Hackference 2016, Episode IV: A New Hackference

Last weekend saw me heading to Birmingham to attend Hackference, a 3-day event for all sorts of programmers. There was a conference on Friday at the Electric Cinema, followed by a 24-hour hackathon at the weekend.

I’d never been to Hackference before, so I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a shame it’s probably going to be the last one though.

What follows is my account of the weekend, aided by plenty of tweets. The weekend was so jam-packed with stuff to blog about, so I’m going to split it up in two.

Part 1 – the conference

The Electric Cinema was a really cool venue. There were two screens, so two talks could happen at the same time. This was good because we could choose the talks that interested us most, but bad because most of the time I wanted to see both!

On entering the venue, I received a rather unusual greeting from Terence Eden:

The first talk I went to was an introduction to Docker by Sam Wierema. I took a bunch of notes and will definitely try it out on my websites. There was a live demo which didn’t quite work to plan because the WiFi wasn’t working.

Dan Jenkins’ talk about Web Bluetooth was interesting. He talked about how Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons worked, and again, tried a live demo of a Bluetooth-controlled drone which also didn’t work. It’s almost as if the demo gods didn’t approve of this conference.

Next up there was a talk about the Web Audio API. Essentially it is now very easy to make a synthesiser using nothing but JavaScript. You start off with a tone generator and apply effects (think guitar pedals), eventually wiring it up to your speakers. It can also take microphone input and live analyse the frequencies, allowing you to create awesome music visualisers!

Part-way through the talk I felt inspired to make a theremin at the hackathon, then a minute later Hugh said there was always someone who made a theremin, so I did something else instead.

We were each given a £15 gift card for lunch, which I spent with JSOxforders Marcus and  Henry, and a couple of the Pusher people at Ed’s Diner.

We returned just in time for the Hackference version of BBC Radio 4’s Just a Minute. For the uninitiated, Just a Minute is one of the longest-running shows on Radio 4. It is a comedy panel show where the aim is to speak for a minute without hesitation, repetition or deviation. It might seem simple at first, but it is so easy to repeat yourself or say ‘um’, at which point one of the other contestants will buzz in, take a point and they will have the remainder of the minute to talk on the subject. The Hackference version was very authentic, with Andrew Faraday playing a very convincing Nicholas Parsons. All of the contestants (Mike, Jess, Samathy and Terence) were surprisingly good at playing the game. The subjects were tech-themed, leading to some interesting and hilarious discussions.

Soledad Penadés demonstrated Servo, a promising new browser engine. Finally, a talk where the live demos worked! Her talk, along with her account of the conference, is available on her blog.

Then came Jonathan Kingsley, whose presentation both entertained and scared the audience. He told us about various security flaws with common smart devices and how, potentially, a large amount of insecure Internet of Things devices could take down the Internet. All hypothetical of course..? His talk video is here.

The final talk I saw was presented by Terence Eden (remember him from the poo selfie earlier?). His talk about Unicode was full of humour and enthusiasm, and told an important story about how he managed to get the Power symbol added to Unicode 9 (coming to your devices soon!). Turns out anyone can get a symbol into Unicode provided they have the stamina to jump through all the hurdles.

Once all that was over, we retired to the pub for the afterparty known as ‘Chillference’. There was food, drink and board games to keep everyone happy, even though Twitter (among others) was taken down by a DDoS attack from IoT devices. Talk about coincidence.

After winning a game of Joking Hazard (helped by a very topical US Election themed comic which I forgot to take a photo of), I found King of Tokyo which is always a great game, especially since I managed to play as my favourite character. All in all, a great day of engaging talks by some very cool speakers.

This was only half of the story. The following day was a 24-hour hackathon. More on that in the next post.

The Hackathon ->


2 thoughts on “Hackference 2016, Episode IV: A New Hackference

  1. Pingback: Talking about Servo in Hackference Birmingham 2016 | soledad penadés

  2. Pingback: Hackference 2016, Part 2 – The Hackathon | Daniel 'The' Pope

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