Freelancing Gods 2015

God
23 Mar 2015

Pre-festival Recommendations for MICF 2015

I wrote a post last year listing excellent comedians to catch at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – and now I’ve got friends pestering me for this year’s list. Perhaps this will become a regular missive, perhaps not. Either way, here’s some tips for this year.

Please note, the festival hasn’t started yet, so this is purely based on previous quality, not this year’s shows!

From last year’s list, the following performers are returning: Celia Pacquola, Hannah Gadsby, Justin Hamilton, Michael Workman, Sammy J & Randy and Wil Anderson.

My favourites from last year include Celia Pacquola (nominated for the Barry – aka the best show) and Michael Workman (who should have been nominated!).

Celia Pacquola is actually repeating her 2014 show, so that’s a solid gold pick right there.

Additionally, I can vouch for the following:

  • Adam Hills – one of Australia’s best comedians, who regularly warms the heart as well as many laughs. The video below also includes the Swedish Chef, because he’s also excellent (and relevant to Adam’s skit).

  • Daniel Kitson – His show this year is not stand-up, but something rather different (at least by the sounds of things). One of my most favourite performers ever, but certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. A master of the English language, and a brilliant storyteller.

  • Doctor Brown – utterly odd physical comedy, though I’d recommend avoiding aisles and front-row seats. I’ve also heard great things about his kids show (from adults!). This video should give you some idea of his style:

  • Mark Watson – reliably loveable and funny with a touch of whimsy. Perhaps the English equivalent of Adam Hills.

  • Pajama Men – sometimes a little crude, regularly odd, and always hysterically funny.

  • Tripod – the musical comedy trio are still rocking the festival scene, this year with a show about gaming (and featuring the MSO!)

  • Trygve Wakenshaw – another physical comedian/clown, last year’s show Kraken was daring and hilarious and deserved its Barry Award nomination. No videos online do him justice.
  • Watson – consistently chaotic fun, I was heartbroken when they didn’t have a show last year, and in turn thrilled that they’re back this year (with Liam Ryan now an official member of the group). Videos are far and few between (and don’t really communicate their style), but here’s an intro to perhaps my favourite show of theirs:

I would love to hear of others’ recommendations, but my credit card doesn’t have quite the same level of enthusiasm.

15 Mar 2015

So you want to run a Rails Camp?

Bikers with tents and beer

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about what’s involved in running a Rails Camp (I’ve had the honour/naïvety to run a few), so I figure it’s worth writing down all of my thoughts here as an easy reference.

First, for those not familiar with Rails Camps – they’re long weekends for Rubyists and Ruby-curious to gather, socialise, hack on side/open-source projects, build cool things, listen to talks, and just generally have fun. They’re usually held at pretty low-key venues – sleeping arrangements are dorm rooms with bunk beds.

They began in Australia in 2007 – Ben Askins organised the first, many others have stepped up to run more since (two every year in Australia), and they’ve played such an important role in bringing the Australian Ruby community together and helping us grow bigger, stronger and smarter.

The general format we’ve followed in Australia and New Zealand is as follows:

  • Arrive Friday afternoon, depart Monday morning – so there’s two full days for people to enjoy, plus a decent afternoon/evening to settle in.
  • We usually organise buses from the local airport and city centre to take people to the camp on the Friday, and then take them back again on Monday morning.
  • Some camps have been as small as 30 people, and others as large as 150 people. There is no ‘correct’ number – starting at the smaller end of the scale is probably wise for the first event in an area.
  • A very relaxed schedule – sometimes talks are sourced beforehand, though more often it’s left until the camp happens. People can go to talks, or hack, or socialise, or sleep, or whatever they like. Talks usually happen on just the Saturday and Sunday – there’s definitely no time on Monday (that’s just breakfast, cleaning up, and goodbyes), and Friday night the focus is very much on socialising and hacking.
  • Generally food is catered – the first few in Australia we organised food ourselves, which went well enough, but it’s another level of stress, and since we switched to paying for caterers, that’s worked really well for us.
  • Venues are generally a big hall or two (ideally one for hacking, and one for talks – if there’s a third spare for werewolf and other games, or for dining, even better, though we often have food and hacking in the same space, which isn’t the end of the world), plus dorm rooms for sleeping. Often at the Australian camps there’s a handful of people who opt to sleep in tents, but the majority opt for the dorm bunk beds.
  • Often there’s a chance on the Sunday evening for people to show off what they’ve hacked on over the weekend – prizes are optional (sometimes we have them, sometimes we don’t – it’s certainly not a competition, just a chance to do cool things and share them).
  • We don’t provide Internet access, but do we set up a local wifi network to allow everyones’ computers to talk to each other. Back when we first started, it was pre-iPhone and the idea of tethering for the Internet was unheard of. These days, at most camps – if there is cell phone reception – people will tether when they need to get online, but sometimes camps are in locations where there’s not even cell phone reception, and it’s arguably even better :)

