The advantages of programming on a small netbook.

Most software developers prefer to work on "fast" computers, and I am normally one of them. Many of my tools work best with lots of memory, and some common tasks become pleasantly instantaneous on a nice, powerful computer.

At work, for example, our teams project is 250-500,000 lines of code modularised into many sub-projects. Writing an extra five thousand lines of code would be considered a "minor" change. Working with this project on a slow computer would be a nightmare.

However, my tiny little netbook, a rather un-sexy and previous-generation EeePC 901SD, is now my main development machine for my free-time-only side-project, which is also written in Java and uses the technologies documented in my previous blog posts. The software is not a toy: it's written to the same quality standards as my work project, if not higher; with no time constraints or deadlines, I can be as perfectionist and nit-picky as I want. Before I started this project, my previous project made heavy use of PostgreSQL, and I wrote hundreds of lines of C, again on a similar netbook.

The surprise? It's been a great experience. Being a very fast typist, the keyboard initially seemed cramped, but quickly became comfortable. I use a lightweight IDE (Netbeans) with a reduced font size, and screen real-estate is not an issue. I use Linux (Ubuntu), which means I have a decent command prompt and unix-like system at my finger-tips.

More importantly, my coding habits have changed. I no longer waste time thinking in front of the computer screen. I design the code in my head while walking to work in the morning, shopping for groceries, or doing the dishes. If I had a screen in front of me, the temptation would be to do something, to try out the idea, instead of reflecting on what really needs to be done, or how to do it.

I can code in a crowded bar, or in 20 minutes on a tram surrounded by commuters, because when I'm sitting in front of a keyboard, I already know what I'm going to do. The rest is pure typing.

The result: I would guess that I've done no more than 30 man-days of development. Less than half of it with an Internet connection. The time spent has been spread over the past four months in chunks of no more than four hours, and mostly shorter than one. But it has all been valuable learning or steady, measurable progress.

This requires a lot more patience than usual from me. Time for my side-project comes at its own pace and cannot be hurried, and I'm not intending to sacrifice anything to make faster progress.

I also learnt this: when I demand to work with only the very best tools in every situation, this is misplaced pride, maybe arrogance. It limits myself and chokes faith in the abilities I've been blessed with. We sometimes write on small pieces of paper, so why can't we sometimes program on small computers?


EC2 and CXF: Serialising objects in JAX-WS

The second problem I had with CXF (or, more correctly, JAXB) was in trying to serialise JAXB objects such as CreateVolumeType into XML using a copy of JAXBuddy from Typica.

This failed with the error message: "Unable to marshal type XXX as an element because it is missing an @XmlRootElement annotation". Searching for this error message led me to this blog post by Kohsuke Kawaguchi, and so I copied the sample configuration from the comment into my binding file. This didn't work, and the error message remained the same - the configuration didn't take effect.

Googling again I found this CXF bug on serialisation and "simple" mode. The information in this issue, combined with the information in the wsdl-to-java documentation gave me the information I needed to correct the binding file.

As a humorous side-effect this also changed a lot of class names and broke a lot of code, but the new class-names are an improvement, so there we go.

My updated sample binding file is on pastebin here. Also, my original post about CXF is messed up in some way and I'll get round to fixing it soon.


EC2 and CXF / JAX-WS: Configuring WSDL endpoints & service URL

So, it's been a couple of weeks in real-time and about ten hours in "code"-time since I last posted on EC2 & JAX-WS, since which I've discovered two extra things. The second is in the next blog post.

Firstly, Amazon SQS requires that you make SOAP 1.1 calls to a unique URl per queue. This means that to use a given queue, a specific port has to be configured with the new location in JAX-WS. This took a little digging, but it is clearly mentioned in the CXF documentation. The relevant code is this:

String queueURL = "http://sqs.amazonaws.com/blablabla";

MessageQueue q = new MessageQueue(); //can re-use this apparently

MessageQueuePortType p = q.getMessageQueueHttpsPort(); //this is for a specific queue

//initialise the port to use WS-Security as documented below

BindingProvider provider = (BindingProvider)p;
provider.getRequestContext().put(BindingProvider.ENDPOINT_ADDRESS_PROPERTY, queueURL);

...and that's it.