Posts in the "@media Ajax" Category

@media Ajax – the presentations

As promised in my @media Ajax - Journeys and stories post (now updated with pictures!), this one will focus on the presentations during the conference.

A picture of my @media Ajax badgeI will write a short round up on each presentation, and my takes and impressions of it, and a summary of the complete event. Just imagine having the best JavaScript people in the world in the same room, sharing their vast knowledge, and literally shaping the future.

Thinking briefly about the speakers and who I were missing, the only person who came immediately to mind was Dean Edwards. Aside from that, it was truly a perfect line-up. Note: The links will go the presentations themselves, and this post will be updated with the missing ones as soon as I get a hold of them.

Day one

The first day was about AJAX and JavaScript in general, and different views on it with few actual code samples.

The State of Ajax - Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith of Ajaxian

This presentation kicked off the whole conference, and I thought that Dion and Ben had an impressive presentational style. They complemented each other perfectly, spoke clearly and had good slides. It was generally a talk about the state of JavaScript in the world right now, our wants and needs, and mentioning different exciting projects which we will definitely see more of in the future. Basically, laying a good ground for what was to come. Unfortunately, they made a reference to Google images and needing JavaScript to make it work with a resizable web browser window; something that would get back and bite them later during Christian's presentation.

But I'm a Bloody Designer! - Mike Stenhouse

Mike did a talk from a designer's perspective, seeing new technologies emerge and trying to adapt to them. He then got into designers writing test cases, test-driven development and agile methods. I spoke to Mike after and told him that I was a bit disappointed. Not because of his presentation, but rather of my own expectations I had set up. I've worked with so many different designers throughout my career, and I had hoped it would be solely out of an Art Director's view, not understanding technology, and how we could help them get better. Problem was, Mike's too good at his job and to open about trying to understand new technologies, so his general knowledge is, I think, far above the general designer's.

Real World Accessibility for Ajax-enhanced Web Apps - Derek Featherstone

Derek completely dominated the stage with a strong presence, great presentation and a wonderful sense of humor. With this crowd, I thought it was especially important to talk about accessibility and not just get carried away with JavaScripting-till-you-bleed, and Derek completely meet those needs. He talked about general accessibility, and the vital importance of how you take on a task and make sure you have a proper structure before going JavaScript crazy. What struck me most was that he talked a fair bit how a web site would work with JavaScript, but still be completely accessible only through the keyboard etc. I think I, and many others, live under the false pretense that making it accessible is only to make it work without JavaScript as well, not with JavaScript but more user-friendly and extra scripting considerations. He also made a reference to the great approach of forcing an update to the virtual buffer in JAWS, invented and described in Improving Ajax applications for JAWS users. All-in-all, great talk and impressive work getting the crowd completely focused.

How To Destroy The Web - Stuart Langridge

Stuart went off on a complete rant of how to misuse technology, sometimes only in the slightest, and the enormous repercussions it can lead to. He sometimes seemed like a Winnie the Pooh on crack up there on stage, and I'm afraid that some of the people in audience were a bit taken by this, and perhaps missed some of the excellent points he made. One of them was that unless we completely use up the end user's broadband (everyone's got broadband connections, right?), evil horse porn will do it instead. There were continuous references to horse porn throughout his presentation, but he really took it up a notch when he came to a slide showing horses, arguing that unless we use up the bandwidth those poor creatures on the pictures would get hurt. Hilarious!

Planning JavaScript and Ajax for Larger Teams - Christian Heilmann

Christian works for Yahoo! and has great insights into working with lots of different people and skill levels. Some of the great points he made was that it doesn't matter which JavaScript library is the best and how to write your code; the essential factor is that the team agrees on whatever approach is chosen. Another thing he argued against was people letting their inner hacker loose within iterations in a project, innovating new things, and that that was the time to only deliver what had been decided previously. I questioned this, but completely agreed with his explanation that what he mainly meant was people changing code in the last minute or inventing new complex features, without talking about it in the team, and having an overall agreement about it. He also made a wonderful reference to the first presentation of the day, showing that with very simple CSS, you could achieve what they instead proposed having JavaScript for; resizing web browser windows aren't that tricky. :-)

Ajax at Work: A Case Study - Peter-Paul Koch

PPK has long been a JavaScript hero and influence to me, and I really like his pragmatic stance to web developing. His presentation consisted of a case presentation where he was using AJAX, and explaining how he went on to develop it, choosing what format to return data in (XML, JSON, HTML or CSV) etc. I would argue, though, that his application could have been built page by page as well, with AJAX added on top, not being dependent on it. He has had a long and strong interest in history and genealogy, and he went wild with enthusiasm and inside jokes within the topic. To me, it was very entertaining, because a presentation gets so much better when the speaker is talking about something he truly loves talking about, as opposed to just doing a talk he's obliged to do.

