Stir Trek 2: Iron Man Edition Wrap Up

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Last Friday, I attended the Stir Trek conference here in Columbus. The day got off to an inauspicious start when I turned on my car. There was a high screaming noise, and acrid black smoke poured out from the engine. I opened the hood, pulled out a burning air-conditioner drive belt, and threw it into the bushes beside me. Now the engine ran fine! (Although, for some reason, this did not reassure my wife.)

The conference is held in a local movie theater. After a day of technical sessions, the attendees would be treated to a screening of Iron Man 2. I wasn't able to stay long enough for that, but the technical content was more than worth the time and the measly $25 cost of the conference. The theater was still a great place to have a technical conference. The screens were huge and the seats were comfortable.

Keynote


Molly Holzschlag was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, but could not fly due to an ear infection and doctors orders. So she gave her keynote address, and a presentation on HTML 5 later on, via Skype, which was probably better than nothing, but only marginally so, given Internet bandwidth not really sufficient for real-time video. It at least provided some amusement when poorly-timed drop outs turned innocuous technical material into profanities. The HTML 5 presentation suffered from a lack of slides, which Molly made up for by asking us to imagine HTML DOCTYPEs and the like. I appreciate Molly going the extra mile to not leave the conference in the cold, but I didn't get a lot out of these sessions, which is too bad, because HTML 5 is an ongoing concern for me right now.

Seeing Constraints, Kanban Explained


Generally, I rank conference presentations by whether or not I come out of them with useful information or ideas that I can put into practice back at work. The Kanban session did succeed in that respect. The speaker's style was very conversational, almost off-the-cuff. He is a process consultant and related a lot of anecdotes about situations he has worked in.

One thing he emphasized which I do not see in much of the writing about Kanban is to use multiple boards when appropriate. For example, a development team can have "their own" board for non-functional changes, which might not ever appear on a board for company-wide items. You can go crazy with this, however; the speaker described one case where something like 36 boards were in use.

This session, like many presentations on development process, tended to presume that development throughput was a bottleneck in the company. This is often the case, but not always. What to do when development is not the bottleneck is a subject which could use fuller treatment.

Understanding User Experience Patterns


Since the original notion of a "design pattern" comes from Christopher Alexander's writings on architecture (see Patterns of Software, by Richard P. Gabriel, for more info on this), it makes sense that software companies would want to apply design patterns to more than just code structure. Although there are a number of online user experience pattern catalogs, it still strikes me that this is an area where we, as an industry, have a lot to learn.

I very much enjoyed Ambrose Little's presentation on UX patterns. He showed examples of good and bad interfaces, and discussed why they succeed or fail. He then tied those reasons into pattern catalogs, and demonstrated several of the online catalogs and discussed their strengths and weaknesses.

jQuery 1.4: What You Need to Know


For some reason, the lunchtime sessions were not in the Stir Trek catalog, so I will link Matt's slides instead. Matt used a lightweight framework to display his slides using HTML and JavaScript instead of a tool like PowerPoint. This allowed him to demonstrate jQuery features right in the slides. It's a very effective way of presenting his subject matter. There wasn't a lot of new material in this presentation, given that jQuery 1.4 has been out for a while. It was a good overview, though.

Is Mobile Development Going to Follow the Book of Jobs (Steve That Is)?


This presentation was a lot like its title. Opinionated and verbose, but with an attempt to keep things fun the whole time. The presenter has been working in the mobile space for a long time, and has more than his share of war stories. Like a lot of people in mobile work, though, it seems to me that his opinions were colored by the specific nature of the work his company does. The speaker seemed to treat browser apps and web apps as the same thing. "Native" apps can be web apps. Browser apps can be local. Web app doesn't necessarily mean "in the browser." HTML/JS isn't necessarily a web app, especially in the mobile space. Overall, though, I enjoyed this a lot, though I'm not sure I'm going to take practical info home with me.

JQueryUI – The Magic From Behind The Curtain


Watching this presentation was a bit like playing with the jQuery UI demo page. Still, it exposed me to some features that I haven't seen before. The presenter kept things fun, and I left the session feeling like I've learned something.

Conclusion


The Stir Trek organizers, who, as far as I know, are all volunteers, did an amazing job creating an event for 600 people that cost so little and delivered so much value. I haven't even discussed the freebies like the O'Reilly e-book and the discounts on training, etc. Don't miss this conference next year!


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