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    Speaking at the Trondheim Developer Conference – good show!

    Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

    TL;DR: The Trondheim Development Conference 2014 was incredible. Well worth my time and a fresh breath of great organisation.

    trondheim Developer conference

    I am right now on the plane back from Oslo to London – a good chance to put together a few thoughts on the conference I just spoke at. The Trondheim Developer Conference was – one might be amazed to learn – a conference for developers in Trondheim, Norway. All of the money that is left over after the organisers covered the cost goes to supporting other local events and developer programs. In stark contrast to other not-for-profit events this one shines with a classy veneer that is hard to find and would normally demand a mid-3 digit price for the tickets.

    This is all the more surprising seeing that Norway is a ridiculously expensive place where I tend not to breathe in too much as I am not sure if they charge for air or not.

    Clarion Hotel Trondheim - outside
    Clarion Hotel Trondheim - inside

    The location of the one day conference was the Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, a high-class location with great connectivity and excellent catering. Before I wax poetic about the event here, let’s just give you a quick list:

    • TDC treats their speakers really well. I had full travel and accommodation coverage with airport pick-ups and public transport bringing me to the venue. I got a very simple list with all the information I needed and there was no back and forth about what I want – anything I could think of had already been anticipated. The speaker lounge was functional and easily accessible. The pre-conference speaker dinner lavish.
    • Everything about the event happened in the same building. This meant it was easy to go back to your room to get things or have undisturbed preparation or phone time. It also meant that attendees didn’t get lost on the way to other venues.
    • Superb catering. Coffee, cookies and fruit available throughout the day.
    • Great lunch organisation that should be copied by others. It wasn’t an affair where you had to queue up for ages trying to get the good bits of a buffet. Instead the food was already on the tables and all you had to do was pick a seat, start a chat and dig in. That way the one hour break was one hour of nourishment and conversation, not pushing and trying to find a spot to eat.
    • Wireless was strong and bountiful. I was able to upload my screencasts and cover the event on social media without a hitch. There was no need to sign up or get vouchers or whatever else is in between us and online bliss – simply a wireless name and a password.
    • Big rooms with great sound and AV setup. The organisers had a big box of cable connectors in case you brought exotic computers. We had enough microphones and the rooms had enough space.
    • Audience feedback was simple. When entering a session, attendees got a roulette chip and when leaving the session they dropped them in provided baskets stating “awesome” or “meh”. There was also an email directly after the event asking people to provide feedback.
    • Non-pushy exhibitors. There was a mix of commercial partners and supported not-for-profit organisations with booths and stands. Each of them had something nice to show (Oculus Rift probably was the overall winner) and none of them had booth babes or sales weasels. All the people I talked to had good info and were not pushy but helpful instead.
    • A clever time table. Whilst I am not a big fan of multi-track conferences, TDC had 5 tracks but limited the talks to 30 minutes. This meant there were 15 minute breaks in between tracks to have a coffee and go to the other room. I loved that. It meant speakers need to cut to the chase faster.
    • Multilingual presentations. Whilst my knowledge of Norwegian is to try to guess the German sounding words in it and wondering why everything is written very differently to Swedish I think it gave a lot of local presenters a better chance to reach the local audience when sticking to their mother tongue. The amounts of talks were even, so I could go to the one or two English talks in each time slot. With the talks being short it was no biggie if one slot didn’t have something that excited you.
    • A nice after party with a band and just the right amount of drinks. Make no mistake – alcohol costs an arm and a leg in Norway (and I think the main organiser ended up with a peg leg) but the party was well-behaved with a nice band and lots of space to have chats without having to shout at one another.
    • Good diversity of speakers and audience There was a healthy mix and Scandinavian countries are known to be very much about equality.
    • It started and ended with science and blowing things up. I was mesmerised by Selda Ekiz who started and wrapped up the event by showing some physics experiments of the explosive kind. She is a local celebrity and TV presenter who runs a children’s show explaining physics. Think Mythbusters but with incredible charm and a lot less ad breaks. If you have an event, consider getting her – I loved every second.

    Selda Ekiz on stage

    I was overwhelmed how much fun and how relaxing the whole event was. There was no rush, no queues, no confusion as to what goes where. If you want a conference to check out next October, TDC is a great choice.

    My own contributions to the event were two sessions (as I filled in for one that didn’t work out). The first one was about allowing HTML5 to graduate, or – in other words – not being afraid of using it.

    You can watch a the screencast with me talking about how HTML5 missed its graduation on YouTube.

