Travel stories and session recaps from Mozilla Camp Europe Prague, 3-4 October 2009

Late last night I came home from the fantastic event that was Mozilla Camp Europe Prague, 3-4 October 2009, and I thought I’d tell you how my Prague visit was, what I thought of the event and my thinking about the sessions.

Getting there

Thursday October 1st I met up with fellow Swedes Patrick Finch and David Tenser (ok, Patrick is actually British, but he lives in Sweden, so it counts as one of us 🙂 ) to get on our flight with Czech Airlines. They were about to participate on Friday on an event for the local Mozilla community in Prague, and I had made sure to have one extra day of touristing in the city before the actual conference.

Once we got to the Andel’s hotel where we were staying (a very nice hotel, by the way), we got settled in our rooms and then planned to meet up to have dinner. In the lobby, I also met Søren Skrøder, who I got to know at the Mozilla/Maemo event in Copenhagen back in May. As it turned out, though, the main organizer William Quiviger (who now sports some kind of Jef Goldblum-look with his glasses…) was just a tad stressed in getting things in order and be on top of everything, so we went to the preparation area.

A picture of the preparations

Once there, we met Barbara Hueppe, Paul Roguet, Irina Sandu, Svetlana and other people making their best to get everything in order. Being the kind spirits that we are, we added our small efforts to get everything done, so we could go out and eat something: by this time, I was famished!

A picture of Mozillians looking for a good place to get dinner

Once we got everyone together and went out to eat, let’s just say that there were mixed ideas about where to go, and where the actual place was located. We walked around in Prague for almost an hour, till we finally settled on a restaurant. I ordered in Carpaccio, which was awesome! After dinner, I was exhausted, so I got back to the hotel, said hi to Axel Hecht and then went to my room to get some sleep and be prepared for a full day of Prague touristing.

Tourism in Prague

The next morning, I met a lot of Mozilla people at the breakfast, and I and Søren had decided to make an attempt to tourist together, since he had also dedicated his Friday time for the same purpose. We started by packing our bags, buying some water and then initiate our Prague excursion.

A picture of the park

We took a glance on the map, had a brief discussion about what we wanted to see and then embarked on our walkabout. One of our first destinations was the the huge main park in Prague, Pet?ín hill. Neither I or Søren expected it to be so hilly, though, and there were serpentine walkways taking us up the steep hill.

A picture of the Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

After quite some time walking, we eventually reached the Pet?ín Lookout Tower, which gives an amazing view over Prague. There sure are a number of stairs to walk up, but it was definitely worth it! After having spent quite some time in the park by then, Søren expressed that he really wanted to move on and see other sights (these opinions were expressed in tweets like “Søren says we have had enough of pretty park pictures now. :-)” and “Søren says: “Fuck the scenic route”.”).

A picture of the Pet?ín Lookout Tower

Understanding the hints, we started walking downhill again, and got to the Strahovsky monastery – unfortunately, it was closed when we got there. However, outside we met two people from the Mozilla community in Barcelona, and decided to make company.

A picture of the view of Prague from the Pet?ín Lookout Tower

That was then followed by a visit to Loreta Holy Shrine and then lunch at a local restaurant. Baffled by the constantly low prices: about €1.50 for a large beer and no lunch or dinner costed more than €20 (unless you wanted something really special). Post-lunch, it was finally time to reach the Prague Castle!

A picture of the Prague Castle

Within the castle area is also the gargantuan St. Vitus Cathedral, which we spent a fair amount of time in. After that visit, we went into the urinal, and I got the idea to take a picture of a toilet that was sealed off in an interesting way. Suffice to say, the reaction of the other people in the urinal, when they heard the camera flash, was not comforting. I learned something that day about taking pictures in urinals…

A picture of the St Vitus Cathedral

By this time, it started to get chilly outside and the wind started blowing, so we briskly moved forward out of the castle area, by wine growing on the hill side, and down towards the Vltava/Moldau river and across to the Old Town area of Prague (still a little bit scared of the guy who came walking on the sidewalk with a chainsaw – apparently Czech people defend their own hood in a different way…).

