Last week, a colleague and I attended the inaugural Great British Node Conf (GBNC) in Shoreditch, London. This was the first ever Node conference in England, and was billed as a 100 or so of the nicest and brightest people in the Node community coming together to talk about all things Node.js. A few of us have attended a few London Node User Group (LNUG) events over the months, and have always come away having learnt or seen something pretty cool, so we signed up to GBNC double quick.
Rather than going into detail about each and every part of the day, I’d like to mention a few of the things that I learnt and mention the things that impressed/terrified/inspired me.
There are some seriously talented people using Node.js
From seeing the presentations, and hearing about the things that people are up to using Node, I was struck not only by how powerful and versitile Node is, but when it’s in the hands of talented people, cool things aren’t far behind. In terms of specific presentations, I was pretty much blown away by how quickly Julian Gruber was able to live code a streaming server that streamed the filesystem to the browser. It amounted to something like 30 lines of code, and took less than 15 minutes, to do something which on the face of it, shouldn’t be that easy. Then just for kicks, he streamed out /dev/urandom to the Web Audio Api to make some white noise. Why not eh?
Then just to completely melt my mind, in the space of a 10 minute lightening talk, @substack showed off a few things using his node-falafel module. That included, writing code that when run, modifies some other code and then runs it, a code coverage tool to find dead/zombie code, and code that traverses your application to build a graph of all of it’s dependencies. At which point, I pretty much had no further words.
Don’t be afraid to go deeper
A few of the presentations focussed a fair amount of time talking about Node internals, and beyond. I’ll be honest, a lot of this material went over my head by a considerable distance, but it was interesting to hear the conversation nonetheless. Also, tools like dtrace are now on my radar, so I’ll know what to do when I need to dive in deeper.
Node.js + Robots = Fun
From seeing the amount of NodeCopter activity in my Twitter stream, controlling robots seems like a pretty common use of Node. That was evident from a couple of talks during the day. I’ve never got round to trying it myself, as much I’d like to, so when I see a demo, it just seems like some kind of amazing wizardry to me. First up in this field was a talk on Espruino by Gordon Williams. Espruino boards are low powered micro controllers onto which you can load small programs. In the demo, it was hooked up to a sensor and motor to automatically open/close a bin based on your proximity and direction of motion. As you approached the bin, it opened, and as you moved away, it closed. Seeing how quick and easy it was to get something done has certainly made getting involved much more attractive. I’ll be keeping an eye on upcoming meetups, and perhaps even take a punt on an Espruino/Arduino/Rasberry Pi.
Make time for breakfast if there’s the possibility of lunch time beers
All knowledge is good knowledge right? The fantastic organisers had kindly laid out some finger food and a generous bar tab at lunch, which everyone was very appreciative of by the looks of things. It certainly helped grease the wheels of conversation, but I must remember to eat breakfast next time.
As is often the case when I go to conferences, I always have the feeling that I’m the dumbest guy in the room, and that somehow I don’t really belong there. A lot of people would say that that is a fantastic situation to be in, as the potential for learning new things is at it’s peak. I certainly appreciate that point of view, and I do agree with it, but I don’t always find it to be an entirely positive experience. My natural tendency in such situations leans towards taking a back seat and just observing and absorbing, so I can sometimes come away with the feeling of not having made the most of it. However, each time, I come away with a renewed sense of determination to be more active in such settings, and this time is no different. The fact that everyone seemed so friendly contributes to that, as does my love of the technology in question. So I say, bring on next years Great British Node Conf. I can’t wait!