Saturday, January 14, 2012


2012 marks my fourth year at Codemash. I've written about this conference before but in short, if you don't go to Codemash you should. For your (or your companies) dollar it is the best value you will get. If you run a company you should send your people to Codemash, or sponsor it, maybe even host a bacon bar (thanks DI).

So the promotion is out of the way, what I really want to do with this year's recap is talk about each of the sessions I attended because they were all phenomenal.

The Scala Koans - Dianne Marsh & Daniel Hinojosa

The first precompiler was a half day session that covered the Scala Koans. The Scala Koans are a Scala implementation of the Ruby Koans.

Koans, in the context of computer programming, are "short, enigmatic stories that usually involve some kind of epiphany. (Jim Weirich)." The idea of a language koan exercise is that by completing a series of short questions you will learn the core of a language. Jim Weirich and Joe O'Brien really started this approach to leaning programming languages with the aforementioned Ruby Koans but now implementations exist in Scala, Objective-C, C# and many other languages.

Scala is a pseudo-functional, pseudo-object oriented language that has static typing with a dynamic style syntax. So.. it's a Mutt, but a very interesting Mutt. As a ruby / C# dev I saw a lot of promise in having the power of a runtime like the JVM and static typing with the comfort of ruby-style syntax.

If nothing else it's worth checking out the Scala Koans to get a really quick overview of another language.

Advanced Patterns with Ruby on Rails - Jeff Casimir

This precompiler was targeted at an existing ruby developer with a few projects under their belt that wanted to learn more about applying various design patterns or concepts to their ruby (and rails) applications.

Among the topics covered was isolating business logic and limiting law of demeter violations with Draper by using the decorator pattern.  Also slimming down controllers by refactoring calls to activerecord into one method and limiting the number of instance variables used in the view.

Keynote: Rethinking Enterprise - Ted Neward

Thursday's morning keynote focused on how enterprise software needs to reevaluate what it values. How reuse is no longer as significant as it was in the past, how we should be not only looking at the tools we are comfortable but looking to find the best tool even if it isn't part of out "enterprise stack." It warned agains being technist "This platform is always better than that platform."

It's the Little Things - Brad Colbow

This talk focused on the little issues in UX design and how when put together they can add up to larger problems with your applications. He used the example of the Cleveland Public Library (and really Overdrive.) He previously did a comic strip to express his frustrations with their interface for downloading audiobooks which became quite a popular strip. How taken individually the issues he ran into were minor but as a collection completely infuriating. He advocated small changes like remembering to turn off autocorrect or autocapitalize on a login form for iphone users.

Brad also talked a bit about his experience building an iPad magazine and how so many of the other iDevice magazines tend to make bad assumptions about their audience and use custom gestures that are confusing and easily forgot.

Building Windows 8 Applications with HTML5 and jQuery - Rich Dudley

Rich covered the new Windows 8 developer preview and how to use HTML5 to craft a metro style application that can be deployed via the Windows Store.

Regardless of what you think about Windows 8 I'm really excited about the prospect of using HTML5 and CSS to layout the UI of a client application. I've always thought that Microsoft's previous attempts to handle UI layout were really poorly implemented. HTML in my mind is a more intuitive way to make a UI and I prefer working at a markup level than using a designer (yes i know you could layout xaml in an text editor too.)

It looks like Microsoft is serious about not breaking the standards based nature of the markup too, which is encouraging. Looking at the examples shown they make liberal use of the data- attributes in order to bind data and actions but all of that is standards compliant. I saw no custom metro only tags only attributes and data attributes. WinRT is implemented through a javascript layer that can be granted system level access.

A number of precautions are taken with the applications including making the developer select one of two modes, essentially net or client. Net mode sandboxes the application and it's data and prevents access to most system resources. Client mode provides system access but isolated most network calls. The apps run like mobile apps, they do not remain in memory when switched away from but instead must have their state stored and recovered when focus changes.