    The HTML5 graduation slides are on Slideshare.

    The other session was about the need to create offline apps for the now and coming market. Marketing of products keeps telling us that we’re always connected but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is up to us as developers to condition our users to trust the web to work even when the pesky wireless is acting up again.

    You can watch the screencast of the offline talk on YouTube.

    The Working connected to create offline slides are on Slideshare.

    I had a blast and I hope to meet many of the people I met at TDC again soon.

    The things browsers can do – SAE Alumni Conference, Berlin 2014

    Saturday, October 25th, 2014

    Two days ago I was in Berlin for a day to present at the SAE alumni Conference in Berlin, Germany. I knew nothing about SAE before I went there except for the ads I see on the Tube in London. I was pretty amazed to see just how big a community the alumni and chapters of this school are. And how proud they are.

    SAE Afterparty

    My presentation The things browsers can do – go play with the web was a trial-run of a talk I will re-hash a bit at a few more conferences to come.

    In essence, the thing I wanted to bring across is that HTML5 has now matured and is soon a recommendation.

    And along the way we seem to have lost the excitement for it. One too many shiny HTML5 demo telling us we need a certain browser to enjoy the web. One more polyfill and library telling us without this extra overhead HTML5 isn’t ready. One more article telling us just how broken this one week old experimental implementation of the standard is. All of this left us tainted. We didn’t believe in HTML5 as a viable solution but something that is a compilation target instead.

    Techno nightmare by @elektrojunge

    In this talk I wanted to remind people just how much better browser support for the basic parts of HTML5 and friends is right now. And what you can do with it beyond impressive demos. No whizzbang examples here, but things you can use now. With a bit of effort you can even use them without pestering browsers that don’t support what you want to achieve. It is not about bringing modern functionality to all – browsers; it is about giving people things that work.

    I recorded a screencast and put it on YouTube

    The slides are on Slideshare.

    All in all I enjoyed the convention and want to thank the organizers for having me and looking after me in an excellent fashion. It was refreshing to meet students who don’t have time to agonize which of the three task runners released this week to use. Instead who have to deliver something right now and in a working fashion. This makes a difference

    Removing private metadata (geolocation, time, date) from photos the simple way: removephotodata.com

    Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

    When you take photos with your smartphone or camera it adds much more to the image than meets the eye. This EXIF data contains all kind of interesting information: type of device, flash on or off, time, date and most worrying – geographical location. Services like Flickr or Google Plus use this data to show your photos on a map, which is nice, but you may find yourself in situations where you share images without wanting to tell the recipient in detail where and when they were taken.

    For example the photo of me here:

    christian heilmann, not sure about the shirt

    Doesn’t only tell you that I am not sure about this shirt, but also the following information:

    • GPSInfoIFDPointer: 462
    • Model: Nexus 5
    • ExifIFDPointer: 134
    • YCbCrPositioning: 1
    • YResolution: 72
    • ResolutionUnit: 2
    • XResolution: 72
    • Make: LGE
    • ApertureValue: 3.07
    • InteroperabilityIFDPointer: 432
    • DateTimeDigitized: 2014:10:19 16:06:20
    • ShutterSpeedValue: 5.321
    • ColorSpace: 1
    • DateTimeOriginal: 2014:10:19 16:06:20
    • FlashpixVersion: 0100
    • ExposureBias: 0
    • PixelYDimension: 960
    • ExifVersion: 0220
    • PixelXDimension: 1280
    • FocalLength: 1.23
    • Flash: Flash did not fire
    • ExposureTime: 0.025
    • ISOSpeedRatings: 102
    • ComponentsConfiguration: YCbCr
    • FNumber: 2.9
    • GPSImgDirection: 105
    • GPSImgDirectionRef: M
    • GPSLatitudeRef: N
    • GPSLatitude: 59,19,6.7941
    • GPSLongitudeRef: E
    • GPSLongitude: 18,3,35.5311
    • GPSAltitudeRef: 0
    • GPSAltitude: 0
    • GPSTimeStamp: 14,6,10
    • GPSProcessingMethod: ASCIIFUSED
    • GPSDateStamp: 2014:10:19

    I explained that this might be an issue in the case of nude photos people put online in my TEDx talk on making social media social again and showed that there is a command line tools called EXIFtool that allows for stripping out this extra data. This article describes other tools that do the same. EXIFtool is the 800 pound gorilla of this task as it allows you to edit EXIF data.

