#inspect 2014

I just spoke at #inspect2014, the second annual RubyMotion developer’s conference. The first one happened in Brussels. This year’s happened in San Francisco. I gave a talk, and presented the new version of motion-accessibility, which features automated iOS accessibility testing. My brother and his wife accompanied me, and I shared a room with Mark Villacampa, one of the other speakers. We had quite a time.

As soon as they announced the conference I knew I wanted to speak. Last year during the question and answer segment, someone asked if a way existed to do automated accessibility testing. I said no, but it sounded like a good idea. Since then I worked on a text console, then I got to the problem of accessibility testing. Now developers can test their apps to see if a VoiceOver user can access them.

I submitted a proposal and they accepted it. Now I had to find a way there. I mentioned it to Colin, the community organizer, and he said that one of the other speakers wanted to share a room. I had met Mark last year and we struck up a dialog about 3-D printing. He comes from Madrid, Spain. This year he would talk about interfacing RubyMotion with hardware, and would bring some demonstrations. We began arranging it, then my brother Ari and his wife Sarah said they wanted to go also. Sarah proved invaluable navigating Expedia. I could have never booked the trip without her help. As my Mom said, back in the day you could actually get a travel agent to help you, but not now.

Things fell into place. We had everything planned. We would arrive a day before Mark, then we would do the conference while Ari and Sarah enjoyed the area. To them it would feel like a vacation, but not to us. We had work to do.

For me, a small part of this work involved preparing my music. Last year I loaded up a bunch of music on my iPad, only to have it yanked away because of the mysteries of iTunes Match. Never again! I just wanted a device to which I could copy a bunch of music without restriction. My good friend Bec recommended a Sanza Clip Plus running RockBox, an open source MP3 player firmware. We had quite a time installing it and I don’t quite know how we finally got it working, but we did and I felt happy. I used to have to bring a bag full of music and technology when traveling. My Mom reminded me of the time when we went on a family vacation and I didn’t pack any clothes, just my stuff. Ari remembered that even as recently as 2000 when we went to England we both brought tons of music. Now it fit on a chip the size of my fingernail. Amazing!

We flew on Delta. The flight there went without incident. I wished they would have fed us, but we got sandwiches on the layover. We landed at San Jose and drove to San Francisco because it cost far less money. Now we felt hungry.

We went to a restaurant called Betel nut. I don’t remembered what I ordered, but enjoyed it. Suddenly we heard a guy at the next table berating the waiter. “This mango salad is the worst mango salad in the world! You are supposed to use green mangos. They are all soft and runny. I mean come on. I’m a foodie.”

We started making fun of the guy. “It looks like you have a douche bag on your hands.” commented my brother. This set the tone for the entire trip. Every time we overheard someone making a pretentious remark, we would say “Oh here we go again with the mango salad.” After I got back my friend Nikki suggested something that hadn’t occurred to me, he could have come from out of town as well. We just assumed he came from San Francisco. Now we will never know.

The next day started off slowly. We took advantage of the hotel’s free breakfast. My friend Rachel suggested I go to the pool to relax, and maybe I would meet someone. Instead I got yelled at for smoking on a deck overlooking the pool. They didn’t even have a sign. California uber ales!

Later in the day we walked up and down some hills and found the venue for the conference. The rest of the RubyMotion group did training at a place called SOMA. I wondered what that meant. Ari suggested the drug given to the citizens in Brave New World, a book every Californian should take to heart.

We ended up at a Chicago deep dish pizza place. We don’t usually get that in Philly, so enjoyed it. Mark arrived as we ate. He had just flown something like ten hours. Now our group had all its members. After dinner Mark went to visit a friend who works for Pebble, the smart watch company, and the rest of us watched the movie Office Space. If you haven’t seen it you really should. I also requested we watch the South Park episode entitled Smug Alert, in which Kyle’s dad gets a hybrid car then moves the family to San Francisco. They got it exactly right as always.

