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!

JRuby RailsConf hackfest next Thursday

LinkedIn, Joyent and Sun Microsystems is sponsoring a JRuby hackfest in conjunction with RailsConf. It will happen next Thursday from 6:30 PM in Portland, there will be some food and beer and so on. Oh, Charles, Nick, Tom and me will be there – bring your laptops and any and all questions/patches/bugs/ideas with regards to JRuby.

Read more in Charles blog, here: http://headius.blogspot.com/2008/05/jruby-pre-railsconf-hackfest-on.html

Remember to RSVP to Charles if you’re coming. Space is limited so RSVP as soon as possible.

What about Sun’s Ruby strategy?

Wow. Today was a strange day for blog reading. I’ve already had several WTF moments. Or what do you say about 7 reasons I switched back to PHP after two years on Rails, where the first and most important reason seemed to be


Bloody hell. All programming languages in use today are Turing complete. Of course you can do exactly the same things in all of them. But I still don’t program in Intercal that often.

Example number two: About JRuby and CPython performance. This blog post uses the Alioth language benchmark to show us that Python’s C implementation is faster than JRuby. Of course, the JRuby version used in this comparison is 1.0, which is now almost 4 months old. Comparing the C implementation of one language with a Java implementation of another language seems kind of suspect anyway.

But these two examples is nothing compared to a post by Krishna Kotecha from yesterday. It’s called Sun’s Ruby strategy – Engage and Contain?. You should ge read it. It’s actually quite amusing. I usually don’t respond to other blog posts, and I don’t usually quote in my blog. I’ll do an except here, because there are several points in that post I want to elaborate on.

Compromise definitely seemed to be an underlying theme at RailsConf Europe. DHH’s keynote downplayed the need for evangelism – something I strongly disagree with. Rails has certainly made a lot of progress towards wider acceptance, but we’ve got a really long way to go before more companies start to adopt it, and I certainly don’t think turning down the evangelism and doing stealth deployments via JRuby is the answer.

There are really two interesting points in this paragraph. First of all the question of evangelism. I would say it’s about time to turn it down. Actually, I’ve gotten the very real impression that the wild-eyed Rails evangelism is now turning people away from Rails rather than winning more “converts”. Telling people about the advantages of Rails is still something that needs to be done, but the full fledged Rails marketing machine has already done it’s work and should be turned down a notch.

The second point Krishna sneaked in there is about JRuby “stealth deployments”. I’m pretty sure no one will ever do a real stealth deployment, and I find that concept totally wrong.

At RailsConf Europe 2007 however, Dave didn’t even specifically discuss Rails – and this seems to have been at the behest of the conference organizers. If this is the case, then the Rails community is already in trouble. Is this the price of Sun’s ’support’: that the community is no longer able to freely discuss the platform and what work needs to be done to get it accepted in the enterprise on its own terms?

Where does this particular conspiracy theory come from? Is there any evidence whatsoever that the organizers of RailsConf wanted Dave to not speak about the shortcomings of Rails? And even if that were the case, what’s there to say that Sun is the reason for this? (Couldn’t it have been IBM or ThoughtWorks, who were also Diamond sponsors?)

I have real problems with this attitude and approach. Selling Rails and Ruby, as “just a Java library” is a massive disservice to the technology, and simply means enterprise customers and decision makers won’t evaluate Ruby on its own merits.

What is important to realize is that the argument “just a Java library” will only ever be used in the case of organizations where there are good technology arguments for using JRuby on Rails, but non-technical management are making decisions based on what is most safe at the moment (see the Blub Paradox by Paul Graham). In most cases the “just a Java library” argument is useful only when talking about conservative environments who are standardized on a certain platform. And believe me, Krishna, there are many places where Java is the only allowed technology to be deployed. But in most cases JRuby will work fine for those IS departments. Is it really a disservice to the technology to make Rails and Ruby into something that can be used in even wider domains, removing cruft and bloatware at all places possible? Is it a disservice for the technology to be used in places where it would never enter without the help of JRuby?

But JRuby is not the best answer for Rails and Ruby developers.

I don’t really understand this quote. Obviously Krishna have strong opinions about the subject, but stating something as a fact without telling the reasons for it being that way doesn’t feel that interesting.

Serious Rails deployments (Mongrel not some Java Application Server) within enterprise environments may be difficult to achieve, but with the right political backing and developer persistence it can be done.

