RailsConf 2008 – Saturday Evening Summary



Chad announced that to help with the overflow issue, those talks from Friday that were overflowing (5 of them) have been scheduled to be re-presented again Sunday morning. Once again, the Ruby Central team has come through with the right priorities and great organizational skills (or deep pocketbooks, who knows…). This conference is definitely a success thanks to them.

Kent Beck

Kent Beck, commonly considered the ‘father’ of eXtreme Programming, was tonights keynote speaker. He started by describing that he really has no presentation, no slides, no title, no abstract. He came just to tell stories about the things of substance that he has done in the last 20 years. He said he has a lot of stories to tell, but basically, it is about 3 ideas: Tests, Patterns, and XP and all three had the impact they did because of talent, time, and luck. He related the concept that it truly takes 20 years before he can see the true impact of what was going on. After the first 5 years, something would be big, but the next 5, 10, 15 years would show an exponential increase that he could never foresee. This is especially relevent for Rails given that we are only about five years in at this point.

Kent gave some great stories and examples about how the early days of Patterns, Testing, & XP came about. He closed his talk by addressing Zed Shaw’s memo from a few months ago. He said that what he found in the memo (after wading through a lot of the junk in the memo) is that “Rails needs a transparant services market”. As I read the memo again, I realize that this is a terrific observation about where Zed Shaw’s true problem lies and brings to light what I hope to be a great opportunity for the Ruby & Rails community

A standing ovation is sort of a given these days because it’s pretty much a given, but Kent truly deserved it. He gave a very moving presentation about where ‘good’ programming is coming from and where it should be going. If you want to better yourself as a developer, it behooves you to learn everything Kent is talking about.

Some funny sayings of the day

“I did it, and it felt like I was cheating! [On TDD]” – Kent Beck

“I’m still making money writing smalltalk programs, but I’d say that’s probably not a method you want to follow” – Kent Beck

“You can determine the purpose of any business memo in constant time by flipping to the second last paragraph” – Kent Beck

“Obviously it’s in Japanese and that’s sorta a problem”. – Patrick Farley

“Because that’s how ninjas really are. If you ask them to speak, they’re like ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about'” – Patrick Farley

RailsConf 2008 – Saturday Afternoon Summary

Lightning Talks


The creator of Pastie, talked about the cool features of Pastie supporting the full suite of syntax highlighting. Pastie has textmate, Vim, & IRC integration. The IRC integration is particularly awesome because it supports monitoring the channel to request a pastie from people that are asked for one. He shared some nice stats and insights into Pastie. It’s a great service that I swear by if you’ve never used it before. Enjoy.

Arduino boards

There was a terrific talk by Ben Bleything at RubyConf2007 on building microcontroller code using Ruby. This was a nice quick demo about writing ruby code for the Arduino boards. This is something that I definitely hope to get into a lot me, so I always enjoy seeing people playing it. Check out http://rad.rubyforge.org


David Lowenfels – Internaut

I saw a paper on the bulletin board for something called ‘ScrumNinja‘. This talk by David introduced ScrumNinja. It uses the cards-on-a-board model for organizing stories, tasks, etc. It looked pretty nice, but in very early development. Pivotal Labs demoed at their booth a very similar product that they are releasing.


Matt Connelly

Rubber is a rails for managing & running EC2 instances. Matt gave a really fast demo of starting and bootstrapping EC2 instances. It’s quite new, but I’ll be watching this product.


Rich Cavenaugh – withoutscope.com

Acts_as_revisable is a Rails plugin that handles very detailed rules for revising records. It supports branching, reverts, and some great state-transition work and other cool features. I can think of a lot of great places to use this type of extension and I look forward to checking it out.


Earfl (pronounced Ear-full) is an app that provides Phone voice IVR style functions without using Asterisk. Here’s a quote from their website:

“Add a phone number for collecting audio content to anything! This gem is a simple client to Earfl’s RESTful API. An earfl is a great audio moment. A story. A reaction. A review. An opinion. A once-in-a-lifetime event captured in real time.”

Code Gear

I’ll admit it, I’m an IDE junkie. It’s terrible I know, but I have yet to find a lightweight text editor that can do the things I want. The biggest lack is always code completion & inline API lookups. I’ve been using NetBeans almost exclusively sicne the very early version 6 betas (about a year) and I’m extremely happy with all the Ruby and Rails support that they’ve built into it now.

I’ve tried Aptana/RadRails, but it’s much too Eclipsey for me and has a ton of junk that gets in my way (ironic, I know). So I decided to attend the CodeGear presentation, where inevitably they will be talking about 3rd Rail (no matter what the title of the talk is). They started with a poll of what text editor was being used. As expected, there were a lot of textmate users, but also a lot of NetBeans & Aptana users, so I felt a little better.