Day two

The second day we delved into hardcore JavaScript, with lots of code samples and discussions of advanced JavaScript.

JavaScript 2 and The Open Web - Brendan Eich

Brendan invented JavaScript, ok? He's the father of the technology we all use so extensively to create rich interactions on the web, and it was something he came up within a very short time back in 1995. He is the CTO of Mozilla, and his presentation and work is focused on JavaScript 2.0, and evangelizing the potential new version and what it will bring. He also talked about ScreamingMonkey, which is basically a way to add new and better JavaScript support to other web browsers. Just imagine better JavaScripting in IE, for example, but Mozilla delivering the base for how to do it. :-) The topic, and being of JavaScript 2.0 or not, is a very interesting topic, so I will write about it in a future post to give it a better and more concise focus.

Building Interactive Prototypes with jQuery - John Resig

John is the creator and lead developer of the extremely popular jQuery library, and he presented the basics of it and how to improve the interaction in a web page. I think he had great examples, and he was completely willing to change the slides and the code during the presentation, to illustrate a point or better answer a question from the audience. It's an impressive library, and John definitely came off as really knowing what he's doing.

Metaprogramming JavaScript - Dan Webb

In my mind, one of the best presentations at the conference. In a furious tempo, Dan went through all kinds of advanced JavaScript. The best part was that he didn't just explain programmatical options, he showed great examples of how to use them to really write better, more efficient and self-learning code. The implications of some of his examples were fantastic, and my opinion is that this presentation should be mandatory for anyone writing advanced JavaScripts. You know when you go to a conference and you're afraid that the presentations will a bit too basic and lukewarm? This was the exact opposite, and completely delivered!

Dojo 1.0: Great Experiences For Everyone - Alex Russell

A picture of the @media Ajax conference room Alex was supposed to make a talk about Dojo, but decided to first make a very philosophical approach to the web, how it's evolving and what we do to meet those demands, possibilities and challenges. He took the Maslow's hierarchy of needs and applied it to web developing and products, and how it would change over time. At the end of the presentation he came to Dojo and explained how all that he had talked about before had formed the decisions they had made with Dojo, and that it was his genuine hope that libraries wouldn't need to exist one day, and was completely open to scrap his project in that case. Some very good points were the responsibility that library authors should per default take, and also that he regarded HTTP as one of the best inventions ever in the history of mankind.

JavaScript: The Good Parts - Douglas Crockford

Not sure that Douglas needs any introduction, but in case you've missed it, he's the man behind such things as JSON, JSlint and JSMin, and for being one of the Godfather JavaScript developers. He talked about the pros and cons of JavaScript, and coming to the conclusion that is indeed a great language where its good parts can lead to outstanding results. I can put my finger on why, but his examples were so crystal-clear, and as soon as he showed them, everything became ridiculously obvious. Remy shows off one of Doug's great explanations on why the starting { has to be on the same line as the statement.

Discussion Panel - Jeremy Keith

Jeremy was the moderator for a discussion panel consisting of Brendan Eich, Douglas Crockford, Alex Russel and Stuart Langridge. It was an ok talk, although there were no real surprises or revelations. Jeremy did his best to involve the panelists, but at first they seemed pretty reluctant. Things suddenly glimmered, though, when Alex openly stated his dislike with Yahoo!'s lack of will to go completely open source. He made great arguments about the fact that JavaScript library developers should cooperate to deliver a better and more consistent experience, and that everyone will gain from this. It could have gotten more interesting when Brendan's and Doug's apparent different takes on JavaScript 2 came up, but unfortunately Brendan didn't want to say anything more than that he disagreed. Douglas also commented on how much he thinks CSS sucks.

Summary

Having been to SXSW before, and consequently questioning the role of web developer conferences, I must say that I was very impressed with @media Ajax. Great organization, fantastic speakers and wonderful participants all-in-all!

Lessons learned

It was truly uplifting to see the messages expressed from the speakers, which everyone agreed on, were:
  • Use the right tool for the job. It might be JavaScript, but it can just as well be CSS or something else.
  • We all need to collaborate, about JavaScript libraries and general conventions.
  • Accessibility is indeed important to serious web developers.
  • JavaScript is great!

