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Behind the lens of NASA's self-adapting ISS space telescope

Analysis Funding cutbacks and an arguably anti-science fiscal policy haven't stopped exciting new projects emerging from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in La Cañada Flintridge, California. We spoke to Dr Michael Sievers from JPL about one such project, cutely named the Optical Testbed and Integration on ISS eXperiment (OpTIIX). …
Matt Stephens, 14 May 2012
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Apple vs Amazon in ereader format smackdown

Format wars are a mixed blessing for consumers. Whether it's Betamax versus VHS or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the consumer ultimately wins because companies have to advance superior technologies. But problems arise if the format you backed loses the war - and your device becomes next year's expensive doorstop. A new fight is …
Matt Stephens, 06 Feb 2012
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Time up for Oracle's HTML5 killer?

Open-source Java: Part Three Sun Microsystems in 2007 announced a re-imagining of GUI platform Swing with JavaFX. Swing, Sun said, had reached an architectural dead-end and need a reboot to compete on modern, Rich Internet Application (RIA) platforms. As Sun pitched JavaFX, Adobe brought out Flex (which is based on its Flash Player plug-in) and Microsoft …
Matt Stephens, 28 Nov 2011
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Java's 'Steve Jobs' moment in 2012?

Open-source Java: Part Two Five years after Sun Microsystems finally released Java under the GPL, Oracle has been pushing hard on the OpenJDK. The OpenJDK project followed shortly after Sun’s open-sourcing of Java in November 2005; it’s both a free-and-open-source implementation of Java Standard Edition (Java SE). The project has seen a fresh lease of …
Matt Stephens, 17 Nov 2011

Five years of open-source Java: Freedom isn't (quite) free

Open-source Java: Part One Open source Java has a long and torrid history, rife with corporate rivalry, very public fallings-out, and ideological misgivings. But has all the effort and rumpus that went into creating an officially sanctioned open JDK been worth it? Java co-creator James Gosling certainly thinks so - although he didn't seem entirely open to …
Matt Stephens, 13 Nov 2011
London buses, photo: Transport for London

TfL wheels out digital bus info upgrade

As winter sets in, commuters in London stand huddled at bus stops, hoping the shelters' electronic signs report an accurate "due" arrival time rather than a crappy guess. Those lucky enough to have Transport for London's Countdown system of signs installed at their stops can judge by the minutes flickering on the display …
Matt Stephens, 19 Oct 2011
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Oracle's Java plan trapped in last century

Oracle's roadmap for Javas 7 and 8 shows it recognizes the world is pulling away and leaving Java with last-century concepts and ideals. Java 7 is meant to set the foundation for a cloud-friendly platform, but the real cloud-ready features won't make an appearance until Java 8 in 2013 at the earliest. While Larry and company can …
Matt Stephens, 30 Jun 2011
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Petabyte-chomping big sky telescope sucks down baby code

Robert Heinlein was right to be worried. What if there really is a planet of giant, psychic, human-hating bugs out there, getting ready to hurl planet-busting rocks in our general direction? Surely we would want to know? Luckily, big science projects such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which (when it's fully …
Matt Stephens, 26 Nov 2010

Behind the Kindle, under the iPad: an unholy alliance

Frankfurt Book Fair If some of the speakers at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair are to be believed, your life — or at least the part of it that involves snuggling up in bed with a good book and mug of hot cocoa — is about to be turned upside down. Sure, we've heard plenty on books going electronic, but the coverage mostly focuses on the devices — …
Matt Stephens, 14 Oct 2010
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How Ellison could fight Google's Android - without lawyers

First, the good news. Java on mobile phones has been a palpable success. Installed on eleven billion mobile phones worldwide, Java ME is one of the most widely available software development platforms - ever. Its APIs are powerful and a pleasure to program with (as long as you're targeting a single device, of course). Also, the …
Matt Stephens, 20 Sep 2010
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No secret to stopping XSS and SQL injection attacks

SQL injection attacks and cross-site scripting exploits just won't die. The most recent and high-profile incident was a mass webpage attack on more than 100,000 pages, which included victims as diverse as The Wall Street Journal, TomTom, and the UK's Strathclyde police. There was a teetering stack of exploits involved in this …
Matt Stephens, 23 Jun 2010
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Porky Visual Studio way over the hill

So, Microsoft has released Visual Studio 2010. The latest incarnation of Visual Studio had a difficult gestation, with critics pointing to the slowness and instability of the beta release. Installation was an eye-opener: the 2GB ISO was quicker to download than it was to install - not even counting the several reboots required. …
Matt Stephens, 26 Apr 2010
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Don't blame Willy the Mailboy for software security flaws

