Sunday, September 13, 2009

Windy City Rails 2009

Yesterday I attended the Windy City Rails 2009 conference. This is the first conference I've attended in a few years. More notably it was my first Ruby related conference. I have to say, I loved the format most of all. The conference was only $99 to attend, there were no tracks and therefor no session overlap. It was a quick one day in and out affair with great speakers and really good material. There were also AM and PM tutorials that did overlap with the conference itself. The tutorials were a deep dive into one particular subject each. They were great for those that wanted to go that route, and though I'm not an expert in the respective subjects, I decided to stick to the conference itself. Also, the tutorials cost extra and I'm a huge cheap ass, so $99 it is :P. There was also a "Coding Dojo". This was an interesting gathering of folks pairing up to work on various challenges. I didn't visit, but it sounded like a neat idea.

Better Ruby through Functional Programming - Dean Wampler

This was the first session of the morning to kick things off. Functional programming is something I battle with. One part of me wants to do more with it, the other part of me gets angry when the examples always devolve into convoluted math examples *yawn*. Dean avoided that (mostly) and covered more realistic topics. Overall the talk was very good, and showed how it is possible to follow a functional style with Ruby. Although, it seemed to me, that attempting to follow functional patterns leads to somewhat noisy and obtrusive Ruby code. Having to freeze things and boilerplate immutable classes seemed to add white noise.

Super-easy PDF Generation with Prawn and Prawn-to - John McCaffrey

Honestly I figured I wouldn't find this talk very interesting, but I was wrong. John was entertaining to listen to. He kept things moving at a fast pace and talked even faster; occasionally trailing off into these mumbles that we couldn't understand. He reminded me of Jim Gaffigan, I expected him to go into a "Hot Pockets" routine. Getting an overview of the different PDF generation tools and then taking a deep dive into Prawn was what kept me listening. Seeing the effect of combining the Google Charts API with Prawn PDF generation was very cool. It turns out my company currently does that and I didn't even know it :)

"Comics" is Hard: On Domains and Databases - Ben Scofield

This was a long road to an interesting topic. Ben broke into biology off the bat and then went into comic books. At first I had no idea where he was going with this. He was entertaining to listen to though, so I kept listening. He kept breaking down the subject to show that those subjects are far more complicated than they first seem. Also this lead into his real point. That these subjects are so complex, they're hard to map to the simple relational model simple SQL databases rely on. He then started into how other persistence mechanisms may hold the key. For example, key/value store systems like Tokyo Tyrant, Voldemort, and Redis. As well as more exotic graph databases like Neo4J.


I'm making mention of lunch because it was awesome. Marinated steak, shrimp pasta, some kinda chicken rolled up in a noodle. It was all so good!

UI Fundamentals for Programmers - Ryan Singer

This talk had a bit of a buzz at the start. Ryan is, of course, a 37 Signals guy, that makes him a celebrity to the geeks (like me) in attendance. His talk did not disappoint. His initial example of a UI done by a programmer is exactly the kind of UIs I've always built for web applications. All function, no humanity. He talked about how interfaces need text, friendly text, that clues people into what it is they're doing. Fields and labels for every field on your model just doesn't cut it. He also talked a lot about how the eye and brain work together to scan a page and take in information. Providing the right levels of contrast can really make a huge difference.

How to Test Absolutely Anything - Noel Rappin

Noel had a tough job here. He got stuck following Ryan Singer. Noel covered a lot of interesting points on how to test some of the more difficult parts of a rails application. Things like views, email, and timestamps can be difficult to get some good tests around. Interesting material and it was covered well. Unfortunately his slides looked like a website from 1995. This effect was increased by his unfortunate position following Ryan as I mentioned. I think the corny background images and "comets" used for text transitions distracted a lot from the actual words on the screen. Sorry Noel :)

Optimizing Perceived Performance - David Eisinger

One word, hysterical. David's delivery reminded me of Steven Wright. His talk was focused changing the way your interface behaves to give the user the appearance of improved performance. He showed off the power of JQuery to give this effect. He demonstrated several techniques and even uploaded it all to Github. Great talk, I really enjoyed it.

Dojo Retrospectives - Jake Scruggs & Dave Hoover

Like I said at the start, I didn't visit the dojo at all. If I had, I might have gotten more out of this. It seems the organizers knew this would be tough to make it interesting for those that never stuck their head in and kept it to 10 minutes.

Rails 3 Update - Yehuda Katz

This really seemed to be less of a Rails 3 update and more of a Rails retrospective with a bit of a rally cry built in. Yehuda got into Rails 3 at the end of his talk, but by then he was rushing due to time constraints. Don't get me wrong though, what he had to say about Ruby and Rails and the community was incredibly interesting.

Awesomeness Achieved

The Wisdom Group and Chicago Ruby folks really did a great job putting this together. It was well organized, simple, and had a great price. I will definitely attend next year. Oh, and I won a free copy of "The Ruby Way", so I got to get some free exercise lugging home a big ass book :P


John McCaffrey said...

Nice write up Ray!

(Plus I enjoyed the 'hot pockets')

I put my slides and sample project up at I'm planning on making it so you can see the code for each example as well, using coderay.

Ray Krueger said...

Thanks John,
I just removed a rogue sentence about your talking being first, which it clearly wasn't :P

Oh and I'm the dude who stopped you to chat about Pathfinder and tell you to tell Sharad I said hi :P