Note: I started writing this past year after the festival finished, and then I went heads down into an spiral of web audio hacking and conferencing and what not, so I didn't finish it.
But with the festival starting this Friday, it's NOW OR NEVER!
Ahead with the PUBLISH button!
<small><em>(AKA #MozFest everywhere else)</em></small> <a href="http://mozillafestival.org/">MozFest</a> finished <del datetime="2014-10-20T09:34:21+00:00">a week</del> almost a year ago already, but I'm still feeling its effects on my brain: tons of new ideas, and a pervasive feeling of not having enough time to develop them all. I guess it's good (if I manage it properly). I came to the Festival without knowing what it would be about. The Mozilla London office had been pretty much taken over by the Mozilla Foundation people from all over the world who were doing their last preparations in there. Meeting rooms were a scarce resource, and one of them was even renamed as "MF WAR ROOM", until someone came next day and re-renamed it as "MW PEACE ROOM". So, it was all "a madhouse", in Potch's words, but amicable, friendly chaos after all. Hard to gather what the festival would consist of, though. So I just waited until Friday... <!--more--> <h3>Friday</h3> Well, saying that I waited wouldn't be true. I wasn't sitting, arms crossed. I was furiously stealing sleep hours to finish a hack that <a href="http://livingcode.org/">Dethe Elza</a> (from Mozilla Vancouver, and curator for the <em>Make the web physical</em> track) had asked me to bring and present at the Science Fair on Friday. My hack, <a href="http://soledadpenades.com/2013/10/25/humacchina-preview/">HUMACCHINA</a>, briefly consisted on using my QuNeo to control an instrument running on the browser, with Web Audio. I will talk about more technicalities in a future post, but what interests me here is the experience of <em>presenting</em> my creation to people on a fair. It was quite enlightening to observe how people react to the unknown and how they interpret what is in front of them according to their existing knowledge. Granted, my experiment was a little bit cryptic, specially if you were not a musician already (which would give you some hints), and it was hard to even listen to the music because of the noise in the environment, but still most people seemed to have fun and spent a while playing with the pads, others were puzzled by it ("but... why did you do this?") and finally others were able to take the QuNeo out of its current preset and into another (wrong) one by just pressing all the buttons randomly at the right times (!!!). I'm glad I noticed, and I'm even gladder than I had programmed a test pattern to ensure everything was properly setup, so I could reset it and ensure all was OK before the next person came to the booth. The sad part of this is that... I couldn't get to see any other of the booths, so I missed a great lot. You can't have it all, I guess. At some point I was super tired, first because it was the end of a long day (and week!) and second because explaining the same thing over and over again to different people is not something I do every day, so I was exhausted. I decided to call it a day and we went for dinner to a nearby place... where we happened to find a sizeable amount of Mozillians having dinner there too. So we all gathered together for a final drink and then quickly rushed before the last tube left. <h3>Saturday</h3> I couldn't be on time for the opening, but as soon as I arrived to Ravensbourne College I dashed through to the "Pass the App" session that <a href="http://robothaus.org/">Bobby Richter</a> was running and had asked me to join. I, again, had not much of a clue of how it would develop. He paired me with a startup who's trying to crowdsource custom built prosthetic parts for children in need, and we set up to prototype ideas for an app that could help them get to their goal. I think I should have drank a couple litres of coffee before joining this session, but although I wasn't in my best shape, I think we did good enough. We came up with a mockup for an app that would use a futuristic hypothetical AppMaker to start with some sort of template app that parents could customise to describe their children's needs, and then generate an app that they could then upload to a Marketplace and use that Marketplace payment features to fund the goal. It was fun to draw the mockup at giant scale and just discuss ideas without going technical for a change! Some people stayed to try to build a demo for Sunday, but I was honest with myself and declined building any hack during the event. I know that after a few hours of hacking while many other activities were happening, I would be hating myself, at the end of the week-end I would hate everyone else, and on Monday I would hate the whole universe. Or worse. I ended up chatting with <a href="http://farmdev.com/">Kumar</a>, who's actually worked on the payments system in the <a href="http://marketplace.firefox.com/">Firefox Marketplace</a>, and then Piotr (of <a href="http://jsfiddle.net">JSFiddle</a> fame) showed up. He had brought his daughter--she had been translating WebMaker into Polish first, and now she was happily designing a voxel based pig using <a href="http://maxogden.github.io/voxel-painter/">Voxel painter</a> under the careful supervision of <a href="http://maxogden.com/">Max Ogden</a>. Behind us, a whole group of tables were covered with the most varied stuff: plasticine, a water-colour machine, lots of Arduinos, sensors and wires, <em>Makey makey</em> pseudo joysticks, and whatnot. It was also time for lunch, so we grabbed some sandwiches carefully arranged in a nearby table. They also were yummy! But I was totally yearning