Quick RailsConf Update

— May 31, 2008 at 08:02 PDT

DrNic complained about the lack of blogging from RailsConf, so here's a quick little update with some highlights. It's still early here and I have to get to breakfast soon, so I have to be brief.

First impression: lots of people. Second impression: "they want us all to fit in there?"

I called it exactly right. Joel Spolsky tried to pull a Ze Frank and did some random crazy presentation in his keynote, but it fell pretty flat. It was really polished and fairly amusing, but I was often insulted by either his blatantly sexist attempts at humor or his estimation of the audience's intelligence. It was nearly entirely content-free, and while he tried to develop a theme about the importance of esthetics, he never went anywhere with it. If you missed it, count yourself lucky.

On the other hand, David Heinemeier Hanson did a keynote where he transformed himself from a technologist into a life coach. His talk on The Great Surplus was interesting, if only to get a glimpse of the world from his perspective. I think most of what he said was right on, especially the bit about how everyone should code less and sleep more.

One of his points was his expectation about how Rails might lose its productivity advantage. He said there were three options: 1) Mainstream tech copies Rails' good points, 2) A radically new tech outdoes Rails, and 3) Rails becomes mainstream so there is no longer an advantage. But I think there is a 4th option. It's what happened to Smalltalk. I'm talking about C++. We Smalltalkers used to think the advantages of our language were so significant that it would take over the world. We had a huge productivity advantage over C coders. Then C++ came along and gave C coders just enough to let them improve their productivity and their ability to write larger more complex systems. It still wasn't as good as Smalltalk, but it was better than C, and much more accessible to most programmers than Smalltalk. C++ eventually sucked up all the oxygen and Smalltalk is now only a language for hobbyists and the occasional programming god. I think this is the most likely threat to the Rails surplus, that C# or Scala or something can do a good enough job that people can double their productivity with far less of a change in mindset or tools, and eventually no one will care about the ten times (or whatever) productivity of Rails. "Good enough is good enough."

Last bit before I gotta run. I've heard rumors about MagLev for a while, and the early announcement last month got me really excited. The demo and discussion yesterday by Avi Bryant and Bob Walker was one of those jaw-droppers that had everyone in the room freaking out. What they showed was pretty spectacular, though I always like to keep in mind Lansford's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo." The staggering performance boost together with the scalability and seamless integration of persistence could be a serious game-changer. I think the GemStone OODB technology beats the pants off of the ORM approach for most web applications, and if they can pull this off it's going to have a huge impact on how I write my software.

I'm giving my talk today at 4:25pm. Yes, I still freak out about giving talks. As critical as I can be of others, I'm hardest on myself. I hope I don't give myself too lousy a review when I'm done, heh.

15 commentsrailsconf, railsconf2008

  1. Robby Russell2008-05-31 09:17:24

    , but I was often insulted by either his blatantly sexist attempts at humor or his estimation of the audience's intelligence. It was nearly entirely content-free, and while he tried to develop a theme about the importance of esthetics, he never went anywhere with it. If you missed it, count yourself lucky.

    I felt the same way about Joel's talk. His cheap shots for getting people to laugh were pretty lame and mildly sexist.

  2. Matt Aimonetti2008-05-31 09:43:04

    Amazingly enough, I totally agree with you ;). I would also add that I didn't expect much from the scheduled talks but ended up agreeably surprised by most sessions I went to such as Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Modeling Systems & Remote Pair Programming: Impossible or So Possible?

  3. Phil2008-05-31 10:22:44

    Gemstone looks cool, but the way they just breeze over licensing questions makes me nervous. Look how well non-free implementations worked out for Smalltalk. =\

  4. Ethan2008-05-31 12:09:02

    "Fell flat?" What talk were you at? Spolsky got laughs all the way through his talk. Everyone was pissing during the Windows satire bit. But, yeah, afterwards I was going "what the hell was his point?"

    As for the picture of Angelina Jolie, come on don't be so pious. I'm sure half the women there rolled their eyes and said "whatever," and the other two were all "I'd hit that." Refusing to distinguish between sexist and merely juvenile makes everyone's burden heavier.

