How do you stay current with emerging technologies?

I recently received an email from a former co-worker. She was curious to know what I read/do to know what it is "trending" in the software world. I think this is good knowledge to share, and I'm also interested in what others do to keep up. Here's my response to her:

My technique for staying up-to-date is mostly reading, and attending some user group meetings. For reading, I read news.ycombinator.com, as well as infoq.com - who I now write for. DZone.com (esp. Javalobby and its HTML5 Zone) is also pretty good, as is arstechnica.com. I don't read nearly as much as I used to when I was subscribed to all of their RSS feeds and read them religiously.

Nowadays, most of my information comes from Twitter. I follow people that are involved in technologies I'm interested in. I try to keep the number of people I follow to 50 as I don't want to spend too much time reading tweets.

For meetups, most are on meetup.com these days. I'd find a couple that have technologies you're interested in (e.g. a local HTML5 meetup or Java user group) and join the group. You'll get email notifications when they have meetings.

Other than that, sometimes I do "conference driven learning". I'll pick a few technologies I'm interested in learning, submit a talk to a conference or user group, then be forced to learn and present on them when it gets accepted. It can be stressful, but it works and usually results in a good presentation because I can share the experience of learning.

One interesting thing I've realized about Twitter is I can make technologies seem "hot" based on the people I follow. If I'm following a bunch of AngularJS folks, my feed is filled with Angular-related tweets and it seems like the hottest technology ever. If I tweak who I follow to have a bunch of Groovy enthusiasts, or Scala folks, the same thing happens.

Of course, the best way to learn new technologies is to use them in your daily job. I strive to do this with my clients, but it doesn't always work out. I've found that working on open source projects and speaking at conferences can help you learn if you're in a stagnant environment. Then again, if you're not happy at work, quit.

What do you do to stay on top of emerging trends in technology?

Posted in Java at May 28 2014, 10:48:38 AM MDT 4 Comments

Syncro Solstice 2014

Our Camping Crew I like to think I've been part of the VW Community for many years. In reality, I've been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the restoration of my '66 to finish. When we bought our Syncro last year, I became an active participant again. Last Thursday, we took full advantage of this wonderful community - joining a bunch of folks in Moab for Syncro Solstice.

The Syncro Solstice is an annual Volkswagen Transporter Jamboree produced by enthusiasts in the Intermountain area. The event hosts both 2WD and 4WD vehicles in an off-road desert-style family-camp-and-expedition Jamboree, held late spring in Moab, Utah. Our Eurovan, Bus, Doka and Microbus friends are a hit and also very welcome.

My parents joined us for this camping extravaganza, as did our "we love to go camping" border collies. The people were great, the vans were inspiring and the views, mesmerizing. We love Moab and the weather was gorgeous the entire time.

VW Sunset

Syncro Camp B Sunset

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Posted in The Bus at May 21 2014, 10:21:11 AM MDT Add a Comment

Farewell to the 2013-2014 Ski Season

We took things up a notch for this year's ski season: we bought a ski bus (a.k.a. The Syncro) and rented our ski shack out for the season. Our goal was to ski all over Colorado since Abbie had free days at every resort. Personally, I racked up 28 days of skiing, Trish had similar numbers and, Abbie and Jack got between 15 and 20.

Let the VW adventures begin! We picked up the ski bus with a road trip from Sun Valley, ID to Denver. We were hoping to ski at Jackson Hole on the way home. The sub-zero temperatures quickly changed our minds and we learned about its sub-par wind resistance driving through Wyoming.

The kids and I started the season with a trip to A-Basin, followed by a day at Keystone. Then Trish and I hit Mary Jane before heading to Montana for Christmas.

Keystone Kids at Keystone Ski Bus next to a Sportmobile

Around this same time, Trish sold her Xterra and we became a one-vehicle family. The Syncro had its first (and only!) breakdown on the way to my parent's on Christmas Eve. We raced Santa Claus to The Cabin, packed in a rented sedan with two kids, two dogs and two cats. We realized afterward the car had bald tires and a broken windshield-washing system. Thank goodness the roads were dry.

The Syncro remained in Bozeman for a week while getting repairs done at Straightaway Motors. We enjoyed the beauty of Montana without it, sledding, skiing at Big Mountain and celebrating New Years with good friends in West Glacier. Taking Trish and the kids skiing in Montana was a ski-life highlight for me. As a teenager, I learned how to downhill ski at Big Mountain and it was really cool to show my family its awesomeness.

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Posted in General at May 10 2014, 12:30:54 PM MDT 1 Comment

First Devoxx4Kids in Denver a Wild Success!

