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Rails Conf Europe - Day 2

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So its all over, if I learnt one thing from this conference, its how popular Rails is. Its has been spreading like wildfire for a while now and is not letting up. At least 3 other Rails/Ruby conferences in Europe were confirmed for next year, with rumours of many more events this side of the pond.

The official conference site promises to post video’s of the main presentations and a podcast featuring most of the other talks.

All this talking about Rails/Ruby at the conference, on blogs, irc and forums has lead me to realise i’m not proportionally spending enough time doing Rails compared to hearing about it. So less talk more action from now on – Anyway, to go against just that, I’ll sum up some notes I made from day 2;

Jim Weirich – Playing it safe with Ruby

Jim started off showing this excellent video from World of Warcraft, and proved that even if one person doesn’t ‘work well in a team’ then the whole thing can fall apart. Much like developers working on Ruby and extending existing Classes and Methods in their plugins or applications. A lot of tips on how to code defensively when using the power behind Ruby;

  • if modifying existsing classes, if possible choose to ‘add behaviour’ – not take away or modify
  • avoid top level constants and functions
  • use namespaces – (hoping selector namespaces (with priority) come out soon in Ruby)
  • overwrite const_missing to catch deprecated methods, but remember to hook
  • take care to keep the hook chain in overwritten methods (grab aliases at the start)
  • make use of method contracts, overwritten pre-conditions should be less forceful, and post-conditions more forceful

Why the lucky stiff

This talk was the best of the day and fetaured comedy, cartoons and a guy who hints at having a bit of a passion for Ruby. There’s no way I can sum this up so you’ll have to wait for the video, I do vaugely remember him talking about sandboxing Rails – and his love for ‘the splat’.

Rany – Turning your enterprise job into a Rails playground

A great insight into how a developer (Rany) working for a large German bank, managed to sneak Rails development in the door, impressing his boss and getting the application deployed past the uber Swedish Architect and DB Admin. Techniques involved;

  • Lull management into a false sense of security
  • Steal (or convince some developers to join you)
  • Cheat (avoid some problems by not tackling them at all)

And since he is no longer at the Bank, he’s hiring Rails folk for his new startup company.

Jan Kneschke – Optimizing MySQL for Rails

Jan couldn’t make, but the talk went ahead with someone else from the MySQL team presenting. Confessing he didn’t know much about Rails or Ruby, he laid down some basic points for performance boosting in MySQL;

  • avoid queries if possible (caching, coding around them)
  • instead of Rails generated joins, code th MySQL for the joins manually
  • always only select back the coloumns you want from a query (no select star)
  • use smaller more selective indexes (e..g. index index_name (long_text_field(12))
  • for max. performance, optimise for only one type of database (e.g. MySQL)
  • myISAM preferred for Rails Session storage using ActiveRecord, use InnoDb for transaction based storage (useful in tests)
  • make use of the MySQL slow query log

Dominic Mitchell – Unicode for Rails

What you can do to ‘improve’ Unicode support in your Rails app. Its still not 100% there yet, but there are some steps you can take with plugins. Proves effective enough for English and most European langauges.

  • DB should be all in UTF-8 – just easier
  • in database.yml just use encoding: UTF8
  • serve HTTP with correct UTF8 header
  • form should use correct encoding
  • use Unicode wrapper methods from plugins around all string manipulation in code
  • test using Rails, throw in strange chars and see what comes out

(the remaining talks of the day I didnt bother with notes, not that they were’nt deserved – they’ll be better covered in the vidcasts anyway)

Rails Conf Europe - Day 1

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With the first day of RailsConf Europe over, I have to say I was very impressed. The line-up was great, plenty of quality talks to choose from, and even a good wifi connection. I made some notes from each of the talks I attended (see full post below) – and I’ve also started a flickr group for the event and posted some pictures (with descriptions) myself.

