Devoxx 2017

I was lucky to get a chance to visit Devoxx in Antwerp the sixth time in a row. As always there were interesting talks to listen to. Some issues that were visible across different talks:

Java 9 is now out and Java 8 will soon go into the first steps of deprecation. The step of moving to Java 9 is probably the hardest in the history of Java. There were features in the past that brought very significant changes, but they were usually kind of optional, so adoption could be avoided or delayed. Java 9 brings the module system and a new level of abstraction in that classes of modules can be made public to other modules selectively or globally. Otherwise they can be by themselves declared as public, but only be visible within the module. This actually applies to classes of the standard library, that were always declared as being private, but that could not be efficiently hidden away from external usage. Now they suddenly do not work any more and a lot of software has some difficulty and needs to be adjusted to avoid these internal classes. Beyond that a lot of talks were about Java 9, for example also covering somewhat convenient methods for writing constant collections in code. Future releases will follow a path that is somewhat similar to that of Perl 5. Releases will be created roughly every half year and will include whatever is ready for inclusion at that time. Some releases will be supported for a longer time than others.

In the arena of non-Java JVM-languages the big winner seems to be Kotlin, while Groovy, Clojure, JRuby and Ceylon where not visible at the conference. Scala has retained its position as an important JVM language besides Java at this conference. The rise of Kotlin may be explained by the fact that Idea (IntelliJ) has become much more important as IDE than Eclipse and Netbeans, which already brings Kotlin onto every JVM-language-developer’s desktop. And Google has moved from Eclipse to Idea as recommended and supported IDE for Android-development and is now officially supporting Kotlin besides Java as language for Android-development. There were heroic efforts to do development in Scala, Clojure, Groovy for Android without support from Google, which is quite possible, but having to deploy the libraries with each app instead of having them already on the phone is a big disadvantage. The second largest mobile OS has added support for Swift as an alternative to Objective C and Swift and Kotlin are different languages, but they are sufficiently similar in terms of concepts and possibilities to ease development of Apps targeting the two most important mobile system platforms in mixed teams at least a bit. And Kotlin gives developers many of the cool and interesting features of Scala, while remaining a bit easier to learn and to understand, because some of the most difficult parts of Scala are left out. Anyway, Scala is not yet heavily challenged by Kotlin and remains important and I think that Clojure and JRuby and Groovy retain their importance and live in somewhat differenct niches than Scala and Kotlin. I would think that they are just a bit too small to be present on each Devoxx. Or it was just random effects about how much news there was about the languages and what kind of speeches had been proposed for them. On the other hand, I would assume that Ceylon has become a dead end, because it came out at the same time as Kotlin and tries to cover the same niche. It is hard to stay important in the same niche with a strong winner.

Then there was of course security security security… Even more important than in the past.

And a lot more…

I listened to the following talks:
Wednesday, 2017-11-08

Thursday, 2017-11-09

Friday, 2017-11-10


Previous years:

Btw. I always came to Devoxx by bicycle, at least part of the way…

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Usability of Ticket Vending Machines

Most of us know ticket vending machines that are used for public transport. While people who often buy a similar ticket usually have no trouble using them, it can become quite hard for functions that we rarely use or for people who only rarely use the ticket vending machines. Why is it so hard to program them well?

What we actually want to achieve is searching an item in a multidimensional space. There might be many parameters relevant to the actual ticket and we need to find it through the navigation mechanisms that are offered to us by the software. Sometimes it is straightforward. For local transport some people want to buy a ticket for zone 1B and then they even find this offered on the home screen. Other people have no idea what this zone 1B is and actually do not even care. They should know where they want to go and the system should then know if it is „Kurzstrecke“, „Zone 1A“, „Zone 3D“ or whatever. But the zones might be a useful shortcut for the experienced user, because it can be known that in this case many different travel destinations can be covered by the same ticket, which can be found in a second on the home screen. Making it fast for the experienced user is actually a very good idea, because it saves the time of the customer and of the machine. But the more natural approach of just entering the destination should be provided as well. Up to this point they have actually done it quite well in some vending machines that I have seen.

But then there are some issues that are hard to deal with. I just give some examples that I have experienced without claiming to be complete.

