Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Spring Boot in Action

by Craig Walls
ISBN-13: 978-1617292545

You can be pretty sure of what you’re going to get with a Manning ‘In Action’ book and Spring Boot in Action is no exception.  It’s clear, friendly while not being over familiar and above all a pleasure to read. In fact I struggled to put it down. I’ve got back into reading recently, but this is the first technical book I have fully read for quite a while.

The thing is I’m a huge fan of Java. This brings me into a lot of ridicule. There are lots of other software development technologies such as Ruby on Rails and Node.js which are arguably more productive because they do a lot of the standard web application boilerplate for you. The Spring library provides the Java developer with a lot of web application boilerplate as well, but there is no getting away the fact that Java is more verbose than some of the other options and you need a lot more code and configuration to wire the boilerplate together.

Enter Spring Boot. Spring Boot is about taking away a lot of the pain of developing Java web applications with Spring. Spring Boot automatically configures most of a Spring Web application for you. It takes care of most of the dependency management and servlet configuration and creates and injects commonly used beans into the application context as, when, and if they are needed. This drastically reduces the amount of code and configuration you need to write and it’s clever enough to work out which dependencies you need and employs tested configurations to make sure they play nicely together. Plus you can reduce the amount of code further by writing your application in Groovy or a combination of Groovy and Java. You can even take advantage of Grails.

Suddenly Java becomes a lot more competitive in terms of productivity with Ruby on Rails and Node.js, with the added advantage of a statically type, non-interpreted language running on the JVM. I’ve frequently seen Java Spring web applications outperforming similar Ruby on Rails applications. These are very exciting times indeed for Java.

Spring Boot in Action clearly explains all of this and more including running an embedded tomcat and testing with Selenium. It’s not a long book and the last 35% or so is appendices, but it’s the sort of useful information you need as a Spring Boot developer. Being short also means that Spring Boot does feel like a massive mountain to climb and conquer.  If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that the chapter on deployment should be near the beginning, not right at the end.

Naked Element will soon be developing their first Spring Boot application and we’re really looking forward to it.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The New One Minute Manager

Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson
ISBN-13: 978-0008128043

I'm not and have never been a people person, but I try. I am and have always been a techy. I managed teams at two different companies before I formed Naked Element. In both cases I was as green as I was cabbage looking. I had a lot to learn about managing up and down and what encourages and discourages people. Unfortunately I didn't have the best guidance either.

When I want to get better at software development or Agile or something else technical, I consult experienced people to learn. In most cases, for me, this involves reading a book. So why should it be any different for people? Well, people are more complex than software development, Agile or any other tech, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from other's experience.

The One Minute Manager is a book about people and how to get the best from them. It describes three practices to help. One of the best things about the book isn't just the excellent advice with clear examples and explanation, but the fact it's easy to read and takes only a few hours. I read most of it one evening and finished it the next morning.

I'm not going to list the practices here - go read the book. It showed me what I was doing wrong, why what I was  doing didn't work and how I could improve. It's not a silver bullet, there is work I am going to have to do to get better.

The only criticism I have, other that some of the cheesy dialogue, is that there are no written examples of the first practice. I'm having to go to other sources for this, but at least they're readily available.

If you feel you could be better at managing people, and even if you think you're already good at it, start with this book and get better. I've already started doing the practices and I'm looking forward to the results.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Medusa Chronicles

The Medusa Chronicles
Alastair Reynolds & Stephen Baxter
ISBN-13: 978-1473210189

Arthur C. Clarke was my favourite author for many years and I loved his collaborations with Stephen Baxter. Baxter brought a new dimension to Clarke's, not just science fiction, but science based fiction. The stories became more human, more exciting and had better characters. So when my current favourite author, Alastair Reynolds, got together with Stephen Baxter to write a story based on other writings by Arthur C. Clarke it had the potential to be something fantastic. And it is!

I love stories with references to other stories and pop culture and the Medusa Chronicles is riddled with them. I've complained about Interstellar (film) being a rehash of Clarke's 2001 in a previous review and there are plenty of references and similarities to 2001 here, especially with the exploration of inner Jupiter and the events which take place inside the sun.  However, in the Medusa Chronicles, this is the amazing climax to an all round superb story.