Rails Camp

This is most certainly the AU/NZ model – and it’s what the previous UK and US camps have followed too. From what I understand, the other European Rails Camps (particularly in Germany) are closer to a BarCamp model, which is a more structured unconference style. As far as I know, the AU & NZ camps are the only ones still regularly happening – indeed, we’re coming up to #17 in June here in Australia.

From a cost perspective – Rails Camps in Australia and New Zealand are generally somewhere between $200 and $350 (AUD/NZD) per person, which includes all meals and accommodation. Discounts are often offered for women (the upcoming Rails Camp in Australia has 20% off for women, because women in Australia sadly are generally paid about 20% less than men), and for students.

Philip Arndt offers the following expense breakdown from the recent New Zealand camps:

Typically, for about 80 people, the venue costs about $5000-6000 and the food costs about $8000-9000. Drinks (alcoholic, and non alcoholic) end up costing about $4000 but I’d recommend avoiding this for the first event and just getting people to bring their own. T-shirts end up costing about $20 for each person but this is often sponsored too.

Mountain DJ

Keep in mind that those values are in New Zealand dollars, and alcohol there and in Australia is more expensive than many other parts of the world.

And while getting sponsorship is super helpful, I’d recommend aiming for ticket costs to cover food and accommodation – thus, sponsorship isn’t so critical (and if you find support, then that just makes the event even better).

When it comes to collecting money, it’s nice to have an organisation backing you (and taking on the insurance as well, ideally). This was not the case for the first several camps in Australia and New Zealand (they were run from people’s personal bank accounts, and any profits were passed onto the next organisers), but that provided part of the incentive to create Ruby Australia and Ruby New Zealand.

Alongside all of this, I recommend noting having a read of my thoughts on running events and creating welcoming spaces – things like Codes of Conduct are highly recommended for Rails Camps. Just because they’re more relaxed compared to proper conferences doesn’t mean you should skip such key elements to create safe events. Better yet, read what people like Ashe Dryden have to say.

I’ll try to keep this post up-to-date with any other thoughts on the matter (and certainly, I welcome input both from other organisers and those considering organising). If you’re interested in organising, it’s highly recommended that you attend a Rails Camp somewhere first – it’s much easier to get a feel for the event that way.

Finally: at the time of writing, there’s plans afoot for Rails Camps in California and perhaps Belgium – talk to Bobbilee and Christophe, respectively, to stay in the loop for those. One happening somewhere near New York is also a possibility. As mentioned, the next Rails Camp in Australia will be in June near Sydney, and some plans are taking shape for the November camp too. New Zealand Rails Camps are generally in the first quarter of each year, so keep an eye out for news of their sixth outing later this year.

13 Mar 2015

Turtles all the way down

I woke up this morning to five messages on my phone. I’d not had a chance to look at Twitter or my email, but the messages quickly filled me in on the news: Sir Terry Pratchett had passed away.

Those five people spoke to the depth of the impact of Terry’s works on my life. Two were from my brother and my dad, who I’d introduced to the Discworld series. One was from a good friend Katie, who I’d met through an online Discworld community. And two were from high school friends, Rachael and Mark – people I’ve known for more than 15 years.

It was Mark who introduced me to Terry’s Discworld novels – and I was immediately hooked. In high school I would read whenever I had a spare moment – on the train to school, between classes, late into the night – and Terry’s humour and wisdom connected with me straight away. Any time I was asked whether there was a book I wanted, I’d write out a list of the older Discworld books I didn’t own, or the latest release. Terry would tour Australia every year or two to promote these books, and I was always in line at Minotaur (with so many other fans) to get my copies signed.

As high school wrapped up, I came across an online community called Addicted to Discworld, and quickly made friends with many of the regulars. Our regular community chats were scheduled for Sunday evenings – and I would do my best to be there every week. Some of those friends – including Katie, mentioned above, and Susanne, I still catch up with regularly.

