chris blogs

September 2007

22sep2007 · A RailsConf Europe '07 Diary

Flight STR–TXL, Sunday

Flying with air berlin is very pleasant: You get to choose from five newspapers, get free coffee and cake, and they show you the stupid (albeit rendered) security video on a TV screen.

Sunday evening

Time for some Bratwurst (pics)! After arriving at our apartment and figuring out how the WLAN is supposed to work, we take the tube to Kalkscheune where lots of people are already. The rug-b people made name tags for us. (Hey Vico!) After we all had enough Bratwurst, some go play Werewolf while we decide to go to the Tacheles (a.k.a. “shitty building”) and have some beer.


Since I didn’t book any tutorial sessions, it’s time to sleep out. We try to fix the WLAN but completely fuck it up. (You should have seen us trying to even find the router!) Later, we go to the great St. Oberholz (blog) cafe which has good coffee, good food, free wifi and Bionade. Not to forget nice waiters (Hey Ines!) and lots of Mac users. I had a heavy walnut tarte.

Monday evening

We missed Dave Thomas’s keynote because had a big Thai dinner. It was awesome and very tasty. And hot. Some go play Werewolf. Later we tried to find the Havanna Club Club, where there was a guy which a friend of a friend one of us knows. We searched for an hour, and ended up at the Madonna Bar, where we had some beer.


Being a bit late, I rushed into the DHH keynote. He showed evolutionary advancements on the way to Rails 2.0, for example automatic database setup, easier-to-read ActiveRecord inspects (yay) and partials by object type (which is pretty nice). He also demonstrated how to add new content-types to create special output for the iPhone. Finally, he announced a Rails 2.0 preview release to appear shortly after the conference.

Then, I attend the first sessions: Deployment and Continuous Integration from the Trenches by Fernand Galiana, who talked about new features in Capistrano 2 such as namespaces, different deployment strategies and events, which allow for seperation of aspects. After a whirlwind tour of cap2 we learned about certain traps and how to avoid them, for example by using lazy variable expansion. He also showed best practices such as factoring common code with load, multistage deployment and caches, which also can use rsync now. Fernand concluded his talk by showing a quick example of how to write your own tasks and announcing his Rails-driven Capistrano frontend dubbed Capote. His talk was amusing and full of hilarious engineering pictures.

Next up was Dr. Nic Williams with his excellent talk Meta-Magic in Rails: Become a Master Magician which started with a list of features he liked in Ruby and which help doing meta-stuff like the flexible syntax and the highly dynamic behavior. He explained he likes “a big number of complexity” and went on to compare Perl with a puppy unconscious of itself, Java with Keith Richards, and Ruby with Matrix’s Neo, who knows everything about himself and his environment. He introduced his Magic Models which use const_missing to generate ActiveRecord models on the fly and outlined a few important meta-programming techniques. It was a really funny and instructive talk (at least if you are not already a Ruby pro).

In the lunch break, I got to know some found the Havanna Club Club later, and it was just where we searched. Sigh.

In the afternoon, I attended Really scaling Rails by Britt Selvitelle, who works for flickrtwitter (thanks, nec). After explaining to the audience that most of them probably won’t need his hints yet, he explained their mongrel setup (they only proxy one request at a time from Apache to each mongrel, so requests won’t queue up) and gave tips on benchmarking actions. He insisted on not over-architecting. Furthermore, he explained how to create daemons for long-running tasks (such as informing 10000 followers of twitter’s popular users) and how to cache DB queries. He also introduced starling, which is an in-house queue server they wrote. If you can, cheat, he recommended to us, meaning that users won’t notice if things don’t update in real time or are totally synchronous. He also told about essential things for deployment, such as monitoring and easy deploy/rollback. Scaling is only needed where it matters. Lastly, he explained the importance of an API for twitter and how it was relevant for the big community they now have.

The next talk was Improving the Rails ecosystem by Evan Phoenix, the leader of the Rubinius project. He talked about how a better Ruby results in a better Rails and how Rubinius is focused on improving some Ruby deficiencies, like full operator overloading (you can overload != by itself), better memory usage (better sharing among forked processes), .rba archives for easier code deployment and more readable and informative backtraces. He announced they would release a 1.0 at the end of the year and concluded the talk with an extensive Q&A session. This was a very funny talk as well, last but not the least because of his sole usage of made-up statistics. (Rubinius is faster than three-legged dogs and turtles, but slower than the Space Shuttle, you knew?)

The day ended with Roy Fielding’s keynote The Rest on REST2, who once looked at the entire web—back when it was fifty sites. After a short history of the web until 1995, we got to know he was the main HTTP RFC editor and he went on outlining the web’s architecture. He explained how REST implies hypertext in some sense and how it made the web bigger. He also told he had a look at Rails and tried to show how to make it more RESTful (he lauded the CRUD); most things already can be done easily. It was a good talk (have a look at the slides, they are self-explaining mostly) and I really liked the small quotes on top of each slide.

