Thursday, September 23, 2010

Easy Mac Installs--MySQL & NetBeans

I just went through two very easy installs on my new mac; the first, MySQL 5.1.5. A few years ago, when I installed on my old mac it was the typical tar ball install that linux users are familiar with. Not bad, especially if you have a canned script to remind you of all the steps.

But now there are two dmg package files that do most of the work for you. And, it installs in /usr/local with a dynamic link to mysql--just like it's supposed to be. The only steps left were to remove the anonymous users, supply the root and admin passwords and reboot to start the service. Easy.

Next was NetBeans 6.9. I have been using 6.8 for a few projects, and have loved the support for groovy and especially grails, but I have held off upgrading while in full development mode. But now, with a new grails project in it's infant stages, I decided to make the move.

Installation was easy. I did have to manually replace the 6.8 item with 6.9 on my doc, but other than that all went easy. It found my current projects and I was able to run unit tests from within the IDE. Once again, easy.

Happy coding...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grails 1.3.4, Groovy 7 and NetBeans 6.8

After about a year of doing nothing but Adobe Action Script projects, I'm finally back to a java/groovy/grails project. So, I downloaded the latest grails and fired up my version of NetBeans (6.8) and generated some code. Here's what I discovered...

First, NetBeans is very groovy/grails friendly. I was able to generate the project inside the IDE. I then dropped to the command line to generate domain classes and tests. I was able to run the full test suite inside the IDE, but I still prefer the command line.

I noticed that the generated code doesn't include an ant script, but just as well. I'm so sick of the XML crap, and the grails command line does everything you need, so...

Next step is to generate controllers, and maybe a few views, but I usually use grails as a JSON or XML server with a Flex/Action Script UI. I'm also creating all the unit tests as I go and running them from inside the IDE and from the command line.

Next post will discuss the controllers and any problems related to getting the application into production. So far everything works as advertised--better than previous versions, and very productive. My new best friend...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

UMLet UML Diagraming

Just had to comment on a very useful new(ish) project for editing UML documents called UMLet. No frills or bs* just a good productivity tool in the open source space. Human readable file structure to enable old timers like me to hack in attributes with vi.

Converts your drawings to png, jpg, eps, pdf, svg, etc from inside the UI or even from the command line (a real programmer's tool).

It comes in two flavors 1) eclipse plugin, and 2) standalone Swing application. They have a few skins that help ease the swing pain but who cares about the L&F, I just want a tool that works with me instead of against me.

So, thanks to the UMLet team for a great product!

Friday, April 16, 2010

HTML5, CSS3, Apple, Google and the W3C

About a year ago, I remember responding to a question from a colleague concerning Flex in comparison to HTML5 by saying that HTML5 was not ready yet. For the most part, I still hold that opinion but with additional qualifications.

We are currently bidding on a job that requires iPad as the target device and another that needs a private label application that will work on the desktop, iPhone and eventually Android and Blackberry. After logging many hours researching objective-c and HTML5/CSS3 my first thoughts were that all development needed to be done in objective-c. But, after viewing some of the other videos from Apple, MIT, and Stanford, and doing some small tests, I think that most applications for the iPad/iPhone can be implemented completely in HTML5/CSS3. So here is my revised/updated response...

If you have complete control over the target web browser (i.e., webkit/khtml based) then HTML5 and CSS3 can't be beat. Using the 'canvas' tag/object enables drawing anything that you can draw with flex/flash and also includes drawing text (not possible with flex). Using CSS3 enables all the transitions that are currently available in flex including easing methods. Using WebSocket, provides peer-to-peer real time communications. So if your target includes Safari, iPhone, iPad, iPod/Touch, Google Chrome, Opera, Firefox, as well as the Android, Sprint and Blackberry browsers, the new technology is ready today.

The missing piece is IE, currently at 70% of desktop browser installations. An application that needs to run only in a standard client browser is still better off using Flex (95% penetration) until Microsoft complies with the latest W3C specs. But, the flash player will probably never make it to small devices (it's a hog), so if the requirement is to run on desktop and phone, especially with touch gestures, HTML5/CSS3 is probably a better choice. The down side is waiting for Microsoft to catch up with the fully developed world and hoping they will fully comply with the W3C.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Action Script Threads for Report Generation

My requirement: to create a complex report that may take several seconds to run without blocking the user's interaction with the application. In java the solution is simple: create a thread and invoke start(). In action script, it's a bit more difficult.

Action Script doesn't support threads directly out the the box but it is run in a multi-threaded framework, so I knew there must be a solution. I took some time to research how other flex developers were implementing Action Script threads and concluded that the best solution was to simply use the Timer class to create a new threads.

The timer class has an asynchronous event called TIMER_COMPLETE that is perfect for creating a bloated, heavy weight thread. But, if all you need is a separate thread to run while creating a huge report, this does the trick.

One of the practical considerations is that you will probably want a supporting class to encapsulate run parameters for each thread you create. For reports this works well because there is enough logic in each individual report to warrant its own class. And as long as the report class implements the timer start method then you are in good shape.

The simplest implementation looks like this:

public function start():void {
var timer:Timer = new Timer(1, 1);
timer.addEventListener(TimerEvent.TIMER_COMPLETE, run, false 0, true);

// override this base class to implement the run worker
protected function run():void {
// create the report or whatever you need...

Implement the run handler and you are set. The class can encapsulate any run time parameters that you require including a common dispatcher to dispatch a 'COMPLETE' event when the process is finished. Easy.

This is an acceptable work-around for a language that does not support threads right out of the box. But for the rare occasion that you really need a thread to enable interaction while a heavy-weight, time consuming task is running, this really does the trick.