My first overseas trip was with another friend, Adrian, over to the UK for the Discworld Convention in 2002. Even while I enjoyed it, I was overwhelmed by the size and even the fanaticism of the event. Adrian, however, made sure he got Terry to wish me a happy birthday.

Nullus Anxietas

And then back in Australia, someone suggested that there should be a local convention. I embraced the idea with something approaching stupidity – I’d never run an event before, let alone something this big – but I decided to make it real, and call it Nullus Anxietas. Over the course of three years, I and other fans worked hard to put everything in place – and we even convinced Terry to visit.

I remember the feeling, on the first day of the conference, when after running around madly I took a moment to breathe – and it sunk in that everyone was actually showing up. Terry had arrived, along with 300 fans from all around Australia and the world. Holy shit. It was real!

Unknown to the rest of the committee, I’d spoken to Daniel Knight and Snowgum Films about having a short video clip of someone dressed up as the character Rincewind running around the tourist sites of Melbourne. Daniel took that idea, ran with it (almost as fast as Rincewind), and created one of my most favourite moments ever. Terry (judging by his laughter at the end of this clip below) loved it too. I’m so proud of this, even though I have no right to be: Daniel and his team did all the work.

Run Rincewind Run! from Snowgum Films on Vimeo.

My bookshelf still has many of Terry’s books on its shelves – and there’d be more, but I’ve lent many out over the years and can’t remember who I gave them to. The humour still rings true, and the social commentary – especially in the later books – resonates even more.

In some ways, the fact that Alzheimer’s took Terry from us too soon adds to the heartbreak. But we still have such a fantastic catalogue of stories that he’s written, and I’ve gained so many great friends and memories as well.

The rest of the convention was a success, by the way – and it has been happening every second year since! I stepped out of the organising team in the lead up to the second one, but number five is happening in Sydney next month, and I’ll be there to catch up with old friends, make new friends, run games of Werewolf, and celebrate Terry and his creativity and wit.

Right now, though, I’m going to re-read Night Watch. Terry, thank you.

01 Mar 2015

Diversity, Awareness, and Welcoming Spaces

(Photo taken by Emily Alexandra)

Yesterday Melbourne was host to yet another Trampoline unconference. This time around, I was taking a break from organising (something else had demanded a lot of my time lately), but that gave me a bit more time to craft together a session I’ve been keen to run for some time: a discussion on diversity.

While nothing is as good as being there on the day and partaking in the dialogue, here’s what I covered (you’ll just have to imagine all the insightful conversation you missed from others who were in the room).

Firstly, it’s worth acknowledging that I am a straight, white guy – thus in some ways it feels like I’m not the best source to discuss things related to diversity, given how dominant my ‘type’ is. I do feel like I’ve learnt a lot over the past few years, and so this is me sharing what I’ve learnt, and how I’ve learnt, but also noting that I may get things wrong, and feedback and corrections are very much welcome.

The target audience for this talk was other straight, white guys – I hope they can connect with my own evolution of thinking. I’m sure plenty of what I have to say is obvious (and possibly condescending – but I hope not!) to those who don’t have as much inherent privilege in Australian society.

At the recent Link Festival, Angus Hervey noted that he was a young white guy, but didn’t want to become a old white guy – or at least, the kind of old white guy that seems to be causing so many problems in our world – and this strongly resonated with me. Our world is wonderfully diverse, and yet our leaders, our media, our world views (especially those of us who fit the dominant type) are not. How do we change that?

What?

And as for what I mean when talking about diversity: a plurality of everything: gender and gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, age, financial situations, physical ability, political views, and so on. I’m not going to even try to provide a definitive list, because there’s just too many things to take into account, and I’m sure I’ll forget some.

I’ve noted this before in other talks I’ve given, but bringing together a wide group of people together and getting them to think in the same way is not diversity. The goal is not just diversity of peoples, but diversity of thought and culture.

Why?

If you’re not sold on why diversity matters, well, here’s just a few reasons, from different viewpoints – pick one that works for you:

  • Diverse teams are more likely to be successful (there are studies that back this up).
  • Nature is a great example of diverse environments/systems being more resilient, and imitating this to have more resilient societies is a good thing.
  • Diverse groups are more interesting! You end up with a wider mix of ideas, which can lead to more innovation and wisdom (which is part of our goal with Trampoline).
  • I like a culture where no one gets left behind, and where everyone matters. Something that strives for fairness and equality – and I think this is only possible in a diverse society.