I must say I find it interesting that Mongrel is viewed as a serious deployment option when compared with a standard Java application server. The question here isn’t how we should get enterprise environments to use Mongrel; rather, we should first decide if Mongrel really is a serious enough deployment environment for enterprises.

And this will benefit the whole Rails community – not just those who tie themselves to Sun’s technology platform.

I heard this rumor about Java being Open Source… Does that still mean tying yourself to “Sun’s technology platform”?

And also, the vendor with the most to lose if Rails really does fulfill its potential in enterprise environments.

Why? What exactly does Sun lose if Rails win? Sun is using Rails and benefiting from it. And be careful about this: Rails is Rails, no matter if it runs on JRuby, MRI, YARV, Rubinius, IronRuby, Ruby.NET, XRuby, Cardinal or any other Ruby implementation now or ever. Rails is Rails.

Maybe I’ll start to believe when they start promoting Ruby on Rails at JavaOne, as opposed to promoting JRuby on Rails at RailsConf.

I guess you didn’t attend JavaOne 2007, where both JRuby on Rails and Ruby on Rails had sessions, including promoting in one of the major keynotes. Sun is serious about Java being a multilingual platform. Of course they’re spending money on getting these languages working on Java, but Sun is also giving support to both Rubinius and MRI. Would they really do that if this conspiracy theory is correct? For more information about that particular data point, take a look at Tim Bray’s blog here: Rubinius Sprint.

Much more likely I think, is that we’ll see a Java based Rails alternative that ships with some new version of Java which has been designed to incorporate features from dynamic languages like Ruby and Python.

Java will almost certainly never ship with a web framework. That said, Phobos is one of the Sun projects for web development that uses JavaScript and incorporates features from Rails and Ruby, and also Python and other languages and frameworks.

And still, Sun doesn’t seem to have a problem with Rails and Phobos living side by side. GlassFish includes support for both. And the Rails support doesn’t make any changes to Rails, it doesn’t require you to do anything extra, except that your application should run in JRuby. The latest version basically allows you to say “glassfish_rails start” while standing in your application directory.

…what compromises are we making for Sun’s involvement…

Yeah. What compromises are we making for Sun’s involvement in the community? Except handling the fact that we get more commercial backing, more money in the ecosystem, more help from Sun engineers creating high quality Ruby code, a server that happens to host the SVN server for Ruby itself, and so on? Are these contributions? Sure. Are they commitments? Yeah. Are they something that will require compromises from the community? No, not really.

Sometimes I think that many in the Open Source world still panics as soon as a big company starts to make inroads. And yes, in many cases this hasn’t worked out well. But we gotta see to the facts too. Some companies we will never be able to trust, but Sun has definitely been on the right side of the Open Source fence for a long time. Come on, people.

RailsConf Europe recap

I am finally back from a week of travel. Funny, it feels like much more than a week – but I guess that’s because there were some interesting mishaps with some of the flights.

Last Sunday I traveled to Berlin to attend RailsConf Europe. I arrived kind of late and was really tired and out of it during the Monday. I didn’t find most of the tutorials going on that enlightening – though it was fun to see David, Aslak and Dan present on RSpec together. I liked the mind map format they used instead of regular slides. Due to general tiredness and a really bad migraine I went to bed early. But before that I managed to see Dave Thomas introductionary keynote. It was interesting and extremely well presented; the theme was art and how it can help you as a programmer to use this metaphor to understand the things we do more closely. I didn’t find anything really new in the presentation and I’ve heard several people say that they would prefer if Dave had spent some time talking specifically about Rails instead. I tend to agree.

The second day of the conference was really good. DHH delivered a keynote that basically said that there is nothing really new happening with Rails. After that it was time for sessions. I guess none of the first presentations made any real impact on me, since I don’t remember what they were. After lunch I saw Nic Williams talk on meta programming; the talk was really fun. I didn’t learn anything new, but I had a fun time while doing it.

Charles and Tom did their JRuby presentation. And I also saw Evan Phoenix Rubinius talk. It was very interesting – if I could stand programming in such a low level language as C, I would probably spend more time helping them than I do now. I will write more about Rubinius – probably tomorrow – I haven’t really said everything I need to say here.

After the sessions there were more keynotes. Roy Fielding talked about REST. I gotta admit I didn’t really hear much of it though, since I was spending time fixing an annoying bug. After that Craig McClanahan talked for a few minutes about Rails. It was very enlightening to know how well regarded Rails is within Sun. Some people seems to have a different view on all this though, seeing conspiracy and dirty dealings in the way Sun is working Rails. I’ll need to cover that in a separate blog post too.