for a coffee, and a social break, so I popped out of the building and into the O<sub>2</sub> for some sugary coffee based ice cream. Back into the College, I got a tweet suggesting me I visit the <a href="http://www.makersacademy.com/">Makers Academy</a> booth, which I did. It was interesting to know about their existence, because I get many questions about where to learn programming in a practical way, and I never know what to answer. Now I think I'd recommend Makers Academy as their approach seems quite sensible! Then I decided that since I was on the ground floor, I could just as well try to visit all booths starting from that floor and work my way upwards. So I went to the Mozilla Japan booth, where I had quite a lot of fun playing with their Parapara animation tool. Basically you draw some frame-based animation in a tablet, which gets saved into an SVG image. This is then played in several devices, moving along a certain path, and it seemed as if the character I drawn was travelling around the world. Here it went crossing Tower Bridge, then on the next device he would be crossing Westminster Bridge... all the way until it reached Mount Fuji. <small>(Here's a <a href="http://brian.sol1.net/svg/2012/01/27/parapara-animation/">better explanation</a> of how Parapara works, with pictures)</small> I was also really honoured to spend some time speaking with Satoko Takita, better known as "Chibi". She worked for Netscape before, of all places! She's a survivor! But today, she humbly insisted, "she's mostly retired". She was also super kind and helped me de-Mac-ify my laptop with a couple of vinyl stickers in vivid orange. Now when the lid is open, an orange dinosaur glows inside the apple. Gecko inside! After saying "arigato" many times (the only word I can say in Japanese... but probably a very useful one), I tried to continue my building tour. I tried to enter the first huge room which resembled a coffee place but it was so thriving with activity that it was impossible to get past the first meters. Also, I found <a href="http://blog.ibangspacebar.com/">Kate Hudson</a> too, which I hadn't had time to speak to during the Science Fair. She had to buy a SIM card, so we ventured out to the O<sub>2</sub> shop. Something funny happened there. She was wearing a "Firefox" hoodie, and the guy in the shop asked her if she worked for Firefox. I was looking at the whole scene, partly amused because of my anonymous condition (I wasn't wearing any branded apparel), and partly intrigued as to how the thing would end. She started explaining that she actually worked for <em>Mozilla</em>... but then the guy interrupted her, and said that Internet Explorer was the best browser. He was a real-life troll! But Kate wouldn't shut up--oh no! Actually it was good that she was the one wearing the hoodie, because she was taller and way more imposing than the troll (and than me! ha!). So she entered Evangelist Mode™ and calmly explained the facts while the other guy lost steam and... he finally left. After the incident, we went back to the college, and up to the Plenary area, where the keynotes would be held. But it was still early, so I used that time to make a few commits (I have a goal of making at least one small fix every day), since I hadn't made anything productive yet. The keynote speakers were sort of walking/rocking back and fro behind the stage, rehearsing their lines, which was a curious insight since that is not something you get to see normally. It was also quite humanising--made them approachable. In the meantime, we logged into <a href="http://chat.meatspac.es">chat.meatspac.es</a> and said "hi" to my team mate and former MozToronto office resident, <a href="http://ednapiranha.com/">Jen Fong</a> (she's now in Portland!). Finally the keynotes started, live broadcasted by <a href="https://air.mozilla.org/mozfest-2013-keynotes-saturday/">Air Mozilla</a>. Mitchell Baker's keynote was quite similar to her summit's keynote. Camille's speech had a few memorable quotes, including the "some people have never done homework without the web", and "people often say that democracies are like plumbing, because you only care about plumbing when there are really bad smells... We are the plumbers of the Information Society". After her, Dethe himself got up on stage to show <a href="https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/lightbeam/">Lightbeam</a>, a project that displays in a graphical way the huge amount of information that is "leaked" when you visit any given website. There was a most unsettling moment, when somebody sitting behind me said "Oh wow I never realised this was happening while I browsed!". That was a moment of tension, and of revelation--people really <em>need</em> to understand how the web works; hopefully Lightbeam and similar tools will help them. The co-founder from <a href="http://technologywillsaveus.org">Technologywillsaveus</a> gave us a tour about their products, and what they had learnt while building and marketing them, and although it seemed interesting, my brain was just refusing to accept any more information :-( After that--MozParty! We went to a pub in (guess where...) the O<sub>2</sub>, where the party would happen. Somebody was livecoding visuals and music with livecodelab, but I couldn't see who or where he was. At some point we went for dinner, and although the initial intention was to go back, we ended up retreating home as the first day had been quite exhausting! <h3>Sunday</h3> I think my brain was still fried when I woke up. Also, I was super hungry, almost to the point of being "hangry" (an invented word I had learnt about on Saturday), so --unsurprisingly-- my feet brought me to the usual breakfast place. After a flat