Tuesday evening

We had some Schnitzel at a restaurant Unter den Linden which name I forgot. Then, we headed to RejectConf which took place at the Pirate Cove (noone noticed that tomorrow would be Talk Like A Pirate Day, though. Arrr!!) Some went to play Werewolf.

Dr. Nic praised me for even being able to talk about Ruby meta-programming after some rounds of J├Ągermeister shots. No big deal. ;-)

The caboosers also got a new set of t-shirts. (Thanks, chrissturm.)


The second day of the conference sessions started with Best Practices by Marcel Molina Jr. and Michael Koziarski of the Rails core team. (We learned Jamis Buck wasn’t there because his wife got a child.) They noticed most Rails projects stuff too much stuff into the controller and not enough into models. They explained that the controller merely should contain action code and most of the business logic belongs to the models. Marcel recommened the Smalltalk Best Practices book again, which is really worth a read. Michael talked about how association proxies make you code easier to understand and how to factor code into many descriptive methods.

Then, I attended JRuby at Thoughtworks by Ola Bini, who complained about MRI having threading issues, bad unicode support, and speed and GC problems. JRuby, which was started in 2001(!), tries to address all these problems. He also told that Java 6 made JRuby twice as fast without changing anything. JRuby will be compiled to bytecode to allow obfuscation, which is important for certain businesses. It also allows for easier deployment. At the end of his talk, he introduced his new Apress book “JRuby on Rails”.

After this, I went to Ruby on Rails Security by Heiko Webers, which was a lemon. He tried to shock the audience by telling he saw lots of session ids on the wifi, but proceded to give a totally boring talk about essential security concepts which would have been demonstrated a lot better by, well, demonstrating them. More action please!

In the lunch break, I met David Chelimsky of the RSpec team. We talked a bit about BDD and the future of RSpec and test/spec. He also explained the new StoryRunner to me. Then, I met Geoffrey Grosenbach and we recorded a Ruby on Rails podcast out of the blue!

The first afternoon session I attended was Browser-based Testing of Massive Ajax-using Rails Applications with Selenium, by Till Vollmer of MindMeister, a pretty neat AJAX mindmapping tool. He explained what Selenium is, and how usual tests don’t test browser behavior, which is essential for them. After a quick overview of Selenium’s features, he demonstrated their test suite for a live example.

Next was Functional JavaScript Development with Prototype by Ben Nolan. He told about JavaScript lambdas and what binding them means and went on talking about Prototypes enumberable extensions which have lots of useful methods like invoke, pluck or inGroupsOf. He mentioned taking some Haskell courses at university and stated JavaScript code is much easier to develop and debug when it consists of small, idempotent functions. Also, he recommended to store data in the DOM and not in private properties of JavaScript objects.

After the afternoon break, I went to Jay Fields’ talk on Extending Rails to Use the Presenter Pattern which was very fuzzy and mellow. He couldn’t really get his point across and most of the audience left the session without knowing what a presenter even is, which is kind of sad since it surely could have been useful in some situations. Or not.

The last session, PhD on Rails by Sam Aaron however saved the day. It was such a refreshing, intelligent and humorous talk that I completely forgot to take notes. Let me try to remember: He created a database backed system to keep track of objects which are rendered in a three dimensional spaces and then implemented a query language to operate on them. Really cool. And the first person I met that uses VRML.

Wednesday evening

We tried to find a restaurant for roughly 25 persons which was not that easy. We ended up in a pretty expensive French brasserie, but I liked my dinner. Some went to play Werewolf. The rest went to Ambulance Bar where we had half a dozen cocktails each. They were very good. We got back to the appartment at 3am, just before the Werewolf players finished.


I decided to stay one more day after the conference, and we spent all day at St. Oberholz again. I had a great tiramisu and a beagel. Yum.

Thursday evening

We decided to go to the Fernsehturm for dinner, had a Weizenbier up there waiting until we could enter the spinning restaurant, which was pretty cool. The food was far better than I expected and not even that expensive.

After dinner, we went back to the appartment because we all would need to wake up pretty early.

Flight TXL–FMM, Friday

I had to wake up 6am to get to the airport in time. I met Geoffrey there again and we had another little chat. I flew back with tuifly, which let me chose whether I wanted to be seated to the window or not but had no free coffee or other features. They play the stupid security video for you. It was a bit cheaper, though.

General points

  • git is gaining popularity among Ruby hackers, I saw lots of them installing it and toying around.

  • Berlin: I had forgotten how great the city is. The complete and utter lack of aesthetics actually is appealing, but the icky typography in the subway hurts my soul.

NP: Bob Dylan—This Wheels On Fire

Copyright © 2004–2013