Notes from Damian Conway’s Presentation

Damian Conway - July 16, 2008

Here are my notes on Damian Conway’s presentation, Temporally Quaquaversal Virtual Nanomachine Programming in Multiple Topologically Connected Quantum-Relativistic Parallel Timespaces…Made Easy, which he gave on Wednesday, July 16th at the University of Toronto’s Bahen Centre. This presentation was a dry run for the presentation he made on Tuesday at the O’Reilly Open Source Conference (OSCON) 2008. The talk ran for about two hours, and the time allotted for it at OSCON 2008 was one hour. He incorporated parts of earlier talks into this one, so I suspect that he condensed those parts.

Damian was in fine form and it was good to catch another one of his funny, off-the-wall presentations; it was a good warm-up for RubyFringe.

Slide from Damian Conway\'s presentation: \"An iPhone data plan wants to be vastly more expensive in Canada\"

\"Larry Wall does not age\" slide from Damian Conway\'s presentation

\"Rod Logic book covers\" slide from Damian Conway\'s presentation


Enumerating Enumerable: Enumerable#drop_while

After the wackiness of the past couple of weeks — some travel to see family, followed by a busy week of tech events including DemoCamp 18, Damian Conway’s presentation, FAILCamp and RubyFringe — I’m happy to return to Enumerating Enumerable, the article series in which I attempt to do a better job at documenting Ruby’s Enumerable module than does.

In this article, the eighth in the series, I’m going to cover a method introduced in Ruby 1.9: drop_while.

I’m going through the Enumerable‘s methods in alphabetical order. If you missed any of the earlier articles, I’ve listed them all below:

  1. all?
  2. any?
  3. collect / map
  4. count
  5. cycle
  6. detect / find
  7. drop

Enumerable#drop_while Quick Summary

Graphic representation of the \"drop_while\" method in Ruby\'s \"Enumerable\" module

In the simplest possible terms Given a collection and a condition, return an array made of the collection’s items, starting the first item that doesn’t meet the condition.
Ruby version 1.9 only
Expects A block containing the condition.
Returns An array made up of the remaining items, if there are any.’s entry Enumerable#drop_while

Enumerable#drop_while and Arrays

When used on an array, drop_while returns a copy of the array created by going through the original array’s items in order, dropping elements until it encounters the an element that does not meet the condition. The resulting array is basically a copy of the original array, starting at the first element that doesn’t meet the condition in the block.

As in many cases, things become clearer with some examples:

Enumerable#drop_while and Hashes

When used on a hash, drop_while effectively:

  • Creates an array based on the hash, with each element in the hash represented as a two-element array where the first element contains the key and the second element containing the corresponding value, then
  • goes through each element in the array, dropping elements until it encounters the first element that doesn’t meet the condition in the block. The resulting array is an array of two-element arrays, starting at the first element that doesn’t meet the condition in the block.

Once again, examples will make this all clear:

Enumerable#drop_while’s Evil Twin, Enumerable#take_while

I’ll cover take_while in detail in a later installment, but for now, an example should suffice:


Pardon Our Appearance

\"Technical diffculties - Please stand by\" title card from The Simpsons

I’ve had to make some quick changes to the appearance while I investigate how someone managed to hack my blog to include a giant list of invisible porn spam links (apparently, “Fart Porn” really exists and isn’t just something that South Park made up). It was spam-a-riffic enough to make Google send me an email that could be summarized as “Fix this or we’re de-listing you!”

I’d like to spend a special “thank you” to Thomas Hurst, who pointed out that Global Nerdy had been hacked.


I Have an Advance Copy of Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”!

I Have an Advance Copy of Neal Stephenson’s “Anathem”! It just arrived at the office, and I’ve written about it here.


RubyFringe: Day 2 Notes, Part 3

Photo by Carsten.
Click the photo to see it on its Flickr page.

Pete Forde Break

Ruby.rewrite(Ruby) (Reginald Braithwaite)

Photo by Libin Pan.
Click the photo to see it on its Flickr page.

Conceptual Algorithms (Tom Preston-Warner)

Sinatra (Blake Mizerany)

Be Good (Leila Boujnane)


RubyFringe: Day 2 Notes, Part 2

Jabl: The Language You Will Hate (Hampton Catlin)

  • This is the best-case week we could have ever hoped for
  • JavaScript bugs the shit out of me!
  • Nathan is da man! He makes HAML what it is today and he played a big part in a lot of today’s stuff. I’m just some dumb shit with ideas.
  • If a lot of programmers really dislike an idea, but can’t give you a reason why, it’s probably a good one

  • I like writing languages! It’s super fun!
  • I’m not in love with Python, but I think indentation’s better! It’s one of the few things Python gets right.

