Monthly Archives: June 2007

Immersing Students in Research Projects

NSF and Oakland University's REU program

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to speak at the Oakland University REU program, for Computer Science students. The program is funded by the NSF to encourage students to pursue graduate programs and careers in computer science.

Students participate from around the country in this 10 week program and it sounds quite interesting.  One of the groups is doing some biochemistry/neural net research toward drug discovery.  I was surprised to see that the students even receive a stipend to participate in the program (as well as a travel subsidy and housing).  I would definitely encourage college students to apply! 

Yesterday's program brought in several professional women to discuss, in particular, women in computer science fields.  The speakers were all quite different, so I think that the students got a well-rounded view of the industry, from small companies like mine to large companies like Dow Chemical, all of the way to what it's like to direct a university's IT department to what Post-Docs do.   Sadly, I had to miss two of the speaker's presentations, but it was an interesting day.

I talked about my journey to becoming an entrepreneur and how unlikely it seemed to me, when I was a student that I would have my own company. I feel like I'm quite risk averse, but I've really learn to accept the risk that comes along with working in my own business as ME being the one who is managing the risk rather than being at the mercy of my boss (who may or may not be truthful with me about the financial status of the company).

I also talked about how I try to stay current, focusing a lot on podcasts and blogs.  I told the students about some of my favorite podcasts (all are available for free on iTunes, but also on websites).

  • Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders, for business advice
  • The Java Posse
  • DotNet Rocks
  • IT Conversations

I also really encouraged the students to become involved with user groups in their area (and hoping that one of the students comes out for the July meeting of the Python User Group).  I told the students that in the Ann Arbor area, our user groups are suffering from an aging demographic and that we all feel that we would really benefit from some younger opinions and participation. I know that it's intimidating, but I got some feedback about how to welcome students.  I will likely approach the Ann Arbor Computer Society about doing a program geared toward students and heavily advertise it at the local colleges and universities.

Most of the other speakers discussed work/life balance, which always seems to be a topic at these events, as it was at MICWIC earlier this year.  With 2 young kids at home (ages 2 and 4), this is a work in progress for my husband and I.  The only advice I can offer to students in that regard is to choose their spouse wisely.  Thankfully, I did that right.  One of the participants commented that it didn't seem like any of us had any "down time".  I assured her that I had plenty of down time before the kids were born!  For me at least, it's not the job, but the kids (but they're fun in a totally different way).

We had lunch at the gorgeous Meadowbrook Hall, where photos are prohibited.  There are photos and history on their web page.  If you're in the Detroit area, and haven't visited Meadowbrook, it's definitely worth the trip.

Anyhow, the students were great and I really think that they did a good job with the Women in Computing Day.  By pairing each speaker with a student, they gave each student the opportunity to participate in the process (through introductions).  I hope that they had a good time; I certainly did.

Oakland University's REU program

Meadowbrook Hall, on Oakland's campus

Brooklyn Bridges Program
Brooklyn College in City University of New York (also NSF funded)

ITZone/Spark merger

Thoughts from a (former) member

A few weeks ago, Ann Arbor Spark announced a merger with the Ann Arbor ITZone.  I've thought a lot about this since the announcement was made, particularly since SRT Solutions has been a member of the ITZone since it was started.  We joined the ITZone, utilized the downtown space for meetings, and eagerly joined committees to help with its promotion and success. 

Spark's mission is described on their website as:

"Ann Arbor SPARK will be the driving force in establishing the Ann Arbor Region as a desired place for business expansion and location by identifying and meeting the needs of business at every stage, from those that are established to those working to successfully commercialize innovations."

However, Spark gives off an aura of only being interested in startups or in those requiring venture funding (ah, and large companies in the area).  Perhaps small companies who are maintaining slow yet steady growth are not of interest?

Contrast that with the ITZone's mission (some content deleted, for brevity):

"The IT Zone seeks to capitalize on Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County’s historic and growing role in the information technology industry. The county currently has over 500 IT companies, and is viewed as the hub of small, creative IT firms for the state. The industry currently employs over 9000 individuals, making it comparable in employment to the automotive industry, health care and education in the county’s economy.

[S]oftware development and high speed computing breeds and thrives from the interaction of its participants. There is currently an explosive growth in Ann Arbor as more software/computing companies startup or relocate here, and this attracts and encourages others to do the same. There are many different types of Ann Arbor software/computing companies ranging from game and Internet developers to medical, automotive and defense contractors.

