Charles Engelke's Blog

June 2, 2008

Conference Materials are now available

Filed under: Google IO 2008,RailsConf 2008 — Charles Engelke @ 1:57 pm
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RailsConf 2008 has made most of its presentation materials available for free download.

Google IO is beginning to make videos of its sessions available.

A lot of this stuff is really great, well worth your time.

Last Day at RailsConf

Filed under: RailsConf 2008,Uncategorized — Charles Engelke @ 1:46 am
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RailsConf is over now.  It ended on a strong, though short, day.  For me, it began with Obie Fernandez of HashRocket (and author of The Rails Way) showing us all the “worst rails code you’ve ever seen.”  I was worried that I wouldn’t follow the talk because I’m not yet as far along on some planned Rails projects as I had expected, but the examples were clear, he explained the issues simply, and showed the proper approaches.

Rick Bradley of OG Consulting talked about “waxing ballroom floors on the Titanic,” stories about the challenges of doing Rails work “in the enterprise.”  The best part for me?  The “Can’t Chart” that shows all the organizational impediments to actually achieving your goals.

Adam Keys of Five Runs gave a very personal talk about failures, and how he’s learned from them and changed as a result.  An interesting talk about the examples and maturation in general.

And my final session at the conference was Chris Selmer of Intridea, and Josh Owens of the Web 2.0 Show, telling us about Rails Rumble, a contest where teams of up to four people had 48 hours to build and deploy an application.  It sounded like a lot of fun, if you don’t need sleep.

The official conference closing was a keynote panel of the core Rails developers.  It was low key, but interesting to hear them all together.


June 1, 2008

Closing Out Day 2 at RailsConf

Filed under: RailsConf 2008,Uncategorized — Charles Engelke @ 1:50 pm
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After lunch, I attended a Lightning Talks session.  These are always interesting, and show the momentum Rails has.  Then I went to another vendor presentation, this time on CodeGear‘s 3rd Rail IDE.  And it was again a very worthwhile session.  RailsConf or O’Reilly (or both) has really figured out to give vendors a platform that adds values for the attendees, and I really appreciate that.

I am not a fan of IDEs, but the talk succeeded in selling me on 3rd Rail, at least to the point of giving it a serious try.  They gave away fully licensed copies to all attendees, so I won’t even have a time limit on my use.  3rd Rail is built on top of Eclipse, like so many IDEs today.  The last time I tried Eclipse it was just too slow for me to stand, but like any successful open source application, it just keeps getting better with time, so I’m hopeful.

My last session of the day was Metaprogramming and Ruby Internals for Rails Developers, given by Patrick Farley of Thoughtworks.  Unfortunately, the talk was a total train wreck, probably the worst I’ve ever seen.  Not because of the content or presentation of it, but because of technical problems.  A particular slide apparently crashed his PC—twice!—and he took at least 15 minutes getting going again on a colleague’s PC.  The subject was too complex to just talk about, so he didn’t really have any other option.  But from now on, I’m going to make sure that any presentation I give is on my PC, a USB key, and at least one colleague’s PC before I start.

The day closed with a keynote from Kent Beck of Three Rivers Institute.  He told stories about the major things he was a big part of (like Extreme Programming) and how each one took twenty years to really set in.  It was dry at first, but when he settled in he loosened up and was very entertaining as well as interesting.

Our group ended the day with a big mistake on our parts: we went to dinner downtown.  Oh, the dinner at Huber’s Restaurant was very nice, but what we didn’t know was that last night was the annual Starlight Parade, about two blocks from the restaurant.  The Max rail was completely packed, so we took a cab.  And when we got near the restaurant, took ten minutes to go a block.  We had a reservation for dinner, so we got out and walked on.  Good dinner and an interesting historic restaurant:

But then had a big problem getting back.  The trains were running very slow, and when they finally did arrive, they were too packed to get on.  (Actually, they had room in the middle of each car, but people standing near the doors blocked the way there, so no one could get on.)  There were special shuttle buses about a block from the Max stop, which went right to our hotel, and once we found that we were fine.

May 31, 2008

Two Conference Anti-patterns

Filed under: RailsConf 2008 — Charles Engelke @ 4:42 pm
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Session Transitions

If you have large session rooms, you need more than 10 minutes between sessions for people.  If you have only 10 minutes per session, you need to be sure that speakers end on time.  If you let speakers run late, you have to let people in before he or she finishes.  Otherwise, you get a mob:

Row Filling

When you know a room is going to be absolutely filled, why do people always sit in the aisle seat of an empty row, requiring everyone to climb over them?  You’re only committing to staying an hour, folks.  Go ahead and risk sitting in the middle!

