Saturday, March 18, 2006

The other side of the desk

This morning I did a presentation of the Open For Business Project - OFBiz - at the monthly meeting of the Java User Group of Padova - JUG.

I was invited there, due to my role of core committer in the OFBiz project.
I had never participated at the activities of the Group before today, and I was not sure about the subjects to cover: a technical and framework focused presentation or a features oriented one? I ended up with something in the middle (the audience was diverse), I prepared a few slides, a demo and I also showed some code and examples of implementation.
In despite of my doubts, the presentation went well: the partecipants have been very impressed by the OFBiz's features and by the framework and they did a lot of questions (that is usually a good indicator of an audience's interest).

The JUG's meetings are hosted by the Department of Information Engineering - University of Padua - and this is a nice thing for me, since it is where (some years ago) I got my degree in Information Engineering. I did my OFBiz's presentation in the De lecture-hall: if I'm not wrong, in that room I attended the course of Theoretic Computer Science (and probably a few other as well).
It has been really pleasant to go back there... even if this time I was at the other side of the desk.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Greetings from the 'sunny' Italy

As usual, this morning I woke up rather early (at 6 am) and I was reviewing some Java code at my laptop for two hours when incidentally I had a look outside of my window. Here is what I saw:

I went for a walk and took some pictures:

I really like snow, especially when, like today, I can stay at home - it's sunday - at the warm comfort of my apartment, with a hot cup of tea in my hands.

The Biggest Pizza in Town

I perfectly understand the great risk of being Italian and declaring that I like pizza: there are so many commonplaces about italian people around, and the one about our love for pizza and pasta is definitely one in the top ten list of them.

By the way, yesterday my girlfriend Silvia and I had dinner in a nice pizzeria in Padova: their pizzas are very good and probably the biggest that you can find in town... have a look at the picture Silvia took: how could we dislike this?


I'd like to publicly state here that, even if I'm Italian (and I like pizza):
  • I'm not a latin lover (I'm a rather shy person)
  • I don't dress with particularly smart clothes
  • I'm not fat
  • I don't have many children (I have no children at all)
  • I'm not religious (nor I think that St. Gennaro could play any special role in my life)
  • I don't play mandolin
  • I don't have affiliations with mafia

Thursday, March 09, 2006

About the supposed quality of proprietary software

Recently a client running a big and expensive ERP system (released by big ERP vendor) asked me some help to fix a buggy procedure. So I had a chance to dig into the source code - a Java class - and see from the inside how things have been implemented.

Here is a significant code snippet, but all the proprietary code in that file - a rather big class containing more than 1000 lines of code - was implemented according to the same style:

// I have changed all the names of the variables and methods
// to avoid copyright issues; however the names of the variables
// and methods reflect the original names i.e. they are totally meaningless.
// VAR45 and VAR62 are two boolean variables
// the following method returns a boolean value and,
// if an error occurs, it sets the VAR45 to true
(!( ! VAR45 ));

if( ! VAR62 ){
// Do something here...
} else {
// Do something here...

Just in a few lines the (salaried) developers succeeded in a very difficult task: they have violated mostly all of the Java coding conventions (variable and method names, indentation, the total lack of comments etc...) .
But most of all it's amazing to see how exception handling is managed (maybe try/catch clauses were not good enough for them) and how the (poor) boolean values are treated: my favourite expression is (!( ! VAR45 )).

As a committer of an open source project - OFBiz - I often review patches submitted by other developers: it's true, sometimes the code freely contributed contains some issues... but I've never seen something like this, really.

A Sliver of the WTC in Padua

The first european memorial for the World Trade Center has been presented in September 11, 2005 in Padua (Italy), the city where I live.

The Monument, located in the central area of the ancient city, near Cappella degli Scrovegni, is called "Memory and Light" and has been designed by the american architect Daniel Libeskind.
This is what Libeskind said to explain his work:
"The light of Liberty shines through the Book of History. This Book is open to the memory of the heroes of September 11, 2001".
In fact, the 'book' is luminous and it includes a section of a World Trade Center beam, salvaged after the 9/11 disaster.

The beam was donated from the United States to the region of Venice, and then to the city of Padua to thank it for the support provided during these days.

