Hasta la vista, España, adéu Catalunya


All things, good or bad, must come to the end. And so is my Spanish and Catalan adventure. There have been a bit more than two years since I first arrived here, without knowing more Spanish words than Arnold’s famous quote and some similar expressions. Yet, when I drew the line and made the balance of these two years, I found myself wanting. Let’s have a look at what I gained and what I failed to achieve in these two years.

On the pro side I must start with the fact that in terms of professional avancement I moved further and faster than ever before (and I need to thank my Emagister work buddies for that). I found out how it is to be away from all that is known and familiar to you. I got myself to a serviceable level of Spanish (and knowing another language is always a good thing in my book). My wife and I found a pair of great friends here (coincidence or not, both Romanians too). I got to know in what environment I don’t like working in (my first job here) and how you can integrate into a great team in just a couple of weeks (tip of hat to Emagister, again). I got to know the inside of a different culture, even if I did not integrate into it. I found out that there is a lot of common vocabulary between Catalan and Romanian and that I need to make my brain stop translating everything through English first.

On the con side, the most difficult thing to adapt to was local cuisine and food. I am picky about the fish I eat. Same about seafood. Add my terrible talent of biting hard on any foreign object in the food (bone splinters, sand, shell pieces) and you’ll understand why I never touched a paella here after my first try. I get sick only by smelling goat cheese and they use it a lot here. The times we went out for tapas (local finger food) can be counted on one hand. Yet we’ve been many more times to Asian all-you-can-eat buffets.

And last, but not least (it can even climb to the first place) is the economic factor. My wife couldn’t find a job in all this time (and not for lack of trying), so it all fell down on my shoulders. And at the end of each month we were (more or less) breaking even. Yet any unexpected event (and there have been enough of those too) threw us more out of balance. When we add the failing economy, the massive unemployment and the cost reductions everyone is applying, it gets clear that we need to look for greener pastures.

An English speaking country is practically the only way we can try and make it work. As UK maintains the work restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians, the only valid alternative is Ireland. So here we are, preparing to close all loose ties that remain here and getting ready for relocation. There are so many things to do, so many bureaucratic loops to jump through and so little time to do it. Yet we still look forward to the new opportunities, to the change in scenery and to a new chance to get things done the right way.

Hasta la vista, España, adéu Catalunya! We promise to return to visit some day.

WebVisions Barcelona – the aftermath

I started writing this post on Sunday, right after the end of the WebVisions conference in Barcelona. I delayed finishing it, as I tried to gather as much material as possible for the sessions I participated (meaning the presentation slides and if possible video recordings). And if I ever needed another reason to like Smashing Magazine, I have it now. Thanks again for the ticket. I loved the experience.

Let’s deal with the less fun parts first, to get them out of the way. This category included the daily commute of 1:30 hours to reach the event location (and the same to get home late in the evening). The fact that the Oval Room was not specifically designed for public presentations, thus lacking a proper audio setup and any type of video recording equipment. While this allowed me to play video operator with my personal camera, the results can be called “decent” at best. I think that maybe a normal classroom would have been better. The last thing was the lack of research in local customs. In Spain, people start having lunch around 1:30 – 2PM. It’s hard to find a decent restaurant open before 1AM, except maybe fast foods joints or cafeterias. Thus having the lunch break set up from 12:OO to 1:30PM restricted a bit the possibility to get a good meal.

Now, to the good parts. Day one has been Studio Tour day. I could call this experience “people with great imagination need unusual offices”. Why’s that? Estudios Mariscal (creators of the ’92 Barcelona Olimpics Mascot) and Morera Design have their offices inside a renovated leather factory. The Almogavèrs business incubator is inside a renovated industrial building and the walls are covered in motivational phrases, in English, Spanish and Catalan. And last but not least, Herraiz Soto & Co makes use of what was in the ’30s a propeller factory. The end part of this warehouse-like building was offered as location for the party that ended the first day.

Because I forgot to take my camera with me, I had to do only with my phone camera. Thus I decided to reach to the Hipster side and took some Instagram shots, which you can see below:

Meeting Javier Mariscal
The “Garden” outside Mariscal Studios
Funny mascot at Morera Design
Motivational graffiti at Almogavèrs Business Incubator

I had to skip day 2, because I did not had a ticket for the Workshops and the 350 euro price was a bit steep for me. So I was present, bright and early, on Friday morning, when the presentation sessions began. I’ll focus on the sessions I attended personally, but you can check the full schedule to see what else was available. The criteria I picked the sessions was two-fold: first by topic and second by location. As I mentioned in the “not that good” part at the beginning, the sessions in the second Oval Room were not recorded on video so I focused on being present there and saving the other sessions for later when the video sessions will become available. For each session I will link either to the description on the event website or the place where the slides are uploaded (if I managed to get track of them). I thought about putting the slides inline, but that will make the post even longer.

