railsconf wrap-up

Just got back from HasManyPolymorphs Conf. Erm, RailsConf.


Portland is a very nice city, although it rained a lot. The local teenagers seemed pretty strung-out; not sure if that’s normal. The conference center itself was large and conveniently located, and the WiFi pretty much worked, which is unusual for Ruby conferences. I stayed at the Shilo Inn. Chris, you left your shrimp scampi in my fridge.

Portland has an excellent light rail transit system.


Chris Wanstrath did an excellent job explaining memcached, with reference to CHOW. I also went to Dirk Elmendorf’s “Lessons from the Real World”, an overview of converting a Java team to Rails.

The speaker for “Security on Rails” didn’t show, so it turned into an unconference lightning session, which was a lot of fun. Zed Shaw talked about his social art project Utu. Dave Fayram and Tom Preston-Werner demoed a combined loadbalancer and webserver for Rails written in Erlang, of all things. And Brian Takita (I think) showed off a pure-Ruby packrat syntax parser named Treetop, which greatly excited the Rubinius team.

My own talk was distinctly mediocre. John Nunemaker blogged about it, and so did Nick Sieger. I need to become a more entertaining and confident public speaker if I plan to keep this up. I’ll be recapping my talk at Philly on Rails on June 5th, and after that will post the slides.

For anyone who wondered, the speakers’ lounge was not very pimp.


DHH’s keynote was an overview of Rails 2.0, most of which you have already seen if you’ve been following the changelog. He did mention adding a per-action query cache, but I thought cache_fu already had that.

Avi Bryant needled us for not using Smalltalk as a platform. I do agree that SQL is no longer appropriate for most webapps, but moving Ruby to the commercial GemStone VM doesn’t really seem viable. He also brought up the old ghost of Strongtalk. It seems kind of telling that the Smalltalk community recommends a decade-old, win32-specific, incomplete platform as the open-source VM solution. Maybe it’s a trap.

Tim Bray talked about the JVM and how it was awesome and we should use Ruby on it. Then Sun can sell us hardware and software. Um, all right. He also mentioned REST and ETags.

Are you sensing a trend here? Lots of vendors…I guess the freewheeling community days for Rails are ending. Borland, Joyent, Sun, Engineyard, Rails Machine, FiveRuns, and others were there to ply us with t-shirts and beer and try to get us to adopt their IDEs and enterprise deployment stacks. Sorry, but no. On the other hand, Pivotal Labs hired a crazy band for no reason and didn’t try to sell anything. And the Powerset guys were very hospitable, as usual.

Ze Frank was hilarious, but not totally relevant.

Dave Thomas told us to challenge our assumptions and to give money to charities.


The Rubinius team is crazy intense. They are dedicated, smart, and have the good of the community in mind—one of their number (Kyle) even started to bring me around regarding JRuby, which I am pretty skeptical about.

I’m not sure that Avi realizes how far along Rubinius already is in terms of adopting the best features of Smalltalk-style VMs.

The IRC channel #railconf was the usual silliness that comes from imagining you are anonymous. However, for a few talks it became vicious. Yes, the speakers have the logs. Also, it’s not insulting to leave a talk you aren’t enjoying. I know some people left my talk, and really—it’s ok.

Someone made a “Ruby Chicks” website during the conference and started uploading commentable pictures of the few women there. Now that is insulting. Geoff Grosenbach recorded a podcast with the female attendees (I think discussing these community problems), which I look forward to hearing.

I also heard good things about the RejectConf unconference, but hadn’t been in the mood to go to it at the time. Luckily Geoff (again!) has recorded a secret unedited podcast.

Also, there had been a lot of community bluster about forking Rails going into the conference, due to the difficulty of getting patches accepted. However, midway through the conference, Josh Susser and Kevin Clark sat down with DHH and a few others on core and battled, erm, worked out their differences. The result is that core will try to be more transparent about their decision-making process. An example of this is the new #rails-contrib IRC channel.


Well…sometimes I had a good time. It was nice to meet a lot of people I previously only knew online. I learned a lot about public speaking (be confident in your lolcats!). I drank a lot of beer, but did not fall off any fire escapes.

I had hoped the talks and keynotes would be more forward-looking than they were. And the community as a whole seems to be fragmenting, which is a shame, but perhaps inevitable. I guess we will see.

See you at RubyConf.


I am pleased to announce that I am now a senior engineer at CNET Networks.

6 responses

  1. Dude! I thought Ze Frank was extremely relevant…He poked a bunch of fat holes in the whole Web 2.0 hype but also recognized that the basic concept of user-generated content is quite real…he’s been doing it for years. And he was hella funny.

    Also, I think Avi Bryant was suggesting that the Ruby community push GemStone to either re-implement their object container in Ruby…or to open-source it so the Ruby community can port it themselves.

  2. It is totally normal that all the teenagers in Portland look strung out. Since it is illegal for them to do anything fun (very few all-ages venues) they resort to sniffing glue – or at least that’s what I’ve always thought.

    I made an RSS feed for the secret podcast using Grabb.it – it’s gotta be good for something. :)

    Dave Thomas’ last challenge to write classless Ruby was really up my alley. If I get my shit together maybe we’ll see a blog post on the topic.

  3. Evan, I’m right there with you regarding JRuby, the keynotes, and the invasion of the vendors. I admit the growing influence of the Java community is making me nervous. They don’t have a reputation of knowing how to keep things simple and clean.

    Also, I wasn’t aware of the disgruntlement from Susser and Clark and friends. I’m glad they came to a compromise—I think a fork at this point would be a bad thing for everyone involved.