One thing that was mentioned several times is that 3rdRails provides wizards for the common tasks but ‘teaches you how to use the command line’. I didn’t see any of that actually happen and the wizards felt a lot like “The company deciding what’s best for the developer”. 3rdRails also offers intelligent code completion, refactoring support, syntax checking, inline debugger, etc. It includes some features for supporting methods that don’t really exist (such as find_all_by_name).

The demo started by showing starting a Rails app and debugging an issue using a breakpoint and the dependency tracker. They also demonstrated the ruby syntax checking by showing an unreferenced variable. A lot of these things are very difficult for a Ruby IDE thanks to being dynamically typed. In order to provide context for the code you are editing, the IDE has to know what kind of object something is, even if the program itself doesn’t care. It’s not easy stuff, but I feel that NetBeans has already implemented this effectively.

As I watched the presentation some more, it became very obvious that the IDE is VERY smart when handling Rails code. It has a lot of custom handling for Rails-isms that NetBeans can’t handle. I walked in not really keen on 3rdRail given my previous experiences demoing it and my big preference for NetBeans, but I was hoping that they would convince me otherwise and prove that 3rdRail was really an amazing platform. I’m not yet sure it’s “amazing”, but I’m certainly ready to give them another try (and I’ll let you know what happens).

In the end, one thing I got to thinking about is that whether it’s NetBeans, Eclipse, 3rdRails, etc….we’re Ruby programmers writing Ruby in an IDE written in something else. Why do we not have a really good IDE written in Ruby. Sounds like I’ve got to get to work!

Update after the keynote

Kent Beck echoed this exact same thought…talk about validation of my ideas!

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RailsConf 2008 – Saturday Morning Summary

Jeremy Kemper Keynote

Rails 2

Jeremy’s keynote was billed as the technical talk that DHH didn’t give. He started by saying that Rails 2 is all about working with resources. Rails2 introduced a lot of features involving a unified way of referencing an object, throughout the DOM, in the code itself, etc. He also mentioned that Rails2 dropped a lot of ‘fat’, pulled deprecated features, improved performance, etc and talked about making choices about what needed to be kept and what could be shed.

Then he moved to Rails 2.1, which has been in development over the last 6 months with 1400 contributors, 1600 patches, & 9000 comments. The core team wasn’t able to keep up, so they moved to Git, Github, & Lighthouse. Git provides the excellent ability to fork your own version of Rails and offers many ‘gateways’ to committing code, so that the core team members are no longer the sole ‘gatekeepers’.

Then Jeremy referenced the move to Lighthouse. He only mentioned it very shortly, which I think is unusual. Whereas the move to github was a natural, obvious, and powerful evolution of managing the github core, I think it still stands to be seen how things will work out with Lighthouse. Lighthouse is fairly new and has a limited featureset compared to something like Trac. I haven’t really heard any personal experiences about if Lighthouse is truly better for the core team or not, so if you have any insights, I’d love to hear them.

There are many new features of Rails 2.1:

  • Merging migrations. The new UTC based migrations and out-of-order migrations are one of the biggest new features in Rails 2.1 This is definitely going to be one of the biggest benefits to developers and is an exciting new feature.
  • But it’s not the MOST exciting new feature. That honor goes to the topic Jeremy discussed next: Time Zone support. Rails 2.1 now supports setting a timezone at the start of a request and all the times you see throughout the request will be given in that timezone. This is something I hope will eventually be moved to Ruby core because it is so mind-blowing in terms of how easy it makes handling time zones.
  • Jeremy also very quickly previewed the new change_table syntax. Then he moved on to a live demo (Where else will you find a conference with 2,000 attendees and the keynote speaker writes live code?). He demonstrated all these new features on a blank app with very few hiccups. Pretty cool.
  • Some news to me was that memcache-client is now bundled with Rails 2.1 for handling caching. This is an awesome improvement that will allow you to easily use memcache (including expiring cache) globally throughout Rails very easily.
  • Dirty checking & partial updates – You can know what DB columns have changed and only changed columns will be sent to the DB with an UPDATE. Jeremy noted that there is a nice side effect of cleaner logs. He also noted that there is a danger with partial updates where validations may involve the entire object, but if you only update part of the object, then concurrent updates may cause an invalid record. He recommended using optimistic locking for any cases like that.
  • Smart :inclues. This is about avoiding joins when two seperate lookups are faster (because with a join, you’ll likely return many duplicates: e.g. If you have 1000 messages that belong to only 3 users, all 1000 message records will return all the user data for each of those 1000 rows. So basically 2000 records get returned. Seperate the queries instead of joining and you get 1003 records).

