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RailsConf Europe 2006: In Review
Wed Sep 27 16:45:00 UTC 2006

RailsConf Europe was really great for the most part. There were some awesome keynote talks (sorry, “plenary”) with particular highlights being Dave Thomas’ excellent closing talk (which fully deserved the standing-ovation it deserved. Kathy Sierra also gave an awesome talk on creating passionate users. Both were the most confident and professional speakers of the two days but there were many other great talks as well, especially on the Thursday.

A personal highlight was seeing how popular Dan’s UJS talk was. I’ve already spoke about the talk but I must restate how cool it was to see the main hall fill out during Friday lunchtime after Dan was asked to repeat his talk due to so many people being disappointed on the Thursday morning. Speaking of UJS, we hope to have 0.4 out soon but a combination of my lack of net access last week and the both of us being really busy means that it might be a few more weeks yet. We have fixed a good few bugs however so we might push a point release in the meantime; I haven’t decided yet.

Gavin Bell and Tom Armitage (who I’d seen give an excellent talk at LRUG) gave an interesting talk on polymorphism as a pattern in social software. I felt that perhaps their overall point got lost a little but it was interesting nonetheless. It was cool to see testing with Javascript getting a good airing by Thomas Fuchs (see my live notes on his talk) and Marcel Molina Jr. showed some useful tips and tricks for sharing and reusing RJS code. An unexpected highlight of Marcel’s talk came towards the end when DHH and Piers Cawley got into a small disagreement over the separation of concerns between models and views – for the record I think DHH was spot on and I was somewhat confused at Piers’ ranting. It was entertaining though.

Photo of notes

Apart from DHH’s opening address, which I’ll come to shortly, the other talk that sticks in mind was Jim Weirich’s talk. He gave a great overview on “playing safe with others” and how to write good Ruby code without unintended side-effects. I’m too lazy to write up my notes, but you can click on the image above for a larger view of my Moleskine scribblings – sorry about the dodgy handwriting!

David Heinemeier Hansson gave a great talk to kick the conference off, which was mostly about code (with all of his slides in Textmate as he didn’t have Keynote on his laptop…cool!) and I have to say that I’m finally convinced about ActiveResource and REST. Simply Helpful looked really neat as well. The one part of David’s talk that I didn’t get to see was the part he had to postpone until the core team chat later in the day (I was already on the way home for an early night by that point). I didn’t see it, but its hard not to know all about it. I’m sure you’ve all seen the photo. So what was my reaction? To be honest, disappointment.

I know David likes to make controversial statements in this way (we all remember “Fuck You”). He’s one strongly opinionated guy and in many ways it can be a positive quality (one that comes across heavily in Rails). And in some ways I agree with him – just because you download a piece of open source software it doesn’t mean you are entitled to anything. You aren’t entitled to support, developers aren’t obliged to listen to your feature requests and ideas and they certainly don’t have to listen to (or deserve) unconstructive criticism and bitching. However well you thought the recent Rails security hole was handled there was no call for some of the petty bitching, moaning and whining that some people felt the need to do. Constructive criticism is fine and should be encouraged but whining helps nobody.

What I don’t agree with is David’s black and white attitude towards people. I don’t like the notion of “if you haven’t contributed back to the community then I don’t care what you have to say”. Just because somebody might be new to the community or hasn’t had the time to contribute much to the community be it in the form of patches, plugins, or help on the mailing list it shouldn’t meant that they should just be ignored by default. David may well have no legal responsibility towards anybody who downloads and uses Rails – a point he has been quite clear about. But in my most humblest of opinions, when you put out a piece of open source software like Rails, promote its use and see it grow into what it has become today, with many developers and companies livelihoods depending on Rails you carry a certain degree of moral responsibility to those developers. Giving a big “fuck you” to people just because they haven’t yet made some kind of contribution back to the community is short-sighted and somewhat immature and I was disappointed not so much by the point David had to make, but the way in which he made it and had I been around for the core panel talk I’m sure I would have left with a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth.

After that last sentence it would be somewhat ironic for me to end my RailsConf thoughts on that note so let me get back to being positive. The conference was well organised (except for those shitty passes) and most of the talks were interesting. Above all else, I had a great two days and got to meet some great people. Damien, Max, Robby, David, Jarkko, James, all the guys at Aegis Media and everybody else I met over those two crazy days. It was great to meet you guys and share some beers! Here’s to RailsConf Europe 2007 – see you in Berlin!

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