Tags: freiburg



On tour

I’ve just returned from a little European tour of Germany, Italy, and Romania, together with Jessica.

More specifically, I was at Smashing Conference in Freiburg, From The Front in Bologna, and SmartWeb in Bucharest. They were all great events, and it was particularly nice to attend events that focussed on their local web community. Oh, and they were all single-track events, which I really appreciate.

Now my brain is full of all the varied things that all the excellent speakers covered. I’ll need some time to digest it all.

I wasn’t just at those events to soak up knowledge; I also gave a talk at From The Front and SmartWeb—banging on about progressive enhancement again. In both cases, I was able to do that first thing and then I could relax and enjoy the rest of the talks.

I didn’t speak at Smashing Conf. Well, I did speak, but I wasn’t speaking …I mean, I was speaking, but I wasn’t speaking …I didn’t give a talk, is what I’m trying to say here.

Instead, I was MCing (and I’ve just realised that “Master of Ceremonies” sounds like a badass job title, so excuse me for a moment while I go and update the Clearleft website again). It sounds like a cushy number but it was actually a fair bit of work.

I’ve never MC’d an event that wasn’t my own before. It wasn’t just a matter of introducing each speaker—there was also a little chat with each speaker after their talk, so I had to make sure I was paying close attention to each and every talk, thinking of potential questions and conversation points. After two days of that, I was a bit knackered. But it was good fun. And I had the pleasure of introducing Dave as the mystery speaker—and it really was a surprise for most people.

It’s always funny to return to Freiburg, the town that Jessica and I called home for about six years back in the nineties. The town where I first started dabbling in this whole “world wide web” thing.

It was also fitting that our Italian sojourn was to Bologna, the city that Jessica and I have visited on many occassions …well, we are both foodies, after all.

But neither of us had ever been to Bucharest, so it was an absolute pleasure to go somewhere new, meet new people, and of course, try new foods and wines.

I’m incredibly lucky that my job allows me to travel like this. I get to go to interesting locations and get paid to geek out about web stuff that I’d be spouting on about anyway. I hope I never come to take that for granted.

My next speaking gig is much closer to home; the Generate conference in London tomorrow. After that, it’s straight off to the States for Artifact in Providence.

I’m going to extend that trip so I can get to Science Hack Day in San Francisco before bouncing back to the east coast for the final Brooklyn Beta. I’m looking forward to all those events, but alas, Jessica won’t be coming with me on this trip, so my enjoyment will be bittersweet—I’ll be missing her the whole time.

Thank goodness for Facetime.

Medieval times

I just got back from Nürnberg where I gave the closing talk at the cheap’n’cheerful border:none event. It was my first time in Nürnberg and I wish I could’ve stayed longer in such a beautiful place. I would’ve liked to stick around for today’s Open Device Lab admin meetup, but alas I had to get up at the crack of dawn to start making my way back to Brighton.

I was in Germany last month too. That time I was in Freiburg, where I was giving the closing talk at Smashing Conference. That was a lot of fun:

So I threw away my slidedeck and went Keynote commando.

The video from that slideless talk is up on Vimeo now for your viewing and/or downloading pleasure.

If you watch it through to the end, then you’ll know why I could be found immediately afterwards showing people some centuries-old carvings on Freiburg’s cathedral.

Jeremy playing tour guide Bread standards

Update: I’ve published a transcript of the talk.


It was a crazy time in Brighton last week: Reasons To Be Creative followed by Improving Reality followed by dConstruct followed by Maker Faire and Indie Web Camp. After getting some hacking done, I had to duck out of Indie Web Camp before the demos so that I could hop on a plane to Germany for Smashing Conference—the geek party was relocating from Brighton to Freiburg.

I was there to deliver the closing keynote and I had planned to reprise a talk that I had already given once or twice. But then Vitaly opened up proceedings by declaring that the event should be full of stories …and not just stories of success either; stories of failure. Then Elliot opened the show by showing some of his embarrassing early Flash websites. I decided that, in the spirit of Vitaly’s entreaty, I would try something similar. After all, I didn’t have anything quite as embarrassing as Atomic Kitten or Hilary Duff e-cards in my closet.

So I threw away my slidedeck and went Keynote commando. My laptop was connected to the projector but I only used it to bring up a browser to show embarrassing old sites like the first version of adactio.com complete with frames, tables for layout, and gratuitous DHTML animation. But I spent most of the time just talking, telling the story of how I first started making websites back when I used to live in Freiburg, and describing the evolution of The Session—a long-term project that’s given me a lot of perspective on how we often approach our work from too short a timescale.

It was fun. It was nice to be able to ditch the safety net of slides and talk off-the-cuff to a group of fellow geeks in the intimate surroundings of Freiburg’s medieval merchant’s hall.

Preparing to speak Leaving Smashingconf

I finished by encouraging people to look out the window of the merchant’s hall across to the splendid cathedral. The Freiburger Münster is a beautiful, magnificent creation …just like the web. But it’s made of sandstone and so it requires constant upkeep …just like the web. The Münsterbauverein are responsible for repairing and maintaining the building. They can only ever work on small parts at a time, but the overall result—over many generations—is a monument that’s protected for the future.

I hope that when we work on the web, we are also contributing to a magnificent treasure for the future.


The Session

When I was travelling back from Webstock in New Zealand at the start of this year, I had a brief stopover in Sydney. It coincided with one of John and Maxine’s What Do I Know? events so I did a little stint on five things I learned from the internet.

It was a fun evening and I had a chance to chat with many lovely Aussie web geeks. There was this one guy, Christian, that I was chatting with for quite a bit about all sorts of web-related stuff. But I could tell he wasn’t Australian. The Northern Ireland accent was a bit of a giveaway.

