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Off To The Races

Posted by mortazavi on May 17, 2006 at 11:16 PM PDT

Earlier today, I had a chance to talk to Sun Distinguished Engineer Greg Bollella while we both gleefully watched the 2006 Slot Car Race in action.

Greg, who has been behind Real Tim Java for the past 10 years, graciously shared some insights about the race and how participants were doing.

If you want to participate and if you want to learn more about Real Time Java and mechatronic control through first-hand experience, you can check out Slot Car Programming Challenge or even better, just walk over to the area near the entrance of the JavaOne 2006 Pavilion and talk to Greg himself. James Gosling has also written a blog about it.

Remember - Confucius said something to this effect: What you read about, you forget. What you see, you remember. What you do, you learn.

The best way to get engaged and going in the race is just show up at the entrance area of the JavaOne 2006 Pavilion — "Half of life is showing up," said the sage of Manhatan. To make your showing up even more useful, review the information regarding how to participate in the race.

Folks, this is really not that hard. The programming tools and platform are available on machines near the race tracks, and you still have time to participate, meet Greg in person instead of just reading about him, and write a bit of code to drive a slot car on a relatively challenging track.

The control mechanisms are simple. Greg has made it really easy for those who want to focus only on the control aspects.

A map of the track is available, sensors are evenly spaced along the tracks, and you're allowed pretty much as many experimental runs with your code as you like and as you update the code. Greg seems to be right there almost throughout the hours of the show to give you some encouragement and advice.

Digital real-time control was never meant to be easy in practice. That's why for hundreds of years people have relied on dynamic (read physical) control of mechanical objects. The case in point is the steam engine and its pressure control mechanisms. However, participating in this little game, you can get your hands into the mud of digital control and start shaping it to win a race!

I should end this by saying that RTSJ has attracted the attention of many others in a wide range of industries from manufacturing to telecommunications.

Last summer, while visiting the R&D centers of some of Sun's best mobile communications partners in Europe, I noticed a real interest in RTSJ, in particular in the mixed programming model. Most telecom (mobile or otherwise) service apps are composed of parts that are hard real-time, other parts that are soft real-time, and some other parts that are just good with basic best-effort.

RTSJ tells you how to mix these programming paradigms in a rational and useful manner.