    As a lot of people asked me for a tool to do this, I wanted to make it easier for you without having to resort to an installable tool. Enter removephotodata.com

    Remove photo data in action

    This is a simple web page that allows you to pick an image from your hard drive, see the data and save an image with all the data stripped by clicking a button. You can see it in action in this screencast

    Under the hood, all I do is use Jacob Seidelin’s EXIF.js and copy the photo onto a CANVAS element to read out the raw pixel data without any of the extra information. The source code is on GitHub.

    The tool does not store any image data and all the calculations and information gathering happens on your computer. Nothing gets into the cloud or onto my server.

    So go and drag and drop your images there before uploading them. Be safe® out there.

    Why Microsoft matters more than we think

    Sunday, October 19th, 2014

    I’m guilty of it myself, and I see it a lot: making fun of Microsoft in a presentation. Sure, it is easy to do, gets a laugh every time but it is also a cheap shot and – maybe – more destructive to our goals than we think.

    is it HTML5? if it doesn't work in IE, it is joke

    Let’s recap a bit. Traditionally Microsoft has not played nice. It destroyed other companies, it kept things closed that open source could have benefited from and it tried to force a monoculture onto something that was born open and free: the web.

    As standard conscious web developers, IE with its much slower adaption rate of newer versions was always the bane of our existence. It just is not a simple thing to upgrade a browser when it is an integral part of the operating system. This is exacerbated by the fact that newer versions of Windows just weren’t exciting or meant that a company would have to spend a lot of money buying new software and hardware and re-educate a lot of people. A massive investment for a company that wasn’t worth it just to stop the web design department from whining.

    Let’s replace IE then!

    Replacing IE also turned out to be less easy than we thought as the “this browser is better” just didn’t work when the internal tools you use are broken in them. Chrome Frame was an incredible feat of engineering and – despite being possible to roll out on server level even – had the adoption rate of Halal Kebabs at a Vegan festival.

    Marketing is marketing. Don’t try to understand it

    It seems also fair to poke fun at Microsoft when you see that some of their marketing at times is painful. Bashing your competition is to me never a clever idea and neither is building shops that look almost exactly the same as your main competitor next to theirs. You either appear desperate or grumpy.

    Other things they do

    The thing though is that if you look closely and you admit to yourself that what we call our community is a tiny part of the overall market, then Microsoft has a massive part to play to do good in our world. And they are not cocky any longer, they are repentant. Not all departments, not all people, and it will be easy to find examples, but as a whole I get a good vibe from them, without being all marketing driven.

    Take a look at the great tools provided at Modern.ie to allow you to test across browsers. Take a look at status.modern.ie which – finally – gives you a clear insight as to what new technology IE is supporting or the team is working on. Notice especially that this is not only for Explorer – if you expand the sections you get an up-to-date cross-browser support chart linked to the bugs in their trackers.

    status of different web technologies provided by Microsoft

    This is a lot of effort, and together with caniuse.com makes it easier for people to make decisions whether looking into a technology is already worth-while or not.

    Reaching inside corporations

    And this to me is the main point why Microsoft matters. They are the only ones that really reach the “dark matter” developers they created in the past. The ones that don’t read hacker news every morning and jump on every new experimental technology. The ones that are afraid of using newer features of the web as it might break their products. The ones that have a job to do and don’t see the web as a passion and a place to discuss, discard, hype and promote and troll about new technologies. And also the ones who build the products millions of people use every day to do their non-technology related jobs. The booking systems, the CRM systems, the fiscal data tools, all the “boring” things that really run our lives.

    We can moan and complain about all our great new innovations taking too long to be adopted. Or we could be open to feeding the people who talk to those who are afraid to try new things with the information they need.

    Let’s send some love and data

    I see Microsoft not as the evil empire any longer. I see them as a clearing house to graduate experimental cool web technology into something that is used in the whole market. Chances are that people who use Microsoft technologies are also audited and have to adhere to standard procedures. There is no space for wild technology goose chases there. Of course, you could see this as fundamentally broken – and I do to a degree as well – but you can’t deny that these practices exist. And that they are not going to go away any time soon.

    With this in mind, I’d rather have Microsoft as a partner in crime with an open sympathetic ear than someone who doesn’t bother playing with experimental open technology of competitors because these don’t show any respect to begin with.

    If we want IT to innovate and embrace new technologies and make them industrial strength we need an ally on the inside. That can be Microsoft.