The main character, Howard Falcon, is superbly flippant, sarcastic, cynical and intelligent. He is surrounded by other equally brilliant and well thought out characters. The machine, Adam, is one of the better rehashings of HAL and captures, the young and naïve, yet brilliantly intelligent and developing intelligence perfectly.

If, like me, you're longing for Reynolds to recapture his Revelation space glory, then the Medusa Chronicles, along with Slow Bullets, is the book for you and it goes a long, long way.

Next I'm moving on to The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. A new author for me and, apparently, superb space opera.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Talking Technology 2016

Naked Element are going to be at the Norfolk Chamber Talking Technology 2016 event on 21st September, why not come along and see us?

Talking Technology 2016

An interactive event aimed at developing the use of digital skills and innovative technologies in business to boost productivity and profitability.  

Talking Technology will feature expert local and national key note speakers, practical workshops, an expert exhibition and plenty of networking opportunities, including a networking lunch.

  • 15 speakers
  • 4 workshops
  • 16 exhibitors (including Naked Element!)
  • 150+ businesses
Register for your tickets here:

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Pure Metal Comes to Norwich: Arch Enemy & Soilwork

I don’t recall if I’ve seen Soilwork before, but I’ve always been aware of them. When I discovered they would be playing with Arch Enemy I bought up a lot of their stuff and started listening to it. As metal goes it’s ok and very listenable. Live they were much the same. Thier sound wasn’t all it could have been, and I initially put that down to the Waterfront PA. For a bunch of clearly aging blokes they were really rather good and had lots of energy. I wouldn’t go to just see them again, but I’d check them out if they were on the same bill as someone else I wanted to see.

Arch Enemy are one of my all time favorite bands. I’ve seen them several times, but never in a venue as small as the Waterfront. I’ve never been disappointed with Arch Enemy and on this occasion they were better than all of the bands (including Symphony X, Fear Factory and Vallenfyre) I saw last weekend at Bloodstock. Which is disappointing in itself!

This was the first time I’d seen Arch Enemy with the singer who replaced Angela Gossow a couple years ago, Alissa White-gluz. Alissa was every bit as good as Angela, if not better.

I couldn’t have asked for a much better set, my favorites from Doomsday Machine (although a run through of the whole album would have been even better), several of my favorites from Khaos Legions and from War Eternal, as well old favorites like Dead Eyes See No Future and We Will Rise.

They played a sold, entertaining 90 minutes. Michael Amott can really play (guitar). Unlike Soilwork, I could hear every note, suggesting the PA at the waterfront wasn’t that bad, but Soilwork’s setup was.

What we need now is a new album and a headline slot at Bloodstock 2017.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A review of Bloodstock 2016

Bloodstock is one of the highlights of my year. It’s a chance for me to get away from it all (well, most of it), listen to some fantastic music and catch up on reading.


Gloryhammer are a band I’d never heard of.  Surprisingly good sci-fi based power metal. Lot’s of fun and not to be taken too seriously.

Evil Scarecrow were just Evil Scarecrow which means lots of robot and crustacean oriented antics. I’m always pleasantly surprised how much they often sound like Slayer.

Then for the first band of the day I really wanted to see, Misery Loves Company.  I first saw them in Bradford in the 90s when they were at their prime. Unfortunately those days are gone and I felt they didn’t play as well as they could have done, but their set was full of old classics. I wonder if there might new a new album on the way,

Stuck Mojo and Corrosion of conformity I’ve seen before. I wasn’t that impressed then and nothing has changed now.

Venom I had really been looking forward too and I was only slightly disappointed. Thier sound lacked a second guitarist, especially during the guitar solos. They opened with a couple of songs from their new album, which is very good, played some of my favorites like Evil One and closed, of course, with Black Metal, which I know best from the Vader Cover.

Behemoth were always going to be brilliant. I don’t think they had the best PA sound and I’m not sure if Nergal is lost in the theatrics or disappearing up his own backside. The band did leave the stage a lot between songs. They played latest album The Satanist all the way through and it was amazing. A great stage show, fantastic lighting and even black confetti, although the wind had other ideas.

I wasn’t looking forward to Twisted Sister. I have their greatest hits album and the sound is tinny and under produced. Thier live sound is full bodied and really rather good, especially with ex-Dream Theater drummer Mark Portnoy on drums. However, they were late to the stage, went on too long and had far too much to say! Roll on Saturday.


Kill II This. Passed the time. I read my book.

