAX — for creating Flash-based desktop applications. As desktop apps, they have access to operating system resources that browser-based apps don’t. The AIR installer is damn easy to work with. But the magic behind the acronym (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is that you can build the app with either HTML / JavaScript or Flash / Flex. Your JavaScript code can use ActionScript APIs to access the desktop goodness or Flash components on the page, and vice versa.

Color me impressed.

So when I saw that Adobe was going on a cross-country bus tour this summer to evangelize AIR, I signed right up to learn more. Last week the on AIR bus tour came to Minneapolis. The venue was a great choice: the old Varsity theater in Dinkytown, which I honestly didn’t think was still used as often as it appears to be. Comfortable seating. Catering by the Loring. Toss in an open bar, and we were prepped for one of the finest vendor events I’ve attended.

Since I’ve been watching video from the tour all summer, there weren’t a whole lot of tutorial surprises awaiting me. But it was about what you’d expect: Mike Chambers walked through building an AIR app with Flex, Kevn Hoyt showing us an app built with HTML & JavaScript. Show a bit more whiz-bang techie goodness for the next couple hours, and we all leave happy, planning blog entries like this one.

Actually, I planned a better blog entry than this one, but I want more of a chance to play with both Flex and AIR before I write that.

I mentioned earlier that I don’t know any Java developers who have been drawn into the ColdFusion world. Likewise, I don’t know many Java developers who have been doing anything with Flex. It could just be that I don’t hang out with enough Java developers. It seems, though, that the scope is expanding, and Adobe’s setting their sights a bit wider than Java. Good news all around.