Freelancing Gods 2014

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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!

25 Sep 2012

Funconf

This could be a story about a mystery. Or it could be an adventure. Or even a tale of learning and sharing. But ultimately, it really comes down to friendship and trust.

Gaelic Badges

Ah, but where to start? Well, if we look back several years, it starts with my good friend James Healy, introducing me to a programming language called Ruby. That led me to the Australian Ruby community and the very first Rails Camp just outside Sydney, where I met Matt Allen. A year later, Matt Allen introduced me to Geoffrey Grosenbach at RailsConf in Portland, Oregon. A few months later, I found myself in Berlin, where through Geoffrey I met Paul Campbell of Dublin.

And then I met Paul again in Las Vegas, London, Amsterdam, Margate (for another Rails Camp), Berlin, and then finally in his home city of Dublin last year. I now consider myself lucky to call Paul a good friend, and have also had the pleasure of occasionally working with him.

Paul is a man with grand ideas, and one of those is an event he and fellow Dubliner Eamon Leonard concocted called Funconf. Every year as Paul put it together, I would consider travelling around the world to attend, but it just didn’t work out. This year, though, Paul told me the third Funconf would also be last – and so I became determined to be there for it. There were other events in in the same corner of the world I have been keen to see as well, thus it became something of a tour – four months travelling around Europe. Let’s be clear: from the beginning, Funconf was always one of the main reasons for the trip.

But what was I travelling over to be a part of? I knew that it was a conference – well, kind of: there would be some talks, close enough. And it’s a tech crowd that attends, so it’s work related at a stretch. But beyond that, Paul & Eamo weren’t talking.

When tickets were finally released, the website, gorgeous though it was, didn’t shed any light. All it asked was one question: “Do you trust us?”

My answer was always going to be yes.

Even after handing over a not inconsiderable amount of Euros to secure my place, few answers were forthcoming. Food and beds would be covered, but there was no clues as to where those beds would be, let alone what food we would be eating.

So I waited patiently, and began upon my travels. I attended conferences, I wandered through beautiful European cities, and I caught up with many friends along the way.

And finally, I arrived in Dublin at the end of August, still clueless as to what was to come. I wasn’t alone though – about a hundred others had come from across the globe. Most had been to previous editions of Funconf, but they were no more enlightened than I.

We met on Friday morning at a hotel in Dublin – some of us sporting a bit more facial hair than normal, after some tweets from Paul & Eamo – and found ourselves in a situation that felt very conference-like. There was a registration desk, hotel-catered breakfast, and a room with lecture-style seating and a PowerPoint presentation ready to go. This wasn’t what we expected! Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, was our morning’s speaker, and the talk was, well, just like any run of the mill conference.

We were being trolled. Or, as we’d say in Australia, Paul & Eamo were taking the piss.

Then, things started to get interesting. We grabbed our bags and were herded onto three big, black limousine party buses (a reference to Funconf 1) and with three shiny Deloreans (a reference to Funconf 2), we were escorted by local police to Heuston Train Station.

The mode of transport stakes were quickly raised – because we were then asked to board a train booked just for us, with the destination being Galway, on the other side of Ireland.

Next stop: Galway

Of course, this was just one piece of the puzzle – what was to come once we arrived in Galway had yet to be revealed. That didn’t bother us much: we all revelled in the experience of the train trip, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

Buses – though nothing fancy this time – took us from the station to another hotel. Again, it was quickly clear that this wasn’t out main destination either as we were led into another function room. This time around, there were no PowerPoint slides, for we were the main attraction: an open mic and an invitation to talk for a few minutes on topics of our choosing.

While most got an opportunity to share – in some cases, more than once – others missed out: as the ideas flowed, Paul was taking a token or so people out of the room at regular intervals, and they weren’t returning. Slowly but surely, the numbers thinned until there were fifteen of us left. If I had been keeping an eye on Twitter, I would have known what was happening – but thankfully, I didn’t catch any of the spoilers. The penny dropped when we grabbed our bags and were led through the back streets of Galway to find helicopters waiting.

Helicopters!

Helicopters!

And so, we arrived in grand style at our actual destination, Inis Mór of the Aran Islands (just off the west coast of Ireland).

All this, and it’s just the journey to get us where Funconf was taking place – the support act, if you like. Of course, with Paul & Eamo planning, the journey is as important as every other aspect of the event.

From there, it was a matter of collecting our amazingly crafted badges (thanks Kilian!) and bags (thanks Kilian’s mum!), settling into a bed & breakfast, and then wandering across the island in search of food, drink and friends.