It's still wordy, but the key is that it specifically recognizes companies like ours: small companies which are NOT startups and are NOT interested in venture funding.  We benefit from the interaction with other software developers, and with the entrepreneurial community.

I think that Spark is ill advised to forget about that part of the mission.  It's critical.  Bringing in startups is glamorous.  But startups come and go.  The core small businesses that are in this area are here to stay.  We made it THROUGH the bubble.  We have a commitment to this community.  We deserve its recognition, its support, its respect.

Bill and I have promoted the ITZone both locally, and the concept of the organization nationally (where the reaction of most people is, "Wow! We wish we had an organization like that in our area!"). 

We donated our time to participate on committees, such as the Program Committee and the Website committee, We were also very generous (that's the nice way of saying it) with our advice about how the organization was serving members like us.  

We are involved in several area user groups and we have promoted the ITZone to the user groups and supplemented the programs that the ITZone has provided to its members by holding user group meetings and training events at the ITZone/SPARK Central space. 

SRT's interaction with the ITZone staff has been consistent throughout the lifetime of the organization.  We have felt that the organization hasn't always tapped the potential of the area and most recently, we helped organize a group of software professionals in the area to construct a broad picture of what companies ARE in the area.  Looking back at the other members of the committees that we participated in, the vast majority of participatory members on those committees WERE from small companies that do not fit the profile that Spark has targeted.  It's interesting to me that community involvement has, at least in this community, come from the little guys.

And so alas, with the merger of the ITZone and SPARK, things appear destined to change.  I'm particularly concerned about the conversion of the ITZone/Spark from a member organization to a "sponsored" organization.   Historically, the ITZone had members, who paid dues and received some benefit in having done so.  These benefits included the ability to utilize the 330 E. Liberty space for meetings and to attend member events.  With the Spark merger, the rumblings are that it will no longer be a membership organization, but members are encouraged to continue to "sponsor" Spark by paying money.  Furthermore, more "free" events will be provided, and space at 330 E. Liberty may not be restricted to members.  This confuses and alarms me. It confuses me because unless we were the only company actually paying dues, then I'm surprised that Spark wants to walk away from what has been cash in the bank. Since I do not believe the Spark board to be clueless business people, then I suspect that there's something that we haven't been told yet (which I fear is that there will be no continuing support for companies which have historically been members).

As I have told others, we will not be sponsoring Spark in this way.  I'm happy to sponsor conferences.  I'm happy to provide money to charities and to organizations like Public Radio or the Michigan Theater.  But I do not consider Spark to fit any of these categories and I do not currently see any business value in supporting this organization.  I doubt we're the only ones, and it seems like this isn't a concern to Spark.

Review of JavaFX Script at the AAJUG

Review of meeting from June 5 (and a celebrity sighting)

On Tuesday, Rags Srinivas, CTO of Technology Evangelism at Sun Microsystems looking at new technology directions and trends, presented at the Ann Arbor Java User Group.  It was a great meeting.  He went into detail on JavaFX Script, touched on new features of Java 6/7, and on the Consumer JRE.  I'll try to summarize all here.

JavaFX Script is hot right now.  I was thrilled that Sun sent Rags out to present on it.  With the announcement at JavaOne, and then 2 separate podcasts including JavaFX Script discussions by the JavaPosse (episode #121 talks about the announcement, episode #124: JavaFX Mobile interview), and after having read numerous blogs (like this one) and threads on the Java Posse google group, on the topic in the past few weeks, I was definitely interested in Rags' talk.

JavaFX Script, for those who haven't been following it as fervently as I, was previously called F3.  Some smart Sun lawyers and marketing people got their hands on that name (F3 = key on the keyboard, eh?) and changed it to something more searchable.  Whew!  Good idea.  Anyhow F3 is for "Form Follows Function".  The "function" comes from Java itself, but it's often hard to make into a useable form. Having done lots of Swing programming, I agree that it would be nice to have some "help" in the form of JavaFX Script.


Improve Developer Productivity:

  • Streamline edit/compile/debug cycle
  • Provide instant feedback
  • More expressive/more flexible

Allow developers to use whatever applets, applications, etc., they are already using. 

Avoid the complexity of the layouts and layout managers

So, JavaFX script is a scripting language for Java that is object-oriented, statically typed, and uses a declarative syntax.  It provides automatic data binding (important for dynamic languages) and provides an extensive widget library for building applications.

Furthermore, you can use JavaFX Mobile to provide applications for mobile devices.  Rags didn't talk about that in detail, but the Java Posse interview does.

JavaFX Pad is a simple editory (borne out of the F3Pad) that allows you to do editing but also provides a WYSIWYG view.