Mark had never come to America, so the next day we walked around the city, going up and down a number of hills. We had breakfast at Happy Donuts, just a nice average diner, but Mark enjoyed the experience. He had never had hashbrowns. We walked up and down some more hills, and ended up at a combination Starbucks and Wells Fargo. I told Mark that you can’t get any more American than this. We used their crappy wifi where I got a 37.5% packet loss. We walked up and down even more hills and found ourselves at the Moscone Center, where Apple would have WWDC. Mark saw them building the Apple logo, they had the top part of the apple and the stem. I faintly smelled pot smoke on the wind.

They cancelled the speaker’s dinner, but a few of us met at a restaurant. It felt good to see Laurent again, the creator of RubyMotion. Colin arrived, as did a contingent from Australia. Unfortunately when I got back to the hotel I had lost my iPhone cord and wall adapter. Perhaps I dropped them at Starbucks, I don’t know, but it put me in a bad mood. At least it happened around the right crowd.

The conference began. We listened to some great talks. You can watch them online soon. Laurent announced that RubyMotion 3.0 would have Android support. I had to ask Mark three times if he meant it seriously. Apparently he did.

We had to juggle power cords, since I had none, and had to use my hotspot to provide wifi. I swear, every tech conference I have attended has had poor or no wifi. How else can I make sarcastic tweets? A pair of Aftershokz bone conduction headphones also broke. This bothered me, but it felt expected. I wondered if they call them Aftershokz because AFTER your fifth pair breaks you stop feeling the SHOKZ. Mark “the hardware guy” fixed them with some tape, good enough for now.

After the conference a bunch of them wanted to go to In-and-Out Burgers, a hamburger chain. I could not understand why Europeans would come all the way to America only to eat at a chain, but whatever. I knew they wouldn’t have anything vegetarian, but some other people went to Greens, which had vegetarian and vegan food and resided near the conference. I ordered a bowl of mushroom risotto and a glass of white wine. I enjoyed the food, but it cost me thirty-nine dollars! That would have cost me twenty dollars in Philly. I also realized at this point that I had not had dessert the whole time, something which would shock my family and friends. It complimented my bitter mood.

A group had organized an event for CocoaPods, a system for distributing code to help app developers. We decided to go. One girl made a sarcastic talk which I enjoyed. I also met Mark’s friend from Pebble, and excitedly told him about making it accessible to VoiceOver. He said I sold him on the idea. The event ended, making fourteen hours of tech talks in one day, very intense.

We came back to the hotel and I released motion-accessibility version 3.0. I felt proud but worn out. I had lost my iPhone charger, broken a pair of headphones, and had a blister on my toe. I missed home.

The day for us to give our talks had finally come. I woke up and immediately had an idea for how to improve my release. We went to the conference, heard an inspirational talk about teaching, then retreated to the speaker’s lounge to work. I banged out some code and released version 3.0.1, pushing the gem over my iPhone’s hotspot. That felt hardcore. Mark also finished his demonstration app which would interface with a bluetooth robot he made with his 3-D printer. Of course I tested it for accessibility, and feel proud to say that I actually drove a robot around with an iPhone app written in RubyMotion.

The talks went well. You can watch the video. Mark’s robots proved a big hit as well. We both felt a weight lift from our shoulders. We had done what we had come here to do. I felt exhausted. I always throw all my energy into my speech.

We all felt hungry but didn’t know where to go. After walking up and down some hills we found the Plant Cafe. I like this place. They had a lot of good organic food, both vegetarian and with meat, so everyone found something they liked. I had some good Chinese noodles and a banana smoothie. I missed having hemp protein. I also finally had my first and only dessert while there, a big vegan chocolate chip cookie.

After dinner we had to go to the party. We mingled and had beer from Rogue Brewery. The party ended at 11:00 and of course everyone wanted to have an after party. As a programmer this did not shock me.

We walked quite a distance. I have no idea where we ended up. The blister on my toe still hurt. My shoulder hurt from carrying a laptop around all day. My brain hurt from giving my speech. I just wanted to meditate and rest.

We finally made it to the Buena Vista cafe, the proclaimed inventor of Irish Coffee. I felt skeptical, but Wikipedia confirms it in part – they first made it in America. At the mention of Irish Coffee I knew what would happen. We entered the loud bar. Sound bounced off all the hard surfaces. I told Mark that I could not do this, seriously. He said eh just wanted to hang out a little, and that we only get to do this once a year. Of course he had a point.

