Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fear And Loathing At RailsConf 2009

We were around Barstow on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold... wait, that was someone else's story. OK, restart.

We were around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the excitement began to take hold... we were on our way to RailsConf 2009! No screaming bats, just loud pumping techno music to power the PT Cruiser. My designer, who was not old enough to be pouring beer on his chest, nor interested in facilitating the tanning process, said "What the hell are you yelling about?". I aimed the Cruiser toward the horizon without slowing down, "I need an In-n-Out milkshake."

Las Vegas... what a place. Putting RailsConf there is the sort of idea that makes sense on paper, but could turn a previously mild-mannered group of Ruby programmers into a mob of raging lunatics. Come to think of it, a group of Ruby programmers IS a mob of raging lunatics. Case in point? Video slot machines... the worst odds in vegas, but the best graphics. How will a group of perpetually partially attentive people be able to resist the siren call of millions of sensory distractions each designed to exert psychological pressure to LOOK AT ME? Seems like an interesting Milgram-like experiment.

The back of the PT Cruiser was full of musical gear for the RailsConf music jam. With a small but effective PA and a few spare guitars, this session should be the best one yet. Could we play Vegas? Without offending the locals, or running afoul of some Musician's Union enforcers, that is.

I had meant to keep meticulous notes, and post a flurry of blog entries as I have done as RailsConf's past. But the dull fog of Vegas combined with the mad dog sentiments already awakened in the Rails community at GoGaRuCo, left me with the sure knowledge that no matter how hard I might try to offend the insiders, no one would even notice with the continuous drunken flame wars that RailsConf Vegas would become quickly known for throughout the Twitterverse.

The madness had taken hold long before we hit Vegas, and adding alcohol and neon fueled hyperstimulation only had the effect of pushing us into a raging frenzy. "Tim Ferris? How DARE he tell ME to exercise. Bob Martin? How dare he accuse me of not testing? Everyone else? How dare they dare to dare, or else how dare they not dare to dare! Forgeddaboutit!"

Just then my already tenuous sanity began teetering, and I started yelling that the White Rabbit and I had been pair programming together for years. The wild-eyed activist within me leaped into action, and I practically elbowed people out of my way to get to the mic, to ask Uncle Bob the burning question on my mind: "What happened to the social revolution you started with Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham?"

From the look in his eyes, I know the question haunted him, just as it still haunts me. If this is the utopia, why are we all fighting so much? "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked..." and still Twittering away trying to validate justify, explain, strengthen, while simultaneously eroding it, tearing it away.

I had to escape, find a place to hide and collect my shattered illusions. Fortunately, the safety zone of CabooseConf greeted me. The comfort and sanity of watching my programming buddies hacking together an LLVM implementation for AVR was like slipping under a warm, soft blanket, after the frenzy that had started while I was sitting in the Reptile Room, watching some giant lizards get ready to feast on fresh ideas.

Days had passed, but in the strange netherworld between Vegas's clockless existence, and the constant Twitter flow of new input, I had lost all sense of temporality. It was a surprise that we had already come to the final keynote aka Q&A session. It was an odd demonstration of our shared exhaustion and sensory overload, that pretty much no one wanted to ask any questions.

"Time to get out of here!" I said to my designer. We piled the PT Cruiser full of our gear, plying the staff with dollar bills like we were mythical high-rollers. I drove like the wind, but it was not quickly enough. Leaving behind a cloud of gritty, baked dust, we fled from a man-made 24-hour spectacle that even Dante could have never imagined, even if he had taken all the drugs available to an Italian in the 14th century at the same time.

With apologies to, and in memory of HST, we need his free spirit now more than ever


Suzanne Axtell said...

Glad we held it in Vegas, if just for your inspired RailConf wrap up post! Thanks.
Suzanne, O'Reilly Conferences team

Ron Evans said...

Thank you for the nice comment, Suzanne! I really enjoyed writing this post, and I hoped that the more literary readers would "get it".

I appreciate it!

Gregg said...

Nice post man, great piece of writing.

Although it's not going to make the podcast (not quite educational enough), it's an entertaining read.

Now, write me up a good tutorial on a new library in the same tone.. include a few pictures, and I'm all over it ;-)

Matt M. Kaufman said...

This is an awesome bit of!, seriously.