How?

If you only get one thing from this post, it should be this: practice empathy and compassion as much as possible, towards as many people as possible.

And listen, because your path through life is different to others – be wary of your own assumptions, and be open to hearing others’ perspectives. Keep in mind that society usually serves the dominant ‘type’ – which, certainly in Australia, is straight, white men. You may initially struggle to understand others’ perspectives because of this – we can unconsciously surround ourselves with friends and media that reinforce our presumptions, which makes breaking out of that filter bubble all the more difficult.

This growth in awareness helped me become more aware of the privilege I have, and the power implicit in that privilege. From there, I can then aim to drive that power in ways that can help others. Of course, this is (always) a work in progress, as I’m always learning.

The listening and learning is grounded in a lack of ego – a recognition that it’s not about you. White guys: don’t get carried away with your own righteousness and announce that you’re fixing the system, that you’re an ally. Go and read André Arko’s wise words, and then promote the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard. You already have the privilege and influence – try to share that around.

Another thing to keep in mind is the intersectional nature of discrimination/diversity. Putting people in boxes – whether that’s white box, eg: white, or many, eg: white, straight, male – will not capture a fair representation of who they are, nor will it provide a clear picture of the discrimination they may face. The impact of discrimination and oppression is deep and complex, and proposed actions to deal with this need to understand that complexity as much as possible.

When it comes to people speaking about discrimination they suffer from, they may be angry, and their perspectives may not be calm, and you may not think they’re rational – but you should listen and seek to understand anyway. Their anger is justified, and they shouldn’t have to sugarcoat their perspective just to please you (especially if you’re in a comfortable position of privilege).

My journey has come from a position of blissful ignorance, and once upon a time I would have been in favour of meritocracy. That is most definitely not the case any more – sure, meritocracy could be considered, but only in a society where everyone is on equal footing, and we’ve all had the same opportunities, and no one has any conscious or unconscious biases. Impossible.

And because of this, I think there is value in things like affirmative action and diversity quotas. They’re just one small step, mind you.

I’m going to finish this section the same way I started: please, ground all of this in empathy and compassion.

Practical Examples

I have a habit of running events, and more and more I’m trying to have these events reflect my growing awareness. Through this, one of my goals – particularly in the Melbourne Ruby community, where Mario Visic and I just wrapped up our two year stint of running monthly events – has been to create welcoming, friendly, safe spaces.

Granted, you can’t please everyone, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Good satire (and good comedy) should be directed at those higher up on society’s ladder, but good communities should aim at the other end of the spectrum: assist those who don’t get the same opportunities and implicit support as the majority.

This perhaps isn’t so much about diversity in a direct sense, but I believe it can help: when you’re dealing with groups of people, particularly at semi-organised social events, be wary of cliques. Newcomers can find established groups daunting as it is, and cliques just reinforce that. Don’t be afraid to ask those in cliques to make an extra effort to talk to those who don’t have anyone to talk to.

Certainly, at RubyConf AU (which happened last month, and I was one of the organisers) I think this is one area where we can clearly improve. I’d love to see official greeters and social connectors, as a role for volunteers and other regulars: if you spot someone who looks a little lost or lonely, go and have a chat with them.

Also, strive to make events as accessible as possible – and this covers things from dietary requirements, to wheelchair access, to hearing assistance, to facilitating child-care. Don’t be afraid to make a statement on this too (something that we learnt from the eurucamp organisers).

Speaking of statements, I think it’s important to show people that you take creating a safe space seriously. Codes of conduct are a good first step, but make sure they outline the desired behaviour, what will not be tolerated, and how you will go about enforcing this. You need to walk the talk – saying “we’ve not had any problems before” is not enough.

Lastly – and this is another thing I need to be better at – be aware that language matters, from how you describe your events through to how you address people. The term ‘guys’ is an excellent example – some consider it to be gender-neutral, others don’t. You could argue about semantics and context – or, you could find a more welcoming term that suits more people.

At the end of the day, being a great event host is hard work, and maintaining an awareness about peoples’ needs is hard work, but both really help to strengthen an event or community and make them welcoming places for wider audiences.

