RailsConf 2006 or: How I Learned to Stop Wasting Time and Love Web Programming.

Last month I had the good fortune of attending RailsConf 2006 in Chicago, the first official international conference dedicated to Ruby on Rails. For those of you who are out of the web development loop, Ruby on Rails (or simpy Rails) is an open source web application framework written in the Ruby programming language. In short, the Rails framework gives developers the power to create powerful web applications quickly and sustainably using much less code. What follows are some highlights from the conference.

WalkingBoss, a GPS/Google Maps/Flickr Mashup
Doug Fales gave a great presentation on WalkingBoss, a mashup that plots GPS data and photographs on a Google map. The basic process involves uploading a coordinate file generated by your GPS device, and then uploading photos or hooking it up to a Flickr photo collection. From the uploaded info, the site plots out a full course along the map with photo markers along the way.

This presentation was particularly intriguing to me because of its similarity to a project we’re currently working on at Ideum. Using PHP, we’ve built an Ajax-driven recycling site that plots recycling centers on a Google map. After seeing seeing this presentation, it became apparent that the site could be built more easily with Rails, making use of such features as built-in Ajax functionality, form validation, Scaffolding, and simple Google Maps integration using JavascriptGeneratorTemplates.

A few map-related links..
Google Maps Mania Blog
Google Maps Blog – Geocoding at last!
RailsConf Facebook
RecyleMap Torrance (coming soon)

BBC on Rails
Matt Biddulph, former Head of Plugging Things Into Other Things at the BBC’s Radio and Music Interactive, gave a great presentation on how they used Rails to create the BBC Programme Catalogue site, a searchable index containing details on nearly a million BBC radio & TV programs, dating back 75 years. His talk covered the ups and downs of converting the BBC’s database from an internal green-screen application into a publicly accessible Web 2.0 site using Rails. The resounding message of this talk was that Rails can easily be put to use for large-scale web applications.

Why the Lucky Stiff
A welcome performance was made at the otherwise exhaustingly technical conference by why the lucky stiff, a writer, musician, artist, and computer programmer best known for his work with the Ruby programming language. He graced the audience with a rousing show full of poetry, improvisational music (with three backup singerettes!), a smattering of hand-animated existentialist videos about computers and technology, and powerpoint slides of dysfunctional, redundant, and inherently illogical code snippets. A niche performer, you might say.

Oh yeah. He wrote a Ruby book too.

Other Things I Discovered at RailsConf
Rails incorporates the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture, which separates a web application’s data model, user interface, and control logic into three distinct components so that modifications to one component can be made with minimal impact to the others. I didn’t really fully undertand the importance of this design metaphor until attending this conference. MVC makes applications easier to build, maintain, and, as Dave Thomas (not the Dave Thomas you’re thinking of) pointed out, easier for other programmers to read.

Siege is an http regression testing and benchmarking utility. It was designed to let web developers measure the performance of their code under duress, to see how it will stand up to load on the internet. It lets the user hit a webserver with a configurable number of concurrent simulated users. Those users place the webserver “under siege.”

Shopify is fancy shopping cart creator built in Rails. It lets you build shops with as much style and flare as you see fit. When you signup for Shopify, you can choose from one of our growing number of custom-made designs or get really creative and create your own designs.

Camping is a tiny web framework, less than 4k, basically a Rails microcosm. Built by why the lucky stiff.

Rails Weenie – find answers to your Ruby on Rails questions

All the cool kids say Rails is awesome. And from what I gathered at Railsconf 2006, they appear to be right. We’ll keep you posted as our relationship with Rails blossoms.

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