“You’re not from ‘round these parts, then?” I asked.

“Actually,” he said, “we’ve met before.”

I started racking my brains. Which geeky gathering could it have been?

“In Freiburg” he said.

Freiburg? But that was where I lived in the ’90s, before I was even making websites. I was drawing a complete blank. Then he said his name.

“Christian!” I cried, “Kerry and Christian!”

With a sudden shift of context, it all fit into place. We had met on the streets of Freiburg when I was a busker. Christian and his companion Kerry were travelling through Europe and they found themselves in Freiburg, also busking. Christian played guitar. Kerry played fiddle.

I listened to them playing some great Irish tunes and then got chatting with them. They didn’t have a place to stay so I offered to put them up. We had a good few days of hanging out and playing music together.

And now, all these years later, here was Christian …in Sydney, Australia …at a web event! Worlds were colliding. But it was a really great feeling to have that connection between my past and my present; between my life in Germany and my life now; between the world of Irish traditional music and the world of the web.

One of the other things that connects those two worlds is The Session. I’ve been running that website for about twelve or thirteen years now. It’s the thing I’m simultaneously most proud of and most ashamed of.

I’m proud of it because it has genuinely managed to contribute something back to the tradition: it’s handy resource for trad players around the world.

I’m ashamed of it because it has been languishing for so long. It has so much potential and I haven’t been devoting enough time or energy into meeting that potential.

At the end of 2009, I wrote:

I’m not going to make a new year’s resolution—that would just give me another deadline to stress out about—but I’m making a personal commitment to do whatever I can for The Session in 2010.

Well, it only took me another two years but I’ve finally done it.

I’ve spent a considerable portion of my spare time this year overhauling the site from the ground up, completely refactoring the code, putting together a new mobile-first design, adding much more location-based functionality and generally tilting at my own personal windmills. Trying to rewrite a site that’s been up and running for over a decade is considerably more challenging than creating a new site from scratch.

Luckily I had some help. Christian, for example, helped geocode all the sessions and events that had been added to the site over the years.

That’s one thing that the worlds of Irish music and the web have in common: people getting together to share and collaborate.

Return to Freiburg

I was in southern Germany this week to speak at the inaugural Smashing Conference. It was a really good event, packed with in-depth talks and workshops for web developers. Its practical nature contrasted nicely with the more inspirational value of dConstruct. I always say it’s good to have a balanced conference diet: too much code and I start itching for big-picture thinking; too much big-picture thinking and I start jonesing for some code.

That said, I have to admit that I missed out on quite a few of the talks. That’s because I was outside exploring Freiburg. Or should I say, I was outside rediscovering Freiburg.

I used to live there. I lived there for about six years, all told, during the ’90s. That’s where I met Jessica.

To start with, I was playing music on the streets of Freiburg. Later, I got a job in a bakery, selling bread, pretzels and all manner of excellent baked goods. Meanwhile, I was playing in a band (two bands actually: for a while I was the bassist in Leopold Kraus, the finest surf band in the Black Forest). At some point, the band decided we needed a website. I said I’d give it a go. That’s when this whole web thing started for me. I started freelancing on the side. Before too long, I was able to give up the bread-selling day job.

But after six years, Jessica and I decided that we were done with Freiburg. We moved to Brighton, where we’ve lived for twelve years now.

So it was with some excitement and a certain amount of nervous anticipation that we returned to Freiburg for the Smashing Conference. What would Freiburg be like now? Would it feel weird to be back there?

Well, Jessica has written all about what it was like to go back. I highly recommend that you read what she’s written because she puts it far better than I ever could.

Jessica has been publishing online at wordridden.com since we lived in Germany. Reading back through her posts from way back then about life in Freiburg makes me wish that I had started writing on adactio.com sooner. I don’t have much evidence of my time there: a box of cassettes (cassettes!) that the band recorded; a handful of photographs.

On this trip, I took quite a few photographs. In three days, I recorded an order of magnitude more data than I had done in six years of living in Freiburg.

Helvetican crossing

One of the services we offer at Clearleft is on-site training… a bit of this, a bit of that. It’s something that I really enjoy. Not only do I get to spend a day talking incessantly about the technologies that tickle my fancy, I also get to travel and meet web developers who are digging away at the coalface behind their company firewalls.

Thus far, our little roadshow has travelled within the UK to companies in London, York, and elsewhere. This week, we’re spreading our wings a little further. On Friday, I’ll be doing some DOM Scripting training in Basel, Switzerland located right on the nexus of France, Germany and the Confoederatio Helvetica.

It won’t be my first time to Basel. I’ve been there on a few occasions, mostly for the unique annual spectacle of the Morgensterich carnival. I used to live fairly close by, over the border in Freiburg, Germany.

I arrived in Freiburg many years ago with my bouzouki in hand and started busking on the streets. I ended up staying for about five or six years. Along the way I met Jessica, worked in a bakery and played bass in a surf-rock band. Then that whole web thing came along and set me on my present course.

I haven’t been back to Freiburg since moving to England six years ago. Seeing as I’m going to be in Basel anyway, I think I’ll take a trip up to the old town this weekend. I’ll revisit my old haunts and revisit the beer and wurst while I’m at it.

I hope my German hasn’t become too rusty in the intervening time. I guess I’ll find out if I’m able to comprehend the Schweizerdeutsch spoken in Basel.

Expect my Flickr photostream to fill up with pictures of Freiburg’s quaint alleyways and its wonderful cathedral. Tchüß… bis später.