FFCONF Retrospect 2019

davidbrewer
Nov 14 · 6 min read

My notes from FFCONF 2019.

Another passionate FFCONF drew to a close Friday just gone (8th Nov 2019). On the shores of Brighton UK, it’s the third time I’ve been and I have to admit I always leave quite inspired. The conference is routinely held in the quirky old Duke Of York’s picture house and has been an annual fixture there since 2009. It’s the long-standing devotion of Left Logic a local family-run development company comprising of duo Remy and Julie. The outfit, specialising in Web Development also goes far beyond, offering training, holding this annual conference and being a prolific contributor of freeware products and tooling.

I remember first seeing Remy present his a talk about JsBin, his in-browser code manipulation tool. That was quite a while back and it took until 2017 before I took the plunge and made the journey down to Brighton to join my first FFCONF. Since then I’ve made it a regular and the last three years have all delivered.

Sometimes the everyday reality of working as a developer can erode the love. Monolithic projects, infinite deadlines and endless firefighting can conceal the creativity and craftsmanship of our trade and make our daily ritual feel tedious. Events like this really bring back my passion and this conference looks past just delivering technical information and presents thoughtful talks that challenge ideas and closely consider the past, present and future of tech. The premise of the conference suitably works, eight talks on a range of topics Remy wants to hear about. Anything Remy wants to hear about I’ve now accepted I probably do too!

This year the speakers didn’t disappoint.
Here are a few notes I made on each and I recommend taking a look on the FFCONF website where they will all be available in due course. (https://2019.ffconf.org)

Engaging Empathy
Sharon Steed

Sharon told an emotional story of growing up with her stutter. From her initial recognition that she was different to the challenges encountered growing up this covered her highs and lows and how embracing this led to working with companies like LinkedIn. It was inspirational hearing how she built up her confidence, challenged herself and became stronger and stronger by never giving up. Highly recommended.

What does it take to become a developer in 2020?
Amina Adewusi

When I saw this title I realised I had no idea. When I started my career most webpages were using table-based layouts and developers were just starting to use CSS for styling and layout. JavaScript at this point wasn’t a thing! I can empathise with how overwhelming it must feel to be entering the market now. HTML and CSS have matured and JavaScript seems to have more flavours than Ice Cream. It’s daunting enough for experienced developers let alone young blood.

This talk told of Anima’s long journey to land a development job and the tough times she endured before finally gaining employment at the Guardian. She spoke of the value of sharing and how everyone regardless of experience can empower their peers. Unexpected mentorships and tools like Exercism.io helped her find her way and community skill-sharing, code reviewing and pair program events were invaluable to her progress. She finished with an observation that for a craft often learnt from repetition entry levels jobs set the bar too high and employers should and could better contribute to setting realistic entry points and taking better care welcoming new developers.

Getting more from Git
Alice Bartlett

Of Gits many commands, I amongst others just use a handful. This talk unearthed some interesting background into Linus Torvalds the polarising creator of Git and the Linux Kernel. I noted a few commands I don’t regularly use, although no guarantee’s I will be atomically committing like this anytime soon.

To atomically commit changes from an add.

git add --patch

To amend the last commit.
Use case: to fix a typo for example or add something that was missed.
(I usually just let something like that go)

git commit --amend

Atomic rebase.
An interesting feature to know, but pretty sure I won’t be using this one :).

git rebase --interactive

8 Unbelievable Things You Never Knew About Tracking
Laura Kalbag

This was one jam-packed talk that I’ll probably have to watch back. There was a lot of information which my notes only captured a small part of. A few points of interest:

  • Providers of targeted content news (aka clickbait) are collecting masses of data points on people.
    https://www.taboola.com/
  • Corporate surveillance information resource.
    https://crackedlabs.org/en/data-against-people
  • PSYOPS (Psychological Operations), SCL Group influencing elections.
  • Reduce tracking by not logging in.
  • Facebook has a patent that can identify dust and scratches in a camera lens and match photos taken with that device.
  • Facebook links advertisers to users phone numbers after an average of 22 days.
  • Privacy is being eroded by agendas from corporate companies.
  • T&C complexity means people are not giving informed consent.
  • Companies often provide a give up everything or get nothing approach for their services.
  • Self-host third-party scripts to avoid tracking.
  • Ethical Technology. Stay ups, not startups started to fail or quickly sell.
  • #deletefacebook

Book recommendation:

Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.
Or podcast with the author:
http://adam-buxton.co.uk/podcasts/ep106-shoshana-zuboff
Disturbingly Amazon now is recommending me this book?

Documentaries:

The great hack.
Terms and conditions may apply.

From Milliseconds to Millions: A Look at the Numbers Powering Web Performance
Harry Roberts

Harry spoke about how Web Performance and how it can deliver immediate returns for companies. Throughout the talk, he backed assertions up with case studies. The basis of achieving improvements was a startling simple approach, measuring lots of data, following the numbers and taking a well planned and incremental approach to introducing changes. Understanding client objectives and the business at hand were important and he raised an interesting point, “nobody wants a faster website”. Speed is proxied for other interests like conversion. His advice, 90% of the work is in the head tags. Follow the numbers. Review competitors and identify the competitive benchmarks so you can hone improvements to maximise impact. He recommends trialling speedcurve.com as a tool to help track and interpret this data.

Effortless Performance Debugging
Anna Migas

Anna took an old blog codebase, transformed it into a cat blog and using Chrome demonstrated common performance wins debugging this legacy project and making it more performant in real-time. Some gems included:

  • request blocking tab to glob block off files to determine if dependency
  • resolving Content Shifting with CSS.
  • demonstration that native support for lazy loading is coming for Chrome although regular cross-browser lazy loading implementation is still currently the best option.
  • critical render path tool can identify the min CSS required at load, which you can add in the head and unblock other CSS by loading in lower priority phase.
  • 3G & 6X Slowdown to experience poor connection in the browser.
  • rendering tab to establish how hard your browser is working. The layout phase is heaviest, paint less so and CSS compositing the most performant. So try to focus on lower-cost operations.
  • Identifying layout blocking and non-blocking requests with Priority column. (Found this table which further details the above point)

Taking The Web Off The Screen
Charlotte Dann

From creating browser-based pattern art this talk spiralled into an artistic evolution taking these beginnings, combining them with a masters course in computational art and Conway’s game of life to end with a complex digital to physical journey, the output, posters and jewellery. Wow! Worth a watch.

Adventures in reinventing interfaces
Suz Hinton

Suz showed how you can do almost anything out of the browser these days. Here she connected a thermal printer in Chrome through the Bluetooth and USB internals panels. Then showed with some background research you could work out the hardware programming and write commands to send requests to the printer. The demo started with printing out simple text examples and built up to end with a live selfie being taken through her GameBoy styled Chrome interface with the printer printing it out in front of us all. Next level skills!


A great bunch of talks which give me a lot to think about for 2020.
Thanks again to the organisers and all the speakers for a great day out!

Find out more at https://2019.ffconf.org/
The FFCONF archive is also worth a look which dates back to 2009.

Pretty sure I’ll take a trip down next year and if you like what you’ve read visit the site above and consider joining in 2020.

Enjoy,
Dave

davidbrewer

Written by

Rocking around with my main man Bengy.

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