Monthly Archives: March 2009

Tech events in Ann Arbor week of March 30

Well, I'm a bit late in getting this out, but the Internet User Experience Conference is ongoing at Washtenaw Community College.  It runs through Thursday, April 2.

On Wednesday April 1, Corey Haines will be speaking at the Ann Arbor Computer Society.  He'll talk about Software Craftsmanship, but I think that you will probably be able to entice him to talk a bit about how he's spent his past few months, on his Pair Programming Tour, as well.  I saw Corey last week at the Philadelphia Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise Confernece.  He's an amazing speaker, and it will be a real treat to have him in town.  He's going to be hanging out at SRT on Thursday and Friday, pairing with our staff on various projects, so I'm really looking forward to his trip.

Also on Wednesday, at the UM Ross School of Business, you can hear Jason Mendelson, Managing Director of Foundry Group, a Boulder-based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage information technology companies, speak on "Building an Entrepreneurial Community: Lessons from Boulder".  The meeting starts at 7 pm. 

Head directly from your choice of Wednesday evening events to theWeekly CoffeeHouseCoders, 9 PM at Mujo, in the Duderstadt Center (Media Union):

Thursday, April 2 is the monthly Michigan Python User Group meeting, at SRT Solutions, starting at 7 pm.  There will be some discussion of what happened at PyCon last week in Chicago.  And if that's not enough Python for you, the Ann Arbor .NET Developer group meeting next week, Wednesday April 8, features Darrell Hawley on IronPython.  That meeting starts at 6 pm.

This is an "off" week for SRT lightning talks, but there are plenty of other things going on Friday afternoon.  "Ask the VC: Live" with Jason Mendelson, Founder/MGP of Foundry Group. Jason says, "I'm going to plant my butt in a conference room on campus for a couple of hours and talk to anyone that wants to come by and chat, pitch me, talk about venture capital, etc.". Meet him between 3 – 5 PM at Lorch Hall (Economics Building) Room 171, 611 Tappan.

I'm hoping to head over to the Weekly M-Powered Entrepreneurship Hour, 3 PM at Stamps Auditorium:  I've been wanting to attend for a while.  I'm a huge fan of the Stanford Entprepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast and I'm thrilled that UM is doing something as well.  I'm really curious to experience it!  If only it were available in podcast form … it's WAY easier for me to listen at my leisure (while working out or while driving) than to break away from the office, but it would be interesting to attend in person as well.

Next week's quite busy as well.  In addition to the Wednesday April 8 Python talk at AADND, on Thursday April 9, Google Ann Arbor is hosting CloudCamp from 3-8 pm.

From the website: CloudCamp is an unconference where early adapters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. With the rapid change occurring in the industry, we need a place we can meet to share our experiences, challenges and solutions. At CloudCamp, you are encouraged you to share your thoughts in several open discussions, as we strive for the advancement of Cloud Computing. End users, IT professionals and vendors are all encouraged to participate.

CloudCamp is being organized by a2geeks.


Andy Hunt’s Refactor Your Wetware at Philly Emerging Tech

Andy Hunt gave a keynote at the Philadelphia Emerging Tech Conference, around the title of his latest book, "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware".  The talk, and his book, are about our brains, and how we can make changes in the way that we use them.

He offered that some people have asked if the book is substantiated by science.  He warned that some of the book is backed up by science, and other parts by old wives tales, but warned that much of what was thought to be substantiated in science in the past has now been refuted and things that were thought to be old wives tales have been backed up by new studies!  One of the "facts" refuted is that we are born with all of the brain cells that we ever have. Ruin them and they're gone.  But now scientists know that new experiences are essential to the development of new cells, so he offers to get out and experience new things, and new ways of looking at problems. 

Andy talked about the right brain/left brain and how that's sort of fuzzy.  Instead, it seems more accurate to describe the brain as having a "dual core CPU", where one CPU is pretty good at analytical tasks, and the other is more like an asynchronous digital signal processor, with no real control over when ideas emerge.  And that there's a shared memory bus that can't really effectively be doing both tasks at the same time.  For this reason, he talked about how we can often become unblocked by getting up and going for a walk (freeing up the other part of the brain), or doing ANYTHING other than focusing on a very analytical task.