ThoughtWorks threw a party after the days session. That was very fun and well attended.

All the JRuby team attending (Charles, Nick, Tom and me) gathered together on the evening and did a JRuby Q&A BOF. Lots of people there, and a very free form of presentation made this one of the highlights for me. I had great fun and I hope the audience did too.

Finally the Wednesday… Cyndi Mithell from ThoughtWorks did a very nice keynote about why Ruby and Rails may be ready to cross the chasm and get a strong hold in the enterprise.

Koz and Marcel did a very good Rails Best Practices session. Down to earth, simple, totally useful advice on things to avoid in a Rails application and what to do instead.

And then it was time for my presentation about JRuby in ThoughtWorks. I think it went very well, but it became a little bit too corporate for my taste. I’ll need to make sure that doesn’t happen the next time. Maybe some more code in the presentation? =)

Most of the rest of the day was spent networking, hanging out in the exhibit hall and stuff like that. And then RailsConf was over.

My flight to Sweden from Berlin that evening didn’t really happen as I had expected it too. Instead I had to spend the night on a hotel in Frankfurt and take an early flight from there to Gothenburg.

Overall I had a very good time at RailsConf this year. It’s a worlds difference from RailsConf last year in London, which I felt was a real waste. This year the energy was high, much interesting things going on and lots of nice and smart people. Not as good as RailsConf in Portland earlier this year, but still very well worth attending. It seems that RailsConf has found a good balance in sessions. The only thing I can wish for would be more interesting choices for the tutorial day.


Next week I’ll be in Berlin for RailsConf EU. I’ll be speaking about JRuby at ThoughtWorks, and hopefully I’ll meet lots of you there.

ThoughtWorks is actually massively involved in this RailsConf, and I’m hoping for the same kind of energy I observed at RailsConf in Portland.

See you next week!

RailsConf Europe

I am a speaker at RailsConf Europe in Berlin. I’m going to talk about JRuby on Rails at ThoughtWorks. Hopefully many of you’ll make it there! As far as I know, it seems the whole core JRuby team may be together for the first time ever, so it’s going to be a great conference for JRuby.

See you in Berlin!

OSCON and other conferences

Next week I’ll be at OSCON in Portland. I won’t be speaking, which means I’ll probably be able to enjoy other peoples presentations instead. Hopefully I’ll get to meet lots of people too. Say hi if you see me!

I’ll be presenting at RailsConfEU in September too, and that is gearing up to be a really interesting conference. RailsConf in Portland was awesome, and if the EU version can match a 10th of that energy, it’s going to be wonderful.

That gender thing

One of the foci on both JavaOne and RailsConf was the so called “gender problem”; that the current balance between men and women in the technological field is bad and that something needs to be done about it. I’m very happy about this getting awareness, but as my colleague Lars Westergren writes here (http://slashdot.org/~LarsWestergren/journal/172323) it seems like total hypocrisy when looking at the so called entertainment provided at these two events. We need to do better than this.

Some RailsConf impressions

So, I’ve spent lots of time talking to people about numerous things. We have had some really nice conversations about everything related to Ruby, JRuby and ThoughtWorks and there is an incredible buzz going on here. Yesterday me, Roy, Tim (Bray), Cyndi, Martin Fowler, Charles, Tom and Nick sat down over dinner with DHH and talked about JRuby, which was also very interesting.

All in all, it’s very exciting, and I hope it will just continue to be. I’m looking forward to the rest of the day, and tomorrow is going to be a new story.

ThoughtWorks, Mingle, RubyWorks and JRuby

So this is something that’s been brewing for a while now, and it’s all very exciting and was announced this morning at the keynote by Cyndi Mitchell. The relevant points are Mingle (which I’ve talked some about already), RubyWorks which is an umbrella for the things the enterprise needs to make Ruby viable. The first product out of RubyWorks is an installable package which gives you the deployment story basically for free. It’s quite awesame and ThoughtWorks will offer 24/7 support for it from June.

For me personally, the most important part is that ThoughtWorks will also offer JRuby support 24/7 from June. That’s right, 24/7 JRuby support. Wow. ThoughtWorks does believe in JRuby, they think it’s something really important, and we want everything to get this.

Find out more at http://rubyworks.thoughtworks.com.