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Water for your rocket?

Posted by batate on June 10, 2004 at 10:28 AM PDT

Have you seen the 2-liter water rockets? My wife Maggie and I recently bought a launcher to entertain our kids. We about killed ourselves drinking enough rootbeer to empty the rockets, and then headed to the park. My daughters Kayla and Julia stood slack jawed, staring alternately at the aqua missle and their crazed daddy.

You basically take a bike pump, a 2-liter soda bottle, and enough piping to tie the two together. Then, you add water (40% seems to be optimal based on the physics models), and "woosh". You can easily launch the thing 100-200 feet, but some water rockets with modifications have gone much higher than 1000. Pennies per launch. Water for fuel. Non-destructive. Lots of bang for your buck.

2003 and 2004 are turning into productive years for me. I want to introduce you to some of my new rocket fuel. I'm sure that you already know about the pyro rockets (Spring, Hibernate, O'reilly, and Martin Fowler). I want to tell you about the alternate fuels that helped to launch me for pennies. These are the lesser-known, or out-of-favor, people, products and ideas that have had a profound impact on me.


  • Mike Clark. Mike is one of the most promising new authors in the J2EE space. People are starting to take notice. He's attracted to the most critical problems: automation, testing, productivity, performance. He knows how to communicate, and he's hooked up with a great new publisher (the Pragmatic Bookshelf), with fantastic editing support. It's hard to find good programmers, but he's a great one. It's harder to find people who can communicate, but he makes a great impression to his class rooms, his clients, and his partners. And he delivers, on time and under budget, every time. Mike worked with me to write Bitter EJB, and I used many of his ideas (and those of his publishers) to consolidate into Better, Faster, Lighter Java. His customers, students and readers alike rave. They're right. Read his stuff at
  • Justin Gehtland. Justin, quite simply, is the best co-author I've ever had. He's a zebra who looks equally good in white (Java) and black (.net). He's more popular in the .net space, but he's a very solid Java guy as well. He writes clean, simple code. Further, he knows process. He's got a well-grounded way of dealing with his clients. It's not fair to have such a nice guy, based on solid founding principles, who can also code, write, communicate, and see the big picture. Justin's biggest contribution to our community is that of a pragmatic, who understands what both Java and .net have to offer.
  • Jay Zimmerman. Jay is a shrewd businessman who has quietly built an alternate conference to the JavaOnes of the world, and he's done it with a consistent vision and quality. Jay's biggest mark is on local Java communities. He's provided good speakers to Java User's groups, and has brought a high-quality symposium series to local communities not named San Francisco or New York. He's always looking for ways to improve. My favorite thing about Jay is that he always negotiates with a win-win attitude. Where JavaOne has become the voice of the big money, NoFluffJustStuff has become the voice of many important independent consultants. It's a fun conference, and it gives a voice to many who would not otherwise have one.


  • Bloomba. If you know about Bloomba and have tried it, and you have a choice, you're probably using it. This e-mail client makes it easy to filter spam (90% plus hit rate for me), and do instant searches (less than a second for over 5000 emails....also searches content of attachments.) I used to spend a whole lot of time organizing into filters. Now, I just leave it all in one big box, and google, er, bloomba, for whatever I need.
  • IDEA. I know, I know. It's already a popular tool. But I've rediscovered it after a brief time with Eclipse. It's simply the best refactoring IDE available. Sure, it's not free. But I'd gladly pay to help this great company produce great products. They get it, and refactoring has never been easier. I believe that it's healthy to buy great products, even when a slightly inferior open source alternative is available. It fuels innovation and progress.
  • Kodo. I love Hibernate, and frequently recommend it, but for bigger, more sophisticated deployments, I usually recommend Kodo. It's fast, simple, and has some of the enterprise management tools that Hibernate lacks. Their CEO Neelan claims that they've never lost a performance benchmark since they released 3.0, and I believe him. I particularly like some of their performance management add-ons, and their mapping support is among the most flexible in the marketplace.

    SShhh. I heard it through the grape vine that the Spring project and SolarMetric are working together at the highest levels to provide first-class integration. I hope that this support is extended to cover JDO 2.0 generically.
  • The Pragmatic Bookshelf. Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt are at it again. I've had a great experience with O'Reilly and my editor with Better, Faster, Ligher Java (Amazon got their shipment yesterday!), but you already know about them. I'd like to mention a pseudo-competing publisher in the Pragmatic Bookshelf. (O'reilly handles distribution for them.) They're writing smaller titles with ideas that last. They boil a subject down to the basics. I've loved the three books that I've seen. It's fundamental: we should weigh books on the quality of the ideas, not the quantity of pages. No more phone books!


  • Test-driven development. This has been popular in the lab, but has taken a long time to take hold on production teams. Let me be clear. If you want to give your water rocket an extra boost, look to TDD. It's like pure H2O: raw simplicity and power. It forces cleaner designs and injects some automatic discipline. Further, since newer techniques like lightweight containers, AOP and dependency injection make it easier, it's time to give TDD a second look.
  • Context inheritance. Spring's biggest impact to my life has been the improvement to testability. I can test out of the container, and I can stage small-scale integration tests, by providing a custom context for test cases. The problem is that this design philosophy leaves me with dual maintenance for my testcase contexts. Instead, I can use Spring's context inheritance to manage my testcases. The root class can use the production context, and every more specialized test case also has a more specialized context. Very interesting. I can then stub out a database witn an in-memory implementation for quick GUI tests, add specialized test data, or simply test a small subset of my overall system...all without undue repetition of contexts.

Water for your rocket. Always remember to launch from a safe distance. The fuel's more potent than you think.

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