Daniel Compton

The personal blog of Daniel Compton - Projects

On Abstraction

Almost two years ago, there was a Github issue on reagent (a ClojureScript React wrapper), suggesting that Preact be added as a substitute for React. I wrote up a fairly long comment about why I didn’t think this was a great idea (at least not immediately). React’s recent announcement of the new hooks feature made me think about it again. I’ve republished it here with a few edits for context and time.


Introduction

In principle, I’m not opposed to the idea of Reagent using Preact. It has some cool features and I like that it is small (although in comparison to the total compiled size of a normal CLJS app it’s probably a wash). If Preact worked 100% out of the box with Reagent with no code changes required then I would have no issues with someone swapping out the React dependency for a Preact one and calling it a day. If there are only a few minor tweaks to Reagent required to pass the tests, then again I don’t really have any issues with that. I suspect that even if you have 100% of the tests passing, there will still be issues, as Reagent was built around React, and may not have tests that would cover the difference in behaviour between React and Preact.

Abstraction

It looks like it may not be a pure lift and shift to support Preact. If that’s the case then we run into a bigger issue: abstraction. Reagent was written and built around the ideas and in the context of React. There are assumptions (probably tens or hundreds) built around React’s API and possibly implementation details too.

Adding abstraction adds a large cost because you can no longer program against a concrete API and implementation, you now have to consider two. There are three numbers in computer science, 0, 1, and many. We would be moving from 1 to many, and that takes work.

An aside: recently at work, we were looking at moving a legacy system from only supporting dates in the past to also be able to support dates in the future. This should be straightforward right? We talked to the programmers responsible for it and they couldn’t guarantee that it would work, nor whether supporting future dates would be easy or hard. In the building of that (or any) system, hundreds of simplifying assumptions are made around the context that the system is going to be built in.

It is a very common pattern to have different backends and I don’t see any downsides to it.

I can’t think of a single example of a system with multiple backends that didn’t have any downsides to it, e.g. ORMs, HTML/CSS/JS, Java. There may be some, but they would be the exceptions that prove the rule. Everything has a cost, the question is whether there is a benefit that outweighs the cost. It is much harder to remove something from software than to add it, which is why we should be certain that the benefits outweigh the costs.

While Preact strives to be API-compatible with React, portions of the interface are intentionally not included. The most noteworthy of these is createClass() … https://preactjs.com/guide/switching-to-preact#3-update-any-legacy-code

Reagent currently uses createClass. There are workaround options provided, but this is an example of some of the API differences between React and Preact which you need extra compatibility layers to support. Do we know if the compatibility layer works 100% correctly?

A possible future if Preact support is merged now

As a thought experiment, let’s assume that Preact is in Reagent with some kind of compatibility shim. Preact already has several performance optimisations that people can take advantage of:

customizable update batching, optional async rendering, DOM recycling and optimized event handling via Linked State. - (from Preact homepage)

Wouldn’t you want to be able to take advantage of those in your application? I certainly would. Now to do so, you may run into issues because the compatibility shim layer that was written was encoded around default assumptions of React, and they may not apply to Preact. Do we have to rework the shim layer, or lower level Reagent API stuff? Who is going to do that work? Who is going to review it and merge it?

Let’s consider the reverse. Perhaps in some new React version, Facebook comes out with a new API which is faster or better suited to Reagent’s style of rendering, so we want to switch to that [since writing this they came out with Hooks. These may be added to Preact also, but this isn’t certain and neither is the time-frame]. However that new model may not work with Preact. Again, we’re in a bit of a pickle: Preact users want to be carried along with Reagent and get the benefits of new Reagent work, but it may not be easy or possible to support the new API for them. Now what?

Consider everyday development on Reagent. Reagent’s source code is built around a very detailed understanding of React and is highly optimised. If Preact was supported too, then developers would probably need to gain an understanding of Preact too.

At the moment, Preact has one main contributor, it has been around for 1.5 years. React has many contributors. I’d estimate there are 100+ people with very deep knowledge of React. It’s been around (in public form) for 3.5 years. In general, the JavaScript community does not have a reputation for long-term support of projects. What happens if development slows/stops on Preact and the compatibility layer isn’t kept up to date? It is much harder to remove something than it is to add it. Who decides when/if to remove Preact from Reagent at a future date?

These are all hypotheticals, but I hope this demonstrates that the extra abstraction provided by supporting two VDOM layers doesn’t come for free. At the very least, it consumes extra brain cycles when testing and developing Reagent, extra support and documentation costs from users wanting to use one or the other, as well as extra indirection when running and debugging apps using Reagent.

The Innovators Dilemma

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading “The Innovators Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen. One of the key points he makes in that book is the difference between integrated and modular products and when to develop each kind.

CHRISTENSEN: When the functionality of a product or service overshoots what customers can use, it changes the way companies have to compete. When the product isn’t yet good enough, the way you compete is by making better products. In order to make better products, the architecture of the product has to be interdependent and proprietary in character.

In the early years of the mainframe computer, for example, you could not have existed as an independent contract manufacturer of mainframe computers, because the way they were made depended upon the art that was employed in the design. The way you designed them depended upon the art that you would employ in manufacturing. There were no rules of design for manufacturing.

Similarly, you could not have existed as an independent maker of logic circuitry or operating systems or core memory because the design of those subsystems was interdependent. The reason for the interdependence was that the product wasn’t good enough. In every product generation, the engineers were compelled by competition to fit the pieces of the system together in a more efficient way to wring the maximum performance possible out of the technology that was available at the time. This meant that you had to do everything in order to do anything. When the way you compete is to make better products, there is a big competitive advantage to being integrated. … In order to compete in that way, to be fast and flexible and responsive, the architecture of the product has to evolve toward modularity. Then, because the functionality is more than good enough, you can afford to have standard interfaces; you can trade off performance to get the advantages of speed and flexibility. These standard interfaces then enable independent providers of pieces of the system to thrive, and the industry comes to be dominated by a population of specialized firms rather than integrated companies.

I would argue that we are still very much at the point where the current VDOM libraries aren’t good enough yet. They aren’t yet ready to be commoditised, and the best option is to tightly integrate.

Options from here (with some conjecture)

  1. Someone can make a PR to Reagent to add support for Preact. It will probably take a while to get merged because it is a significant change. Once it is merged and released, there will probably need to be several rounds of revisions before it is ready to go. Because Reagent moves relatively slowly, this will take a while.

    Reagent also has a large number of production users, so new releases need to be well tested and stable. Adding Preact to the mix is going to slow this down further.

  2. Someone can make a fork of Reagent (let’s say it’s called Preagent). You can run wild experimenting with what is the best way to use Preact in Preagent, take advantage of all of the great features Preact has, and have a much faster turnaround time for releasing and using it. You will be able to work out what is the right API and integration points for Preact because you have room to experiment with it, without the weight and responsibility of bringing the rest of the Reagent users along with you.

