In the last few weeks, I've spoken at two different conferences in two very different cities. The first, GoGaRuCo, was an intimate, one-track affair down in beautiful San Francisco. The second, RailsConf, was a giant behemoth in hideously surreal Vegas. What follows is a quick rundown on my experiences at each of the conferences and a summary of my presentations.
GoGaRuCo (the Golden Gate Ruby Conference) was one of the most satisfying conferences I've ever attended. It was relatively small (about 200 attendees) and was single track which created a great communal feeling of shared conversation in the halls between talks.
Now, if you read Ruby blogs, you might think that the most striking moment of the conference was the presentation of the pr0n slides. This could not have been further from the truth. In fact, I think one of the greatest tragedies of that whole incident was that it obscured a conference program that showcased, maybe better than any other I've seen, the incredible diversity of exciting things people are doing with Ruby.
If you judged solely by online conversation, you might think that the only thing people do with Ruby is build and try to scale web applications. GoGaRuCo blew that perception wide open with amazing talks on incredible developments in a new native OSX Ruby implementation, the use of Ruby in medical record keeping to fight AIDS in Malawi, the use of Ruby in open source voting technology to safeguard democracy, and many others. A hallmark of these talks was that they challenged the community to use the power of Ruby to make a real difference in the world outside of the web, something we don't advocate enough.
I'd like to think that my talk would be counted in this trend as well. I gave my traditional RAD presentation but with a few new demos (slides here: RAD at GoGaRuCo). I showed off The Git Bell (though I had a minor technical snafu in that one) and did some Archaeopteryx integration, playing MIDI generated by Arx out of a drum machine in Reason and then on an actual snare drum using a solenoid (video coming soon). Of course the drum demo which I was much more worried about went totally smoothly.
I want to specifically thank the organizers of GoGaRuCo, Josh Susser and Leah Silber, for putting on such a fun and broadening event. As the web application-based Ruby community grows and suffers the related pains, events like this are so important for reminding the community about all the other quirky, surprising, and meaningful things you can do with Ruby and people who put such dramatic effort into organizing them deserve our gratitude.
This year's RailsConf was bittersweet for me. Since I start grad school in the fall, this looks to be my last RailsConf for the foreseeable future. With my technical interests shifting away from the web towards physical computing, I feel less engaged in keeping up-to-date on new developments in the Rails world. Even though I think Rails 3.0 is exciting and heading in all the right directions, it's just less relevant to my technical life going forward than it would have been a year or two ago.
While I'm excited about this transition from a technical point of view, I feel melancholy at the prospect that it will separate me from all the great people I've come to know in the Ruby and Rails community in the last three or four years. It's a cliche that the most important moments in conferences take place outside the talks, but for me in Vegas it was overwhelmingly true: from hacking with Adam Keys on an AVR backend for LLVM, eating lunch in the Eiffel Tower restaurant with Eric Mill, planning the Remote Bike Mountain with Chad Fowler, comparing indie music concerts with Dan Dofter, talking UAVs with Ron Evans, debating music perception with Adam Wiggins, conspiring with Matt Amonetti on ways I can help out with MacRuby, to chatting about journalism, drawing, and programming languages with Yehuda Katz and Leah Silber.
I'm definitely planning on staying involved in the Ruby community in lots of ways, but the simple fact of no longer being a professional Rails developer will mean that I get to see all these great people a little less and that prospect makes me get all sentimental. Maybe I'm just a sap, but that's how it goes.
Anyway, my talk went pretty smoothly. I've put the slides up here:
Giving Rails the Big 'F': Surviving Facebook Itegration unscarred. About half the audience had built Facebook apps before so I was glad I didn't dive too deeply into the details of the API in an introductory kind of way. People had some interesting questions, one of which I bungled kind of badly: I said that the Terms of Service prohibit you from placing ads or payment links anywhere in apps when it turns out that's only true for Pages. So, for anyone there, I apologize for the confusion. Other than that things went pretty well. Giving a talk without hardware demos seems almost like cheating!