Let’s all go to the pub – to learn about web development – Halfstack 2018 in London, England

Halfstack is a conference that is close to my heart. Because it is in London, because it is in a pub, because it is run by a person who is lovely, ginger and did so, so much for the JavaScript community over decades without having a huge ego or being weird: Dylan Schiemann.

This, in addition to a few other factors, makes Halfstack incredibly affordable, relaxed and at the same time full of great content. That’s why I keep presenting there, even when this time – for the first time – I had to fly to London to participate.

This year had quite an amazing line-up and a lot more talks than the past editions. The average talk length was a lot shorter than in the earlier years. To me, that’s a good thing. Better to make one point really well than treating an audience once again to the history of computing and how that relates to that brand new technology you actually wanted to talk about.

I shot a lot of photos, all of which are in this Google Photos album and here’s a quick recap of the talks.

The talks

Chris Heilmann, Microsoft: “Bringing best practices front and centre”

My opening keynote was about what we consider best practices and how they are often not applicable in context. How we miss out the opportunity of making them a starting point for new developers rather than something they have to learn to value after making the same mistakes we did before. With open and extensible editors like Visual Studio Code and tools to test the quality of our products while we deploy or even create them like webhint, we have a chance to embed our knowledge into the development flow instead of hoping people start caring.

My slides, resources and twitter reactions for ‘Bringing best practices front and centre’ are on notist.

Ada Rose Cannon, Samsung: “The present and future of VR on the Web”

Ada Rose Cannon and Alex Lakaitos

Ada Rose is chock-full of talent, knowledge and does a lot of good work to move the web into the third dimension and beyond. Working for Samsung’s Internet browser has its benefits as you have access to a lot of hardware to test. Ada showed examples from the history of VR/AR and XR and how it applies to web technologies. She ended with a call to action to support the Immersive Web Community Group of the W3C to get this work further along. It is fun to see someone who is so emerged in a topic explaining it in an accessible manner rather than drowning in jargon.

Alex Lakatos, Nexmo: “Building Bots with JavaScript”

Alex Lakatos worked with me at Mozilla, back then as a community member and was one of the first to benefit from their speaker training program. And it shows. In a few minutes he explained the benefits and pitfalls of bots as a platform and communication channel and showed in live demos how to train a bot in JavaScript how to understand humans. Both his slides and his demo code are available.

Alex also runs the developer avocados newsletter, a great resource for Developer Advocacy, call for papers and all that is related to that.

Anna Migas, Lunar Logic: “Fast But Not Furious: Debugging User Interaction Performance Issues”

Anna Migas presenting at halfstackconf

Anna Migas doesn’t only have an incredibly easy to remember Twitter handle (@szynszyliszys), she also has done a lot of homework in the area of web performance when it comes to making interfaces react quickly to the user. There is a truckload of information on the topic out there, and Anna did her best to distill it for the audience into sensible, digestible chunks in this short talk. Well worth a watch and share. Her slides are here to peruse.

Liliana Kastilio, Snyk: “npm install disaster-waiting-to-happen”

Liliana Kastilio presenting

Liliana Kastilio gave her first ever presentation and covered a lot of security ground about what not to do in your JavaScript. I expected a different talk considering the title, but I was not disappointed. A lot of sensible takeaways in a short amount of time.

Andrico Karoulla, Trint: “Enter ES2018

Andrico Karoulla on ES6

Andrico Karoulla is heir to a Fish and Chip shop and thus should already be set for life. However, his passion is telling people about the cool new features of JavaScript and he did so in a short talk. He didn’t only tell us about the features, but also managed to explain why they are important and what real implementation problems they fix. Good show, even when he had a tough time speaking into the mic and coding at the same time. 🙂

Stephen Cook, Onfido: “100% CSS Mario Kart”

CSS trick used to fake interactivity

Stephen Cook delivered the first jaw-dropping talk of the day by creating a CSS Mario Kart game. He applied a few interesting tricks, like a negative delay on CSS animations and using the validity state of the hidden form field to read out keystrokes in CSS. I’ve seen a few demos like that before, but it is pretty impressive to see it done live in such a short amount of time including explanations why some of these tricks work.
Both Stephen’s slides with explanations about the hacks and the demo of the Mario Kart animation are available

Sean McGee, Esri UK: “Buying a House with JavaScript”

Sean McGee presenting

Sean’s talk was a big let-down for anyone who thought they could learn how to afford buying a house in London with JavaScript as your only skill. If you came to learn about creating a clever mash-up of house offers, crime and travel information, you had a great time. Sean explained not only how to scrape the data, but also how to mash it up and display it in an intelligent manner that allowed him to find an affordable place with all the trimmings he wanted. As a former pipes/YQL and maps person, I was very happy.

