JSConf 2012

This year JSConf was in Scottsdale Arizona, which provided some welcome relief from the cold, wet, Seattle winter/spring.

News

One of the biggest pieces of news was that Mozilla gave all attendees a Nexus S smartphone running a developer version of the Boot to Gecko (B2G) phone operating system. When I say developer, I mean, camera support was broken, things were crashing, that sort of thing. These phones were a big hit among the attendees. They contributed to knocking the conference wifi out temporarily, and I saw several groups of people who were working on projects for the phone. My experience at Google I/O had soured me on the idea of giving away free devices. In the case of Google I/O, device giveaways have become an expectation, and there is some proportion of people who sign up for that conference based on the hope of getting a free device. Still, Mozilla is going to need all the help that they can get, and people seemed to take the challenge to heart. I did find it interesting that the Mozilla folks were speaking of B2G as a great feature phone software stack. This is a realistic way of climbing up the stairs in the mobile phone market. It’s hard to imagine a real competitor to iOS and Android, but I’m glad to see an effort in this direction. There’s WebOS, Windows Phone 7, and B2G all using some variant of the open web stack. It seems like there ought to be some collaboration between B2G and WebOS’s Enyo framework.

Talks

There were a bunch of talks on the internals of Javascript Virtual Machines. From a computer science point of view, these talks are interesting. I heard a lot of these kinds of talks at PyCon and during my days at Sun. It seemed that most of the audience appreciated this material, so the selections were good. The part of this that I found disturbing is wrapped up in one of the questions, which was basically, how can we write our code to take advantage of how the VM works. Given the number of VM’s that Javascript code might execute on, this seems like a path fraught with peril.

Also on the language front, there was more representation from functional programming. There was a talk on Roy, and David Nolen gave a talk that was billed as being about Clojurescript, but was really more about having a sense of play regarding all this technical work. Closely related to the functional programming was GPU programming. Jarred Nichols talked about implementing a Javascript interpreter in OpenCL. Stephan Herhut from Intel talked about the RiverTrail parallel extensions to Javascript which do data parallel computing using operations taken from functional programming. The extensions compile to OpenCL, which I found interesting. I wonder how many more languages we’ll see compiling to OpenCL or partially compiling to OpenCL.

Paul Irish did a nice presentation on tools which gave a great overview of the state of the practice in the various areas related to web application development. There were several tools that I didn’t know about. The presentation is all HTML5 but has some very nice visuals and animation. I’d love to know the name of the package that he used.

Ever since Node.js came out, I’ve been enamored of the idea that you could share/move some amount of code back and forth between the client and the server, much as code used to move back in the days of NeWS. Yahoo’s Mojito is an investigation in this space. It relies heavily on YUI, which I haven’t used. I’m looking forward to looking into the code and seeing how it all fits together.

The team at Bitovi make a special lunchtime presentation about CanJS, which is another MVC framework for Javascript. CanJS is in the same space as backbone, knockout, and so forth. It’s claims to fame are reduction of certain kinds of memory leaks, size, and speed. From the benchmark slides it seems worth a look.

Keynotes

Dan Ingalls delivered the closing keynote on the first day. I met Dan briefly when I worked at Sun, and I was familiar with his work on the Lively Kernel. The Lively Kernel is the answer to the question “what if we tried to build Squeak Smalltalk in Javascript”. It is much more than a language, it is an environment for building programs and simulations. I’m of two minds about this work. On the one hand, there’s depression that we still haven’t managed to catch up to the work that Ingalls and his contemporaries pioneered 30 years ago, and that today’s practitioners are completely oblivious to this work (a comment on Twitter confused Lively with an advanced version of the NeXT Interface Builder — the causality is reversed). On the other hand, although the Lively Kernel is written in Javascript and runs in a browser, it’s not really connected to today’s world, and so it’s applicability to solving web problems is limited. Nonetheless, Ingalls received a well deserved standing ovation. He is among the pioneers of our field, and as his generation is starting to pass on, it feels good to be able to personally honor them for their contributions to the field.

I have no idea how Chris Williams convinced Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the first (Swedish) Pirate Party to come and speak at JSConf. The topic of his talk was the politics of the net generation. Falkvinge told the story of how he came to found the Pirate party in Sweden, and described the success that the party is having in Europe. He claimed that about every 40 years, we have a new key idea. Apparently the theme for the period which is now ending was sustainability, and the claim is that the theme for the next 40 years will be free speech and openness. He credits this theme with the rise of the various Pirate parties in Europe, pointing to the European protests around ACTA and the US protest around SOPA as additional corroborating evidence. Falkvinge claims that the Pirate party has widened the scope of politics and given young people a way to vote for the issues that they care about. I wish that something similar was happening in American politics.

Hallway

As always, JSConf had a rich hallway/party track. I had lots of great conversations with people on topics including the Javascript API’s for Windows 8, the mismatch between many concurrency models and real shared memory hardware, and proper use and optimization of CSS. I think that facilitating the hallway track is one of the areas where JSConf excels. The venues are always nice, and this year there were hallway conversations, in pools, around campfires, as well as the usual hotel lobbies and restaraunts/bars/lounges. I was also happy to be able to introduce Matthew Podwysocki, who has been doing excellent work on RX.js, and David Nolen, who has been working on Clojurescript. I think that there can be some nice synergy between these two projects, and I’m eager to see if they agree.

The best roundup of JSConf coverage appears to be on Lanyrd.

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