Arriving on Inis Mór marked a change of pace: not only had we reached the event location (if an entire island counts as such), but part of the mystery of Funconf had been revealed. A large question mark still hovered, though: we had no idea what the next day would contain.

But we would have to wait until the morning for that. Friday evening was set aside for dinner and socialising – a fine way indeed to bring to a close such a uniquely wonderful day.

And once Saturday morning arrived, the rest of Funconf was revealed – well, to some extent. We had our venues: the local church, a nearby hall, a pub; and we had a schedule of when to be at each. The specifics of what would happen in each location was only divulged when required.

Those specifics, for the most part, were talks, and very good ones. None were technical, all were interesting, and they were generally stories or ideas. I shan’t recount each at length, as I would not do them justice (and, well, you had to be there), but my two favourites were Michael Lopp and Tom Preston-Werner (known as @rands and @mojombo, respectively). Fittingly, the focus for both was the topic of trust.

But beside the talks? Well, some of us visited the imposing cliff ruins of Dún Aonghasa, some of us got drenched riding bicycles in the rain (and some of us did both), but throughout there was a constant hum of socialising. While the talks were top notch, I can say with some certainty that the main reasons everyone came to Funconf were the people and adventure.

The evening brought with it a clever talk from Derek Sivers, a rocking performance by Kíla, and much partying – but all too soon, it was Sunday morning and time for us to board the ferry back to the mainland. A subdued ferry ride was followed by buses, and then another private train returning us to Dublin in time for the BBQ after-party.

And just like that, Funconf 3 was finished. A grand success indeed, and perhaps it’s for the best that there will not be another one – for I’ve no idea how Paul & Eamo could top that, plus it makes my experience all the more special, shared with such a superb group of fellow adventurers.

Paul, Eamon: thank you ever so much. I have no regrets for putting my trust in both of you, for it was a brilliantly crafted weekend.

02 Mar 2012

Drop in at Inspire9

I was about to write a new post about something technical, but that can wait for another day. Right now, I want to highlight to the world Inspire9, a coworking space here in Melbourne.

Now, Inspire9 is also a web development business, run by the talented and generous Nathan Sampimon. When the word spread a few years ago that he had an office for himself but others could drop by, I started visiting – as did others. Slowly the numbers grew, and instead of being just “Nathan’s office”, there was a growing sense of community and shared ownership, and it had become a much-loved coworking space.

As part of that growth, we had clearly outgrown our existing space – a measly 77 square metres – and so plans were hatched for something much larger. Halfway through last year, we moved into our new residence at 41 Stewart St, Richmond (right beside Richmond Station), with 370 square metres to work and play in (and that’ll eventually double to 720).

IMG_2927

Our office is now a bustling hive of activity – there’s usually somewhere between 20 and 30 people in each day at any one point. Many of us have dedicated desks (it is something I happily pay for). That said, not everyone who works from Inspire9 are residents – anyone is welcome to drop by and use a desk, and it’s free.

IMG_5187.jpg

It’s occurred to me to write about Inspire9 now because of what’s happened in the last 24 hours. Last night, someone stole Kealey’s iPhone while she was making sure an event in the office was running smoothly. Kealey is not only our events manager, but also a key part of the heart and soul of Inspire9 – so we were all pretty upset, and doubly so because it happened in our midst, in our home.

Not content with this situation, this morning Ned got a pledgie running to help fund a new iPhone for Kealey. Within two hours we had the funds, and by the end of today Kealey had a shiny new iPhone in her hands. The full story has been covered on the Inspire9 blog, and I particularly love the title, a very appropriate ‘Restoring Balance’.

While Inspire9 is a fantastic place to work, it’s the community that makes it stand out. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of it.

So, if you find yourself in Melbourne, please do visit. You’re welcome to pull up a chair and get some work done, or perhaps challenge someone to a game of pool. We also now host the Melbourne Ruby and Python meets every month (as well as plenty of other events), and we’re a friendly bunch – don’t be afraid to say hello!

14 Jul 2009

Rails Camps - Coming to a Country Near You

This weekend, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. In October, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. Then in November, there’s going to be a Rails Camp. That in itself is pretty freaking cool. What’s even cooler is that they’re in Maine, England and Australia respectively.

Definition

If you’re not quite sure what Rails Camps are – they’re unconference style events, held away from cities, generally without internet, on a weekend from Friday to Monday. The venues are usually scout halls or similar, so the name is slightly inaccurate – most people don’t bring tents, but sleep in dorm rooms instead.

