JSConf US 2010: Harder Better Faster Stronger

(Or, my impressions of JSConf US 2010)

I wrote a very ambitious (and partially successful) post last year attempting to recap the first JSConf. I can’t even pretend to repeat that feat this year: track B was so good that I spent half my time in it, and I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to see or everyone I wanted to meet. Kevin Dangoor has good summaries of the talks he attended. And… There Will Be Videos. But there are themes I observed.

Four words

First, I offer my apologies to Justin Meyer, who I believe actually put “Harder Better Faster Stronger” in a slide of his presentation on JavaScriptMVC, which I missed most of because there was 200% awesomeness at the conference.

  1. Harder: Billy Hoffman‘s high-octane security / hacking talk exposed the need to harden your JS as much as possible. For just a taste of “You should be paranoid” stew, go look at Panopticlick as soon as you finish reading this post (or sentence). You are probably uniquely identifiable by the info your browser publicly shares. Then do some reading about timing attacks, especially those by Nate Lawson. Jed Schmidt‘s (fab) talk was so hard-core some Tweeters thought its content level was equal to an entire average tech conference. It takes composability and functional programming to the extreme. The confused guy next to me asked, “What would you use this for?” and all I could sputter back was, “anything.” Also, Douglas Crockford supplemented his well-known “good parts” argument by laying down some serious challenges: fix XSS now, and throw away HTML5 and start over.
  2. Better: So, the “/be” listed on the schedule turned out to be Brendan Eich. It also turned out that for a lot of the younger attendees, that name didn’t convey any more information than the initials. They know who he is now. His talk was hilarious (if Crock is Chuck Norris, Brendan identifies himself with Bruce Campbell) and inspiring. While JavaScript is rushing ahead (hence the “faster” below), the ECMA committee is still moving forward, and the proposals for Harmony that he explained are all good. We may not need everything they’re considering, but none of it looks detrimental. Block scope, let, splat args, destructuring—I say “awesome.”

    While the ECMA effort’s watchword is “fortitude,” a lot of JSConf’s revelations fall under the heading Don’t wait. People like Tobias Schneider and Dmitry Baranovskiy have taken action to make web browsing better today, by implementing a Flash runtime in JS or writing a JS SVG/VML drawing and animation library.

    Finally, in his talk on 280 North‘s Socratic, Francisco Tolmasky made the suggestion that the JavaScript community had an opportunity to get documentation right. Doing so would be a real boon to our efforts to be taken seriously. Although he did not draw the connection, I believe that the success of JUnit as a unit testing tool did a great deal to advance Java, even though unit testing, like everything else, was invented in Smalltalk. JavaScript could enjoy a similar lift from a successful documentation technique.

  3. Faster: Faster belongs to Ryan Dahl. Not only is node.js a fearsomely fast server-side JS framework, and not only was Ryan’s talk about making it even faster: the most telling moment of the conference was his comment, during a CommonJS panel, that there was no need for a detailed standard for server-side JS because it hadn’t matured past “toy programs” yet. That turned a few heads. But his comment points out that fifteen years after its creation, JS’s development is accelerating. There were a lot more server-side applications this year, and work on this area is speeding up. Ryan’s bluntness also suggests a dawning period of bare-knuckled competition and invention between server-side inventors that mirrors the red-hot competition between JS engines. Brendan was asked about how ECMA would deal with server-side engines that were turning their backs on standards, and he basically responded that it would take time. When things shake out, he’ll be waiting to help consolidate the best things from the expansion.

    How crazy is it that I just spent a paragraph on “faster” without mentioning Steve Souders? Oh yeah, he was there too, recapping tools and techniques for making your pages load faster. Please go check out webpagetest.org and use Google Page Speed as well as yslow.

  4. Stronger: Jenn Lukas gave an excellent talk on making your sites display and work decently without JavaScript. Drawing from her work at Happy Cog, she argued convincingly that we can take accessibility and standards seriously without compromising on content, design, or behavior. She advises you that the first three things she would do to evaluate your web app would be View source, Enlarge text, and Turn off JavaScript. Also, her presentation marked an improvement in the representation of women at the conference this year. Boy is there a long way to go, though (pun intended). Chris and Laura, the organizers, are serious about increasing female attendance—they spent real time on outreach to try to increase diversity—but it’s a hard problem to overcome, and we’re all responsible for solving it. Skipping the pictures of strippers in presentations isn’t enough. We all need to encourage women, personally, to crash the party: all the parties from JSConf up to the whole industry. I hope we succeed, because women make JS twice as strong.

200% Awesome

There was a lot more. Jetpack is awesome. Coffescript is awesome. Pintura is awesome (thanks, Dean Landolt). CouchDB and Sproutcore keep getting awesomer. I’m not the only person who’s composed an ambitious to-do list based on the presentations he saw. I didn’t get to see Matthew Podwysocki and Jeffrey Van Gogh‘s Reactive Extensions for JavaScript talk or Aaron Quint’s talk about slowness and quality (which Brendan Eich mentioned he really enjoyed) because I had to go home and get my wife so we could go on the conference boat cruise. Also, I didn’t have time to thank Rick Olsen and Chris Wanstrath personally for everything they’ve contributed to multiple technology communities. I even had to miss most of a talk by John Resig because he was up against Ryan Dahl. That was the only problem with JSConf US 2010: 200% awesome is too much for mortals to absorb.

Last but absolutely not least, thank you thank you thank you, Chris and Laura Williams for making this happen again. I was blown away by the talent that showed, but it wouldn’t have been the conference to be at without the atmosphere that Chris and Laura worked so hard to make feel so easy and fun. From the Friday night party to the boat cruise, the great food, and the game room, it was so easy to meet people, to connect. For Pete’s sake, my wife and I had dinner with Brendan Eich. On a boat. I don’t know how to top that.

JSConf Europe is coming up in September, though. 400% awesome?

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