Wednesday Sep 26, 2012

Talking JavaOne with Rock Star Simon Ritter

Oracle’s Java Technology Evangelist Simon Ritter is well known at JavaOne for his quirky and fun-loving sessions, which, this year include:

  • CON4644 -- “JavaFX Extreme GUI Makeover” (with Angela Caicedo on how to improve UIs in JavaFX)
  • CON5352 -- “Building JavaFX Interfaces for the Real World” (Kinect gesture tracking and mind reading)
  • CON5348 -- “Do You Like Coffee with Your Dessert?” (Some cool demos of Java of the Raspberry Pi)
  • CON6375 -- “Custom JavaFX Charts: (How to extend JavaFX Chart controls with some interesting things)

I recently asked Ritter about the significance of the Raspberry Pi, the topic of one of his sessions that consists of a credit card-sized single-board computer developed in the UK with the intention of stimulating the teaching of basic computer science in schools.

“I don't think there's one definitive thing that makes the RP significant,” observed Ritter, “but a combination of things that really makes it stand out. First, it's the cost: $35 for what is effectively a completely usable computer. OK, so you have to add a power supply, SD card for storage and maybe a screen, keyboard and mouse, but this is still way cheaper than a typical PC. The choice of an ARM processor is also significant, as it avoids problems like cooling (no heat sink or fan) and can use a USB power brick.  Combine these two things with the immense groundswell of community support and it provides a fantastic platform for teaching young and old alike about computing, which is the real goal of the project.”

He informed me that he’ll be at the Raspberry Pi meetup on Saturday (not part of JavaOne). Check out the details here.

JavaFX Interfaces
When I asked about how JavaFX can interface with the real world, he said that there are many ways.

“JavaFX provides you with a simple set of programming interfaces that can create complex, cool and compelling user interfaces,” explained Ritter. “Because it's just Java code you can combine JavaFX with any other Java library to provide data to display and control the interface. What I've done for my session is look at some of the possible ways of doing this using some of the amazing hardware that's available today at very low cost. The Kinect sensor has added a new dimension to gaming in terms of interaction; there's a Java API to access this so you can easily collect skeleton tracking data from it. Some clever people have also written libraries that can track gestures like swipes, circles, pushes, and so on. We use these to control parts of the UI. I've also experimented with a Neurosky EEG sensor that can in some ways ‘read your mind’ (well, at least measure some of the brain functions like attention and meditation).  I've written a Java library for this that I include as a way of controlling the UI. We're not quite at the stage of just thinking a command though!”

Here Comes Java Embedded
And what, from Ritter’s perspective, is the most exciting thing happening in the world of Java today? “I think it's seeing just how Java continues to become more and more pervasive,” he said. “One of the areas that is growing rapidly is embedded systems.  We've talked about the ‘Internet of things’ for many years; now it's finally becoming a reality. With the ability of more and more devices to include processing, storage and networking we need an easy way to write code for them that's reliable, has high performance, and is secure. Java fits all these requirements. With Java Embedded being a conference within a conference, I'm very excited about the possibilities of Java in this space.”

Check out Ritter’s sessions or say hi if you run into him.

Originally published on

Monday Oct 17, 2011

Interfacing with the Interface: JavaFX 2.0, Wiimote, Kinect, and More

Oracle’s Java Technology Evangelist Simon Ritter, one of the most fun-loving Java developers I know, with a long history of JavaOne gadgetry, gave a session (25011) at JavaOne 2011 on Wednesday afternoon showing how “open source APIs for the Kinect, the Wiimote combined with a tilt-compensated compass, a head-mounted stereoscopic display, and some old Sun SPOTs can build a truly immersive application.” The large audience appeared immersed throughout the session in Ritter's colorful and clearly delineated demos.

Simon RitterHe explained that the way we interact with computers is rapidly changing and that the days of the keyboard and mouse are gone. (Maybe so, but I'm sitting here using a keyboard and mouse.) And with his usual dramatic flair, Ritter invited attendees to behold the rise of something he calls the “gestural interface”.

The presentation used the latest JavaFX 2.0 "pure Java" implementation and began with an overview of the different components being used and explained how they are all brought together to enable the user to interact with interfaces in ways never before possible. Building an interface with the new JavaFX 2.0, Simon pointed out, is a continuation of the JavaFX product line, which is now a Java API with no scripting language and most APIs ported across while features such as binding and animation have required more thought. JavaFX now embraces more web technologies and enables the use of CSS for all JavaFX controls and a web specification for Drag-and-Drop. Also, developers use Scenegraph instead of DOM. He pointed to both pro’s and con’s of using JavaFX with gestural interfaces. On the plus side, it has built-in features such as data binding and animations, is a relatively simple API, and is able to build rich, visually appealing interfaces. On the negative side, JavaFX is currently limited to a 2D environment. The engineering team is currently working on 3D support.

He contrasted this with jMonkey Engine (jME), a game engine made especially for modern 3D development, written purely in Java and consisting of a collection of libraries that has game engine facilities and a full physics engine, but is hard to program and focuses on games and not generic interfaces. Ritter proceeded to demonstrate how to use the Nintendo Wiimote with a Java interface. The Wiimote communicates using a Bluetooth stack that needs to support L2CAP, has JSR-82 Java Bluetooth API implementation plus Wiimote-specific Java APIs (IR sensors, accelerometer, etc), most of which is free and open source.

He then presented a demo making use of the Sun Spot controller, a gyro sensor for precise rotation data, three bend sensors for finger movement for head tracking and data gloves, hand and head tracking sensors and hardware and more.

This followed with a demo using the Kinect Sensor with Java for 3D sensing. Not to be lost are his larger points: Java is still a really cool and powerful language. It is easy to interface with exotic hardware using free and open source libraries to build interesting applications using modern hardware.

After a brief Q&A, Simon -- as he always does -- implored attendees to be inspired and go build their own FUN stuff.


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