fronteers14

Written by Vincent Bruijn

So I was looking forward to Fronteers14 since their first announcement and ticket sales last April. I was so much looking forward to it because I attended Fronteers13 also and I was very much impressed by the richness and amount of information you receive in such a short time span. That really is the up-side of visiting conferences.

The venue is as always a beautiful place to spend some time. The Tuschinski Theatre was built in the 1920s in the then popular Art Deco style. If you might get bored during a talk, just take a look around, you’ll see so much nice details: visually a very attractive spot.

Just days before the start, some speaker mentioned physical discomfort: feeling sick and/or having a cold, that I was hoping none of all speakers really would call off for the conference.

Below I picked a couple of the most interesting talks, according to myself, so this choice is highly biased by my own interests.

First off was Heydon Pickering, who was one of the feverish ones, but luckily, he appeared to be in good health and was also very focused. What a start of the day! I had seen Heydon on CSSDay 2014 and I noticed he has a solid style: A no-nonse and down-to-earth way of speaking and a pleasant voice to listen to. That’s all nice, but what about content? Core of his talk was an analysis of the term best practices and in advance of that, a talk around readability, efficiency and maintainability in the light of CSS. Who cares about tabs or spaces? One day you will day anyway!

According to Heydon concerning readability it comes down to this: HTML is the interface, CSS is just the branding. Use the right HTML, add semantics to your HTML and style them with referencing your HTML. And what about efficiency: e.g. what is faster, class selectors or attribute selectors? Who cares: your JPEGs will screw the race between both anyway!

Last but not least: maintainability. Heydon proposes we should, as upstairs firemen, think a bit more like a designer. We should ask ourselves more often: what should or could work for the users? Verdict: really valuable and coherent talk with a good normative undertow, nicely illustrated, although he speeks a bit fast for non-native English speakers, but that counts for most native English speakers.

The second talk was of Daniel Espeset of the Etsy frontend team. Daniel let us have a look at the Etsy frontend infrastructure in about 80 slides. Although I consider this quite much for a 40 minute talk, each of them was worth to be shown. We got a nice peek into the kitchen of a team that has built a lot of custom tools to monitor, deploy and cleanup their code base. Most clients talk about Continuous Deployment meaning one production build per week, but Etsy takes it to the max by releasing between 25 to 50 times a day to their production environment. Daniel’s talk was very informative and drives me more to the notion of writing your own tooling and invest in writing them, because in the end it will pay off in that you can better maintain the complexity of a large scale frontend.

Immediately after lunch it appeared I had won (among quite some others) a book of choice, which was nice, but later at the book table I found it hard to make a decision which book to choose. I went for “Node.js Blueprints” of Krasimir Tsonev because I want to be better in writing Node.js stuff!

Also after lunch was Rachel Nabors‘s talk on ‘State of the Animation 2014’. This was a well illustrated (she also draws and writes comics) presentation which not only talked about the current state of animation on the web, but also told us a bit about the history of it. She told us about different ways of how animations work, a bit about Flash and JavaScript based animation libraries and all backed by four characters representing key roles in the world of web animations. Her verdict: be humane! Talk to specification writers if you’re not one of them, and come out of your ivory tower if you are one of them. Because: “we can’t stop the animation train!”

The following three speakers were game developers and one of them, Dominic Szablewski, received a couple of big hands when showing his in-browser First Person Shooter and showing how to add a room to the game world via a map editor. Having written his own game enigines, he is not a user of Phaser, although the other two, Thomas Palef and Luc Bloom, are.

The last talks of the day usualy are at risk of being given to a tired and half listening noisy group of people (which could be expected because the Jam Sessions of the night before caused some to have only a short night sleep…), but in this case, both Shwetank Dixit and Alex Feyerke were not plagued by this. Dixits talk on WebRTC opened for me a view on a subject I just vaguely knew about, but was ignorant about because I never did any research in it.

At risk of creating confusion with a lot of abbreviations and acroynms, he was able to illustrate the process of how p2p networking works in an understandable manner. I have to admint I did not fully heard Feyerke’s talk up to the end, but when demoing the todo list I was quite surprised by his/their implementation of an offline-first web application. Quote of the talk: “Offline is a fact of normal life”

Hopefully more tomorrow!