Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rails on the Orient Express: Detour - Down Under 2

While we're already exploring Australia, I'd like to present to you another good chap who has agreed to participate in our mini- Rails survey. He is Tim Lucas. Not only does he do coding in Rails but he says he is a bit of a celebrity, too as he hosts a TV game show there. So on with the show ...

1. Personally, what makes Rails special?
For me firstly it's that it does things the right way whilst still keeping the architecture simple and clean, and secondly the community.

Every experience I'd had with best-practice web app architectures pre-Rails involved a lot of repetition for adding simple things like database fields and a lot of scaffolding for problems which I'd yet to need to solve. I work with small teams who need to hand-craft everything from the URL structure, user interface and the data models, and Rails provided a nice balance of best-practice, flexibility and productivity without forcing too much of a particular structure on the final result. I've found with Rails (that) it's quite often easier to do things the right way than to do things the quick or hacky way.

The community was probably what I saw as being most special about Rails. Here was a bunch of people rethinking assumptions by building tools to demonstrate how they thought web apps could and possibly should be built. No doubt we will and are rethinking all the assumptions used to build Rails applications and Rails itself, but for now it still seems to be the boiling pot of innovative tools, techniques and ideas.

2. Are there barriers towards a broader Rails adoption? If so, how (can they be overcome)?

I think one of the biggest barriers is gaining the critical mass to form a development community. Once a community is formed you get local champions who blog, organise events, share knowledge and speak at conferences which would no doubt encourages take up through marketing and education. Online activity no doubt has a great effect, and the large number of Rails bloggers in the US, and the feedback effect of blogging encouraging blogging, has no doubt helped their growth.

3. Any other things you would like to see happening as a member of the Rails community in Australia?

I'd love to see the other cities ramp up their communities. Sydney and Melbourne have quite large communities but the other cities are still gaining critical mass. Events such as Railscamp[2] attract people from all over Australia and are probably key to building a wider community.

Rails sure sounds easy, while community is difficult. Online activity? I promise to do my share even whilst I begin to bust my wits to learn some RoR fundamentals. Any patient Ruby developer out there willing to take me on, as a student that is? Please.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rails on the Orient Express: Detour - Down Under

If we are going to push for more Ruby on Rails adoption in the East, it might be good to look for models to help us achieve our goals. We can look to Japan, home of the great Matz and where sensibly RoR would invariably be in greater use. But that is easier said than done owing to barriers in language. (But worth trying as soon as I exhaust my contributors).

Which leaves us with Australia. They have a vibrant Rails group over there and has even organized a Rails Camp last year. One of those who are quite active in the group is Pat Allan - (Definitely no bad ego. Positive). Following is his take about Rails adoption (emphasis were mine).

1. Personally, what makes Rails special?
It provides a structure which pushes you towards good practices for web development (particularly MVC), and it's written in Ruby, which is such a nice language to work with.

The community is also a massive influence - having a great bunch of people to bounce ideas off and get support from really helps.

2. Are there barriers towards a broader Rails adoption? If so, how (can they be overcome)?
Some people may argue that getting Rails into the enterprise market is something important - personally, I'm not so fussed. Also, my (admittedly small) amount of experience with large corporations makes me think they won't appreciate Rails to the full extent, nor will they use it appropriately (ie: in an agile workflow, instead of one filled with bureaucracy).

Some people are suspicious of Rails - perhaps because of the hype that has accompanied it, and the fanatical approach some advocates have. I'm not sure how we can get around that, beyond keeping an open and considerate mindset.

3. Any other things you would like to see happening as a member of the Rails community in Australia?
I feel that, at least in the Melbourne and Sydney groups, things are progressing well - there's a growing sense of community, and increasing interaction with groups in the other states. The RailsCamps have been fantastic, and the relaxed atmosphere at monthly meetings is great.

So I've no big targets that we should aim for - but we do need to make sure we don't lose the vibe we currently have, and ensure that the groups are welcoming to new people. It shouldn't seem like an exclusive club to outsiders.

