FOWA Dublin videos (including DHH talk)

dhh-ftrw.png As promised, here’s a quick post about the FOWA Dublin videos which have been uploaded recently – including the most anticipated Doing a Start Up in the Real World (a.k.a. ‘Fuck the real world’) talk by David Heinemeier Hansson. If you watch only one video, make sure it’s this one :-) .

I just got back from a wonderful Scotland on Rails 2009 so will post my experience later today (or whenever I’ll be able to catch up with all my chores – spent almost 1.5 week in England + Scotland so my TODO list is huge :-)

Twitter Unveils New Premium Accounts? I hope not!!!

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Update: I definitely jumped the gun with this one :-) It *is* meant to be a joke. Thanks god.

I hope this is a joke. A bit sounds like it, but it might be still true. I am really hoping it’s not!

The news (“Twitter Unveils New Premium Accounts“) is spreading like wildfire on twitter right now, making it impossible to even guess who retweeted who, but that doesn’t really matter anyway. What matters is that everyone in twitterverse is talking about it right now. I really do hope it’s just a scam, because I don’t like the idea at all… here’s why:

  • Raising the character limit – (this is the part that makes me think/hope it’s a scam) I believe twitter’s success is partly because of the ‘do less’ scheme. If you look at jaiku, plurk, pownce and a ton of other failed (or let’s put it like this: not as successful as twitter by a wide margin) microblogging services, who hoped to differentiate themselves from twitter (also) by adding a ton of other features twitter doesn’t have, didn’t succeed. I (and I believe I am talking for the most of the twitter users out there) love the service exactly because it’s a no-brainer: you have to squeeze some interesting information into 140 chars. That’s it. The story ends here.

    There are plenty of third party apps (several hundreds when I last checked) that add this or that on top of twitter, some of them actually very good. That’s a win for everyone: you can choose which service to use (often multiple sites are competing for the same type of service – competition is always a good thing!). Modularity is a good thing – not to mention that great services (like search, a.k.a. summize) are integrated into twitter later anyway.
  • Messing it up – you get random followers?!?! Why is that? I am already annoyed by the ‘quest for numbers’ “feature” of twitter – totally unrelated people following each other just to bump their follower count. This is kind of understandable, as the follower count is viewed as an universal number of influence/power on twitter, but still, why should you push information to people (or consume the information they are pouring onto you) if you are not in the same niche/field/market? This sounds really crazy.

    Anyway, how will those 20/100/1000 random followers be chosen? Will they accept that they have to follow someone? Bullshit meter +1. This really smells like hoax.
  • Elitism – the same concerns as with Kevin Rose’s latest brainchild, wefollow.com – the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Invisible (and possibly otherwise great) people will remain undiscovered Good Will Huntings for good, while users already boasting thousands (or much more than that) followers will climb to even more higher places. How is this good for a community as a whole??!
  • Price – this is basically the B variant of “Elititsm”. Open source enthusiasts, students, researchers, a big part of developers (the group I am personally interested in) and a lot of others (you surely have a similar group with other interests) won’t be willing (and able to in some cases) to pay the $15/$50/$100 monthly fee – it’s just too much. $5 is OK for everyone, but that doesn’t buy you nearly anything. The other premium levels are just too much for most of people, again just pushing the elite to higher places.

I have a ton of other points, but the more and more I think about it, I seriously think this is a SCAM. I really love twitter and hope they’ll have a solid business model and will make a ton of money sooner or later, but please not this way. I am not even against premium accounts, or just paying a sensible monthly fee – would surely do that – but please stay with the roots and don’t promote elitism. Khtxbai!

DHH: Fuck the Real World

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I planned to do a writeup on the talks @ FOWA Dublin, but Dave Concannon did such a great job that I could not add too much without re-iterating what he said, so I’d like to concentrate on just one talk instead, which totally blew me away: Creating Software in the Real World by David Heinmeier Hansson.

Let me start with a bit of background – as a Rails developer for almost 3 years now, this was obviously not the first time I heard about David, 37signals, their Getting Real principles, business practices etc. – however, this was the first time I have seen him live, delivering a great talk. And it made a huge difference.