There's a low rasp of a noise being made in the software world. Customers want software vendors to hold programmers responsible if they release code containing security flaws. Actually, that's not strictly true. Security vendors want customers to start wanting software vendors to hold the programmers responsible. As we recently …
Matt Stephens, 25 Mar 2010
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Oracle should cannibalize JavaFX Frankenstein

Comment One of the survivors of Oracle's mammoth takeover of Sun Microsystems is JavaFX, the Flex wannabe and illegitimate son of Swing. The biggest coup for JavaFX three years after its unveiling at JavaOne is its integration into, in a spinning-wheel app that shows countries' medal counts dating back to 1924. It's a …
Matt Stephens, 18 Feb 2010
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Surreal appeal of Sun's JavaFX for mobile

Review It's somehow fitting that Sun Microsystems chose Barcelona, the home of modernist architect Gaudí and this week's Mobile World Congress, to announce JavaFX Mobile 1.0 - part of the JavaFX SDK 1.1 release. Just like Gaudí's work, there's something wavy, colorful and even surreal about Sun's shining new hope for Java. I've never …
Matt Stephens, 17 Feb 2009
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Gaps blight JavaFX early promise

Review After a long wait, JavaFX 1.0 trundled onto the Windows and Mac stage last week and took an awkward bow. Was it worth the 18 months of audience slow-hand-clapping? Do the results justify Sun Microsystems' apparent diversion of resources away from Swing? Can the finished product compete with the already established Adobe Systems …
Matt Stephens, 08 Dec 2008
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Java and Linux - an open marriage in search of success

In 2004 Eric Raymond wrote an open letter to Sun Microsystems' then chief executive officer Scott McNealy demanding Sun open up their core Java intellectual property and allow anyone do whatever they damn well please with it. That other pillar of open source, and creator of the GNU Project Richard Stallman, meanwhile, became one …
Matt Stephens, 28 Nov 2008
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Mapping the universe at 30 Terabytes a night

Interview It makes for one heck of a project mission statement. Explore the nature of dark matter, chart the Solar System in exhaustive detail, discover and analyze rare objects such as neutron stars and black hole binaries, and map out the structure of the Galaxy. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) is, in the words of Jeff Kantor …
Matt Stephens, 03 Oct 2008
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JavaFX preview highlights critical weaknesses

Review Sun Microsystems recently released the JavaFX Preview SDK. I decided to revisit what is Sun's last, best hope to recapture both the desktop and the browser in the face of stiff competition. The big question with Java FX is why anyone would want to adopt it when they've already got Adobe Systems' Flex and Microsoft's Silverlight …
Matt Stephens, 21 Aug 2008
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Sun's JavaFX must toolup against Adobe - pronto

JavaFX, part 2 Sun Microsystems lost the first Rich Internet Application (RIA) war when Macromedia (now part of Adobe) ate its applets for lunch following a schoolyard brawl. Now Sun has a second chance. But, to succeed in such an unforgiving market, Sun needs something special. A mature, powerful platform, a buzzing community, some seriously …
Matt Stephens, 14 Jul 2008

Sun to lose lunch money on JavaFX

JavaFX, part 1 The Rich Internet Application (RIA) fight is hotting up. And, while Adobe Systems and Microsoft are squaring up in the schoolyard with all the kids cheering and screaming them on, it looks as if Sun Microsystems is in danger of getting its lunch money stolen again. Sun's offering in the RIA space is JavaFX. Supposedly it will be …
Matt Stephens, 12 Jun 2008

Frameworks and the danger of a grand design

It's probably safe to say that we've all succumbed to the "grand-design mindset" at one stage or another. It's a critical stage in a developer's growth: the dawning awareness that design matters, an earnest desire to write good code but without the bitter lessons that the reality of an over-designed project will soon fling at …
Matt Stephens, 29 May 2008

Hafta Man and the threat to agile design

This bloke once walked into a meeting I was attending and introduced a new word to my vocabulary: "Hafta", as in: "We hafta do it this way because..." I've been trying to shake it off ever since. Hafta is really a design mindset - albeit an especially poor one. Broadly speaking there are three attitudes to design: 1. We hafta …
Matt Stephens, 30 Apr 2008

Comment judiciously, refactor if needed, avoid the 'f' word

Comments can be abused as easily as any other tool or technique. You know comments - and, indeed, the project - have become dysfunctional when you start to see gripes and swearing, or flames concerning either the code or the individual who wrote the code. When the Windows 2000 source was leaked a few years back the code was, to …
Matt Stephens, 28 Mar 2008
triangular warning sign featuring exclamation mark

Sweet, sweet smell of comments in code?