Jeremy demonstrated Rails running on Rubinius, jRuby, ruby-1.9; which got some applause. He mentioned some off-the-cuff performance data of 20-60% increases with Rails using 1.9: not the ‘golden cow’ to worship, but decent none the less. He also said that mongrel, MySQL, Postregres, etc are all supporting or very very close to supporting 1.9.

Overall, a great new set of features that we’ve been reading about quite a bit recently. Of course, it was no surprise when Jeremy announced (to big applause) that Rails 2.1 is released as of today.


Rich Kilmer

Rich got up to note that RubyConf2008 has announced their venue: The Orlando, FL Omni Hotel & Resort. RubyConf2007 had some problems where a lot of us wanted to hang out at night, play werewolf, code, etc to the point where I actually wound up renting a conference room at a hotel down the block so we could be there into the night (thanks to all those who threw in a few dollars to cover the cost).

He made it clear that the priority was to have a space that we could basically use 24 hours a day. The resort has FOUR restaurants on the property, DS3 line on premise with 5mbps wireless everywhere, a pool that will be open all night for us, easy access to Disneyworld, and a firepit with chairs in a circle for what I believe will be some awesome werewolf. November 6-7-8. I’ll see you there!!!!


Aaron Batalion

Aaron’s talk is another presentation dealing with scaling Rails for large numbers of users. But he addresses a much different area. Instead of scaling hardware, the database, app servers, etc., he is talking about about what you can do inside your Rails app to optimize your views and handle more traffic on the same hardware you already have. I consider this as being pretty important because this should be one of your first steps in scaling your site before you start replicating and sharding your database.

Aaron starts by addressing a real issue with many web apps: Most pages are very personalized for each user. If you are using restful_authentication, then you are basically guaranteed to require custom content for each user. He proposes using Edge Side Includes (ESI) in order to avoid using your mongrels all together (as much as possible).

For those who aren’t familiar with ESI: It is an a set of XML tags that allow you to build a complex HTML by breaking it down into several smaller pieces, some of which can be cached long term (general content) and others that are more specialized to an individual request. For Rails developers: think cached render :partial that is assembled into a whole document by the ESI server instead of by Rails.

Aaron showed a great example of a page with some general content and a sidebar with some custom content for each user that demonstrated how the fragment caching works.

So why should we care? Rails already has a several methods of fragment caching (typically with memcache) that provides these services.

Well, ESI has a number of extra benefits:

  • Personalized Full Page Caching – Often times, the entire page can be cached for a given user
  • Slow/Broken Dependencies – By breaking up a page into several pieces that are assembled outside Rails, we can concurrently load those pieces. The request is faster (to the user, in exchange for more load on the server) and if a request should fail, ESI supports try/fail that will load a backup page instead.
  • Application Sharding – Different pieces of the app can be served by completely separate instances
  • Polyglot Assembly – An extention of sharding: ESI allows you to use multiple backends for different fragments and these fragments don’t need to be provided by the same app. Think of it as similar to RPC/SOAP requests from remote services giving you back whole fragments.
  • Cached New User Experience – The cache can be specific to users (using cookies and URL params), including brand new users. So your non-user pages are basically fully cached
  • Inline Invalidation – Easily invalidate caches when updates are made
  • FragmentFu – You get view helpers and other methods that will generate the ESI tags you need. Even better…you get a special respond_to format.fragment so you can use the same view and render both a full page or just a fragment depending on the request. This isn’t available yet, but Aaron says it’s coming.
  • Deployment – There are open-source, commerical, and CDN options:
    • Mongrel-esi
    • Squid 3.0 (partial support)
    • Varnish (basic esi support)
    • Commercial Oracle web cache
    • Commercial – Akamai – Most complete implementation
  • Pros and Cons
    • Cons
      • YAGNI – Since ESI is really only well supported by the ‘big dogs’ and that means big money.
      • Cache invalidation
      • Lack of mature open source
      • Cost of deployment
    • Pros
      • Concurrent execution
      • Efficient execution – Use Rails only when you need it. Putting pieces together is not what Rails should be doing.
      • Conditional/ AB testing
      • Forces you to split one ‘action’ into smaller restful pieces
      • Syndication for Free – You’ve already built it by splitting up the page
      • Geographically Distributed

Aaron’s presentation will be available from http://blog.hungrymachine.com

Overall, Aaron provided a good talk with some code examples to really help people understand how ESI can be used. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that the technology is still pretty commercial and there’s not a lot of open-source options. This means that only the largest of the large will need to worry about trying to use it. Anything smaller, will likely just use normal fragment caching.

RailsConf 2008 – Surprise of the Day: Maglev

Definitely the surprise of the day for me was attending the session on MagLev. Before today, I’d never heard of MagLev or Gemstone. On a whim, I walked into this talk instead of watching another one on deploying (which I feel I have enough experience in).

