10 Highlights From EmpireJS

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Last week, Javascript enthusiasts gathered for the third annual EmpireJS conference. Attendees were treated to 24 talks from expert developers and engineers from all over the world. Below are 10 of the most memorable moments and people from the event:

10. Japanese WoodBlocks

John Resig, author, Dean of Computer Science at Khan Academy and creator of jQuery, was one of the conference’s most notable speakers. At past events, he has spoken at length on JavaScript and jQuery. However, for EmpireJS, he combined his love of JavaScript and Japanese woodblock printing to discuss the making of Ukiyo-e.org, a woodblock print database and image search engine. Ukiyo-e Search allows users to search for woodblock prints by taking a picture of an existing print. The talk provided an art history lesson and a tutorial, welcome departures from the traditional tech talk.

9. The Bocoup Crew

Bocoup is an Open Web technology company based in Boston. They build and contribute to open technologies, and they provide education on the subject for their clients and the community. Three of their team members were prominently involved in EmpireJS: Adam J. Sontag, their Director of Community, served as the MC, Jenn Schiffer, Open Web Engineer, presented a talk titled, “Sorting Algorithms in JavaScript,” and Rick Waldron, Open Web Engineer presented a talk titled “Bits of Nodebots.Next.” A lot of companies are investing in the community by sending their developers and evangelists to conferences, and Bocoup exemplifies the talent and exposure that those investments can garner.

8. Java

EmpireJS disrupted traditional conference offerings by forgoing Starbucks and serving coffee from companies like Blue Bottle and Stumptown. They also served iced coffee on tap, which further proved that the conference took Java seriously and literally.

7. CoffeeScript

Proponents of JavaScript react negatively to CoffeeScript. JavaScript and CoffeeScript are like two tribes, separated by syntax. A few brave speakers actually referenced their use of CoffeeScript during their talks, which always prompted “boos” from the crowd. During Sean McCullough’s talk, he gave the “haters” a shout-out when he discussed the ways in which Groupon uses CoffeeScript for development.

6. Mini Cupcakes

There was no shortage of food during the two-day event. The snacks and meals included kimchi tacos, bagels, Doritos and pitas – but the mini cupcakes stole the show. Using Baked by Melissa’s Cupcake Art tool, The EmpireJS crew made delightfully nerdy arrangements of cupcakes in the shapes of the Empire and JS logos.

5. BigPipe

Nodejitsu’s Arnout Kazemier flew all the way from The Netherlands to announce the launch of BigPipe. BigPipe is a web framework for Node.js. Kazemier explains that “BigPipe allows you to slice up your side in reusable components called pagelets, which are flushed to the page fully async. These components can be released into npm and re-mixed, creating a full front-to-back npm experience.” BigPipe was originally released by Facebook and explained in this blog post. What’s great about BigPipe is that you can send your data directly to the browser, so that it can download the required elements and render, which compliments the asynchronicity of Node.js. To learn more, check out bigpipe.io.

4. Facebook Flo

Facebook Flo was also announced at EmpireJS. Flo is a Chrome extension that lets you modify running apps without reloading; it can be integrated with your build system and dev environment and can be used with the editor of your choice. Amjad Masad, an engineer at Facebook, created Flo.

“The problem we were trying to solve is long development cycles,” said Masad. There’s a long delay between writing Code and seeing the result in the browser. If you’re writing in C++ or Java it’s going to be a lot longer, but web developers are used to immediate feedback. So, coming from smaller companies, I’m used to that immediate feedback so I really wanted to bring that to Facebook.” Masad primarily works on Facebook photos but will continue to improve Flo. His initial plans include integrating it with other tools like Gulp and simplifying the configuration process.

3. Web Components

Web components have been widely hyped as game changing tools for web app development. Tom Dale, co-creator of JavaScript framework Ember.js, began his talk on Web Components with a .gif of a Corgi excitedly eating cabbage. He said, “don’t get too excited, it’s just cabbage,” cabbage being a metaphor for web components. He also showed Gartner’s Hype Cycle and stressed that developers keep it in mind when adopting new technologies. Dale’s talk gradually became more positive, and he explained that the benefits of Web Components are the ability to declare your own HTML tags, your own HTML elements – specific to your application, and specific to your domain. You can describe their appearance with HTML and CSS and you can describe their behavior using JavaScript. Dale’s live demo using Ember CLI, a command line utility was particularly helpful; he explained that out of the box, Components support two-way data binding. He also reviewed the tooling and highlighted the available extension for Chrome and FireFox that augments the developer tools that are already in the browser.

2. NodeBots

Rick Waldron presented an entertaining talk on nodebots, robots controlled by node.js. Waldron is the creator of Johnny-Five, the JavaScript-Arduino programming framework for node.js. The appeal of nodebots is that anyone who understands the basics of JavaScript can build and control a robot. Waldron illustrated this point by starting his presentation with the basics of JavaScript animation. The talk evolved to address complex, coordinated servo animations, leading to a series of demos featuring robots kicking a ball, navigating obstacles and performing ballet.

1. Domenic Denicola’s Final Frontier

Denicola began his talk by raising the question: “Is it unrealistic to plan on a future of web development?” A bold question to pose at a JavaScript conference, but he illustrated the point with examples of how people are becoming increasingly dependent on their mobile devices.

“Native apps are capturing a lot of developer and user mind share, but there’s a lot of disadvantages – like being locked into one ecosystem and not being able to move your data around, or, if you’re a developer, [having] to pay 30% of all your profits to Google or Apple,” said Denicola. “The web doesn’t have these problems, the web is open and it’s developed and it’s a pretty unique developer experience and user experience. That’s the reason I want to advocate for Mobile Web, but it’s not there yet. It’s missing a bunch of capabilities; it’s missing integration, user experience, developer experience and most importantly, the user engagement features.”

By day, Denicola is a consultant at Lab49, and by night, he serves on W3C’s Technical Architecture Group (TAG). His presentation included mentions of several tools and resources that can help developers create web apps that provide similar experiences as native apps, including Service Worker and Mozilla’s Servo. He also encouraged the crowd to develop a web app whenever possible, to help contribute to the future of web app development.

Interested in learning more about JavaScript? Check out a local Meetup.