Snowtide Informatics Welcomes Ben Fry (of Processing fame) to Northampton

Next Tuesday, the 5th of May @ 6:30PM, Snowtide Informatics and Atalasoft will be hosting Ben Fry, creator of the Processing programming language and environment and author of Visualizing Data from O’Reilly, at Snowtide’s offices in Northampton, MA.

(This hasn’t been a secret or anything (for good reason!), but I thought I’d put out an announcement post.)

Dr. Fry will be presenting “Computational Information Design” – a mix of his work in visualization and coding plus a quick introduction to the Processing language and environment.  Processing has had a huge impact on the field of data visualization, and Dr. Fry’s presentation will no doubt be enlightening for anyone who engages in data visualization at any level.

There will be refreshments.  There’s a Google Maps link on this page if you need directions; please note that the presentation will be held in the second-floor conference room, Suite 234.

Small afterthought: the three avid readers of my blog may recall that a similar event was held a year ago, when we hosted Rich Hickey, creator of the Clojure language.  I think we (meaning Snowtide, Atalasoft, the Western Mass. Developer’s Group, et al.) have a pretty unique combination in this area of outrageously talented people with a collectively broad set of experience and specialties, and a relatively intimate environment where ideas or presentations can be fully fleshed out with lively feedback from everyone involved.  I think there’s some potential to build this foundation up into something very worthwhile; perhaps a regular flow of software wizards to give talks, show off their newest ideas, and recruit evangelists (zealots? ;-)).  Something to think about anyway…

Western Mass. Developers Meet at Snowtide

I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who came to last night’s Western Mass. Developers’ meeting.  Further, many thanks to those who helped out in one way or the other  — especially Miles and Doug for running for the D’Angelos, Doug for bringing the ice and cooler, Joe and Lou and Greg and Brian and everyone else who helped to set up or tear down.  I think everyone pitched in, which made it all work out pretty smoothly, I think.

FYI, we collected $170 last night.  That covered all of our food expenses and then some — I think once I tally up everything, we’ll have a surplus of ~$40 (and we have a bunch of generic supplies that we can put to use in the future).  Thank you very much to everyone who pitched in in this way, too.  Hopefully we can keep that pot flowing.

Some highlights from the meeting, and random thoughts of mine, in no particular order:

  • Doug gave what sounded like a rousing talk about the PHP templating system that he conjured up.  It seemed like most of the group really enjoyed that.
  • I generally don’t touch PHP, so I hung back and talked about entrepreneurship and software business models with Lou, Maria, Michael, and….darnit, I can’t recall the name of the other gentleman that joined us.  Sorry, man, I can be bad with names at times.  Keep coming to the meetings, and I’ll straighten out, I promise.
  • In the second time slot, I instigated a discussion about the current state of rich client platforms, through the lens of some particular requirements that we have for current/future projects.  That turned out to be pretty entertaining and productive, with a big chunk of time dedicated to people being impressed by the surface features of Titanium/Appcelerator.  That may be a good topic for future blog posts if we end up really digging into it.
  • Just about everyone was down on Adobe Flex/AIR as being very unpleasant from an end-user perspective (widgets not behaving as one would expect, etc).  I unintentially sort ended up trashing on JavaFX — or more specifically, the current lack of an integration story between Swing and JavaFX, as well as the oddities of JavaFX script.  In the clear light of day, I feel like I should probably give it a closer look, simply because of our established JVM codebase.
  • There was widespread speculation that a “shadow group” got together at Panera, despite all of the chatter and announcements about the change in venue.  Maybe next time (if there’s a next time here @ Snowtide), someone could swing by Panera and gather up those who aren’t as plugged-in to the group’s chatter.
  • Gerard walked away with Managing Humans, graciously provided to us by Apress’ developer group book program.
  • Will and I ended up holding on to the Terracotta book (also from Apress), though we promise to pass it on to Miles when we’re done!

It seemed like everyone had a good time and that most were pretty happy with the results compared to the usual Panera experience, but I’m clearly biased.  One way or the other, shout out what you liked and didn’t like (either on the mailing list or in the comments below).

FWIW, I’m happy to have Snowtide continue hosting the group’s meetings if people enjoyed the result.  If there’s a next time, get the shared conference room, and see how that works out.

Again, thanks to everyone who came!

Western Mass. Developer’s Group and Snowtide Host Rich Hickey and Clojure

Last night, we had the privilege to host a talk by Rich Hickey on concurrency in Clojure at our offices in Northampton.  A good portion of the Western Mass. Developer’s Group showed up for the event.  Many thanks to Lou Franco for coordinating things, and Shawn Fumo for arranging to have Rich’s talk taped for posterity (available at

And, of course, thanks go to Rich who took the time to make the drive up to Northampton from New York City.  (Fanciful thought: does this mean that the developer’s group constitutes a programmer’s oasis?  Is Western Mass. the new center of gravity for innovative software development in New England? *wink*)

Lou’s notes on the talk itself capture its content far better than I’ll dare to attempt at this point.  Suffice it to say that it was a great presentation by Rich, who clearly has a penchant for teasing apart complex topics and evangelizing Clojure very effectively.  Luckily for the rest of us, there are a number of other talks about Clojure by Rich floating around in the ether.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me at all that I love what Clojure has come to be.  I followed Rich’s prior attempts to marry Lisp and Java (specifically, Foil and jFli), but Clojure tops those efforts handily on essentially every front.

