Before I begin with my review, it is fair to note that I had absolutely no expectation on either content, context or presentation. Based on my previous attendance at EuroOSCON my excitement for conferences was way down and to tell you the truth, if I could have come up with a good excuse to not go I probably would have used it. My faith in conferences was at an all time low. As they say though, when you are at the bottom the only way is up. The NL-JUG JFall conference has completely restored my faith in conferences proving the old adage that content is indeed king.
The conference itself was hosted in a very nice hotel with good conference facilities. The NL-JUG leader, Klaasjan Tukker, introduced the conference to a room full of over 660 attendees. He told me the night before that the NL-JUG itself has over 2,000 members, making it probably one of the biggest groups in Europe. There was no real theme to the conference in terms of content, it was a little bit of everything, with no "helloworld" type of sessions. The 27 sessions that were available covered topics from the Enterprise to the mobile right down to the embedded space, there was literally something for everyone.
Sun was the main sponsor of the event and as such had a number of sessions to themselves. Their opening keynote was delivered by Reginald Hutcherson (Head Technical Evangelist) and he gave a rather uplifting "we are the world" type of community speech. He then handed over to Simon Ritter and Angela Caicedo for the crowd pleasing oooh-aaaah demo's. Historically this is where Sun always do very well.
They illustrated a number of initiatives including digital music signatures that could then by simply listening to the style of a particular track recommend other tracks that were like it. Wasn't really convinced with the demo myself, but Simon put a good enough spin on it that you found yourself believing in the vision if nothing else. Sun also demonstrated their SPOT gadget; an all singing all dancing box of wireless sensors that could all talk to one another.
They used the SPOT device to play a game of tag with a few robots with Angela attempting to use the SPOT device strapped to a virtual reality glove to give her an interface to the 3D Desktop in true Minority Report style. Looking past some of the teething problems, it definitely illustrated potential and when we start seeing these in production in 5 years time, remember where you seen it first. Angela gave a more indepth session on SPOT later on in the morning illustrating how easy it was to write code for it and for it to communicate with other devices.
SPOT is essentially a device of sensors that runs Java natively. As expected the room was packed as people wanted to know more. Sadly the only thing I can see against hobbyists playing with this cool stuff is the price; $499 for their developers kit with only contains a couple of devices. Hopefully, mass adoption will drive the price of these units down to around the $50 mark. I think at that point we will see some serious innovation happen.
I attended another Sun talk given by Brian Leonard on midlet development in the enterprise. He done a very hands-on talk with minimal slides and lots of Netbean action. He highlighted the problems of developing midlets for a wide range of handsets and illustrated how Netbeans was helping in this management. Let's just say the good old #ifdef directive is back!
One of the surprises at NL-JUG was the pressence of booths. I had not expected this and nor did I expect the quality of booths. Sun, Adobe, Logica, accenture, TomTom, Centric to name but a few had a good pressence with more than just a table. We had the wonderful giveaways and booth babes giving out stuff to the delegates. I felt an atmosphere here that I have not felt since the early days of JavaOne. Java was definitely riding high again, and NL-JUG proved that.
Lunch was great and plenty of time was given for meeting various people. My only real complaint was the name badges were a little on small side, thus making it difficult to spot who was who. But that's such a tiny niggle.
Klaasjan picked up after lunch by bringing everyone back into the main keynote hall and doing various NL-JUG stuff. He did a great a wheel-of-fortune game with all the attendee names, that then won various giveaways. Simple but effective. Adrian Colyer opened up the afternoon sessions with a keynote on the Vocabulary of Enterprise Applications. I don't think the room was expecting what it received, which was essentially using AOP with Spring in a very abstract manner. But Adrian is a very engaging speaker and held their attention with a very entertaining talk. The one takeaway that he gave us was that objects shouldn't be represented as squares or circles; they have actually been triangles all this time! Very funny.
I then went to Simon Ritter's talk on Java Knobs. This was basically a talk on all the performance tuning switches one could pass to the JVM. Over 400 -XX and -X options exist and they are one of the most poorly documented areas of the Java spectrum. He took us through many of the common ones, illustrating cause and effect. I did spend time with Simon at the dinner the night before and quized a lot on this. We have a mutual friend in terms of Kirk Pepperdine who constantly surprises me how the JVM can be tweeked.
One of the stories that Simon highlighted in his talk was a bank, that simply couldn't tolerate any pause whatsoever when the GC ran. So they increased the memory to 10GB and then after the days trading would let the GC run which may take up to minutes to complete. So sometimes the answers to some of the most complicated problems is wonderful simple.
I caught the end of a talk on Seam integration as I was doing some tweeks to my own talk. Again, very hands on with lots of in-session coding and demo'ing. The only way to do it! It inspired me with the confidence to redo my demo's to be more hands-on and it worked far better.
The NL-JUG JFall conference was a complete surprise to me, a wonderful program put together by people that actually know what their talking about in terms of technology. The quality of the sessions were beyond the 'helloworld' level which was so refreshing.
I would recommend this one conference to anyone in the Java field and I am looking forward to their JSpring conference next year.
Travel-tip: I wouldn't recommend getting on a dutch train without a ticket. The station machine didn't accept credit-cards, so I jumped on thinking I could pay on the train. You can, but with a 35euro fine! I didn't have this money on me, so I had to do a bit of sweet talking to remain on the train. Fortunately the lady was very understanding after I promised her I would leave her wonderful country as soon as possible! I wasn't intentional fare-dodging and did indeed buy a ticket in Utrecht on my arrival.