TechNorCal Notes

UPDATE: The Confreaks video of the keynote is now online here. Great work, Confreaks!

I recorded DHH’s keynote at Railsconf 2012 on my Livescribe pen and I listened to it on the plane ride home from Austin. It’s cut off at the beginning and has some crowd noise. You can download the recording or wait for Confreaks to post the video with much better audio. I thought it was a good talk and a lot of speakers during the conference adapted their talks to acknowledge or critique it. Here are some of my thoughts interspersed with some of the main points.

Why change all these things? What am I getting for all this progress?

Well there have been some changes where you really wonder what’s the reason for them. Just for the sake of change? It’s hard when it involves muscle memory. It’s why little changes to a program are so annoying. Like when firefox moved the refresh button. When you change something you don’t want to have to think about, you have to think about it and you lose your focus. So in some ways little changes are worse than big changes. I have found almost all of the changes to rails beneficial but it takes a while to adapt and it definitely makes it hard to go back and work on old projects.

progress vs. change

All change is not progress. Everyone takes on a role in a community. Some push it forward, some hold it back. Restraints are sometimes necessary. Somebody has to be the barnacle on the behind of progress. People need to question direction and participate in course correction. I think David realizes this but is really asking that when we are confronted with change, to take a deep breath and avoid the knee-jerk reaction that becomes so automatic. In a way it’s a warning or even a veiled threat that we risk losing some great contributors when we scream like stuck pigs every time rails changes.

As systems grow, course correction becomes more difficult. Try turning around an aircraft carrier. Around the world we are surrounded by huge problems that demand change and great struggles result between the forces pushing the change and those resisting.

It’s useful to use electricity as a metaphor. You’re either a wire, a resistor, or a capacitor. A wire transmits the energy passed through it, a resistor blocks the energy and dissipates it as heat, a capacitor stores energy to release later. Ohm’s law says the current transmitted is the voltage divided by the resistance. To generalize it, the energy a system can output is equal to the potential divided by the resistance. Not subtracted but divided by. So if you’re always resisting, you’re limiting the energy available in a system, it’s divisive. So don’t be a resistor. There are a lot of forces in our society and in internet culture that encourage resistors. The heat they put out makes it look like they are doing something but they are just wasting energy. It’s a lot easier to resist change than to make change happen.

Two years ago at railsconf, I was resisting learning javascript and struggling with how much to use it in my work. I made a point to ask everyone I could their opinion. I got to ask a panel with some of the rails core the question “Why should I learn javascript when it is so ugly and so different from the ruby I have grown to love?” (I’m paraphrasing here.) DHH said it’s not that hard, just go ahead and learn it, you’ll need it. Yehuda said it actually is a beautiful language made more beautiful by jquery. Someone else said it’s the only language that will do what you need to do on the web. I listened carefully and overcame my resistance to learning javascript and now, though I am no master, I can get around in it and usually make it do what I need to do. So that was a good exercise it overcoming internal resistance and changing course. And of course in the two years since, the web has moved more toward making js a central player in web work. So I thank my advisors for the push in that direction.

default reaction from curious to suspicious

What is he preparing us for? What is rails 4 going to break?

“A conservative is a liberal who got mugged.”

Actually I’m still somewhere out past liberal and I did get mugged and stabbed one rainy night in San Francisco about 15 years ago. It didn’t make me more conservative just more careful. I almost went back to tell those two guys they should get off the street and go to school and enter the medical profession which stole a lot more money from me that night than they did.

bad shrimp

old hippies are pretty rare

mr. mature has something to lose.

not a whole lot of people go back

loss aversion

I think there’s some different things happening here. In a way it’s more of a struggle between the language builders who stay on the abstract level and who always want to be working on something new and the integrators who struggle to implement real-world projects with those languages. They both fulfill important and necessary roles but have different priorities and interests. As rails gets pulled into more companies, this will be an escalating struggle. I think one of the strengths of rails is that its contributors are mostly not theoretical academics but working developers so it’s based on things that work. The closer you are to your users and the more central your work becomes in their lives, the less you are eager to change anything that can break. It’s one thing if your twitter is down, another if you can’t ship a growing pile of orders to customers who are yelling “Where’s my package!?!”

being honest with yourself

bill clinton didn’t inhale

yeah right.

easy bake

in a way, rails’ lure has been to make getting started easy. But noobies soon start hitting some walls that must be scaled or gone around which pushes them toward becoming real programmers.

there’s no speed limit

reframe gambling into investing

hack our brains

be a pioneer again

my g&g

I have to show you this photo of my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side. He was a mining engineer in Colorado. She was fresh off the boat from Ireland. The shack and carrying water remind me of my own homesteading start and my continuing comfort to live inside my own unfinished projects. If it’s not an experiment, I’m not interested. Finish has something to do with saunas but I’m not sure what.

we’re here because we personally care

it hurts less if you accept that progress is painful and this is the natural state of things.

don’t split up path for noobies’ sake, it doesn’t help them learn

I will not fear change.
I will not fight progress.

This was purposely hokey and sure to be called brainwashing. It kinda reminded me of Red Green’s Man’s Prayer from Canadian TV: > I’m a man.
> I can change
> if I have to
> I guess.

He ended with:

stay young
stay curious
stay hippie, my friends

I like his allusion to the Dos Equis man, “the most interesting man in the world” who says “Stay thirsty, my friends.” He also says, “It’s never too early to beef up your obituary.” One of the better line of ads on tv sports. My version would be:

grow up
avoid bitterness
inhale and admit it, my friends!

About This Blog

This is the online notebook of Will Emerson, country geek and web developer residing in Mendocino County, California. Read more...

Meanwhile in Laytonville, CA

Listening to:

99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze. --Jack Canfield

The only way to be happy is to teach yourself how. --Leo Widrich

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. - Lao Tzu

Avoid the Inevitable!

Easy is hard

Hard is stupid

Easy is hard

Hard is stupid

Stop apologizing!

A good designer has already made all the mistakes for you.
–Merlin Mann

We’re all guilty of something.

What did I do yesterday?
What am I doing today?
What is blocking me?

–Agile saying

I’m being stalked by Tommy Bahama and Volusion!

You’ll find out.

Cuz they wouldn’t let us call it .con