Getting caught up

Just finished a slightly overdue book review of Head First Ajax for O'Reilly, and now off for 4 hours sleep. Everything takes me longer now that my daughter is here, but it's certainly worth it. The next thing in my queue is the long-overdue update to java-package; that should be hitting unstable by the end of the week. Sorry for the slowness, but life's been busy. I've certainly missed hanging out on #debian-devel, and I'm looking very much forward to seeing many of you in person at DebConf.

Programming The New Web, Day 4

The final day was upon me all too soon. We had a helpful discussion on using web standards, which reminded me that I must pick up a copy of Jeffrey Zeldman's Designing With Web Standards. We also discussed AJAX, Flex, and Flash, unpacking the tradeoffs between them and the limitations of AJAX for Rich Internet Applications. We wrapped with a recap and summary roundtable where everyone summarized their take-away from the conference. Very worthwhile, and I would most definitely do one of these again.

Programming The New Web, Day 3

Code Quality, Mentoring, Enterprise Software Management, and mixing Java and .Net carried the day. The format we adapted today was excellent for these topics; we went in roundtable fashion and each participant shared what they do to ensure quality and mentor. After hearing Ben Geyer talk about XRadar, I definitely have to get that set up on my projects at the client site. Someone mentioned the idea of "a build breakage is a line stoppage"; I think it may have been Andrew Moore. That was an interesting concept and hearing how it was carried out in Andrew's instance was beneficial. Here are the points I shared about quality:

In my consulting/development work
  • Reiterating the "sign your work" principle of Pragmatic Programming
  • Discipline as a necessary quality; the ability to do what is required for good software yet isn't fun, intriguing, or stimulating to a narrow attention span
  • Use a world-readable version control repository
  • Publish the Javadoc and unit test reports to the project website
  • Use Checkstyle to enforce conventions
  • Use peer reviews for code releases that push to production
  • Solid unit/integration/functional testing

This was probably the most public setting where I have shared my observation on unit testing, probably my most original (and distinctly Southern) perspective on quality:

Unit tests are like toilet paper; they have it everywhere I go, but the quality varies widely from place to place.

In my Debian work

Programming The New Web, Day 2

Day two of the conference was equally rich. We kicked off the morning with Model-Driven Architecture (MDA), Object Design, and Agile User Requirements (read User Stories). I weighed in on my opinion of MDA as a lost cause; that stems largely from my close brushes with OptimalJ while subcontracting through Compuware. I think this was the point where I shared that if software development ever became so devoid of its aspects of art and craft that reliable, flexible, scalable, and maintainable software were crafted simply from drawing UML diagrams, I would leave the trade and pursue something else, like being a brickmason. No kidding, that's really what I think. At the point that this field became that miserable and devoid of soul, I'd want out. I have interviewed a couple of long-time programmers who are currently using WebLogic Integration (WLI), my inclinations about MDA's promises have been confirmed. Bruce made some comments about MDA related to linear algebra and Gödel's incompleteness theorems that I'd love to see unpacked in a blog entry or article sometime.

I spoke about user stories at length (maybe too much) and how they have been more worthwhile to me than use cases in providing low barriers to entry for requirements participation from business persons as well as technical persons. We also talked about how user stories break down the work into easily-prioritizable chunks of work that fit well within iterative development. Mike Cohn's User Stories Applied For Agile Software Development has been my invaluable reference in adopting user stories.

Agile Software Development was a natural segue. Regrettably, my notes are rather sparse. Must've been talking too much again 8^). I came away with quite a list of books and tools to check out:

  • CPD - Copy Paste Detector (component of PMD)
  • EyeTracker - inexpensive visual tracking feedback

Programming The New Web, Day 1

It appears that this conference will be everything I had hoped. The group is small and refreshingly cross-disciplined. We have folks from large enterprise shops, mid-range consultancies using Java, Ruby, PHP, and Python, and solo developers from several disciplines. There's even a ColdFusion person!

The OpenSpaces conference format is already fulfilling its promises. We had a full docket of topics before we even had our first break!

In the afternoon session we had a good discussion about Content Management Frameworks/Systems. It's interesting to me to see Drupal, Wordpress, Plone, and others now being referred as Content Management Frameworks instead of Content Management Systems. I hypothesized that perhaps it was because of issues with clients who expected a CMS to be something akin to off-the-shelf software packages that are just installed and then ready-to-use. With the shift to "framework" instead of "system", the idea of a need for customization and buildout is more clearly expressed. I gave heavy endorsement to Drupal as a CMS. I have heard that some people were using Wordpress as a CMS, and there were a few folks with clients doing that.

java-package 0.27 released; IBM Java2 5.0 support added

Version 0.27 of java-package has hit the unstable archive today. Thanks to the encouraging (or maybe urging) ;-) of my colleagues in the Debian Java™ Packaging Project who still primarily run on PowerPC, support for the IBM Java2 5.0 JREs and SDKs (currently in beta) has been added with this release. Hopefully that provides some relief for PowerPC and s390 users who have been languishing in Java™ 1.4.2 land until now.

