MozFest 2012: Reflection & Thimble Project Making

Where to even begin? My mind is still reeling from the awesomeness that was MozFest almost a week later. I suppose the best place is for those who aren’t familiar…

What is MozFest?

The Mozilla Festival is an annual weekend event where (mainly) Mozilla Foundation, its affiliates, and others (because anyone can submit proposals) hold sessions (presentation, workshops, or hackfest type sessions) on some of the cool, open things that have been happening. That’s how I see it anyway.

There is a big range of people who attend of different age, background, tech-savvyness, geographic location, everything. I will say that there were different streams, which made some groups more prominent (other than developers), such as journalists and educators.

Science Fair

The digital, technology version of a regular science fair. People got to show off stuff that has been made, especially within the past year since the last MozFest. Highlight for me was definitely the banana piano. Simple, but ingenious use of MakeyMakey with an Arduino unit where you hold the ground and when you touch one of the bananas, it completes the circuit and knows which banana you touched, ultimately playing a sound and animating a digital keyboard.

Opening and Closing Circle – Day 1

I actually don’t have any notes for the plenaries of the day 1. For the first time ever, I felt the need to closed my laptop and just listen. However, the streaming videos are online on the MozFest website.

Sessions

Gunner at Work Open Session

I didn’t attend very many sessions, because I was busy doing other things much of the time, but two in particular stood out for me.

The first on how to work in the open turned into a particularly interesting session, because Gunner (Allen Gunn) came in to check up on us and asked if we needed anything. The response was “our facilitator”. So while Matt Thompson was “coming”, Gunner stepped in and totally winged a Q&A + discussion session. It was great. You can find my notes in a recent post.

The second was the fireside chat with Mark Surman on the future of Webmaker. It was interesting to hear about the big lessons they learned and the direction in moving forward, especially with Thimble since I’m fairly familiar with it. One of the questions that Mark wanted us to answer in the discussion was what projects (i.e. templates) we could make (either in Thimble or Popcorn) that would be popular. One of the answers inspired me to hack together a new Thimble project (if you’re not familiar with Thimble projects, take a look at the list of Thimble projects). More on that later.

While not exactly a session, I have to mention Codery’s Badge Bingo. They added another fun game factor to collection badges at MozFest, plus they gave away a t-shirt to every person who got bingo. It was great.

Helping Out

So when I wasn’t attending sessions, I was helping out with various things. I did a lot of random, being a gopher type things, and helped with setup and clean up of some sessions. The afternoon of the first day, I hung out to help with the HTML5 Hackable Games session.

I was also a Human API. Basically, people could ask questions, in my case about HTML and CSS stuff. I didn’t get many questions though, so next year, they might need to coordinate to have people with certain skills help out at certain sessions to make better use of the Human APIs.

Demo Party

I didn’t really have anything ready when I submitted my name to be part of the demo party, but what the heck, I figured I’d have something put together even if it wasn’t polished. Since there was a Thimble table, I ended up providing my project as a Thimble example.

Interestingly, I ended up staffing the table by myself, so I got to talk about Thimble in general as well as my project. Apparently, I was good enough and know enough about Thimble that I could pass for a MoFo staff member. ^^

So here’s a summary what I talked about during the demo party in regards to my project:

Hacking Together a New Thimble Project

Inspiration

One of the answers to what might make a popular Thimble project was “school projects”. I immediatly thought of the poster projects we had to make in school and how I really disliked having to print everything, and cut and paste each bit straight (and if you screwed up, having to do it again). Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could just do a digital version and display it? (or if necessary, print the whole thing off).

Making the Project

I spent a couple of hours putting together a poster thimble project. I wish I had more graphic design/artistic talent, because as it stands, it kind of looks like somthing from the geocities age (ugh), but for me, rather than the look, it was more important to make it so that it’s:

  • easy to use – no CSS and very little HTML required
  • flexible – hackable if you know HTML & CSS

In particular:

  • separate title & footer areas
  • column classes are reused – don’t need to specify first, last, inner, or outer.
  • image classes – text wrap on right or left, or centre with no wrapping
  • works cited area – automatically floats this in bottom right above footer

Since we were at MozFest, I couldn’t help but use red pandas!

To Do

I want to clean it up, insert instructions, and separate the CSS into external and internal blocks. I’d also like to add ways to possibly rotate blocks of text or images.

I’ve also requested from the projects coordinator a small bit of time from a graphics designer to make it look nicer and more professional looking.

Extended Use Case

I created it with school kids (primary and secondary) in mind, but someone mentioned that they would find this useful for university presentation and conference posters as well. I was very happy to hear that they thought it would be useful beyond my original intention.

Other Demos

I took a bit of time to walk around the room and see what else people were up to. The Hackable games section was definitely interesting to see, especially with the one button arcade boxes. The MakeyMakey step visualizer was a crowd draw as well.

For a list of all the demos with links and pictures, check out the MozFest demo party page.

Thanks MozFest

I went to MozFest with the intention of simply hanging out and helping out. I never thought that I’d be inspired to hack anything together, because I’m just not a coder. I was inspired not only by the talks and ideas, but by the attitude and enthusiasm through MozFest. I never thought that I’d even have my project featured first on the demo page.

So, thanks MozFest, and hope to be there next year.

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