David’s Keynote Address

DHH set the ball rolling from the start describing what we can expect to see from simply RESTful and ActiveResource in Rails 1.2 – using the convention of file extensions to offer a RESTful API. He also demonstrated simply Helpful, a new approach to convention over configuration in the view. Running out of time, he stopped short and promised to finish off the presentation at the end of the day.

Kathy Sierra – Creating Passionate Users

This was one of the best talks of the day (I thought) All about getting users into the ‘Flow’ – cutting out distractions and helping them feel always one ‘compile’ away from achieving their goals. Users need something to strive for, and motivation (shown through steps, or what others have done) to get there. Don’t spend time explaining only how the tools work, spend time demonstrating what the user can do with the tools. (recommended reading)

Dan Webb, Unobtrusive Ajax with Rails

A run through demonstration of using the UJS plugin for Rails, which (among other things) extracts all your AJAX/javascript out to a single file and decouples extra calls to similiar AJAX actions (e.g. on a products page listing) – A strong emphasis was mentioned on getting the application working first with semantic HTML (non-javascript) – then ‘hi-jacking’ the page with UJS behaviors. All very good stuff indeed

Jamis Buck, Capistrano

Introduced Capistrano 1.2 – including the new capistrano shell, a stateless ssh prompt that allows you to interact with all of your servers in the cluster. He warned that this could be dangerous in the wrong hands. The cap shell makes use of environment variables you can set to apply capistrano commands to just a select few servers (or all). A couple of extensions were also shown, namely ‘uptime’ and ‘watch_load’ – both very useful.

Alex Payne, Securing Rails: A Whole-Stack Approach

This guy knows his stuff, Alex Payne has been competing at DefCon and currently works as a security consultant to some ‘firms’ in Washington DC. He’s also a web developer so he concentrated on the Rails part of the full stack, explaining that there really is no silver bullet here, and that SQL injection, cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery and web service API’s all need to be secured. He recommended using Mongrel (since it has a ‘fuzzer’, rfuzz) and suggested writing attack scripts in your Rails functional tests.

Gavin Bell, Everything is interconnected

An overview on the powerful nature of a tagging community – the example being the Boston Science community site. Using Rails and acts_as_taggable, most of the site navigation is presented to the user as tag’d links. One thing they didn’t mention was GeoTagging – giving things a ‘physical place’ as it were – using a pin on Google Maps for example. The site is still in development and is due to get busier later this year.

Thomas Fuchs, Adventures in JavaScript Testing

Not much to say on this one, was a tough topic to cover and it was by no means an ‘adventure’ – but Thomas did a good job covering the bases. He mentioned that there is still no integration for auto-testing RJS generated Javascript.

Rails Core Team, Panel Discussion

Half of the full Rails Core team sat down to take questions gathered throughout the day, and a number from the floor. A couple of stickler’s were defended – including ‘when should I not use Rails?’ and ’couldn’t this/that be in the core?’ — DHH was also faced with the ’isn’t ruby/rails too slow?’ – which was (and has been) easily defended.

DHH, ‘we don’t owe you shit’ finale

Finally David rounded off the day with the most entertaining talk. His own personal suggestions and opinions (which many shared) with the Rails community including the reaction to the most recent security issue (resolved in 1.1.6) Using slide with comedy pseudo Ruby code (he forgot to bring Keynote with him on the plane over) – David’s main point was don’t expect anything from the Rails community by just downloading the framework. Summarizing, you start with zero credits here, and earn them from the community by contributing to it, getting involved, writing patches, tutorials, plugins, applications, documentation etc. Constructive criticism from non-contributing members in the community is very welcome (and necessary) – but ‘be nice’ – put together an argument, complaint, suggestion in a constructive manner and them expect a response, everything else will get a ‘f**k you!’ — a more detailed summary at the Copenhagen Ruby Brigade

So with that fresh in our minds, heres looking forward to tomorrow.

RailsConf Europe


On next month, September 14th, 15th here in London – Looks like a great lineup with lots of talks to choose from AND it hasn’t even sold out yet – Who else is going ?

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