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QCon highlights

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A QCon presentation style review (mostly)

At QCon this year the influence of Presentation Zen was to be seen everywhere. But I must admit: it didn’t help too much. Sure, the quality of the talks, its content was as great as ever, but I am not sure Garr Reynolds’s influence helped the presentations that much. It mostly felt artificial. The slides may have improved, but they looked so similar, unoriginal. And the presenters were still always craning their necks, standing behind the lectern, or if they dared to stray away, they had to return immediately to push the forward button (please buy a decent presenter, like: this for OS X or this for Windows) One of the exceptions: Sam Newman’s talk on From Dev to Production: Better Living through Build Pipelines and Teamwork, who seemed so at ease with his material, so natural that it was pure delight to watch. I’ve been told that it might be difficult, to get him to stop talking, but in this presentation it came together nicely. Thank you, Sam.

Simon Wardley did a slick presentation presentation as well. His explanation of the cloud “movement” from a historical and economic viewpoint, was spot on. I will especially take with me his view, that it’s not a question ‘if’ you are going to move to the cloud, but ‘when’, because computing power is becoming a commodity, and if you treat it otherwise you will fall back, because you will not be able to innovate on top of it as fast as others are doing.

His presentation on the other hand was completely over the top, with 400+ slides, well rehearsed, but after some time it became tiresome. He simply overdid it, seemed to enjoyed himself so much, that he might as will did it in front of a mirror. Please, cut it down next time.

The slides I probably liked most, were Nat Pryce’s. Simply because they were original: He completely did them by hand on a tablet PC, brushing them up with InkScape. It surely helps that he has a very legible handwriting

He ran a little bit through his different case studies, I think it would have been better to have at most two examples and going a bit deeper into his material on testing asynchronous systems. Still his advice was helpful.

The funniest presentation came from Dan North, I hope they publish the video asap. Without Dan’s presentation, the slides are only half as fun. This in no means says that the slides are only half good, it just means that Dan is a great presenter. You can follow him on Twitter, I think it’s worth it.

And I have to follow his advice to buy me a rubber duck! Yes, a rubber duck: whenever I am furiously hacking on something, losing myself; I then look at my rubber duck and asking it: is this worth it? And the rubber duck just looks back: duh? Ok, it’s not worth it, thank you. Very helpful.

Ralph Johnson on the other hand was rather boring, talking about refactoring; nothing new.

Optimizing CPU cache access in Java

The presentation that absolutely made my head explodes, was “LMAX – How to do over 100K contended complex business transactions per second at less than 1ms latency”. They really pushed performance optimization in Java beyond the limit I had ever considered. They even padded a data structure with additional bytes to ensure that two essential parts (the head and the tail of their own list implementation) were to be placed in two different cache rows of the CPU, to reduce contention. Most of their other optimizations were not so far of, but – for me – unheard of in the Java world.

Facebook create their own PHP compiler & runtime

Where LMAX pushed the Java limits, Facebook created their own PHP compiler to improve the performance of their web site. And they open sourced it (see: HipHopBlog and HipHop), because they had profited in so many ways from open source software that they want to give something back. Great move. But what really resonated with me was their “culture”. They …

  1. … create everything in very small teams
  2. … still try to rather push some new features out there and fix any (scaleability) problems when they occur

Sure the last principle does not work for everyone, and you have to weigh in the image problems when something really goes wrong, but sometimes we simply are way beyond sanity. Sometimes it feels that an IT department is mostly trying to avoid getting something through the door. Yes, too often those who have to stand up in the middle of the night aren’t those that caused the problems in the first place. But what about taking Sam’s advice and wear the pager yourself for a week after the release. Okay then you have to have access to production systems yourself, and so on yadda, yadda, yadda. Try it. At least ask (“we can’t possibly do that”), and then ask again (“we have never done it”)– and again (“well …”).

Let it REST

Stefan Tilkov is still trying to convince everyone to use REST. Luckily he has lost some of his zeal and even acknowledges that there are some difficulties in adopting the REST mindset. But most of his claims were less provocative then he might have thought. So I could agree with him most of the time. (And I must still thank him, because his zeal provoked me into blogging in the first place, see my very first blog entry.

But I must admit that the best part was “stolen” from Jim Webber (which he explicitly and happily said so himself. Please check out the keynote by Jim and Martin Fowler from QCon 2008): Should an ESB be the base of your SOA? Or which problem does an ESB solve?

If you happen to stumble upon the usual enterprise systems spaghetti landscape:

The idea of an ESB that cleans up the mess might be tempting. Everything now finally looks orderly, everything has its place. Something we like: Order. Cleanliness.

But what happens if you open up the lid?


His best argument for REST (from my point of view) is this: When you look at most APIs, they are 90% CRUD, so why use something that might be better for the last 10%? This undermines my strongest argument, that some important services really do not fit the REST style. Yes, they do not fit well, but is that a good argument for the WS-?


As usual I had to buy some books, which I will probably never read (have a look at my library at Library Thing). But, oh, I already finished “Confessions of a Public Speaker” (Scott Berkun, 2010), nice little book, you will probably have finished it, in one or two evenings. Nothing really new, some good stories, even if a little bit rambling along, but good entertainment after a full day of conference sessions.

The other one is “Web Design for Developers” (Brian Hogan, 2010), not yet sure if it was a good choice, but still learned quite a bit on color schemes. Would have preferred less micro-recipes for Photoshop and more about the thought processes, but still a good read up to now.

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