If you happen to know me, you probably know that I am not a guy who gets ecstatic because someone is an alleged rock star, ninja, pirate or zen master, even if he happens to be author of something as significant as Ruby on Rails which I think is the greatest piece of software since Prince of Persia. I had my own reservations wrt David (a slew of blog posts about him suggest that he is kind of a controversial character to say the least: the potty-mouth Dane, the F-bomb terrorist who always has a curse or two up his sleeve for good measure, brings on the vitriol first and ask questions later etc. etc.) After seeing him perform live, I am quite sure that most of these negative comments are either taken out of context, coming from the sour grape camp or are just plain wrong. Sure, David is not a grail knight when it comes to defending his stance – that’s one of the reasons why he keeps building kick-ass stuff like Rails or Basecamp. He totally pwn3d the stage from the very beginning, and even if I wanted to be very critical, I just could not see that he is the douchebag suggested by his critics.

It also became clear to me that DHH != (only) Rails. While he is often primarily described as the author of the Rails framework, that’s a gross oversimplification of the big picture. I think Rails is “just” the side effect of David’s passion to create web apps in a getting real way. Above everything else, he is a guy with a vision who gets things done, no matter what does it cost – e.g. writing a web framework in Ruby (the language he found the most “getting real” style when he needed to implement Basecamp).

OK enough rambling – here is the summary of the talk (I certainly could not get everything, but I am trying my best)

* “We don’t have 200k RSS subscribers because of my deliciously swirly hair” – a central question (asked also during the Q/A session): how on the earth did Basecamp and other 37signals products become so popular? All of a sudden, they emerged from nowhere! As David points out, it was not that ‘out of the blue’ as it looks like. When they started with Basecamp, they already had 2000 subscribers on their blog, Signal vs Noise, so they built a channel which through they could advertise themselves.
This advice meshes with one of my favorite points from Getting Real which goes something like “Just start doing something”. Really. Start blogging. Creating/contributing to open source software. Get on twitter. Let your voice be heard! You probably won’t have thousands of listeners right away, that’s OK – it takes time. But you can start today!

* “Fuck the real world” – probably the tagline this speech will be remembered for. Taken out of context, DHH critics have yet another flickr snapshot where they can demonstrate arrogant F-bomb usage, good for nothing. Bullshit. It was designed and “dropped” perfectly, kicking off the whole talk! David’s advice is to stop listening to “advice” which goes like “yeah, this is a great idea/concept/whatever, but it will not survive in the real world”. Sure, Rails didn’t look like a great idea when Java and PHP have been the bee’s knees. Today no one (except the hard-core sour-grape Java/PHP/COBOL fanboys) would argue that it made a big impact on how web software is developed (call it web2.0 if you like). David said that none of their current apps passed the “real world” (in the sarcastic sense) test – and look where they arrived.

* “I didn’t start coding when I was 6, but 21, and Jason (Fried) started business school later too” – David de-bunked the myth that you have to be a “natural” to accomplish great things. True, quite a few of the IT related success stories start with “I got my first Sinclair ZX Spectrum/Commodore/Atari/Amiga when I was 4, started coding in xyzBasic at the age of 5, roocked fooBasic at 7 etc. While this is all great, and certainly a big help if one happens to become a professional coder later, it’s certainly not the only path to victory. There is no such thing as “starting out too late”. Just make sure you start today.

* “Forget the _advice_ that you shouldn’t build too simple software” – “Good bye to bloat”, “Simple, focused software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t” are rules 37signals are living by, not just pretending. If you check out their award-winning software, used by over a million people today, you’ll notice that despite of their age (several years) they are still simple pieces of focused apps. That’s one of the secret sauces of 37signals: if it works for them, why shouldn’t it work for you? The point is to create something usable, not bloated.

* “Would I pay for this app?” – a great reality check they are asking themselves all the time. If you wouldn’t pay for such a product, why would anyone else?

* “Running your own business = the power to say no – You should be able to say “no” and stick to your vision rather than trying to add all the bells and whistles required by the customers. Note that this does not mean you should refuse / reject all the requests – some of them are really great, but eventually *you* have to decide which ones to keep and which ones to boot (because they just don’t fit into your vision).

* “startup is a category I hate – you have to build a business” – another great point. It’s so trendy to found start-ups today, it almost sounds like a game for grown-ups. (It’s not, I founded two of them myself and it was the hardest part of my professional life so far. Compared to a startup, regular freelancing / contracting feels like a walk in the park :-) ). You have to plan for long term, have real goals, start making money as soon as possible (vs. wait for google or another Silicon Valley dude with a lot of money), get real. It’s not a game, it’s a business.

* “You don’t need rock stars, but a rock star environment. Your employees are not stupid” – argues that the environment your company is in matters more than the individuals. With a great company culture where you respect and trust your employees (e.g. 37signal employees get a company credit card, with one policy – use it reasonably! wow) your team will live up to their full potential. By creating and nurturing an atmosphere of growth, you won’t have to micromanage everybody and everything – don’t treat your employees as idiots, because they are not.