Vallenfyre just blew everyone else away. A fantastic sound from the PA, heavy and both slow and fast songs. Everything I hoped they would be and more.

I seem to remember quite enjoying Akercocke the last time I saw them at Bloodstock. They were ok this time, despite some spectacularly bad guitar playing and/or tuning. It seems to improve as they went on. It was good to hear them try out some new material.

I'd been looking forwarded to Rotting Christ. I used to have an album of theirs which I listened to alot 20 years ago. I bought some of their other stuff, but it wasn't as good and in the end I sold it all. At Bloodstock they started off very disappointingly, but by the third song they seemed to find their feet and remained solid for the rest of their set.

I didn't realise Fear Factory were performing all of Demanufacture. Initially I was disappointed as I really like their new stuff. They are one of the few bands who came back better than they were before. I wasn't disappointed for long. They were incredible, even better than Vallenfyre. Fear Factory are another band with only one guitarist, but this didn't impede their sound at all.

I don't like being wrong, but I was about what Paradise Lost’s performance was going to be like. I didn't have high hopes. To me they're a decent metal band who haven't had a good album since the mid-nineties. I was expecting them to play recent stuff, but they didn't. They reached back, sometimes a long way, into their considerable back catalogue and were heavy and doomy and pretty amazing! Paradise restored.

It gets better! I was looking forward to Gojira a lot! Knowing they were playing I've been collecting all their albums and the new one, Magma, has been a regular for me recently. I had high hopes and I wasn't disappointed. Fantastic band, playing fantastic heavy metal.

I wasn't wrong about Mastodon and I still don't know what all the fuss is about or why they're a headline act.


Heart of a Coward, from roundabout ridden Milton Keynes, weren't bad, probably tried to hard, but were nothing to get excited about.

Unearth were better than I remember them being when I saw them support Lamb of God, but even Dimmu Borgir weren't great that day! At bloodstock Unearth were heavy, tight and enjoyable to listen to.

Stoner isn't really my thing, but Jukebox Monkey, the only band I watched on the Jagermeister stage this year had a fantastic, clear and sharp sound. I really enjoyed some of the lead guitar work too.

The Metal Allegiance should have been so, so, so much more. Very sure of themselves and what they were doing in the name of metal, but really just capitalising on the recent spate of rock and metal deaths. Just rubbish.

Satyricon appeared to have a few technical problems before they got down to some fantastic traditional Black Metal. They played most of the Nemesis Divina album and ended with some of their more recent tunes, such as Black Crow on a Tombstone.

Fortunately Dragon Force were exactly as expected, fun and fast! They had a great sound, with perhaps too much kick drum, but the vast amount of guitar widdling and the phenomenal singing made up for that. I've waited to see this band for a long time. Their album before last was amazing, the more recent one not so much. Unfortunately, due to technical problems at the start, they had a very short set.

Symphony were the band I wanted to see the most this weekend and I wasn't disappointed. They blew everyone else away. The guitar playing, the singing, the songs. Wow! Just wow!

Pythia I saw support Threshold a few years ago and they were quite good. I gave them a go on the Sophie Lancaster stage and was super impressed. A much better performance than when I saw them before and much better songs! Bought their latest album from Amazon stood the crowd.

Slayer were Slayer. A few tracks from their new album, which is superb, and all of the classics. Solid, but unexciting. Worth hanging around for at the end of the weekend, but I probably wouldn’t again.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Scream if you want to go faster (scaling computer hardware)

When the deadline for registering to vote in the UK EU referendum approached there were issues with the online registration system. It stopped working due to the high numbers of people trying to register all at once. The system failed to scale and fell over. By scale, I mean that the hardware was no longer powerful enough to service all of the requests made of the software it was running and it was unable to become more powerful.

There are two main ways to scale computer hardware, vertically and horizontally. Most software can scale vertically, regardless of how it’s designed. To scale horizontally special design considerations must be taken into account.

Vertical Scaling

Imagine you’ve got 1000 people to move from point A to point B 10 miles away and a car which can hold 5 people and travels at an average speed of 60 miles an hour. That means it takes 10 minutes to get the car once from point A to point B. Ignoring the return journey and including the driver in the number of people moved, it would take 200 trips, at 10 minutes each, which is 33 hours.  That’s pretty slow.