Not that much AJAX

Thinking back to the conference and reading through what I've written here, not that much of the presentations actually featured AJAX. It more like a solid JavaScript conference, where some parts were AJAX and others wouldn't discuss it at all. Luckily, though, I think that everyone attending would have done so no matter what. Something I would have liked to see, though, is a discussion about AJAX and usability. How do people cater to back button behavior, history handling and so on? How do we use AJAX and at the same time avoid breaking web browser basic usability?

What's in a name?

My guess is that the name of the conference, @media Ajax, would partly ride on the hype of the name, but mostly just trying to (somewhat falsely) use the word AJAX to convey modern web development with JavaScript in general. My hope is that they rather use the name JavaScript next time around, since it gives a better picture of the contents of the conference.

No Microsoft people

What was truly strange is that at this conference, lots of the people attending were hired by Yahoo!, and then only one of the speakers were from Google. Are Yahoo! the only company amongst the web giants caring about web standards, and cutting edge development? Where are all the Google and Microsoft web developers, and when do they get in touch with reality and other web developers?

Next time

If there will be a conference as strong and giving as this one next year, I sure hope I can go. Single speakers beat panels any day of the year, and specialist conferences is extremely rewarding. Any conference keeping this high standard is bound to succeed. I'm so glad I went!

Related reading

@media Ajax – Journeys and stories

I'm just back from @media Ajax, which was a great experience! I thought I'd split up my stories in two posts: this one about the journey and social aspects, and the next one about the presentations. This post will be long enough anyway, so get a drink, lean back, and enjoy the ride. :-)

Sunday

Flight and airport

Sunday night I was flying alone to London with SAS, with the destination London City Airport. Emil had already gone to London on Friday, with a special friend, so we had scheduled to met up at our hotel. The flight went very well, except for the landing part, which took forever, and was a bit, eh, wobbly. Apparently, previous to my arrival, there had been a sort of gale blowing for some days so I can imagine flying a plane wasn't great fun. We landed and naturally there was some problem with the getting out of the plane and having somewhere to dock. Luckily, I was sitting pretty close towards the back of the plane and since they opened the back door instead I got out pretty fast. That is, down the stairs straight out into the rain on the tarmac, with basically no clue where to go but following the other drenched people. Security didn't seem to matter that much, since I literally had to run across to the closest building before I got hit by a gargantuan tank truck. Well inside, I walked through seemingly endless corridors before I walked past something that vaguely looked like a conveyor belt where, I guess, baggage could supposedly be put. Instead, I went to take a leak and then kept on walking, 'cause surely that couldn't have been where I was supposed to collect my bag, right? Wrong. Before I knew it, a dazed and confused Robert was standing in the arrival hall, without his bag. I told some staff that I missed my bag and had to get back in to collect it. The reply:

No sir, you can't go in there.

Dammit! So, they had to make a call in for someone to bring out my bag once they had identified it etc. It didn't take that long, though, and then I walked out into the rain to get a cab.

Taxi ride

I think all my life I've seen documentaries that London taxi drivers are the best in the world, basically finding their way anywhere. They have to pass this test called The Knowledge to verify their superhuman skills. With this in mind, I walked up to the taxi stand and to the first cab in line. Seeing it was a female driver made me happy, since I haven't met many women driving a cab. The conversation went like this:

-Hi, I want to go to Comfort Inn Victoria
- I have no idea where that is.
Thinking that the name isn't that explanatory, my stance is "Fair enough" and I say:
- Yeah, ok. The address is 18-24 Belgrave Road.
- I have no idea where that is.
Ok... Getting a bit worried now. She goes:
- But get in and I will find it.

So, I got in, told her the postal code as well, and she entered into her hidden GPS navigator. I also asked if she accepted credit cards. I only got a mumbling back, but assumed that it was an affirmative answer and that of course they take credit cards, this is 2007, right? Yeah, sure... At every red light, I saw her closing her eyes just a tad too long, not making me feel any better. Also, she never really told me about the GPS navigator, so I never got any feedback that she actually had any clue to where we were going. Anyway, I know my way a little in central London and I could tell that she was going in the correct general direction at least. Finally on Belgrave road, she seemed to completely ignore that I had told her the street number of the hotel, so she instead persisted stopping at every house on Belgrave Road before we got to the correct one. Needless to say, naturally we had started in the wrong end of the street, just to make it even more challenging and "adventurous"... We found the hotel, at last, and I gave her my credit card to pay. She looks at me, and sneers that she doesn't accept credit cards, that she told me that before. Therefore, a lot of my £ cash was lost very soon. Left no tip whatsoever, and I soon got out of the cab just to get into the hotel and calm down.

