Tuesday 10 June 2014

What I took away from Scotch on the Rocks

I'll just run through the presentations I attended, and offer some uninspired commentary on them. Sorry but I'm pants at reviewing things... I only ever remember concepts rather than details in these things.


OK, the conference didn't start until Thurs, but we were journeying up on Weds. This involved traipsing via train to a completely different county (West Sussex) from that in which we live and work, then flying from there (LGW). However this wasn't so painful in the middle of the day, as the Gatwick Express is reasonably efficient. We were at the airport perhaps an hour earlier than we needed to be, but quickly got a table at the Wetherspoons and despite a lack of decent beer on tap, managed to knock back four pints before boarding. We also met Alex from Pixl8, who happened to be travelling up at a similar time.

Oh, "we" are the lads from HostelBookers: Nolte, Ronnie, Daddy Duncky, G-Man (who has no social media presence I am aware of), Ćóbrą (renamed Kyrghystov for the purposes of this trip. Don't ask) & meself.

On arrival we checked-in to the Travelodge around the corner from the conference venue, and I took-up residence in my piss-smelling dungeon (it was on the LG floor. And smelt of piss. It was fine other than that). We had a meal onsite, and then scooted around to the Hilton for a drink. I lasted precisely half a pint, and went back to Chez Urine & retired.


We didn't get to the Hilton in time to register on Weds, so we registered first thing Thurs. Here's one thing I don't get about conferences. What makes the conference organisers think I want to be handed a bag full of shite to carry around whenever I attend a conference? I do not. Ever. I do not understand why other people seem to revel in being given a bunch of "swag" (read: crap you'd never actually ever want if it was given to you in any other circumstances). Conference attendees set their bar very low for this sort of thing. I wonder what percentage of this stuff ends up in landfill immediately after the conference. And it makes me annoyed (in an environmental sense, I mean).

I also milled around for a bit before things started (acquiring more coffee, etc). I have to apologise to a bunch of people I met in the hallway generally whilst between points A & B who I said I'd meet in the bar afterwards for a drink and a catch-up, only to have those bar occasions never materialise. I am appalling with this sort of thing... I don't do "Oh hi, yeah you're [whoever you are], yeah, how about I stop what I was actually meaning to do so we can swap pointless small talk" very well. So I always try to get out of having to do it by deferring it until later. It was with the best intentions I arranged to talk to people in the bar later, but then I didn't actually go to the bar later, which didn't help.

Right... there were some sessions on Thursday

Get Grulping with JavaScript Task Runners

As expected, Matt was a great presenter, and the material here was interesting and we were all comparing notes as to how quickly we could adopt this stuff at HB. I'm also gonna have a look at it separately from work-related stuff (as this is likely to happen sooner than in the office). I found Matt's demonstration of the installation process a bit tedious and perhaps unnecessary, but on the whole this is one of the sessions I got the most out of. Matt's the sort of presenter that I will consider go see whatever he's presenting, irrespective of topic.

Verdict: adopt.

Digging in the dirt or digging for gold? The Internals of the Java Virtual Machine!

I wasn't sure how much I'd get out of Kai's presentation, but I took a bunch of mental notes and there's a bunch of stuff we need to refer back to our infrastructure team. For one thing we're not using the right garbage collector on our servers, which could stand looking at. I generally find this sort of stuff tedious, but Kai's an engaging presenter so he held my attention well. A good gauge of how effective a presentation was is how much buzz it generated afterwards, and all the HB lads (the ones in attendance) regrouped afterwards to discuss.

Verdict: adopt.

Splendor and secure CFML applications

I have to admit I went to this one because I didn't want to attend only half of Kit Hodsen's double-bill presentation in the other room. By all accounts that was a great presentation.

I always approach Adobe presentations cynically / skeptically, but was very pleased with what Rakshith presented here. Adobe are taking security in ColdFusion very seriously, and they don't seem to only be giving lip service to this. One heartening thing Rakshith mentioned was that everyone in the Adobe ColdFusion team has some level of security certification or other, from management, marketing down to junior devs. This is good news.

I also awarded Rakshith the award for the fastest speaker at SotR14. It was a bold move doing it so early on the first day, but on review I was right. Fortunately he also speaks reasonably clearly (for someone with a "not very neutral" accent), so it was no problem to follow.

Verdict: more for other people than for me, but a worthwhile presentation.

Show & Tell

Phil Leggetter demoed his company's software BladeRunnerJS. It looked pretty interesting, but I have to concede I didn't pay much attention (I was using the time to write a blog article). Phil was an engaging presenter too.

All aboard the NodeJS Express

This was the presentation I was most looking forward to, and David delivered the goods. What surprised me was that it was his first time presenting, and his notes disappeared from screen 10min into the presentation. He held it together well (I did not notice a change in presentation quality at the 10min mark, for one thing), and he's convinced us to get Node.js installed (which we'd need to do for Grunt.js anyhow) @ work and see what we can do with it. Nolte had it installed and running and doing stuff during the presentation itself.

Verdict: adopt.

Canopy view of single-page applications (SPAs)

This was the first misfire of SotR. Benjamin's presentation just didn't engage me. It was Microsoft-centric, and seemed to be a demonstration in how MS makes stuff difficult which other platforms makes easy. It was not helped by Benjamin not having prepped properly, and his Visual Studio needing an update halfway through the presentation, which wasn't great. Unfortunately I'm gonna be cross-training to C# soon (like in a coupla weeks), and I found this and a coupla other things I've encountered with the .net framework in the last coupla weeks quite off-putting.

