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2011/04/08

Comments on BoilerWeb 2011 #bweb11

I took a paid vacation yesterday and attended Purdue's BoilerWeb conference. I had a blast. I saw old coworkers and classmates and bosses and had a good ol' time. 

Last year, evidently, it was a one-track thing, but interest was such that there were two tracks. This leads to some minor minor complaints. First was the lack of electricity available. For the first track, this was remedied by an attendee (who shares a job and workspace with one of the organizers) bringing in some power strips from the office, but the orientation of the other room and the modular setup of the floor meant that there was only one jack available at the back of the room. If you're going to follow along, liveblog, tweet and such for an all-day event, you need available power.

But that is my only complaint, and I can only categorize that as a minor gripe. And unlike the Indiana Linuxfest, I felt the printed and online scheduling information for this conference was top notch. (Not a slam, ILF guys. Just a pointer on what can be done better next year.)

First pair of presentations were Know Your Limits,  covering load testing, and jQuery Plugins. I felt that jQuery Plugins was much more in line with my needs. I write Javascript. I try to write jQuery, which I learned about from a co-worker, but I'm much more the JS guy now and I mostly have experience with my own code, so I don't know the best practices, and have a great tendency to spend time writing my own stuff instead of using used and tested existing plugins. Plus, as I figured out, I kinda clog up the existing namespace, which isn't good. The presenter was very effective, and funny. I really liked his intro use of "Final Countdown" by Europe and high-fiving much of the audience, cheesy at it was, and the presentation showed him eating his own dogfood, so to speak.

Next choice was Introduction to Responsive Design vs NanoHUB. I've know people working with NanoHUB for a while" and while I respect them and their work, it is really orthogonal to anything I expect to ever work with. Meanwhile, Responsive Design as presented was all about writing once and presenting from everything from the desktop to the smartphone with three simple design aspects: Flexible Grid, @Media Queries, and Flexible Images. The coolest part of that, the part that works best with me as a developer, is @media queries. Traditionally, that's used to differentiate different style sheets based upon whether you're looking at it on the screen or printing it. Now, you can put that into the stylesheet and not have to define it in several pages, and make distinctions based upon windows size IN THE CSS. So, one stylesheet. That's the win. 

Next was Introduction to Content Strategy, which in a way is fundamental and in a way is meta to this sort of conference. "Content is king" but we spend more time and more money creating the context than the content. We create a framework and say its done, but it isn't done. 

My first degree was in Journalism and Mass Communication, and as part of the degree, we were required to get an internship. There was a requirement that set our program apart at that time: it had to be a paid internship, because if the internship was unpaid (as the majority of journalism internships were), there was the assumption that you would not be used for real work and thus you wouldn't learn anything. Years later, as I was starting Computer Science, there was a course where they brought in people from industry to present what you could do with a CS degree. One of the first presenters mentioned that he had internships and that you should send him resumes. I asked if they were paid internships. Imagine if I had asked if we would be breathing oxygen and using electricity to light the office. That's the kind of response. As a society, we do not value the content creators like we value the interface creators. This talk kinda covered that, and offered some means to run the process to make and keep your content current.

There was a presentation on Food For The Heart, which had Ruby on Rails and data munging aspects I was curious about — need to create a test server and learn some RoR stuff — but instead went to the Class Hacks presentation on Mixable. Best way to describe it is kinda Facebook for Classrooms, and it does connect to Facebook. By the tweeting of people who saw the "Food" presentation, the main take-away is that Fat Secret has a nutrition API. This is something I should take a look at. What has my curiosity is Mixable, which I've started to get into for the community of it. Also, a little bit of inspiration in terms of design. I do web design like a web developer: without a real eye for aesthetics and with a tendency to implement new aspects of CSS only until I understand all the controls and get bored. Anyway, Mixable is cool so far.

The talk on Rapid Development in Groups was like being told to eat my vegetables. I know I should start using revision control. I know I should look into MVCs. I know I should eat my vegetables. Being told is not as useful as one might think. The talk Design Patterns Every Web Developer Should Know sort of fit into that. Design Patterns is a subject I have heard about, but don't really understand well enough to know why I should spend my valuable time diving deeper. I've started to look into the three presented, but the presenter had time and audience to dive further into each of the three, so the opportunity was a bit wasted, to the point where "Understand the Facade patttern" has joined the vegetable list, too.

All in all, I think I'm energized and more curious about the possibilities of the newest generation of web technologies. Great conference, guys. Make it better next year.