A picture of the St Vitus Cathedral from behind

A picture of Charles Bridge

Once in the Old Town we had a look at the extraordinary Astronomical Clock and had the luck to see it at the full hour with all of its display. On our way, there’s was an offer to see a non-verbal performance of Beatles’ Yellow Submarine – Great, I’ve been looking for that all my life…

A picture of the Astronomical Clock

A picture of the the billboard for the non-verbal performance of Beatles' Yellow Submarine

Next stop was the Museum of Communism, depicting the history of communism in the world, and in Prague in particular. It is terrible, but also needed, to be reminded how evil man can be, and that we really need to be more respectful and understanding to each other.

A picture of the poster for the Museum of Communism

When the museum visit had come to an end, our Barcelonian friends needed to go back to the hotel again. Søren and I, however, just knew he had more to see in the city. We walked to the Charles Bridge, where the Swedes fought the Czechs during the Thirty Years’ War, and also got the opportunity to climb up in the tower on the Old Town side.

A picture of the Charles Bridge Tower

Last task of the day was crossing the bridge, admiring its gorgeous statues and then finding a tram station to get back to the hotel again. At the hotel, some Danish countrymen of Søren had arrived, so I, Søren and Finn Sørensen went out and had a nice dinner together (Carpaccio again for me, two nights in a row – oh, how I love it!). That was later followed by a welcome beer at the hotel with all the newly arrived conference attendants.

By this time, my room mate from Sweden, Stefan H, had also arrived, and in a Swedish humble manner we almost constantly apologized to each other for how much room we took in our hotel room, what a mess we had created etc.

My tourist day in Prague was fantastic, and I’m truly happy I took the time to do it!

The conference

The Mozilla conference had two full day of presentations, and I will list the ones I attended. The talks were divided into four tracks:

  • Development
  • Internationalisation
  • Advocacy
  • QA

(entire schedule)

Saturday presentations

Welcome address by Tristan Nitot
Tristan is the President of Mozilla Europe, and he welcomed us all to the conference and went a little into what it would contain.
Keynote: Glyn Moody
Glyn Moody is a technical writer who spoke about the importance of open software, how Mozilla of today is derived of the old Netscape roots, and how amazing it is that it actually happened. I wonder what the web would have looked like without Mozilla. Also, Moody is a great name, and I sure know it would fit me. 🙂
Keynote: Mark Surman
Mark is the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, and his talk was about spreading the word, building community, and, in essence, making sure we continue to work for an open web. He also raised the extremely important question: “Will we have an open web 100 years?”, and how we can make sure that happens. Mozilla Drumbeat is a way to help people spreading the word.
Panel discussion with Tristan, Glyn and Mark
After the keynotes, it was time for a discussing about the open web, integrity and how can protect people on the Internet. I think a very important question was raised by someone in the audience about what information and data we can claim that we own; is a great blog comment of mine, in someone else’s blog something I can claim ownership to, what about pictures others take of me etc. Unfortunately, this was just dismissed with jokes about being seen drunk on Facebook, which really missed the big question. Sad.
Firefox Next – Mike Beltzner
Mike is the Director of Firefox, and he gave a very interesting talk about the future of Firefox, what they see as the true competitors (not other web browsers, but rather proprietary technologies such as Flash, Silverlight and Gears), how it needs to have shorter release cycles and what they need to focus on in the future. Later during the conference, I got to have a chat with him, and was happy to hear about the work on improved start-up time, how performance is perceived and other things.
Firefox in Europe
Mike Beltzner led an open discussion about the future of Firefox in conjunction with help, support and input from the European community. Good suggestions and I hope they got something to think about for future plans.
Jan Odvarko of the Firebug team walked us through new features in the upcoming Firebug 1.5. Being a Firebug extension developer with Firefinder and Inline Code Finder, I would had hoped for more information about extending Firebug, but I think the right thing was to talk about general features. After his talk, it was great to finally meet Jan in person, talk a little and share the challengin experience of, as an extension developer, trying to understand Firebug… 🙂

Having developed a few Adobe AIR applications, for some time now, I have been hoping that Prism would take off and offer a good open alternative. As I see it, Prism is decent, but at the same time I get the feeling that the development pace of it isn’t that fast, and that they would have to put more effort into it if they want to compete with Adobe AIR.
Anant Narayanan did a very interesting and inspiring talk about Weave, where they are today and possible future plans. We spoke a little after the presentation about Opera Unite, possible interest in offering similar things to users and such.
Aza Raskin was supposed to give this talk, but his plane was late (or something), so Anant and someone else (missed the name) had to step up and hold an open discussion. What is clear is that Jetpack is most likely the future extension model for Firefox, phasing the old one out (at least for most use cases), but it will take some time and there are a number of things to work out before we reach that point.