Dinner

I checked into the hotel, met up with Emil and then got settled into my room. My friend Stuart unfortunately couldn't attend the conference, but at least we made plans to meet up and have dinner. He came by the hotel close to 20.30 and we went to this local pizza parlor, who served one funky (as in weird) garlic bread. It was great seeing Stuart again, and after dinner we went on to have ourselves a well-deserved pint of Guinness. Stuart insisted on paying for everything, so I definitely owe him. Luckily, he'll probably never come to Stockholm, so I should be home free. :-)

Fire?

Once back at the hotel, I got to bed and tried to make it comfortable. Almost asleep, the fire alarm just above the bed goes off with a terrible noise, basically throwing me out of bed. Being a guy, I hope it will all go away if I go and take a piss. That only seemed to make things worse, though, hearing the fire alarm going off in every room in the entire hotel. Went back to bed, sure that it was just a malfunction, and hoped it would all stop soon. A picture of my hotel room Lying there for a while, leering towards the door of my room, I start to wonder if the light coming in under the door is a somewhat stronger shade of orange than what is healthy or normal. I decide to call the front desk to check whether there's actually a real fire, or if it's just a technical mishap. A man answers, and sounds a bit stressed, to say the least. He informs me that indeed there's a technical problem with the fire alarm and that they're working on it. Feeling a bit better hearing that, I turn out the lights again, and soon enough the fire alarm is gone. Next morning, I go down to have breakfast, and the fire alarm goes off once again...

Monday

A picture of my @media Ajax badgeAfter going through the pouring rain to the conference (Emil: my shoes are water proof. Perky bastard.), we got there in good time to register and get our goodie bag. Well, rather just a bag. A note pad and a pen isn't really goodies for me... :-)

We got some good seats and watched the conference start. A small personal note here is that it was a problem with the wireless connection, as it always is at conferences. Wireless is great in theory, but it sucks in practice. Ethernet cables to the people! There was great catering so between every second presentation or so, we had the chance to get tea/coffee and something to eat to keep us happy. I'm fairly sure I overdosed on tea during the two conference days... First break the first day, I met up with my good friend Chris Mills and Bruce Lawson, and that fundamentally sick sense of humor really threw me off that early in the morning. Great blokes, though, really.

Meeting people

Being a conference with such a focused main subject, it was bound to draw the best within the field, and to me it was great to finally meet a number of persons in real life, for the first time. To finally talk face to face with Chris Heilmann and Peter-Paul Koch, someone who has thoroughly impressed and influenced me for such a long time (and no doubt every other serious JavaScript developer) with his great work. On the other hand, it was good to meet Marco again after he left Sweden and his Yahoo! colleague Tom Hughes-Croucher (who interviewed everyone but me for Yahoo! TV... :-( ); say hi to Derek and Jeremy Keith once again and also seeing Frances Berriman who, for some unexplainable reason, is nice enough to read my blog now and then (really, Frances, despite your stern "Let's-get-everyone-out-of-the-catering-room-NOW" attitude, I'm sure you can do better than me ;-) ).

The pub

After the first day of presentations, pretty much everyone gathered at a nearby pub with an @media tab to make us even happier, and it was good to have casual talks with a lot of people. I had a chat with John Resig, trying to convince him to take jQuery off the market so I could get some more wind in the sails for DOMAssistant, but he seemed reluctant. Damn those genius CSS selectors... A guy from Finland, Harri (spelling reservation here) also came up to me, telling me that he reads my ramblings and expressed interest in putting together a Geek Meet in Finland. Great idea, and if anyone is interested, let me know and I'll try to get you in touch with each other.

Recognition

Something that really made me happy as a child was the amount of recognition I got during the first day. I mean. sure, I know a few people read my blog, but to know that all the people and their work which I tremendously look up to, actually also know who I am is wonderful! I've worked hard to get decent at what I do, but I still get touched if in any way have helped someone out or just slightly influenced them whatsoever. And really, I'm not a famous name in the web development community. I can't handle people who I don't know who they are coming up to me and saying that they like what I write. So, I usually apologize for having wasted their time, but also humbly thank them for reading.

