February 25, 2007
Last weekend I attended BarCampLondon2. Bar Camp is an unconference, where a group of like minded people get together, everyone presents a topic / session, and we all hang out and discuss things. On the morning of the first day you write your topic on a card and stick it on a board where times and rooms are layed out in a grid.
The most interesting sessions for me were the following:
Rhys Jones on Offline web applications
Offline web apps is something we’re going to have to solve. Firefox 3 will provide native support for this. Ultimately web application builders will need to figure this out. I expect a lot more interest in this area in the future.
Rhys’ proxy also allow ‘local mashups’. For example your local proxy can read what music you are playing on your machine (assuming your player has an API), and then provide a local URL where it display Flickr images for the song title. Or it can read your address book, and display a Google Map with your contacts on it. Really cool stuff.
Jay Caines-Gooby on building an Amazon EC2 AMI to run webapps, entitled Making Rails Elastic
Jay talked about how instead of renting a new dedicated server, his company is going to use Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud to rent server power as they need it. Building the AMI (Amazon Machine Image) is easy enough on Linux – you setup a directory, chroot to it, install and get everything working as you want it, then come out of the chroot and package the image up.
The real challenge is that whenenver your machine is restarted, all disk storage is wiped. The only place you can store something permanently is in Amazon’s S3. Jay talked about ways of mounting S3 as a filesystem, using S3 InfiniDisk, S3FS or S3FS-Fuse; of these InfiniDisk sounds the most mature.
Running my server off EC2 is something I would love to do, but I think it’s a little too early adopter right now. Definitely one for the future. If this takes off hosting companies will have to following the EC2 model or retire.
OpenID is going to be the main authentication system on the Internet, so I’m really pleased I finally get it ! Next time you’re building a webapp and thinking of writing the authentication section for the millionth time, including the ‘I forgot my password’ page and the dready rest of it, stop. Just add OpenID and be done with it. Your users will thank you.
Tom is a visionary, and a great speaker. He really got to the heart of how social web apps (like flickr, facebook, orkut, linkedin, wikipedia, last.fm, etc) work. As I don’t have any plans to build one of these (it takes a tremendous amount of self belief and a skillful marketing operation to create an online community from thin air), I watched his talk more as a lesson on how to present.
How to get into the zone and work more productively. The best tip for me was splitting up your work time into 48 minutes total concentration / no distractions / email off / IM off / go for it, and then 12 minutes break, where you get up, walk around, talk to people, and catch up on your communications and web browsing.
Gareth Rodgers on Integrating Mobile Messaging with your web applications.
The crux of this was that the kannel project can drive your mobile phone to send and receive SMS messages, and with mbuni it can do MMS (pictures, audio clips, videos, etc). You connect a mobile phone (via USB or Bluetooth) to your server, and kannel provides an API for you to send and receive messages.
Most server setups will have an automatic way of sending a message to the administrator if something goes wrong. Nearly all of these will use a third party gateway, charging per SMS. Kannel provides a way to do this without a third party provider. The ability to receive messages also opens up the way for more mobile interaction with your application. Now if I could only convince my hosting provider to plug my phone into the server !
A few days after that talk Tim Stevens pointed me to the British Telecom SDK, which looks like it provides an easy way to send SMS messages.
Papervision 3D a Flash 3D engine.
Wow ! Proper 3D in Flash. This should make Flash games a lot more fun !
Improv workshop by James Aylett
Not about technology, but one of the best sessions of the weekend. James got the group to try out some Improvisational Theatre. I found it challenging and very funny.
All in all it was a fantastic weekend. Many many thanks to the fantastic barcamplondon2 organisers.