Shows how much I know …

This weekend I debuted two new talks at the Great Lakes Software Symposium: “Tag-Oriented JSP Design” and “Software Development Heresies.” They were both well received, and at the same time I got some good feedback that will improve both talks for next time. That’s the ideal situation.

It was a funny process, though. When I proposed those two talks, I was very excited about Heresies and thought that Tags would be “just another tech talk”—good, but nothing particularly special. Then as I was preparing the talks, my opinion reversed: Tags looked like a great talk that people would be really pleased with, and Heresies looked hazardous: if the audience didn’t want to join the discussion, it would potentially be 90 minutes of Glenn Vanderburg mini-rants, and even I think that gets old pretty quickly.

The actual outcome, however, was yet another reversal. As I said, they were both well received, but Heresies was the one that really rocked. Everyone was interested, there was a lot of energy in the room, and a lot of interaction. Two comments from evaluations have me walking on air: “Nice job of turning my world upside down” and “… you were by far and away my favorite speaker with the ‘Software Development Heresies’ talk.”

The smart thing to do with speaker evaluations is to treat them like figure skating scores, throwing out the lowest and the highest. So that last one gets thrown out of the official tally, sadly … but I can still bask in it for a little while. :-)

And maybe I’ll trust my instincts a little more about what makes a good talk.

Art Bugs

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, and one of the gifts Deborah got for me was Little Worlds, the Flecktones album I blogged about last week (even though I forgot to publish until today).

It takes a while to assimilate three discs of new material, but so far it’s excellent. I’m particularly fascinated, though, by the introduction. Pop disc one in the player and it starts straight in with music. But then hit the reverse-scan button and keep going past (that is, prior to) the beginning of track one. Keep going until you’ve rewound to the -2:40 point and let go. There’s a humorous introduction featuring David St. Hubins and Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap.

The booklet inside the CD case explains that not all CD players support that “feature”. Ours at home does, but (as you might expect) the one in my laptop doesn’t.

I don’t know much about the CD format specs, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that such things are documented features of the way the CD format is supposed to work, and not just bugs found in many CD players. Still, though, it feels like exploiting a bugor at least a quirkin a particular medium for art’s sake. (Or maybe it’s just entertainment.)

It’s cool, and funny, but it leaves me with a very strange feeling. I’m old enough to remember vinyl LPs all too well. From the very beginning, CDs were appreciated for their physical durability, and also because the digital recording didn’t degrade. It’s nice to know that those CDs will still sound pristine after quite a few years, and it’s also nice to know that (copy protection measures aside, which is a different debate) I can convert the music and it will continue to be viable after media has changed and CDs have become obsolete.

Except, it seems, for the intro to Little Worlds. I’ve ripped the CDs into iTunes (and thence to my iPod) but the intro is missing. Even if that feature really is a documented part of the CD-audio spec, it’s a quirk that’s not likely to be duplicated by future media formats. I rarely play physical CDs anymore, but if I want to hear that intro again, apparently that’s how I’ll have to do it.

But anyway, like I said: it’s cool, and funny, and leaves me with a very strange feeling. I have a sneaking suspicion that Béla and the band would love that reaction.

What are the odds?

I enjoy the music of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. This past weekend, Greg Vaughn mentioned Fleck to me in passing (he was listening to some old tunes by New Grass Revival, Fleck’s older band). Today I remembered that and realized that it has been about three years since the last Flecktones album I knew about, Outbound. “I wonder if they’ve released anything new since then?”

Off to Google! There’s the site … yep, they have one new studio album, a three-disc set called Little Worlds. Release date: August 12, 2003. Hey, that’s today!

Uh … yeah, I knew that. I was keeping up. :-)

A good time was had by all …

It was another great weekend at No Fluff, Just Stuff … this time in Seattle. I had to leave early this time, so it felt like I just flew in, gave my talks, and left. But not before one_really great_ session.

My talk on Aspect-Oriented Programming and AspectJ is always popular, and this time was no exception. Somehow we had the smallest room at the conference, and it was standing-room only. And I had some excellent (if not particularly lovely) assistants: fellow AspectJ enthusiast Ted Neward sat in, as did Andreas Schaefer (who gave a talk on JBoss’s AOP framework on Sunday). Maciej Zawadzki, who is working on some very neat stuff with AspectJ, was there. And best of all, sitting at the back of the room was Gregor Kiczales, who led the team that developed AspectJ.

Everyone chimed in, and there were a lot of great contributions from the audience. It was a privilege to lead such a session, and I think everyone in the room would have enjoyed it if it had lasted twice as long. Events like that are a strength of the NFJS symposiumswhen knowledgable speakers attend their colleagues’ talks and chime in with their own expertise, everybody wins.

Gregor gave me some very helpful feedback on my talk, so next time it’ll be even better. I’m looking forward to it already!

And I Missed It …

Steve Mallett reports in his blog that Ruby was the talk of OSCON this year. That’s great news!

I helped Dave and James put together OSCON’s Ruby track this year, so I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to attend the show. I really enjoyed it last year. But I’m very pleased at the Ruby track that resulted, and thrilled about Steve’s assessment.

Of course, Dave had his “Ruby in a Day” tutorial, and Matz got to speak about the thinking that gives rise to Ruby. For OSCON, it was crucial to have a Ruby talk aimed at those with a Perl background, and Phil Tomson came through. And Rich Kilmer spoke about FreeRIDE, the Ruby IDE he’s been developing. (FreeRIDE has a very interesting architecture, and I’m especially sorry I didn’t get to see the talk.)

One of Ruby’s real strengths, in my opinion, is its power for metaprogramming. Of course, many dynamic languages allow you to do such things, but in most languages the code for metaprogramming is almost otherworldly … as soon as you start doing those kinds of things, your code becomes difficult for most people to understand. Metaprogramming in Ruby is unusually expressive and straightforward, and we found some great talks that showcase that capability. Michael Granger and David McCorkhill started with a discussion of classes that adapt to the data they’re representing. Chris Pine contributed an overview of the basic concepts behind Ruby’s dynamic capabilities. And finally, Dave wrapped up with a talk I’ve been waiting to see for a year: a case study of a fascinating project he did last summer.

I think the next year will bring great things for Ruby. I think Mac programmers will continue to discover it, since it is bundled with Mac OS X. Ruby 1.8 is soon to be released, and no doubt it will be followed by new editions of the popular Ruby books. And if Steve’s assessment of the mood at this year’s OSCON is correct, there are a lot of Perl developers who see in Ruby something they’re looking for.

Next year I hope to do more than help organize the OSCON Ruby track; I want to be there and contribute a talk of my own. Hopefully after the strong showing Ruby made this year, there will be more slots available for Ruby next year. A strong group of proposals can only help that effort, so start planning now!

subscribe via RSS or JSON Feed