An open and considerate mindset, a community that has to shed perceived image of exclusivity. Makes sense, not just for RoR but any endeavor. Asians can do that. Or can we?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rails on the Orient Express: First Stop - Singapore

Rails developers are quite a busy bunch but fortunately I've come across developers who were willing to share their time and views which impact the spread of Ruby on Rails in Asia.

First, let us have our friend from Singapore share to us his views. His names is Sau and he is quite the practicing Ruby on Rails programmer and is one of its active proponents in his country. He together with some colleagues and friends have formed a Ruby on Rails Brigade, which is informal ( and he prefers it that way, I agree) and would soon connect to form a bigger ASEAN Rails group that is currently busy organizing what might be their first organized and formal RoR meetup.

I've sent this through email with his full answers following after each of the questions: (Emphasis are mine, though)

1. Personally, what makes Rails special?
I believe Rails is very much hyped up as a web framework. Ruby is the engine that powers much of the ‘magic’ behind Rails, which unfortunately I believe today is not nearly as much discussed (or appreciated) as Rails. Rails is a great framework, no doubt and many of the ideas are very well implemented and executed. However it’s not as innovative as it is marketed to me. A lot of the ideas came from various sources like existing Java frameworks (some of which tried and succeeded but many of which failed, which is also a good lesson to show what it shouldn’t be) or frameworks from other languages like Python and even PHP.

What’s so special about Rails? I believe it’s the marketing push, the well-implemented framework and especially the strength of Ruby backing it up. The other factor would probably be tiredness of empty promises of existing Java frameworks. Another factor could be that it is a framework that is easily worked with by web designers. At least 50% of Rails programmers I know have a web design background (which makes me feel pretty left behind since I come from a computer engineering background and is generally sucky at UI design).

2. Are there barriers towards a broader Rails adoption?
While Rails is picking up rapidly especially in US, it’s not nearly as popular as what Java or Windows programming is today and is unlikely going to be. In any case, it’s still very much web-based/Internet-based technology and there are limits to what applications are suitable for a web-based or Internet-based platform. The only other ways that it can expand is through either:

(1) being a web front for Ruby, that is a much more universal ‘glue’ for applications. For one, Ruby is already a pretty good tool to put together various Windows applications through its Win32 interface, or through its OLE bridge.
(2) Jruby, which already brings a lot of promise to tie in various existing libraries, APIs and applications that are running in Java.

I see that these 2 directions are the more probably ways that Rails can extend itself, otherwise it will always remain a web-based or Internet-based platform.

Another barrier which some might find disturbing is the "open-ness" of Ruby, because its source code is readily readable by everyone. Of course these are just details which can be resolved at a later point in time but at this moment I believe it’s an obstacle to overcome. For one it’s pretty tough to sell software that the customer can read all its source code, for good or bad. Copyright aside, the customer can readily change the code and point out and publish bugs, which can be an embarrassment and a loss of revenue (software patches and maintenance revenue is nothing to be sneered at)

3. What are the things you would like to see happening as a member of the Rails community in Singapore?
For me I’m pretty happy with the way Rails is happening in Singapore though I would like it to be better organized. Personally I prefer a more informal and loose organization where people just swap war stories and help each other in their implementation rather than being a formal one but I think for many beginners, formality helps esp if there is guidance involved.

What Sau has shared made me think of how beautiful Ruby (despite or because of its open-ness) is and yet somewhat under appreciated while Rails hugs the spotlight. Maybe its worth emphasizing that it is still 'Ruby on Rails' and not Rails alone that is making things work.

Another thing that grabbed me is how most Asian developers prefer using others since RoR is still primarily web-based. But then again, based on developments and directions, the web is sure being harnessed in ways we've never seen before. Sure there remains other projects out there for developers in other languages but I do hope that there'd be more early adopters than late comers to RoR because web seems to be the place these days and other forms of media are beginning to shift into tapping its power.

Many thanks to Sau for his enlightening thoughts!