The Shoulders of Giants

I cannot say this enough: my perspective is constantly growing and evolving and improving, and there are many people to thank for this – in particular, my parents, and my dear friend Melina Chan. A lot of my recent growth has come from Twitter – here’s a selection of folk who’ve helped me (whether knowingly or not):

I don’t want to hold up these people as the token ‘diverse’ Twitter accounts I follow, because that’s not the case (and some have been friends for many years), but they have opened my eyes to a broader and better understanding of diversity, discrimination, and the world. Following all of these wise minds would be an excellent move.

All of what I’ve written above comes with the disclaimer that I don’t think I’m doing this topic justice, and many people have written far better things on this topic (the links I’ve shared are definitely worth exploring). If I can provide people with just a small step towards a much deeper understanding, then that’s a fantastic thing. Thanks for reading, this turned into a longer essay than I expected!

10 Feb 2015

RubyConf AU 2015: Thank You

Last week RubyConf AU 2015 took place in Melbourne. A year prior to that, I’d put my hand up to run it… and over the course of twelve months, had assembled an excellent team, lined up speakers, venues, and a whole bunch of fun.

On Wednesday morning, it became real, as the workshops kicked off. By Saturday evening, it was finished with our after party at the Melbourne Lawn Bowls club in Flagstaff Gardens.

Going by the feedback we’ve received, I think it’s safe to say it was a success – at the very least, I’m thrilled with what we achieved.

But, of course, it would not have been possible without contributions from many, many people. I do want to list them here, even though it’s guaranteed I’ll forget someone and then feel terrible once I realise.

Firstly: to our sponsors, who not only gave us considerable amounts of money (no small thing in itself), but trusted and supported our efforts to grow the Australian Ruby community. Thank you Envato, realestate.com.au, Redbubble, reinteractive, Digital Ocean, JobReady, Torii Recruitment, GitHub, Pluralsight, BuildKite, Lookahead Search, EngineYard, Soundcloud and Travis CI.

To our venues: Jasper, Zinc, and Deakin Edge. You provided fantastic spaces for our community to listen, learn, eat and socialise within. A special thank you to the AV team at Deakin Edge: Blake, Wes and Brad, plus our own video recorder Anthony, returning yet again to make sure our talks are captured for future generations.

To our stenographer Rebekah, who provided live captioning of our conference proceedings. She was not only extremely good at her job, but also responded to Keith and Josh’s banter in style.

To the weather gods – Melbourne’s traditionally fickle weather gave us four days of warm sunshine, which was perfect for showing off our fine city.

To the team behind our ticketing system Tito, who helped us with beta features and late night support.

To the Ruby Australia committee, who were super supportive when I first asked about running this conference, and provide essential and appreciated financial and organisational support. You play a massive part in the health and success of our community.

To our event manager Deborah Langley, and her colleague Sam. Engaging Deb to work on our event made our lives a great deal easier, and helped us to achieve great things. Plus, Deb and Sam helped the running of the conference and events purr along smoothly.

To our volunteers, lead by the inestimable Liam Esler and Mel Sherrin, and our stage manager Maxine Sherrin. You took excellent care of our attendees and speakers, kept things running to schedule, and deserve all of the credit for how calmly the conference ran.

To Amanda Neumann and Darcy Laycock, who worked with me to select presenters from our massive selection of proposals. We agonised over which talks made the cut (and there were many excellent choices that missed out), but I think our choices were great ones!

To our local Rubyists: Healesville guide Pete Yandell, and cycling leaders Gareth Townsend & Gus Gollings, who all ensured our attendees from near and far got to experience a different aspect of Melbourne beyond just the conference sessions.

To our fabulous illustrator Dougal MacPherson, who, with his 15 minute drawings hat on, drew a picture of every session (including workshops), which then became lovely gifts for our speakers.

To Tim Lucas, for his tireless work on our slick website, plus the corralling of our beautiful and popular t-shirts – which were designed by Magdalena Ksiezak (for the conference) and Carla Hackett (for the Rails Girls workshops).

To the organisers of the previous RubyConf AU events – Keith Pitty, Martin Stannard_, Michael Koukoullis, Josh Price, Elle Meredith, Jason Crane, Georgina Robilliard, and Steve Gilles. We have only been able to create this event by standing on your shoulders and reaping the rewards of your hard work.

To Ben Askins, who kicked off the bonding of our fantastic Australian Ruby community by organising the very first Rails Camp. That event changed my life.

To the large number of conferences that provided inspiration, including (but certainly not limited to) JSConf US and EU, FutureRuby, NordicRuby, eurucamp, and Web Directions: Code.

