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RailsConf 2006 - Day One

Posted by Marty Haught on Saturday, June 24, 2006
So here are some of my thoughts from the first day of RailsConf2006.

Overall, it was a good day. The highlights were the excellent keynotes and the networking. It's hard to place a value on hanging out with the 'cool kids' for several days. Most of the top minds in Rails were here and talking to many of them was very cool. The lesser points revolved around a few of the talks not living up to my expectations based on their abstracts as well as the lack of internet. I ended up leaving my Dell XPS laptop upstairs for the day. Not only because I couldn't get online but I didn't want to be teased about not owning a MacBook! It was fairly interesting to see so many Mac laptops. I'd say 95% of the laptops present were Macs. Amazing.

But I'll get on to covering the talks I attended:

1) Tooling Rails by the RadRails team.

This talk was presented by the three members of the RadRails team and was to focus on RadRails and the future of tools for Rails. Unfortunately, they decided to alternate who was talking between each slide. This made for a rather disjointed delivery and seemed forced. Additionally, they spent too much time trying to convince the audience that tooling is useful in a repetitive manner. Not that I needed convincing but I'm sure they could have condensed the same content from 25 minutes to 10. Luckily, they did talk a bit about the newer features of RadRails and opened up the latter part of the talk to questions. The summary is that they have their work cut out for them and without additional support we shouldn't expect to see any major new features in RadRails anytime soon. It's simply tough when you're used to IDEA or Eclipse's Java support. Luckily Ruby really doesn't need an IDE like this but I sure would enjoy refactoring support.

2) Meanwhile, in the Rest of the World - David Demaree

David's talk was fairly interesting but seemed a bit long and high level. His basic premise was that you need to design for people and consider how they'll be using your application. That most users don't get fancy ajax type features so you need to be careful in your UI design. I definitely would agree but his talk came off as RSS/web 2.0 features are too hard for the general population. While this may be true right now I suspect it's getting better faster than he leads on. I didn't expect anything specific to Rails from this talk so I wasn't that disappointed.

3) Monitoring Rails Applications in Production Environments - Steven Smith

I had a bit too high of expectations for this talk. Based on his abstract I was counting on walking out with some handy ways to monitor my production app. Steven started off well by going over some conventional wisdom on what your production setup might look like. Most of this I already knew but I enjoyed hearing it based on his experience. The second part of his talk went into his company's product that can monitor Rails applications (among other things). Their app is written in Rails and looks very nice. However, it's not free or open source so it's not something I can have, unless I pay for it. I was anticipating that half the talk would be a product demo, albeit a cool one. He did reveal that their metrics were gathered via the Gauge code that is part of Rails' core svn. But it essentially works by wrapping the major points into your application.

4) Overcoming Scaffolding Addiction - Amy Hoy

I ended up leaving Amy's talk after 15 minutes. Her talk was okay, though it seemed to be targeted towards a younger audience (I was thinking high school) in maturity. I did agree with some of her points on not relying on scaffolding. Though after 10 or so minutes I realized her talk was more geared towards a newer Rails developer and decided to move over to a talk that wasn't repetition for me.

4a) Demos

After leaving Amy's talk I squeezed my way into the demo presentation. This was an open session where anyone could talk about their Rails app for 5 minutes. I missed a few but saw some very interesting ones. The neatest demo was definitely the one on Radiant. It looked like a very cool CMS tool.

Now the keynotes...

1) Dave Thomas

Dave's speech was great as always. He started off talking about how far Rails and Ruby has come in terms of populatity lately. He also went over some things that Rails needs to make it to the next level. What would turn out to be fairly fascinating was the 'conversation' would be continued through the next two days of the conference. Amy Hoy would later disagree with Dave on the premise that Rails needs to make scaffolding smarter (handle associations and be skinnable). Justin Gehtland would further disagree with Amy and demonstrated Streamlined which proved that it was quite possible (but more on that later).

2) Martin Fowler

Martin's talk was fabulous and really honed in on the key things he really likes about Rails (and Ruby). This was my first time seeing Martin talk and I wasn't disappointed at all. He touched on the concept of having opinionated software, ease of developing in Rails and how that enables better agile processes and that Rails gets out of your way so you can focus on the interesting parts of software. This summary doesn't do justice to his great talk but might give you a bit of an idea on it.

3) Paul Graham

Sadly, I missed Paul's talk due to delays at Gino's East Restaurant. I did enjoy some authentic Chicago pizza and great conversation with some fellow Railers so it wasn't a total loss.

4) Why the Lucky Stiff (and the Thirsty Cups)

Not a keynote but was the ending of the day. What can you say about Why? Hilarious, outrageous and just plain weird. He didn't disappoint though you really have to be a geek to get his humor. Musically, I won't be looking for any CDs. I'm not sure you can even attach a style to it before weird 'techno', I guess. But maybe that's the point. :)
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