In some cases there is a different ticket universe for local destinations in some area around the location and destinations outside of this. For example the region of „Schleswig-Holstein“ in Germany has a „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“ which applies to certain more local trains. The first step when buying a ticket was selecting between „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“ and something else. Which is something the customer should not need to care. It is bad to require knowing to which destination and even worse to which trains „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“ has to be applied and to which not. In this case „Hamburg“, which is a different region and not part of „Schleswig-Holstein“ as a destination was still part of „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“, which can be found out by trial and error, by asking someone or by using google on the smart phone. Hopefully the train is not leaving in 5 minutes. But again, depending on the train, it is anyway not „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“. Yes, the ideas behind it are not too hard to understand and many people know them like many people know what „Zone 1B“ means. But some don’t and they are having a hard time. The right way would be to ask for the destination and then offer some train connections or some choices for useuful and accessible parameters for train connections to pick the right ticket.

The next issue is that it is usually possible to buy the ticket in advance for the next day, which is a good idea, because it eliminates the stress of having to buy the ticket or having to wait in a line while the train is due to leave. When I tried that, it was not possible with „Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif“, which was again something that took some time to find out. The information that this is not possible should at least be easily available or even better it actually should be possible to buy all tickets at least a few days in advance.

The pricing system should be logical. While it is annoying that flight ticket pricing can only be understand by discarding all logic, this does not work well at all for train tickets, because there are much more stations and thus much more different possible tickets to calculate. A funny example was once constructed with three towns. A, B and C are in a line. A and B are far apart and an important connection. C is very close to B. It was possible to buy a return ticket from B to A. But it was cheaper to buy a ticket from B to C via A, because this was considered as one path and a discount applied because of the longer distance, which did not apply for the path from B to A or from A to B and the return ticket was calculated like a combination of two one-way tickets. This was resolved by disallowing the ticket from B to C via A. A better solution would be to make the tariff system more logical. If it is hard to distinguish between a return ticket and a one-way via-something ticket, it would be better to unify the discount in such a way that the same kind of discount can be given depending on the total distance covered by the whole ticket.

When taking a bicycle on the train, a bicycle ticket needs to be bought. Since this is a more rare case, it is not found on the home screen and it has to be found through some navigation. I do not have an easy answer for this, but it should be done in such a way that it can actually be found by an inexperienced customer without too much difficulty. I had to use google on my smart phone for the last bicycle ticket that I bought, which is not how it should be.

Many railroad companies offer a ticket for frequent travelers which needs to be paid once a year and then provides a discount for most tickets. It is sometimes not clear, when this discount is available and when not. This information should be easily accessible during the ticket buying process.

I think that ticket vending machines are an interesting example of usability and a lot can be learned from them for other applications. And a lot of things have actually been done right, but that is not enough.

See also:

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WPA2 compromised

The WPA2 protocol has been compromised. The so called KRACK attack allows reading encrypted content.
It was always a good idea to use encrypted communication on top of WPA2 for sensitive data, like https, ssh or a VPN. This practice has been recommended in this blog before, which was again inspired by what Bruce Schneier wrote about it.

Anyway, we should certainly start of thinking of WLANs with WPA2 encryption as a useful transport mechanism, but not as a very secure mechanism to encrypt data. At least from now on we should use other encrypted protocols on top of WPA2 where appropriate or use cable networks for internal communication that we do not want to encrypt additionally.


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Microsoft stops Windows Mobile

It seems that Microsoft is ending the development of Windows Mobile. After having tried with some effort to get into the mobile operating system business, it seems that the market share is now less than 1%, with Android being >85% and iOS close to 15% according to IDC. Because the market is so large, it would be possible to run a profitable business even with a low market share, but this is probably hard for a big company and it seems more attractive to concentrate on other areas. It is good to have some good mobile apps available for the platform and that is an area where Android and iOS shine, while doing a third app for Windows phone is a bit unusual. A funny detail is that a retired guy, who was once the founder of Microsoft and who is still associated with that company by some people uses an Android phone for himself. But he is retired, so that is no longer too important.