To sum up the MagLev product: it is a Ruby Virtual Machine (I know, I know, not another one…but stick with me!). This virtual machine adds a shared object cache so that separate instances of a Ruby app will share a state and this shared object state is persistant beyond the VM instances.

Avi showed a great demo of two VM instances sharing data. Then we got to see some preliminary performance data that showed an order of magnitude or TWO increase over MRI 1.8. So far so good!

The audience got into a discussion about the future plans for the system and we came out with a few critical things:

  • The Gemstone VM supports ACID transactions and will support some indexing functions to allow for fast data lookup. It became very obvious that the plan is to actually replace ActiveRecord in Rails and instead just use a huge persistent cached object store for data. It’s a terrific idea. We all know that relational databases have an inherent (and probably insurmountable) problem with scaling especially with complex joins and querys. In the same way that Amazon SimpleDB, Google App Engine, CouchDB, etc all limit your ability to do complex joins in exchange for a much more feasible scaling plan, so too could this system provide fast, efficient, and limitlessly scalable data storage and lookup.
  • The product is nowhere near ready. Ah yes…there had to be a downside. Although the product has made great strides (thanks mostly to Ruby’s similarity with Smalltalk and the existance of the Gemstone Smalltalk VM), it still has a ways to go. It can’t run all the Ruby benchmarks, can’t pass the Ruby specs, and definitely can’t run Rails. But they’re getting there. In a year from now, I expect this to be a big talk of the town.
  • This kind of development effort doesn’t come cheap. Gemstone is a commercial/enterprise oriented company, and as such it’s clear they have plans to make money from what they’re building. However, they made it very clear that portions of this system will be open source, other parts will be free, and the rest will be cheap or free for small to medium sized use. It will likely be similar to the Smalltalk VM, which is free for the first 4GB of storage. My personal feelings on the matter is: good for them. It costs money to develop software this advanced and they have every right to commercialize it to make as much profit as possible, same as I do every day to put food on the table. I applaud them for releasing a substantial portion of what they build for free (speech and/or beer), and I hope to be the first in line to pay when it comes time.

“Screw the databases, why would you want to use a relational database” – Chad Fowler

RailsConf 2008 – Friday Afternoon Summary

The afternoon was pretty crazy and I didn’t have a lot of time to take detailed notes. Luckily, the presenters will be posting their slides for all to see. What I have instead are just personal comments on what I found throughout the day:


I met up with Brian from FiveRuns, who I got to know quite well at RubyConf last year. He introduced me to the new application that they just released yesterday called TuneUp. It is a Rails plugin that does development analysis on your pages to let you quickly find any glaring performance mistakes you may make while coding. It also looks to have a neat function that will let you upload a performance analysis for all to see (and hopefully people will help you fix). You can bet I’ll be blogging in detail about the app when I have a chance to review it in detail

Crud is not spelled with an ‘S’

Steve Midgley

I won’t go into much detail on Steve’s talk. It was pretty decent, but he was only able to get through half of it. It had good content and actual code to work with. Steve was nice enough to post his detailed slides at http://misuse.org/science so I won’t put bullet points here, especially since he only got through about half the presentation. If you’ve got the time, it’s certainly with it to read his slides.

Flexible Scaling
TJ Murphy

TJ is the creator of Warbook, a facebook based game written in Ruby on Rails. His talk starts by discussing the pains he went through.

He talked about moving from being a developer to being a sysadmin as he worked to scale his application. Several notes really hit home as I’ve experienced them as well when scaling with Rails. TJ basically said that when first starting with sysadmin-ing, he’d boot up an EC2 instance and would just google for everything he needed to do until things worked. A very familiar sentiment indeed.

He also gave a lot of info about how he sets up his stack and partitions different services to different instances. Much have what he said directly conflicted with the earlier EngineYard presentation. Overall, I’d have to say I agreed more with the approach and stack management style that TJ presented as opposed to EngineYard, but both methods are valid and will work for someone looking to scale.

TJ also noted that he’ll be posting his talk and notes, however, I don’t have a link for it.

RailsConf 2008 – Friday Evening Summary

Meet the Sun you don’t know

Charlie Nutter

Charlie opened with defining Enterprise Ruby as something that is sold by salespeople using “Steaks and Strippers” (third time today I’ve heard that phrase from a speaker). He spent a lot of time introducing a ton of great things that Sun is doing to help and support developers and a number of great open source packages that Sun funds in part or in whole. He also mentioned starting to blog and releasing code to take back Enterprise Ruby for developers. That really hit home because that’s exactly what I’m going for on this blog. So thanks to Charlie for caring about community above all else.

