Notes on CSSConf Australia 2016

I attended CSSConf Australia in Melbourne on the 30th of November. A couple days ago, I wrote some generic notes about my experience in this conference and JSConf. This post covers specifically my notes for CSSConf.

The videos for the talks have not been published individually, but the conference was streamed live via YouTube, so you can watch the archived stream (you will have to “jump” to each talk):

And now, to my notes!

Ally Long: “Human Compatibility Error: How novice tech users in West Africa respond to your fancy CSS”

It was fun that she started by excusing herself for being “belligerent”.

But maybe we do need more developers to be belligerent and to take a stand on issues which are often deemed “just ethical” and not “core business” enough.

Despite Ally being so incredibly jetlagged (I couldn’t stop thinking: “I was like you last week, and I am so feeling your pain right now”) her presentation was super interesting, showing lots of research and data on which she was basing her sound advice.

I felt the talk from Sarah Drasner on animations back in CSSConf Asia was a good complement to this one.

Super eye opening, and I’m glad that at Mozilla we’re contributing to improve things by getting the best performance with the least battery consumption in Servo. Performance matters when energy is a luxury!

Ally Palanzi: “Accessibility matters. Let’s do something about it”

This was a good introductory talk to accessibility–if you have no idea of what it is, why it matters or how to get started, I’d recommend watching it. It has lots of research and pointers, and practical advice, with good editing as well: the talk didn’t feel tedious at any point!

Michael Rog: “Getting ‘Up To Speed’ with Accelerated Mobile Pages”

Based on its title, I was initially a bit hesitant about this talk, as I am not really sold on this idea of people caving to Google/Facebook/Apple in order to make “websites fast”, but he was an entertaining presenter and was quite neutral, presenting non-AMP ways of doing things, which was really good. Perhaps the talk should have been just focused on that instead 😉

Josh Johnston: “At Least 6 Ways to Win with CSS Modules”

At the beginning I was thinking: “oh this reminds me so much to Glen Maddern’s presentation at Cold Front 2016, where he explained how to avoid diabolical CSS”… and of course, because Glen was also talking about CSS Modules.

And it is all related because all these Australians are talking and collaborating together and trying out various methodologies to make working with CSS better, mostly in the context of React which is modular by nature… so it makes sense to think of CSS modules as well.

Lots of interesting ideas in this presentation. If you work with React, I’d definitely suggest you check this talk out.

Of mention: “FORC” or “Fear Of Removing CSS” – this cracked us all up!

Nadieh Bremer: “SVGs beyond mere shapes”

This was a talk on data visualisation, so of course d3.js would play a heavy role on it. My brain still refuses to understand d3.js for reals, but fortunately the slides were so pretty that it didn’t matter. I loved all the references to space! No wonder: she is an astronomer! 😎

Nadieh is also going freelance so if you’re interested in some mind-blowing beautiful visuals, you should totally get in touch with her.

Barak Chamo: “Hey presto, CSS!”

I was intrigued by this, as Houdini is more or less the same idea as the upcoming Audio Worklets – allowing developers to hook into the ‘rendering pipeline’ in the most performant way.

Unfortunately none of these features are available to play with yet, so this was a bit of a “what might happen in the future” talk, although he did made a good point in that developers should get involved in the design, and not just wait to be handed an API.

Barak was quite sleepy/jetlagged as well… at some point he referred to “Chrome Canary” as “Canary Wharf” 😏

José M. Pérez: “Progressive image rendering”

He went through a quite exhaustive list of different ways in which you can load and render images in a performant way, and I kept wondering “why all this work when you could just use the ‘lowsrc’ attribute on the img elements, right?”

Well, it turned out to have been deprecated. A case of standards body not being very futuristic in this case, I’d say, as eventually websites like Medium end up trying to reimplement it, except it doesn’t work too well. Hum!

Serena Chen: “The Ideal Styling Language: a gedankenexperiment”

She was a really engaging presenter. I loved how she started to investigate how to make a better language than CSS but eventually… settled back with CSS—it’s all about learning your craft!

Also: I was very amused by Serena’s subtle joke as her profile name in Chrome was “badass but cute”:

Petra Gulicher: “Building a style guide for all Australians”

Finally Petra closed, explaining how they had been working on a governmental project to redesign and make websites more effective. It was interesting to understand the scale of the project (‘the government’ is not a single entity, but a lot of smaller entities) and also see how they approached working in the open, and the implications it had.

Overall…

It was a really nice conference, very chill and easy going, whereas other conferences are way more stressful.

I liked that each talk was introduced by a different presenter. We saw different styles, different faces, and that’s good!

I was happy to finally hang out with Kristina and Lena for more than a few minutes–we always seem to find each other in various events but with no time to stop and talk!

I was also pleased to observe that there were many attendees and speakers who I had seen around in CampJS. It felt a bit like a CampJS family reunion.

The food was also good and fresh, with plenty of options. Same for drinks and snacks, I was happy to have lots of water and fresh fruits on hand, instead of the traditional Coke you see at these types of events. The coffee was excellent, really on par with the best coffees I’d tasted in Melbourne. There was also a stand with Chai tea, but I forgot to check it out–I was so distracted by the coffee 🤓–although everyone who tried it, loved the tea!

And in general there was plenty of space to eat and drink without having to let people nearby know that you’re going to raise your elbow.

It is nice to also be able to walk around in the breaks, without having to push people out of your way, so to speak. Other conferences are really cramped and it makes me feel claustrophobic and unwilling to engage with anyone.

Another important advantage of having space is that conversations can happen more naturally than if you’re surrounded by a loud group of people, in which case it becomes really tiring to either listen or speak. So I had lots of interesting conversations with various people, most of them I had never met before.

This is what conferences should be about, and not about cramming the maximum amount of people in the smallest space.

Two closing notes

Note 1: it was amusing that there were two presenters discussing accessibility who were also called Ally, as accessibility is often abbreviated as “a11y”.

Note 2: where some/most conferences struggle to assemble a diverse line up of speakers, this one had…

  • more than one woman speaker
  • two of them with the same name
  • and there was even a queue in the women toilets (!!)

Now, you might not understand why this is so exciting. But maybe you haven’t been to conferences where there are so few of you that each time you go to the toilet the automatic lights have gone off because no one else has been there since the last time you went. This is eerie and makes you feel so lonely.

It’s indeed weird to celebrate there being a queue, but conferences are supposed to be social events to connect with your peers, and it is very demoralising to go to one and have your “singularity” amplified, instead of meeting people like you that you would not have met otherwise.

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