    At some point in the future, you could review merging Preagent back into Reagent, given all that you now know. You would also have the weight of evidence on your side where you can demonstrate the benefits of Preact and can show how many users want Preact. This would let you make a much better case for including Preact, give you what you want in the meantime, and likely provide a higher quality integration in the future.

    Alternatively, you may decide that Preagent is better served going its own way and integrating more closely with Preact. This is also a good option.

Abstraction is not free

The point I have been trying to drive through this post is that abstraction is not free. Over-abstraction is a common anti-pattern and it saps productivity. I had a friend who recently left a Clojure job and started a Java one. He quipped to me about how he’d forgotten what it was like to trace code through five layers of abstraction to get to the concrete implementation. As programmers, we’re trained to solve problems by adding layers of abstraction, but that isn’t always the best way to solve the problem.

Lastly, this isn’t a personal attack on you or your ideas. I’m all for innovation in ClojureScript webapps and I think that it is worth investigating Preact and how it could work in the ClojureScript ecosystem 😄. I’m not against Preact. I would consider using it if there was a measurable benefit. I’m just suggesting that the best way to go about this is probably not to integrate it into Reagent as the first step.

Announcing The REPL podcast

I sent the first newsletter for The REPL two years ago, and I have really enjoyed writing it. I’ve learnt a lot from what people have written and created to share with the Clojure community. Sometimes when I’m writing the newsletter I’ve thought “That’s fascinating, I’d love to hear more about the technical details of that”. Now I have an outlet for doing just that.

I first had the idea of producing a Clojure podcast around January 2018. I didn’t have the time for it then, but the idea kept swirling around the back of my brain. When Michael Drogalis’s Pyrostore was acquired, I wanted to hear more about the acquisition, so I contacted Michael to see if he wanted to talk about it. That became the first episode.

My goal for The REPL is to talk with people about the technical details of the projects they are working on. The Clojure community has a ton of interesting people doing really creative work with Clojure. I’ve really enjoyed talking with a bunch of people already, and I’m looking forward to talking to more of them in the future. You can find it therepl.net. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, RSS and all of the other common podcasting apps.

State of Clojure Survey 2018 Analysis

Cognitect has recently released the results of their State of Clojure Survey for 2018. For the last two Clojure survey’s, I have reviewed the free-form answers at the end of the survey and tried to summarise the zeitgeist of community feeling. I enjoy it each time, and so here’s this years analysis.

Some comments have been lightly edited for spelling, clarity, and brevity.

Error messages

Error messages have been one of the top complaints about Clojure since the surveys started, and this year they have gotten worse with the introduction of specs on core macros. I’m not the only one who has noticed this either. In 2015 Colin Fleming gave a talk on improving Clojure’s error messages with Grammars. In previous surveys there was hope that spec would be able to use this approach to improve error messages; Ben Brinckerhoff has recently shown a proof-of-concept that gives some similar (excellent) error messages in Expound.

Spec

Comments ranged from loving spec to disliking it. There were also requests for more guidance on how to apply spec to real-world use-cases and how to integrate it into whole programs.

Docs

Documentation in all forms has been another perrenial complaint but this is starting to improve. clojure.org continues to add more guides this year on Programming at the REPL and Higher Order Functions among other things. Martin Klepsch’s cljdoc holds a lot of promise to improve the state of third-party documentation, by automatically generating and publishing docs for published JARs.

Startup time

Startup time continues to be an issue for people. As serverless computing becomes more mainstream, this may end up pushing people from Clojure to ClojureScript, or elsewhere.

Marketing/adoption/staffing

There were lots of comments this year in this category. Even after 10 years, Clojure still unknown or seen as being extremely niche to many people, especially among business stakeholders. Hiring seems to be less of an issue than in years past. There is still a large contingent of programmers looking to work with Clojure in remote positions, although it’s hard to say whether this proportion is any higher than in other language communities.

Language

Language Development Process

This hasn’t changed in a long time, and I don’t see it changing in the future, but it has been persistently highlighted by many people as a big issue.

Community

By and large, people found the community welcoming, and personally I have found it to be one of the best things about working with Clojure. However there is a persistent undercurrent of eliteness from some Clojure programmers which really puts people off the language.

Libraries

More guidance on how to compose and select libraries remains a common common issue for people in this section, as well as improving the state of library documentation.

Other targets

As in previous years, there are a smattering of people asking for alternative platforms to target other than JS and the JVM. LLVM, Go, and Web Assembly all had interest from people.

Typing

Requests for static typing were down from previous years. I attribute that mostly to spec gaining wider adoption and understanding.

ClojureScript

ClojureScript continues to improve, although getting the tooling setup remains a pain point, as does integrating NPM modules. There are recent improvements on that front though, so this may not be such an issue in 12 months time. I have heard lots of good things about shadow-cljs, it seems to be a strong tool to investigate for ClojureScript usage, especially if you work with a lot of NPM modules.

Setup/tooling

Tooling on the Clojure side seems to be somewhat less of an issue this year, but setting up ClojureScript projects with all the things that you need remains an issue for many people.

Compliments

As always, the survey was dominated by positive comments. Here were some of my favourites.

Conclusion

When I went to write this years summary, I re-read the previous posts to remind myself of where we were a few years ago. While some areas have improved, I was struck by how many of the comments could have been lifted from previous years survey results. There was a worrying trend in the community and adoption sections that people perceive Clojure to be shrinking. Perception doesn’t always match reality, and it may be (as a commenter noted) that Clojure is entering the trough of disillusionment phase of the Gartner Hype Cycle. However I think there are a lot of low-hanging fruit around that could significantly improve the experience and ecosystem around Clojure without changes to the core language.

How to serve ClojureScript files in development

When I develop ClojureScript projects, I almost always use Figwheel. It’s a great tool, but sometimes my app ended up using stale files. This led to some very confusing debugging sessions. It only happened some of the time, and was always fixed after a hard refresh. I thought about just disabling the browser cache, but I didn’t like ignoring the issue. After seeing colleagues struggle with stale caching too, I decided to figure out what was going on, and fix it once and for all.

Cache-Control rules everything around me

The first thing to do was to add a Cache-Control: no-cache header to all static file responses. Despite the name, no-cache tells the browser it can cache files, but must always validate them with the server before using them. If the browser’s cached version is up-to-date, a compliant HTTP server should return a 304 Not Modified response, otherwise it serves the new file.

If you don’t provide a caching header to an HTTP response, the browser can choose its own caching behaviour. The browser’s caching heuristics are much more aggressive than you want in development, and lead to the weird caching behaviour I was seeing.

I thought this had fixed the issue, but occasionally I would still notice stale files were being used. After looking closely at the compiled output files, I made a surprising discovery.

ClojureScript copies file modification times

ClojureScript (as of March 2018) copies the last-modified date of ClojureScript source files to the compiled JavaScript target files. This is so that the compiler can detect changes to source files. JavaScript from the Closure compiler (e.g. goog.base), gets a modification time that matches the time it was compiled.

