struts module ClassCastException

If you get this exceptions like this:

2004-07-21 15:35:06 action: null
        at org.apache.struts.action.ActionServlet.initModulePlugIns(ActionServle
        at org.apache.struts.action.ActionServlet.init(
        at javax.servlet.GenericServlet.init(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardWrapper.loadServlet(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardWrapper.load(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardContext.loadOnStartup(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardContext.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.ContainerBase.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardHost.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.ContainerBase.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardEngine.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardService.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.core.StandardServer.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.startup.Catalina.start(
        at org.apache.catalina.startup.Catalina.execute(
        at org.apache.catalina.startup.Catalina.process(
        at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke0(Native Method)
        at sun.reflect.NativeMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
        at sun.reflect.DelegatingMethodAccessorImpl.invoke(
        at java.lang.reflect.Method.invoke(
        at org.apache.catalina.startup.Bootstrap.main(

2004-07-21 15:35:06 StandardWrapper[/yourmodule:action]: Marking servlet action as unavailable
2004-07-21 15:35:06 StandardContext[/yourmodule]: Servlet /yourmodule threw load() exception

and you’re using struts with modules, make sure that all of the classes referenced in all of the module-level struts-config.xml files are in the classpath of Tomcat.

OJB and object caching

I’m working on a project with ObJectRelationalBridge 1.0RC4. This release is a year old, but has suited our needs up to now, but now I’ve a couple of gripes.

1. The caching online documentation doesn’t apply to my version. Hey, RC4 isn’t the latest and greatest, so that’s fair enough, but it would be nice if it was clear to which version the documentation applied. Once I realized (through a xerces exception) that this was the case, I was able to download the correct version and view that documentation locally. But what if I’d been using rc1, which doesn’t appear to be downloadable anymore? Perhaps I could get documentation from CVS, but this just shows that you really should keep virgin downloads of your external dependencies (code, documentation, whatever) for future reference. Would it be overkill to spider the software’s website when you make the decision to go with a particular version, and store that off somewhere?

2. In OJB 1.0RC4, object caching doesn’t seem to work (using the ObjectCacheDefaultImpl class). Not too much useful on the mailing list but I did a bit of sleuthing on my own. P6Spy is a slick java application that decorates any JDBC driver, writing all the statements that clients are making to a log file, then passing those statements on through to the driver. Installation on tomcat was very easy, and it was enlightening to see what OJB had been up to under the covers: going back to the database to recreate a user object, even though ObjectCacheDefaultImpl has no timeout for cached objects.

I’ll probably update the project to the newly released OJB 1.0.0 (don’t those numbers strike fear into your heart? I suppose after 7 release candidates over more than a year, 1.0.0 should be pretty solid) and see if object caching works.

Book Review: How to Lie with Statistics

How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrel Huff, should be required reading for everyone. The cachet of numbers are used all the time in modern society. Usually to end arguments–after all, who can argue with “facts”? Huff shows how the same set of numbers can be tweaked to show three different outcomes, depending on where you start and what you use. The fundamental lesson I learned from this book is that mathematical calculation involves a whole set of conditions, and any number derived from such a calculation is meaningless without understanding those conditions.

He also mentions that colleagues have told him that the flurry of meaningless statistics is due to incompetence–he dispatches this argument with a simple query: “Why, then, do the numbers almost always favor the person quoting them?” Huff also provides five questions (not unlike the five d’s of dodgeball) for readers to ask, when confronted with a statistic:

1. Who says so?

2. How does he know?

3. What’s missing?

4. Did somebody change the subject?

5. Does it make sense?

All this is wrapped up in a book with simple examples (no math beyond arithmetic, really) and quaint 1950s prose. In addition humor runs from the beginning (the dedication is “To my wife with good reason”) to the end (on page 135, Huff says “Almost anybody can claim to be first in something if he is not too particular what it is”). This book is well worth a couple hours of your time.

“How To Lie With Statistics” at Amazon.