Jonathan Fielding, Snyk: “Home Automation with JavaScript”

Jonathan Fielding is another person who spoke at a few Halfstack events and this time he covered the topic of home automation. It is a great topic and a market that needs cracking open as there are not many standards available. Instead you need to do a lot of reverse engineering and tinkering and Jonathan explained in an accessible fashion how to do this. Amongst other things, Jonathan lit and changed the colour of light bulbs on stage and deactivated his home security system – as you do.

Rob Bateman, The Away Foundation: “Reanimating the Web”

Rob Bateman with his TypeScript joke

Rob gave a similar talk at the warm-up of Beyond Tellerand Duesseldorf earlier this year, so you see the high quality and lots of work that went into this. He covered the history of animation on the web and went deep down into the nitty gritty on how we can ensure both that animations are buttery smooth and comparatively fast to native solutions doing the same things. A good reminder that we had a lot of innovation in the Flash space, and we now need to catch up again – both in tooling and in our approach to write animations.

Carolyn Stransky, Blacklane “The Most Important UI: You”

Carolyn on Self Care

Carolyn Stransky was the second “wow” moment for me this time. Her talk (slides are available here was about self care, how to be good to yourself and how to ensure we are not creating a horrible work environment. I’ve seen a few of these talks, but often they are high-level and “why aren’t we all better at this” finger pointing. Carolyn did a great job showing a truckload of resources you can use to make your life a bit easier and better and explained how to use them instead.

If you’re a conference organizer, contact her. This was absolutely lovely.

Tom Dye, SitePen and Dylan Schiemann, SitePen: “Cats vs. Dogs”

Tom and Dylan mostly did this talk to play out their fetish of wearing rubber animal masks:

Rubber cat and dog masks

Other than that kinky interlude, the talk was about all the weird little discussions and endless threads we have as a community about pointless things like tabs vs. spaces.

Cats vs. Dogs

The real important part here was though that they build a PWA that allowed the audience to vote for cats or dogs and control the speed of their tails wagging. You could also make them miaow or bark. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

Cameron Diverand and Theodor Gherzan of Balena: “JavaScript at the edge”

Controlling a board of LEDs in JavaScript

Cameron and Theodor showed how to control a board of LEDs in JavaScript with sound coming from the audience. They didn’t talk about the Edge browser, which – to me – was disappointing. If you like the sort of thing of doing crazy hardware things in JavaScript, though, this was a lot of fun.

Jani Eväkallio, Formidable: “This Talk Is About You”

Jani did a poetry reading at the last Halfstack. This time he went further and did a visual storytelling kind of presentation reminding us that we’re not victims of the market we are in but should be much more in control over the quality of and the impact our code has on the world. This is tough to explain, it may make more sense to wait for Halfstack to release the video, as it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Jani does a lot of performing and is a joy to see present. Check it out. The keynote file of his talk is here. He also organises a technology comedy night called Component did Smoosh and the next one is 30th of November in Berlin.

Tony Edwards, Software Cornwall: “Beats, Rhymes & Unit Tests”

Tony Edwards is an incredibly passionate person about the web and organiser of the FutureSync conference, where he was crazynice enough to invite me to speak. In this session he covered the experimental web speech to text API and tried it on different rap lyrics with not much success. He then proceeded to do a live rapping session expecting the (mostly) British audience to go wild like a rap battle in Detroit or LA. It worked to a degree though, and his rap was much better converted by the API. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable talk by a multi-talented, nice bloke.

As a side node, using a full fledged deep learning API would give you much better results. The big thing about text recognition isn’t the interface to the browser, but the quality of the trained model. And they don’t come cheap which is why Mozilla tries to open-source that idea with their Common Voice project.

Professional detection software also started mixing audio recognition with lip-reading, which is incredibly exciting and yields much better results.

Joe Hart, Blend Media: Alpha, Beta, Gamer: Dev Mode

Competitive Tetris

Joe Hart’s talk was a splendid end of the evening. He covered oddities in the history of computer gaming and had a lot of interactive games with the audience. A Flappy Bird clone that worked by shouting at it, a Tetris clone where one player painted impossible Tetronimos and the other had to fit them in and other cruel measures to make the audience have fun and participate. Joe Hart is a Fringe presenter, so there is no question about the quality. This was fun from start to end.