Even if your JRE or JDK version was supported by a previous version, I encourage you to repackage it with this latest java-package. A massive revision to the alternatives installations has been carried out, and users should find that all of the expected executables in a JRE or JDK bin directory now have alternatives entries installed. The exceptions would be kinit, klist, and ktab. Our handling of system preferences for Java is still being and hammered out; quite an unwieldy thing what with the alternatives and all that.

Defraying technical debt in java-package

I had so many plans for this weekend, but the first of them ate the entire two days. In working on the next release of java-package, I came across some serious issues with alternatives creation that had crept in under my watch when I first became involved with the package. It was one of those times where accepting a huge patch with tons of files introduced an error that I missed; that's part of the trouble with some patches you receive; they are submitted with someone only thinking of a very specific problem for the moment, with no thought for the package-wide implications and any technical debt the suggested resolution may incur. There was nothing for it but to slog through the install and remove scripts for all 8 JREs and all 8 JDKs looking for the bug's presence.

Sixteen hours later I had corrected the issues and tested the install of all the JREs and JDKs on i386. I had a professor once who asked what was necessary to earn a PhD. After some of the more pompous asses in my class had spouted out their opinions, the professor stated, "a hard butt." He said it wasn't about being brilliant so much as it was about being persistent. The friends I have met since then who have shared their PhD stories have confirmed my professor's allegation. I think Free/Open Source Software development is like that; what does it take to participate? A hard butt. On that note, my sore butt is getting out of this chair.

Oh yeah, kudos to Mr. Burrows on aptitude 0.4.0; I love the changes. Control-T alone was worth the wait.

If your Debian menu in GNOME ever disappears

I recently had my Debian menu in GNOME disappear for reasons I could not explain. Since this is where the launcher for many of the applications one installs are typically housed, it was quite the inconvenience. I posted to the debian-user mailing list, and asked around on IRC in #debian and #debian-devel, but the most I ever received was a suggestion to run 'update-menus' from a command line. Having done that within the first 30 minutes of the issue's appearance to no avail, I resigned myself to making do without the menu for the time being.

Uninstalling and reinstalling the menu package was of no help. Reinstalling the gnome package yielded no joy, either. I could examine the contents of /var/lib/gnome and see that the menu structure was being built, it just wasn't making into the menu.

Through some poking around and talking with some folks who emailed me off-list to admit that they, too, had experienced this and were at a loss, the mystery has been solved. Apparently during some upgrade to packages, the menu-xdg package had been removed. Reinstalling it restored the menu to its formerly visible and altogether handy state. I posted a follow-up reply to debian-user in hopes of it helping posterity.

This issue must seem like such a stupid or neophyte question that some people refrain from replying to a mailing list post about it. For those who knew the answer (I assume someone did), the question must have somehow seemed unworthy of reply. However, looking at the menu package, I don't even see a Suggests entry for menu-xdg. It would be a shame if there are other people facing this issue with no resolution, so I am openly admitting that I had this problem in the hopes that it helps someone else out. Perhaps I should file some sort of wishlist bug, but my knowledge of the menu system is still narrow; maybe I will.

I find myself periodically expanding the Debian menu on my desktop just to look at it and enjoy that warm, cozy feeling I get from having it back. 8^)

You, too, can install Debian

Last week while my network access and free time were at a quarterly low, O'Reilly published an article by Edd Dumbill on installing Debian. The article is titled Installing Debian, with the tagline It's really that easy to install Debian! I am not surprised that people perceive Debian as more difficult to install than some of the commercial GNU/Linux distributions with their slick graphical interfaces for installation. Most people only know of the older way of installing Debian, which is admittedly less than convenient. Debian's installer has greatly simplified installation, but most people I talk to aren't aware that it exists, even experienced system administrators.

If you are experienced with Debian, but the thought of mentoring someone through a "getting started" period holds little to no appeal, refer them to the article. Low cost evangelization and advocacy, sweet! Plus, extra visitors to the article mean increased visibility for Martin Krafft's book, Debian System Concepts and Techniques.

If you are someone who keeps contemplating an attempt to move to GNU/Linux, and the aims and guidelines of the Debian project appeal to you, check out the article. It may just be enough information to get you going.

I haven't been very productive in my open source work the last week, largely due to "real life" eating up most of my time; part of the ebb and flow for a F/OSS activist, I guess. It is particularly frustrating, since we are experiencing a significant period of productivity in the Debian Java project.