Scotland on Rails — three months on

The JRuby Guys at Scotland on Rails
A presentation by the JRuby Guys (Charles Nutter and Thomas Enebo) at Scotland on Rails.

This is a post that I’ve had sitting in my WordPress drafts since early April about the Scotland on Rails conference that I attended, actually the same weekend that Jane and I discovered that she was pregnant … so that made it a memorable event.

It’s been quite useful to come back to it after three months, because some things have settled in somewhat. I’ve had the chance to reflect quite fully on my experience of that two day conference (over a Friday and Saturday) and realise what I really took from it that has been valuable.

Initial response

This was my initial response, written a couple of days after the conference:


In many ways the conference was excellent:

  • Great location and venue (South Hall Complex, Pollock Halls in Edinburgh)
  • Very well organised
  • Interesting, knowledgeable and passionate speakers
  • Friendly delegates
  • Plenty of space (both physically and in the timetable) to mill about and meet with folks


However, in many ways I personally found the conference disappointing

… and that’s as far as I got. Now we’ll never know.

Seasoned reflection

What I struggled with mostly was simply my inexperience with the Ruby on Rails (often abbreviated to just ‘Rails’) framework and Ruby as a language. So I sat through presentation after presentation that went into the nuts and bolts of the framework/language, and entirely over my head.

What I went there hoping to get a sense of was what sort of projects Rails could be used for within our university setting. I guess I was looking for more of a Show and Tell kind of stream of talks. Wow me with what cool and funky projects you’ve been using Rails for.

Instead it felt like, in many ways, a conference for über-geeks. The opening keynote presentation was about the new features in the next version of Rails; but in microscopic detail. It was like having an interest in rally cars and going to a conference about rally cars, but the opening speech being about how they manufacture the nuts, bolts and components that make up the engine.

The second keynote speech the following day, by David A Black was — in stark contrast — inspirational. It was deep, artistic, philosophical and simply inspiring.

The other notable presentation, for me, was by The JRuby Guys. They were approachable, entertaining and very knowledgable. What interested me most was that JRuby is essentially a “Java powered Ruby implementation”. It allows you to run Ruby (and Ruby on Rails) within a Java environment. Our servers are mostly Sun machines, which have Java built-in, which means that if we wanted to adopt Rails for any projects this would be an excellent way to deploy them with as few hiccups as possible.


But despite the numerous presentations that went entirely over my head (I thought MVC was a music and video store rather than a programming architectural pattern) the one thing that I took away was a real respect and appreciation for Agile software development and Test/Story-Driven Development (TDD/SDD).

The examples of agile that were shared in the various groups and presentations made perfect sense to me, I could see the practical uses of it in my own work at St Andrews. That’s what I ultimately got out of the Scotland on Rails conference; well, that and a free t-shirt! Oh, and the O’Reilly stall made a bob or two from me.

Interestingly at a recent staff meeting we’ve agreed to look more closely at Agile. I’m looking forward to that, and I have the Scotland on Rails conference to thank most sincerely for that.

We’re just as lost as them …

Empty sign post
Photo by barunpatro.

I spotted this quotation in an interview with Rob Flynn from the Californian thrash metal band Machine Head in the Christmas 2007 (vol 02, issue 06) of the Soundcontrol magazine Reverb:

The four of us need this release of anger just as much as any of those people who come to a Machine Head show. And that’s what I think the bond is. I think that’s where the devotion comes from, that’s where the passion comes from, because we’re just as lost as them.” — Rob Flynn

All caught in a mosh

I remember standing at an Anthrax show in Glasgow a couple of years back and realising just how important gigs are for a lot of folks. I was standing on the edge of a swirling mosh pit in which there were maybe 20-30 young, sweaty guys — some topless — thrashing about to the music.

Here’s what the mighty Wikipedia has to say on the matter:

Moshing refers to the activity in which audience members at live music performances aggressively push or slam into each other. Moshing is frequently accompanied by stage diving, crowd surfing, and headbanging. It is commonly associated with concerts by heavy metal, punk rock, and alternative rock artists.

