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Earlier this month I attended Full Frontal Javascript 2011 conference hosted by Remy Sharp in lovely Brighton. I’ve wanted to attend since it started three years ago but have always had something in the way. So I jumped on a train at stupid o’clock on a very cold and misty morning and managed to finish off ‘Mobile First’ on the commute before grabbing a well deserved coffee with Tom Parker at Coffee@33.

The conference was held in the beautiful ‘Duke of Yorks’ independent cinema in Preston Circus, meaning the comfy sofa seats were a serious upgrade from the normal plastic seats I’m used to at conferences. Perfect to settle into for a day of insightful talks after my early rise. I won’t discuss all of the days content as we’d be here for weeks, but here were my highlights.

CoffeeScript Design Decisions – Jeremy Ashkenas

I was extremely happy to see Jeremy on the bill for Full Frontal, as we’re big fans of Backbone.js in the office and try and squeeze it into every project. That said he was actually on the bill to speak about Coffeescript, a new approach of writing js in a minimal fashion that at the same time tries to smooth out some of the ‘gaps’ in the language. I won’t go into the details of Coffeescript as you can learn more here, but Jeremy explained the core concepts very well; you would hope so from the creator;). The main points I took home were ‘It’s ok to cheat!’ why should we have to re-wrtie the book every time we start a project, but at the same time using Coffeescript we can extend/bend js language to our own.

“HTML5 is about taking js seriously!”

Excessive Enhancement – Phil Hawksworth

Phil’s talk was on a subject very close to my heart about ‘Excessive enhancement’. With the boom of Javascript over the last couple of years, especially surrounding UI development and DOM manipulation, he raised some very important questions. Are we over doing it with our ‘Browser sizzle’? Is it ok to load in 10mb of images on page load for some fancy effects or should be loading them in lazily? Whoever thought the hashbang /#! was a good idea? That last point was probably the most important, are we going to look back on this era of the web as the years of lost content. Start using the History API and .pushState() today!

Scalable Javascript Application Architecture – Nicholas Zakas

The talk I was looking forward to the most, if you’ve ever done any research into js design patterns or application architecture you would have found Nicholas’s name; he didn’t let us down. The talk was full of clear and concise definitions of architecture principles such as the module and mediator patterns and went on to describe how to structure your applications for re-use , extensibility and scalability. It really drilled home to me the importance of planning ahead in your application design to try to loosely couple as many components as possible.

“A scalable js architect allows you to replace any block in a Jenga tower without fear of it toppling over”

If you haven’t already done so, I strongly advise checking out his slides here.

Beyond the planet of geeks – Brendan Dawes

A very controversial move to have a designer most famous for his ‘Flash’ work to talk at a JS conference… but I bet everyone was happy he did! Extremely insightful for me, forcing us to take a step back and remember that our work can still be fun.

“If you don’t go into the woods, nothing will ever happen in your life.”

Drawing from his obsession of collecting weird objects such as pencils, to his work at Magnectic North, Brendan showed us that we should ‘obsess about our tools’. He also expressed the importance of continuing to experiment and explore new technologies and interfaces, canvas, svg e.t.c as they are here to be used today. His talk was summed up by my favorite quote of the day.

“When you get good at something try something different”

Although agnostic of languages or platforms, Brendan hinted towards the end of the Flash era and even stated that although it will always have its uses to become ubiqutus we may ‘need to leave some things behind’.

You gotta do what you gotta do – Marcin Wichary

What can I say, this guy has the best job in the world. For 20% of his time Marcin is one of the interface engineers for the ‘Google Doodles’. Be it Pac-Man or dancing lady, he has worked on some very cool projects. In this talk he showed us how they have used some very clever techniques to overcome the issues you can have trying to serve a project to 6 billion people. For example crushinator which cuts up animations into individual frame sprites that get overlaid on each other or using the devices accelerometer to control submarines. By far the funniest and most interesting talk I have seen this year!

Overall the day was a great success for me. I was very glad that the subjects of the talks were well rounded having something for everything and not just about how we should be caching our for-loop vars. All were educating and insightful, which leads me to think that the lack of video recordings is a shame as this knowledge may be lost forever (but I know that Remy is working on this ☺). Although, at the very reasonable price of the conference I don’t blame the man, in this day an age of conferences costing towards £1000 Full Frontal is an absolute bargain and extremely good value for money. Finished off with good discussions with friends and a nice drink by the seaside. What more could you want from a conf? I’ll definitely be back next year!