To our speakers, workshop presenters, Rails Girls organisers, and our entertaining and excellent MCs Josh Kalderimis and Keith Pitt. We gave you the stage, and you made us so very proud.

To my fellow organisers: Melissa Kaulfuss, Matt Allen, and Sebastian von Conrad. Through our shared vision and skill-set we have crafted a special event, all contributing in different and most definitely valued ways. I really cannot thank you enough.

To our employers: Inspire9, Envato, Lookahead Search and Icelab, who supported us in our endeavour, with time and patience and suggestions.

To our families, who recognised the commitment we had to give to make this real, and looked after us, loved and supported us. You’re the very definition of amazing.

To everyone else who helped in any way – I was inundated with offers of support and assistance over the past year, and while I didn’t have the opportunity to take everyone up on that, the offers themselves are greatly appreciated.

And finally, to everyone who attended the conference, and the broader Ruby community. It feels far more that we’ve done this with you than for you.

Thank you all, so very, very much.

24 Mar 2014

MICF 2014 Recommendations

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival is about to kick off this year – and I can’t wait! It truly is the best time to be in Melbourne.

Because I often see more than my fair share of comedy shows, I’m often asked for recommendations… and while it’s hard to be super sure what’s good this year before any performances have happened, I’ve scanned through the program to put together a list of performers I regularly enjoy. In alphabetical order…

  • Bane Trilogy – I was lucky enough to catch all three parts of this in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and they’re all excellent. Mobster-style storytelling, with all roles performed by one man, Joe Bone. Start with part one (on Tuesday and Friday nights), and if it takes your fancy, see the other two as well.
  • The Boy with Tape on his Face – silent comedy, but it’s a tonne of fun, even if you do get called up on stage as part of the audience participation. I’ll put money on him being big this year in Melbourne.
  • Celia Pacquola – Regularly hilarious, clever, and with a bit of heart too (perhaps my favourite comedy recipe).
  • David O’Doherty – All his shows feel kinda the same – but that’s not a bad thing at all. Music and comedy that’s both charming and funny.
  • Felicity Ward – her show in 2012 was nominated for the Barry Award (best show of the festival), and would have been a deserving winner. Hilarious even while sometimes being extremely personal.
  • Hannah Gadsby – last year’s show was very brave and very funny and I wish I could see it again. I’ve already got tickets to see this year’s show.
  • Justin Hamilton – he’s a stalwart of the Australian comedy scene, and yet I only saw his show for the first time in 2012, and it was a clever mix of laughs and storytelling. Cue much regret for missing him in previous years. Odds of me making that mistake again this year are slim.
  • Michael Workman – his show last year, Ave Loretta, was one of the most wonderful and beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. Don’t expect comedy, even though you will laugh, because the storytelling is the highlight. I was wiping tears of sadness from my eyes at the end of Ave Loretta, for Michael Workman brings both the laughs and the feels.
  • Sammy J & Randy – the description on the site sums them up perfectly: catchy songs with chaotic tomfoolery and outbursts of filth. Rarely clean, often very, very funny.
  • Tegan Higginbotham – Tegan’s recent solo shows been great narrative stand-up shows, and she doesn’t get the attention she deserves. Given she’s not performing in the duo of chaotically hilarious Watson this year, I’ll be making an extra effort to see this show.
  • Tim Key – some people hate his odd, dry style, but I’ve loved his shows (at least, the two I’ve had the great pleasure of catching). His last show involved him having a bath on stage. Not your average comedy, but all the more enjoyable if it does float your boat.
  • Wil Anderson – I think Wil’s stand-up shows are better than anything he’s done on television… last year’s Goodwil was an excellent mix of intelligence and wit.
  • And for bonus points, my good friend Ben Hopper is performing in The Law Revue – this is Ben’s first festival performing, so there’s no past performances to judge by. Ben’s a funny guy though, so I’m expecting a top show!

These are just a dozen shows that I feel super happy with recommending to all and sundry. There are a few hundred that are part of the festival, so you don’t lack for choices (or excuses) – make sure you catch a show or two before it all wraps up on April 20th.

30 Dec 2013

Melbourne Ruby Retrospective for 2013

The Melbourne Ruby community has grown and evolved a fair bit in this past year, and I’m extremely proud of what it has become.

Mind you, I’ve always thought it was pretty special. I first started to attend the meets back when Rails was young and the community in Australia was pretty new, towards the end of 2005. The meets themselves started in January of that year – almost nine years ago! – and have continued regularly since, in many shapes, sizes and venues, under the guiding hands of many wise Rubyists.