I 'm not really competent to say if the monument is really a work of art or not and if it is a good fit for the landscape of Padua.
However I'm getting to like it since I pass near the monument every day (two times a day) when I go to work by bike.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Open Source: a revolution in business, a revolution in life?

Thanks to Open Source Software, during the last three years the (family) company in which I work, Tau Informatica srl, has gradually changed its business activities: even if the services we provide are almost the same (i.e. ERP business consulting and software development), the way our business is carried on is completely different.

Now we are actively involved in the Open For Business Project, OFBiz, an open source enterprise automation software project: in fact I'm one of the members of OFBiz PMC.
During the last three years we have put a lot of effort to add to OFBiz the features needed by manufacturing firms, that are our main focus, (a lot of work still needs to be done) but now we are very happy of how our business is evolving and growing. We are sure that OFBiz is going to be one of our best bets/investments.

Before the switch to OFBiz, our services were based on DOMUS, our proprietary ERP system (for the iSeries platform). Somehow or other, DOMUS used to condition our decisions and strategies and limit our horizons, for example:
  • from a technological point of view we were strictly tied to one vendor: our employers were all RPG programmers, the hardware/softwares needed to run it were all delivered by IBM.
  • from a geographic point of view we were tied to one region, the north-east of Italy: all the clients and contacts were all here (with some remarkable exceptions)
As you can imagine the costs were also very high for a small software company and so I've convinced Mario (my father/boss) to gradually move to the open source software and to OFBiz.

Now the maintenance costs are lower (no more employers, even if sometimes we hire good developers on a per-project basis), we have the chance to play a role in several interesting international projects, we share code, ideas, plans with a big community composed by clever persons from all over the World.

Moreover, as an unexpected side effect we have realized that things are moving in the direction that the physical place in which we are and operate is no more so important: thanks to the way an open source project like OFBiz is managed and thanks to technologies such as SVN, Jira, VoIP, VNC, VPN etc... we are currently doing demos, contacting clients, managing and deploying projects remotely thru the Internet; we have never met face to face with many of our clients or partners.

Things are changing at the point that, during the last months, the dream of spending a part of the year in a beautiful exotic place (while continuing to work on OFBiz based projects) is attracting me a lot and it's becoming much more real as days pass.

At that point, OFBiz will be not only a revolution in business, but a revolution in my life.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ghibellines in Florence

I am a supporter of Fiorentina, the football team of Florence, and yesterday, as usual, I went there (a 220 km drive from Padova, the city in which I live) for the football match: Fiorentina vs Siena.

Florence is the main city of Tuscany, while Siena is one of the small medieval cities in the beautiful country of Tuscany.

During the Middle Ages, Florence and Siena were hostile cities: in the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, Florence was Guelf and Siena was Ghibelline.

Several centuries have passed since then (the Battle of Montaperti, in which the two cities clashed, was fought on September 4, 1260) but the two cities have not forgotten their history.

In fact, the football match was very harsh and Fiorentina's supporters showed the banner in the picture to the visitors from Siena; the banner says:

"Ieri schiavi Ghibellini,
Oggi solo contadini!"
That in English sounds like (but the rhyme is lost):

"Yesterday Ghibellines slaves,
Today just country folks!"
For the ones interested, Fiorentina won the match (2-1) thanks to a goal of Pazzini during the last minute of the match: there was an explosion of joy at the stadium... Ghibellini will be slaves of Florence for another year.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Different languages, same idioms

It's interesting to discover that many idioms, that I believed to be specific of my language (I'm Italian), are used in other countries/languages as well.
The funny thing is that, even if the meaning is exactly the same, they are often phrased out in a very similar way, but with slight and amusing differences.

For example, a few days ago, in a mail from a guy from the United States, there was a sentence like this:
"to kill two birds with one stone"
Well, here in Italy, we use a very similar idiom to express this concept (i.e. to reach two goals with one effort):
"prendere due piccioni con una fava"
that in English could be translated:
"to catch two pigeons with one bean"
What to say... I must admit that I prefer this idom in the Italian version: I am for animal rights and I think that only a bad guy would kill birds with a stone but... yeah, also the guy that catches them with a bean is probably ill-intentioned.