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RailsConf 2008

I've landed, gotten mostly back in the right timezone without too many incidents (except running through SFO to board very badly scheduled connection).

After allowing the impressions from the last 6-7 days to sink in a little, it's time to summarize RailsConf. I'll go through the sessions I saw and then do some concluding remarks.

The first day was tutorials. I had a good time in Neal Fords and Pat Farleys tutorial on Metaprogramming. I can't say I learned much from the sessions, but it was very good content, extremely well presented, and I got the impression that many in the room learned lots of crucial things. The kind of knowledge about internals you get from a talk like this allows you to understand how metaprogramming in Ruby actually works, which makes it easier to achieve the effects you want.

After that I sat around hacking in the Community Code Drive for the rest of the day, with lots of other people. I wasn't involved in gitjour (which by the way is incredibly cool), but I did manage to find a memory leak in iTerms Bonjour handling due to gitjour. Neat. Me and David Chelimsky paired on getting support for multiline plain text story arguments into RSpec, and by the end of the afternoon it was in.

Finally, we headed out to the JRuby hackfest, which ended up being over full with people. That's a good problem to have. We had a great time, hacking on different things, helping people to get started and debugging various problems. All in all it was a very productive day.

I began the Friday with Joel Spolsky's keynote. In contrast to many other people I didn't like it. There wasn't really any content at all, just some humorous content and lots of jokes about naked women. I expect something a bit more profound for the first keynote of the conference, since they have a tendency to actually set the standard for the rest of the days.

After the keynote, John Lam showed off IronRuby running a few simple Rails requests. This is a great achievement, and I'm very impressed with their results. I have argued that IronRuby would probably never reach this point, and I'm very happy to admit I was wrong and offer my apologies to John Lam and the IronRuby team. That said, the fact that IronRuby runs a few different Rails requests is not the same thing as saying that IronRuby runs Rails. My personal definition of running Rails is more about having the Rails test suite run at a high percentage of success (something like 96-98% would be good enough for almost all Rails apps to work, provided they are the right 98%). (ED: Evan Phoenix just told me that MRI doesn't run the Rails test suite totally clean either, because of the way the Rails development process works. So a 100% is probably not a good measure of Rails compatibility.) I assume that this is going to be the next goal for the IronRuby team, and I wish them good luck.

I saw the Hosting talk after that, but I have to admit I was wrapped up in a seriously annoying JRuby bug at the moment so I didn't really pay attention.

The DataMapper talk was very full and gave a good overview of why DataMapper might be a better choice than AR in many cases. The presentation style could possibly have been a bit less dry, but the content was definitely delicious.

If the next two days were the JRuby days, the Friday was the day for all other alternative implementations. I sat in on the Rubinius talk by Evan Phoenix and friends, and then the much talked about MagLev presentation.

I first want to congratulate Rubinius on running several different Rails requests. It's very cool and a great milestone. The same caveats as for IronRuby applies of course. But wow, the debugging features is awesome. First class meta objects are extremely powerful, and will provide many capabilities to the platform. The presentation was also extremely entertaining. One of the best presentations for the sheer fun everyone seemed to have. Props to Evan, Brian and Wilson for this.

So. The MagLev talk. First, there seems to be some misunderstandings about what MagLev actually is. It is not a hosting service. Gemstone might offer a hosting service around MagLev in the future, but that's not what is going on here. MagLev is a new virtual machine for Ruby, based on Gemstone/S. Basing it on a Smalltalk machine makes it very easy for Gemstone to implement a large subset of Ruby and having it running cleanly and with good performance. Exactly how much has been implemented at this point is not really clear, since no major applications run, and the RubySpecs have not been used on it yet. I assume that the implementation doesn't handle enough Ruby features yet to be able to run the mspec runner and other important machinery.

Was this presentation important? Yeah, sure. To a degree. It was a cool presentation, whetting peoples appetite by showing something that might some day become a real Ruby platform with built in support for an incredible OODB. But it's still early days.

The Saturday began with Jeremy's keynote. He talked about the new things in Rails 2.1 and also showed the same app running in Ruby 1.8, 1.9, Rubinius and JRuby. Very cool.

I ended up in Nathaniel Talbotts 23 Hacks session which was fun. Good stuff.

After that the JRuby day began in earnest with Nick's talk about deploying JRuby on Rails. This was mostly the same talk as given at JavaOne, but more geared towards Ruby programmers. Useful information.

Dan Manges and Zak Tamsen gave an extremely useful talk about how to test Rails applications correctly. Very good material. Exactly the strong kind of deep technical knowledge, gained by experience, that people go to conferences to get.

My talk about JRuby on Rails was generally well received. I had a fun time, and of course I managed to run out of time as usual. I wonder why I'm always afraid of running out of material. That has never happened when I'm talking bout JRuby.

The final technical session of the day ended up being a walk-around to all the different presentations going on and taking a peek, and then ending up hacking in the speakers room.

The evening keynote was by Kent Beck, and as usual he is fantastic to listen to.

The Sunday started with the CS nerds anonymous session, held by Evan Phoenix. It ended up being a kind of lightning talk session, and had some nice points.

After that Ezra gave his talk - that had nothing to do with the session title. He presented Vertebra, which is a cloud computing control system, based on XMPP, Erlang and the actors model. Very cool stuff, although it might not be that useful for people who aren't in charge of a quite large number of computers. But if you have your own botnet, this might be the best way to control them all. =)

The final session of the day was the JRuby Q&A session, which basically flew by. The first ten minutes went in normal time, and then suddenly the session was over. I think we had good attendance, and the right level of questions. You can see all the points covered in Nicks blog, here.

And then it was over.

So, what was good? The technical level was definitely deeper and more rooted in experience. I have to say that this was probably the best Ruby conference I've been to, based on the depth and level of the presentations. Kudos to the scheduling people.

And what was bad? A little bit too much hype about MagLev, and everyone's tendency to use dark colors on black backgrounds in their presentations. Hey, they look good on your computer screen, but it's really not readable!

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