Archive for February 12th, 2012

The Digital Barn

February 12th, 2012 by Ian

When I heard a couple of guys from my local WordPress user group were arranging a conference in their native land of Barnsley, I didn’t imagine that they’d rustle up such a great group of speakers. It’s great that people are willing to turn out and support these small, grassroots events either by speaking, arranging or simply attending. Matt and Kimb created a website for The Digital Barn and it’s such a pretty, clean and tidy responsive design that I hope they get to use it again for another event. Despite looking like a couple of rather pissed-off bouncers, Matt and Kimb are actually really friendly guys and the success of The Digital Barn is a tribute to them. Nice one fellas. So what did I actually learn yesterday?

Barnsley DMC

Barnsley Digital Media Centre

Doing something is better than doing nothing

Jonny Allbut gave us a load of advice on successful freelancing and most of it quite practical. I felt, that those of us who don’t work alone would do well to remember some of this though: The importance of unclear responsibilities in a project, keeping expectations at manageable levels and the need for constant communication between all involved.

Troll IE

Problem?

The Microsoft Corporation supplied one of their minions to apologize to us about the abomination that is IE6. I’ve seen MS people talk before, often under the Ubelly flag, and typically Martin Beeby gave a very smooth presentation. He, like his colleagues, is under no dillusions about IE and compared working to promote IE like “running PR for Garry Glitter”. He made it clear that things have changed, in some ways. The complacency MS displayed between IE6 and IE7 (although I think in fairness, between IE6 and IE9 might be more accurate) is a thing of the past and IE10 (and 9) is chocka with standards-friendly features like the Appcache, SVG filters and the pointer API. Martin said the browser market is at its most exciting right now not just because of the the competition between the main 5 browsers but because of the collaboration companies have shown. Obviously, things aren’t perfect but they are better than they were.

One point that I think MS people sometimes miss is that it’s one thing having comparable features in browsers, but it’s another thing all-together ensuring that these features can be implemented consistently. I think a great example of this is implementing a linear gradient with opacity using CSS3. It’s great that you can now do this in CSS but if you look at the difference between doing this in Firefox and Webkit (with a nice tidy rgba value) and IE9 (with a confusing 8-digit hex code… thing) then it shows there is still one way for IE and one way for everyone else.

Craig Burgess had a simple message: build something. Nothing is pointless if you’re enjoying yourself and even if you’re creating a website full of pictures of cats in sinks, then there is the potential to learn something which you can take away and use commercially. He stressed the need for ‘devsigners‘ and ‘designopers‘, true cross-aisle skillsets. Titles are not important, nor is using the latest tech just because it’s the new hotness. What’s important is building stuff. Here, here. Incidentally, I think his website is pretty awesome so this experimenting, building silly toys and breaking stuff approach obviously works.

Some strong, relevant advice about building for the web

The command line isn’t a natural platform for a presentation, but Tom Hudson’s talk on writing Testable PHP seemed very comfortable there. His ascii sheep made a refreshing change from Powerpoint slides. In all honesty, he lost me after a few minutes. The world of unit tests and what have you is a little bit beyond my knowledge, so I won’t make myself sound more stupid that I already am.

Bruce Lawson gave the sort of presentation that could only be given by, well, Bruce Lawson. Bruce spoke at a Speak The Web event a couple of years ago, so he’s obviously a firm friend of the grassroots conference. Back then his talk on HTML5 video really grabbed me and I’ve used those techniques many times. His work on HTML5 Doctor, in my view, has helped make it one of the best developer resources on the web so if Bruce wants to make the talk all about him, then he’s earned that right. He expressed his initial doubts about the HTML5 spec because of Hickson, the “benevolent dictator” of the spec, and his personal attitude towards humanitarian eugenics. This was unknown to me and makes for some uncomfortable reading.

Assistant technology hates ambiguity

However, his opinion that HTML5 is bad news for accessibility (a11y) has since changed. HTML5 not only ‘paves the cowpaths’ but also provides so many features for the developer to work with. The example Bruce gave of autoplay in the video tag is a good one: Of course having a video play automatically is a bad for a11y (it will shout over any screenreader), but the fact that developers can all use one technique to autoplay a video is actually good news for a11y. This is because developers of screen readers now know how to consistently disable autoplay, rather than guess one of several thousand combinations of javascript-based autoplay mechanisms a web developer may have used previously. Also, nudity.

Matt Brailsford didn’t talk about Umbraco (the CMS which he is a great proponent for) but instead Knockout.js – a javascript library to help with building applications. This was a very practical presentation and it’s probably best represented on his blog, where he gives a step-by-step guide through a number of simple examples.

Everything you know is wrong

A conference without some controversy can sometimes just be a big old congratulatory backslapping exercise, so it was left to a couple of the speakers to bring us all crashing down to earth.

What these two said struck a particular chord with me so I think I’ll write about them later in the week as what they said probably requires a bit more thought in order to do them justice. Thanks again to the Digital Barn lads (and Barnsley DMC) for giving us all such an opportunity.