Christian Heilmann

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Archive for June, 2012

[Mozilla Evangelism Reps] Great talks – Pablo Defendini – Books in Browsers – Adaptive Web Design

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

As part of the Mozilla Evangelism Reps program, I am right now preparing a training on how to learn from other talks. As a demo I went through a few talks showing what makes them interesting and pointing out good tricks the speaker (in most cases subconsciously) used and how you could use that for your own talks.

One of the first talks is Pablo Defendini with “Adaptive Web Design” explaining how he created a responsive online comic and why.

You can find the minute-by-minute analysis of the talk on the Mozilla Wiki.

I really enjoyed this talk as it shows that enthusiasm about a subject matter and just “having a go” can work out really well. It also shows that everything can go wrong when you present and that it isn’t the end of the world – you just need to move on swiftly.

A call for shorter talks

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Right now I am in San Francisco working on training materials for the Mozilla Evangelism Reps program. As a part of this I am analysing great talks and point out the tricks the speakers used and what new speakers can learn from that.

I love giving talks and I love watching good talks. I used to watch Southpark and American Dad episodes on the cross-trainer in the gym but lately I replaced them with TED talks and presentations from YouTube (why isn’t there an option to download them without an add-on) and Vimeo.

Both when watching and when giving talks I realised a thing lately: shorter talks tend to be better. Yes, a well crafted long talk can be very exciting, too, but I find myself drifting off quite quickly. A well written and executed 15-20 minute talk can bring across the same messages as a one hour talk that is padded with a lot of demos or stories.

Running the danger of many a “how dare you suggest how to run an event, what have you done to earn a right to say something about that” comment and tweet I wondered if we shouldn’t think about aiming for shorter talks at events and if they aren’t more effective. Here are some reasons for shorter talks:

  • The audience’s attention span is not stretched to its limits
  • You can have more talks, thus offering more choice and also a chance for unknown speakers to have a slot
  • Speakers are forced to plan their talks better. You concentrate on one thing that makes a difference instead of once again telling “the history of HTML5” or “how medieval sock-knitting relates to responsive design”
  • Talks become more of a “check this out and look it up later” giving the audience resources to look up in their own time and on their own terms
  • After the event re-use is easier. A 15 minute talk is easier to edit and release on the web and will get much more viewers than an hour or longer talk – simple file size and dedication from the viewer’s side are the reasons here
  • Content becomes more reusable. If your talk is shorter you are likely to show things that people can try out for themselves later. In a longer talk you can show all kind of cool stuff that only works in your setup and a special version of the browser and so on. In a short talk you don’t have time to explain how people should set up their environments
  • We have more time for Q&A

Of course this doesn’t apply to all talks. A good inspirational session or something discussing an idea in depth will take more time and a good speaker will make it worth your while. I have, however, seen shorter talks work very well in unconferences and lately more and more conferences seem to favour them, too. I for one am happy to deliver more short, focused items (maybe several in different tracks) as it keeps things fresh.

Of course some talks are performances and the time is planned well and it makes sense to allow the speaker to deliver a short play around a topic. This is very much not me though and for quick educational items maybe less is really more.

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Video training shoots with Microsoft – get the slides and code to present them yourselves

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A few days ago I was in Miami, Florida, as my old Ajaxian colleague Rey Bango invited me to record a few videos with him on HTML5 topics for Microsoft’s Channel 9 developer programme.

Rey Bango and me on the beachFilming on the beach
Video shoot on the beach

Originally we planned to have presentations with live coding examples – each 15 minutes long by Rey and me on our own. Thinking it over, we found it more natural to do them together and so to say show the presentation and code examples to each other in a chat format. Rey and Chris

Rey covered development tools and how to test across different browsers and I was asked to talk about Building for real standards and Modern Web Development.

The first session we recorded was about “Building for real standards”. In this we talk about what a standard means, how this applies to HTML5 and discuss problems and pitfalls to avoid. The slides are available on Slideshare and there is also a version with presenter notes.

The second session was about “Modern Web Development”. In this we talked about developing for an unknown environment using Progressive Enhancement, what the differences are to Graceful Degredation and we show how Responsive Design can lead to a future friendly product. The slides are available on Slideshare and there is also a version with presenter notes.