More on the difficulty of tuning the JVM

Here’s a great overview of the JVM memory model (for all of Sun’s JVMs, including the latest changes). I find it intensely interesting that he brushes over what, for me, is the most complicated part of any web application tuning–testing. He outlines a process for initially sizing the various compartments of the JVM heap (for versions 1.4 and below), and then says: ‘The [resizing] process continues by “testing and tweaking” until things look good.’

Wow. Talk about waving your hands. I did some testing of a web application a few months ago, but when I presented the results, I was very clear that they were guidelines only. I didn’t have the resources or ingenuity to replicate the behavior of real users on real clients. A few years ago, I was part of a project that ran aground on this same rock, costing the company I was working for plenty of money. Using software to imitate user behavior is hard. A short list of the differences between software and users:

1. Users get distracted–by popups, their kids, etc. Software, not so much.
2. Users are connecting via a variety of methods, with a wide range of quality levels–modems, broadband.
3. Users don’t use applications in the way developers intended. The testing software, on the other hand, is programmed by developers, who naturally have it use the application in the way they intended

The adaptive memory model for the next JDK (wow, now it’s J2SE 5–Sun pulled another Solaris reversioning trick) that the author outlines might make the “tweaking” portion of his hand waving, err, I mean tuning, easier but leaves the “testing” as difficult as ever.

An open letter to Climbing magazine

Here’s a letter to Climbing magazine. I’m posting it here because I think that the lessons Climbing is learning, especially regarding the Internet, are relevant to every print magazine.

I just wanted to address some of the issues raised in the Climbing July 2004 Editorial, where you mention that you’ve cut back on advertising as well as touching on the threat to Climbing from website forums. First off, I wanted to congratulate you on adding more content. If you’re in the business of delivering readers to advertisers you want to make sure that the readers are there. It doesn’t matter how pretty the ads are–Climbing is read for the content. I’m sure it’s a delicate balance between (expensive) content that readers love and (paid) advertisements which readers don’t love; I wish you the best in finding that balance.

I also wanted to address forums, and the Internet in general. I believe that websites and email lists are fantastic resources for finding beta, discussing local issues, and distributing breaking news. Perhaps climbing magazines fulfilled that need years ago, but the cost efficiencies of the Internet, especially when amateurs provide free content, can be hard to beat. But, guess what? I don’t read Climbing for beta, local issues, or breaking news. I read Climbing for the deliberate, beautiful articles and images. This level of reporting, in-depth and up-close, is difficult to find on the web. Climbing should continue to play to the strengths of a printed magazine–quality, thoughtful, deliberate articles and images; don’t ignore breaking news, but realize that’s not the primary reason subscribers read it. I don’t see how any magazine can compete with the interactivity of the Internet, so if Climbing wants to foster community, perhaps it should run a mailing list, or monitor rec.climbing (and perhaps print some of the choice comments). I see you do run a message board on–there doesn’t look to be much activity–perhaps you should promote it in the magazine?

Now for some concrete suggestions for improvement. One of my favorite sections in Climbing is ‘Tech Tips.’ I’ve noticed this section on the website–that’s great. But, since this information is timeless, and I’ve only been a subscriber for 3 years, I was wondering if you could reprint older Tech Tips, to add cheap, useful content to Climbing. Also, I understand the heavy emphasis on the modern top climbers–these are folks that have interesting, compelling stories to tell, which are interesting around the world. Still, it’d be nice to see ‘normal’ climbers profiled as well, since most of us will never make a living climbing nor establish 5.15 routes, but all climbers have stories to share. And a final suggestion: target content based on who reads your magazine. Don’t use just a web survey, as that will be heavily tilted in favor of the folks who visit your website (sometimes no data is better than skewed data). Instead find out what kind of climbers read your magazine in a number of ways: a web survey, a small survey on subscription cards, paper surveys at events where Climbing has presence, etc. This demographic data will let you know if you should focus on the latest sick highball problem, the latest sick gritstone headpoint or the latest sick alpine ascent.

Finally, thanks for printing a magazine worth caring about.