It looked aggressive. The music sounded aggressive. But, you know, as soon as someone went down there was always someone ready to step in and help him out. As soon as some slammed into you just that little bit too hard there were grins and apologies, and then both parties would step back into the fray.

I remember standing there, observing all of this and realising that this was incredibly healthy. Who knows what kind of crap these folks have to deal with in their every day lives. I know what I’ve had to deal with, and I guess what I still have to deal with. What other outlet is there for folks to healthily release any pent up anger or frustration? At that metal gig they could do just that, and I saw that as something really healthy.

Metallica and philosophy

I’ve just started reading a book called Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery.

Plato seemingly argues that we should be suspicious of the so-called “imitative arts” as they can “arouse our passions” and “corrupt our moral character”. His student Aristotle (clearly a headbanger … in the good sense!) instead suggested that “the imitative arts … can have a healthy effect on the soul, by purging the individual of destructive emotions” (op cit, p.6).

I remember a few years ago in a conversation with a psychotherapist, Murray, saying that I believed that my listening to metal and extreme genres of music helped to keep me sane during my adolescence, when as well as dealing with the complex task of growing up in the latter decades of the 20th century I had to also come to terms with and live with my father who had a severe brain injury.

What I said to Murray about the music was that it helped because they [meaning the bands] got angry so that I didn’t have to. It was a release, an outlet for my emotions, as well as some kind of absorption of their energy, something to keep me going. In the case of some bands I found their lyrics helpful too (Metallica, Megadeth, for example) as they put into words emotions that I felt. I didn’t feel quite so alone.

When re-reading that quotation from Rob Flynn today, saying “we’re just as lost as them”, I felt sad. Here’s to the lost that they’ll be found.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!”

Job satisfaction

Man sitting in barber's shop
Photo by DCarlton.

I spotted this article in The Scotsman a couple of months ago and meant to post it.

A THIRD of people are unhappy at their work, with lawyers and bankers among the least satisfied.

But hairdressers are happiest, with a cheerful three out of five looking forward to going back to work after a day off.

Workers earning less than £15,000 a year are far happier than those in the £40,000-£45,000 income bracket, according to a survey of 1,000 adults by the education and training group City & Guilds.

It revealed that beauty therapists, childcare workers and plumbers were among the most satisfied.

Those questioned said that they wanted more flexible arrangements, training and personal development to make them happier.

Chris Humphries, the director general at City & Guilds, said: “It may come as a surprise to some that financial reward doesn’t always mean a happier working environment for an employee.

“A quarter of all UK workers have left, or would leave, a position because of a lack of training and the survey results clearly demonstrate that some of the happiest workers are those who feel they have a lot of opportunities for professional development.”

The Scotsman, Wed 11 April 2007

It doesn’t mention Web Managers. I suspect they’d be a bit happier if they didn’t have to support Internet Explorer.

Which readings?!

So there I was, up bright and early on a Tuesday morning ready to get started preparing to think about thinking about preparing a sermon for Sunday when I realised that during the summer months the Revised Common Lectionary (the big book with the list of readings for each service) goes a bit gung-ho! in its list of suggestions.

So this coming Sunday we’re offered two streams:


Genesis 24.34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45.10-17 or Song of Songs 2.8-13
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30


Zechariah 9.9-12
Psalm 145.8-14
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30

I’m fairly confident that it’s the continuous stream that Newport-on-Tay follows but play has been delayed until I get confirmation … Ho hum.


It also doesn’t help that the Scottish Episcopal Church lectionary lists 6 July as “Week of Proper 14” while the Revised Common Lectionary believes that the Sunday between 3 and 9 July is the week of “Proper 9”.

Not so common after all, eh!


Turns out it’s the thematic readings … time to get a readin’, a prayin’ and a writin’.