Everyone agrees that designer tools (for the non-programmers) are absolutely critical in order to compete with Flash, or Silverlight.  One such tool has already emerged (yes, the JavaOne announcement was just a month ago and already the ReportMill team has provided a nice tool for generating JavaFX script).  Very cool.

JavaFX will be open sourced, but it hasn't been yet.  Sounds like the Java 2D encumberances are a limiting factor on this as well, and Rags also suggested that the cell phone software vendors may have some input regarding security, etc. for JavaFX mobile.

Ah, that was the majority of his talk.  He touched on some new language features of Java 6 and looked forward to Java 7.  He also described the goals of the newly announced plans for the Consumer JRE, to address some of the shortcomings in the JRE (modular download, improved speed for load, improved installer, modern look and feel).  The consensus is, as we hard at the Java Posse Roundup, that if we have to wait for Java SE 7 for these changes, that's too late.  Sun agrees.  This is going to come out for Java 6, hopefully by the end of this year, beginning of next.

Oh, and that celebrity sighting I mentioned?  Charles Lowell of the Drunk and Retired Podcast and I had a fun conversation about NetBeans 6 and JRuby support. I knew he was in attendance at James Ward's Flex talk at the AAJUG in April (I saw mention of that on the D&R's website), but I didn't know for certain that he was local, and I had no idea who he was.  I'm pleased to have met him. 

Now, wouldn't it be fun to look at JavaFX Script and Flex head-to-head, maybe toss in a little Silverlight?  Rags, James, Bruce, Scott?  Hmm, I can see a FUN Open Spaces event or Jam on the horizon! 

JavaFX Script
Obligatory Wikipedia entry
JavaFX project page
Your source for JFX stuff
Report Mill's JFX Builder

Concept of a Jam

Python DBAPI on Thursday

Thursday, June 7 at 7 pm

For the June meeting (June 7 at 7PM, at Arbor Networks), Carsten Haese will be giving a talk on Python's DBAPI. The DBAPI is like Java's JDBC. It's a database independent way to connect to databases and run queries.

Arbor Networks is at:
220 East Huron Street, 6th Floor
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

After the meeting, a group often heads off to hang out for a bit.  Don't know if I'll be able to do that, but I'll definitely try to make the meeting.

And watch for a special announcement for the August meeting!  The MichiPUG has been contacted for a Google Tech Talk!  I'll post more about it here, or you can join the Google group.

Carsten's blog

Michigan Python User Group
Google group
Arbor Networks
Our host

Wireless Washtenaw on Wednesday

Wednesday, June 6 at 6:00, preceded by SPARK career event

The Ann Arbor Computer Society is presenting "Wireless Washtenaw" this week.  The meeting starts at 6 pm (with pizza) at SPARK Central, 330 E. Liberty (lower level), Ann Arbor, MI.

Preceding that event is a SPARK-sponsored networking and career event for software professionals.  If you're looking for a job, looking for employees, looking for coworkers, or just want to gauge what's up in the area in terms of employment, this is a good place to be.  It's free, and you can simply stay for the AACS meeting afterward (also free).

Ann Arbor Java User Group meeting tonight: format change

Time, Location, and FOOD has changed (and added to program)

The original plan was to start the meeting around 7:00 and have pizza and then Rags Srinivas (Java evangelist from Sun) would start talking about JavaFX Script and plans for the new consumer friendly JRE.   Both topics are of great interest to me, so I have been looking forward to this JUG meeting.

Ah, but then some MORE changes were made. 

  • Instead of PIZZA, there will be a PASTA BAR.  So come earlier, around 6:30 instead of 7 (presentation will start around 7:15).
  • The location changed to ML101, and the room will be open by around 6:15.
  • AFTER the presentation, Rags will hang around for Q&A "Ask the Java Evangelist" session.

Please spread the word.  I hope that this is a great meeting and well attended in spite of the late notice.  I'm looking forward to it. 

See you there!

Lots of cool Java news this week!

JavaFX plugin, GoogleGears, and GWT

I just ran across this article, which tells how to use Eclipse for building JavaFX.

And, GoogleGears is all the rage today too.  GoogleGears is a browser extension that lets developers create web applications that can run offline.  VERY cool.  It was rolled out at the Google Developer Days (today, but sadly not offered in Ann Arbor).

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Google Web Toolkit (GWT) version 1.4 beta was released too.

Here's Bruce Johnson's (he's the tech lead) blog on the changes:

All in all, a pretty good week to be a Java developer, I think.