Fronteers 2010 – report and my slides and links

Sunday, October 10th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

I just recovered from this year’s Fronteers conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (somehow I caught the flu Robert Nyman brought with him and now I am trying to get my voice back in time for WebTechCon) so it is time to give you the goodies and some impressions I collected.

Together with Stephen Hay I am the only speaker that was at every of the three full-length Fronteers conferences, so it is quite an honour for me to go again and I make sure things work out very good indeed. The reason is that the conference is a wonderful mix of professional content and a warm, fuzzy feeling of being part of a sub-community in the web community. The Fronteers audience know their stuff and know each other and are eager to learn more.

Day One

The conference started with a possibly awkward but also cool way to warm up the audience:

The day started with Jeremy Keith’s “The Design of HTML5” which covered the history and the why of HTML5 - a good introduction to the rest of the day. Jeremy is known to be an excellent speaker and has a proven track record of going deep into a topic. His talks are also full of interesting quotes.

Robert Nyman followed with “JavaScript – Like a box of chocolates” – an update of his talk at Full Frontal with great information on the very basic workings of JavaScript up to how to use them in the right fashion. Robert’s presentation style is much like mine, it is always good fun to see him and even when you think you know it all then there is one or two gems you have forgotten or didn’t even know about in his talks.

Brad Neuberg who recently left Google was next with “Vector Graphics for the Web” which covered SVG and explained how you can use it and libraries how to make it work cross-browser. I have a lot of respect for Brad who wasn’t that visible until recently but built a lot of great tools we all use in Google and his input into libraries is well received. His slide deck uses all kind of funky HTML5 and CSS3 and SVG work, so make sure you read his post on how he built it.

I had never met or seen Håkon Wium Lie (the second father of CSS) before this event, and his talk about the history of CSS and where it might be going was inspiring and interesting. Håkon showed off some of the print CSS extensions they used to really create a book with HTML and CSS and showed how CSS3 makes it possible to remove a lot of unnecessary imagery from your documents.

Stoyan Stefanov, a colleague of mine at Yahoo and someone I have a boatload of respect for because of his versatility as a developer across the whole board of server and client side technologies then brought the performance awesome down on us with “Progressive Downloads and Rendering”. Stoyan could have been a bit more energetic on stage (and I am sure a lot of people in the audience got lost on the very deep dive on the topic) but I thoroughly enjoyed the talk. Watch out for this man, and especially check his sterling work at his performance news aggregation web site Perfplanet (which is not porn, despite the name – unless you are very techy)

Jina Boltons “CSS Workflow” was up next. I had seen her give this talk already at Frontend2010 in Oslo, but there were some new things in there I liked a lot. Jina spoke very much from her own experiences how it is to build with CSS and make it work in a team. She just recently joined Engine Yard as a designer and I want to see much more designers go that route and lend a helping hand to the hard-core developer community to make our stuff easier to use and much more pleasing to the eye.

Side note: I was terribly disappointed by the amount of arrogant and also sexist tweets during her talk. We as a community should not be surprised that there is still quite a separation between UX and development if we can’t act like grown-ups or have the balls to complain to the person directly or at least back up claims that there was “nothing new” there. That said, I would love to see a talk like hers be a joined talk between a developer and a designer showing how them working together made a product much better. Simply showing the approach from one side will always make a part of the audience feel left out.

Jake Archibald was the last speaker of the day with his “Reusable Code, for good or for awesome!” presentation and I am damn proud to have pestered this man to do more after his talk at Full Frontal in Brighton last year. It is hard to explain what Jake does but it leaves you giggling like a loon and having learnt a boatload of good things when his talk is over. This man is a real talent and I can’t wait to see more of him. Count on me to keep pimping and forcing him to share more of his wisdom and warped sense of humour.

Day Two

The second day started with Stephen Hay talking about “Real-world Responsive Design”. Stephen is a star in the shadows, his work on Cinnamon.nl using CSS for layout and making it amazingly beautiful as probably the first bigger site in Europe made him a hero of mine a long time ago and it is ironic that we never crossed paths before the first Fronteers. Count on Stephen to always be very interested and spot-on with using CSS to build great layouts and pointing to the future of using CSS to build very complex and working sites. If you are bored of “shiny effects CSS” talks and wonder when we can do proper layout, this talk is a good start.

Paul Irish is to me a new kid on the block and his “The State of HTML5: Inaugural Address” shows that he has all his fingers in all the pies of bleeding edge technology. Rather than preparing a massive talk Paul simply shows all the cool stuff you can use now in HTML5 and shows which browser goes even further and what to do in the future. Paul also did a great job in showing which technologies are ready for use and which need a bit of honing. I’ve spoken alongside Paul for a bit now and I am always amazed how excited he is about new technologies and how good he is at patching browsers with libraries to allow us to use them right now.

Meagan Fisher was next with “Creating lifelike designs with CSS3” and stole the scene with beautiful slides full of interesting design approaches to using the CSS3 technologies we just use to save another HTTP request for an image. She delivered a good talk on seeing CSS3 through the eyes of a visual designer who shouldn’t waste their days cutting up images to make their ideas come to life.

Nicholas Zakas was next with “High Performance JavaScript” and I work with Nicholas so I’ve seen him quite a few times. What I hadn’t had encountered yet was him being really charming and funny. This talk showed much of that side of him and of course the technical details were spot-on. If you want to learn some performance tips on how to make your interfaces responsive, this is the one. The content in it comes from the school of hard knocks and fatal blows otherwise known as the Yahoo homepage – if your JS performs well with that amount of traffic you should be shining when you apply the tips explained here.

Next up was a joint talk between Stephen Faulkner and Hans Hillen on “HTML5 Accessibility: Is it ready yet?” which covered the overlap and confusion of WAI-ARIA vs. HTML5 quite nicely and showed how using the right semantic markup makes it easier for people regardless of their ability to use your products. The Paciello Group which both speakers belong to are a great resource for anything related to accessibility and you will find out a lot more when you follow Stephen’s code examples and explanations.

Cameron Adams (probably the best dressed speaker at the conference) is another big inspiration for me. He’s been around for donkey’s years and over and over again came up with great code solutions that brought the world of design and gaming and development together. This talk “The Renaissance of Browser Animation” gave a good overview over different animation techniques we can use today and when to use which. Cameron did an amazing job researching all the pros and cons and showed a decision grid and performance chart comparisons at the end of the talk. I also very much liked that he did not just diss Flash as this was an HTML5 conference but showed what it is great for. There is a lot of already existing knowledge in the Flash community that we can leverage for what we do in HTML5 now. Simply replacing it will neither do nor is it clever.

Last up was little me with a talk which had the briefing by PPK to “make people excited about being a web developer” which is why I reflected on the last few years of my life, compared what I did to people I know and who work in other markets and came up with a lot of things we can feel very happy about. No more grumpy me complaining about things I can’t change anyways. Writing and researching and delivering this talk was a blast and I hope I managed to get this positive and creative vibe across.

The slides of my talk “Reasons to be cheerful”

The links mentioned in the slides

Summary

In summary, I can only say that it once again was an amazing conference that is to me one of the best in Europe. I came back with a cold and probably made my liver and body suffered more than they should have (4 hours of sleep a day three days in a row) but I came back empowered and interested in trying out some of the cool things I heard about. I also came back with a lot of new connections and emails to answer, so I am out now.

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