Keynote Dave Thomas:
Today’s keynote was by Dave Thomas who as David. A. Black said needs no introduction. That talk was titled “Art and Software Engineering” and contained gems of wisdom. It successfully drew analogies between art/artists & poets and software/programmers and had some hilarious metaphors from the art-world. Stories about being “off-by-one robotic cameras”, “poets who dislike people” and “angels mooning god”. Dave showed that these art-metaphors applied equally to the programming-world and that programmers should be learning from them. So what did I get out of the talk? I will try to summarize some of the talk in dot-point
- Know who this man is (or live in shame)
- Read his book (again if you haven’t recently)
- Software development is a creative process (like the creative arts), since software development unlike other engineering activities is not constrained by the physical medium
- Just as authors overcome writer’s block by beginning the writing process by quickly putting down thoughts on paper and throwing them away if they are unhappy with them, as programmers we should be experimenting, creating prototypes and tracer-bullets and be throwing some these away as we home-in on what we are happy with
- Artists when working on large/complex paintings divide up the panting into smaller self contained paintings (e.g. Sistine Chapel Ceiling) with minimal coupling. Here Dave gave the hysterical analogy of a client wanting to change part of Sistine Chapel because they were unhappy with the portrayal of an “angel mooning god”.
- There is a difference between portraits and pictures. Portraits require a deeper knowledge of the subject and artists who draw them need to understand their subject at a much deeper level than someone just drawing a mediocre picture. Similarly the programmer needs to understand their clients underlying needs. Here Dave gave the example of NASA and the pen manufacturer – where the product designers understood the needs of the client better than the client themselves. So the upshot of the story was: Don’t listen to your client! But rather work with them to understand their underlying needs
- without art there is no engineering
- without engineering there is no art
- Take pride in your work
- Ruby is your Paint; Rails is your Canvas; Use them and create something beautiful
Aleks has just sent us the updated slides for the Rails GIS hacks tutorial. So if you attended today’s tutorial and were wondering where to get the slides – download them while they’re hot: Rails GIS Hacks Slides. Don’t forget to leave us feedback if you have any. See the RailsConfEurope page for all the tutorial material
Although for most attendees the conference started at 8.00AM our day at the conference didn’t begin until 12 noon, as first-time speakers at RailsConf Europe 07. The reason being all the late night partying… ahem …. I mean talk practice sessions we had been doing. It was beautiful sunny day with a t-shirt temperature of 24 degrees.
Lunch at the conference was very elaborate, grand and delicious. After setting up the Audio Visual at 12.30 Kashif, Aleks and I ate some lunch and waited patiently for the approaching talk.
At 1PM folks started to trickle in and by 1.30PM over a 150 people were packed in the brightly lit ball-room. I must say it was fairly daunting to see so many bums on seats.
And so we got started on time and as it often happens with talks after lunch you could notice some people yawning … especially when you have a buffet of that magnitude! Anyways the talk went according to plan. We got a few interested attendees who chatted with us about their particular applications. Feed back after the talk from a handful of people so far has been positive saying it contained a lot of very useful information and was well worth attending. Some may have found it a bit overwhelming but all were confident that the hand-out we provided was going to help overcome that issue. We will be following up on some questions with blog entries so look out for a tutorial on setting up the Rails GeoStack on Mac OSX, references to free geocoded address databases and free routing applications and web services.
Kashif & Aleks haven’t been getting much sleep lately due to all the hard work they put into the Rails GIS Hacks tutorial and so after the talk Aleks left to get some rest (as she has a d’day party to attend tonight) and Kashif is also fast asleep as I write this.
What happened to the cognac? The infamous bottle of cognac seems to have mysteriously disappeared – I am waiting to ask Aleks about it when she returns from the party.