Neither of these dates are particularly useful to use as a Last-Modified date header for caching purposes.

ETags

To knock both problems on the head once and for all (hopefully), I added a CRC32 checksum based ETag for static file responses. I packaged this up in a library ring-etag-middleware so that other projects could also use it. I also removed the Last-Modified header from the Ring response, as it would bust the browser’s cache unnecessarily.

Summary

As best as I can tell, this has completely solved all of the odd caching issues that I was seeing, while still keeping the app snappy to load by reusing as much of the cache as possible. If you are serving ClojureScript files in development and not using Figwheel, I recommend you follow these three steps:

  1. Set a Cache-Control: no-cache header
  2. Add an ETag to your static file responses
  3. Remove the Last-Modified header

Adding Context to CockroachDB’s Article “Your Database Should Work Like a CDN”

I was excited this morning when I checked Hacker News and saw an article from Cockroach Labs titled “Your Database Should Work Like a CDN”. I’m a big fan of Cockroach DB and enjoy their blog posts. I clicked on this one, but came away disapointed. I don’t think it fairly contrasted Cockroach with it’s competitors, and instead made some incomplete arguments instead of selling Cockroach on it’s merits.

In this article I will analyse sections of the post and add more context where I think some was left out.

Analysis

Availability

To maximize the value of their services, companies and their CTOs chase down the elusive Five Nines of uptime

Only companies with sophisticated operations teams can seriously set an SLA for five nines. It’s doable, but comes with a heavy lift if your service is doing anything non-trivial. It’s certainly not the default position among the industry as far as I can tell. The Google SRE book has a good section on this.

For many companies the cost of moving from a single region deployment to a multi-region one is too great and doesn’t provide enough benefits. Some services don’t actually need to be available to five nines, and if not done well, moving to multi-region deployments may make your system less fault-tolerant, not more.

This is particularly crucial for your customer’s data. If your data’s only located in a single region and it goes down, you are faced with a “non-zero RPO”, meaning you will simply lose all transactions committed after your last backup.

If a whole region dropped into a sinkhole in the earth then you would lose all transactions after your last backup. However that’s not a failure scenario that we tend to worry about (although maybe we should?). Every time a major cloud provider has had a zone/region go down, data was partially/wholly unavailable during the outage, but no committed data was lost once service was restored (that I know of?).

…and Bureaucracy?

This impending legislation requires that businesses receive explicit consent from EU users before storing or even processing their data outside the EU. If the user declines? Their data must always (and only) reside within the EU. If you’re caught not complying to GDPR? You’ll face fines of either 4% of annual global turnover or €20 Million, whichever is greater.

I’m not a GPDR expert, but this seems like an incomplete summary of the GPDR rules around processing, especially as the processing rule applies only to the processing of personal data (AFAICT), and conflates consent for storing/processing personal data with storing the data outside of the EU. From article 6:

Processing shall be lawful only if and to the extent that at least one of the following applies:

a) the data subject has given consent to the processing of his or her personal data for one or more specific purposes;

b) processing is necessary for the performance of a contract to which the data subject is party or in order to take steps at the request of the data subject prior to entering into a contract;

c-f) [Public/government interest exceptions)

If you have entered into a contract with the data subject, and that data is necessary for the contract, then I think you are fine (IANAL). As far as I can tell, transfers to Third Countries are OK if there are appropriate safeguards.

This is the part of my critique that I am least confident about, I’d welcome some links confirming/rebutting this.

When you take GDPR in the context of the existing Chinese and Russian data privacy laws––which require you to keep their citizen’s data housed within their countries […]

If you follow the links in the article, you see this for China:

Does the Cybersecurity Law require my company to keep certain data in China?

[…] To that end, the Cybersecurity Law requires “critical information infrastructure” providers to store “personal information” and “important data” within China unless their business requires them to store data overseas and they have passed a security assessment. At this point, it remains unclear what qualifies as “important data,” although its inclusion in the text of the law alongside “personal data” means that it likely refers to non-personal data. […]

“Critical Information Infrastructure” providers are defined a bit more narrowly, but the law still casts a fairly wide net. […] the law names information services, transportation, water resources, and public services, among other service providers, as examples.

and this for Russia:

3.6 Generally, to transfer personal data outside the Russian Federation, the operator will have to make sure, prior to such transfer, that the rights of personal data subjects will enjoy adequate and sufficient protection in the country of destination.

Some companies will need to store data on China/Russian servers, but the laws here are far narrower than “If you have any data from a Chinese or Russian person or company, you must store it in their country”.

Managed & Cloud Databases

Managed and Cloud databases often tout their survivability because they run in “multiple zones.” This often leads users to believe that a cloud database that runs in multiple availability zones can also be distributed across the globe.

It might be an assumption you would make if you have no experience with databases, but it’s not one that I’ve ever seen a software engineer make.

There are caveats to this, of course. For example, with Amazon RDS, you can create read-only replicas that cross regions, but this risks introducing anomalies because of asynchronous replication: and anomalies can equal millions of dollars in lost revenue or fines if you’re audited.

I’m not sure how asynchronous replication lag could result in failing an audit and incurring millions of dollars of fines. I spent a few minutes trying to come up with a scenario and couldn’t. Losing revenue from users also seems speculative, I’m not really clear how this would happen.

Designing a system to run across multiple regions with asynchronous replication is certainly not trivial, but people do it every day. If they were losing millions of dollars from it, they would probably stop.

In addition, this forces all writes to travel to the primary copy of your data. This means, for example, you have to choose between not complying with GDPR or placing your primary replica in the EU, providing poor experiences for non-EU users.

Again, I don’t think GPDR requires this.

NoSQL

For example, NoSQL databases suffer from split-brain during partitions (i.e. availability events), with data that is impossible to reconcile. When partitions heal, you might have to make ugly decisions: which version of your customer’s data to you choose to discard? If two partitions received updates, it’s a lose-lose situation.

This paints all NoSQL databases with a broad brush. While some NoSQL databases are (were?) notorious for losing data, that is not inherent to NoSQL databases.

Certainly if you are using an AP NoSQL database, you need to design your application to correctly handle conflicts, use CRDT’s, or make idempotent writes. Partitions do happen, and it’s not trivial to handle them correctly, but neither is it the case that you always need to discard your customer’s data.

Sharded Relational Databases

Sharded Relational databases come in many shapes and suffer from as many different types of ailments when deployed across regions: some sacrifice replication and availability for consistency, some do the opposite.

I assume the author is referring to systems like Citus. I don’t have enough experience with systems like this to judge the assertion, but this seems fair.

Conclusion

If you do need more reliability/availability than is possible from a single region, then Cockroach is a strong option to consider. I think a far better argument for CockroachDB and against NoSQL, Replicated SQL, and Sharded Relational DBs is minimising complexity and developer time. It is possible for developers to design their application for the nuances of each of these databases, but it’s certainly not easy or cheap, especially if you want it to be correct under failure. The reason Google created Spanner (the inspiration for Cockroach) was that developers found it hard to build reliable systems with weak consistency models.