* “An idea is so small part of a business that it’s almost a rounding error” – So true. I have so many ideas right now, that it would take months to prototype them – but that would eventually become an endless process, because during prototyping I would get new ideas, etc. Ideas are cheap, everyone has them. The question is whether you have the skills and perseverance to make them happen.

* “you have to build massive popularity slowly” – Probably my most favorite point of the talk. As a small business owner, startup founder and entrepreneur I found out on my own skin several times that it’s relatively easy to start something – be it a startup, a blog, an open source project, a client assignment, a relationship/marriage/organization/company/habbit/just about anything. The trick is to keep pushing with the initial vigor (at least) once you reach the plateau – for a long time, until the breakthrough comes (you finish your project, your blog gets picked up, your startup is featured on techcrunch, etc.) That’s one of the main things that sets successful ventures apart from non-succesful ones. Everybody has ideas. Everybody can start. A few of them can finish because it takes time and perseverance. You have to believe in yourself and your idea to make it through, as long as it takes.

Unfortunately this summary can’t capture the atmosphere of the talk – as far as I can tell, the room was on fire, everybody was charged up and motivated by this speech (I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be). For me it was worth the price of the conference alone. Massive thanks to David!

FOWA Dublin – a Mixed Blessing

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I am sitting on the plane flying home from Dublin, trying to summarize my thoughts about the Future of Web Apps conference. While I think that overall, FOWA Dublin was worth attending (because of the speakers, especially David Heinemeier Hansson, who surpassed all my (high) expectations – will post about it later), in my opinion it did not live up to its full potential. The most annoying thing is that just with a tiny bit of more effort it could have been an 5-star conference in every sense of the word – however it missed to deliver this additional plus, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

I have seen blog posts/tweets raving about the conference – in a paradoxical way (given what I just wrote in the above paragraph) I can mostly agree with those posts too. The trick is whether you are judging the conference solely based on the content (in which case I can agree with the above blog posts) – or as a whole, including venue, wifi, organization, socialization, before and after parties, freebies, extras, all the bells and whistles. Using the latter method (and I see no reason why one should not) the conference was mediocre IMHO – a few thoughts why:

* (almost) no wifi – After all, a conference centered around the web full of nerds with iPhones, notebooks and other wifi-hungry devices needs no wifi right? Wrong. (OK, the reality was more complex than that: there _was_ some kind of “home wifi” but in practice that meant constant hunting for the signal which broke randomly after a few minutes)

* crowd – A huge crowd (or too little space, if you put it like that) right from the very beginning; Arrived 30 minutes before the actual start, to experience an episode from the life of herrings in the lobby on my own skin, without the slightest idea of why couldn’t we enter the auditorium or what are we supposed to do (other than brewing in our own sweat and looking around to see more puzzled herrings)

* the way the uni sessions were delivered – no microphone; very noisy from outside; people running around all the time, causing constant distraction;

* no announcements of talks – (like someone running out to the foyer and shouting ‘hey guys we are starting in 5 minutes!’) – half of the people still in the foyer, resulting in slow, continuous trickling into the auditorium, again causing a lot of distraction (probably less distracting the closer you sit to the stage, but at the upper end it was really annoying). The doors were open for some reason, so constant murmuring from the foyer.

* No freebies – for this price, at least a coffee or two (and maybe I am not too demanding to add something like snacks/muffins/mineral water?) would have been nice. Ridiculous prices at the bar (well, quite normal compared to Dublin – 2-3 EUR for a tea, 4-5 EUR for a coffee, 5-6 EURs for a pint of Guiness, you get the idea)

* seats – people standing around; though there were theoretically enough seats, de facto about a dozen or more people have been standing around all the time, which felt weird to me, even though I managed to get a seat somehow during the whole conference.

* no sockets – If you were lucky enough to sit close to one of the few (ok, make it a dozen – for 400 ppl!) sockets in the wall, you could recharge your laptop. Otherwise, you have been out of luck.

* a huge rush – I had the feeling that the organizers wanted to pack as much action into one day as possible, which theoretically sounds great, but IMHO it didn’t work out that well in the practice; I missed the beginning of two talks and one full talk after the lunch break because the breaks were barely enough to accomplish anything, be it buying snacks/coffee, use the toilet (1 working toilet for hundreds of guys – great idea) or to grab a proper lunch at a restaurant.