Ruby Hero Awards

Next were the guys from RailsEnvy to present the new Ruby Hero Awards. They gave out 3 awards for library and program developers and 3 awards for people who provide great support, editorial, and educational content. I’ll list the winners here:



  • Ilya Grigorik – Definitely one of the best Ruby programming bloggers out there. I read his posts religiously and reference them constantly. I aspire for my blog to be half as good as his (which I’m doing very poorly at given how little code is on my site so far)
  • Yehuda Katz
  • Ryan Bates – Probably the best known name of all the winners. Ryan puts out the weekly Railscast screencasts.

David Heinemeier Hansson

The Great Surplus

DHH started by talking about how there is a surplus of productivity when developing with Rails. Ruby on Rails is still a very small community compared to other platforms/frameworks/etc out there, but we can produce so much more and we can turn that productivity into additional revenue. He hit on a terrific point that the reason our community is so great because Rails developers have realized that we are all trying to ‘climb the same mountain’. None of us are all that special and the more we can help each other the better. We as developers have realized how to ‘cede flexibility’. He put it very concisely that “People like choices a lot better than actually having to choose”. What we want is something that is standardized and works without having to evaluate options.

He discussed the paradigm of ‘Convention over Configuration’. I constantly hear about how Rails __forces__ you into its way of thinking. DHH makes it clear that Darn Right! “Make the choice once and then move on”. These are choices on things that don’t really matter. So Rails has been nice enough to pick one for you that is good enough. He goes on to say that Rails lets you ‘pick your choices when you care, but otherwise it picks it for you’. “We offer everything you need as one coherent package” This makes a great comparison to Linux and Ubuntu. Linux used to require a system user/administrator to choose what software package they want to use for everything. Vi/Emacs, Gnome/KDE, the list goes on. Ubuntu is, although not the first, certainly the best at giving you a system where you have to make zero choices before getting exactly what you’re looking for: a system that just works.

David continued by addressing that “the surplus won’t last forever”. This advantage can’t be held forever. He proposed several ways that might occur:

  1. The mainstreem copies Rails – Not very likely he says. It’s been tried and has failed a lot.
  2. Dramatic alternative arrives – Possible, but by the time we know it, it’s probably too late.
  3. Rails becomes mainstream – DHH is obviously very supportive with Rails NOT becoming mainstream. By staying

“If you’re a company competing with another company: You want them to be using crappy tools”

So we know that the surplus can’t last forever. What can we do? Give up? Turn crappy? Run at 110% forever to keep up? No, instead David proposes using the surplus we have know to our advantage as much as possible. He equates it to the current explosion in Dubai. I think this is a great comparison. Dubai is using its huge surplus of cash from oil on building an ‘instant’ modern day metropolis. In the same way, David says, we must invest the surplus that we have now in ourselves. By doing so, the surplus will last longer. And when it runs out we will survive thanks to that investment.

So how do we invest in ourselves using this surplus? DHH proposes:

  • Recharge Tangentially – Do something else besides sitting in front of your computer all day. 37 Signals is supporting their employees in doing things besides programming (including one employee who is getting their pilot’s license…I wish MY company would have subsidized my flight training! Heck, the AIR FORCE wouldn’t even subsidize my flight training!).
  • Sleep More – Pretty self explanitory. For my part, I swear by 8.5-9 hours of sleep per night. No matter what. The last time I DIDN’T have that many hours in bed for more than one night in a row was 7 months ago while travelling to a funeral. And I believe this is one of the prime reasons that I believe I can do awesome ‘peak’ programming work for 4-6 hours a day.
  • Read Paper – It’s important to expain your body of knowledge. On life in general. On other talents. On basically anything. DHH specifically recommended The Secrets of Consulting – Gerald M Weinberg
  • Program Less – If you do the other items in the list, this one becomes pretty easy. If you cut in half the amount of time you can spend on a project, then it becomes painfully obvious if you are using your time as effectively as you possibly can.
  • Start from Scratch – Being stuck on the same project
  • Share – This is the one that is probably the greatest strength of the Rails community. You can only gain knowledge by sharing. You can not lose knowledge.

Finally, DHH discussed the four day work week that 37 Signals recently implemented. It’s been written about fairly extensively, but he summed it up very well:
“The amount of time you put in has a very weak correlation to the amount of productivity you get out”

I feel really good that I’ve so far done quite well at ‘spending my surplus’ appropriately in the past year or two. But there’s always ways to improve and I got some great ideas from his presentation. I hope you all took it to heart as well.

RailsConf 2008 – Friday Morning Summary

RailsConf Friday morning. I’ll write out as best I can about the talks I attend. I’ll bullet-point most of the talks and type out some of my own thoughts as time allows. Things here are moving faster than ever and I can only write so much.

