Hedge End car meet

Ray and I went out for an evening walk today, aiming to take photos of the motorway and (Rachel’s idea) of trolleys in the Sainsburys/Marks & Spencers car park.

While we were out, we came across a crowd of at least two or three hundred people at Hedge End. Rachel asked someone what was going on. “Car meet”, came the response. We hung around and took some slightly blurry photos. Highlights included a crash, a flare, lots of police cars and oodles of people hanging around their cars.

Rachel got her wish, and took some really lovely shopping trolley photos too.

Internet People dinner

InternetPeeps - Matt enjoys a Bobby Loch

I was invited to attend an Internet People dinner at Adam Street (just off the Strand) last night. The room was chock full of interesting internet people. The companies represented included New Media Knowledge, Inspiring Eve, Squiz, Directgov, Monochrome, Mint Digital, Sub Hub, Last.fm and The Friday Project.

The food, wine and company were superb. I can’t recommend the InternetPeeps events strongly enough.
I somehow managed to leave my notebook behind, so some of my insights are temporarily innaccessible to me. Nevertheless, I do remember…

  • Moo (with its lovely Flickr business cards) got talked about a lot.
  • Second Life is not a game. That was me saying that.
  • Paul Carr has been inspired by a magazine to sell guns to children.
  • Deirdre and I share a common connection in James Governor
  • Niklas‘s cousin’s wife (if I’ve remembered this correctly) used to manage my previous department at IBM. He also has my notebook.
  • Apparently I should try Breeze
  • Robert Loch, who organised the event, has a cocktail named after him and it’s delicious.
  • The NTK newsletter is no longer updated. I somehow missed that. It makes me sad.

There was a lot more, but it will have to wait until I get my notebook back.

Zurich

A busy day yesterday. It started with a press event at Southbank (IBM’s London location), where I met with a few of the (great many) IBMers who have an interest in Virtual Worlds. This notably includes Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who was there to spearhead the meetings with various press agencies.

Update: this already yielded one story, in The Register no less. (I also notice it’s found it’s way onto Digg and del.icio.us).

Quite amazingly exciting stuff, and I was very sad to have to leave half an hour after the event started.

Press

The reason I had to slip out? I flew from Heathrow to Zurich, ready for a talk I’m giving on Virtual Worlds at a company/partner mini conference.

As part of the continuing Global War On Moisture, I was forced to leave hair-gel, deoderant and toothpaste with a very understanding security guard at Heathrow. (I’m only away for one night, so decided not to check any luggage in the hold, preferring to convince the airport staff that my laptop bag does fit into the recently miniaturised test box at checkin which bears no relation to the dimensions overhead lovkers in a half-full plane). To be honest, I should have remembered that ongoing liquid-related security measures are in place, but I’d had a busy day and conveniently managed to forget about all it. There was a moment, unshoed and de-belted in the queue for the bag search, that I thought I would get away with it. My (aerosol) deoderant predictably triggered a bag search though, so I very quickly came clean about the veritable secret cache of illicit liquids lurking at the bottom of my bag.

Having been suitably dessicated, I quickly found my way to the airport chemists, and replaced the lost items. Knowing I’d probably have just as much trouble getting things back out of Switzerland tomorrow, I opted for hair clay instead of gel (which may be closer to a solid than a liquid, I’m not sure). For deoderant, I found a solid stick of mineral salts which promises ‘natural bacteriostatic action’. It appears to be the same product my wife uses, and she always smells lovely. It’s definitely not an aerosol anway, so should hopefully make it back through the airport with me tomorrow. Toothpaste was a tricky one, so I opted for the smallest, cheapest tube I could find.

Lovely coulds across Europe during the flight.

Trip 054

Trip 028

At Zurich I was met by my lovely friends Adam and Helene, who live just up the road is Basal. We went out for a meal, where I was treated to some authentic Swiss Asian food, and reciprocated at an ‘ice cream gallery’, which serves quite delicious rasperry, chocolate and kiwi ice creams.

Unlike last weeks hotel, the Best Western Hotel Engimatt does not offer its guests free wireless. Therefore I’m writing this in SlickEdit (which I like to think is the Windows user’s answer to TextMate) on Tuesday night, and will post it from the conference tomorrow.

