Now that I've spent a little time working through the cattle drive, it seems that the lessons to be learned here have more to do with developing a certain programming philosophy or sense of aesthetics than with the mechanics of Java (which, at least for the early assignments, are pretty straightforward). Some elements of this might be:
Programmers should be minimalists: don't include any extra stuff that isn't really needed.
Code should be self-documenting. It might be occasionally necessary to include a comment to explain the underlying algorithm, but if you need a comment to explain your code it means that the code is not clear enough.
Variable names should be nouns that describe what the variables contain.
Method names should be verbs that describe what the methods do.
Based on the feedback I'm getting from the nitpickers, though, it looks like I still have a ways to go to absorb these lessons. I was wondering if anyone knows of any books or tutorials they could recommend that deal specifically with the aesthetics of coding? Or do we need to wait for the Trailboss to write his memoir?
My favorite book /eva/ is "Clean Code" by Robert Martin (a.k.a. Uncle Bob). I actually have lots of favorite books ("Working With Legacy Code" and "The Pragmatic Programmer" are also in the list, but for clarity and style in coding, Clean Code blew my mind right out of my nose. Messy, but worth it.