My CJUG History

As part of my site changes, I am getting rid of my pages about CJUG, the Chicago Java Users Group. I will post about my time with CJUG, as well as list some of the technologies/projects/frameworks that were interesting, with an emphasis on the ones that are still maintained and used.

I also had posts from the old CJUG blog. But now many of the links are dead, and many people are doing completely different things, so I will just put it all on disk and send those posts to the void.

This post will give my history with CJUG, and later I will post about the technologies that were presented which look interesting and I think are still maintained. There is also a big chunk about why I do not like Scala; I have been thinking about writing a post about why I do not like Scala, and this felt like a good a time as any.

I lived in Chicago for 14 years. For about 12 of those I was going to CJUG, as an attendee, sometimes as a presenter. For two years I was CJUG president.

The location changed over time. Before I ran things, some were held in the AT & T building (which is now the Franklin Center), the Bank of America building at 231 South LaSalle (which is now the Central Standard Building), and for a time various buildings at Loyola University. Loyola is about seven miles north of the Loop in Rogers Park and Edgewater. Attendance went down when the group moved there.

I am not too clear why the location changed up to Loyola. I know that one of the board members was on the CS faculty at Loyola, and he reserved rooms for us. One difference between Chicago and Austin is that Chicago feels like it has a center in the Loop; not just geographically, but culturally and financially as well. The Capitol is in the center of Austin, yet there is not as much concentration of businesses and jobs in that area as there is in Chicago in the Loop (granted, COVID may have changed things). A lot of people who worked in the Loop live outside the city and take the train to and from work. Going a few miles north and then coming back is just not convenient. (See Note 1 below.)

After a while I started to lose respect for our professor. He said we should drop Java and focus on Scala. I never really liked Scala, either the language or the community. It relies way too much on symbols; it looks like a cat walked across your keyboard. Scala is proof that while most things are more pleasant to do in Java than they are in C, Perl is not one of them. It has the syntactical elegance of Perl, with the simplicity and focus of C++ (that statement is both literal and sarcastic at the same time). I think that like C++, Scala is a multi-paradigm language that most of its users should not be using (or better yet, never invented). The people that seem to use it well are those who stick to a small subset of features; most developers do not do this and instead use Scala as a chance to prove they are smarter than everyone else, and in the end making life more difficult.

I never liked the Scala community in general. I have gotten along with a couple of Scala advocates. I like and respect Dean Wampler (he’s not just a developer, he’s a photographer and has a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics). And how can anyone hate Daniel Spiewak? (If you have Daniel Spiewak on speed-dial, none of these criticisms apply to you.)

The overall Scala community always struck me as condescending, and generally wrong. Scala people love to go around and tell us they are sooooo much smarter than everybody else, and Scala was going to replace Java, and we were all just too dumb to see it, and using all the symbols was so much better, and if all the punctuation looked like line noise, well, again we were all just not smart enough to get it. And did they fail to mention that it is functional? And that anything functional in Java could only have come from Scala, because until our lord and savior Martin Odersky walked the earth nobody ever understood functional programming.

(I never thought Dean Wampler was talking down to anyone, and Daniel Spiewak is too busy moving objects with his mind to say an unkind word about anyone.)

The Scala community can be split into three groups (or kinds, if you will):

  1. People who realize that using all of it is a bad idea, limit themselves to a subset of Scala, and generally have success.
  2. People who try to use as much of it as they can to show how smart they are, and look down upon the rest of the world, including Scala devs in group number 1.
  3. People who started in group number 2 a few years ago, and found out the hard way that not only was group number 1 using Scala correctly, but maybe the Scala critics were right and it really is a mess.

Pro tip for life: Never say that people WILL do something whether they like it or not, or whether they realize it or not. You can say you think people SHOULD do something, or you wish they would. But then, most Scala people are not that bright. Scala never went anywhere. And sometime around Scala 3, Odersky said he was going to simplify Scala. The Scala community again congratulated themselves for Odersky’s brilliance, oblivious to the fact that this move meant the critics were correct. And as far as functional programming goes, while I don’t know about the relationships between the big names in the Java community, I know that Guy L. Steele, Jr has been working on Java for a couple of decades. He was there before Odersky, and is still there. Scheme was basically his PhD thesis. If there was any smack being laid down, Steele explained reality to Odersky, not the other way around. (If there are going to be Chuck Norris facts about anyone in CS, Steele is a top contender.)

Scala is like the first two chapters of the Book of Job. It’s like God said, “What if we made a language as cluttered as Perl, with a community as arrogant as Haskell?”, and Satan said, “Hold my beer.”

So this bozo professor said we should ditch a language everybody uses for one that nobody uses. Like a small child, he thought it was the future because HE liked it. There were a couple of issues. One was that I was getting emails from people (admittedly, a lot of companies pitching products) asking if they could speak at CJUG. Meanwhile, the Scala group was struggling to find material. I was on the mailing list for a while, and most months Deal Wampler would send a message a week before the meeting and say if nobody had anything to present, then he would cancel the meeting. So the second issue is why steal what little Scala oxygen there was from the pre-existing Scala group?

The day I was appointed president we had a presentation at Loyola. For some reason, our reservation was not for one room for the whole period, as it usually was, but split between two rooms. In two different buildings. People were not happy about having to go to a different building halfway through. The final straw was when we had a room reserved, and while this room had one of the largest stand-alone projector screens I had ever seen, it had no projector. I did not have the professor’s number, and there were no students attending. Since neither I nor the speaker were affiliated with Loyola, we could not get a projector. The presenter was Damodar Chetty, and he did very well under the circumstances. Maybe the guy has been cursing me ever since, but at the time he was very gracious.

I posted to the JUG Leaders list for advice on how to handle this in the future. Someone said one thing to do is get the speaker’s notes ahead of time and be ready to print out copies or copy the file from a thumb drive. Another one of those brilliant and practical ideas that never occurs to you when you really need it. My other solution was to find a location in the Loop.

We had a few presentations at the headquarters of Thoughtworks in the Aon Center. This improved both attendance and morale. At least one presenter hosted their talk at the Merchandise Mart. At some point someone put me in touch with a guy who worked at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and we started having presentations at The Merc. That was the best location. Close enough to the Loop for the hipsters, and close enough to Union Station for the suburban dads. We had meetings on the third Tuesday of the month. All I had to do was see if the presenter could be there on that day, and call my contact at CME. He would reserve the room and order food once I had a count of the people. Some months I had multiple people wanting to speak, and some months I had to scrape something together myself. With regards to content, running a group is like living paycheck to paycheck.

After the Great Recession, I was let go from my job. Bank Of America lost billions after they bought Countywipe, and they decided to try to make it back by getting rid of me and a few thousand other people who had done everything they asked us to do. (Life pro-tip number two: Never buy anything from a guy who looks like a bizarre comic book character; see here and here for comparison.) I got a job with a startup that only lasted a year. Then I learned Rails. I tried to get a job with a particular firm in Chicago, but after a few months, the CEO said no. I needed to find work, and I got a job in Austin. I had to resign from CJUG rather suddenly. But from what I can tell it is doing pretty well these days.

There was also a CJUG West that met in Schaumburg. I never attended those meetings. As far as I know, CJUG West stopped around 2008.

You’re welcome.

Note 1: I am not clear on what the office use stats are for Chicago post-COVID. I still get a few emails from organizations in Chicago. One mentioned that tech companies are starting to move into the Old Post Office building.

Image from the Theodore Psalter, a 9th-century manuscript housed in the British Library, assumed allowed under public domain.

 

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