The wireless network is crunching under the load, which is no surprise and happens at every geek conference out there. The screens keep showing a graph of saturated activity on their 14mbps connection. However, after some difficulties connecting, it turns out to be pretty responsive, even with a few thousand people in one room pounding on their laptops. Rich Kilmer mentioned on Twitter that Lost cut out here in Portland for about ten minutes, so Chad begged everyone not to download Lost on the conference network.

Chad’s Intro
Chad made his introductions and gave some history about RubyCOnf & RailsConf. The quote of the morning is “RubyConf2005 maxed out with 200 people, and we didn’t really know a lot of them, and when we started talking to them, it turned out, a lot of them were these ‘Rails’ people…”. His history and experiences with previous Ruby/Rails conferences and meeting capacity is a terrific insight into the behind the scenes to these events. I too was curious about how it could be that RailsConf2008 didn’t sell out and what that means. I’m glad to know that the reason is because Chad’s getting smarter at running them and not because Rails is dying.

Chad has a letter about conferences being like school in the schwag-bag and he also talked about it during his welcome speech. He encouraged people to participate and interact with one another. As he put it: “How do we keep RailsConf weird”. I think this is a great sentiment that will keep the community tight-knit for some time to come. Chad is also talked about rejected speaking proposals (of which mine was one of them).

Joel Spolsky

Great Software

  • Make People Happy
  • Obsess over Aesthetics
  • Observe the Culture Code

Make People Happy

  • Demonstrated logging into windows…automatic updates come up, let’s look at them, okay, let’s install them. 18 progress bars later…
  • Give users agency/control of their environment.
  • Put the user in control.
  • Positive Feedback.
  • We all know about AJAX requests. What do they do? They give your user instant feedback about what is going on.

My thoughts:
-It’s important to note that AJAX CAN be a great tool to provide instant feedback but only when done properly. This includes simple things like a loading widget, highlights when something new is loaded, etc. These are all things that are typically provided by the browser itself in a typical request, but you lose that functionality with AJAX and must replicate it yourself. If you don’t provide a replacement, then you lose the instant feedback. And worse, there is no intermediate feedback in the request at all, which will quickly lead people to click the same link a million times or more.

Obsess over Aestetics

  • Aestetics can overcome a lot of flaws
  • Samsung Blackjack vs Apple iPhone
  • Monument Buildings in France vs US
  • Lipstick vs Guts
  • Skins – If the underlying functionality is heinous, then it can’t be made to look beautiful.
  • Modernist vs decadence

Observe the Culture Code

  • Safety by design
  • Sedans vs SUVs – The Culture Code
  • Enterprise vs web 2.0?
  • Ruby: love beauty happines
  • Python: sadness pain hurt
  • Java: death destruction nuclear war


  • Go to the movies and you have to go to the bathroom but are stuck because of fat people: You will say you hate the movie
  • Go on a date and go to a coffee house: The girl will be drinking coffee that raises her heartbeat and will think she’s on a great date.
  • Go to a speech and the presenter shows pictures of Angelina Jolie and makes lots of jokes (Just like Joel) and you’ll think you loved the presentation.

My thoughts:
A very succinct demonstration that what should be the number one priority is to MAKE YOUR USERS FEEL GOOD. There are practical methods, such as positive feedback and putting the user in control. There are aesthetic methods (making it look pretty makes your users feel good). And there are cultural methods to help you users associate better. Do whatever it takes to make your users feel good.

Overall a good talk. Not mind blowing, but good and thought provoking.

PS Joel Spolsky speaking reminds me of an Eddie Izzard act….anybody else agree?

Entrepreneurs on Rails
Dan Benjamin

The room was absolutely packed. This was one very popular presentation. About half way through about half the audience was forced to leave to clear the aisles in case of a fire.

Know Why – You need to have a reason for building an business. Maybe the reason is “There is a large demand that I can meet”, maybe it’s “It’s cool” (although that’s probably not a good reason). But you need to know why you are doing what you’re doing.

Set Goals – These should be metrics about productivity, revenue, customer base, etc. By setting goals, you can
Have an Exit Strategy
Why Create a Company

  • Seperate entity – A business has it’s own bank account, etc
  • Liability
  • Taxes
  • Working with other companies is easier – Companies want to avoid overhead associated with hiring individuals. They can ‘outsource’ to your company and all they have to do is cut a single check.
  • Raising Money
  • Percieved Credibility – There is a perception that if you are just one guy writing code, you are less credible and less reliable

Types of businesses

  • Create a Brand – This is a great way to bring you into the community. Contribute to open source projects, be active on mailing lists, etc. But this isn’t enough. You need to have a simple and straight forward message associated with your name or company. Examples: thoughtbot.com scoutapp.com
  • Target the right market – Markets have different sizes
  • You will spend 40% of your time marketing. Count on it.
  • Making it Work – Getting started is easy. Ideas are cheap. Making it work is the tough part.
  • Feast or Famine – How did he manage it? Took any job for very little money.
  • Working from Home – He has a place in his house dedicated to work. His office is just for work.