Arguments rage over the importance of adding comments to your code versus the importance of writing clear code that speaks for itself, thereby potentially eliminating the need for comments. The dichotomy boils down to this: writing comments versus writing self-commenting code, as if comments and clear code are somehow mutually …
Matt Stephens, 18 Mar 2008

Time for UML tools to evolve

There's an audible rhythm to development tools. Modern integrated development environments (IDEs) go like this: tap, tap, bam! Diagramming tools go like this: point, click, pause, point, click, pause... Now that the two are starting to overlap through things like UML plug-ins for IDEs and round-trip engineering as standard, the …
Matt Stephens, 29 Feb 2008

Tools vendors stuck on UML and agility

People sometimes do a double take when I talk about analysis, design and agility in the same sentence. And if I mention UML and agility, they spin round several times and fall over. At the expense of inviting a flurry of email replies for posing a rhetorical question, I have to ask: why? Aside from the analysis paralysis issue, …
Matt Stephens, 13 Feb 2008

Penguin-powered UML modeling

With speculation building that Microsoft will bring Windows 7 forward by a year, ostensibly to staunch the loss of the Vista weary and Vistaphobes to alternative operating systems, now is a good time to look at the state of development tools for Linux. Software developers have got it surprisingly good - unlike, say, creative …
Matt Stephens, 29 Jan 2008

Telltale signs your model is stuck

Teams can get stuck wallowing in trivial details when modeling in UML. Sweating such details can lead to frustration and premature, and rash, decisions on using UML later in a project. But how do you know when a particular nuance is inconsequential and when it's an important item to specify? You learn to recognize the signs of …
Matt Stephens, 03 Jan 2008

Sequence diagramming that's fit for purpose

Book extract, part 4 In this, the final part of our series of experts from Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML: Theory and Practice Matt Stephens and Doug Rosenberg show you how to draw lean, purposeful sequence diagrams that are driven from the use cases and preliminary design. As before, this chapter opens with the following "you are here" …
Matt Stephens, 22 Dec 2007

How to avoid the model quagmire

One of the goals behind UML is to help stamp out ambiguity in specifications and designs. This is a good and noble goal, but UML is nobbled by its own nobility. Booch, Rumbaugh and Jacobson, who donned matching aprons and cooked up UML, baked in some pretty subtle constructs to distinguish between even subtler concepts that - in …
Matt Stephens, 18 Dec 2007

Close the gap between analysis and design

Book extract, part 3 To get from use cases to detailed design (and then to code), you need to link your use cases to objects. The technique we describe in this chapter, robustness analysis, helps you to bridge the gap from analysis to design by doing exactly that. As in our first two extracts (here and here), let's start by mapping where we are in …
Matt Stephens, 14 Dec 2007

Bloody code!

It's amazing how some good practices limp on for decades beyond their expiration date. I still encounter people who insist that a method should have only one point of return - as if we're all still littering our code with GOTOs, and the concept of a "black-box" function was never invented. The way these same people go on about …
Matt Stephens, 04 Dec 2007
triangular warning sign featuring exclamation mark

Model use cases that work

Book extract, part 2 In the first extract from their book Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML: Theory and Practice, Reg Dev regular and Agile Iconoclast Matt Stephens and his colleague Doug Rosenberg introduced you to domain modeling. In this, the second of four installments, the duo show you how to write useful use cases so the design, work …
Matt Stephens, 23 Nov 2007
arrow pointing up

The ICONIX Process in pieces: Domain modelling

Book extract, part I Reg Developer regular and Agile Iconoclast Matt Stephens admits to being something of a code fiend since he was 11. Recently, Matt and his colleague Doug Rosenberg decided to commit the experiences of their youths spent coding software rather then jetting around the park on their BMX bikes to their latest book explaining the …
Matt Stephens, 13 Nov 2007

A simple unit test for GUIs

Hands on Last time I described why GUI code is difficult to unit test, and why it's generally better to avoid doing so. But that doesn't mean GUI-related code shouldn't be tested - you just need to separate out the logic. Easier said than done? The number of times I've spoken to Java GUI coders who've said: "Swing code can't be unit- …
Matt Stephens, 12 Nov 2007
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Don't unit test GUIs

Part I It can be dangerous to make sweeping "Don't" statements. In Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture, agile guru Martin Fowler coined his now-infamous first law of distributed object design: Don't distribute your objects. This is good advice to an extent but is also an overly simplistic viewpoint. The reader is left to …
Matt Stephens, 22 Oct 2007
Warning: quayside