[…] It is much easier to reason about and write software for a database that supports strong consistency than for a database that only supports row-level consistency, entity-level consistency, or has no consistency guarantees at all. - Life of Cloud Spanner Reads & Writes

CockroachDB provides consistent reads and writes, supports SQL, is able to be deployed multi-region, and in any datacenter. Those are a compelling set of features. If your application can handle the latency and performance tradeoffs that it makes (which are getting better all the time), then it will let you write software against a consistent datastore without spending as much time reasoning about hard consistency problems. Cockroach is a great product, and I think it stands well on it’s merits.

How to upgrade Terraform provider plugins and modules

Since Terraform v0.10, Terraform providers are distributed separately from the Terraform binary. This lets them update at different paces, and allows a wider group of people to collaborate on the providers. This is mostly good, but it does introduce a new step for upgrading providers. It is slightly counterintuitive, but to upgrade your providers, run

terraform init -upgrade

To upgrade your modules, run

terraform get -update

Fixing Ansible error: “SSH Error: data could not be sent to remote host "127.0.0.1". Make sure this host can be reached over ssh”

I was building VM images for Google Cloud with Packer, and provisioning them with Ansible. Everything had been working in the morning, but in the afternoon one computer wasn’t working after I had upgraded Ansible with Homebrew. I was having a really tough time figuring out why Ansible and Packer were running fine on one computer, and not on the other. I was getting the following error:

googlecompute: fatal: [default]: UNREACHABLE! => {"changed": false, "msg": "SSH Error: data could not be sent to remote host \"127.0.0.1\". Make sure this host can be reached over ssh", "unreachable": true}

Investigating the error, I found it could indicate any number of problems, as Ansible is masking the underlying SSH error.

After checking the versions of Python, Ansible, and Packer on the two computers, I found one difference. On the computer that wasn’t working, when running ansible --version it had a config file listed:

$ ansible --version
ansible 2.3.2.0
  config file = /Users/<user>/.ansible.cfg
  configured module search path = Default w/o overrides
  python version = 2.7.13 (default, Dec 18 2016, 07:03:39) [GCC     4.2.1 Compatible Apple LLVM 8.0.0 (clang-800.0.42.1)]

Opening that file:

$ cat ~/.ansible.cfg
[ssh_connection]
pipelining = True

I moved that file to another location so it wouldn’t be picked up by Ansible, and after rerunning Packer a second time, got this error:

googlecompute: fatal: [default]: UNREACHABLE! => {"changed": false, "msg": "Failed to connect to the host via ssh: Warning: Permanently added '[127.0.0.1]:62684' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.\r\nReceived disconnect from 127.0.0.1 port 62684:2: too many authentication failures\r\nAuthentication failed.\r\n", "unreachable": true}

I then used the extra_arguments option for the Ansible provisioner to pass [ "-vvvv" ] to Ansible. I ran this on both computers and diffed the output. I saw that the dynamically generated key was being successfully provided on the working computer (after one other local key). On the failing computer I had many SSH keys that were being tried before I could get to the dynamic key, and I was getting locked out.

SSH servers only allow you to attempt to authenticate a certain number of times (six by default). All of your loaded keys will be tried before the dynamically generated key provided to Ansible. If you have too many SSH keys loaded in your ssh-agent, the Ansible provisioner may fail authentication.

Running ssh-add -D unloaded all of the keys from my ssh-agent, and meant that the dynamic key Packer was generating was provided first.

I hope this is helpful to someone else, and saves you from hours of debugging!

Postscript

I was very confused by seeing that my computer was trying to connect to 127.0.0.1, instead of the Google Cloud Platform VM. My best guess is that Packer/Google Cloud SDK proxies the connection from my computer to the VM.

Detecting the users’s time zone using pure JavaScript

While working on Deps I wanted to detect the user’s time zone at signup, to localise the times that I presented to them. I hunted around and found a variety of libraries that offer time zone detection, like moment.js, and jstz. However I wasn’t keen on pulling in a dependency on one of these libraries if I could help it, so I kept looking. I also considered trying to detect the user’s time zone from their IP address using something like the Maxmind GeoIP database, and that probably would have been the method I settled on.

However in my research, just before I started with IP based detection, I found that there is a newish Internationalization API, which will give you the user’s system time zone.

Intl.DateTimeFormat().resolvedOptions().timeZone
=> "Pacific/Auckland"

All current browsers support the Internationalization API including IE11. However there is a slight wrinkle to keep in mind when using it: on some older browser versions that do support Internationalization (IE <=11, and Firefox <=51), the timeZone property is set to undefined rather than the user’s actual time zone. As best as I can tell, at the time of writing (July 2017) all current browsers except for IE11 will return the user’s actual timezone. If you do need to support older browser environments then you could look at moment.js. It uses the newer Internationalization API when it is available, and falls back to other heuristics if it isn’t. For my purposes, my browser statistics show almost no IE usage, so I chose to just use the newer method, while also allowing the user to manually update their time zone if they needed.

Bryan Cantrill on Integrity

Bryan Cantrill on integrity. Edited slightly for clarity and profanity:

We are on a collision course with the Amazon Principles […] What is going on? I’m losing my mind. The wheels are off, everyone has to get out of the car and this is why. All of these [expletive] leadership principles, from all these organisations, where is integrity? Damn it where’s integrity? Amazon has 14 leadership principles and integrity is not on it. [That’s] inexcusable. I’m sorry, if you’ve got one principle in your organisation, its integrity? Right? […] No we’re living in a world that has lost it’s [expletive] mind, I don’t understand it. Why the appetite for territory? Do you not know where your next meal is coming from? Do you not have a roof over your head? I mean I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. We have got an incredible luxury. There’s never been a labour market like this one. Where have we so screwed up with a generation, if not a society where we’ve got people who are so extrinsically motivated? What the [expletive] is wrong with us? I mean its like how is integrity not the only thing you have?

[Andrew Clay Shafer]: Are we doing the full critique of capitalism today?

No it’s not. Bullshit, it’s not capitalism. The finest capitalist is Scott McNealy, a capitalist so pure that when he was being devoured by Oracle he believed that it was his duty to capitalism to die, and I admire that. There is no purer a capitalist than Scott McNealy. And read McNealy’s final email to Sun employees, and it’s almost prescient, McNealy says: “You know what, in 30 years I never had to hide the newspaper from my children.” An achievement that Uber violated on like month two? Where are Travis’ parents? Are you not humiliated? How did you raise him to be so divorced from what really, actually, truly matters? What the living [expletive] is wrong with us? Maybe it’s me?

I continue to be impressed by Joyent, and Bryan Cantrill’s engineering principles. It sounds like a great place to do your best work.