* it was overpriced for what we got – (or we got too little for an OK price) – c’mon, 400 people at an average price of 150 EUR, is 60,000 EURos, + sponsors like Sun and Microsoft, and not even a fucking cup of cofee? We organized EuRuKo in Prague last year for 20EUR / dude, had Matz, the creator of Ruby as well as a roster of other Ruby celebrities, conference t-shirts and a slew of other conference souvenirs, industrial strength wifi, catering (several tea/coffe/snack breaks, hot food for lunch) for 2 full days, free coffee and beverages, and even some free beers (cheers for Brightbox) all this in the heart of Prague. I repeat it again – for EUR 20!

* Little room for socialization (both in physical and abstract sense) – no before-event party (e.g. compare it with Scotland on Rails – three weeks to go, but I know about almost all the attendees, when and where are we going for a whisky (pre-, during- and post-conference), who is staying where, arriving when, going for a sightseeing tour with an option to join them etc. All the organizers did to make this happen was they set up a google groups mailing list and a twitter account, updated with great info every now and then, enabling the attendees to augment it with their own stuff (e.g. when are we going to have a boatload of whisky))
OK, this is not entirely an organizational problem, but still, all the conferences I went to so far addressed socialization in some way.

* after-party – Some of the guys were raving about the after-party – well, I think it was poorly organized too. I went there on time, and had no idea where the FOWA-party “crowd” is – I have seen random micro-bunches of probably-FOWA attendees scattered around the huge (otherwise excellent) Dandelion bar. Asked a few of them about the party, they were just as clueless as myself. Ok, so I left to grab something to eat to the nearby TGIF, but the situation got even worse when I came back. The dispersion of probably-FOWA-micro-bunches-or-lone-rangers went up significantly, so after a few minutes of strolling around I left. Maybe I was just unlucky and popped up at times when everybody was at toilet / had a quick smoke outside or whatever, but some more info (an A4 sheet of paper with ‘we are here’ perhaps) wouldn’t hurt.

Wow – re reading what I just wrote makes FOWA Dublin look really bad – but unfortunately I don’t know what should I remove from the above. These little (or sometimes not so little) things really added up, and fscked up the whole atmosphere. A little more organization and polishing would have solved 80% of the problems.

I am going to summarize a few of the talks I enjoyed in a follow-up post – now I am too tired for that – spent 6 extremely exhausting days in Dublin so need to get some sleep first!

“I guess Ruby is over: it Was Fun While it Lasted.”

ruby_sad.gifUpdate: As several guys pointed out in the comments, Tim’s remark which basically pulled the trigger was sarcastic – I guess have to re-calibrate my sarcasm meter. So you need to replace “Tim” and whatever he said with a different guy and his random quote. There are plenty of them out there these days, so the choice should be easy :-) .

This rant was in the works for quite some time – I ditched it at least two times already, convincing myself that there is no use to get into language wars and similar nonsense… but people didn’t let the issue go (i.e. that Ruby jumped the shark / it started to suck for some reason etc – most recent example being a tweet by @timbray) so get ready for some grandiose rantbling!

Tim Bray: “I guess Ruby is over…”

Srsly? By what measure? Actually when did it start? Why exactly then? Again, by what measure? What does ‘over’ mean at all? Says who?

I am currently reading “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” from Nassim Taleb. There is a section describing Tim’s logic perfectly:

“By a mental mechanism I call naive empiricism, we have a natural tendency to look for instances to confirm our story … – these instances are always easy to find. You take past instances that corroborate your theories and treat them as evidence… I can find confirmation for just about anything, the way a skilled London cabbie can find traffic to increase the fare, even on a holiday”

… or the way Tim can find a bogus evidence for Ruby’s alleged decline, whatever that means. I am wondering where have the current “ruby jumped the shark” guys been 3 quarters ago when Ruby books have been on a roller coaster riding up with the speed of light?!?!

Naive empiricism is everywhere

Guess what, I am guilty of naive empiricism too: I wrote an article stating the opposite of Tim’s tweet, based on similar, but opposite O’Reilly data (i.e. Ruby book sales on the rise). Why? Because I have been a Ruby/Rails zealot back then already, that’s why! And I *wanted* to see Ruby on the rise, and did not really care whether my claims were objective (I *wanted* to see that they were objective – meta-naive empiricism FTW!)

Another great example of naive empiricism is the ‘CDBaby: from Rails to PHP‘ vs ‘MuxTape: from PHP to Rails‘ 2-part saga: the funny thing is that both Derek and Luke argue very convincingly and charismatically about the exact different side of the same coin: why the move from framework X to Y has been the best idea since sliced bread, how it saved their ass, pushed productivity to the ends of the earth… arriving at a total opposite conclusion using the same reasoning.

