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February 2010 Auckland Web Meetup Recap

A new year. A new venue. A new format. Well, not completely true, it is a new year, but the February Auckland Web Meetup has met at the Vodafone NZ headquarters before and has tried the 20×20 format before. But this was a new venue and new format for my experience with the group. Most recently held in the smaller quarters of the Media Design School, the meetup was moved this month to the spacious conference hall in the vodafone headquarters, giving it the air of a conference instead of a meetup (complete with name badges, and, of course, free pizza and beer).

The format—20×20—stood for 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. Actually, 20x20x13 would be even more descriptive, 13 being the number of presenters to grace the stage. What was covered? Here’s a brief recap by presenter:

  • Daniel Too kicked off the night with a quick run-through of the Gaia Framework for Flash, authored by Steven Sacks (Side note: I had the pleasure of seeing Steven present at FITC Toronto in 2009, his presentation is available on Adobe TV—view it here!)

    The Gaia Framework takes care of common Flash tasks such as implementing SWFObject, page transitions, bulk preloading, deep-linking, and memory management.

  • Keri Henare, CTO of pixelfusion.co.nz, showed another framework from another programming realm—the Symfony framework for PHP. Keri showed that Yahoo! is using Symfony and even New Zealand’s own eventfinder runs on the framework. He then ran through the reasons he likes Symfony, such as its code generation, community, and license. He finished up with a high-level run-through of its technical features, such as its dependency injection structure.
  • Ben Gracewood changed the tone of the stage with a presentation sprinkled with random inspiration and RC airplanes, which culminated with the idea of taking something that’s purposeful and re-purposing it. He gave SketchPad as an example of using modern web development technology in a way that hadn’t been conceived of prior.
  • Vaughan Rowsell promoted his MGRD method of getting things done, which stood for Motivation, Goal, Risk, Do it! (Right to the end). He used his recent 2300km bicycle ride from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga as a case study in its efficacy. His bicycle ride is documented on nzuphill.co.nz. He also mentioned that he is founder of vendhq.com, a retail management software webapp.
  • Andrew Hedges, gave a noble presentation on open source software that saves lives, termed “Humanitarian Software.” He showcased Innovative Support To Emergencies Diseases Disasters (InSTEDD), an organization that coordinates disaster relief through SMS technology. He pointed out that while 25% of the world’s population may be online, 60% have cell phones, making SMS a farther reaching technology. Most recently InSTEDD went to Haiti to help with disaster relief using software they had only just finished developing in December 2009. Andrew also pointed out the twitter account of Eduardo Jezierski, director of technology at InSTEDD.
  • Danushka Abeysuriya of Rush Digital Interactive emphasized the rapid progression of technology, evinced today by the rapid development in the capabilities and appearance of mobile phone software. He likened the time to go from the first 3D PC computer games to modern immersive games was 20 years, while the same development progression has happened in 2 years on mobile phones, due to the fact that many of the lessons learned developing PC games can be transferred over to mobile development. For 3D mobile development OpenGL ES 2.0 was mentioned. He also made many predictions for the direction of mobile phone technology, such as double-sided phones, integration with cloud computing, built-in projectors and stereoscopic displays. Lastly he showcased his own 3D engine he’s developing for iPhone and Android OS.
  • Rowan Wernham gave some tips for getting a social media idea off the ground. He used his own project, sna.pr as an example (some kind of mapping web app—I’m not sure?). He also gave resources for start-ups such as the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator at SXSW, crunchbase.com, and compete.com.
  • John Ballinger, meetup organizer, presenting a fast-paced presentation on “The Rule of Three,” a small guide to making better software. The points are as follows:
    • Test, test, test
    • If, if, if – if there are three if statements in a row, something is wrong!
    • Frown upon multi-dimensional arrays, such as catz[x][y][z], they are slow and hard to update.
    • Break code up and keep each chunk short; under 300 lines.
    • Use one-line conditional statements, in the format of x=(i.Cat)?1:0. (Personally I think this is only good for very short conditionals, as it is arguably less readable.)
    • Use guard statements
    • Utilize OR booleans in conditionals (Note: I may have misunderstood this slide!)
    • Debugging is twice as difficult as the code, if the debugging is too difficult, the code is too difficult.
    • Write expressive function names.
    • Learn regex.
    • Comment your code.
    • XML – not your friend, use plists or (if using Flash) AMF.
    • Question everything. If something isn’t working, it may not be the code. Look at the process.
    • Utilize your file system, you don’t need to store everything in a database.
    • Debug by talking. By explaining a programming issue, if can often be easier to solve.
    • Avoid premature optimization.
    • Refactor early.
    • Exercise (as in physical). Get it!
    • Always code as if the guy maintaining your code is a violent psychopath who knows where you live.
  • Lisa Phillips presented on multi-tasking. She emphasized that web development is inherently working in an environment with lots of distractions. If procrastination becomes a problem, it’s important to figure out why you’re procrastinating. If it’s because you don’t know what’s next you’re in trouble.

    She gave “Lisa’s Pick & Mix”:

    • Establish priorities.
    • Make lists (hand-written, and make post-its readily accessible in your environment).
    • Know what you’re doing.
    • Plan.
    • Revise your plan.

    For task management, Lisa mentioned Getting Things Done, The Pomodoro Technique, Inbox Zero, and Remember the Milk. Lastly she mentioned that the Apple App Store has a whole category on Productivity and that you should “find out what works for you.”

  • Walter Rumsby, who emphasized that he’s just a “guy who works at Orion Health” and does not speak for them presented all his slides as twitter tweets, creative! He introduced that he works on software for hospital records and then gave a smattering of web development tips, such as that web standards are not about making your website work with a 10 year-old browser, but making your 10 year-old website work on a browser today.
  • Dr. Carey Stevens, of Spark Dental Technology, showcased his company’s use and work on the FireFox add-on Zinc for online dental imagery. He then listed some tips for having a good development environment, such as using Continuous Integrated Testing, Mochitest, and Buildbot. Plone CMS was also mentioned.
  • Tristan Phipps presented on fear. Specifically “Fear Killing Creativity.” His tips for tackling creative decisions under fear (of failure, etc.) are:
    • Break your behavioral coping mechanism patterns, and build new ones through repetition.
    • Make radical changes.
    • Face your fears (for a dopamine hit when you conquer them!).
    • Take time out every day.
    • Learn something every day and find a mentor.
  • Dave George, of Serato Audio Research (a firm dealing with software for DJ’s and musicians) presented the following problem when presenting a user with a selection they’ve already encountered: “we waste their time showing them the same stuff again.”

    Using whitelabel.net—a website his company runs for Pro DJ’s—as an example, Dave summed his presentation up at the end with three points: We are all busy, so… Listen to their (your users) decisions and focus [them] on new decisions.