The first Devoxx4Kids Denver was a wild success! This last Saturday, 20 enthusiastic Minecraft hackers gathered at Thrive in Cherry Creek to learn from one of the best. With masterful skill, Scott Davis, founder of ThirstyHead.com, taught everyone how to get a development environment setup, run a local Minecraft server and install plugins into it. You can see the materials we used for this class on Scott's site, at Introduction to Server-side Minecraft Programming.

McGinity Photo was kind enough to snap a bunch of pictures, which you can find on Flickr. A sampling is below:

Devoxx4Kids Denver Devoxx4Kids Denver Devoxx4Kids Denver

Scott Davis Thanks for the great room Thrive!

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Posted in Java at May 05 2014, 11:42:30 PM MDT Add a Comment

Spring Break in Florida: Golf, Beaches and Boats!

Florida is a beautiful state, with sandy beaches, excellent fishing, fun people and a great enthusiasm for golf. When I dreamed up Trish, I knew she'd have an awesome family, but I never expected her parents to have a house on a golf course. Trish's grandma, Claire Stanley, is a legend in her own right. I've never met her, but I knew I loved her when Trish's dad first told me about her "layered shots". When I saw Claire's name listed several times on the walls of the The Country Club of Naples, a deep respect came over me. Claire picked out her house on the 17th hole (Trish's favorite number) of the Country Club in 1966, when the establishment was founded. My bus was born in 1966.

Today, Trish's parents have turned it into a golf and relaxation oasis, complete with beautiful orchid gardens, a sweet pool and Japanese decorations from the country where they first met.

As a golf enthusiast, I'm embarrassed that we've only visited her parents in Naples once before. We bought Abbie and Jack golf clubs last year for Jack's birthday, and they both like to play the game. To make up for our lack of visiting family in Florida, we took our kids on a golf vacation for this year's Spring Break.

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Posted in General at Apr 14 2014, 08:34:59 PM MDT 1 Comment

10 years ago today, I bought a VW Bus

10 years ago today, I bought a 1966 21-Window Volkswagen Bus. Restoring a VW Bus had been a dream of mine since high school, when I attempted to restore a '69 VW Bug. In October 2005, the restoration project began. Since then, it's been through many shops and had quite a few folks work on it. You can read all about it in When is the bus gonna be done?

Since many long-time readers of this blog are familiar with The Bus Project, it seems fitting to give y'all a detailed update on where things sit today.

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Posted in The Bus at Apr 10 2014, 07:11:14 PM MDT Add a Comment

This site now powered by Java 8, Tomcat 7 and Wufoo Forms

I recently upgraded this site to use the latest version of Apache Roller. It was a minor release (5.0.3), but I figured I'd document the steps in case "early onset" comes soon. First of all, to download raibledesigns.com and get it running locally, I perform the following steps:

  1. Backup everything using ~/bin/backup.sh on raibledesigns.com
  2. scp backup file to local hard drive and expand
  3. Copy ROOT, skins and repository directories to local webapps
  4. Make sure activation, mail, mysql and jta JARs are in $CATALINA_HOME/lib
  5. Copy roller-custom.properties from raibledesigns.com's $CATALINA_HOME/lib
  6. Copy context files from hosted $CATALINA_HOME/conf/Catalina to local directory
  7. Import database and change roller-custom.properties to match local credentials

Next, to upgrade to the latest Roller release, I do the following:

  1. Download latest Roller release and expand
  2. Copy JARs (from WEB-INF/lib) to existing install (to upgrade dependencies)
  3. Delete any lower-versioned JARS from WEB-INF/lib directory
  4. Copy JSPs (from WEB-INF/jsps) to existing install
  5. Run database migration scripts from WEB-INF/classes/dbscripts
  6. Use a diff tool (like SmartSynchronize) to compare new vs. existing
  7. Test and troubleshoot (if there's startup errors)

This process has worked well for the last 10 years, and it's been in my head the whole time. It's bound to escape someday.

Contact Form Enhancements
In addition to upgrading Roller, I also upgraded Tomcat 6 to Tomcat 7.0.52. In doing so, I found Jakarta's Mailer Taglib doesn't work with Tomcat 7. As you can tell from the aforementioned thread, I've known this for several years. That's the only thing that's stopped me from upgrading Tomcat the past couple years.

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Posted in Roller at Apr 09 2014, 07:37:59 AM MDT Add a Comment

Devoxx4Kids - Denver Chapter Begins!

