The conference was in an Embassy Suites right there by San Fran airport, thus for the first time in years I found myself in The Valley but without a car; felt weird. As usual, a bracing blend of geek love and mind food, plus this time with musical and athletic side-trips.

The Crowd · Overwhelmingly male as usual, although the proportion of women measured unquantitatively by me looking at people seemed up from “pretty well none” in previous years to “disturbingly few” this time; moving in the right direction is a good thing I suppose.

The crowd at RubyConf 2009

I made a point of sitting down at tables with people I didn’t know, and in just about every single case it turned out to be an indie or other small-shop contractor, often banging out the Rails sites; every single one told me business was good; the fact that they can afford to skip off to California from points all over the USA is indicative I think.

Good Stuff, Generally · Chad and Rich and the guys do a fine job of pulling this together, and Kelly Jeane worked like an Amazon keeping the engine-room humming and the trains arriving on time. Thanks, ladies and gents.

I don’t want to get all triumphalist, but it’s my considered opinion that in Software-Engineering terms, the Ruby community is significantly ahead of the professional pack. Things like Gems and Rails and Rake and Rack and RSpec and, well, the list goes on, emerge at regular intervals and then other languages and communities say “Yeah, we need something like that” and build one, which is sometimes better even, but there is a remarkable amount of leadership coming from a pretty small community. I’ve not attended a RubyConf where I haven’t had my thinking about how to do software expanded.

Let me highlight a few sessions that left stronger-than-usual impressions.

Trans-Pacific · The session was called East Meets West and addressed the fact that core Ruby technology happens both sides of the International Date Line and more conversations need to cross the line.

It addressed the fact by packing “All the interesting stuff that’s happening in Ruby in Japan” into a very intense 45 minutes. It was organized by Yuki Sonoda better known as Yugui (@yugui) who among other things is the actual release manager for the C-based versions of Ruby that almost everybody actually runs.

Yuki Sonoda, better known as Yugui, at RubyConf 2009

The other micro-talks in 45 minutes were good but Yugui’s part was excellent, a heartfelt cry across that Date Line for help on core Ruby. Because it turns out that there’s almost nobody who’s actually getting paid to work on actual core Ruby (less than the number who are getting paid to work on JRuby and IronRuby and MagLev and so on). Ruby really needs to find a sugar daddy — in my opinion, a deep-pocketed Japanese corporate sugar daddy — and find it soon.

Oh, and by the way, RubyKaigi should have a “West Meets East” session which briefs the Japanese community on what the gaijin Rubyists are up to.

Blimps! · What could be more geek-friendly than robot-controlled blimps? Particularly when they’re Arduino-based, Ruby-programmable, carry a payload of cameras, and have a home page called BlimpDuino?

The talk was by the Evans brothers, Ron and Damen; here’s one of them having fun flying a robotic blimp around a room full of geeks.

A BlimpDuino in flight at RubyConf 2009

After the talk, we repaired to the nine-story atrium, where the blimps could gain altitude and have real fun. The guy pointing the Qik or equivalent is Gregg Pollack of Rails Envy.

A BlimpDuino cruises the Embassy Suites atrium at RubyConf 2009

Teach Your Children · The official title was Indoctrinating the Next Generation: Teaching Ruby to Kids, presented by Sarah Mei, who I’d really like to teach programming to my kids.

Sarah Mei at RubyConf 2009

The presentation is at github; it’d be nice if there were a pointer to a simple PDF or some such for civilians. It was mostly a report on the experience of teaching a 3-hour get-started-in-programming session for high-school girls, based on Shoes.

I can totally see it grabbing a youngster’s attention; perhaps I’m hypersensitive as the father of a ten-year-old who is at the moment oblivious to programming’s charms. Anyhow, Sarah’s good, go see her if you get a chance.

Sparkles · There were a bunch of other sessions I enjoyed. I, like many others, think Ruby needs to be a whole lot faster than it is, so I tried to take in all the sessions related to that. And I think Ruby’s going to be a whole lot faster than it is. I particularly enjoyed Caleb Clausen’s Towards a Ruby compiler; I don’t know whether his Ocelot project will ever be a force in the market, but his thinking on the hard parts of making Ruby fast seemed very clear to me. Also, he’s photogenic.

Caleb Clausen at RubyConf

The sessions on the current project to reform the Gems architecture and infrastructure, in particular Polishing Rubygems by Yehuda Katz, were very solid.

