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RailsConf Europe is Over

I’ve gotten back from RailsConf. I actually got back a few hours ago, but went to bed and couldn’t sleep (idea! ping! awake!). So, I thought I’d start writing up stuff whilst I thought of it…

The conference itself was pretty well organised by SkillsMatter and RubyCentral. There were a couple of minor hiccups which caused confusion—the main one being the rescheduling as some talks got a much stronger interest than expected, meaning that they had to be moved to larger rooms. Thankfully, there were helpful little orange elves to answer questions all over the place, so it wasn’t a big problem.

One slightly unfortunate behaviour was the shape of the venue: three tracks were on the lower ground floor; one was on the 2nd floor. So there was a lot of healthy exercise to get the Rails geeks going up and down stairs (the lift was too slow!) But the venue as a whole was very good. Extremely central —200 yards from Tottenham Court Road tube station.

The wireless was terrible. That seems to be standard for conferences unfortunately. It seemed that the DHCP server was handing out 24 hour leases, and then only 100 of them in the main hall, which was a real pain. At least it meant I concentrated on taking notes!

All the talks were recorded and should be up soon, hopefully! I really want to catch some of the ones that I missed. The best thing I can say about this conference is that I was incredibly torn between the choice tracks. They had a fantastic array of people and ideas.

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Pizza On Rails

I’ve just gotten back from the Pizza on Rails pre-conference event. I was a bit nervous, because by all accounts I knew nobody who was going. Thankfully I bumped into Paul Hammond within 5 minutes of arriving. He introduced me to Rob who deals with parliament.uk. That sounds like fascinating stuff—over 12Tb of data, including all past legislation and amendments. Lots of SGML though, poor man.

In turn, Rob introduced me to Paul Battley who will be heckling my Unicode talk. I’d better tread carefully. 🙂

Eventually, we wandered over to another pub, which was slightly less noisy. The thunder storm going on around us was fabulously entertaining.

At the pub, I found Dan Webb who graciously explained the innermost secrets of the UJS plugin, which brings unobtrusive JavaScript to rails in a rather lovely way. I’ll definitely have to look closer at how that works. I owe Dan a drink or two for the time he spent talking slowly to me about various bits of JavaScript. It’s really great that somebody is willing to take Rails’ JavaScript usage forwards like this.

Anyway, now I’m at the office surveying the remnants of the same storm that I have to cycle home in. Bleargh.

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TextMate Tip

I got really caught out today. I needed to get some code samples from TextMate into Keynote. Cut’n’paste didn’t copy across the colours correctly. Kind of to be expected, since TextMate is a plain text editor, not a rich text editor.

After having a quick hunt around, I found the “Create HTML from Selection” command, which looked like just the ticket. Except that it produced HTML with lots of classes and no CSS (i.e. losing all the style). I played with it a bit, and the “Create CSS from Current Theme” command, all to no avail.

Eventually, I hopped onto irc and wandered into ##textmate on freenode.net. After a brief chat with several people whilst I explained my problem (badly), Allan Odgaard (textmate’s author) noticed that I had the selection enabled. Getting rid of the selection makes a new command appear, “Create HTML from Document”. And that loads into Safari just fine, from where it can be correctly cut’n’pasted into Keynote. Marvellous!

But more than anything, I can’t help but be impressed by the support that Allan offers. This was the middle of Sunday afternoon, and he personally answered my query to completion within 10 minutes. All I can say is that TextMate is well worth the money.

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d.Construct: post event party

I did manage to wander down to the terraces eventually. It was a huge crowd. It felt like 75% of the conference had made it down there. Sadly, I stopped to check my mail before going, so missed the tab behind the bar. Oops. 😦 Doubly so when finding out that they charge £3.10 for a pint of lemonade!

Anyway, I met a bunch of people whilst down there. It was really cool as they’re all local people that I just don’t bump into ordinarily, even though I cohabit mailing lists with them: Paul Dave Childs, Aidan Delaney, Tom Coady (whom I played a round of crazy golf with and ended up scoring 0xff). I must try and get out in Brighton more…

I also bumped into Paul Hammond and Amy, who are expecting a new arrival in a month or so. I wish them all the best. It seems like rather a lot of people I know are expecting right now.