We hope to get more insights and views and see how it relates to the things Sau has pointed out and find out if Rails can get Asian developers the boon that their North American counterparts are now enjoying.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Technology for a Cause

Been talking and thinking about Ruby on Rails quite a lot the past few weeks. To say that it has gotten me intrigued would be putting it mildly. Know why? Because websites and blogs are singing praises about it. (And seriously, will get to its merits or demerits , ouch, some other time). Personally, if it's quite hot then maybe it's time we tell college kids about it and spread word on its adoption. Makes sense for it would mean jobs! And jobs mean food on the table. Felt to me that technology does make sense even to those who feel they're out of luck.

So check these list and tell me that technology does make a difference! Here's to more technology and innovation that will bring social justice and opportunity to improve lives.
  • Tactical Tech Collective - I thought tech was just for work and lifestyle efficiency, effectiveness and comfort. Dead wrong. Been more proud of them after I got info that a friend would now be sharing his skills with them!
  • Rails for All - How can I not be excited. I still can learn, can't I?
  • MITOCW - MIT! Open CourseWare. Revolutionary. Blazing new trails and bringing valuable and highly-esteemed learning and resources out of the classroom and out to the world. More importantly, it's Free!
Let's keep our eyes for more of these!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Some think of cache; but "hyperthymestic" sure is fast, too

First time I came across the word "hyperthymestic", but sure glad I did. Ever wonder why "cloud" is getting all the buzz? It is all about memory (and memory is data)! Without memory, there is no world for yah.

So maybe IT can learn something about making speedy retrieval of data ... and yes there's the cache.

Read here and be amazed. I know I was. Thanks to the Heath-ens for the tip.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Ruby on Rails: On the Asia Pacific Express. First Stop.

There is no doubt that Ruby on Rails or Rails has become such a popular web application framework. The buzz about it has taken a life of its own making icons of Mr. DHH and even leading others to proclaiming that it is the best.

But what about this part of the world. Quick surveys of Rails communities using G00gle in Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, India & Philippines) suggest that it is growing but apart from Australia, it seems that group activities have been few or at worse, lifeless. I'd like to think that the Rails developers are relatively quite busy with jobs and projects but my gut feel says that for something that is "open source", Rails communities in Asia, ironically, don't feel close knit.

Hope I'm wrong though.

Next: Building the Rails Orient Express

Friday, January 4, 2008

2007 E juice List

I know what you're probably thinking. Not another no-brainer list. Anyway, feel free to digress, add or comment. I just need to get this out.

Here's my top 5 E Juice list for 2007.

1. Broadband connection. I had been reared on dial-up for the last few years and have developed a phobia for sites with 'streaming videos" or "flash". Well, I'm not that patient and would often try to open another tab while wasting the time away. But, oh that fast connection has got me juiced up and confident of clicking whatever sites including P2P. Sites made with Ruby on Rails don't hurt either (they load faster).

2. Web 2.0. I might be late to the party but the web of interaction is just dynamic compared to the times back then. Now, no one cares about online dating simply because it is part and parcel of social networking already even if nobody notices it. And did I mention about traditional advertising? Of course, I didn't. What's that?

3. Cloud compute. Even with security fears and privacy concerns, we're all going to virtual storage. Aside from personal recognition, each one of us likes to collect things and keep it somewhere safe. And with all files being digitized, there's bound to be storage heaven for everyone. Ever wonder why its a buying spree for more storage out there especially the big boys.

4. Accelerators, incubators and individual or startup web achievement. I really don't know how today compares with the Internet bubble before but there's just this growth of being creative and entrepreneurial at present using lots of simple codes. And more people are benefiting from these innovations. We can thank the VCs and risk-takers for their courage and deep pockets. They not only provide money but more importantly really help startups and geeks succeed.

5. The Internet and virtualization of everything. Whatever you do, wherever you are, the Internet (eg. SAAS) can help you in lots of ways to market what it is you have despite not having the dough to spend in PR. But of course, you'll need internet savvy (from SEOs to killer websites and Adwords) and lots of time reading, analyzing, blogging or posting comments. Almost everything can be found there even desktop apps. But remember, content is still king.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008