My friend Remy Sharp was also to hold a presentation about HTML5 as well, but unfortunately couldn’t make it to Prague.

Saturday evening boat ride on the Vltava/Moldau river

Mozilla had arranged for all of the conference attendants to first ride specially booked historical trams down to the river, and then board a boat to get a dinner on board accompanied by a guide. However, with about 180 attendants, Czech beer and people spread out, the guiding didn’t really take off.

A picture of Finn and Søren on the river boat

It was also possible to get up on the top of the boat to get a beautiful view of Prague at night. There I first got to have a good talk with Steve Lau of Songbird and then Martin Kliehm, who fights a lot for accessibility.

A picture of the view from the river boat

I also found it amusing to to see Patrick Finch, a.k.a. Remington Steele (or James Bond if you will), giving his special agent stance on the boat, and telling a story about an amazing feat of his.

A picture of Patrick Finch on the river boat

After a few hours on the river, we got back to the pier again, and got on a bus back to the hotel, and I got to have an interesting talk with David McNamara about many varying things. Once back at the hotel, a few of us decided we needed just one more beer, and went out on the town – we were me, Brian King, David McNamara and Matjaz Horvat. Once at the bar, we also met Kamil Lach, who I got to know in Copenhagen in May, and someone else, who I just can’t remember (I was jus tired; do not blame the beer intake, ok?! 🙂 ).

Brian gave me a good talk which really inspired me on the way back to the hotel – thanks, Bri! 🙂

Sunday presentations

Keynote: Seth Bindernagel
Sunday morning started with a talk by Seth about the importance of localization, and how it has been, and is, such an important part of helping to bring Firefox to everyone in a lot of countries.
HTML5 Roundtable
Both stepping up for an absent Remy, and out of my own interest, I took one of the places on the HTML5 roundtable, amongst a total of 9 developers, which was during two hours before lunch. The idea was to discuss about HTML5, feedback and concerns and also let the audience ask their questions about it. I think I did ok on it, but overall, my feeling is that we could have been a bit more structured with the set-up and topics, and nine people on the panel were probably a few too many.
Interestingly enough, one of the other people on the panel was Anthony Ricaud, who is a WebKit Developer and works on the Web Inspector. Kudos to him for taking part of a Mozilla event, and it was good talking about Web Inspector as well.
Above-mentioned Martin Kliehm was part of the panel, and did a good job emphasizing the need for accessibility in HTML5, and I was also joined by Ilmari Heikkinen, who showed a nice canvas animation demo and is also behind CAKE (take a lot at the amazing Missile Fleet, for instance).
Stratified JavaScript
Showed some interesting examples with concurrency in JavaScript.
Steve Lau presented Songbird, which is an open source music player based on XULRunner. Quite interesting, and I liked Steve’s cool, calm presentation approach. He demoed the extension capapbilities, skinning etc and I for one sure hope it becomes popular.
Mozilla Labs: The Future of You-centric Browsing
Aza Raskin, who had arrived Saturday evening, gave a talk about user experience and setting the end user, i.e. you, in focus and control. Interesting presentation, but personally I felt i would have wanted some more hands-on examples. We had a talk after, and I asked a number of questions about user interface, what he was working with compared to the current work being done on Firefox, his opinions on certain things etc. Aza is a busy man, so if you get the chance to corner him, make sure to ask everything that’s on your mind. 🙂

That was all I saw during the Sunday, and it was followed by trying to make sure to get the time to say good-bye to everyone before it was time to go to the airport.

Going home

Two small buses were chartered to get us to the airport, work courtesy of FuzzyFox who probably had enough stress for a year organizing it all. Once at the airport, I sat down and had a talk with Anthony Ricaud, before it was due time to bug (even more) gifts to my loved ones and then board the flight home.

Thank you Mozilla and everyone attending for a great event, and I hope to see you all again soon!

All my pictures are available on Flickr and on SmugMug.


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