Why UML won't save your project

The project's been wobbling along for 18 months. A bottle of champagne just went to the tester who logged the one millionth bug in TestDirector (and everybody cheered), the lead programmer looks like a raccoon that's discovered a departed junkie's heroin stash buried beneath a tree, half the programmers have quit, and the …
Matt Stephens, 08 Oct 2007

Persona analysis

At the risk of sounding cynical, if you cast an eye over a typical project's practices and perceptions, it can make for ugly viewing. Pick a random sample, and I bet it'll look something like this: Interaction design: First create the system, then make the UI look nice. Documentation: No need, we're selectively Agile(TM). The …
Matt Stephens, 20 Sep 2007

Shotgun Wedding: Enterprise Architect 7.0

Agile development, for some, means avoiding diagramming (whether for documentation or analysis and design) and just getting on with testing and coding. So goes the agile ethos: the source code is the finished product, more or less, so if the work you're doing doesn't contribute directly towards creation of source code, then it …
Matt Stephens, 31 Aug 2007
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Disintermangling use case scenarios from requirements

It turns out that my co-author Doug Rosenberg has a few things to say on the subject of use case style. So this week I'm going to leap in the back of the Dodge Ram pick-up truck and let him drive. Over to Doug: There's often a fair bit of confusion in the early stages of a software project about what exactly needs to be built …
Matt Stephens, 17 Aug 2007
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Vague and ambiguous use cases revisited

Oh no, not again: the industry's gone and divided into two camps. In Camp Purity, there's the group insisting that use cases must be abstract and free of any specific technology or UI feature. Simply heavenly! Useless, but heavenly. Then in Camp Gritty, there's the group politely whispering that use cases work better when they' …
Matt Stephens, 30 Jul 2007

Use case style means handbags at 30 paces

In February, I wrote a Reg Developer article which caused some consternation. The article's message distils down to: Don't write vague use cases, write concrete, specific use cases that leave nothing to the imagination instead. Controversial stuff. head shot of Matt Stephens smiling Matt Stephens. It turns out, I believe, …
Matt Stephens, 19 Jul 2007
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Evolutionary database design

Evolutionary Database Design (EDD, aka database refactoring) is a controversial topic in the software development world. It’s a sore point among some DBAs because it promotes the making of changes to schemas that contain live customer data, sometimes with more than one application using the same database. Given this controversy …
Matt Stephens, 04 Jul 2007
Warning: slippery road

Not quite got to grips with Agile?

Books Considering that one of the principles of software agility is "less is more" (as in minimal, low-ceremony software processes), you could spend a lifetime reading about even niche aspects of agility. So here's the second part of our pick of the crop of agile planning books: 1. Agile and Iterative Development Craig Larman; …
Matt Stephens, 18 Jun 2007
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All you need to know to get agile

Book review In the last couple of articles I wrote about the problems addressed by agile planning, and the sometimes problematic nature of the approach itself. Perhaps it's not so surprising that for such a relatively new subject, much has been written about it. The following books are either specifically about agile planning, or are about …
Matt Stephens, 04 Jun 2007
Warning: slippery road

Grappling with eels - second wriggle

Rottweilers like Harry are rife in IT. They're resistant to change, and you'll often hear them thundering pithy retorts like "Don't give me problems, give me solutions!" It's easy to put this attitude down to their rigid, no-nonsense nature, or even to regard them as ignorant dinosaurs from a bygone era. But in reality, they …
Matt Stephens, 23 May 2007
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Grappling with eels - first wriggle

Column Harry the Rottweiler Harry the Rottweiler - aka small black poodle called Patsy puts down his corporate-branded coffee cup next to his spiral-bound Book of Names and cheap plastic retractable (which also doubles as a sacrificial weapon in extreme management meetings). The stench of stale coffee wafts from beneath his snarling …
Matt Stephens, 10 May 2007
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Green Bar of Shangri-La

The Agile Iconoclast head shot of Matt Stephens smiling How often have you encountered variations on this comment: “I’ve made a small change to the code; now I run the tests… green bar! Great, my change didn’t introduce any new bugs.” While a comprehensive unit test suite can increase your confidence that you’re not introducing any new bugs, it …
Matt Stephens, 25 Apr 2007
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Do large projects silence osmotic communication?

Comment Put a bunch of people together in a room and they'll be able to communicate more easily than if they were in different rooms. Walls place barriers between people, after all. This announcement may have come from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, but the principle of grouping people together and letting them get on with it …
Matt Stephens, 10 Apr 2007