Getting Down to Business

Also, they are events for Rubyists of all level of experience – and not just focused on Rails either. Anything related to Ruby and development in general is a welcome topic for discussion.

Communal Hacking

The weekends are made up of plenty of hacking, socialising, talks, and partying. Alcohol and guitar hero usually feature. A ton of fun ensues.

Making Pizzas

Rails Camp New England

A quick rundown in chronological order: first up, from the 17th to 20th of July, is Rails Camp New England. This will (as far as I know) be the first Rails Camp in North America. We’ll be up in the middle of Maine, at the MountainView House (a bit different from most Rails Camp venues) in Bryant Pond.

Unfortunately, if you want to come to this camp, we’re all sold out. Let me know anyway, just in case someone drops out (although it is late notice).

Rails Camp UK 2

Building on the success of last year’s first UK Rails Camp, a second one has been put together by Tom Crinson out in Margate, Kent.

Balancing

If you’re anywhere in the UK, or even Europe, you really should be keeping the weekend of the 16th to 19th of October free. In fact, go book your spot right now.

Rails Camp Australia 6

Last on this list is the original Rails Camp, that started back in June 2007, run by the inimitable Ben Askins. We’re returning to Melbourne (the host of the second camp, in November 2007), but this time we’re down by the beach in Somers.

John showing us how it's done

November 20th to 23rd are the dates for this, and going by the names of confirmed attendees, alongside what looks to be an fantastic venue, it’s going to rock just as much as the last five (and quite possibly even more). Feel like booking your place?

For all of these events, you should beg, borrow or steal to get your hands on a ticket. The energy, intelligence and passion of past camps has been amazing (which is why I do my best to spread the word), and they are a breath of fresh air compared to the staid and structured setup of RailsConf and most other technical conferences.

Thanks to John Barton, Max Muermann, and Jason Crane for the photos above.

21 Jun 2009

Link: All for Good

"All for Good helps you find and share ways to do good." US-only, though.

07 Sep 2008

RejectConf: Coders Kicking Arse

One of the highlights from RailsConf EU last week was RejectConf – even if it was a bit smaller than last year (going by what I’ve heard, anyway).

I reprised my So You’re A Kick-Arse Coder talk for it – since it was a rejected talk from the main event – and Geoffrey Grosenbach managed to get an audio recording, so I’ve put that together with the slides and onto Viddler. Keep in mind the following caveats:

  • I’m pretty happy with this talk – but I realise I’m not that great a speaker. Imagine what I’d be like on a bad day ;)
  • Geoff didn’t catch the very start of the talk, which went something along the lines of “Hi, my name’s Pat, and I’m Australian [Cheers from Audience] I want to start of with some flattery, because I want to get on your good side.”
  • Geoff’s also the heckler about two-thirds of the way though.

Links to the sites I mention:

XKCD Comics featured:

Photos used thanks to either permission or permissive licences:

03 Sep 2008

Link: mySociety » Welcome to mySociety.org

Creators of TheyWorkForYou

10 May 2008

Link: WorldChanging: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

"But media is actually a triathlon, it 's three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share."

14 Apr 2008

Pangea Day

Prompted by an email from TED, I watched three videos on YouTube this evening – of residents of one country singing the anthems of another country. It’s an awesome idea, and the different approaches really add to it.

These short clips are inspired from an event that’s happening on the 10th of May, Pangea Day. I’d read mentions of it before (probably in TED emails, again), but I only had a browse of the site tonight, and I’m loving the idea:

"Pangea Day is a global event bringing the world together through film.

Why? In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film."

It sounds simple, but I think things like this are really effective. I’m only disappointed that I won’t be home in Melbourne that day – as there’s screenings at Federation Square and Cinema Nova. Nothing so public for Sydney that I’ve found so far…

(Your regular ruby-focused programming will return later in the week.)

Update: Just found a fourth video – Australia for Lebanon!

06 Apr 2008

Link: WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: Don't Just Be the Change, Mass-Produce It

"We don't need more people living marginally greener lifestyles. We need thousands of people, millions of people, swarming out of their lifestyles and leading worldchanging lives..." (READ THIS)

29 Mar 2008

Link: Stay Another Day

"Our goal is to promote "destination friendly" tourism, by connecting travellers with organisations that are in some way helping to conserve local culture and heritage, support community projects benefitting local people or initiatives to lessen negative

27 Mar 2008

Link: disambiguity - » Ambient Intimacy

"It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like."

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About Freelancing Gods

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.

His ego isn't as bad as you may think. Honest.

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