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Computing Thoughts
Java One, Day One
by Bruce Eckel
May 9, 2007
Summary
The deal for my press pass was that I am to blog daily about Java One. Which I consider a fair exchange, and sometimes I appreciate having a little (not too big) fire lit under me to write.

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First, tonight I'll be giving a special presentation at the Metreon (just behind the Moscone Center where Java One is held) with James Ward about Flex and Java, followed by beer, food and games. James and I are doing our best to make the presentation short and entertaining (as well as thought provoking), so come by the Adobe booth for an invitation.

I only attend Java One periodically, and I'm starting to wonder if I've ever actually attended a session. There are always these big lines to get in, which tend to scare me off because -- especially after doing open spaces events -- I know they're going to turn the lights down and a little tiny person in the front of the room is going to start droning and that tends to put me right to sleep. I actually appreciate the sleep, but I would also like to understand the topic. I'm not alone in this; I talked to several other people yesterday who have the exact same experience. Perhaps it's a conditioned response from being read bedtime stories.

When it was the only way we did things, I put up with it because I didn't know any better. But when you know that you could be having a different experience -- an open spaces session where you are so engaged and energized that sleep is inconceivable -- then the knowledge that the sessions are being recorded and that you can watch them in the comfort of your own chair and office makes me seek out more stimulating interactions. However, I heard last night that my press pass allows me to get into a special fast track to special seating, so I may be tempted to try that today.

Last night was the JavaPosse BOF, which had a nice turnout and produced what will be a very entertaining and informative podcast episode (www.JavaPosse.com). Many Roundup attendees spontaneously sat together and burst into the theme song at the appropriate moment (whether this survives into the actual cast remains to be seen). Afterwards we trooped off and completely swamped one of the local bars.

More than one Roundup attendee that I've encountered at Java One -- and it's like a breath of fresh air when it happens -- has said they would orders-of-magnitude rather be going to another Roundup than attending Java One. The concensus was that the Roundup is energizing; Java One is mostly just exhausting. On the way out, I ran into my "editor" at Pearson (parent company for publishers like Addison-Wesley and Prentice-Hall) -- the quotes because we are not and have not actually edited anything together, but he's my official person (Greg Doench, of some fame in editing circles). Greg said that in the line to get on the plane in Newark, he overheard a couple of guys who were obviously coming to Java One talking about the Roundup, and how fascinating the recorded sessions have been, and how one of them wants to come next year; he seemed to be slowly convincing the other one.

(You can see the schedule of upcoming openspace events here).

Redmonk

Redmonk is like a Gartner Group for open source software. Gartner has always made me suspicious because their studies seem to favor whoever is paying for them, much like studies commissioned by pharmaceutical companies which always happen to come to the conclusion that the pharmaceutical of interest is wonderful. Based on an episode of South Park where the boys decide to become talent agents and the size of the fountain in the lobby is paramount, I asked the Redmonk boys about the size of their fountain, and they replied that they had none. Even better, they work primarily out of their home offices, which befits open-source advocates. You only pay for direct consulting and if you use their writing in your promotion. You can link to them for free, and they don't do white papers. All in all I was impressed, and will pay attention to what they say in the future, because they really do seem to give straight information. It's another situation where the lack of funds in open source makes it easier to choose a solution.

Greenfoot

The folks who created the BlueJ environment to help people learn programming discovered that it only seemed to work for someone who already knew they wanted to know about programming. For the unmotivated, clarifying and simplifying the process of understanding objects didn't get much traction.

So they looked around and saw the obvious: kids love games. Computer games bring in more money than Hollywood movies. Lots of different motivations there. If you tell a kid they can make a game, they're suddenly interested in how, and all the technology becomes a means to a desirable end. That's what Greenfoot is all about. It's a free (albeit not open-source) framework that allows you to build graphical games in an object-oriented fashion. From knowing nothing about programming, kids can create a game with collison-detection and interaction in a couple of hours. They've even got a push-button system to upload it to their web site to participate in a competition. On the site, you can just fire up an applet to play the game.

There are lots of pre-created graphics for icon images, so it's very easy to get wildly creative. This would also be an excellent framework for simulation. The actual code that you write strips away most of the Java noise so you are focused on the things that actually have an effect on your game.

For years I've thought that this would be the ideal motivator for kids to learn programming, and these folks have done it. The only complaint that I have about the framework is the use of the term "actor." Greenfoot's "actors" are just objects with an act() method. The framework just calls these act() methods periodically, basically a very simple coroutine system. I would strongly prefer that budding programmers not be mis-taught the meaning of actor in this way, so some other term should be invented for Greenfoot (a proper actor uses a message queue and a worker thread for each object, that processes incoming messages one-by-one and eliminates concurrency problems normally associated with threading). But other than that, big kudos to Greenfoot for building a system that will stimulate beginners into learning programming. This system has been long overdue in our world. (Greenfoot is from the University of Kent, Deakin University, and is supported by Sun).

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2007 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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