But, what of my fervent love of Scala, so earnestly professed in this very space?  Clearly, I’m not particularly monogamous when it comes to programming languages.  Clojure and Scala have a lot in common, but they are very, very different from each other — although they share the common traits of (a) being better than “straight” Java in so many ways, and (b) enabling functional programming on the JVM (and of course, .NET via ikvm).  You can love both; maybe it’s a right-brain, left-brain thing.  (I can clearly imagine Professor Stillings scowling at me for that one.)

Anyway, again, a big ‘thank you’ to Rich Hickey and everyone else who made last night possible.

WMassDev Meeting Notes (2007.11.01)

Paul and Miles have been keeping notes at recent meetings of the Western Mass. Developer’s Group lately so as to keep those who can’t make it some weeks in the loop. However, neither of them could make it last night, so I thought I’d take a whack at providing a bullet-point précis.

Now, keep in mind that this is my first foray into anything resembling journalism hackery.

  • A couple of new faces showed up, including (dear god, I hope I’m getting the names right) Jason from Studio4Technologies, who mostly works with C#, Dan, who lives in Avon, CT, has a day job using C#, but is working through SICP on his own and is interested in all manner of functional programming languages, and Michael (Eger, not McIntosh), who is a jack-of-all-trades consultant.
  • Gerard and Lou had already installed Mac OS X 10.5, and sang its praises (for the most part). Highlights include Spaces (a “killer” implementation of virtual desktops), the Exposé/Safari select-and-clip widget maker (very cool feature, although no one can think of a good practical use of the tech), and the salvation that is having the Dock on the side of the screen so as to avoid the absurdities associated with how it’s rendered at the bottom of the screen.
  • Lou’s going to a tech convention in Las Vegas next week (thereby missing election day!); it turns out that the whole gang from Atalasoft is going to be sporting snazzy pixelated ties on the convention floor. Very cool, but clip-ons?
  • Logo design is always about whatever the guys in the design shop happen to be messing around with in Illustrator the day your order hits their desk. Thus, the cyclic obsession with graceful swoops, cubist abstract styles, and flaming butterflies.
  • Gerard took a look at Scala since our last meeting, and found much to his liking. “If I were using Java, I’d definitely be coding in Scala,” said Gerard, in yet another example of how Sun made everything more complicated for everybody by conflating the JVM and the Java programming language for years. Here’s hoping IntelliJ gets moving on some first-class Scala support.
  • Dan’s been using Scheme to go through SICP and the Little Schemer (an obvious choice since that’s the language used in those materials), but he’s somewhat overwhelmed by the number of functional programming languages that are available — how can one choose what to use? My response was that they’re all functionally the same (ba-dum-crash!) in terms of the primitives they provide. Which FP language to use in any particular situation generally comes down to the details of one’s deployment and runtime requirements at the time. For example, I’m using Scala right now because it interoperates smoothly with Java and .NET, making it easy to work with PDFTextStream’s existing codebase.
  • Michael asked what functional programming is, exactly. From there, I somehow found myself holding forth on definitions of functional programming, why minimizing state is Good™, what continuations are and why they’re handy, and the differences between global continuations and delimited continuations. I’m sure most people were groaning. Lou mentioned Common Lisp’s exception handling (better known in that world as conditions and restarts) as an instance of delimited continuations.
  • Jason mentioned that there seems to be some noticeable growth in the number of startups in the area, his Studio4 Technologies being one of them. Maybe it’s time for the group to start tracking how much work is coming into the area, how many new businesses have opened and where, etc.
  • Greg pulled out his new Thinkpad, running Linux (though I can’t remember the distro).
  • Using OS X Mail to access GMail via IMAP is apparently still a no-go, given Mail’s lack of tag support. Thunderbird was thrown out there as a possible alternative, but some had doubts that GMail’s tags would be properly represented via IMAP.
  • The state of social networks is totally out of control — there are too many profiles to manage on too many sites. Some fun was had at the expense of those that are “professional networkers” — those people that have thousands and thousands of LinkedIn connections, etc.
  • Michael polled the group for thoughts on XSLT, at which point a wave of grunts was heard ’round the table. Just about everyone panned XSLT as being handy, but inevitably too complex without the right tools. XSLT 2.0 doesn’t exactly make progress on this front. As an aside, I noted that XSLT also happens to be a functional language (perhaps the most widely used FP in industry these days, I’ll wager). [As an aside, Dan’s first message to the list arrived with the title “XSLT is like Lisp, but with a punch in the face.”]
  • Generics were briefly discussed, including some comparison of how they’re implemented in the JVM (erasure) and the CLR (not-erasure, although no one knew the details there).
  • ikvm was mentioned as a practical and totally usable way to cross-compile Java libraries for use in .NET environments. [We happen to use it in order to provide PDFTextStream.NET.]
  • For those new to the group, the mailing list was mentioned, as well as our usual IRC channel (#wmassdevs on Freenode), which is unfortunately pretty sparse these days!
  • A pretty lively exchange was had on the topic of Borders vs Barnes and Noble, especially as it relates to the availability of technology tomes. The B&N in Hadley is tremendously mediocre, and the one in Holyoke isn’t a whole lot better. The general consensus was that Borders generally has a better tech book section than B&N, so there’s reason to hope that the significant presence that Borders looks to be building in the Holyoke Mall will make things a lot easier when one of us just absolutely has to have a particular tech book today. There was also talk of the partnership between Borders and Amazon, which apparently yields various benefits.

That’s all that I can recall. I really should have had a notepad with me, I suppose. If anyone has anything else they want to add, feel free to drop it in the comments.