  • People are really defensive about JavaScript. It’s like you punched their mom in the face.

  • It’s a fairly decent general-purpose language
  • I think it belongs more on the server side than on the browser
  • It got so beaten up. mocked and put down initially that when we discovered it was a real language, we came to defend it rabidly
  • JavaScript is a fucking terrible browser language, hence many people have created frameworks to overcome its shortcomings

  • The JS world has nothing to do with the DOM world. JavaScript and the DOM
    connect only because they’re glued together by the document

  • The DOM is a really cool thing!
  • CSS is nice — with it, we can talk about the DOM. Why are we not outraged that we can’t do this with JavaScript?
  • If you’re saying “I don’t want to learn a new language”, what the hell are you doing in this field?

  • Jabl compiles into jquery

Archaeopteryx (Giles Bowkett)

  • I was going to have a contest to give away this book, O’Reilly’s “JavaScript: The Good Parts”. As you can see, it’s a small book.
  • Audience member: “Just give it to Hampton!”
  • During his presentation about jazz and programming, Nick didn’t talk about
    what I consider to be modern variants — hip-hop groups like A Tribe Called
    Quest and Roni Size’s drum and bass are things I consider to be jazz.
  • I have 496 slides. I don’t think I’m going to get through them all!
  • The Mainstream
    • The mainstream is not just lame, it can get you *killed*
    • Take a look at the life of Heath Ledger. Go check out his Wikipedia entry
    • Most people don’t know that in his youth, he was a chess champion
    • He had a lot of mental energy, and like such people, he suffered from insomnia
    • Insomnia is a solved problem: hypnosis works
    • But…hypnosis is on the edge, on the fringe, even though it has been around for and working for over 100 years
    • So they didn’t use hypnosis, but put him on pills, which killed him
  • At Railsconf 2008, David Heinemeier Hansson talked about “The Great Surplus”, in which he says that there’s still something missing from mainstream languages and tech that gives Ruby and Rails a surplus of power and
    capability, but that this surplus was limited.
  • DHH says people eventually figure out the cool tools and the surplus will go away.
  • I think he’s wrong: the mainstream *never* catches up — it’s too easy to be ordinary
  • The question should be: “Are we going to use that power for good, or are we going to use it for AWESOME?!”
  • People should be saying “This is going to be a wicked party: I’m going to bring my laptop”
  • What are we?
  • Are programmers artists?
  • Kai “Kai’s Power Tools” Krause would say yes
  • Steve Jobs’ said: “Real artists ship”
  • Leonardo da Vinci was a real artist, but there’s a lot of stuff he designed that he never shipped (the hang glider, helicopter, and so on)
  • One of his bridge designs was never built until this century when the Swedish government decided to build it. Talk about failing the “release early, release often” mantra!
  • In many instances, his genius was wasted.
  • How does genius get wasted?
  • In the old days, an artist would seek a patron
  • Patrons were rich nobles who wanted to look good
  • An artist with a patronage would create works in the name of or that glorified the patron
  • If you accept that programmers are artists, then VCs are patrons
  • Let’s talk about adventure for a moment
  • During the boom, working for a startup was often sold to prospective employees as an adventure
  • Let me tell you about adventures:
    • When I moved out of the house, I went to Chicago and lived in a ghetto because my need to create art was actually greater than my need for safety
    • When I lived in New Mexico, I found bear droppings not more than ten feet from my front door on a regular basis
    • I used to carry a .357 Magnum with me because the area was being prowled by a mountain lion. You need a big fucking gun to take down that kind of animal
    • I used to get calls from my parents where they’d tell me that they’d just caught a rattlesnake, killed it and threw it onto the barbecue and would you like to come to dinner?
    • [Something about “psycho rocks” — I was laughing so hard that I wasn’t able to take down notes at this point — Joey]
    • I’ve also done enough LSD to kill a herd of elephants
  • Now consider what you were doing when you were going on a dot-com “adventure”:
    • You get to sit for 4 years at a desk
    • Maybe, if you’re really lucky, your options might turn into something
    • Who are these weasel-brained Muppetfuckers?
    • These people who tell you that working for them is an adventure: they’re not fools; they’re *liars*
  • It all comes back to a system of patronage — this is just the modern version
  • Just as landed nobles gave artists money for the artists to look good, VCs give geeks money so that they can brag
  • [showing a picture of Julia Allison in a skimpy little dress, surrounded by admiring geeks]: This woman is wearing programmers!
  • You are just their pet monkeys!
  • If the company IPOs and you are lucky, you can start collecting pet monkeys of your own
  • I’m not kidding about the “pet monkey” thing. Think of Google, with their ball pit playpens and other niceties with which they coddle you: it is in their economic interest for their employees to think of themselves as Google’s children!
