Chicago writeup

May 27, 2014

I had a fabulous time in Chicago for RailsConf! Here are my recommendations for if you just have a couple days in the city:


Portillo's: omg amazing Italian beef sandwich, which I got with both hot and sweet peppers. Juicy, like beef should be, soft bread to soak up all those juices...I wish I'd gotten another one.

I did also get a Chicago-style hot dog on another visit but I didn't feel that melded as well together. They're also known for their chocolate cake, which has mayo in it, of all things. It was indeed very rich, to the point where I only had a couple bites of the giant slice.

Ricobene’s breaded steak sandwich: when I found out I'd be going to Chicago, this sandwich review was the first thing that came to mind.

It's in Chinatown and not particularly direct to get to on public transit, but the walk there from the Cermak-Chinatown was fine. There's not much around, but it was pretty packed inside, with families, teenagers, cops...everyone knows what's up:

So yeah, this sandwich is indeed pretty amazing (as was their chicken parm). You should go. But only, you know, if you like meat and carbs at all.


My cousin had recommended the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise, which was really fun and educational! I waited to make sure the weather would be nice before buying tickets at the riverside kiosk about an hour before the first cruise on Saturday.

The tour guide was really knowledgeable and unlike some reviews I had read online, I thought the information was really accessible and interesting. I would not have noticed all the interesting details and thought behind the city's architecture at all otherwise. It does get pretty windy and cold out on the water even when it's sunny out, so bundle up unless it's deep into the summer.

Millennium Park, of course, with The Bean:

The Art Institute of Chicago is right there too, which was a good-sized museum, not overwhelmingly large. Famous stuff they've got: American GothicA Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and usually they've got Nighthawks too though it wasn't there when I visited sadly. Also, these gorgeous stained glass windows by Chagall:

Took in a show at the Second City, which is probably a requirement:

Went to this Trapped in a Room with a Zombie with a friend at her suggestion, that was a fabulous time if you like solving puzzles under pressure (I'm an engineer, of course I'm all over that!) With a group of up to 11 other people, you're locked in a room with a (actor playing a) zombie chained to the wall and various puzzles/clues scattered around for how to find the key to get out of the room. Its chain extend by another foot every 5 minutes, and if the zombie touches you, you're dead, so you've got an hour to get out. The success rate is apparently only around 28%, and yet our group managed to succeed!

And lastly, instead of the Skywalk, my friend recommend going up for a drink in the Hancock Tower Lounge for an equally excellent view of the city and approximately the same cost (including the drinks!). There was a bit of a line to get in there, which might've been better if we'd gotten there a bit earlier before all the people wearing tight dresses and shiny suits came out.

Next time I'm in Chicago, I will definitely go back for those beef sandwiches again, set aside more time to wander through the Art Institute, and try to find some of the public art sculptures.

Feedback for RailsConf organizers

May 20, 2014

During RailsConf, I jotted down notes on feedback for the conference organizers. They haven’t asked for it at all, but I thought I’d gather it here anyway :)

On the general experience for first time speakers:
  • Overall, I felt really welcomed and supported as a first-time speaker, especially throughout the proposal process! I got really useful feedback during the CFP process.
  • I wonder if it would be helpful to have the ability for people to self-identify as first-time speakers during the proposal process, so that these proposals in particular could get more feedback?
  • The track conductor for the track my talk was on (Novices), Noel Rappin, actually came to my talk! That was much appreciated. He also reached out a couple weeks beforehand to see if he could help with anything, and followed through with getting some feedback for my slides. That was awesome. It would have been nice if he’d reached out a bit sooner, even, though I know people are busy.
  • I regret not asking for a conference guide. There could maybe have been some of that kind of information included in the site upfront, like what to expect for meals/snacks.

  • I’ve been thinking about the ideal slots for newbie talks to go into. Days-wise, it seems like not being on the first or last day is best. I think perhaps being the second talk in a block is also a bit better, as the previous talk can have “warmed up” the audience a bit.
  • I’m curious whether it would help or hurt to promote first time speakers, like collecting that information somewhere as a sort of “hey! you should support these speakers and help make them feel welcome in the community!” Or would that instead be used by some people as a way to avoid certain talks, because they’re by inexperienced people?

Organized events:
  • I enjoyed myself at the speaker dinner much more than I had expected! It helped a lot that I stuck around with Chuck and he’s so gregarious. I would’ve liked a bit more structure for introductions there though, like icebreakers of some kind, or games, or even assigned seating, like gathering up people on the same track together.
  • I would LOVE to see more of this kind of non-alcohol socializing event (HT Chiu-Ki Chan)!! Next time I’m going to bring some games of my own to start or join in on a non-alcohol-based “birds of a feather” group event.

  • Definitely it would’ve helped to get the A/V details out sooner. I had already started on my slides by the time the official details came out (about 2 weeks before the conference) and just kept working on them, but then the weekend before, realized they were made with the wrong ratio and spent a few hours the day before my talk re-creating the slides for the right ratio instead.
  • They provided clickers! That was really nice. Much more compact than the Wiimote I brought with me.
  • The A/V staff were really friendly when I did my run through (“It’s my job to take care of how the slides look when projected, don’t worry about that”) so kudos there.

  • It would be great to include the Twitter handles for speakers with their bio listings.
  • The seats in the rooms were pretty narrow and set up very close together. Maybe this is just a venue thing? But those of us that are more, er…generously sized, could use a bit more breathing space, and it could improve efficiency in the end with not having people sit every other seat as much.