Unfortunately, after doing the crazy golf, my earache got the better of me and I had to retire. I had a crêpe from the pier on the way back to try and build up energy for the ride home. A huge thanks to Jay Gooby and the Snipperoo team for sponsoring the evenings party. I wish I could have enjoyed more of it.

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d.Construct: Understanding Folksonomy

Thomas van der Wal invented the term folksonomy. It’s all about tagging.

He’s raised an interesting point about tagging: identity. It’s very important to know who created the tags so you can decide who’s tag you want to trust. He uses the example of tagging an article on the middle east conflict as either “armageddon” or “mild conflict”. Through identity comes community.

Is there a conflict between folksonomy (tags) and taxonomy? Yes, but you can use the folksonomy to feed into the taxonomy. And probably vice versa.

At this point, my ear infection started playing up and I had to exit quickly to get some fresh air. Plus the laptop battery was dying.

I came back jujst in time to catch Jeff Veen talking about designing the complete user experience. He’s an extremely funny guy. Especially his idealised versions of the ebay & microsoft web interfaces… Jeff is embarrassingly tall and an excellent speaker. Oh, and he loves cycling too. Even after coming off going downhill in sanfran! His presentation should be up on veen.com somewhere, but I can’t remember the URL right now.

Anyway, it’s been a great day. All of us who went seemed to really enjoy ourselves and get a lot out of it.

Now, I’m going to see how my ear holds out and see if I can make it to the after show party down at Terraces. (not a bad place; I also attend Café scientifique there)

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d.Construct: Accessibility in a web 2.0 world

Derek Featherstone on how to do accessiblity now we’re seeing more Applications and JavaScript. Even something as simple as a login form can have many, many accessibility problems. Little things like using an image instead of a button to submit a form. Lack of label tags.

Another one is search boxes. Search boxes often have no external label, so a screen reader doesn’t know how to address the field. And often, JavaScript is used to clear the contents of the search box because the “type your search” here message is in there by default. But when you tab, then shift-tab, it wipes out your search!

Wow, that was a really cool talk. So many ways to think about web sites that are completely non obvious. Thanks, Derek!

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d.Construct: Mash my Flex up!

Aral Balkan is talking about how to do flashing. And flexing.. A brief rant about the openness of data in the UK (more details at freeourdata.org.uk).

Flex examples:

He goes on to explain all the bits of the Flex platform. I like the fact it’s based on Eclipse. There also appears to be a vibrant Open Source community built on top of it, which is a Good Thing.

There was a series of code explanations, but waaay to swift for those of us not familiar with Flash…

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d.Construct: The Joy of API

Jeremy Keith is talking about how much fun APIs can be. He’s bigging up REST, which is fine by me. 🙂

He integrated flickr, delicious, upcoming all into adactio elsewhere.

It’s all about a web of data.

Microformats are the way forward!

Jeremy is a hugely entertaining speaker; I’ve been too busy listening to capture most of what he said…

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d.Construct: Web Services for fun & Profit

Simon Willison and Paul Hammond talking about how web services are helping to make Yahoo work.

As an example, they’re talking about how to build a login form. They’re covering how you can’t just talk directly to a database. You need to use an API to get scalability and reliability.

They go on to talk about Yahoo Hack Days, which sound incredibly cool. It’s a big part of helping Yahoo to innovate.

Showing off all the APIs available on developer.yahoo.com. They talked about Rollyo as a commercial user of the APIs. But really impressive is Matt Biddulph’s use of the term extraction API to find out relationships between politicians.

Summary:

  • Web Services make huge sites possible
  • Web Services help to build new products faster
  • Web Services help to encourage innovation
  • Web Services aren’t just for internal use
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Jeff Barr @ d.Construct

Jeff Barr is Amazon’s Web Services evangelist. He’s talking about all the web services that Amazon offer. Feels like a product pitch, even though the technology is interesting.

Some of the demos that use the E-Commerce API are pretty cool. I love the flash demo that shows band relationships.

The mechanical turk is also a stunningly cool idea. It’s all about creating marketplaces… Well, apart from thesheepmarket.com perhaps. 🙂

I hadn’t seen EC2 before either. It’s kind of rent-a-Xen. It’s still in Beta right now.