Friendster re-written in PHP

Friendster is still alive and kicking, and according to Salon, it’s adding 200,000 users every week. In the past, I’ve commented about their business model and I still don’t see any resolution of those problems (lest we forget, taking VC money is not a business model!). But, I’m not here to write about the business model of Friendster today.

I check in, periodically, to Friendster to see if anyone new has joined, or added a new picture, or come up with a new catchy slogan for themselves. When I joined, it was daily, now it’s monthly. One of the things that detracted from the experience was the speed of the site. It was sloooow. Well, they’ve dealt with that–it’s now a peppy site (at least on Saturday morning). And it appears that one of the ways they did this was to switch from JSP to PHP. Wow. (Some folks noticed a while ago.) I wasn’t able to find any references comparing the relative speed of PHP and JSP, but I certainly appreciate Friendster’s new responsiveness.

Book review: The Great Divide

The Great Divide, by Stephen Pern, explores one man’s trip from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide. Now, this book explores the backbone of the USA, but the author is definitely (perhaps defiantly) English–and in many ways, from his frequent stops for tea to his sardonic wit to his idioms (biro, peg), it adds to the charm of the book. From New Mexico to Montana, Pern relates the obstacles, emotional, physical and personal, which confront him during his journey. Typically tongue-in-cheek in his prose, he also strikes true notes, especially when commenting on life in America. He lays out a succinct contrast between the New World and the Old: when confronting the lack of historic artifacts on his jounry, he muses “Life [in America] was first established, then lived. Back home [in Europe], it was the other way around.”

The logistics of supplying his 2500 mile journey were worth the read alone–his description of peanut butter rationing chimes with anyone who has backpacked with luxury foods. He also includes an appendix with much information, including suggested maps, useful equipment and obstacles encountered. should you wish to follow in his footsteps. In 1986, when he wrote the book, there was no Continental Divide Trail, although it looks like Congess designated a (still incomplete) route in 1978. Pern is also very clear when he diverges from the Divide, providing maps with small comments and textual explanations of his detours. Many of these are for good reasons–bad terrain, a hot shower, a resupply mission.

But the most interesting sections of this book was not the physical exertion nor the beauty that he described (though a picture section would have been a fantastic addition). No, in the tradition of Least Heat Moon’s ‘Blue Highways’ and Bryson’s ‘In A Sunburned Country,’ it is his interactions that really lend depth and meaning to his book. Whether it’s the innumerable breakfasts fixed for him, a surly shopkeeper in Montana, or a Navajo shepherd who can’t speak English and doesn’t understand the lifestyle of her grandchildren, Pern takes each encounter and uses it to reflect a bit of the American psyche.

All in all, this book was inspiring and well worth a read.

Trust, but verify

As I’ve mentioned previously the web lets smaller players get into the publishing arena, and we all know there are some amazing websites chock full of interesting and useful information. If you’re tired of hearing the hyperbolic claims of either presidential candidate, and want to see them debunked, check out Non-partisan and detailed examinations of ads can only help voters make an informed choice. Now, if only they had an RSS feed!

java memory management, oh my!

How much do you understand basic java? Every day I find some part of this language that I’m not aware of, or don’t understand. Some days it’s cool APIS (like JAI) but today it’s concurrency. Now, language managed memory is a feature that’s been present in the languages in which I’ve been programming since I started. I’ve looked at C and C++, but taking a job coding in those seems to me it’d be like a job with a long commute–both have obstacles keeping you from getting real work done. (I’m not alone in feeling this way.) But this thread of comments on Cameron Purdy’s blog drove home my ignorance. However, the commenters do point out several interesting articles (in particular, this article about double checked locking was useful and made my head hurt at the same time) to alleviate that. I took a class with Tom Cargill a few years back, which included his threading module, that helped a bit.

However, all these complexities are why servlets (and EJBs) are so powerful. As long as you’re careful to only use local variables, why, you shouldn’t have to worry about threading at all. That’s what you use the container for, right? And we all know that containers are bug free, right? And you’d never have to go back and find some isolated thread related defect that affected your code a maddeningly miniscule amount of time, right?

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