Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Notes from RailsConf, sort of

I just got back from RailsConf2008 in Portland, and I'm still a little jet-lagged. Lots of good stuff, especially about scaling, the deployment ecosystem, and distributed / "cloud" computing. Everyone and their brother will be talking about the presentations, so I'm going to relate a couple of anecdotes.

Predicate Truth vs. Resource Protection

When is a vegan not a vegetarian?

I'm a vegan (just reporting data - eat what you think best). They had food for us at the conference, as well as for other dietary needs. I had a nice but brief chat with a guy waiting for the Kosher food, for example. So I would go up to the little cart labelled vegan with the intention of getting food. Nothing shocking there.

The guy serving the food would then ask people who approached Are you a vegetarian?. Since the category vegetarian is a subset of the category vegan, I answered yes. He then directed me to the standard food tables, since people who are ovo-lacto vegetarians had plenty of options among the standard fare. I then pointed out that I'm also a vegan, and got some food.

This raises some interesting points - interesting to me, anyway. I told the guy that among a group of programmers, we're culturally very inclined to answer predicate questions with the literal truth: some_vegan.vegetarian? => true. He then explained that his primary goal in asking the question was not to enquire about someone else's eating habits, but to make sure they don't run out of the vegan options too early. He was basically acting as a return guard, making sure that I had enough to eat.

Another interpretation is that his question was based more on the weirdness factor. Vegetarians are weirder than omnivores, but to a lesser degree than vegans. So a vegan in that scenario would reject the boolean type signature implicit in Are you a vegetarian? and offer more information: I'm not just a vegetarian, I'm a vegan.

Who Pays for Dinner?

Sushi as a load balancing problem

When out eating dinner with my colleagues, we discussed the issue of payment. Initially, we decided on a simple hocket: one guy pays, and then the next night a different guy pays, and so on. My fellow nerds will recognize that as a Round Robin load balancer approach.

Things were fine until the fourth night. They were only three of us, so this was the first instance of a potential repeat. I had paid for very good (and very expensive) sushi meal two nights earlier, and my colleague Jim had splurged for Quizno's the previous night. Jim volunteered to shift to Fair load balancing, using how much some one had paid so far in the trip as the fairness criterion - which of course stuck him with paying for the final meal.

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