If you want to present these talks yourself, I uploaded the slides in various formats and the code examples with lots of explanations on how to present them to GitHub:

All in all this was a great experience and I can’t wait for the videos to be out. It is good to see that there are people in Microsoft who really care about web standards and cross-browser development. We wanted to record a lot more footage of us discussing more topics but sadly enough one of the harddrives crashes so we had to re-shoot all the sessions on the last day. In retrospect this made the sessions better as we got less formal and kept them shorter. The final products should be around 20 minutes each.

Another foreword – HTML5 in Action

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Keeping the streak alive, I was asked to provide a foreword for another book, this time HTML5 in action by Robert Crowther, Joe Lennon, and Ash Blue. So here is what I had to say:


Explaining what HTML5 is can be a very daunting task. I’ve been doing this more or less since its inception and I am still amazed just how many myths and how much confusion is there on the topic.

With HTML5 we re-booted web development. The world of HTML4.01 and the non-starter XHTML left those who wanted to use the web as a platform for applications stranded. HTML4 was meant for linked documents and XHTML was far too strict for its own good and it lacked real support in browsers.

HTML5 started with a clean slate. We analysed what was used on the web and added a lot of features we didn’t have before, like CANVAS for creating visuals on the fly or accessing images and videos on a pixel level, native audio and video without the need for plugins and forms that validate in the browser without us having to write extra JavaScript. We also started mudding the waters by merging HTML and JavaScript functionality – a lot of HTML5 will not do anything without accessing the elements via a JavaScript API. This confuses a lot of people. We moved on from a document based web and in that process we need more technical know-how. And this means we need to rethink a few of our “best practices” now which can annoy people so that they spread nasty rumours about the viability of HTML5 as a choice for professional development.

HTML5 is built on the robustness principle, which means that a browser will make a lot of educated guesses what you might have meant when you make a syntax error instead of simply giving up and showing an error. This gives it backwards compatibility and we will be able to show pages developed for a never-to-arrive XHTML world in browsers these days. A large part of the standard is just that – it tells you how to write a browser that renders HTML5 rather than using it as a web developer. Again, this angers some people and they shout about the verbosity of the standard.

HTML5 is also the new hotness. A lot of advertising talk, shiny demos and promises of fidelity that matches native apps on phones make us cynical battle hardened web developers think back on Java, Flash and Silverlight and their promises and sigh. We have a lot of buzz about HTML5 and a lot of things that are not part of the standard are simply declared part of it as it makes a good punch line.

When it comes to extending the language and bringing new features into it we are running wild right now. Every browser maker and web company comes up with great new concepts on almost a weekly level. That can be frustrating for developers who just want to get a job done. Can you rely on the functionality that is currently developed or will the standard be changed later on? We are pushing browsers further into the operating system and allow them to access hardware directly which comes with security and robustness issues that need to be fixed by trial and error. Can you take that risk with us when it comes to delivering your product?

These are exciting times and when you want to be part of the ride you can help forge the future development environment for all of us. If you don’t have the time to follow the discussions on mailing lists, do a lot of browser testing in previews and propose own ideas you can be left quite confused.

And this is where a book like this comes in. Instead of promising you a cornucopia of functionality that will soon be available you get examples that work right now based on examples that worked in the past. Instead of getting experimental demos you learn how to build production code based on proven ideas but using the features in modern browsers that make it easier for us developers and much more enjoyable for our end users. All the examples come with a legend telling you which browsers support the features and you learn how not to give them to old browsers that will choke on them.

You will learn how to use HTML5 now, using secure and intelligent solutions like Modernizr and HTML5 Boilerplate and you will come out at the end understanding how to write things in HTML5 that work right now. This will make you a part of the movement to get HTML5 “production ready” for all of us.

Those who live on the bleeding edge of defining the next browser and language features need implementations in the wild right now. We are past the show and tell stage and we need to get to deliver and enhance. And you can become an integral part of this process by following the advice and applying the examples you find here. Go forth and deliver.

Appliness June edition has a loooooong interview with me

Friday, June 8th, 2012

A few weeks ago Michael Chaize came to the London Mozilla office to shoot interviews with me for the Appliness magazine by Adobe. This edition is now out and can be downloaded from the iTunes store or the Google Play store. There is also a non-interactive PDF version out there.

He did a great job filming the office and my teaser video explaining what the Mozilla London office is about and what is happening in Mozilla.

If you don’t have an iPad (like me) you can see the 3D view of the office at the end of the article also in this video.

Great job, Michael, I am chuffed to bits how that worked out – even when I was attacked by a vicious red dinosaur.