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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6 thoughts on “RailsConf 2008 – Saturday Afternoon Summary”

  1. Good observations on CodeGear. I’m a huge eclipse fan and am using radrails but it’s not very stable and I get very frustrated. Things like code completion can take down the whole IDE.

    CodeGear looks good. There is a lot of overlap with RadRails which is fine. It will really come down to whether or not it actually works.

    One huge deficiency for me is the lack of the unit test runner. The JUnit like test runner in RadRails is really essential for me, and a big deficiency in the other ides. I like seeing my test results easily, selecting one and rerunning it with one click. I’m doing that all the time.

  2. David: I fixed your name, sorry!

    Bill: I actually assumed that it had test runners, because that’s very basic. I haven’t yet tested 3rd Rail in more detail, but that IS a pretty big deal. We’ll have to see if other features make up for that shortcoming.

  3. If you have any questions about how to do things in 3rdRail, check out the newsgroups at fora.borland.com. I’ve been using 3rdRail since it was first released, and frankly, I was one of the people jumping up and down and yelling at CodeGear to DO something about Ruby and Rails two and a half years ago, when I first starting doing Rails development.

    CodeGear is commiting to quarterly updates of 3rdRail, so if you have any feature requests, get them in.

    I’m also just getting ready to release the new-and-improved Rails-based web client for CodeGear’s QualityCentral application. Keep an eye out on the newsgroups for the announcement.

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