Happy coding...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Transforming Average Programmers into Power Developers

The term software crisis coined in the late 60s described the ratio of software required by industry to the inability of software engineers to deliver correct, understandable, and verifiable programs. Back then the problem was blamed on the relative high power of new computers and the general low quality of programmers.

And now 40 years on, our industry continues to suffer the software crisis, but not because computing power has outstripped programmer ability. And our crisis cannot be blamed on a lack of programmers; the world has provided an over abundance of programmers, so that's not an issue. But, as an industry, we still fail to deliver on a consistent basis. Here are some tips designed to help alleviate our crisis and improve the quality of our programming community.

  1. Learn UNIX. Ok, linux, mac osx, or cygwin; the main idea is to use the command line in a well thought out shell. Good programmers program all the time, just like musicians practice scales. Every time you enter a series of commands into the command line you are excising your skills. When you learn the power of command pipelines to solve basic problems your are flexing your ability to solve problems pragmatically. Learn and use tar, jar, grep, tail, find, sed, awk, lex, yacc, etc. Use curl, svn, git, ant, make, ssh and scp. Find a good shell like zsh, bash, ksh or whatever and write scripts to help you organize your work. Write aliases that tame the command line. Write sed or egrep scripts to exercise your Regular Expression patterns. The important thing is that "Programmers program--always".
  2. Expose yourself to as many languages as you can. You probably have one or two primary languages that you use on the job. Don't limit yourself to just those. Create a sandbox using subversion or git and create scripts in ruby, php, perl, javascript and python. Create java, action script, c++ sandboxes with either ant, gant, rake, or make files to build small applications. Learn new, or newly recognized languages like Scala, OCaml, Erlang, Haskell and Go.
  3. Contribute to an open source project. There are a gazillion open source projects on the market now, most of them throw away. Rather than creating your own, join one that has a chance of succeeding. Read the project's standards and rules and begin by submitting documentation updates. Search the bug list and submit proposed fixes, complete with unit tests (don't bother with projects that ignore tested designs). After a while, if you pass the initial stages, you will become a committer--your right of passage to the open source community.
  4. Read and re-read the APIs. The programming language that you primarily work in was created by several brilliant people that have devoted thousands of hours to create a useful platform. Don't ignore their work. Even if the platform solution may not exactly fit your situation, at a minimum, know what it does first before creating your own. Dive deep and read the platform source code.
  5. Read the expert blogs. Posts to Object Mentor, InfoQ, Artima and experts like Martin Fowler, Ward Cunningham, Dave Thomas, Kent Beck, and a host of others. Find the blogs that are specific to your language. Look for web or pod casts.
  6. Keep up with technology changes. IoC from Spring Source or Google, Agile and Extreme Programming, Rails Active Record, Hibernate, Apect Oriented Objects, JUnit 4, Flex Unit 4, DSLs, Patterns, Idioms. Lots to keep up with, some hype, others real.
  7. Write readable, clean code. The definition of clean code is 1) code that is understandable by someone other than the original author, 2) package, class, and method names that are accurate and fully describe their intended purpose, and 3) code that is fully tested with a suite of automated test tools. Always choose readability over writability. As Knuth says, "A program is essentially a work of literature".
  8. Read. Most programmers are in the habit of purchasing lots of technical books. That's great, but don't let them sit on the shelf. Read and re-read them. Dog-ear or sticky note sections that you want to re-visit. Highlight important points that resonate with you. And, don't just read the cook-book tutorials. Your library should contain a healthy mix of literature from publishers like Prentice Hall and Addison Wesley to offset your APress, O'reilly, Manning, and Wrox vocational studies.
I'm sure that there are more items, but these eight represent a good start. Happy coding!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maximizing FlexUnit4 with Mocks and Closures

After spending the past few months using FlexUnit4 that comes with the new version of Adobe Flex called Flash Builder, I have a few tips on how to maximized your testing using mocks and closures. This comes as second nature for java/groovy/ruby programmers, but may be new to some in the Flex/Action Script community, so here goes.

Mocks: The project that I am currently on uses Swiz for IoC wiring and configuration of controllers, delegates, components, services and loggers. But, it's not good practice use IoC for tests, so we use mocks. Mocks that configure themselves, expose protected members, and reassign closures to methods that modify behavior for test purposes.

Example: The Shape factory: We have a factory class that generates various shapes such as lines, rectangles, ellipses, comment boxes, polylines, curves, etc. The method closure that creates specific shapes is called createShapeFromType. In the class constructor this closure is mapped to the factory's local private method createShape that creates and returns a shape object for the specified type. During some tests, this closure is mapped to createMockShape which returns a mock shape that can be tested independent of the factory. Other tests still use the mock factory but with the default createShape method in place to test and verify that it's behaving as expected. Think of it like a second level of polymorphism without having to create complex and ridged hierarchies (class bloat reduction).

MockShapeFactory: This mock extends ShapeFactory to inherit all of it's normal behaviour. So when I write a unit test against one of it's methods, I know that I'm exercising the real thing. But the mock allows me to keep track of what's going on inside the class as the tests run. And, the mock does it's own configuration mimicking what IoC performs in production.

MockShape: This mock has two primary purposes; 1) to configure itself for use, logs, delegates, etc, and 2) to expose protected methods and variables. For example, the shape has mouse event listeners that can be invoked through the test to see if the object moves to a specific set of coordinates. Or if it's a non-scaling shape, you can verify that the target shape performed a move an resize rather than a simple scaleX/scaleY operation. You can also test that a vetoed request for focus does indeed ignore the request and remain unfocused. There are many possibilities.

Some of this is very basic for test junkies, but as I said earlier, the Flex community seems to be just catching on to test driven development. And, with the new Flex/FlashBuilder and FlexUnit4 there is no excuse to ignore testing any longer.