I sat there, sipping water. I didn’t even feel like alcohol. A man sat down across from us. “Would you like to try my Irish Coffee?” he asked. I said sure. Why not? After a taste he offered to buy me one, so of course I said yes. When in rome… And as I predicted I drank a mixture of coffee, whiskey, and whipped cream at 12:30 AM. I knew my body would hate me the next day.

Mark began talking to the man. He said he works for Apple. This got my attention. He writes low level hardware drivers and kernel extensions. He added a processor to the Linux kernel. Clearly this guy knows his stuff. Mark later described him as looking like an old hardware hacker in his fifties, and this fit the image I had in my head.

He made an oblique comment that nobody uses AppleScript anymore. Mark and I wondered about the rumors of a new language. Of course a few days later at WWDC Apple announced Swift, a subject worthy of another post. This further boosted the man’s credibility, not that his Apple business card didn’t already.

I asked if he had come to the conference, and he said yes, both days. “So you know how I feel about Apple’s products?” I asked. He had indeed seen my talk, and told me about some of the great work done by the Apple Accessibility team. I got his email. Now I felt awake! You never know what will happen.

As I suspected my body did not appreciate the Irish Coffee later. I don’t usually drink coffee, didn’t feel like alcohol, and don’t like whipped cream unless my Mom makes it herself. Still, I did not regret my decision. Something amazing had happened last night…didn’t it? But now I felt gross.

We finally made it up and out for breakfast at 03:30 in the afternoon, feeling like true programmers. Of course we picked that day to walk up Lumbard St., the crookedest street in America. We had to stop three times to catch our breath. We almost died. We ended up back at Happy Donuts. We had a weird feeling we would. It saved our lives, and didn’t cost us a small fortune. That proved enough of an adventure, and we went back to the hotel to recover. We ate the last of the Chicago deep dish pizza, and went to a vending machine. Mark said he wanted something typical of here. “What’s a Pop-Tart?” We ate our final meal of Pop-Tarts and Vitamin Water, as American as the combination of Starbucks and Wells Fargo.

We packed and left in the morning. Mark and I said good bye. We had a great time at the conference, and had plenty to talk about. The rest of us drove back to San Jose to return the car and fly home. We had a meal in the airport cafe. I had vegetarian tacos with fresh avocado, a meal as good as any I had eaten so far. We overheard someone at the next table: “This food tastes like water.” “Here we go again with the mango salad.”

The flight back felt like torture, in contrast to the flight there. We got on the plane, and my brother safely stored my rigid cane under luggage to secure it. A stewardess reprimanded him, and suggested he hold it for the duration of the flight. Ari argued with her, and she finally put the cane on top of a pile of luggage. When we opened the door at the end of the flight, my cane promptly rolled out and bopped me on the head.

They also didn’t feed us the whole time. They gave me a piddily bag of pretzels. When I asked for a second they reacted as though I had asked for caviar on a golden plate. “Oh no sir we don’t have that.” Pathetic! Another passenger gave me theirs. How nice of them.

I will never fly Delta again. In this day and age every airline should know how to treat passengers with disabilities. Not feeding us once on two trans-coastal trips felt inhumane. Several friends who travel a lot have told me that they do not serve meals on any domestic flights, no matter the airline, but that doesn’t make it right. I hope I can find a better airline for my trip to Berlin.

In conclusion I had a great time at the conference, but I don’t think I could live in San Francisco. It has a strange climate – warm in the day, then cool in the evening. And enough with the fucking hills! Plus, a single room apartment cost $2700 per month, and my brother saw an efficiency for sale for a cool million. Insane! When people ask my friend Alex Hillman if he thinks Philadelphia will become the next Silicon Valley, he says that he does not want it to become that, and now I fully understand why.

Still, I always enjoy hanging out with RubyMotion developers, and everyone at the conferenced acted warmly and wonderfully and I look forward to next year. I suggested Philadelphia because I live there and because you can put on a conference inexpensively. I also suggested Colorado and Amsterdam for obvious reasons. I have begun warming to Mark’s suggestion of Madrid however. He already taught me one word in spanish: carajillo. It means coffee with cognac, similar to an Irish Coffee. If a stranger offers you one at 12:30 AM, say yes. You never know, he might work for Apple.