Other useful suggestions (there were many, and I'm going from sketchy notes):

  • Morning writing – try free journaling, writing 3 pages each morning, uncensored.  This will encourage the free flow of information, and is often used by both MBA's and in writers' workshops.
  • Labyrinth walking – I encountered my first labyrinth last spring on the beach in FL.  Check one out if you have the opportunity.
  • Keep track of good ideas.  Write them down (our memories suck).  If we reward our brain by writing them down, more ideas tend to flow. Keep a notebook handy and write down those ideas. 
  • If we continually ignore "good ideas", our brain seems to sort of give up on us, and the ideas stop coming.
  • Multi-tasking.  Stop it.  [Side note: if you haven't read "The Myth of Multitasking", do it]
  • Mind mapping. Andy said that he was all psyched about mind mapping and was talking to his kids about it and they told him that they did this in the second grade.
  • Meditation. Just try it.

Andy also talked about effective learning from books.  He summarized the Reading Summary Technique (SQ3R):

  • Survey
  • Question
  • Read
  • Recall
  • Review

Not so coincidentally, my daughter's kindergarten teacher sent home instructions about how to do this.

And, if you do nothing else, Andy offered one bit of advice toward a 20-30% productivity gain.  Get a second monitor. 

So, I just bought the eBook.  I'm sure that there are tidbits that I missed or have forgotten, and perhaps there are others that didn't make it into his talk.  Overall, this sounds like an enjoyable, interesting book to read.

In Philadelphia, at Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise

I'm in Philadelphia, at the Philly ETE conference, for the second year in a row.  I took a break from working on my slides (my talk is tomorrow afternoon) to carefully consider which talks I want to attend while I'm here.  So, for anyone interested, here's the lineup:

On Friday, I'm looking forward to:

And then, I'll be taking off, so that I can get back to Michigan in time to tuck the kids into bed, but if I were staying through the end of the day, I would have hard choices between James Ward's Architecting Flex RIAs, Clojure and the Robot Apocalypse: Needfuls for Newbies, Introduction to Groovy, and the Agile Round Table: Scrum in the Real World.  Looking forward to both days!  I'm thrilled with the content here, and the organizers do a fantastic job.

AAJUG meeting on Java Expert System Shell (JESS) tonight, March 24

The Ann Arbor Java User Group meeting is tonight, Tuesday, March 24, from 6:39-9:30 pm.  Jason Morris will be speaking on an "Introduction to the Java Expert System Shell (JESS).  The meeting is held at

Washtenaw Community College, WCC BE250

Presentation Title:
Introduction to the Java Expert System Shell (JESS)

Sandia National Laboratory's Jess is a rule engine implemented in Java and based on the Rete pattern-matching algorithm.  The entire Jess distribution consists of the Jess API, a LISP-like scripting language (also called Jess), and an integrated development environment called the JessDE which is an Eclipse plugin.  Any Java developers who write complex business logic will benefit from this talk.  Business rules will be mentioned, but not glorified as the canonical example of Jess's abilities. 

If you want to learn how to add powerful reasoning capability to your Java applications, then this talk is for you.

Keywords:  artificial intelligence, CLIPS, expert systems, inferencing, knowledge engineering, knowledge-base, LISP, rules, rule engine, rulebases

Speaker Bio:
Jason Morris is the owner of Morris Technical Solutions LLC, specializing in Java web-application development and rule-engine applications.  He has more than 15 years in the software engineering field, spanning many application domains and comprising many different functional roles.  Currently, Jason is involved with the USAF to semantically enable human resources information systems via custom ontologies.  He is also a technical marketing and services consultant for Sandia National Laboratories, where he provides custom training and development services for licensees of Jess, the Java Expert Systems Shell (  His latest joint-development effort with the University of Sydney (Australia) is a rule-based expert system called SINFERS for computation of soil properties from field data.


From 2006-2007, Jason was a GAAN Fellow at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts where he was pursuing a PhD in Computer Science and working on Intelligent Tutoring Systems.  He holds a B.S. in Applied Engineering Sciences from Michigan State University, a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan Technological University, and a M.S. in Engineering and Technology Management from Portland State University.

