My Barcamp 2015 Highlights

I’ve just parted ways with a friendly and interesting bunch of people - exactly what I’d expect from a Barcamp crowd. This was my second Barcamp and it was fab to go with a bit more understanding of what to expect and how it works.

In case you aren’t familiar, Barcamp is an unconference. There are no scheduled speakers - that’s the job of the Barcampers, and everyone’s encouraged to give a talk.

Here are a couple of my highlights.

Living in a van

This was an awesome Q&A from Tim and Clara about their decision to ditch their flats and move into a van together. These two rock - I really admire their minimimalism and their casual attitude about what many people would consider a pretty radical lifestyle move. For me, the best thing was that this was full time - this isn’t a holiday home or a year off - this is a new, sustainable lifestyle. Kudos.

Building the BBC microbit

Wow, talk about achieving lots in no time. Michael gave us the lowdown on the BBC R&D microbit project which had insanely optimistic timescales - 3 months to build a hardware board and a substantial web stack with both online and offline elements. Clearly Michael is passionate about the end goal - putting millions of devices into the hands of every year 7 - which must have driven him through.

The best bit about this talk was describing the approach they took. Rather than focusing on perfecting one element at a time, they looked at whole subsystems and built the smallest possible piece at every level of the system - high level software right down to hardware - doing the absolute minimum to prove the concept, without it all having to work together. Previously I’ve heard this described at “walking skeleton”, whereby you implement something at every level - an empty database, a noddy ORM, a dummy web app, and a basic frontend server. This both de-risks the awkward connectivity parts early on and also means you’re more likely to deliver something early which you can build on. In other words, this is something like Agile is supposed to be.

Intro to Genetic Algorithms

Ethar gave us a quick primer on Genetic Algorithms and how their approach to solving problems mimics evolution. Massive credit to him for building us a little demo rig last night in D3. It showed the population of 100 as circles, where their “fitness” was denoted by their greyscale value. Awesome.

Introduction to Tor

OK, so this was my talk, so I’m biased, but I really enjoyed presenting it. I did a quick intro to Tor, why it was developed, who runs it and so on. It was pretty high level and short so we could do Q&As, and I was really pleased with how much people engaged on the subject. A few people had never heard of Tor so it was wicked to introduce it to them, while others used Tor actively and asked really intelligent questions, for example, “Why does Tor recommend I don’t resize my browser window?”…

Resolutions & Notes

Many thanks to the organisers and sponsors. This was an fantastic, stimulating weekend and I’m really pleased I went.