  • If not for the Muppetfuckers who couldn’t see the value of Leonardo’s hang-gliders and helicopters, we could’ve had them hundreds of years sooner!
  • As programmers, we get to create things that didn’t exist before
  • Why should we waste that on things like and stock market price grafts?
  • So I learned to draw. I was a starving artist
  • But the people who run this industry are scum
  • Only 3 months prior, I was working at Morgan Stanley for $75/hour
  • At that time, 2001, I made $7.50/hour at a gas station
  • Here’s a picture of an RV that I lived in in New Mexico
  • VCs are:
    • the causes of economic instability
    • “stock puppets”
    • Because of these Muppetfuckers, someone you could have called a genius was instead just building bullshit back in 1997
  • The lesson?
    • Build your business with your money
    • With your money, you’re the boss
  • Consider the case of Engine Yard: the VCs need Engine Yard, not the other way aroung
  • It’s becoming more common: as startups get cheaper to launch,  VCs find themselves in the cold
  • The VC company Benchmark Capital says that open source enriches the ecosystem, which is why they backed MySQL, Red Hat, JBoss
  • Look at Jay Phillips — he leveraged Adhearsion to create consulting work — he is an internet startup
  • The probability matrix
    • Drum machines are simply matrix builders
    • Rows in the matrix represent individual drums
    • Columns in the matrix respresent a beat played at a given time
    • You want drum X to play at time Y? Just put a “1” in [X, Y]
    • In 4/4 time there are 4 beats ber par, and typically drum machines play music in 4-bar chunks making 16 beats
    • So the probability matrices are 16-element arrays
    • But rather than just either playing or not playing the drum at any given point, you assign a probability
    • You want there to be a 25% chance that drum X gets played at time Y? Put a “.25” in [X, Y]
  • It’s social software
  • Archaeopteryx generates rhythms through probability matrices
  • It’s open source. I’m not worried, because the name of the game isn’t locking people out, it’s providing superior service at the same or better price point and competing with people who are illiterate about an important part of their job
  • Maybe I won’t be able to say “My career is Archaeopteryx” I’ll be happy if I simply say “My career *includes* Archaeopteryx”
  • What wonderful things would we have seen?
  • What if the guy who built the board for Sasha open-sourced his design?
  • This DJ mixer is in a niche market
  • [At this point in the presentation, Giles’ allotted time had run out, but people stayed to hear the rest, and the organizers let him run with it because the audience was enraptured by this point. — Joey]
  • As such, it unleashes new creative possibilities
  • [Photo] Here’s his DJ mixer. It’s not a traditional DJ mixer, but a MIDI controller
  • [Photo of DJ Sasha] Here’s a DJ that gets paid $25K a night
  • One day, I want to be able to say “My career is Archaeopteryx”
  • Takes advantage of the fact that MIDI [Musicial Instrument Digital Interface] is cheap and ubiquitious, controlling more than just instruments, but lights, effects, visuals and other things
  • Lightweight
  • Archaeopteryx is a Ruby midi generator
  • Archaeopteryx
  • OOP
  • It’s irresponsible to use Ruby and not leverage its power
  • You should make your own OOP paradigms — that what Ruby is for!
  • Archaeopteryx uses lambda a lot — so much that I’ve had to alias “L” to lambda
  • Loads of lambdas in the code
  • In the OOP used in Archaeopteryx — objects act as host for methods, which can be redefined at any time
  • Goes to core of why mainstream is dangerous
  • Ledger just went with the crowd
  • There is absolutely nobody that does not do that
  • It’s incedibly meta
  • Altering rhythms is adding a lambda to an array of lambdas using a lambda picked out of a queue
  • It’s the use of the strategy pattern to play beats
  • There’s a strategy for deciding which strategy to use
  • “Ruby is like Cthulhu in that it goes beyond sanity”
  • I plan to use it at Burning Man and have it running continuously for the full 7 days
  • Archaeopteryx’s core MIDI code comes from “Practical Ruby Projects”
  • Vaporware alert! I’ve got 2 things planned for user-generated visuals in Archaeopteryx
    • 1. MIDI VJ software
    • 2. “Drum circle”
      • Take a number of drums and rig them with Bluetooth touch sensors
      • Use them to trigger JRuby/Processing
      • Use that input as a voting system for what beats to emphasize
      • Updating the probability matrix based on this is trivial
      • End result: people can influence the music in real time
  • Andy Warhol said “Good business is the best art”
  • “Steve [Jobs], you ridiculous douche…”
  • You don’t need an IPO, you don’t need an exit strategy, that’s fail 2.0
  • Computers are everywhere, which means that you can do anything
  • Language wars are bullshit — it doesn’t matter whether I’m doing music with Ruby or whatever other language is out there
  • It’s about passion
  • Maybe being a programmer is not a *what* but a *how*
  • Maybe being a programmer is about applying programming to your passions
  • Go and build! Build for yourself, not the VCs
  • And remember: real artists ship!
  • [Standing ovation]