Getting Work

  • RFP – Used to be the RFPs were public and you downloaded them and then wrote and submitted your proposal. Now you must request the RFP before being given a chance to submit a proposal
  • Proposal – Dan usually writes 30-40 page proposals that covers a project in extreme detail
  • Contract – It’s very important that your contract lay out everything in detail.
  • Functionality Outline – The more detailed your specifications are, the better you can support your case when a client says “it’s supposed to do X, not Y”
  • Getting the Money – Businesses like to pay with Net 30, Net 60, or beyond. This can be a big problem for a small entrepenuership where cash flow is critical. Write into your contract that payment must be Net 0 or Net 15.
  • Terms of Service – This limits your liability when things go wrong (ala Twitter). Don’t promise or let people think you’re promising things you can’t deliver
  • Privacy Policy – Again this limits your liability. You need to disclose what you’re doing with user data.

Raise money
Why you might want to raise money

  • Payroll
  • Advertising
  • Equipment
  • Lengthy Development Cycle
  • Office space

Kinds of Funding

  • Personal Financing
  • “Love Money”
  • Equity Funding – Venture, Angels, IPO’s
  • Debt Financing

Getting Out
Eventually you will not be involved anymore. Planning on how to wrap things up or hand it over to someone else.

Overall, a good presentation for any independent developers or people looking to start a business. Nothing really Rails specific, but obviously this is information that a lot of people need.

Hosting Woes

Ezra, et al


  • active_record “find(:all).each do |leak|” Development with 20 records. Production with millions of records. No limits, no indexes.
  • Not up to par with MySQL – Relink back to prior posts
  • If you have a foreign key, it needs an index
  • plugins
    • ferret – Corrupt indexes, out of control index size. Move to ultra/sphix. Ultrasphix now supports delta indexing. No reason not to move.
    • image science + monit: monit likes to clear ENV variables
    • hodel 3000 – Way too much logging means a total data overload. Switch your log leve

    Handling traffic

    • Digg – 10,000+ visitors, very few signups
    • TechCrunch – 1000 visitors, almost all signups
    • Today Show / Fox News – hundreds of thousand of visitors… 2000+ connections

    How well can you code:
    – File io: Log to different disks, don’t be reading & writing to disk simultaneously


    eycap – gems.engineyard.com
    gem source -a gems.engineyard.com

    Mongrel alternatives are good: ebb & thin. But you don’t need to worry about the difference unless you’re doing 1000+ requests / s. Look at your code first.


    • What happened with nginx: “This presentation was about problems that we’ve had problems with. We haven’t had any problems with nginx – It is perfect”
    • Passenger/mod_rails: “It runs on apache, so we haven’t worked with it much, but it’s interesting and is doing some good things”
    • Memory footprint of different app servers to run more mongrels: “YOU NEVER NEED MORE THAN 3 OR 4 MONGRELS PER CPU. Adding a ton of extra RAM to run more mongrels doesn’t do any good.”
    • Do static files need to be local or can they be shared between cluster elements: “It’s a very good thing to share the static files so that cached and uploaded files are immediately available to the entire cluster”
    • Best way to handle background jobs: “BackgroundRb was naively developed, now background job (bj) is the best method that we use”
    • Do you use keep-alive with nginx: “Not sure, we haven’t tested it. But one great thing is to use many hostnames for asset servering so that the browser will simultaneously load from many different places, even if all the hostnames map to the exact same machine/IP”
    • What is the best way to distribute the workload across servers (especially virtualization): “The typical physical hosting of distributing web, app, db servers isn’t really needed for virtualization. Each slice has its own nginx, mongrels, & memcached.”
    • SLA’s/Uptime: “Engineyard has 3 9’s of total APP TIME availability (approaching 4 9’s).”

    Overall, another good talk. I’m very much interested in deploying/hosting/operating Rails sites, so I was glad that most of my opinions on how to run Rails sites was validated by what the EngineYard team had to say.

    RailsConf 2008 – Thursday PM

    Well, RailsConf has begun. It’s going to be a fun time and I’ll be posting pictures, thoughts, and anything else that comes up throughout the week/end.