Verdict: lament that we need to adopt.

"When is enough enough?"

Kit, Anna, Bruce, Dale and Phil were a panel, answering various questions from the audience, such as "when can we stop supporting IE6" (loosely on the theme of "when is enough enough?"). I think Kit summed it up best with "it depends", and we could perhaps have moved on at that point.


That was the end of the sessions, and we retired to the Travelodge to regroup (and for the old nanas like me to have a kip). From there we went to dinner at a fairly ordinary Indian outfit, and the other guys returned for the free bar & whisky-tasting, whereas I turned in.


I was pleased to not be hungover.

I am Chef and Welcome to my Kitchen

I selected Jatin's presentation over Rob's one on Grunt, Bower, Yeoman as I'd had enough of Grunt, and know Jatin from Twitter so wanted to offer solidarity. Jatin's also one of the rare people that did actually manage to corner me for a chat in the hallway, and he's a good bloke.

This was his first presentation, and I can't help but think that he should perhaps have stopped tweaking earlier than he did, and actually have run through it (with the kit & logistics provided by the conference) at least once before presenting. I was talking to Andy about this, and the SotR team do avail the opportunity for speakers to test-drive the environment before presenting, but people apparently seldom do.

Unfortunately Jatin's presentation went off the rails slightly due to things not installing / running properly, which was a shame. That said, it got enough of the way through for it to pique my interest, and we'll possibly have a closer look at this stuff.

Verdict: I don't work with this sort of thing directly, but mention it to the infrastructure team

Do you dare tour the sausage factory?

Bruce is a hilarious speaker. I have no idea what he was wittering on about, but it was highly entertaining, and it was fine just in that regard.

Automating Government

This one seemed very short (well: it was very short, that's why it seemed that way), and I have to admit I was busy researching something else at the time, so I didn't pay much attention.

Embedded DSL: Groovy and Scala Fair Duel

I walked out of this one after 5min and went and had a pint & chat with Alex instead. It was just not an engaging presentation, I'm afraid. Pity, because I am interested in both languages being demonstrated.

Technical Debt: Is your code base approaching the fiscal cliff...

Andy is a good presenter, and it's good to know there's another CF shop close-by in London. I wasn't too sure about some of the things he was espousing though, if I'm honest. I was hoping this was going to be a presentation on general techniques on addressing technical debt, and how to assess what to target, etc. But it was mostly just a presentation on how they solved some of their own issues during the course of company expansion.

How to Rock your planning sessions!

This was an interesting one, and Tuuli's a cool speaker with an interesting take on things. Ronnie had bought the book she recommended right then and there, "Gamestorming". I look fwd to flicking through that once he's done. There were certainly a bunch of things from this that we can take back to the office and employ in our own meetings. We are our own internal client so the environment is different from her external-client-centric one, but we can still implement some of it for our own meetings. Cool.


That was it. We snaffled a table in the bar and set up camp; various people came and went and the discussion was fairly useful (I never remember much when I have been drinking, so I'll not attempt to go into details). I had to turn in early - 10:30pm - as I had an early start on Sat.



After a slow start, and nearly bloody losing to what amounted to an English B side, the All Blacks won in the dying moments of the match. So that was good. As demonstrated on Twitter, I started the day in a suitable fashion for 8am-rugby-watching:

(Pleasingly, England did not score as a result of that run underway onscreen at that moment)


Our flight was not until 8:30pm (don't ask), so we basically had to sit around until then. I was really washed out after the conference and early pintage, so wasn't up to much. I braved the elements and went to the cinema (well the Omni Centre!) to see Edge of Tomorrow. It was OK, but as I said on Twitter: "ignoring ridiculous main conceit, interesting until third act when got daft".


The flight was delayed until 9:30pm, and I wasn't home until just after midnight. Next time I ask to be booked on an afternoon flight, I will be more assertive about the fact "8:30pm" is not "afternoon", even if it is still broad daylight in Edinburgh @ that time of year.


Another good Scotch on the Rocks. I found the technical presentations more interesting than the soft skills ones, but it was a worthwhile conference throughout. My chief regret is not being in the mood for "networking" on Thursday night.

To the speakers
Firstly, and overwhelmingly: thanks. You all rock.

But I have some observations (these are not limited or directed at SotR presenters in particular, just a summary of my experiences at conferences over the last few years):
  • I don't think there's merit in these presentations wherein someone decides to force themselves to learn something by signing-up to present on it at a conference. I do not want to hear a newbie's take on things unless the presentation is clearly labelled "a newbie's take on [thing]" (which do actually have merit, as long as it's clear that's the scope of the presentation).
  • your "light on dark" colour schemes might work for you when you're coding, but they are shit to read when one is in a conference audience. Please switch your IDE back to a light background with dark writing;
  • and increase the text size perhaps further than you might think. Resize it, then go to where the back of the room will be, and see if you can read your code easily. If you cannot... the text size is too small.
  • Also... make sure your presentation runs smoothly in the environment you need to present it, on the kit you will be presenting on. Especially as the conference organisers avail this opportunity to do so.
  • Lastly (and there was no case of this at SotR), there needs to be more to your presentation than simply reading off the screen, or from your notes. I've been to a few conference presentations like this, and they're just a waste of everyone's time. You need to engage the audience, and this needs to come from your knowledge and experiences, not from stuff that fits on a PowerPoint slide.

Next stop... CFCamp. And I'll be back for SotR15!