Speaking at Philly Emerging Tech conference this week

Last year, I was invited to speak at the Philadelphia Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise conference.  I learned about the confernece through one of the organizers (and fellow devchix member), Andrea Wright.  Much like CodeMash, Philly ETE attracts a mostly regional audience.  A company in Philadelphia, Chariot Solutions, organizes the event, and they do an amazing job.  I'm thrilled to be speaking there again this year.  I'll present my talk "Practical Scala" on Thursday March 26 at 4 pm.  I'm looking forward to several talks, including "Exhibitionism in Software Development", "Under the Covers of the AppEngine Datastore","Legally Agile", "The Future is Clearly Cloudy", "Diets Don't Work: Getting Sustainable Results with Scrum".  I expect to be using the Open Spaces mentality (moving between talks) because there are several running simultaneously that I'm interested in.  AND … all of the keynotes look amazing, especially Andy Hunt's (need I say more than his name?) and another by Jascha Franklin Hodge, the CTO of Blue State Digital, the company who built the Obama technology platform will talk about how they did it.

I'm disappointed that I'll miss David Chelimsky's RSpec talk (coincides with mine).  I met David at the conference last year – he's a great speaker – and I'm really impressed with RSpec.  And I'll miss my friend James Ward's talk on RIA with Flex, since I'm heading home on Friday mid-day so that I can spend the evening with my family.

If you're in Philadelphia this week, I hope that you're able to attend the conference!  (And if you're in Chicago, I hope that you're at PyCon … it's unfortunate that these two conferences overlapped this year!)


Insight into the Java Posse Roundup: Why I Go

The 3rd Java Posse Roundup was held last week in Crested Butte, Colorado.  As I flew back home on the plane, I reflected about why this conference is my favorite conference to attend, and why I start looking forward to the next event as soon as the current one concludes.

The contributing factors include:

1. The people

2. The format

3. The location


The people.

The Roundup attracts some new faces and some diehards. Some come back after missing a year for whatever reason.  Even before the conference begins, an online group is created which starts communication among attendees about housing, flights, what to bring, etc.  This communication is not driven by the old-timers.  Sure, they answer questions, but the new attendees are pro-active as well.  This year, one newbie set up a google map of the areas of interest (houses, etc.) while another set up a list of things to bring.  Discussions were started long before we ever met one another, and houses were shared by complete strangers.

It also helps immensely that the people who drive the conference (in particular, Bruce Eckel, Dick Wall, Carl Quinn, Tor Norbye, and Joe Nuxoll) are all really approachable and inviting.  They invite people into their homes for dinners and for hacking sessions and for discussions that extend long into the night.  Their approachability sets the tone for the conference, and the attendees reflect that with one another as well.  I have never felt intimidated about going up to ANY roundup attendee (including industry luminaries) to talk.  They've all been very nice and generous.  This sense of approachability was described by attendees all week, this year.

Through our online group, the attendees continue to maintain contact throughout the year.  As one attendee put it, there's a lot of benefit in having a personal connection to the other attendees, in setting up that network.  I have certainly made long-lasting friends and those relationships continue to grow.


The format.

The open spaces format of the event is announced/described on the registration page, but even before people experience open spaces, they act in an open spaces way.  The self-starting attitude that the attendees, old and new, bring to the conference is apparent long before we all touch down in Crested Butte.  It doesn't take long for the attendees to understand that pretty much anything goes.  The first day or so is often a bit driven by concerns about where the boundaries are, with newbies asking "should we do it this way", "is it OK to do this".  The answers typically come back as "Sure, go ahead" (when it's an idea that someone has, or "Let's just let things happen" (when someone is trying to impose some additional order on the process).  Quickly, people learn that for the most part, things will happen, but that this is their experience to help mold and create, and they go with it.


The location.

