StackOverFlow DevDays: Amsterdam, 2nd November 2009

Here I give a short review of the StackOverFlow DevDays: Amsterdam conference held at the 2nd of November 2009 at the Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam.
Note, that I am not a web developer so my views and facts on a lot of subjects are probably completely wrong.

Joel Spolsky  - Opening Keynote

Nice presentation that showed a lot of examples of how not to design user interfaces. Spolsky discussed the dilemma of “Simplicity vs. Power”. He showed evidence that adding features to products had always boosted the sales (of FogCreek products). But, he added, those features should be mostly hidden from the user. The general idea is that a great program should feel like it is running effortlessly which actually causes the user to think he is using a magical product. So, no more endless tabs with setting or pop-up dialogs asking questions which are impossible to answer.

Jörn Zaefferer - jQuery

jQuery is obviously a very popular JavaScript library that provides a lot of nice API’s for handling the DOM elements in HTML. It seemed like the presenter was so proud about all these API’s that he felt he had to discuss almost all of them during the presentation. The content would have been perfect for an online tutorial, but missed a certain level of entertainment value. Nevertheless, it gave me a good idea what jQuery is all about.

Break

Coffee!

Eero Bragge - Qt

This was the only talk of the day that could be related to mobile development. Since this is one of the “hot topics” in the programming world it was a bit of a shame that the presentation by Bragge missed this “hot” feel. Since I have quite some experience with Qt most of the talk wasn’t new for me. Bragge demonstrated the creation of a very simple application using Qt Creator. Unfortunately, the program  (turn dial, spin box, slider and a couple of push buttons) lacked a link to any real-world problem, specially for the present audience. At the end the program was magically compiled for the Nokia S60 platform. However, due to an expired license, the application could not be deployed live to the phone. “Luckily”, Bragge had a made-earlier-version running on another device. But seeing the application (with a totally different layout) running on the phone failed to impress. Compared to iPhone and Android developments the Qt toolkit should show more of its connectivity and graphic abilities to be taken seriously.

Joel Spolsky - Fogbugz

Again Spolsky shows he is a great presentor. This time he gave a hands-on walk through of the FogBugz software package, which also highlighted the newest Kiln package.

Lunch

Good sandwiches, but it seemed that some of the glasses orange juice were actually half filled with soda water. Mmmm….

Simon Willison - Python

For me this was one the coolest talks of the day. Ofcourse, I am heavily biased towards Python, because it rocks! Simon showed that the Python interpreter (and especially iPython) is THE perfect Python IDE. He showed how he uses Python at his day time job working for the Guardian. Within minutes had showed how to parse a CSV file with information concerning endangered animals all over the world, and create a choropleth map from a SVG template indicating the endangered speciecs all over the world. Actually the Guardian provides a open database of all the background information they use to create there articles, graphs and statistics which is very cool. He also showed how to do some quick Django testing within a virtual python environment using virtualenv, which keeps your main Python installation clean. The Django ”Hello World” example was to me also the most impressive look-how-easy-this-is presentation of the day. But again, I am biased.

Nick Johnson – Google App Engine

This was another “look how quickly you can create your website using our framework” presentation. Here the app was written using Django mixed with the Google App Engine API. However, like I also noticed when I did some investigation into the Google App Engine myself, the framework does not feel coherent. It seems like the users are only using convenience methods with makes you feel like you are not supposed to understand what actually is happening. However, considering you can build your website locally and deploy it within 40 (not 30 as advertised) seconds into the Google cloud (Boo!) and have it simply scale up to ludicrous speed is impressive.

Break

Christian Heilmann - Yahoo! Developer Tools

For me Yahoo! did not feel like one of the ‘cool’ kids, but after the presentation of Heilmann I think I am willing to sit next to them during lunch. A quick survey at the start of the presentation showed that I was not the only one who was unaware of the cool tools that Yahoo! provides. First Christian, who did know how to entertain the audience, showed the YUI library which probably can be described as jQuery from Yahoo!. Heilmann convinced the audience that it was a very solid library since Yahoo! depends on it (so they are committed to support it). Nice, but the really cool tool was the YQL library. This appears to be a devilishly simple interface to a lot of data information provided by Yahoo!, like search and Flickr. But, the data sources that can be queried are not limmited to Yahoo!’s databases. Almost any information source on the web can be sliced and diced using YQL. Already a lot of data providers, including Google and the New York Times, have created dedicated YQL interfaces. So if you are looking for one-liner code to: extract all photos from Flickr that are taken at the locations corresponding to the stories in latest NYT headlines check it out. Heilmann actually used the words: “web of data” which supposedly is the future of the Internet. Finally he demonstrated the creating of Yahoo! Apps, but the YQL was clearly the highlight of the talk. The audio of this talk is now online.

Alex Thissen - ASP.NET-MVC

While the temperature was dropping and already some people had left the venue Alex Thissen gave another hands-on presentation. He used the Visual Studio 2010 IDE to show a ASP .NET - MSV website. It was a solid demonstration showing clearly what it takes to build a website using this framework. Unfortunately, it was the last of many show-me-do presentations which kind of lost its appeal at the end.
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