  5. Tim Connor2008-05-31 12:54:29

    That's funny, I thought juvenile often generally was sexist. By my memories of junior high juvenile certainly can be very sexist. How exactly does calling it so make my burden heavier? I know sometimes it can be hard to distinguish when you are in a field dominated by men who will back up your "no harm no foul" mentality. You might consider how that continues to reinforce itself though.

  6. Dr Nic2008-05-31 14:30:51

    @josh- you're a champ. Thx for the update.

  7. Mike2008-05-31 16:22:10

    I have to admit, one of the reasons I didn't return to RailsConf this year was how crowded the venue was last year. I was surprised when it was announced that it was going to be held in the same venue, even after people were arguing with each other over seats and the venue was concerned about the fire department regulations.

  8. mono2008-05-31 16:52:27

    Sexist? Because he chose to show a picture of Angelina Jolie and talk about a date with a girl to a crowd of 99.5% men? And the Joel is gay too I believe which makes the reaction kind of funny in a way. Oh that is right, the soccer mom comment too, but still I think that's a valid observation.. Dunno.

    I think he's definitely off about what he things is going on with design on Mac OSX and an iphone. It's not just all lipstick.

    But I thought his talk was the best of the day. Better than the DHH turned motivational speaker. His talk would have been fine, if he just finished the day with a little about why we were all there, to hear about Rails and it's future.

    And yeah, this convention center sucks. The seats are making me nuts. Sitting on rocks. And it's kind of warm in here, especially when shoulder to shoulder with people in the seats.

  9. Finanzamt2008-06-01 08:40:52

    "code less and sleep more" - good sum up! :)

  10. andy koch2008-06-02 08:32:23

    nice review

    I walked in on the last 20 minutes of Spolsky's talk and in that time couldn't figure out what he was talking about.

    There was the bit about women and cars with cupholders, which was funny since my wife and I just bought a car and not once did she mention cupholders.

    On the whole I thought RailsConf was a winner, it was my first one. Some talks were a bit flat, some speakers didn't really have a well polished talk - sort of meandered through generally relalted list of topics.

    I found anything put out by EngineYard people to be informative. Phillipe Hanrigou's talk was dense but very informative.

    All the talks on testing I found to be meaty chunks knowledge.

  11. mrbrowne2008-06-02 11:37:04

    Do you know if DHH's keynote is available online as a video? I haven't seen anything pop up yet (and didn't see any cameras during the presentation... could be wrong).

    Regarding venue space, rumor has it next year's event will take place in Vegas (can you confirm, Josh?). Love it or hate it, I think there will be enough "lounge" area for peeps to hack more effectively between sessions (or during).

  12. kuzure.okami2008-06-05 02:04:45

    That's what Joel is all about. Blowing small things up and catch the audience with some pseudo satire. I don't know how he will attract the top developers by building things like FogBugz and Copilot, but that's not the point. He makes his profit out of his self marketing. You need a sample - buy his DVD. No content at all - but it sells.

  13. David Pollak2008-07-25 11:13:05

    After doing significant projects in Ruby, Ruby/Rails, Scala, and lift/Scala, I will take extreme issue with the Rails 10X, Scala 2X. I find that at the beginning Ruby and Ruby/Rails has about the same productivity for me as Scala and lift/Scala. As the project progresses, I find that the productivity of Ruby and Ruby/Rails plateaus. As members are added to the team, Ruby and Ruby/Rails productivity plateaus. On the other hand, Scala productivity gains have scaled to moderately large teams and on reasonably large code bases. So, in my experience Scala and lift/Scala have more productivity benefits than do Ruby and Ruby/Rails. Just as a note, I've done extensive work in uni-typed languages (Objective-C for many years before my Ruby work), so I'm not a "I've always used statically typed languages so I don't get unityped languages" kinda guy.

  14. Josh Susser2008-07-25 15:57:25

    Well, I thought it was obvious that using Scala as an example was a total strawman. I know hardly anything about Scala and have nothing useful to say about it. Sorry if anyone took it as a real comment about Scala's relative productivity.

  15. Donavan2008-08-19 08:50:47

    Thanks for your article. I totally agree with you. And I can't deny that Smalltalk is still now only a language for hobbyists and the occasional programming god.

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