Recorded at GOTO 2017 for an Arrested Devops episode: Old Geeks Yell At Cloud

The case for and against Clojure predicates returning nil

Last week, there was a mailing list post on the clojure-dev mailing list noting that several of the new predicates in Clojure 1.9 alphas return true or nil. The three new predicates are: qualified-keyword?, qualified-ident?, and qualified-symbol?. Previously, all predicate functions in Clojure core, i.e. functions that end in a ? have returned true/false. In this post I want to examine the pros and cons of this new behaviour.

If I’ve missed anything here, please get in contact and I’ll update the post.

Pros to some predicates returning nil

The first two points aren’t strong arguments for returning nil, rather they argue that it doesn’t matter whether the functions return nil or false.

Cons to some predicates returning nil:

Summary

Personally, I don’t see a strong reason to keep the current behaviour of the new qualified predicate functions, but you might see things differently. Whatever the outcome, I’m glad that in Clojure we don’t have to name all of our boolean functions with an “Eh” suffix.

Update

Alex Miller suggested to file a ticket about this behaviour, so I opened CLJ-2141.

Uber-Alphabet Lawsuit Updates

Since my post a few days ago on the Uber-Alphabet lawsuit, there have been a few new developments.

Levandowski consulting for Uber

In that post I wrote:

… no funding appears to have been taken from Uber, or any other company (If there turn out to be payments from Uber to Otto prior to the acquisition then that would be Very Bad for Uber).

Not long after, Johana Bhuiyan at Recode posted a story which suggests that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick hired Otto CEO Anthony Levandowski as a consultant for Uber’s self-driving car around February-March 2016. Even after reading the article several times and sleeping on it, I still can’t quite believe it.

Now, sources are adding more to that claim. Kalanick hired Levandowski as a consultant to Uber’s fledgling self-driving effort as early as February 2016, six months before Levandowski publicly got his company off the ground, according to three sources.

If this was a legitimate business arrangement, the timing makes no sense at all. Levandowski had just left Waymo weeks earlier. While it might have been difficult for Alphabet to bring a lawsuit on these grounds, the optics for Levandowski advising Uber are terrible. Additionally, Uber and Otto are competitors in the self-driving vehicle space, and Uber is famously aggressive. That a CEO of one company would be advising one of their direct competitors within months of forming their own self-funded startup is truly strange.

If this wasn’t a legitimate business arrangement, then it also doesn’t make much sense purely because it looks so suspicious, especially in light of Alphabet’s trade secrets lawsuit. It brings the start of Uber’s direct involvement with Otto to within weeks of Otto being formed. If the plan all along was for Otto to join Uber, then it does make some kind of twisted sense for him to be advising the Uber self-driving car team.

A little birdie tells me that we haven’t seen the last on this particular thread of the story.

Naked Capitalism on Uber

Hubert Horan has just published another article in his series on Uber and whether it can ever increase overall economic welfare.

The answer is that Uber is attempting to implement an innovative and disruptive strategy for achieving market control — a strategy radical different from every prior tech oriented startup — but those disruptive innovations have nothing to do with technology or the efficient production of urban car services.

Otto purchased another Lidar company

A reader sent me a link to this article by Reuters discussing an acquisition of Tyto LIDAR. The title is “Uber’s self-driving unit quietly bought firm with tech at heart of Alphabet lawsuit”. The title isn’t accurate, as it was Otto that acquired Tyto (for an undisclosed sum) in May 2016. Uber then acquired Otto/Tyto in August 2016.

Levandowski: “We did not steal any Google IP”

Forbes published an article on 28 February, 2017 which contains part of an interview they did with Levandowski in October 2016.

Q: The question is, Google has been working on this for however many years. You guys (Otto) are a year old or something like that.

A: We started in January. How did we catch up?

We did not steal any Google IP. Just want to make sure, super clear on that. We built everything from scratch and we have all of the logs to make that—just to be super clear.

But this is my fourth autonomy stack. I did the DARPA Grand Challenge.

I wonder if “we have all of the logs” is also going to be Alphabet counsel’s opening argument?

The Uber Bombshell About to Drop

If you’ve been following tech news over the last few weeks, you have probably seen several stories about Uber, all negative (bar this one about flying cars). I suspect that what is coming next will prove to be a far bigger story than all of the other incidents so far.

N.B. all of this article is sourced from filings and allegations that Alphabet has made, as well as reading between the lines. Uber will probably contest these claims in court.

Update: I’ve published some updates on the lawsuit. You can keep track of all the posts related to the Alphabet lawsuit here.

In the last few weeks Alphabet filed a lawsuit against Uber. Alphabet and Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) allege that Anthony Levandowski, an ex-Waymo manager, stole confidential and proprietary information from Waymo, then used it in his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, so the suit was filed against Uber, not Otto.

This alone is a fairly explosive claim, but the subtext of Alphabet’s filing is an even bigger bombshell. Reading between the lines, (in my opinion) Alphabet is implying that Mr Levandowski arranged with Uber to:

  1. Steal LiDAR and other self-driving component designs from Waymo
  2. Start Otto as a plausible corporate vehicle for developing the self-driving technology
  3. Acquire Otto for $680 million

Below, I’ll present the timeline of events, my interpretation, and some speculation on a possible (bad) outcome for Uber. The timeline references section numbers from Waymo’s amended filing, so you can read the full context yourself. You can also read the original filing.

Timeline of events

The main timeline of important events is as follows:

Implications

From Waymo’s filings, it seems that they have Levandowski dead to rights on stealing their LiDAR designs. That alone should be enough to bring Uber’s self-driving car program to a halt and cause some big problems for Levandowski. California’s Trade Secrets law is weaker than other states, but if successful, Waymo will be able to seek an injunction, damages, and attorney’s fees. Because all law is securities law, the SEC may also be able to bring a case against Uber (similarly to their case against Theranos).

I’m guessing, but I think the reason that Alphabet hasn’t directly accused Uber of conspiring with Levandowski is that they don’t have enough evidence. When they get to discovery, they will be looking for it. You would think that no-one would be dumb enough to send emails like that, but you would be wrong.

Several things suggest Otto’s intent to be acquired by Uber:

There is no smoking gun email (yet), but there is a strong implication that Uber and Otto planned this from the start.

(Possible) Consequences

If this is true and can be proved in court, then it would be a massive blow to Uber. The worst case for Uber would be:

This is admittedly the very worst case scenario for Uber, and there are lots of places along this downward trajectory that they could pull up from. If it’s proven that Uber intended to acquire Otto while Levandowski was at Google (this might be established more concretely in discovery), then it’s hard to see how Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick could keep his job. Uber has had a bad month, and it doesn’t look like things are going to be getting better any time soon.

Postscript

This post is made up of a mix of filings from Waymo, reading between the lines, and some speculation. Keep in mind these are all allegations and haven’t been proven in court. Please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes, and I’ll correct them.