Pub Quiz

Yes, Halfstack is different and the quality of the projector was questionable. The food was lovely though and having it in a pub means speakers are much more relaxed and lapses in their presentations much easier forgiven by the audience. Dylan and team are trying to take this concept on the road and for the first time plan to do a Vienna and NYC edition of the conference. I am really looking forward to seeing this succeed. I’ll be back and I’ll be having a great time again. Halfstack is an easy-going, yet valuable and highly diverse event, and well worth the money.

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MDN hack day tomorrow in the #mozldn space in London, England

We cleared the aftermath of yesterday’s epic Geek Quiz (photo proof here) but there is no rest for the wicked in the London Mozilla Space. Tomorrow (yes, that day after this one) we’ll run an MDN hack day here in 101 St. Martin’s Lane, London (5 minute footwalk from Leicester Square or 10 from Charing Cross).

If you have no idea what hack day in MDN means, check out Tristan Nitot’s introductory post.

MDN hack day

There are still tickets available, so go to http://mdn-hackday-london.eventbrite.com/ and sign up if you haven’t yet.

There’ll be food (well, Pizza, we thought Fondue would be too much of a mess) and drink (the non-fermented and fermented kind, we don’t discriminate), lots of experts from Mozilla to pester about your wishes for our products and to learn all about what we are doing in London, a few Boot to Gecko phones to play with and quite a few talks to give you inspiration to hack:

Schedule (subject to change slightly but you get the idea of who is speaking):

8:30 Registration & Light Breakfast
9:00 Welcome Remarks Christian Heilmann
9:15 Christian Heilmann – The New Web Challenge
9:45 Rob Hawkes – B2G
10:15 Chloe Varelidi – Catch Them Young – Meet the Web Arcade
10:45 Brad Lassey – Fennec Goes Native
11:15 Break
11:30 Heather Arthur – Firefox DevTools
12:00 Jean Yves Perrier – BrowserID
12:30 Rob Hawkes – Games
1:00 Paul Lewis – WebGL Live Demos
1:30 Lunch (Lightening Talk/Discussion Group Sign Up)
2:30 Hacking
5:15 Presentations and Lightning Talks
5:30 Refreshments

The hashtag to use is #mdnhackday, the wireless is open, the Fox is out there, let’s do this!

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State of the browser in London, England

Last Saturday in London, England the State of the browser conference brought together developer advocates from almost all browser vendors to give the audience an overview of what is going on in the world of browsers.

Browser panel

Browser panel with Bruce Lawson (Opera), Chris Heilmann (Mozilla), Martin Beeby (Microsoft) and Paul Kinlan (Google)

My involvement was to talk about the state of HTML5 when seen from a native market’s perspective, show some cool new technologies that need our input and take part in the browser panel to discuss current issues. Here are the talks and screencasts. Videos recorded by the organisers should follow soon.

Talk “Broken HTML5 promises – are we ‘appy?”

The main Mozilla presentation was about feedback on HTML5 we got at Mobile World Congress from mobile developers, how we as an HTML5 community fail to answer their questions and get tangled up in petty bickering over details instead and what Mozilla does to make HTML5 work across the board.

The slides with notes are available here and the screencast (with bad audio, sorry) is on vid.ly.

Breakout session: “The bleeding edge of HTML needs blood donors”

The breakout session (which was repeated twice) was much less of a “talk” but more of a show and tell in a smaller room. Therefore the screencast is a bit more raw but shows what you can do right now.

The slides with notes are available here and the screencast is on vid.ly.

The conference

All in all the conference was great value for money. All the speakers had great information to give and there was no “marketing talk” promising things that don’t work outside lab environments.

  • Michael Mahemoff did a great job introducing the day with a “native vs. web knockout” talk.
  • Paul Kinlan showed what is coming in Chrome and how Web Intents can change the way we solve app communication over the web
  • Martin Beeby gave a glimpse of how the web can merge with newer devices and UX needs of users

Seb Lee-Delisle took all the browsers to the performance test to end all performance tests by animating millions of 3D particles and seeing which browser would be the one that can show the most without slowing down. In the end Firefox was the winner with 3695244 particles at 10FPS. Of course this is not a real measure (especially seeing IE10 was run in a VM) but it is always fun to see Seb code live.
Particles competition results

I guess my favourite piece about the conference was that the browser panel was very much about answering people’s questions instead of trying to beat each other in being the browser that people should use. British understatement at its best.