CouchDB and Me (Damian Katz)

  • Sell my house, move my family and live off savings? WHY?
  • This is not a tech talk, but about the considerations behind this decision
  • [Shows photo of baby daughter to great applause]
  • Why jeopardize this beautiful young family?
  • I got laid off and had to look for a new job
  • I had a house and the associated mortgage
  • I looked around and didn’t see anything I wanted to work on

  • “Other people work on cool stuff…why not me?”
  • They’re out there, doing cool things they love — designing motorcycles, making music and creating art
  • How do people get jobs where they get to work on cool things, work on what they want, and get paid for it?
  • So I made my decision: sell the house, move someplace cheaper and live off my savings
  • Reasons for doing this:
    • It would be educational
    • I’d get to spend more time with my family
    • It would be a test to see what I can do
    • It would make for an interesting story
    • Moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. The cost of living was cheaper and we had family there
  • Change in Lifestyle
    • Thought I could live with fewer things, but the downgrade hurt!
    • Nobody wants to get wrapped up in a consumerist lifestyle, with the big house and the nice stuff
    • Had to go to the local Goodwill to buy furniture — being in there, thinking “I was better than these people”, but followed quickly by “What is wrong with you?” — these were just people trying to save money and get by. I wasn’t all that different and certainly no better than they were
    • Couldn’t shake that feeling that I was an unemployed loser
  • So what to build?
    • I worked on Lotus Notes for years
    • I thought: I’m going to extract the good stuff from Notes, get rid of the crap and maybe something good can result
  • The development process in the new environment:
    • I’m away from all my development friends
    • Developed in C++: storage engine, view engine, query language
    • Had trouble seeing past the complexity
    • Went into panic mode
    • I ordered “Code Complete” from Amazon, hoping it would help — (it *is* complete and about code)
    • Glad to *not* get new information out of it. The important thing is that it helped me to just push forward with the project
    • Decided to use Erlang –– “I knew Erlang before it was cool” (It was never cool)

  • In late 2007, my cash reserves were drying up
  • I looked heavily at VCs and angels and discounted them quickly
  • I decided that I didn’t want to sell out CouchDB to commercial interests
  • Got a job — a cool one — at MySQL
  • There, I wrote the CouchDB that you know
  • IBM
    • I was approached by IBM
    • Wrote back to the guy who contacted me, saying that I was not interested because they had too many douchebags
    • Surprisingly, he replied with “Send me the same email, but clean up the language”
    • So I did: s/douchebags/vapid bureaucrats/
    • He sent it around his department
    • The result, they offered to pay him to work on CouchDB, and to keep it open, all the code I wrote for it went to the Apache Foundation
    • IBM really stepped up to the plate — they really helped CouchDB happen
    • As much I’m down on them, they’re a positive force in the tech industry. They’re big supporters of open source and big supporters of the tech industry in general
  • Q & A
    • When did it catch on?: When I added JSON

  • How’d the core team get together?I really don’t know
    • Only met one of them in person (Jan)
    • He’s been doing the evangelizing
    • They were basically volunteers who kept adding and it became “I guess you’re part of the project now”

An Amusing RubyFringe Moment

This is funnier if you happen to follow the Ruby programming scene or know me and Zed Shaw:

Photo by Libin Pan.
Click the photo to see its Flickr page.