RailsConf Europe, day 2

Jim Weirich

Jim Weirich (author of ‘rake’, among other things), presented on tips to avoid being a Leeroy Jenkins in the Rails community. He gave some very helpful, concrete examples of things to avoid when modifying or adding behaviour in other people’s classes.

why the lucky stiff + the foxes

Next was the much anticipated presentation by ‘why the lucky stiff‘, author of Try Ruby, Why’s (poignant) Guide to Ruby, YAML, etc. The delightful why gave an overview of some of his characters, gave us a Sandbox demo (momentarily reduced by a technical gitch to picking up his laptop and showing us the screen), pronounced “Hpricot” out loud for the first time and shared some cute Ruby tricks. My favourite bit of the talk: “Is anyone working on Wasabi for Ruby?” (a throwaway reference to a recent flame between DHH and Joel (1, 2, 3). It got very little response, but maybe that’s why it was my favourite bit.
In the elective sessions, I learned about JRuby from Churles Nutter at Sun, and Rany Keddo described how he turned his bank job into a Rails playground,

James Duncan Davidson

Later In the afternoon, James Duncan Davidson (writer of Ant, Tomcat and an amazing photographer) covered why ‘The Web is a Pipe‘ on the benefits of HTTP, the need to flatten storage and memory and, interestingly, raising the issue that CPU cycles do matter because of the environmental and carbon cost of machine power.

Dave Thomas

Finally, Dave Thomas (pickaxe author) wrapped up the event, breaking the ice by pointing out that it was perhaps the Rails conference with the highest density of swearwords so far, so proposed a new Rails logo. His talk compared terrorism to FUD and listing some hints to avoid it in relation to Rails. He received a standing ovation.

(There are a load more photos in my RailsConf Europe set on Flickr, and other peoples tagged with ‘RailsConf Europe‘ too.)

More observations:

  • Being the (first) European Rails conference, there are plenty of European accents in the room. I’m hearing more of them today than yesterday. Perhaps they take a while to open up. Some American, though many of those are speakers.
  • Dan Webb’s ‘Unobtrusive JavaScript with Rails’ was so oversubscribed yesterday that it was re-run today.
  • MySQL is named after the creator’s daughter, ‘My’ (pronounced “Mee”). I did not know that. I don’t think I’m going to start calling it “Mee SQL” though.
  • Lots of the cool factor in the Rails community is about life on The Edge.

Update: DHH has done me the serious honour of using some of my photos in his recent blog post about the event.

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.

DHH

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.

RailsConf Europe, day 0 – PizzaOnRails

RailsConf Europe starts tomorrow morning. I arrived this evening for PizzaOnRails, a social gathering for Railsters, tonight held in 1 Leicester Square. It’s a chance to meet people who’ll be around for the conference (and, it turns out, people who won’t be there and came just for the pizza event). It was a good evening with free pizza, free beer (at least, to begin with) and unfortunately rather a heavy recruitment vibe. At least one big recruitment company was working the room quite hard with about 4 staff, plus random freelancers were looking for talented hackers.

I had a fun evening, and made a few new friends very quickly. One of the first people I met turned out to be a fellow Hursley-ite, which was quite a coincidence. No other IBMers to be seen so far.
At various points during the evening, ladies would appear in front of a camera and drape themselves over the crowd. Here’s me being draped on.

Perhaps sensing my nervousness (my wife spends nearly as much time online as I do), my draper did at least introduce herself to me first. Notice my fixed grin, and how my hand is kept firmly in my pocket! :-)

BBC White City

Yesterday I got my first chance to visit the BBC Media Village at White City, a short walk from Television Center on Wood Lane.

I had an amusing phone call with the client exec just before I left home to get the train. He let me know it was to be a relaxed meeting, and dress would be ‘very casual’. I’m glad I checked what he meant, as I was still wearing jeans and T-shirt at the time and had (briefly) thought, “oh handy, I won’t have to change”. Turns out the Hursley Geek version of ‘very casual’ differs from the London-based Client Executive version. Of course, he meant I didn’t need to put on a suit. :-)

What are those dots anyway? Glass BBC White City - Broadcast Center BBC White City - lunchtime

I got to do my usual (discussing Web 2.0, emerging technologies and virtual worlds) and afterwards walked around taking some photos. The atmosphere at White City was lovely and reminds me of very much of Hursley, especially when I arrived and people were sat on the lawn enjoying lunch.

Anyone want to buy a flat?

We’re selling our flat. We’ve always enjoyed living in West End, and will probably move to somewhere very nearby, but we’re hoping to move to something a little bigger. Ideally we would both have space to work at home, with a study for me and a studio for Rachel. Also we’d like to get a dog, so a garden would be good. Maybe kids one day. Who knows.

Our flat went on the market today. It’s a great process to go through. We’ve finally finished the decorating we started four years ago, and the place is constantly tidy now.

If you’ve ever wondered what our flat looks like, or even wondered about the floor plans, now is your chance to satisfy some curiosity. Of course, if you’d like to buy a modern top-floor two bedroom flat near Southampton and a short drive to Hursley, do let me know. It’s like Scoble’s sofa. But I’m less famous and the flat is bigger. Offers from £130k please.