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jQuery UK conference in Oxford, England – slides, audio, impressions and notes

Yesterday I attended the jQuery UK conference in Oxford, England where about 300 developers gathered to hear the newest and coolest about probably the most successful JavaScript library out there.

Naturally I thought it a good idea to give a talk that they shouldn’t use it. Well, more to the point that it is not necessary to use jQuery for everything out there and that there is quite a lot of redundant use of it. jQuery showed browser makers what developers want and browser makers listened. A lot of the initial concepts of jQuery – accessing the document via CSS selectors rather than the DOM and simplifying the handling of CSS classes are now natively available with querySelector, querySelectorAll and classList.

Slides, notes and audio

You can read the slides with notes online or embedded below (left+right to go back and forward, down for next bullet point and N to toggle notes):

As always I also recorded my talk and the audio is available on archive.org, soundcloud or embedded here:

The feedback was overwhelmingly good, and I am very happy that I dared to be different and didn’t get vegetables thrown at me.

My general impressions of the conference

As the first European (or UK?) jQuery conference I can safely say it was a massive success. The success of a conference very much depends on the passion of the organisers and the group behind this one has passion to spare. You always knew where to go and got help immediately if you didn’t.

The event was run professionally without pestering attendees with unnecessary communication (“Please fill out this survey”) and the venue was incredible. The lecture hall had power plugs and ethernet connectivity on the seats and the wireless stood up (probably because of the ethernet option).

The food was sandwiches, fruit and cookies – more than enough for a single day – and the fermented beverages at the party were bountiful. There were lots of giveaways for the audience (Playbooks, T-Shirts, books, awesome Firefox stickers, Tequila bottles and Kendo sticks).

As a one-track conference, they invited too many speakers which is why the speaking slot was 30 minutes. This at first threw me a bit but in hindsight it went really well and gave the conference a much better flow. There was no moment of boredom.

The audience was very good and the Twitter backchannel buzzing and very creative and observant. The vitriol and trolling attempts you find at other conferences was not happening at all – great stuff. Instead people created awesome doodles and live-blogged the sessions on GitHub(!). The low number of female attendees was a bit of a surprise to me – I’d expected more at a jQuery conference.

Some quick notes on the talks

Some speakers asked me about feedback and I am happy to give some more in person and detail (contact me again, please), but here are a few impressions I got from the talks I saw.

  1. Conference organiser John Wards started the day with the necessary housekeeping and explaining the day – the main shock there was to go to Oxford to hear a strong Scottish accent on stage first thing (memories of Highland Fling?)
  2. Ralph Whitbeck followed up with a report on the state of the jQuery project – the only predictable talk, delivered informatively and keeping the audience on the ball
  3. Todd Parker then explained the ins and outs of jQuery Mobile in my favourite talk of the day. Engaging, funny and full of goodness in terms of best practices I very much subscribe to, too (progressive enhancement, real hardware testing…)
  4. Fellow Ajaxians Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith followed with a longer talk on Web vs. Apps discussing the benefits of the web as an application platform and how far we are from matching the native experience. Ben and Dion work very well together on stage and had some interesting insights.
  5. Jörn Zaefferer talked about the pitfalls of single page applications. Despite being nervous, he managed to give a good idea about the necessary steps to deliver one of those without breaking the web experience
  6. Haymo Meran of Aloha Editor showed how the editor works and explained the problems of using and implementing contentEditable in the browser and stay accessible. He also used the opportunity to release Aloha WikiDocs, a collaborative live editable wiki
  7. Paul Irish talked about the App development stack for JS developers covering the whole range from preprocessors to developer tools in Chrome previewing the upcoming remote debugging and sourcemapping. Lots of great content there – maybe too much for one talk, but I am sure the (very elaborate 3D effect ladden) slides will help us digest a lot of that.
  8. Addy Osmani talked about building large-scale applications with jQuery covering a few of the architectures followed in larger libraries like YUI and Dojo and explained a few patterns to use and patterns we already do use without knowing it. Again, a bit too much to digest in a half hour talk, but lots of good stuff to dive into
  9. Doug Neiner finished off with Contextual jQuery explaining a lot of great tips on how to create lighter, more responsive jQuery solutions by applying functionality when it is needed and not upfront. A very interesting talk full of pragmatic goodness

All the talks were filmed and will be released in the nearer future.


All in all I am very happy to have attended the conference and hope there will be more by these organisers. I was the first speaker asked (imagine my surprise given that I hardly have anything to do with jQuery) and I have to say thanks – it was a great experience.

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