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Scotland on Rails 2008

Update: here are my slides.

Well the last people I expected to see when I wandered down to breakfast on the first day were the Russian national women’s hockey team.

This conference was very good. I encountered a lot of intriguing new ideas, many friendly and interesting people with whom I’d love to spend more time, and (not at the conference) a cousin I last saw thirteen years ago in Western Australia!

Pollock Halls

You can’t really go wrong holding a conference in Edinburgh. It’s a magnificent city, and because my grandfather grew up there I can walk around telling myself I’m not a tourist (I tell myself a lot of things). And you’re never far from a pub, er, castle.


The talks I heard were all good. The most immediately useful to me were those on testing: Tammer Saleh on behaviour driven development with Shoulda, Bryan Helmkamp on story driven development and Webrat, and Jim Weirich and Joe O'Brien on mocking.

To date I’ve found writing tests irksome; worthwhile, but clunky. However, I’ve been using old-school Test::Unit, so I think now it’s time to upgrade. (Not convinced yet by SDD, but time will tell.)


Palm trees in the snow

I was pleased Erlang/OTP slipped into the schedule. Gordon Guthrie ran through the concepts and architecture of Erlang/OTP systems, locating them within their historical context. Guthrie was surprisingly irreverent, and his talk was all the better for it.

Apparently in the UK telephone system’s first year of operation on Erlang/OTP, its downtime was 31 milliseconds. That’s 99.9999999% availability. Respect.


As somebody who spent five years writing J2EE applications, I have no desire to interact with the Java language again. But the Java platform — that’s a different kettle of ball games. The JVM, with its dynamic optimisation, native threading and tuned garbage collection, is a sophisticated and fast runtime environment. A Java-based Ruby implementation can take full advantage of those capabilities.

So although I don’t care that JRuby lets me write Swing in Ruby, I sat up and listened when Charles Oliver Nutter and Thomas Enebo showed a threaded Ruby program using all its machine’s cores. And I was intrigued by the idea of Rails application deployment to a single Glassfish process.

Big Names, Delivering

More snow

Other speakers that stood out for me were Jim Weirich on Ruby class design, Michael Koziarski speaking frankly about the quality of Rails' internals, and David Black with his extended music analogy.


But the most stimulating talk was Giles Bowkett’s on code generation and metaprogramming. Few could mash up so amusingly Archimedes, Jessica Alba, respect for Lisp, disrespect for Lispers, code generation and sombreros. Superb.


I had a much better time at Scotland on Rails than at both RailsConfs Europe. And this was only the first one. I’m looking forward to Scotland on Rails 2009.


Excellent write-up, it sounds like it was a resounding success! Shame I couldn’t stay around long enough to attend.

JRuby on Glassfish does indeed look interesting, one to investigate soon I think.

Olly • 8 April 2008

Hi Andy,

Thanks for the sterling write-up. It’s sounding more and more that we should have made Giles' talk a plenary session.

We were worried that meta-programming would be too niche a topic but it sounds like we were way off there.

We’ll do better next year!


Alan Francis • 10 April 2008

Andrew Stewart • 8 April 2008 • RailsConferences
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