I’d encourage you to go over the filings yourself, as they are very readable, and give a lot more context to the story than I was able to here.

Appendix

I originally posted that Uber was only charging 41% of the cost of the trips, based on this article which I misread. The 41% number is the total cost of the trip including driver compensation as well as corporate expenses.

Alyssa Vance sent me the calculations you would make to work out the farebox ratio:

Farebox ratio = fares / total cost of operations Total cost of operations = fares - profits Farebox ratio = fares / (fares - profits)

For 1H2015: Farebox ratio = 3,661 / (3,661 - -987) = 3661 / 4648 = 78.8%.

State of Clojure Survey 2016 Analysis

The State of Clojure 2016 survey results have just been published. Last year I wrote an summary of the free text comment portion of the State of Clojure 2015 Survey. I enjoyed writing it, and it was my second most popular post of the year, so I’m repeating the process again.

In his summary, Justin said that 62% of the responses were positive. That number sounded low to me (but was presumably calculated by SurveyMonkey). I would have estimated closer to 80% after reading through them all. A little under one quarter of the 2420 survey respondents left a comment.

I’m reusing most of the same categories from last year so interested readers can compare with last years post. Some comments have been lightly edited for spelling, clarity, brevity, and niceness.

Error messages

Error messages were the biggest pain point for people last year. This year there were still many complaints about error messages and stack traces, but a lot of people are waiting to see what spec brings. There was a lot of discussion about spec error messages several months ago, but it seems to have gone quiet. I’m really hopeful that spec will improve error messages.

This year Figwheel has started providing very sophisticated reporting of compile errors, and configuration problems. It has made a massive difference to my ClojureScript workflow. Thanks Bruce!

Please Please Please can we get better error messages. …

ClojureScript has come a long way, but I still encounter errors that are totally perplexing. Better debugging would help enormously.

Error messages are very frustrating and it is hard to find where the error occurred and why. Errors coming from underlying Java code are only somehow relevant to the Clojure that produced them. Programming with dynamically typed language rocks when inferred types align with your idea, but when it’s not, things get fuzzy.

Please, please, please, please, improve error messages. This would single handedly improve: new user onboarding, community feedback (let’s admit it - it is a small community), rapid iterations, usage of the REPL, usage of spec and testing, and other areas. …

I consistently see error messages being the biggest barrier for learners of Clojure, and even more so for ClojureScript

I think a concerted focus on improving Clojure’s error reporting & handling would benefit both newcomers to the language and experienced developers alike and would result in considerably less wasted time & effort.

Docs

Last year clojure.org had just been revamped and open sourced. I wrote at the time:

I have high hopes that it will become a central source for high quality, official documentation and ease the pain for newcomers.

clojure.org has had some contributions from the community, but it still doesn’t have the breadth of material needed to be a central source. I would love to see something like Python’s web documentation for Clojure. Renzo Borgatti is writing a mammoth book “The Clojure Standard Library” which will cover the entire Clojure standard library.

… Please improve the documentation. Recently I heard someone describe Clojure documentation as “comically terse”.

A simple way to get someone up and running that is a standard for the community would be great. There is nothing more frustrating than telling new people to “Google” for a solution and pick one you like… They never get further than reading the docs.

Clojure appeared to be a nice language when I started with it and I do not regret this decision. The flip side is that I had hoped that the poor documentation would have gone away by now — 1.4 was the first version I used and it does not seem to have improved. That’s a shame. Documentation helps new users and really, hinders nobody.

Clojure docs are too terse. They assume that the reader already fully understands the concepts being described, and merely needs a refresher. …

Clojure’s community is surprisingly small given it’s output. This leaves documentation and tutorials sparse because they require time and effort that is in short supply. …

I think both clojure.org and clojurescript.org could use a better “Get Started” experience. It’s our best opportunity at a first impression but we rely too heavily on third party docs. For example, on cljs.org the reference section starts with compiler options. Doesn’t really capture the imagination.

Setup/tooling

Again, Figwheel has been leading the way in improving tooling on the ClojureScript side. Tooling is still a pain point, but seems to be less so than in previous years. For Clojure editors, Cider, Cursive, and vim-fireplace are all used pretty much the same amount as last year, but Atom has entered fourth place, presumably coupled with proto-repl.

One thing we’re used to from C#/Java that would be awesome to have is a better unit testing framework with IDE integration. …

The build toolchain for cljs has been a pain. All of my learning has come from cloning public repos and seeing how they do it.

A huge thanks to the community for invaluable tools like Leiningen, Parinfer and the various IDE plugins like ProtoREPL or Cursive. And of course huge thanks to the core team for excellent stewardship of Clojure itself.

While tooling for Clojure is improving there needs to be a lot more resources devoted to it. I am currently in a Java shop and the only realistic option is Cursive.

Startup time

Startup time was another persistent complaints this year. Unfortunately there wasn’t always enough information about whether startup time was a problem in development or production. There are several good options for avoiding constantly restarting Clojure REPLs in development (and in production), but perhaps for newcomers these are too complicated to setup, or they don’t know about them?

Love Clojure … hate its startup time!

Love the language and will keep at it. Primary frustration is with the start up time and tooling. In particular, I’m finding it difficult to quickly test the backend and frontend of my application with Boot.

… We love functional programming, but hate Clojure’s long startup times. We do what we can to minimize this (using test-refresh, REPLs, etc.), but it is still very painful, and we find ourselves twiddling our thumbs waiting for a restart several times a day. Similarly, our Clojurescript compiles take ~60 seconds (:simple optimizations) or ~30 seconds (:none optimizations). This slows us down substantially. Coming from Python, where compile and startup times are sub-second, this is the biggest complaint from our team.

Clojure would be perfect with faster startup time and a little less memory usage. Seriously I don’t even mind the java stack traces.

REPL startup time is all I care about. I use emacs+cider, and it takes an age. Otherwise, I am completely happy with Clojure :)

Marketing/Adoption

Justin specifically mentioned marketing and adoption as a common theme amongst the feedback:

One relatively stronger theme this year was the need for better marketing for the purposes of expanding or introducing Clojure within organizations, which is a great area for contribution from the entire community.

In my opinion, one of the areas where Clojure could improve on marketing is on the main Clojure and ClojureScript websites. I think Scala in particular has done a really good job of this. Elm and Rust also do really well in presenting the main reasons why you would want to use their languages. The community isn’t able to help with this, as contributions to style and templates are not currently wanted.

Last year I mentioned Cognitect’s case studies on Clojure adoption, this year Juxt has done some great work with their case studies of companies using Clojure in Europe.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen fewer people coming along to the Auckland Clojure Meetup than in previous years, although we’re working on a fairly small sample size. I’m not sure what (if anything) to make of that.

I would do 100% of my development in Clojure if the enterprise-y company I worked for allowed it. “Reason for not using Clojure as much as you would like”? Management not on board.

