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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
cable

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 …
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
cable

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 Vancouver2010.com, in a spinning-wheel app that shows countries' medal counts dating back to 1924. It's …
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 …
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

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
Goggles

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