ruby in the pub #4 :after

Julian Burgess (who I had virtually met via Twitter) suggested me I should attend the next ruby in the pub. It sounded decidedly odd: mixing journalists with an interest for code with ruby developers; even more strange considering I'm not a ruby expert as much as I try, so I thought it could be interesting to go and see what an event like that could turn out to be.

So there I went after mentally memorising the map from Liverpool Street Station to LBi's offices in Brick Lane. Funny because I have done the Brick Lane-Liverpool St. route several times already, but as I was walking with other people I never paid much attention. Anyway, I arrived, gave my name to the security guy which was kind of confused with my Spanish name and then went downstairs where the people with laptops on the couches were.

I took a look and didn't know anyone —so I decided the direct approach would be better: waved and said "hi" to whoever was looking at me at that point, and got a friendly response. Yay!

In a minute I was happily talking with Francesca, a nice front end web developer, then with someone else whose name I didn't find out, then I got to associate Julian's name with his face. A little while after, Paul Carvill came downstairs with lots of pizza boxes --all vegetarian, and yummy!-- and as we were discussing about Rails 3.0, Joanna Geary made a little speech, more or less on the lines of this:

'Journalists, raise your hands!' They do. 'Journalists, find a developer and explain them what do you have in mind that could be done with code, and let's see if it's doable or not!'

And then a woman approached Francesca and me. She looked strangely familiar but I couldn't really tell why. We sat in a table, took the laptops out of their sleeves and set out to try and find if the data we needed was available. But the wireless didn't quite work. So we chatted about something fascinating and kind of related to the topic: Volcanoes! It really helped that she had a degree in Geology so she could really offer interesting insights about how volcanoes work. Also, amazing as it sounds, she could pronounce Eyjafjallajökull in one go without hesitation!

We ate some more pizza, and then the wireless started working. So we checked and saw that the data wasn't available—but we agreed she would contact the organisation and ask them for it. Maybe they already have it but it's not publicly advertised.

Then it's when the real coding part began; she said she would love to learn programming, but didn't know where to start, or the guides she had tried were boring. I immediately proposed Processing; I know there's Hackety Hack by _why, which is ruby based, but I don't have any experience with it, so I went for the safer option.

I actually hadn't done much Processing recently and as such I always forget the names of the basic functions (was it setup, or was it load? was it loop or was it play?) but it was even better, so that way they could follow along. She downloaded Processing and was typing in stuff in the sketchbook immediately... which was amazing! No setup, no preparation, no rebooting the computer after the installation; just download and experiment!

We've done just extremely simple things such as opening a window, setting its background colour, changing its size and... drawing a line! Still, I find it really enlightening to observe how 'normal people' (i.e. not hardcore developers) react to all these concepts when exposed to them.

Interesting things I've noticed (teachers, take note!):

  • people love to see results immediately - no theory to start with!
  • people love to have some starting snippets, which they can modify and experiment with, learning how they work meanwhile

So that makes Processing an excellent programming environment for beginners, because it's got that beatiful reference written in pretty much plain language and with example snippets that can be copied and pasted for each function/class.

In a few minutes the word had spread: there were people doing stuff with Processing in the room! And so a little audience gathered, another guy (a journalist) came with his laptop, downloaded Processing and was doing little simple things as the aforementioned ones, copying code from her wife's screen--isn't it great?

On the other side of the table I was showing Paul and Francesca my word processing and statistical experiments with Tolkien works and we also spoke about Processing versus other environments such as Javascript or Flash.

In between, the woman had told us her name, and if the face looked familiar, the name was insanely familiar! She humbly told me she was in lots of events and etc, but didn't make a big thing of it. I asked her about events I had been in (that I could recall at that point) to no avail --we didn't seem to have been in the same events. But then I came home and looked for "Suw Charman" and found that not only had I seen her speak at resfest'05 but she had also posted a few messages to a mailing list I follow. I think that's why the name sounded sooo familiar!

Of course, there couldn't be a nice event without Rob McKinnon in it! I just love how I always find him everywhere I go, whether it's a full fledged event or just a coffee shop anywhere in London, it's just so funny. Couldn't exchange more than a few "hey hey hi!" waves because we both were busy with our new friends, so I don't know which sorts of interesting stuff did he show this time (the last time he spoke about Hpricot).

The event ended at around 22h, but mainly because people had to leave and take trains and all those things, but I'm pretty sure otherwise we could have stayed and played with Processing for a long while :-)

And that's how ruby in the pub, "with hardly any ruby and certainly no pub", was. See you in the next one?