The story is a bit weird, though… In 2010 Stephen Elop became the boss of Nokia. At this time Nokia had a market share of around 50% in mobile phones covering a wide range from tiny „non-smart“ phone to high end smart phones. They were mostly using Symbian as OS, but the transition to Maemo and MeeGo, like Android Linux variants, was on a good way and it would have been worth seeing where this might go. At this time it was already quite clear that MS Windows phone/Windows mobile was a failure. All efforts concerning Linux-based systems were stopped and Symbian was announced as being a dead end and the strategy was to move to MS-Windows phone only. Most likely this was done because Stephen Elop had more loyalty to Microsoft than to the company that he was running. To my knowledge this never became a case for the courts, but one might assume some criminal energy behind this. And some stupidity of the stock holders, who selected this person as CEO. Some time later the mobile phone branch of Nokia went down and was bought for very little money by Microsoft. After that acquisition it was further downsized and will probably go to zero soon, because Microsoft does not have interest to develop new hardware.

As it seems, there are mobile phones with the brand „Nokia“ again. HMD, a company in Finland designs them, pays to the company Nokia some money to use their brand. And of course they use Android.

It seems that the issue of having to write a mobile app twice because of Android and iOS has become a bit less pressing. Besided mobile web applications that can pretty much behave as rich clients through modern JavaScript frameworks, there are „fake apps“ that are actually pretty much browsers without a visible URL bar and programmed to only surf their home site. And even native apps are now increasingly being developed in Swift for iOS and Kotlin for Android, which seem to be quite similar, at least at a conceptional level.

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Cassandra DB

The large zoo of NoSQL databases needs to be considered thoroughly.

While the major transactional SQL databases (Oracle, PostgreSQL, MS-SQL-Server, DB2 and to a limited extent MariaDB/MySQL) can be used more or less interchangeably, if we are talking about the beginning of the project, the NoSQL databases have totally different features and must be chosen wisely and adequately. While the typical pattern of many NoSQL databases is trading speed for complex transactions, this is by no means compulsory. There are SQL databases like Teradata, that have reduced support for transactions, but feature a full set of SQL for queries. This can be used for data warehousing, where the data changing operations take place in a more controlled manor, because the data is already known and present elsewhere, but queries are the important thing. On the other hand there are NoSQL-databases like Neo4j that support full ACID-transactions, but organize the data in a totally different way that might be more adequate than a relational database for many purposes. This shows the other motivation to go for NoSQL-databases. While the relational model is somewhat complete and there are always ways to express whatever is desired with it, it may not be a natural or efficient or convenient way to model certain data.

Some databases, like MongoDB allow additional indexing and thus efficient queries without full table scans and additional uniqueness constraints, which is a must have feature for a good transactional SQL database, but not so much for NoSQL databases in general.

Some NoSQL-databases are typically run in memory. While there are some SQL databases that run in memory as well, like H2, this kind of defeats the idea of ACID, so it is not really a full transactional SQL database anyway, at least not in this mode.

SQL databases are well known to many people and can do many jobs quite well. If the data model can be expressed well in the SQL database and the performance is sufficient, this may be a good way to go. The powerful query and data manipulation language is usually extremely helpful and usually you get only a shadow of what a powerful SQL dialect like PostgreSQL or Oracle can do when you move to a NoSQL database.

Now NoSQL databases are somewhat scary. The data is „not safe“ in them, because there are no transactions. But what about the transactional relational SQL database? If we use it through some implicit or explicit caching layers, we get rid of this feature without being aware of it. JPA or hibernate tend to do implicit caching and can even use file system persistency outside of the database as a „second level cache“. I think this is just so broken, but it is used and good applications are built with it. But the feature of the good old transactional SQL database that serves as argument to use it has silently been thrown into the garbage can in this project.

So we should think if and where we need serious transactions and then really write our software in a way that does not defeat them by caching, preferably by avoiding JPA and Hibernate. Or we should pick our database solution for the purpose based on the modelling features and performance features.

Cassandra comes in as one of the NoSQL products with very good write performance and scalability. The query language kind of looks like SQL, but it is a tiny subset. If we can live with that subset and it is relevant to get more performance than we would get from a PostgreSQL or Oracle, this might be a good way to go. An important observation is that tables in Cassandra do have primary keys. But additional unique keys cannot be defined and instead lookup tables. This works like this:

„X“ text,
„Y“ text,
„Z“ text,
„T“ text,

„Y“ text,
„X“ text,

Lookups by X can be done directly in A. Lookups by Y have to be done in two steps. First the lookup table is used to determine the value for X and the table A is used for the actual lookup of the data.