    I arrived Thursday afternoon and managed to get over to the convention center in time for the Birds of a Feather talks. I sat in on a great discussion about building viable SAAS products and selling them for real profit (as opposed to getting bought by google without ever having a business model). It was incredibly productive and we got pretty in-depth into targeting niche markets and controlling IP ownership (the surprising concensus was that IP ownership isn’t all that important. Ideas are a dime a dozen…implementing them is the critical part). Overall a terrific kickoff for me at Railsconf

    Comparison of Rails monitoring apps: FiveRuns vs NewRelic RPM vs Scout App

    Monitoring your production Rails application is a very important part of deploying and operating a web app. There are several more general solutions that work very well: Nagios, Munin, etc. As of late, however, several Rails specific options have come into common use. I’d like to discuss the three big players here:

    FiveRuns RM-Manage

    The FiveRuns client has been out for about a year and offers a terrific suite of monitoring: Server load/memory, MySQL queries, Rails errors, etc. As of version 2.0 (which is in open beta is and will be released for customers during RailsConf) it also supports monitoring your mongrels. It works great, but can get a pretty expensive ( They don’t publish their prices, but I’m paying $30/server ). It is an good choice for most users.

    NewRelic RPM

    I’ve been beta testing the NewRelic RPM service for the past few months. It’s a decent service, it’s very easy to install, but is very limited. It will monitor your server load/memory, slow queries, etc as will all the other monitoring tools. But beyond that it doesn’t offer much. You are limited to graphing only a 24 hour period of data, so you can’t see any kind of long term trends.  They have an amazing backend system for collecting data and their site is the fastest and most responsive I’ve ever seen.  Once they get their UI front-end featureset to match their amazing data collection system, they’re going to be awesome.  As of today, they opened to the general public and released their pricing. It is based on the number of mongrel/thin instances no matter how many servers (at least that’s my understanding). For a small to medium app running up to 40 mongrels (which would probably be 2-4 servers), you’ll wind up paying $250 / month, as compared to $60-120 for FiveRuns. Overall, given the limited functionality and hefty price, I can’t yet recommend NewRelic. I hope to see it grow and quickly add more features to change my mind.

    Scout App

    The third option is Scout App. It offers the same suite of monitoring features as the others, but goes a step further by offering a huge range of additional plugins that will allow you to customize its functionality and easily set up extra functionality such as restart dying mongrels. You can also write your own plugins. To add another scoop on this already monstrous sundae, Scout App is the cheapest of all. It will run you only $29.00 / month for four servers.

    If I had to pick one service to recommend, it would likely be Scout. They provide just about everything you can ask for out of a monitoring app at the lowest price point. If anybody else has experience with these services, please add your own comments!

    Help me out, Pragmatic!

    I’m an avid Pragmatic Bookshelf reader.  I probably own 30%-40% of their book titles.  The writing is always great, editing is even better, and they’re often the first to print on some great up-and-coming topics.

    I saw recently that they are offering ‘Friday-series’ PDF books for $9 and I found one on using memcached that I decided to buy.  I’m pretty good with memcached and use it quite regularly, but there are always new things to learn and I figured this would make a great reference if nothing else.  I also thought it would make for great reading on the plane trip during my upcoming trip to RailsConf (call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather carry the physical version rather than read it off my laptop, especially while traveling).

    I purchased the PDF, downloaded it, and when I went to print it I found that the background of every page is tan!  I bought it with the specific purpose of printing, but that’s a waste of a LOT of ink to print a solid background on every page.  I went through a very lengthy process to try and fix this so I could have a nice hard-copy:

    1. Adobe Professional has a great accessibility tool that will re-color the background.  It worked perfectly to remove the background and leave the rest of the document intact.  Unfortunately, despite what the print-preview shows, the pages still print with the tan background.
    2. Adobe Pro also has a tool called ‘Remove background’ but it only works on backgrounds added by Adobe Pro.  Not the case with this PDF, so that doesn’t work.
    3. I searched the web for removing backgrounds from PDFs but found very little.  I tried xpdf but it couldn’t handle this file and any watermark removal tools I found were sub-par.
    4. I e-mailed Pragmatic asking if there was any way of getting a white-background version.  Obviously a long shot, but I figured I had to at least ask.  To their credit, I received a response from Dave Thomas in a matter of minutes.  This is what he had to say:

    To be honest, the Friday’s are really not formatted for printing in many different ways–the font is optimized for screen viewing, and there’s tons of white space. It never really occurred to us that someone would print one.

    Really, I have no problem with the font or the white space, but I found it VERY surprising that it never occurred to them that someone would print one.  I could have sworn that the purpose of a PDF was to provide a format that would display and print consistently across platforms.  To be honest, I can’t find a PDF I’ve bought that I haven’t printed.   Thankfully Peepcode PDFs (which I own almost all of) are B&W and print terrifically.

    In the end, I printed it with the tan background and I’m thankful I ordered new ink cartridges last week that should be arriving very soon.  Hopefully, the Pragmatic guys will think twice about a colored background with their future PDFs.