The conference is held in the remote mountain town of Crested Butte, CO.  A town of just 1200 residents, CB is a great place to hold the conference for many reasons.  For one, Bruce Eckel lives there.  He helps to organize the conference with the Posse and holding it in his town certainly simplifies things.  The prior-year attendees are comfortable with the town and with the rental housing there, and that has a bit impact on the interactivity among the attendees. And I think that it's a really big deal that no one (other than Bruce) is close enough to their homes or their jobs to be able to move in and out of the conference.  For the most part, people are on a retreat (or as several people called it "Camp"), and spend the entire week together.  The retreat from "real life" in a region unfamiliar to most encourages the attendees to eat together and to form groups to hack or to ski. I strongly believe that if this conference were held in the Bay Area, we would have a boatload of attendees, but the experience wouldn't be nearly as rewarding.  And the town reflects a casual welcoming attitude as well.  By policy, there are no chain (stores or restaurants) in Crested Butte. That means that visitors are "forced" to local hangouts, where they quickly learn that they are welcome.  People stop and talk, and seem genuinely interested in a conference coming to their town. A few locals have stopped by lightning talks to see what it's all about.  After a while, several of us recognize some of the locals, and we even turned the tables on one of them, with 15 of us visiting his restaurant.   We chatted him up, and he knew who we were.  In addition to being a fabulous town, Crested Butte offers the perfect backdrop to such a friendly conference, but being an approachable town.


What I've decided is that it's hard to separately analyze these factors.  While I definitely think that the Roundup would succeed in another location (because of the people who organize it, and because of the format), I do think that care has to be taken to choose a location that reflects its intimate nature.  On the other hand, I believe that the people and the open spaces format are the key ingredients to the Roundup's success.   And if I had to pick only ONE component that really described why I like to attend the Roundup each year, why I count it as my favorite conference, I would have to answer … the people.  It's really all about the people.

Another Java Posse Roundup comes to a close

Well, I've been here in Crested Butte since Sunday afternoon, for the 3rd Java Posse Roundup. It's been an amazing experience, as always.  I blogged earlier in the week about how this conference evolves to match the interests of the attendees. Of course, I should have anticipated that it was still changing.  The attendees really take charge of this conference, and that's part of why it's so great.

In addition to the new (optional) hackathon day, there were several other changes this year. First of all, the size has exceeded the capacity of the Posse House and so the evening events were held at the conference location.  This gave everyone a bit more breathing room and was just as fun.

The lightning talks offer a wide variety of topics, not all of which are Java-related. I enjoy the non-technical talks and tech talks alike.  Some of the more amusing sessions from this year include Barry Hawkins' "Introducing Change" and Andrew Harmel Law's "Zombies".  The lightning talks will make their way to YouTube at

The sessions, as always, were fascinating. Ranging from the very specific to the very general, they were all great. Of course, they will be released on the Java Posse podcast channel, and it will be interesting to hear the reaction of those who didn't attend. But I did realize that if you're not here, you miss out on a lot.  Not only will you likely not get the jokes, but you also miss out on the opportunity for "free consulting".  People are very generous with their time and ideas.  I have met some amazing people here over the years, and I do keep in touch with them throughout the year.  We bounce ideas off of one another and I benefit immensely.  I hope that I offer at least a fraction in return. 

The afternoon activities were varied. Some people gathered at houses around town to hack together, while others "networked" (aka, skiied and snowmobiled).  I was thrilled yet again to leave my downhill gear packed because of the interest attendees had in learning how to cross-country ski.  We went out two days (so far; I suspect we will go tomorrow morning as well) and the groups were great! Some footage may make its way to the internet; we'll have to see.  Fewer people downhilled this year than in years past, and I suspect that was a combination of the weather (it was grayish without new snow) and the fact that Bruce had broken his leg a few weeks ago.  I think that his mishap may have spooked people.

The hacking groups had productive afternoons as well.  Dick was able to rewrite his JFlubber app in both JavaFX and Flex. With both Tor and James to work with, Dick seemed pretty happy.

Bill Venners was here as well, and he was able to find several willing participants to work on ScalaTest.  Rumor has it that he and Tor got the NetBeans build working for ScalaTest, which will certainly improve the developer experience "out of the box". We had a group at our house one afternoon, and most of us were having difficulty getting it to build.  I'm glad that they were able to make progress. Bill's done a great job with ScalaTest!