I’d love to see more “serious” support for ClojureScript: when I present ClojureScript to colleagues, it looks like a thing supported by several enthusiasts rather than a platform supported by a company.

Clojure is very solid. As a frontend developer, a stable build system, DCE and syntax stability are very valuable for me. I failed to convince my CTO on Clojure and instead we stuck to ES6/ES7. The main concern of management was hiring and training people. Although the learning curve for Clojure is easy, people still have a perception that LISP syntax is esoteric and difficult to pick up for someone completely new to the ecosystem. This myth has to be busted on a larger scale.

Language is great, community is great, the “marketing” is not that great. You guys have a great language and you are struggling to sell it.

[I] would love to see better marketing from Cognitect and other Clojure centric shops. Selling Clojure to a Java shop is not easy. It can and should be easier. (and simple, but I’ll take “easier” here first)

As an average developer fluent in Java, I would love to use Clojure more, but the biggest hurdle for me is the lack of peers interested in Clojure. At the local meetup people report the same situation at their organisations. Pity, because Clojure is super cool! Thank you.

Love Clojure, really. Can’t convince my peers that it’s worth investing the time to learn it though.

The Clojure community needs a “Rails killer,” and only Arachne holds serious promise for that.

Clojure/ClojureScript ecosystem could benefit from stronger stewardship from Cognitect to propel it into the mainstream with a focus on a killer app or a industry domain similar to the way Light Bend has been focusing on enterprise and reactive system to promote the Scala ecosystem. …

I’m in Shanghai and we barely have full-time Clojure developers in China. We formed online groups, but I guess we need help to push it to the next level.

And the age old developer question:

How can we get management to understand what they don’t understand?

Language Development

Like last year, there are still concerns about the contribution process, and the opaque decision making process for Clojure’s development.

Engagement of community is still sub-optimal, there are talented individuals who could be engaged more and productively so without opening it up to the peanut gallery.

I wish that the core Clojure development process was more flexible and friendly. I (and all the Clojure developers I know) have pretty much given up on trying to make suggestions or tickets about Clojure because I usually wind up banging my head against the wall and getting frustrated. The core team are under no obligations to explain themselves or their motivations, but they would save a lot of frustration from new community members wishing to contribute if there was a prominent document outlining the philosophy, and what kinds of changes and suggestions are and aren’t welcome.

A more open approach to development and contributing to Clojure would be appreciated. I’d love to contribute to Clojure but the mess of a lot of the code in Clojure and the JIRA-based contribution model is a barrier. I know that’s what Rich likes and see the rest of Cognitect are happy contributing in this way but I’d love to see something more open and approachable.

The slow rate at which JIRA issues are addressed remains a frustration, and provides a disincentive for contributing. Features that Cognitect cares about get rushed into the language half-baked, while well-thought out patches from years ago languish.

A little concerned over how ‘arbitrary’ some design decisions seem to be and how inflexible the core team is. Running instrumented post-condition specs is such an obvious idea for example but it has been deemed not necessary “from on high”.

The issue tracker is well tended during the earlier workflow stages. There seems to be a bottleneck later on. I hope 2017 will bring the project’s founders to modes of community contribution that are more efficient of the art and tradecraft of the many.

Community

I would say that Clojure’s community is one of it’s greatest assets. There were mostly positive comments for the community, though still some concerns. The Clojurians Slack has been a great resource for a lot of newcomers, and spawned many channels for libraries and topics. IRC is still around, but seems to be less popular, and doesn’t have the breadth of topics that Clojurians does.

Alex Miller is doing a great job addressing the community.

CLJS has come a long way!! to the point we can use it for production development! this community is great! Justin_Smith stands out as ridiculously helpful on IRC … if the world (this community) had more folks like him, it’ll elevate all of our games!

The thing that makes me wary of continuing to invest in Clojure professionally is how few paid opportunities there are for women and people of color. I don’t know what the exact problem is - they are left of networks, don’t have an opportunity to build their skills, or just straight-up sexism and racism - but it is definitely a problem. The current state of things means I will likely not be able to be on teams with women or people of color, and that is a big turn-off for me.

Clojure has the best community after PostgreSQL, in my opinion. I came for the language but I stayed for the community.

Be more inviting to new-comers.. so they stop learning Ruby.

Libraries

A “Rails for Clojure” was a common request so people can start delivering value quickly. Arachne was commonly raised as one possibility to provide this.

Clojure/ClojureScript it’s very cool, but not very practical nor efficient in many typical business case scenarios. I’m missing a full stack framework like Grails or Ruby on Rails or Django: there’s nothing like that for the Clojure world: it’s not about a project template but about the quick prototyping (with the customer by your side) these frameworks allow.

… There is also no good Clojure Web Development story: Pedestal looks interesting, but not actively developed and unsupported, Arachne is years away from being complete and useful, Luminus/Duct are initial scaffold project generators. It’s hard to delivering some value quickly - user have to dig through all underlying libs and how they work together.

… Clojure web development needs a “Rails” to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem of getting enough developers to be able to hire for it. …

I hope to write a lot more Clojure. No, I hope to do a lot more with less Clojure. And looking forward to using Arachne.

Other targets

Many people are looking to run Clojure on alternative platforms or reduce host dependence. LLVM was a common request. Some are looking to move away from the JVM, while others are looking to move into environments that Java and JavaScript aren’t suited for. This is an interesting request, though one of Clojure’s original goals (and still on the Clojure homepage) is to be a hosted language. I’m not sure whether it’s possible for these two desires to ever meet? Graal and Truffle are also interesting possibilities.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed for beginners on forums / blog comments is they are afraid of the JVM. …

I’ll never rewrite all my Scala into Clojure unless some sort of Cognitect Clojure OFFICIAL LLVM effort is made. Scala Native is [beating] Clojure.

Clojure’s hosted nature is its biggest downfall, in my opinion. As a systems programmer looking to lisp + immutability for saner concurrency, the cost of Clojure’s startup time and memory usage is very high. …

The one thing that I think would drive Clojure to a new level of adoption across the industry would be for someone to do an actual LLVM implementation of Clojure. Not a “close variant” of Clojure, but real Clojure. This would probably yield some performance boost beyond Java, but more importantly it would open up Clojure to environments that are simply not amenable to Java (or Javascript) for whatever reason. Some people have moved in this direction, but either have not completed the work, or have implemented their own “variants” of Clojure. What I wish someone would do is implement something with LLVM that is at least as close to Clojure as Clojurescript is.

I really think an opportunity is being missed by dismissing the c++ ecosystem, and I think that something that should be given somewhat serious consideration to by somebody would be to leverage LLVM with JIT and get a clojurescript running in that setting. There are significant legacy environments to be liberated there.

I would love for there to be some sort of compile-to-bundle with Clojure such that you have a single artifact that doesn’t require an external JVM installation. Like Go programs. An embedded JVM (perhaps).

Typing

As we’ve all learned this year, people are worried about types. Spec is the biggest movement in this direction, and the number of type related comments has dropped a lot since last year.

