Recapping the Ruby Hoedown

Originally posted on the Sunlight Labs blog.

I was in Nashville this past weekend giving a talk at the Ruby Hoedown, a completely free conference held for the South’s Ruby developers. My talk was titled “Civic Hacking”, and the slides are on Slideshare:

The conference was one of the best regional Ruby conferences I’ve been to, and a lot of that had to do with the venue, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Essentially a self-contained small town, reminiscent of the Biodome, the hotel provided ample opportunities for running into folks and picking each others brains over a meal or drinks. Visit it if you want to experience how we’ll live on Mars.


Photo credit to Stephen Yeargin on Flickr.

Some solid talks were given as well. Corey Donohue of Engine Yard described the importance of breaking up large apps into smaller, RESTful services. Leon Gersing demoed the features of Appcelerator Titanium. While showing off Titanium’s incredible new iPhone and Android support, he was asked “Are you a witch?”, easily the best question of the conference. RSpec lead David Chelimsky spoke on the art of mocking, and a kazoo-enhanced lightning talk by Clinton R. Nixon on MongoDB was the most entertaining. Lyle Johnson has posted a thorough wrap-up of the weekend as well.

One day in the Labs, a question was raised as to why one of our developers, David, always seems to be wearing Ruby-related shirts. The answer is because we Rubyists put on a lot (and I mean a lot) of regional Ruby conferences. The Python crowd, it seems, only have PyCon and DjangoCon, the latter of which Labs member James is headed to next week.

So we Rubyists love to organize ourselves and get together, that’s certain. It’s high time that we organize more around making our government more open and more transparent. We’re already off to a good start. Apps for America 1 winner Filibusted is a Rails app, as is Know Thy Congressman , which placed third. This We Know and GovPulse, two of the three finalists in Apps for America 2 are also Rails apps.

But I think we Rubyists can do a lot better. Using the new tools we have here at, let’s go over some Ruby-based projects and ideas:

  • Congrelate - A project at the Labs headed by Eric, powered by Sinatra and jQuery, which focuses on bringing together disparate data sources in powerful ways. We already pull in data from Congress, the Census, OpenSecrets, and GovTrack, but we’d like to bring in more data sources. Check out the code base for instructions on how to build in support for new data sources.
  • Transparency Corps - Much like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, TCorps allows anyone anywhere to have a positive impact on making our government more transparent by aggregating small actions that require human intelligence but not specialized political knowledge. If you have an idea that can benefit from this tool, it’s easy to write your own Task that we can plug into the system.
  • National Data Catalog - Led by David and I, we’re aiming to build a comprehensive catalog of all data sets and APIs published by all levels of government. We’ll soon need help developing parsers that scrape existing data catalogs out there and load that information into our catalog.
  • API wrappers for open government web services - While we have a Ruby gem for the Sunlight Labs API, the other APIs out there have been neglected. Let’s get cracking on Ruby wrappers for, GovTrack, MAPLight, and LittleSis.

So let’s get going, Rubyists! Feel free to contact me with any questions. And speaking of regional Ruby conferences, I’ll be at Ruby DCamp in two weeks.

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