white and an unfinished "French Savoury Toast" (because it was massive) I was so high on sugar that I could say I was even levitating some centimeters over the floor. I took the tube in Victoria--gross error. The platform was crowded with people dressed as comic characters and tourists dressed as English souvenirs (basically: Union Jack-themed apparel), and I mildly cursed myself for taking the tube in Victoria instead of walking to any of the other nearby stations. Only <em>mildly</em>, because I was under the effects of a sugar kick, and couldn't really get angry. At least, not for a few more hours. When I arrived, the opening keynote was finishing. Way to start the day! I had decided to "go analogic" and left my computer home, so I wanted to attend sessions where computers were not required. I finally attended the "Games on the urban space" session by <a href="http://invisibleplayground.com/">Sebastian Quack</a>, which was quite funny (and definitely didn't require us using computers!). This got me thinking about the urban environment and the activities that can take place in it--can everything be converted into a game? when's the best moment to play a game, or to involve passing pedestrians in your "gamified" activity? and do you tell them, or do you involve them without letting them know they are part of a game? I had lunch with a few participants of that session --it was funny that Myrian Schwitzner from Apps4Good was there too. We had met already at a <a href="http://www.ladieswhocode.com/">ladieswhocode</a> meetup in February, but I couldn't quite pinpoint it. We were like: "your face... looks familiar!" And this was something that happened frequently during the week-end: there was plenty of acquaintances to say hi to! It certainly slowed down the movement from one place to another, because you couldn't be rude and ignore people. Downstairs on the first floor, some people from the Webmaker team were hacking on something-something-audio for Appmaker. Meanwhile, Kumar was learning how to program his QuNeo. Turns out the <a href="http://soledadpenades.com/2013/08/06/quneo-node-js-node-osc/">star</a> (*) "trick" I found out of pure chance can be extended to more uses, so we tried finding the limits of the trick, sending different combinations to the device and seeing what would happen. I also explained how the LED control for the sliders worked (you control the brightness of each LED in the slider separately). After we ran out of ideas to send to the QuNeo, I browsed nearby tables. There was a woman with a bunch of planets modelled with plasticine (quite convincingly, I must say). She invited me to build something but I was fearing I would miss another session I was interested in--the "debate" with some journalists that had unveiled the NSA scandal. Still, I asked if I could smell the plasticine. If you ever used plasticine in the 80s/90s know what it smelled like, right? Well, it doesn't smell like that anymore. I wouldn't get hooked to it nowadays... A quick escape for some coffee and back from the stormy, inclement weather outside, I was all set for the session. It ended up feeling a bit too long, and at times quite hard to follow because they weren't using any microphone and relied entirely on their lungs to get the message across. I'm glad we all were super quiet, but the noise around the area and the speaker announcements coming from the Plenary were quite disruptive. Staying so focused for so long left me quite tired and I'm afraid to confess--I don't remember anything about the closing keynote. I know it happened, but that's it. After it, the "Demo Fest" was set up, and similarly to the Science Fest people set up booths and tables to show what they had been working on during the week-end. For once, I didn't have anything to show... which meant I could wander around looking at other people's work! I stayed for a little more, then we asked some people whether they'd like to join us in a quest to find a French steak restaurant in Marylebone, but they wouldn't, so we went there anyway. It was pouring with rain and that was the day in which I decided to wear canvas shoes. My feet stayed wet until 1 AM. Awful. We then went back to the official Moz-Hotel, where the Mozilla people were staying. There was no sign of after party first, then some people showed up with bags from the offlicense (too telling), and the hotel people weren't happy about that, so they asked them to consume whatever was in the bags in their rooms. I decided to discreetly head back home before <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Jude%27s_Storm">St. Jude's storm</a> got stronger. It was certainly an "atmospheric walk", with rain and wind blasting either way, which made quite difficult to hold the umbrella still. I ended up running as much as I could, to shorten the misery. My recent running exercises proved its worth! A few minutes after arriving home, Rehan told me that everyone had gone downstairs again and they were partying. But I had already changed into dry clothes and wasn't venturing out into the wild again, so that was it for me. In short: quite a good event. It was refreshing to do something not purely technical for a change, although I have this cunning feeling that I missed many sessions because there were so many of them. It was also good that kids were not only allowed but indeed <em>encouraged</em> into the festival, as they got to be involved in "grown up" activities such as translating, or for example designing things. I like how they question things and assumptions we take for granted---makes for refreshing points of view!
And written in October 2014: MozFest 2014 is coming! Here are some details of what I'll be doing there. See you!