From Strobe Lights to Virtual Worlds to Drones - NodePDX 2013

23 May 2013


Last week, I was fortunate enough to speak at NodePDX, an independent conference in Portland, Oregon that covers everything from hardware hacking to the latest innovations in the JavaScript world. After spending a few days hiking nearby in the beautiful Columbia Gorge, I was excited for the start of the conference on Thursday, and the first day didn’t disappoint just in the sheer diversity of topics covered. In fact, it’s that diversity of subject matter that I think sets NodePDX apart.

Strobe Lights, Smoke Machines, and Synths

nodepdx_mattly Matt Lyon Talks Music (via @yuetsu)

The first morning alone at NodePDX felt more like an electronic music festival than a programming conference. Matthew Lyon [@mattly] and James Halliday [@substack] gave talks on how they synthesized music using only JavaScript (Lyon's slides are online here, and examples of some of Halliday's work are over here), and Emily Rose [@nexxylove] showed us how she hacked together strobe lights and smoke machines with arduinos to sync them to music. Because so much of our work is rooted in technology, we tend to forget that there's a wider world beyond just the software that we work with everyday. There are so many different kinds of applications for expertise we all have at hand, and hearing these talks was an awesome reminder of what’s possible.

NoSQL, CouchDB, and Very Fast Web App Development with

After lunch, J Chris Anderson [@jchris] gave a talk about realtime text analytics. I'd actually caught up with him the night before at the Portland NoSQL meetup where he told me about some of what Couchbase is working on, especially their work in mobile sync and the possibilities stemming from that. We also chatted about, which is one of the most interesting things I've seen on the client side in a while, not only because it eliminates most of the work you’d usually have to do with the backend, but also because it’s completely in JavaScript.

nodepdx2 Photo Courtesy of @nodepdx

Seeing with JavaScript and Node-OpenCV

Most of the afternoon was a blur since I was scheduled to speak at 5:20 and I was preoccupied with last minute preparation. My talk took a fairly in depth look at a Computer Vision algorithm, and it was my first experience as a speaker at a real conference. While it went pretty well, I definitely think I could’ve spent more time preparing, like practicing eye contact with the audience. Still, there were people who came up to me afterwards to say that they enjoyed my talk, so it’s reassuring to know that I didn’t bomb! NodePDX recorded all the talks, so I'll post the video here once it's uploaded.

Flying Face-Following Drones with JavaScript

nodePDX_jwalsh Photo Courtesy of @jwalsh_

Directly after my talk, we had a NodeCopter hackathon with several AR drones and WiFly helicopters that Forrest Norvell [@othiym23] brought. I immediately crashed a copter into the roof with some ill thought out code. Thankfully, AR drones are quite hard wearing. Someone whose name I didn’t catch (sorry about that) managed to get the video streaming working and had a helicopter following faces in the crowd. He expressed an interest in using OpenCV's threshold stuff, so I spent the rest of the hackathon adding that to node-opencv. Having some fun with drones was a great way to unwind at the end of the day, and it was cool to see so many people working together to build something in realtime.

Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds with Node Modules

nodepdx_maxogden Max Ogden Talking VoxelJS. (via @nodepdx)

The second day started modularly, with Thorsten Lorenz [@thl0] giving a talk on Node modules, and Max Ogden [@maxogden] showing off his modular Minecraft-like world for the browser, VoxelJS (slides available here). Charlie Key [@zwigby] continued the game theme with a look at one of Modulus’ projects, then Ward Cunningham [@wardcunningham] shared his experiences finding the right technologies for talking to sensors, most recently through Node/Wiki. Norvell's talk, which took a look at some of the craziness and challenges that surround writing tools for JS and Node, was one of my favorites. You can find his slides online here.

NodePDX Overall

It was only two days, but NodePDX was a fantastic experience. Portland is a great town for events like these as it seems to attract an eclectic mix of interests and expertise, giving an incredible breadth to the talks and casual conversations. I'd like to say a big thanks to Troy Howard [@thoward37] and the other organizers, both for inviting me and for putting in the work to make NodePDX a reality. The fact that every single person in attendance was there because they had a passion for some project they loved, or just wanted to share their knowledge, was inspiring and motivating. It was great meeting everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing how future conferences build upon last weekend.