Then of course there the many sessions on Ruby’s multiple implementations, both the ones that are here today like JRuby and MacRuby, those that are looming over the horizon like Rubinius and IronRuby, and those that are shapely shadows in the mist like Duby and MagLev.

Gripes and Grumbles · I paid for this conference and the travel to it, but I missed a third of it because Saturdays I go home and spend with my spouse and kids unless something’s happening that’s unambiguously business-critical. So I missed talks on Clojure and asynch I/O and Duby and Functional Programming that I had paid for and would have enjoyed, and that sucks. I make no apology for treating my family as a priority and the Ruby community makes no apologies for spilling RubyConf into the weekend, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

A few weeks ago I read How We Made GitHub Fast, a really remarkable piece; clearly these guys are smart and fearless and innovative. Good on ’em. So I was expecting to be impressed when I sat down for BERT and Ernie: Scaling your Ruby site with Erlang from Tom “Mojombo” Preston-Werner.

And I was, but I was also pissed off. There was a little too much of a we’re-so-fucking-awesome vibe, and then Tom classified programmers into drones, craftsmen, and inventors, remarking that by “drones” he meant “Java Programmers”. Well, I’m one of those at regular intervals and hey Tom, go pound sand. By the way there are another five million or so Java-using potential converts out there who might be interested in the cool stuff you’re building when it isn’t obscured by drifting clouds of blinkered arrogance.

Other gripes... well, the Embassy Suites as one might expect failed to deploy world-class networking technology, where by “world-class” I mean “adequate”. Can’t have everything.

Extracurricular Activity · The organizers (primarily Chad I think) organized a 5K run at 7:30 AM on Friday, and a remarkable number of people signed up for it. Quite a few of them, I gather, used the Couch to 5k program to prepare for the event. Rain was forecast, and an hour before start time, the sky looked distinctly dicey; oh, and beautiful.

Sunrise over San Francisco Bay

As it happened, the morning was brisk, bright, and cheery. I lack the patience to be a runner so I got up early and took pictures.

Participants in the 5k run at RubyConf 2009
· · ·
The 5k run at RubyConf 2009

The shots that came out within shouting distance of OK are in the RubyConf 2009 5K photoset on Flickr. Some of them are decent, but the finish-line shots gave me a choice of silhouetting the runners against either the rising sun or the bright water and sky of San Francisco Bay. The fact that they’re visible at all is due partly to the nearly-miraculous Pentax DA* 50-135, but mostly to Kelly Jeane, who stood on the finish line while I took about 25 test shots trying to figure out how to work around the back-lighting.

Oh, and the night before the run, ten or so Rubyists gathered with their axes and played actual music for an hour or two; I even lugged my djembé down. The ensemble managed to find something not unlike a plausible funk groove a couple of times; our attempts at performing actual songs were less successful. Still, good fun.

I’ll be back.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: JulesLt (Nov 22 2009, at 06:35)

Strikes me that Apple could probably find some small change to fund the core Ruby team in Japan, given that Ruby seems to be (unofficially) their higher-level language of choice.

(I do have a sneaking feeling that this will mean Python will be the new C++, and Ruby the new Objective-C)

Agreed on the comments about arrogance - I find it a real turn-off when people make generalised statements that basically run 'All the clever people are programming in X'. It's patently untrue, like judging people's intelligence on their musical taste.

My experience is that there are plenty of clever people working with legacy software or languages, because that's actually what most of the world's software is.

I've more respect for someone who can solve a real-world problem in a system they didn't design, than someone who says 'well you wouldn't have the problem if you'd designed it as a cloud-scalable shared-nothing architecture'.


From: AK (Nov 22 2009, at 10:39)

Thanks for telling us about programming in relation to children. I am interested in how this might be applied or offered as alternatives within schools to reach children with learning differences. Especially output/dysgraphia probs.

Even as a psychologica/motivational l tool for kids with output problems along the lines of you input x (or lots of x) and y happens.

Or even saying here you have access to another kind of written language? Beyond the static paragraph.

Am I being too optimistic? Too idealistic?


From: AK (Nov 24 2009, at 12:54)


We are revved on Shoes. Wow.

We built a simple txt box with swear words of course.

An oval

A what's your name box. Then feeling like experts we mixed the code up and got endless error messages.

Thus far purposeless boxes, but what the heck always been a fan of boxes..

Thanks, I think this has great possibilities for motivating kids who need alternatives ways of generating.


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