Given I’ve been around so long, it’s a little surprising I’d not had a turn convening the meetings on a regular basis (though I’d certainly helped out when other organisers couldn’t be present). After the excellent, recent guidance of Dave Goodlad and Justin French, Mario Visic and Ivan Vanderbyl stepped up – and then Ivan made plans to move to the USA. I was recently inspired by discussions around growing and improving the community at the latest New Zealand Rails Camp, and so I offered to take Ivan’s place. (As it turns out, Ivan’s yet to switch sides of the Pacific Ocean. Soon, though!)

And so, since February, Mario and I have added our own touches to the regular events. Borrowing from both Sydney and Christchurch, we’ve added monthly hack nights – evenings where there’s no presentations, but people of all different experience levels bring along their laptops and get some coding done. If anyone gets stuck, there’s plenty of friendly and experienced developers around to help.

More recently, reInteractive have helped to bring InstallFests from Sydney to Melbourne. They are events to help beginners interested in Ruby and Rails get the tools they need installed on their machines and then go through the process of setting up a basic blog, with mentors on hand to help deal with any teething problems.

For the bulk of Melbourne Ruby community’s life, the meets have been announced through Google groups – first the Melbourne Ruby User Group, then in the broader Ruby or Rails Oceania group. It’d become a little more clear over the past couple of years that this wasn’t obvious to outsiders who were curious about Ruby – which prompted the detailing of meeting schedules on ruby.org.au – but there was still room for improvement. reInteractive’s assistance with the InstallFest events was linked to their support with setting up a group on Meetup.com – and almost overnight we’ve had a significant increase in newcomers.

Now, many of us Rubyists are quite opinionated, and I know some find Meetup inelegant and, well, noisy. I certainly don’t think it’s as good as it could be – but it’s the major player in the space, and it’s the site upon which many people go searching for communities like ours. The Google group does okay when it comes to discussions, but highlighting upcoming events (especially if you’re not a regular) is not its forte at all.

We’ve not abandoned the Google group, but now we announce events through both tools – and the change has been so dramatic that, as much as I’m wary of supporting big players in any space, I’d argue that you’d be stupid not to use Meetup. We’ve had so many new faces come along to our events – and while we still have a long way to go for equal gender representation (it’s still predominantly white males), it’s slowly improving.

With the new faces appearing, we held a Newbie Night as one of our presentation evenings (something that’s happened a couple of times before, but certainly not frequently enough). Mario and I were lucky enough to have Jeremy Tennant step up to run this and corral several speakers to provide short, introductory presentations on a variety of topics. (Perhaps this should become a yearly event!)

We’re also blessed to have an excellent array of sponsors – Envato, Inspire9, Zendesk, reInteractive and Lookahead Search have all provided a mixture of money, space and experienced minds. We wouldn’t be where we are now without you, your support is appreciated immensely.

Mario and I have also spent some time thinking a bit deeper about some of the longstanding issues with tech events, and tried to push things in a healthier direction:

At many of the last handful of meetings for this year, instead of pizza, we’ve had finger food from the ASRC Catering service, tacos from The Taco Guy, and a few pancakes as well. In each case we’ve ensured there’s vegetarian, gluten-free and lactose-free options. This trend shall certainly continue!

The drinks fridge at Inspire9 (our wonderful hosts for the past couple of years) now have plenty of soft drinks and sparkling mineral water alongside the alcoholic options – and we’ve been pretty good at making sure jugs of tap water are available too. There’s also tea and coffee, though we need to be better at highlighting this.

We’ve also adopted Ruby Australia’s Code of Conduct for all Melbourne Ruby events. This is to both recognise that our community provides value and opportunity to many, and to make it clear we want it to continue to be a safe and welcoming place, offline and online.

We’re by no means perfect, and I’m keen to help this community grow stronger and smarter over the coming year – but we’ve got some great foundations to build on. The Melbourne Ruby community – and indeed, the broader Australian Ruby community – is growing from strength to strength, and a lot of that is due to the vast array of leaders we have, whose shoulders we are standing on.

Alongside the regular city meets, there are Rails Camps twice a year, RailsGirls events becoming a regular appearance on the calendar, and the second RubyConf Australia is in Sydney this coming February. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings – thanks to all who’ve been part of the ride thus far!

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Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

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