I know that Spec should help a lot with the error messages once we move to 1.9, although people coming from a non-Java background still have a lot of learning to do.

It is just sad that people who love Clojure (Colin Fleming, Steve Yegge, Adam Bard), have to use Kotlin sometimes instead (better startup times, static typing and Java interop like fast multidimensional arrays)

I hope Spec will find its way into tooling, especially Cursive.

Looking forward to learn and use spec

I’d most like to see improvements to the Clojure compiler. Error messages, performance, better Java interop and simple static type checking seem most important.

Compliments

As I mentioned at the start, the overwhelming majority of comments had positive things to say about Clojure. Alex Miller also deserves a special mention for his work with the community, and maintaining the Clojure infrastructure.

I sincerely thank Clojure(Script) community to make LISP revolution back to live stage and making us realize the importance of focusing on core things which matter

I have been programming since 1979. Clojure is a work of art.

The community has been unbelievably great and I hope it stays true to its roots! Keep up the good work and I can’t wait to see where Clojure/Script goes next!

The community is amazing, with a special shoutout to Alex Miller for being such a great part of it.

Happy Clojure user for over 4 years. Still loving every minute :-).

Finally, I found a comment that I think sums up the general feeling of the community (and my own):

No one and nothing is perfect, but I (for one) am very appreciative of the work that has been done and is on-going around Clojure/ClojureScript and the community in general. People tend to ‘harp’ on the things that aren’t just right (in their opinion) and forget about all the things that are amazing. I just want to say thanks, and keep up the superb work! :-)

I think the future of Clojure is bright.

A guide to the Datomic licensing changes

Shockwaves rang out through the Clojuresphere today with the news that Datomic is changing their licensing to drop the per-process limits. This is big news if you were limited in the number of processes you wanted to run.

The major changes in a nutshell:

If I’ve got any of the following wrong, please get in touch via email and I’ll update my post.

The old pricing model

Datomic launched in March 2012 with a paid option and in July 2012 added Datomic Free. In November 2013, Cognitect launched Datomic Pro Starter Edition. The old pricing page is on archive.org here. This model was easy to understand, as it mapped well to existing database licensing patterns of ‘perpetually free with limitations’ or ‘paid without limitations on a per node basis’.

Datomic Free

Datomic Pro Starter Edition

Datomic Pro

The new model

All versions of Datomic apart from Free now support unlimited peers, high availability, Memcached support, and all storages (more on storage later). This is a significant change, as you can now use Datomic in an almost unlimited fashion for free. There is also a new Client API which is suitable for smaller, short-lived processes, like microservices and serverless computing. The changes are smart, as it frees users up from having to architect their systems around their Datomic license limitations. The new pricing model rearranges the tiers. There is now Datomic Free (unchanged), Datomic Starter, Datomic Pro, and Datomic Enterprise.

Datomic Starter

Datomic Pro

Datomic Enterprise

Other changes

Datomic has a snazzy new documentation site. It also looks like as part of the licensing changes, Riak, Couchbase, and Infinispan are now considered legacy storage and are only available to be used under an enterprise license. Standard editions of Datomic only support SQL, DynamodDB, and Cassandra. This change hasn’t been mentioned on the Datomic mailing list or release notes, but probably will be soon.

Datomic has deprecated the REST API in favour of the new Client API.

There is also a new customer feedback portal where you can suggest features. You can access this after logging in to my.datomic.com.

Summary

If you are a Datomic Pro user then your maintenance is probably going to be higher, although in absolute terms it’s still not a lot compared to developer salaries. If you were on Datomic Pro Starter and want to stay current, then you are now looking at moving Datomic Free, or paying $5,000/year for Datomic Pro. If you were using Riak, Couchbase, or Infinispan then it seems like you’ll need to get Datomic Enterprise.

Datomic from the beginning has always felt like a database that understood the Cloud, and the zeitgeist of computing. It supported AWS DynamoDB and CloudFormation from early on, and their architecture has always felt well suited to cloud systems. The license changes to accommodate the trend towards microservices and serverless computing are a continuation of that.

On cluster bombs and data journalism

Before we get started, I want to be clear. I don’t support tobacco, cluster bomb manufacturers, nuclear weapons manufacturers, and the other socially harmful businesses mentioned in the recent brouhaha about Kiwisaver investments into the aforementioned companies. However, I think the reporting that NZ Herald did on this was misleading, in search of a good story at the expense of accuracy.

To recap: the Herald has recently been reporting on Kiwisaver, the NZ government retirement savings scheme (like an IRA). Their big headline was that $150mm has been invested by the major Kiwisaver providers into companies that produce cluster bombs, landmines, and other socially harmful products, and that they may be breaking a law banning investments into cluster bomb manufacturers. When you look into the details, their bold claims don’t look so strong.

Here are a few points that should have been included in the reporting:

Data journalism can be used to illuminate complex topics and explain them for a wide audience. It seems in this reporting that the story came first, and the numbers were presented in a misleading way to back it up. There is a nuanced discussion that could have been had about the ethics of index funds, and socially responsible investing, but that wasn’t what we got here.

N.B.: I may have read the article wrong, and all of the figures provided were active investments (it’s not clear at all to me which is being included). If that’s the case my conclusion would be quite different.

Update: More discussion index/active investments may be coming later this week.


  1. Westpac has $3.2 billion invested in their funds, ANZ has $5.5 billion, ASB has $5 billion

  2. Northrop Grumman is blacklisted by the NZ Superannuation Fund for selling mines. They had sales last year of $23.5 billion. $15 billion in products and $10.5 billion in services. This is split amongst Aerospace systems, Electronic systems, Information systems, and Technical services. Northrop Grumman doesn’t break out a landmine line item (and only mention mines once in their annual report, to say they have nothing to disclose about mine safety), but it looks like it is part of the Electronic systems segment, which did $5.5 billion in product sales and $1.3 billion in services (23% of total sales). Electronic systems also includes radar, space intelligence, navigation, land & self protection systems (probably where mines go, but also includes missiles, air defence, e.t.c.). 

  3. General Dynamics is blacklisted by the NZ Superannuation fund for selling cluster bombs. They had $31.4 billion in sales in 2015. They also don’t break out a clusterbomb line item (I’m sensing a pattern here), but it probably fits into the Combat Systems group which had $5.6 billion in sales (18%), and which also includes wheeled combat and tactical vehicles, tanks, weapons systems, and maintenance. 

Why are people worried about types?

Every week in The REPL I have a section called: “People are worried about Types”. This is based on a section that Matt Levine (my favourite columnist) includes in his daily column “People are worried about bond market liquidity”, and the related “People are worried about unicorns”, and “People are worried about stock buybacks”.

The title is a joke (as is his), I don’t really think there are people worried about types, but it is interesting to see a small but steady flow of type or type related (schema, spec, e.t.c.) articles relating to Clojure each week.