Topics explored during the day included:
- the Erlang based key-value store Riak
- the cross-browser WebSocket Socket.IO
- the Scala based web framework Lift,
- the graph database Neo4J
- Google's Guava libraries
- the JVM based Lisp-like Clojure
- getting started with Ruby + Rails + Heroku
- the experimental Mirah language
A slow wireless network and the time it took to get to a "Hello World" state usually meant that we only had time to do a quick spike for each topic. The day was still very interesting, and we learned enough to see what might be worth to pursue further, but for the next unconference I think we will create a Wiki or similar so we can collect topic suggestions in advance. Then we can see which topics have the most interest in, and people who are sure they are going to spend time on a topic can download tools and libraries in advance. That way they can make sure they have passed the 1st compile and "hello world" steps, and maybe even have prepared a few questions or demos if they feel like it.
Two topics I participated in but which were examples of these "high overhead" tasks, were node.js and Lift. For Lift, I started downloading and installing the Scala language, but then discovered that the easiest way to get started was instead to download the sbt - the Simple Build Tool jar from Google, create a shell script on path to execute the jar, and then run
on an empty Lift project. This will download Scala, Lift, and all the dependent jars from the nearest Maven repository, then start the small Jetty server. Lift detected file changes live, which enabled a quick cycle of modifications and then reloading pages to instantly see the changes. Unfortunately Lift crashed with an OutOfMemoryError:PermGen exception after just a few changes to a html page in the "static" directory. PermGen problems is an annoyance for most alternative languages on the JVM, but this didn't give a very stable impression. After a restart things were much more stable and we couldn't reproduce the error, so it may have been an effect of the large number of initial downloads to get the system started the first time.
sbt update ~jetty-run
Mirah is a very interesting language. We got it up and running very quickly (though if we hadn't had a working JRuby and Git set up it might have been a different story). Syntactically the language resembles Ruby very much, but it turns out it is actually statically typed and compiled. The types are generally inferred (like in Scala) for uncluttered code and a minimal amount of typing. We only created a few Java classes which can be imported and used in Java projects, but apparently you should be able to plug in different compiler backends so that you can emit... anything you may like. Source for other languages, Dalvik bytecode, or whatever. The mappings to Java bytecode seemed to work fine, we only had trouble with creating a "void" method. I'm going to experiment a lot more with this language, expect blog posts and hopefully a lightning speech together with Peter Lind at JFokus 2011.
This was a revelation for me. I had heard it mentioned in passing before, on a presentation by Enno Runne for instance, but it was one in an ever growing list of "things I ought to spend some time on". It turned out that these libraries are something that will help me enormously in my day-to-day Java programming:
- A @VisibleForTesting annotation is helpful for documentation, as I very often relax visibilities on helper methods to enable unit testing on them, this will eliminate a lot of boilerplate javadocs.
- Classes that add functional style methods for manipulating collections (given the syntactical and semantical restrictions of the Java language and platform of course).
- Helper methods for primitives and arrays, which will be extremely helpful for me to clean up a library which is written in C style and does nothing but manipulate bytes and byte arrays.
- Additions to the java.util.concurrent package, including a ListenableFuture that you can chain together for asynchronous workflows.
Ruby, Rails and Heroku
A quick introduction to the Ruby language to those who were unfamiliar with it. We then generated a Rails project and I explained the structure of it, what could be done with the scripts, and so on. We then went on to what we thought would be the meat of the session, Heroku. Only, it took less than 5 minutes to integrate Git and Heroku. Pushing changes to Git made Heroku update, autodetect that it was a Rails project, download dependencies and start up an instance of our application in their cloud. Jaw-droppingly simple, as is often the case with Ruby. We then went back and did some more Ruby and Rails programming. Sven, whom I've had a hard time convincing about the excellence of Ruby, seemed to be on the way to becoming a convert.
The future, and books about it
Towards the end of the day we were mentally exhausted and instead of doing another programming session we sat together and talked about good books, fictional and not. The only titles I remember were Kent Beck's Implementation Patterns, The Human Body 2.0, Charles Stross' Accelerando, and Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End.
What we didn't have time for
Topics that remained on the board, but which we hopefully will be able to do on another day:
- Testing Java with Ruby's excellent testing tools through JTestR
- Ruby web framework Sinatra + HAML markup.
- Getting started with Python
- Doing the Software Craftsmanship Ruby refactoring excercises from SC 2010
- Amazon's EC2 cloud
- Massive scaling with MOM, especially ActiveMQ
- Getting started with event-driven design and Actors with Akka
- HTML 5
- Devops and OpsCode Chef
- Java 2.0 discussion. (Presumably means - next Java version).
- Cucumber and Cuke4Duke
Big thanks to all the participants for making this an excellent day, it was a privilege to learn from and with you.