If we use the same car, but with a more powerful engine which can travel at an average speed of 120 miles an hour, it now takes 5 minutes to get the car once from point A to point B and a total time of 16.5 hours. That’s already a good improvement.

If we swap the car for a minibus which can hold 20 people and can still do an average speed of 120 miles an hour, the time comes down to 4 hours. If we continue to upgrade to more powerful engines and use bigger busses we can bring the time down significantly.

This is an example of vertical scaling. By increasing the processing power (engine) and the memory (number of people the vehicle can hold) in a computer we can increase how quickly it responds to users. However, you can only increase processing power and memory to a point. There is a threshold where it becomes impractical to scale further and another where it is no longer cost effective.

Horizontal Scaling

Imagine you’ve got the same 1000 people to move from point A to point B and two minibuses which hold 20 people each and travel at an average speed of 120 miles an hour. Both minibuses take 5 minutes to get one from point A to point B.  Ignoring the return journey and including the driver in the number of people moved, it would take 25 trips, at 5 minutes each, which is 2 hours.

If you use 4 minibuses the time comes down to 1 hour.  If we continue to increase the number of minibuses we can bring the time down significantly.

This is an example of horizontal scaling. By increasing the number of computers which are working together in parallel we can increase how quickly the overall system responds to users.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Slow Bullets

Slow Bullets
Alastair Reynolds
ISBN-13: 978-1616961930

I can't tell you how pleased I am to be able to say that, in my opinion, Alastair Reynolds is back on form! Slow Bullets is a very short book and it's written in the first person, which isn't my favourite style, but that's about the only criticism I have of it.

The story is great, well thought out and very much of our time and what could happen in the future as we rely more and more on electronic storage of data.

I could relate to all of the characters and it was great see so many female leading characters.

It took me about a week to read, but had I had a day to myself I could see myself ploughing through it in a day.

On to the Medusa Chronicles.

I relax in my own way.

I enjoy my work (software development) very much. I feel very fortunate to be able to earn a living from doing something I enjoy. However, this does mean I do it a lot. Not just during the working day, but at lots of other times too. This causes many people to ask if I ever stop working or relax. Well, working to me can be and often is relaxing and doesn’t always feel like work. Lots of people tell me I need to stop working so much, they want me to conform to their idea of what not working is.

Then there’s Bloodstock. The heavy metal festival once a year (where I am now) where I spend three days in a field and I don’t want to take my laptop. It wouldn’t be very practical if I did. Although having switched from Vodafone to EE (one of the best decisions I ever made) I do now have 4G all the time.

I do take my kindle and I find that I read, a lot. Do I miss my laptop? No, not really and I know it’s there in the evening and morning in the hotel if I really feel the need (which I did just now when I wrote this). This time around I’m not opening an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and writing code at every opportunity because I feel like I’d rather have my head in book.

So once I’ve finished writing this to prove to the doubters that I do sometimes have time away from my laptop, I’ll be finishing Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and moving on to The Medusa Chronicles, which he wrote with Stephen Baxter, and enjoying the best music in world from a field somewhere in Derbyshire.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Swift (for iOS, Mac and beyond) For The Curious with Phil Nash (double header)

When: Wednesday 7th September 6.30pm to 9pm

Where: The King's Centre, King Street, Norwich, NR1 1PH


Swift For The Curious 
Phil Nash (@phil_nash)

Swift – Apple’s new programming language –has just turned 2 - and is already at Version 3.0. It has undergone significant development, including now being fully open-sourced! It’s had one of the fastest adoptions of any new language ever (for reasons we’ll discuss) and has been turning the world of Apple development on its head.

But what’s different about it? How does it fit in with other modern languages? Is it a functional language, as some rumours have suggested? Does it have any unique features? Should you care about it at all if you are not in the Apple eco-system (or even if you are)? We’ll look at answers to at all these questions and get a flavour of the language itself.

Phil Nash

Phil is a semi-independent software developer, coach and consultant - working in as diverse fields as finance, agile coaching and iOS development. A long time C++ developer he also has his feet in Swift, Objective-C, F# and C# - as well as dabbling in other languages. He is the author of several open source projects - most notably Catch: a C++ and Objective-C test framework.

6.30pm - Free beer
7.00pm - Intro
7.10pm - Swift for the Curios - Part 1
7.55pm - Free beer
7.10pm - Swift for the Curios - Part 2
7.55pm - End