There are ways to do interesting and useful things that seem to be missing and it is usually worth investigating how they can be done. When knowing how the different tools that are available can be used efficiently and properly, it may be a good moment to actually decide what tool to use. But a serious comparison should compare well done solutions of both technologies and not just a junior’s first day program in one technology against a professional solution done by a senior.

It is always important to have a look at the different NoSQL databases to decide which ones are going to be used in the team or in the organization. Cassandra can be a useful database for this approach. Often it is good to also have a SQL database in this set of supported databases. It is easier to model for example accounts, booking and payments with them, while a other data may be better stored in adequate NoSQL databases.

By the way, while major transactional SQL databases may be somewhat interchangable in the beginning of a project, it is quite a pain to change them later or to support multiple databases. Also there are of course licensing issues, teams are needed to operate the database, databases may run better on certain operating systems and there may be some additional features that might make them more or less desirable. But the basic functionality differs less than in the case of NoSQL databases.

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Perl 5 and Perl 6

We have now two Perls. Perl 5, which has been around for more than 20 years just as the „Perl programming language“ and Perl 6, which has been developed for more than a decade and of which now stable versions exist.

The fact, that they are both called „Perl“ is a bit misleading. They are two different and incompatible programming languages. But they share the same community. And Perl conferences are usually covering both languages.

So this rises the question about the differences or about which of the two Perls to use.

Here are some differences:

  • Perl 5 is well established and many people know it. Perl 6 has to be learned, even if it is relatively easy to learn for someone with a Perl 5 background.
  • Perl 5 runs about three times faster than Perl 6
  • Perl 6 programs are a bit shorter than Perl 5 programs
  • Perl 6 regular expressions are even better than Perl 5’s regular expressions
  • Perl 6 is more logical than Perl 5
  • Perl 6 uses by default better numerical types
  • Perl 6 makes it easier and more natural to do object oriented programming and functional programming
  • Perl 6 has come up with a useful approach for doing multithreadoing.
  • Perl 5 has so many cool libraries on CPAN, Perl 6 just a few.


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Conference Talks

Referring to the Swiss Perl Workshop, it is now time to collect all the conference talks that I have given so far and that have been uploaded as video.

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Swiss Perl Workshop 2017

I have attended the Swiss Perl Workshop.
We were a group of about 40 people, one track and some very interesting talks, including by Damian Conway.
I gave a regular talk and a lightning talk myself.
The content of my talk might go into another Blog post in the future.
The Perl programming language is still interesting, and of course it was covered in both variants: Perl 5 and Perl 6.
But many of the talks were about general issues like security and architecture and just exemplified by Perl.

The Video recording of talks was optional. Here are those that have been recorded and already uploaded: Youtube: Swiss Perl Workshop

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End of Swisscom iO

The Swisscom-App iO will be discontinued on 2017-08-31. So from then on the service will no longer be available. A bit more than four years after launching the app, it is now terminated. The goal was to replace a significant part of the conventional telephony by iO and to become a relevant player in the field with competitors like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook-Messenger, Google-Hangouts, Threema, Skype etc.

Advantages of iO were:

  • The possibility to do „breakout-calls“, which means calling regular phone numbers from iO
  • Servers in Switzerland, operations team in Switzerland
  • Communication end-to-end encrypted
  • Good support for multiple devices with one phone number
  • It was cool, looked better and…
  • ad free
  • open to use for free for everyone worldwide


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There are many good systems for doing the bug report tickets. Good open source tools. Some people like HP-Quality-Center. But most developer teams seem to like Jira, because it is easy to use, has hosting options and good functionality and stability. Also there are ways to support modern agile development styles like Kanban and Scrum. And it comes with a nice Wiki that apparently has partly or fully replaced Word documents in most projects that I have seen over the last 10 years.

Please remember, it is pronounced [ˈdʒi.rɑː] and not [ˈdʒɑi.rɑː]. For English speakers: think of „Jeera“. For German speakers: think of „Djihra“. The word is of Japanese origin and usually it does not work to apply an assumed English pronunciation to any non-English language. English is too irregular to guess the pronunciation without knowing the word for most of us. And more irregular than most other languages.

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