Saturday Morning at RailsConf

Filed under: RailsConf 2008,Uncategorized — Charles Engelke @ 4:26 pm
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The opening keynote was by Jeremy Kemper of 37Signals, who is a leader in developing Rails.  He talked about all the improvements in Rails 2.1, which he announced would be released later today.  If I were already a deep user of Rails, I would have found all the details fascinating and exciting, but I don’t have the context to appreciate all of it.

My first talk of the day is 23 Hacks, by Nathaniel Talbott of Terralien.  He says we need to hack, not just work on practical things.  “Musicians spend a lot of time playing music nobody else would want to listen to.”  To stretch themselves, to learn, for the joy of it.  The same applies to software development; there is value in “valueless” software.  He then demonstrated 13 hacks, and asked the audience to suggest 10 others to make 23.  An inspiring talk, ending with an exhortation to us to go hack something soon.

My second talk is Advanced Restful Rails by Ben Scofield of Viget Labs.  He started the talk by praising the value of constraints, referencing poetry and classical music.  Constraints free you to focus on the smaller set of unconstrained options, letting you be creative and productive.  He then covered the material well, but I didn’t learn much new because I’ve been reading so much on this topic already.

The Conference T-Shirt Economic Index

Filed under: RailsConf 2008 — Charles Engelke @ 3:04 pm
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The economy as a whole might be slow, but the Ruby on Rails sector of the tech economy seems to be on fire.  One measure is how much money vendors spend on t-shirts at conference like this one.

Back in the late 90s, I remember a relatively small O’Reilly Perl conference where about two dozen different vendors were handing out t-shirts with abandon (Sun was giving handsful of OpenOffice shirts to each person, instead of one shirt at a time).  The next year, after the tech bubble burst, not a single free t-shirt.

This year at RailsConf, t-shirts are back.  I think there are six vendors giving away shirts, and most of them are pushing them on anyone who even walks near their display, even if they already have a shirt in their hand.

Consider this a leading economic indicator

First day at RailsConf

Filed under: RailsConf 2008 — Charles Engelke @ 12:48 am
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Today was my first day at RailsConf in Portland.

We started the day with a keynote from Joel Spolsky.  He gave a very entertaining talk, with good visuals and a lot of jokes.  The theme was on what makes software good, with a lot of analogies to architecture, fashion, and even sociology.  He’s written about all of this before, in bits and pieces.

My first two breakout sessions weren’t a great start to the conference.  John Lam gave a talk on the IronRuby project, where Microsoft is porting Ruby to run on .Net and in Silverlight.  The topic was very interesting, but the talk didn’t give any background, and was full of acronyms and jargon specific to either Microsoft or the IronRuby project, and he never defined any of.  The second session I attended was “10 Things I Hate About Web Apps” by Micah Martin, which was billed as being about a new open source client-side tool that would eliminate all those bad attributes of web apps.  Well, the tool is Limelight, and it eliminates web app problems by not being a web app.  It’s a new client that runs on JRuby (Ruby on the Java virtual machine), and is conceptually similar to Flash or Silverlight.  I’m more interested in standards-based web applications for now.

Things picked up for me after lunch (which was a real break, unlike at Google IO, with decent food and a good job managing serving and seating so many people).  First, I deliberately attended a session that was effectively an infomercial for a conference sponsor’s product.  I was skeptical about this track, but the talks were clearly and honestly labeled, and this one was interesting.  Guy Naor of Morph Labs showed off Morph Appspace, a free Rails hosting environment with good deployment tools.  It was all hands on and live; there were a few glitches due to typos and such, but everything worked and worked well.  I’ll probably give the product a try.  And I think it’s cute that they registered their domain in the Philippines to spell “”.

I closed the day by attending two sessions each absolutely jam-packed with people.  Neal Ford of ThoughtWorks talked about Design Patterns, and how a lot of the existing way of looking at them is obsoleted by languages like Ruby.  His slides are available for download.  And Ryan Singer, a web designer at 37 Signals, gave a great talk on how designers and programmers can work as a team, instead of effectively having a wall separating them.  His perspective as a designer, instead of a programmer (like most of the attendees) gave us all a fresh look at things, and the audience really responded to him and his talk.

So, even though the first few sessions seemed a bit weak to me, the conference as a whole is shaping up to be quite worthwhile.

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