nerding.

OSCON Wrap-Up

I packed up my travel fixie and flew up to Portland for OSCON this year.  It was my first time there, and really only the second conference I’d been to in quite a long time.

Upon first glance, the schedule was a bit intimidating, with topics like “Pegarus and Poison: Rubinius VM as a Multi-Language Platform”, but there were several that were in English and looked interesting and relevant to me, too.

Overall, I think I got the most out of the first two tutorial days, but they were also the most in depth, so I guess I was seeking out solid information rather than inspiration.

My highlights:

Git 101 (Tutorial)

Scott Chacon from GitHub led this one, and even though I’ve been using Git for over a year, he covered the extent of my knowledge and experience in the first 30 minutes.  The rest was pure gold, though I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve not yet been using such great features.

my favorites:

git add -p // Diffs all files and lets you stage "hunks" individually.
git gui // Does the above with a decent UI that lets you stage line-by-line
git diff branch1...branch2  // Diffs between the merge base and the two branches
git bisect start // Use with git bisect bad/good - binary searching to find bugs!

Rails 3 Ropes Course (Tutorial)

An impressively planned and organized session by the guys at Envy Labs. They took us through a lot of the important new Rails 3 features and changes, with hands-on lab time done in Test-Driven Teaching style. Since Sarah Allen introduced me to that, I’ve been stoked on it and was thrilled to see it in action here – it was very effective (and fun!).

They have a bunch of Rails 3 screencasts up on rubyonrails.org

Can Open Source Save the World?  (Open Source in K-12 Education)

The insights in this talk by Bryant Patten (from the National Center for Open Source and Education) really surprised and inspired me.  Plus, he introduced me to this gorgeous coin design, which hilariously answers the question “Can you make money with open source software?”  I just bought one on Ebay.

He explained how the concept of “fail often”, which is almost heralded in software right now, is simply not acceptable in education.  (See: No Child Left Behind)

He suggested why and how kids could get involved in open source software projects – not just as developers, but contributing to other essential aspects of projects – documentation, tutorials, art, testing, and translation (imagine a Spanish class that translates an install walk through!)  Neat!

“Open source makes creators, not consumers.”

Processing (Birds of a Feather session)

I saw a message board note about an informal evening session on Processing, and was stoked!  Dan Bernier showed us some of his crazy experiments, introduced us to Open Processing (The Flickr of Processing), and got me excited about this stuff again.  I made this on the flight home:

Systers Breakfast

I joined Esther Schindler’s Systers breakfast on Thursday morning and enjoyed meeting a bunch of friendly, smart, and engaging women in various areas of technology.  I learned about the Grace Hopper Celebration, which I’m thinking of checking out in Atlanta.

The End

Overall, it was a great week.  I met lots of interesting and inspiring people.  Portland is fabulous, the food carts are delicious, the Clyde Common is wonderful, the bike commute along the river from Evil Ryan’s house is lovely, and it was only about 5 degrees too hot for my taste.  Plus, nerds!   I just wish I’d had more time to hang with my Portland bikey friends; this is the first trip I’ve taken there for a non-bike event in years!


Introducing Eggs

I’m a member of a C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) program, where every month we get chickens and eggs from a small amazing farm in Napa called Soul Food Farm.  The chickens are pastured, which means they run around all day, eating bugs and other good stuff, living the good life.  These eggs are like no eggs you’ve experienced before – so tasty!

The intrepid manager of this C.S.A., Bonnie Powell, was organizing the members, orders, deliveries, and payments through an incredibly complex (but highly functional) set of spreadsheets hosted on Google Docs.  Members placed their orders through a gDoc-spreadsheet-backed form, which was eventually turned into a farm packing sheet, bag labels, pickup host list, and a place for members to check their balance after the chickens were weighed and priced.

It was clear, though, that it wasn’t a sustainable system.  The C.S.A. had to grow in order to help sustain the farm, but it was going to be tough for Bonnie to keep up with the workload involved, especially since she was actually managing two farms.  Oh, and she was 8 months pregnant.

I had come out of Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei‘s amazing Women on Rails Workshop, and then taken a week-long Ruby/Rails course with Sarah Allen at a great training center called Marakana, and was itching to do something fun that was also actually useful to somebody.

So, eggs!  (see on GitHub) An open-source web application for (meat) farms to manage their C.S.A. programs.

After about 6 weeks of evenings and weekends spent nerding away on it (I took full advantage of my fiancee being out of town on a surf trip to go into full anti-social nerdville), we rolled it out to both farms.  There were some issues, but thankfully the C.S.A. members are used to a bit of chaos.

It’s not very pretty at the moment, but a good amount of the manager side is functional, and saving Bonnie (I hope!) more than a few hours a week.  Labels used to be particularly time consuming, involving a mail merge and a significant amount of manual tweaking.  Now, the “export labels” link produces a PDF (using the Prawn gem) on an Avery template with all the relevant content, in about two seconds.

I’m extremely grateful to the Sarahs for the Women on Rails workshop – it was a fantastic opportunity to get my feet wet, learn a bunch of good tools, and be seriously inspired.


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