After lightning talks, groups formed.  I never went to bed early, always intrigued by some interesting conversation at my house or another one, that went well into the night.  As is consistent with the previous 2 Roundups, I found that I spent nearly ALL of my waking time with other attendees.  I had one brief shopping trip alone to buy souvenirs for my kids.  That's it.  So, if any employers doubt the "hard work" that we do at this conference, pass this information along.  Even while we were out cross-country skiing, we were talking about "things", either about Java things or business things or the conference.  It's truly an experience in conference immersion.


Oh, and just to dispel the myth that geeks don't socialize and can't cook, here's a story:

Since several of us had rented houses around town (5 or 6 in total) rather than renting hotel rooms, we got together and organized a progressive dinner.  While Wikipedia describes it as a complex process requiring a lot of organization, we didn't have that experience and it was awesome.  So, if you're going to do one, don't do it THAT way.  Try it OUR way … you might be surprised.  Here's the official (LOL) Java Posse/Open Spaces version of a progressive dinner:

  1. Write down addresses of houses that are interested in participating. Each house will prepare "some food" (we left that open).
  2. Pick a start time.
  3. Pick a house to start at.
  4. Pick the successive houses and write down the order on the paper.
  5. Go to first house, and migrate to the next in line until done.

We announced this on Tuesday afternoon, and simply reminded everyone on Wednesday at noon.  40 people traipsed from house to house!  It was a lot of fun.

Pretty simple. And FUN! Not only did it get everyone moving around, talking to different people, it was a great way to see the other rental houses and to learn who liked to cook. We didn't go to the trouble of telling people what to prepare, assigning a course, or even letting one another know our plans.  Our menu was varied and we had a blast. Try it.

The week was way too short.  There was a lot that I wanted to do.  But, as usual, I'll be returning home with my batteries charged and new friends. Can't ask for much more than that.

Alternative Languages on the JVM at the Java Posse Roundup

The Java Posse Roundup conference continues to evolve to meet the interests of the attendees. This year, the first day was an optional day,  with groups coding on alternate languages on the JVM.  Groups formed to share their collective knowledge and interest surrounding several languages. I chose to attend the Scala Hacking session, as did 13 other people.  In other locations around town, there was a similarly sized JavaFX group, and a smaller Groovy/Grails group.  Later in the day, Fan was added.

In the Scala session, we went through some code that we had developed for an evening session last year, implementing some functionality of LINQ (Language Integrated Query for .NET), in Scala.  We based our work on Bill Wagner's article from Visual Studio Magazine.  We didn't make much new progress, mainly because we were trying to dissect what we had dome both for our benefit as well as for those who had never seen the language.  We're hoping to get back to that later in the week.  You can read Joel Neely's blog that summarizes a lot of what we did along with some insight.

Later in the day at the Scala Dojo, Dick Wall demonstrated some of the work he's been doing with genomics, while another group moved over to another house, to work on ScalaTest with Bill Venners.  We spent some time getting our development environments set up, and started with some assignments.  Bill's talking about a release later this week, and is looking for help on the project.  Several people have expressed interest and working together was a good start.  I suspect that wasn't the last Scalatest hacking session either!

After a short break for dinner, we all got back together at the Posse House (as we affectionately call the house where the Java Posse stays during the conference) for a review of how we had all spent our day.  The Groovy/Grails team demonstrated their work on getting a simple CRUD app to work, and the JavaFX team demonstrated an application that they had built, which included a timer that counted down.  By adding some designer work in PhotoShop, they were able to get a styled app up and running, and even included sound.  It was an impressive demo. Joel Neely reviewed what our team had dome with Scala, and Fred Simon (who endured 48 hrs of travel and delays to get here) did a brief overview of Fan, which is a language that targets both the JVM and CLR.

We're all looking forward to the conference starting today, with open spaces sessions.  This year, we have exceeded the capacity of the Posse House for lightning talks (but not for gatherings), so the consensus is that the evening lightning talks will likely be held at the conference location as well.  It's not as cozy, but it will likely be more functional!  I'm sure that at some point today, people will head off to ski, and that's part of the experience as well.

So, off for another day in beautiful Crested Butte. First stop, Camp4Coffee.  Then, conference kickoff!