In short metro looks promising, especially for devs who want to build something on windows but don't want to get too far out of the comfort zone of web development.

Mastering Change with Mercurial - Kevin Berridge

So to be perfectly honest I wasn't going to go to this talk except Kevin's an old college friend of mine and I wanted to be there to support his first talk at a larger conference like Codemash. Before I left though I was completely blown away and realized I was very much being a technist like Ted Neward had described.

See there's a bit of a git / mercurial rivalry. Kind of like vim / emacs or other opposing tools. Developers love rivalries and I very clearly have fallen on the git side. Truth be told though that has more to do with Github being awesome than git itself. So i spent most of Thursday harassing kevin (jokingly) about mercurial and asking if he was going to admit at the end of his talk that git was simply better. Instead he came out swinging and knocked everything I knew about distributed version control on it's proverbial ass.

Mercurial is awesome... dammit... it pains me to admit it and then publicly post it in this blog but it really is.

So first off kevin did the best "intro to the thing I'm about to talk about" that I've ever seen. Most "advanced" talks end up spending 30 minutes doing an intro and barely ever get into advanced content. Kevin played a minute long video and narrated it and if you had any experience with distributed version control (including git) you were now up to speed. Seriously i basically never used hg but the video was all i needed to make the connection to my normal workflow in git.

He then talked about stuff like viewing and searching history, simple aliases or tricks that can make your life better, and ended with some of the coolest history management stuff I've ever seen using hgs queue's extension. I may also be convinced that hg's way of labeling branches (by default) is better than how git does it.

The plan now is to get Kevin's slides, convert them to git and then jointly present the topic at burning river devs as how to do these things in both worlds.

CoffeeScript is for Closers - Brandon Satrom

Brandon's talk was an honest evaluation of why Coffeescript is worth looking at. He made every attempt to avoid the CoffeeScript > Javascript false debate people tend to have online. Instead he made a number of points as to why, even if you stick with normal JS for your daily work, you should give coffeescript a shot. The argument that best resonated with me was that using CS and then looking through the JS code is compiles into you can get an idea of how to be a better JS programmer. CS doesn't compiled into impossible to read minified JS code, instead it compiles into very readable code that makes every attempt to follow best practices. If you're a bit of a JS noob it might be worth rewriting some of your stuff in CS, compile it and then see how it turns out.

Dealing with Information Overload - Scott Hanselman

So i went to this talk because Scott Hanselman was speaking. I really didn't even read the title or abstract. It was added as a talk kind of last minute because of some other cancellations.

Scott is a freaking great presenter, which makes sense as that's what he does. This talk could have been a keynote. It focues on real world hacks to make your life easier to handle. Things like not answering email until a set time so that you can establish the precident that you work in the morning when your most "fresh." One hack I actually did right away was setting up an inbox rule to redirect email where I am cced into another folder meaning I focus on the email that I am directly referenced on.

Be The Input - Kinect With Your Computer - Ben Barefield

Ben's talk was on the Microsoft Kinect API for windows. Ben was lead dev on a small racing game that uses the Kinect sensor to control the carts on the screen. His company, SRT Solutions, had the game on display at their booth.

The thing that most surprised me about this talk was how easy it is to get up and running with both Kinect and the XNA platform for game development.  Ben was able to build a small test app that tracked a user's hand on the screen using Kinect in about 20 minutes during the talk. A really impressive demo and now I need to learn a bit more about this platform.

Everything Else

Some of the best parts of a conference like this don't happen in the session but rather in the side conversations you have with friends, peers and strangers in the hallways. I learned about dynamic vs static typing on a more fundamental level, closures, JVM backed languages, the logistics of spinning up dynamic servers with chef and vagrant and a million more things meeting with people in the halls and chatting over beers at the evening parties.

Codemash is worth it for just the inbetweens. The 20 mins between sessions and the events that occur between Thursday and Friday. You can't possibly make it to everything but the joy of codemash is you can always go next year.

Edit: Left off the speakers for the precompilers. Sorry.

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