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#mwrc 2009 Recap

Posted by Marty Haught on Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mountain West Ruby Conference, #mwrc, has come to a close and I have to say that this was definitely the best one yet. The pace was quick, the socializing was great and it was packed with great talks. Luckily they were recorded so you will be able to watch them yourself soon.

Unfortunately, the ‘hallway track’ is not something you can experience if you didn’t attend. It had a strong presence this year, more so than in past years. Engine Yard hosted two hack nights that went into the wee hours. I didn’t stay much past 11pm myself but the room was packed both nights filled with hacking, conversation and food/drink. I would guess 40-50 folks were there at the night’s busiest time. We also had ample time for both lunch and dinner. Many interesting conversations were add and we didn’t feel rushed to get back to some keynote. For lunch we had two hours before having to get back.

As for the talks there were many great ones. I’ll touch briefly on them in chronological order.

James Earl Gray II started off the conference with a talk about Little Big Planet and reading code to improve your mastery of the language. This was the first time I’ve seen JEG2 talk and I found him very entertaining with a solid presentation.

Up next was Jon Crosby talking about Rack Middleware. I was looking forward to hearing more about the state of Rack and how it could help me. I was encouraged by where things are heading with Rack and Rails. I could see several uses that could help my projects.

Yahuda Katz talked about the Rails 3 merger. It was neat to see the details on where things are heading. It was pretty packed with info though so I’ll want to watch it again on video. Jeremy Evans followed with a talk on Sequel. Unfortunately he went really fast, covered some pretty in depth material and was reading from a script which all compounded to make his talk more difficult to keep up with.

After lunch Kirk Haines presented on Vertebra. There are many interesting aspects to vertebra and its possible uses. Kirk and I talked the night before about the project and some of the challenges. It’ll be awesome to see everything get fleshed out and see it in production use. Following Kirk was Andrew Shafer, from the puppet team. He talked about puppet and I have to say I loved his presentation style. It’s also cool that Andrew is a local guy. I don’t really do much sysadmin type work myself but if I did, I think I’d be using puppet quite a bit.

Jeremy Hinegardner, one of our Boulder Ruby members, presented on FFI. I’m really inexperienced with the C extensions or calling out to other native libaries through Ruby. Jeremy did great and I can see great uses for FFI if you need to make those sort of calls across platforms/vms. After a break, Brian Marick took the stage and did his presentation on test-driving GUI development in Ruby Cocoa. Brian’s a great speaker and this was my first time seeing him speak. Test-driven development is something that I’ve been doing for years so his approach seemed natural to me. I’m also not into Cocoa at the moment so I just enjoyed the presentation.

David Brady wasn’t feeling well so one of the alternate speakers, David Richards, presented in his place. His talk was pretty cool focusing on Machine Learning. It’s not a field that I see myself doing much in but I found his presentation enjoyable, even with his ‘scattered’ sort of style. Jeremy McAnally followed up with a talk on DSL design. He did a great job covering the various approaches with DSLs.

We finished the day with lightning talks. There were too many to mention here but the highlights I took away from it was hearing a bit more about Rack::Test and Redis. I will be checking both out a bit more in the future.

Though I really enjoyed the first day’s talks the second day surpassed it which is always a pleasant surprise. For me I find the last day or half day of a conference to be sluggish and less enjoyable. Not here. We definitely ended the conference on a bang.

Daniel Philpott, ‘Danny Blitz’, kicks things off with his talk ‘Herding Tigers’. What can I say? Danny is a rock star in the true sense of the word. Just watch his presentation. As we waited for the morning to begin he was playing AC DC’s Highway to Hell album. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I liked it. :) His talk primarily dealt with building tiger teams, his version of what an agile team should be like. I had to say I agree. I think his approach would build some kick ass teams.

Adam Blum spoke next on Rhodes, a ruby-based framework for building mobile apps. The example he gave looked really cool and it apparently works on several major platforms. The apps are built in html/css and compiled for each specific platform. Jay Phillips followed and was going to do a live demo on Adhearsion but unfortunately there were issues connecting to this server (firewall?) and he had to settle for just walking though how you build an app. Too bad, it would have been fun to see.

Adam Dunford and Jason Edwards had the last presentation before lunch talking about improving the usability of your Ruby on Rails applications. Most of the talk was just on building more usable web applications which I enjoyed seeing. The part that was RoR specific wasn’t very long and honestly was rather basic.

David Brady, which had been scheduled to talk the first day did a 20 minute presentation on TourBus just before our lunch break. TourBus is a basic mechanism for running tests against a specific instance of your application with performance tuning in mind. I’m glad he did present on this as it looks really easy to use and very helpful for when you get to the performance tuning part in your project’s lifecycle.

We were treated to a Cucumber talk right after lunch (dessert?!?) by Ben Mabey. I haven’t tried out cucumber yet so this was nice to see. I think Ben did an outstanding job with his slides and his delivery. You could even follow along with his slides on his laptop. The coolest thing about this if you tried to advanced past the slide he was on it displayed ‘No Peeking’. How cool is that?

Phillipe Hanrigou presented on ‘What a Ruby craftsmen can learn from the Smalltalk master’. He went over four aspects of good software design from Kent Beck’s Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns and related to Ruby. The four were crucial naming, cognitive scalability, reduce code to its essence and symmetry. I’ve been considering picking up that book and Phillipe’s talk may have pushed that to into my next book buying spree.

Fellow Denverite, Paul Sadauskas, presented on writing Datamapper adapters in good detail. I feel pretty confident that if I needed to write an adapter for DM that I could do so now. James Britt took the stage after a break and presented on using Ruby with a Wii Remote. He showed off some cool stuff. Check out the video to see some of the cool things you can do with that.

Alan Whitaker’s ‘twisted art’ presentation followed called, ‘La Dolce Vita Rubyista’. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, even those of us on that board that selected his talk. He had some great advice for how to better yourself in a team with Ruby and these sections of advice were accompanied by a short film that he and his fellow Utah Rubyists put together. Wow, is all I can say. It was super well done, funny and it mirrored the advice he was giving. As soon as the video is available you should check this out. Fantastic. It got a well-deserved standing ovation.

Finally we finished the plan presentations with Jim Weirich’s ‘The Grand Unified Theory of Software Development’. As usual, Jim gave a great presentation filled with oatmeal, inside jokes and thoughtful design considerations centered around the concept of code coupling and connascence. The material was so deep and compelling that I’ll need to watch it again to make sure I caught everything.

The conference ended with an hour of lightning talks. I think I was mentally done at this point as I didn’t jot down any notes on them. Luckily Confreaks will published the video for us all to enjoy later.

One cool thing about this conference is many cool highlights were tweeted with the hashtag of #mwrc. Do a search on Twitter to read up on the goodness that was shared. For a two day conference that cost only $100 this was a steal for those lucky enough to get tickets. The conference did sell out a week before. I recommend you attend next year.

All in all it was a great conference and I’m happy I got to be part of it.

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