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Noob Goes to Coldfront 2016, Talks About It

Coldfront 2016 was my second ever software development conference I’d ever been to and my first ‘single track’ conference experience – meaning there was no need for picking the talks that might interest you the most. Which worked great for me, in my uneducated useless opinion.

The format was great

Carefully picking the ‘right track’ of talks through an incredibly dense selection of subjects on a timeline is a hopeless endeavor, I find. You are most likely going to end up in a scenario in which the talks you are interested in land on the same spot, forcing you to place your bets on a number of factors to get the most out of the conference experience. Things such as “What’s least important to me at this conference?”, “Is this speaker versed enough in this subject to have anything of substance to offer?”, “Can I trust the camera operator to remember to film the actual code on screen?” (hint: you cannot).

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While it might look very impressive on screen when you publicly display over 9000 speakers on your event page, the simple fact that people without regular access to time machines will only be able to go a fourth of the offerings is a bit of a turnoff for me. (Look, it’s not you, it’s me).

Fortunately, the people of Coldfront decided against this idea, resulting in a very well put together timeline centered around a single theme: change. Well, it would have been, if the conference didn’t suffer from a truck load of A/V problems, but I’ll get back to that. The talks nicely transitioned into each other as best they could, although the introduction talk was pushed back due to said technical problems, which meant we got the first two talks out of order. The idea was noble though, and the theme still shone through regardless of any issues. And well, starting off with a Virtual Reality presentation is generally not such a bad idea.

The content and speakers

The conference had a great lineup of subjects and speakers, who were all very passionate about the content they were discussing.

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I was pretty amazed at how fast VR on the web was gaining traction, although it is pretty clear it still has a ways to go in terms of performance. Liv Erickson did her entire presentation inside a VR simulation running inside a Chromium browser. VR support is not yet fully supported on most standard browsers, so you will probably need a development/nightly build to try it out.

The presentation was followed up by the introduction (due to the mentioned technical difficulties) in which Robert Nyman rightfully apologized for being Swedish, after which he assured us the web is not going to die anytime soon and that native app development is for bozos. Well, not those exact words, but that’s my takeaway because I have no concept of nuance.

The next presentation was on my favourite subject to hate; IoT. People putting internet into things that don’t need it. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I highly suggest scrolling through the feed of @internetofshit on your interactive fridge. Fortunately, Stephanie Rieger seemed to agree there is something a bit off about the priorities put in place when inventing IoT devices. It is about the people and use cases rather than the device itself – and it is important to sometimes stop and ask “why exactly am I making this thing?”. If the answer to that question is to have people take a crap on your product on Twitter, then by all means carry on.

Bruce Lawson then went on to talk about the fact that we don’t all live on an information superhighway around the world. Some parts of the world run on old infrastructure and ‘outdated’ technology, but they still require the same level of online interaction with the rest of the world, if not more, than us. The world is changing, and these are rapidly emerging markets, and so the industry needs to adapt in an effort to make the web accessible to as many people as possible.

The next speaker was Mathias Bynens, and his job was to make everyone give up all hope, lose faith in humanity, stare into the sunset one last time, and promptly disable third party cookies in their browsers. Using ‘timing attacks’, a simple piece of JavaScript could fetch much of your personal information without you ever knowing. Put simply, you could have a script that makes a request to something like Facebook, and depending on the time it takes for Facebook to respond with data, it would be able to figure out with almost a hundred percent certainty whether you are logged in, then try specific URLs that are restricted to certain types of profiles (like age ranges). By process of elimination it would then be able to determine a laundry list of information about you from various social media accounts. The worst part – there is no way to ‘fix’ this without affecting performance of your application so it always returns data after the same amount of time. Only on your client machine can you avoid this ever happening to you by DISABLING THIRD PARTY COOKIES. Do it. I am scared.

First time speaker Soledad Penadés then went on stage to show off a cool new browser engine by the name of Servo. Fully GPU and multi-threading optimized. It was cool as shit, and I am probably never going to use it. Although it did spark some interesting ideas of how this could be combined with something like Web VR and ElectronJS to make VR applications even easier to write. The demo was still very buggy and presentation a bit hard to follow, mostly due to the sheer speed at which she was talking. That plus several language barriers, both in speech as well as programmatically made the presentation a bit of a mess, but still very interesting I thought (and probably the 5 other people in the building that knew some C++).

Glenn Maddern then reminded us all how terrible CSS is at being modular, and made several suggestions as to how you could fix ‘demons’ popping up in your styles that infect your code until it becomes so unmanageable that you give up and just throw everything in the end of your files and forget about it again. As soon as CSS variables become a thing this whole shabang should become much easier to manage. Here’s to the next 5 years of waiting for IE to catch up.

The last talk featured Estelle Weyl explaining how frameworks such as jQuery, Angular, React, etc. tend to get used a bit more often than you probably need to. She showed examples (when the internet would work) of how load times and download sizes can be significantly decreased if you simply take the time to just write a bit of custom JavaScript every now and then. If you support mostly modern browsers, you don’t really need jQuery for simple DOM-selection, when you can simply use something like querySelector() that has been natively supported from IE9. I felt this was the most controversial talk of the day, as you can also argue that importing third party libraries is a way of keeping your code maintainable, readable, and extensible. It is very much a balancing act in my opinion, and completely depends on the project.

Food

They had foodtrucks outside of the theater. Crapload of people, so long lines ensued, but I dug the food. Also there was nitrogen ice cream. Didn’t taste any different than regular ice cream, but it’s about selling a story – you need to understand that. 4/5 Patrick faces.

Technical problems

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There were more A/V problems than I could count. They told us they had tested everything tirelessly the night before, so I suppose it was all just very bad luck. Also, one of the projectors’ connector (or something) burned out. But at least we got to look at psychedelic colours –  intentional or not, very immersive.

Audio was especially an issue in the last talk. Although I think they DID fix the headset microphone, but the speaker didn’t know how to properly use it and opted to use the bad microphone you have to hold and they couldn’t tweak properly.

All in all, it sounds terrible, but it really was not. They kept to schedule and it was not really a huge distraction, they get 4/5 Patrick faces for dealing with very bad luck.

One large tap

After the conference, everyone was invited to Taphouse, one of my favourite places in Copenhagen for BEER. I think the entire budget went into the free beer honestly, which I am not one to complain about. They have over 60 different beers. 5/5 Patrick faces.

Also, I got all the stickers

Fun fact: I am an adult who is entrusted with responsibilities.

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One does not get ahead in this industry without a sticker heavy laptop.
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Noob Starts a Blog on the Internet, Immediately Regrets

Hello world

However goddamn disgustingly cliché that heading above what you are reading right now is, it is here to stay. What do you want from me? I am just getting started on this blogging thing all the kids (read; me) are doing these days. So you will read that heading and you will accept it in all its cheesy in-joke-from-before-the-eighties glamour. Gosh, you are so hard to please. I mean, it is 2016 – are memes still a thing you kids are into, or is it now only a thing you are into ironically? I mean, I don’t know what all this Pokémon Go stuff is all about, but if you do not find my content acceptable, I ask you to kindly Pokémon Go away. By staying here you are making things less cool by tainting everything with your prescence. Okay, that was a bit mean, but I only tell you this because I care about you. You are probably wondering where I am going with all this. The answer may not surprise you.