Devoxx4Kids I'm happy to announce the first meeting of the Denver Chapter of Devoxx4Kids is now open for registration. It's a two hour class titled Introduction to Server-Side Minecraft Programming and will be taught by Denver's own Scott Davis. The class will be held on May 3rd, from 10am - 12pm at Thrive's Cherry Creek location, where we can comfortably fit 20 students. Cost is $10, but you'll get that back in the form of a t-shirt. Age requirement is 9-18 and kids should have basic computer skills (copy/paste, opening applications, etc.). Minecraft experience will certainly help too.

I'd like to thank Daniel De Luca for his initial assistance with getting Devoxx4Kids setup in Denver and Arun Gupta for starting Devoxx4Kids USA. Arun has been a great help in getting things going and answering my questions over the last few months. Of course, none of it would be happening without Scott Davis or Thrive. If you join us on May 3rd, you'll see that Scott is an awesome teacher and Thrive has some incredible facilities.

My initial goal with Devoxx4Kids in Denver is to host a class or two this year. If there's enough demand, we can expand. For now, we're starting small and seeing where it takes us. If you're interested in teaching a future class, please let me know. We'd love to teach the kids a number of skills, from Scratch to NAO Humanoid Robot programming to building things with Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

Posted in Java at Apr 08 2014, 10:59:29 AM MDT Add a Comment

Developing an iOS Native App with Ionic

In my current project, I've been helping a client develop a native iOS app for their customers. It's written mostly in Objective-C and talks to a REST API. I talked about how we documented our REST API a couple days ago. We developed a prototype for this application back in December, using AngularJS and Bootstrap. Rather than using PhoneGap, we loaded our app in a UIWebView.

It all seemed to work well until we needed to read an activation code with the device's camera. Since we didn't know how to do OCR in JavaScript, we figured a mostly-native app was the way to go. We hired an outside company to do iOS development in January and they've been developing the app since the beginning of February. In the last couple weeks, we encountered some screens that seemed fitting for HTML5, so we turned back to our AngularJS prototype.

The prototype used Bootstrap heavily, but we quickly learned it didn't look like an iOS 7 app, which is what our UX Designer requested. A co-worker pointed out Ionic, developed by Drifty. It's basically Bootstrap for Native, so the apps you develop look and behave like a mobile application.

What is Ionic?
Free and open source, Ionic offers a library of mobile-optimized HTML, CSS and JS components for building highly interactive apps. Built with Sass and optimized for AngularJS.

I started developing with Ionic a few weeks ago. Using its CSS classes and AngularJS directives, I was able to create several new screens in a matter of days. Most of the time, I was learning new things: how to override its back button behavior (to launch back into the native app), how to configure routes with ui-router, and how to make the $ionicLoading service look native. Now that I know a lot of the basics, I feel like I can really crank out some code.

Tip: I learned how subviews work with ui-router thanks to a YouTube video of Tim Kindberg on Angular UI-Router. However, subviews never fully made sense until I saw Jared Bell's diagram.

To demonstrate how easy it is to use Ionic, I whipped up a quick example application. You can get the source on GitHub at https://github.com/mraible/boot-ionic. The app is a refactored version of Josh Long's x-auth-security that uses Ionic instead of raw AngularJS and Bootstrap. To keep things simple, I did not develop the native app that wraps the HTML.

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Posted in The Web at Mar 27 2014, 04:38:55 PM MDT 3 Comments

Documenting your Spring API with Swagger

Over the last several months, I've been developing a REST API using Spring Boot. My client hired an outside company to develop a native iOS app, and my development team was responsible for developing its API. Our main task involved integrating with Epic, a popular software system used in Health care. We also developed a Crowd-backed authentication system, based loosely on Philip Sorst's Angular REST Security.

To document our API, we used Spring MVC integration for Swagger (a.k.a. swagger-springmvc). I briefly looked into swagger4spring-web, but gave up quickly when it didn't recognize Spring's @RestController. We started with swagger-springmvc 0.6.5 and found it fairly easy to integrate. Unfortunately, it didn't allow us to annotate our model objects and tell clients which fields were required. We were quite pleased when a new version (0.8.2) was released that supports Swagger 1.3 and its @ApiModelProperty.

What is Swagger?
The goal of Swagger is to define a standard, language-agnostic interface to REST APIs which allows both humans and computers to discover and understand the capabilities of the service without access to source code, documentation, or through network traffic inspection.

To demonstrate how Swagger works, I integrated it into Josh Long's x-auth-security project. If you have a Boot-powered project, you should be able to use the same steps.

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Posted in Java at Mar 25 2014, 01:07:18 PM MDT 4 Comments