Japanese dinner

After the pub, me, Bruce Lawson, Jim O'Donnell, Chris Mills and PPK (Peter-Paul Koch) went and had a nice dinner at this hidden-away Japanese place that Bruce knew about. What was truly amazing during the dinner was that at times there were the ugliest word in man's vocabulary flying around, dirty jokes so far below the belt and just general nastiness, and then suddenly the conversation would go into what an impact you will have on children as a teacher, and the situation in Burma and the history which has lead to the current circumstances. A picture of Jim O-Donnell, Bruce Lawson, Chris Mills and PPK outside the Japanese restaurant I truly love people who are so versatile, and don't just act as expected, but instead as real human beings with very different interests. After the dinner, we got back to the first pub where PPK was kind enough to treat us to beers, and then some of us went on to yet another pub. Chris and I were telling each other horrid stories from our past, and really, I'm happy to say that no one other heard the things we were talking about. When we meet, we turn into giggly little school girls, and the secrets we reveal to each other are really meant to be hidden forever from the public eyes and ears. Anyway, Chris was crashing at Jim's place, so being a good friend, I advised them to have a safe word for their upcoming deviant night activities, to make sure no one got harmed... ;-) Also, Bruce's father instincts kicked in when he got a cab for us back to our respective hotels and made sure young little innocent Robert didn't get lost in the streets of dangerous London. Thanks, Bruce!

Tuesday

No rain! I truly think that Tuesday morning was the first (and only) time when it wasn't raining. The everyday weather in London just about matches the worst thinkable fall weather in Sweden. Then we get snow and have a beautiful white landscape. They don't. After another great day of presentations, where I got the chance to personally thank Brendan Eich, the inventor of JavaScript, for coming up with something which I love to work with, and has paid for my extensive travels, a house and two cars, it was time to say good-bye to everyone and go home.

Dinner and taxi ride

Me, Emil and his company on this trip had a dinner at a pub next to our hotel before the taxi ride to the airport. I think I probably had one of the dishes with the most cholesterol in the world. It was a meat platter with fried chicken, onion rings, sausages and, to top it off, garlic bread with slices of bacon on it, and then dipped in melted cheese. We got into the pre-booked taxi to the airport, when I suddenly couldn't find my camera. I convinced the taxi driver to go back to the pub, completely sure that I had dropped it out of my coat pocket there. Emil kept on nagging that I should check my pockets again, and I just wanted to tell him to shut up, when I found the camera in a pocket I (thought I) had already checked. I told the cab driver to never mind, and please take us to Heathrow instead.

Airport security again

Once at the airport, I went through the security check, got my coat and cell phone, went through the passport control and on to the shoe checker machine. When I sat down to untie my shoes, I realized: where's my backpack?! Sure that I must've missed it at the security check, I walked up to the passport officer and told him that I forgot my bag. His reply:

No sir, you can't go in there.

With a distinct feeling of Déjà vu, I waited while he told the long line of people to wait, because he had to go and try to find my backpack. He couldn't find it, though, and eventually I was called over. We then together went to a desk to see if it had been dropped off there and, lo and behold, there it was! Apparently it had gotten stuck in a security screening, so it never got through the X-ray machine at the security check. Seeing no bag there, I obviously completely forgot that I had ever even owned a backpack, and had just kept on walking. Anyway, then a third guy did a manual security check on it, and he somewhat scolded me for forgetting my bag with a precious iPod in it. I could only ashamedly concur. Got the bag, finally, went through passport control again ("Never do that again, sir"), got my shoes checked, and then it was about time for tax-free shopping. I made sure to buy toys for my kids with an English theme, so they will know, one day, where dad actually was.

Meeting the principal

On the airplane, I got to sit alone, since it was so crowded that there weren't three seats available next to each other. Instead I, interestingly, ended up sitting next to the principal of the Swedish School in London In Swedish and we had a good conversation. I asked him about statistics of Swedes living in London, and found out that officially there are over 50 000 Swedes resident in London. I'm pretty sure you can almost double that figure to get a correct number. Airplane trivia: an air plane is always slightly slanting, in case you haven't noticed, so if you drop your water bottle in the aisle (completely hypothetical, of course), it will roll all the way back to the back of the entire plane. Just so you know.

Taxi ride in Sweden

Once at Arlanda airport in Sweden, I got a taxi to go home. Me and the driver, who was originally from Iran, got into such an interesting conversation about his country of origin, that when we got to my house, we sat in the car and kept on talking probably as long as the cab ride was. Eventually we got out of the car, got my bags, and we actually shook hands and hoped we would run into each other some day in the future. How often has that happened to you? And, oh, this taxi accepted credit card payments...

Epilogue

The last days have been truly fantastic, and coming home late last night, I had a hard time falling asleep. First, I was so happy about all the interesting people I have run into in such a short amount of time, and then extremely happy to see my my beloved family again. The moral to all this is: talk to everyone you met! You never know when it will be the conversation that changes your life.

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