Another bogus reasoning I hear a lot: Python is used in google so it’s > Ruby! Unfortunately enough for the guys treating this fact as a royal flush , Ruby is used in NASA, by some of the smartest folks in Ruby-land. So what?! Does this mean Ruby > Python (or at least is equal to gogle <=> NASA)? Not at all (In my opinion Ruby > Python actually, but 1) this is a personal preference thing 2) it has nothing to do with google vs NASA 3) is a topic of a different rant, which possibly won’t be written as I grew tired of lang wars fought with flame throwers).

Or take github: currently 31% of the code living there is Ruby (and you can’t really argue that by now, github matters – it’s not just a hobby project of 2 guys tired with their original startup any more). So according to this measure, everyone start learning Ruby!

but Tim argues instead:

“…Everyone start learning C#”

This is the second part of @timbray’s rather questionable tweet… and here is why:

Comparing the need for Ruby workforce to the C# one is like comparing the need for planes to that of cars. No correlation.

C# is usually used…

  • for enterprisey stuff
  • to write big, monolithic apps
  • by big teams for long-term projects
  • by BigCO running on a large budget
  • in M$ shops

Ruby/Rails is the total opposite… it’s usually used…

  • for coding quick web apps / internal DSLs / domain specific stuff
  • to craft lean, focused apps, interoperating with each other
  • by small, agile, flexible teams, sometimes lone rangers
  • Usually smaller budget (direct consequence of the first point)
  • in shops with totally different culture compared to that of M$

Both lists could grow unbounded if I cared to come up with more points.

So Tim is essentially saying ‘no need for agile teams cranking out top notch (usually web-based) software fast – everybody jump on the Titanic (the safe 9-5 world of enterprise apps in one of the cubicles of BigCO).
Sorry, but this is utter BS. There will be always a need for lean, agile, quick teams. Following this logic, you should abandon the Python/Django ship too. And btw guess what – the Titanic sunk in the end, no matter how safe it originally was.

So where’s Rails?

It’s not clear to me where is Rails (and a slew of other widely used frameworks/software produced in Ruby) in Tim’s picture. The thing is that Ruby is tied to Rails just like the US economy is tied to just about everyone else’s economy around the world. If Rails prospers, so does Ruby – a kick-ass r41lz h4xx0r is a kick-ass Ruby h4xx0r with knowledge of Rails after all.

However, it looks like there is need for Rails coders: Tom Mornini, one of the founders of Engine Yard, the leading Ruby/Rails hosting states that good Rails developers are very scarce. And while Rails developers will be a scarce commodity, Ruby developers will be too.

Ruby isn’t Fun anymore… wtf?

This is the original part of the rant, from the time when more “ruby/rails sucks” articles popped up in a quick succession, followed by a grandiose trollfest on various social sites, and eventually meta-ranting (my personal favorite).

Apples and Oranges Strike Again

I am a bit confused after reading all this outburst: I seriously think ‘fun’ vs ‘mainstream’, ‘imperfect’ (or even ‘buggy’), ‘slow’ etc. are orthogonal problems. Why should be Ruby less fun than it ever was because now it has more acceptance / users / enterprise penetration and/or it’s slow / 1.9 is not a big deal / it leaks memory (fill in the other pain points from the rants)??! This just doesn’t make any sense. Ruby is fun _and_ it has some problems to address. These two are not contradictory statements at all. It’s immense fun to be with my 2-year old daughter, though she is sometimes hard to handle – so I should say it’s no fun anymore?!?

“Ruby isn’t fun any more *for me*” is a totally different claim from “Ruby isn’t fun any more” (in general). I don’t give a shit if Ruby isn’t fun any more for *you*, but please, don’t describe it as community- or language-wide phenomenon. kthx.

Conclusion

You like python? Great! Putting bread on the table coding in Java? Cool. You’d like to play around with bleeding edge stuff (clojure/scala/erlang etc.)? All the better.

Ruby is slow? The syntax is obscucre? You don’t like Rails/DHH/fanboys/TextMate/Ruby/arrogant douchebags/whatever? Ruby is not fun for you (any more?)
Too bad, so sad – however, this doesn’t alter the fact that Ruby *is* immense fun for me, and a whole community of people, and no ranting will change that, no matter how hard you are trying.

I am not even arguing that Ruby is better than X – I am far beyond that point already (after having my share with some Java vs Ruby flamewars). I am just arguing that people should stop tweeting / blogging about nonsense underpinned with ‘evidence’ just because they want to see the world that way.