RailsConf Europe, day 1

A very short walk from my hotel to the conference center. More mingling (checking out the free t-shirt, getting on to the wireless network), before we take our seats and David Black introduces the first speakers.


David Heinemeier Hansson (or ‘DHH’), the creator of Rails and a partner in 37signals, gives a deeply technical roundup of recent and forthcoming changes to Rails. Highlights include SimplyRestful, (a pretty cool step to make Rails a lot more RESTful), ActiveResource (like ActiveRecord, but for HTTP-based resources rather than databases) and SimplyHelpful (bringing more conventions to the view). All very cool. What struck me most was the use of code as a presentation medium. DHH (named ‘hacker of the year’ by Google and O’Reilly in 2005) is a truly talented hacker and the Linus of Rails.

Next up, Kathy Sierra (of the Head First books) speaks on the subject of creating and keeping passionate users. This is something Rails rightly enjoys a pretty good reputation for. For anyone who has been following her blog, the talk was a welcome roundup of her thoughts this year.

I managed to squeeze into a very well attended ‘Unobtrusive Ajax with Rails’ by Dan Webb. Rails is not great at spitting out perfect JavaScript, and his Unobtrusive JavaScript plugin seems to go a long way to addressing the problems, and helping the Rails developer generate JavaScript closer to that which you would lovingly craft by hand.

Jamis Buck

Jamis Buck on Capistrano (an automation tool which works over SSH, and is useful for deploying to multiple servers). Jamis points out that it can be used for more than deployment, and it does indeed look like a flexible and impressive tool. It was certainly enough to make me want to try it properly.

David Black

David Black spoke on “Database Engineering and Rails: Notes from a curious developer”. It was a talk more of questions than of answers, encouraging some thought towards some of the disciplines of database engineering, and how Rails might reward good practice as it’s now starting to do with REST.

Marcel Molina, Jr

Marcel Molina, Jr presented on RJS. Although I must confess I only just followed the technical details, I was deeply struck by the incessant focus on making code cleaner. Every little ugliness and minor design smell gets an impressive amount of attention from Ruby’s comitters, and no stone seems to be left unturned in helping the developer create really beautiful and enjoyable code.

After a (ridiculously uncontroversial) panel session, DHH enjoyed a quick rant on ‘Vendoritis’, railing against the false sense of entitlement of Rubyists. His premise was that downloading a free product does not give you license to complain about it, illustrating his point by translating Rails’ MIT license into “I don’t owe you shit”. DHH is the sort of person who can get away with this. By warning people not to have any sense of entitlement unless they contribute something to the community, he seemed to make people want to do just that.

Some observations about the event:

  • There are a lot of MacBook Pros, Powerbooks and iBooks in the room. All the speakers today have been using Macs. (The one exception being David Black, who runs Linux on his laptop but actually ended up borrowing a Windows machine for his talk.) Mac OS X and TextMate are pretty ubiquitous, and I feel rather out of place with my big black ThinkPad.
  • There are a very large number of photographers in the room. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, since we’re in the age of Flickr, but a question from Kathy Sierra earlier also revealed there are a lot of musicians. These modern hackers really are a creative bunch.
  • The wireless connectivity in my hotel (the Radisson on Great Russell Street) is better than the wireless in the conference center. Certainly nice to have both though.
  • (Realised when eating breakfast in a noisy room with a headache…) we can choose to close our eyes, so why can’t we similarly close our ears?
  • Lots of 37signals staff here. Again, probably not a surprise; much of the Rails core team is there.
  • DHH is not afraid of a bit of swearing.

Update: the fun continued on Day Two.

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