Rails World, 7.1, Amsterdam

The Crunchy booth at the expo hall

Last week I traveled to Amsterdam for the first ever Rails World. It was a great event – well-organized, great location, and interesting, passionate people in every direction. In 2023, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the world’s moved on from Rails, but the framework’s done an admirable job of keeping itself current, despite the quantum leaps happening in JavaScript and the browser.

Tickets were gone in 45 minutes the hour they went on sale. I tried to buy one the first minute they went on sale to get early bird pricing, but all the early bird tickets were already spoken for. I was twenty seconds late.

DHH’s keynote opened the conference, and was bursting at the seams with food for thought and novel ideas, reminding me of the old world circa Rails 3 where it felt like the whole web was a new frontier that was being discovered. Here’s a video. A few highlights:

Keynote on the subject of Solid Cache

Rails 7.1 released the same day, which now produces Dockerfiles for new projects by default, supports batch enqueueing with Active Job, and unlocks Bun as an option for a new app’s JS engine.

It didn’t make the headline features, but 7.1 also brings in support for CTEs using the .with keyword on models. e.g.

  posts_with_comments: Post.where("comments_count > ?", 0),
  posts_with_tags: Post.where("tags_count > ?", 0)

With translates to:

WITH posts_with_comments AS (
    SELECT * FROM posts WHERE (comments_count > 0)
), posts_with_tags AS (
    SELECT * FROM posts WHERE (tags_count > 0)
SELECT * FROM posts;

I’ll caveat by saying that the idea of expressing complicated SQL expressions as Ruby DSL seems a little crazy to me from a maintainability perspective, but it’s a good that it’s possible. Being able to build up large queries incrementally without resorting to concatenating strings together is occasionally an indispensable feature.

Version wall

A clever setup from Rails World in the opening hallway – a Rails version wall. Every notably release gets a block with some of its important features and is slotted in chronologically by its release. Sharpies are provided for people to write in their names according to when they started using the framework, with the first block listing only one solitary name.

Version wall (2003)

I started using Rails during the 2.x series when it was feature complete and gaining in popularity, but before some of the really elegant syntax that came down the line in 3.0. I couldn’t remember which minor version I onboarded into. I wrote my name under 2.3.

Version wall @ 2.3 (2009)

The burst of vitality injected by Rails World might’ve been exactly what the Ruby community needed. I attended RailsConf this year, and there was so little vitality there that I’d almost written off the whole ecosystem.

You won’t find a keynote from DHH at RailsConf post-2021 because he was uninvited and made persona non grata for daring to suggest that people should spend their time at work working instead of bludgeoning each other to death over politics (this guy is a real monster). An editorial decision was made to minimize technical content in favor of talks on soft skills and unionization because under the framework of its dominant ideology, technical content at a technical conference is now considered (straining credulity) … bad? To cut costs, luxuries like printed name badges and coffee weren’t available, but this sort of frugality is the price you pay to engage in high-cost signaling exercises, like giving up a half million dollar deposit to move a planned event from Texas to California to telegraph contempt for the state of Texas and the 30 million people who live there.

But even if you’re not a critic of the status quo, having a few plausible options around can’t be anything but a good thing. Next year Rails World will be shifting continents to my home country, to be held in Toronto circa September 2024.

Amsterdam Noord (train station)

Excepting an accidental half-hour stopover a few months back, I haven’t been to Amsterdam since 2011.

One of the beautiful parts about the Netherlands is that the best parts of its reputation are actually true. Visit San Francisco expecting to ride up and down hills on cable cars, only to realize they’re kept in operation exclusively for use by tourists and a local would be caught dead stepping foot on one. Visit Paris expecting to bathe in the glory of the Mona Lisa, only to find a postage-stamp sized painting on a distant wall, barely visible behind the mob of would-be TikTok influencers with selfie sticks apparently assigned to guard the thing. Holland is known for its extensive bike culture, with infrastructure that’s so good and so extensive that it’s the overwhelmingly popular way to get around, and it’s true.

I didn’t stay in the central part of Amsterdam on this trip because the hotel prices were obscene and the core area is a zoo, more reminiscent of Disneyworld than a city where people live. Instead, I took a bit of a potshot and stayed up in Amsterdam Noord just north of the channel (called “IJ”). Having traveled around central Amsterdam and Amsterdam Noord fairly extensively now, I’ve seen for myself that the bike paths aren’t just an optical illusion in the middle part of the city to deceive visitors – they really do go everywhere, snaking around parks, lakes, and canals, and even up into the countryside. It’s glorious.

For prospective visitors to Amsterdam, in this humble traveler’s opinion, staying in Amsterdam Noord is a life hack. It’s cheaper, and only marginally further away because there’s easy access via (free, frequent) water taxi, and the fast, clean M52 rail line that runs down to Amsterdam Centraal in 10 minutes flat. Similar to London, fare gates take Apple/Google Pay without trouble, so there’s never any mussing with ticket machines.

Amsterdam Noord

On the way home, after spending two hours on the tarmac, my flight was cancelled. That was bad, but after some initial consternation, it was the most civilized flight disruption I’ve ever been a part of. It was a full 777 so rebooking everyone on alternate flights would’ve been impossible, but we were informed that a new flight had been chartered for the next day, and that we’d all been booked to stay at a Steigenberger hotel near the airport.

In most cities the area immediately around an airport is an exclusion zone of roads and concrete – as inhospitable to life as the surface of Mars – but in Amsterdam it’s actually kind of nice. Craig had gotten stuck with me so we explored a few hotel bars, and the next morning I had a great run through a nearby park called Het Amsterdamse Bos (“Amsterdam Forest”) – a stone’s throw across the river, and as nice as anything you find near Amsterdam central.

Until next week.

Coffee cart

1 ZIRP = Zero-interest Rate Policy.