    Evangelism conundrum: Don’t mention the product

    Sunday, October 12th, 2014

    Being a public figure for a company is tough. It is not only about what you do wrong or right – although this is a big part. It is also about fighting conditioning and bad experiences of the people you are trying to reach. Many a time you will be accused of doing something badly because of people’s preconceptions. Inside and outside the company.

    The outside view: oh god, just another sales pitch!

    One of these conditionings is the painful memory of the boring sales pitch we all had to endure sooner or later in our lives. We are at an event we went through a lot of hassle to get tickets for. And then we get a presenter on stage who is “excited” about a product. It is also obvious that he or she never used the product in earnest. Or it is a product that you could not care less about and yet here is an hour of it shoved in your face.

    Many a time these are “paid for” speaking slots. Conferences offer companies a chance to go on stage in exchange for sponsorship. These don’t send their best speakers, but those who are most experienced in delivering “the cool sales pitch”. A product the marketing department worked on hard to not look like an obvious advertisement. In most cases these turn out worse than a – at least honest – straight up sales pitch would have.

    I think my favourite nonsense moment is “the timelapse excitement”. That is when when a presenter is “excited” about a new feature of a product and having used it “for weeks now with all my friends”. All the while whilst the feature is not yet available. It is sadly enough often just too obvious that you are being fed a make-believe usefulness of the product.

    This is why when you go on stage and you show a product people will almost immediately switch into “oh god, here comes the sale” mode. And they complain about this on Twitter as soon as you mention a product for the first time.

    This is unfair to the presenter. Of course he or she would speak about the products they are most familiar with. It should be obvious when the person knows about it or just tries to sell it, but it is easier to be snarky instead of waiting for that.

    The inside view: why don’t you promote our product more?

    From your company you get pressure to talk more about your products. You are also asked to show proof that what you did on stage made a difference and got people excited. Often this is showing the Twitter time line during your talk which is when a snarky comment can be disastrous.

    Many people in the company will see evangelists as “sales people” and “show men”. Your job is to get people excited about the products they create. It is a job filled with fancy hotels, a great flight status and a general rockstar life. They either don’t understand what you do or they just don’t respect you as an equal. After all, you don’t spend a lot of time coding and working on the product. You only need to present the work of others. Simple, isn’t it? Our lives can look fancy to the outside and jealousy runs deep.

    This can lead to a terrible gap. You end up as a promoter of a product and you lack the necessary knowledge that makes you confident enough to talk about it on stage. You’re seen as a sales guy by the audience and as a given by your peers. And it can be not at all your fault as your attempts to reach out to people in the company for information don’t yield any answers. Often it is fine to be “too busy” to tell you about a new feature and it should be up to you to find it as “the documentation is in the bug reports”.

    Often your peers like to point out how great other companies are at presenting their products. And that whilst dismissing or not even looking at what you do. That’s because it is important for them to check what the competition does. It is less exciting to see how your own products “are being sold”.

    How to escape this conundrum?

    Frustration is the worst thing you can experience as an evangelist.

    Your job is to get people excited and talk to another. To get company information out to the world and get feedback from the outside world to your peers. This is a kind of translator role, but if you look deep inside and shine a hard light on it, you are also selling things.

    Bruce Lawson covered that in his talk about how he presents. You are a sales person. What you do though is sell excitement and knowledge, not a packaged product. You bring the angle people did not expect. You bring the inside knowledge that the packaging of the product doesn’t talk about. You show the insider channels to get more information and talk to the people who work on the product. That can only work when these people are also open to this. When they understand that any delay in feedback is not only seen as a disappointment for the person who asked the question. It is also diminishing your trustworthiness and your reputation and without that you are dead on stage.

    In essence, do not mention the product without context. Don’t show the overview slides and the numbers the press and marketing team uses. Show how the product solves issues, show how the product fits into a workflow. Show your product in comparison with competitive products, praising the benefits of either.

    And grow a thick skin. Our jobs are tiring, they are busy and it is damn hard to keep up a normal social life when you are on the road. Each sting from your peers hurts, each “oh crap, now the sales pitch starts” can frustrate you. You’re a person who hates sales pitches and tries very hard to be different. Being thrown in the same group feels terribly hurtful.

    It is up to you to let that get you down. You could also concentrate on the good, revel in the excitement you see in people’s faces when you show them a trick they didn’t know. Seeing people grow in their careers when they repeat what they learned from you to their bosses.

    If you aren’t excited about the product, stop talking about it. Instead work with the product team to make it exciting first. Or move on. There are many great products out there.