1. We started with “Make it So: UX Lessons from Science Fiction” by Nathan Shedroff, a very interesting session, backed by lots and lots of data, showing the effect that technical evolution has on fictional interfaces and how the same fictional interfaces have sparked ideas that materialized in real life products. The research data backing this presentation will soon appear in book format, called also “Make it so”, although I am sure much will be lost when going from screen and video to printed word.

2. Next came Chrystal Beasley from Mozilla and 13 Signs your website needs an UX exorcism. A back-to-basis list of things to avoid and not to do if you don’t want your visitors to run away screaming. Not terribly exciting, but good enough to get woken up that early in the morning (the slides are available in the link above).

3. Jason Grigsby took off with a very engaging session called “Casting Off Our Desktop Shackles” showing off just how many prejudices and preconceptions are when it comes to a true mobile experience. I could not help but remember why I keep Opera Mini on my phone: because my favorite past-time-while-commuting website automatically redirects to a mobile version that does not have all the content as the normal site (including some quite important areas). Overall it was a very interesting session. Seeing it in a comfy chair with air conditioning (in the Auditorium) definitely helped (the slides are available in the link above).

4. Faruk Ates (creator of the Modernizr library)  held next session, focused on “Web’s Third Decade” – a thorough analysis of the status of the web today: lack of formal education, most professionals are self-thought; we still hand-code everything, as the tools are not up to date with production reality. Then came a list of what the community is doing to overcome obstacles, possible solutions for our problems and how people need to approach the new realities (the slides are available in the link above).

5. Next came Chris Mills from Opera who talked about “Adapt and Respond: An Expert’s Guide to Responsive Design“. I can’t say I remember much of the details covered, as I was too much in awe with the style of the presentation: 8-bit style images and sound effects from old games made up for an awesome unconventional session (the slides are available in the link above).

The day ended with a presentation by Jeff White from Industrial Light and Magic. Yes, that ILM – those who make awesome stuff in the movies we love (or we hate). I could not really see the connections between this session and the world of web, other than the first 5 minutes when we saw how the ILM website looked in the beginning and how it looks now. The rest was spent on covering ways to do special effects (with lots of examples) in movies like Jurassic Park, The Avengers and of course Star Wars. Slightly off-topic, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Last day started with a session on CSS Regions and how one can use them to create a magazine-like layout. The speaker was Mihnea Ovidenie, from Adobe Romania and one of the people who works on the WebKit engine. He is also one of the friends I made at this conference and trust me … it was great to be able to speak Romanian again with someone other than my wife. Anyway, while the support for this technology is not great yet (Chrome – needs activation of the flag – and IE 10), there is a lot of potential for the future. The slides are in the link above and here is also my own recording of the event:

Next session belonged to Chris Heilmann from Mozilla who, together with his colleague Chrystal Beasley started a rhyme-based duet on HTML5 and the future of the web. Although this highly entertaining part laste only about 15 minutes, the rest of the time was a free-for-all discussion on the impact these new technologies have on the current virtual landscape. The slides are linked above and, while I have recorded the entire session, I do not have the permission of the speaker yet.

The first session after lunch showcased Viktor Nordstrom and Daniel Iborra, two young entrepreneurs from Sitges (30km south of Barcelona) who did a presentation on WebGL, HTML5 and the Future of 3D. The highlight of the session was the showcasing of their web-based rendering application, which permits loading 3D models and rendering the resulted scene. I will also add the recorded session when I will receive the permission of the speakers.

Next presentation was from the second Romanian participant, Raul Hudea, also from Adobe Romania. The chosen topic was Bringing Cinematics to the Web with CSS Filters. In essence it allows one to apply the same kind of effects one does using Photoshop to almost every element of the page. This technology is so new, that it is not even entirely defined yet – there are still security details to be defined and implemented. The slides are linked above, but unless you open it with the latest version of Chrome, they will not function properly. Even so, the demo browser Raul used to present this topic was a customized build of nighlty WebKit. I ran it with Chrome v.20 and it was more or less OK for the entire length, with only a couple issues. I also recorded this session and got the permission to display it:

The evening ended with a nice party in open air, in the inner court of the Pompeu Fabra university, which had hosted the event. It was a great opportunity to know other people over a cold beer or Coca Cola and also to take a few last pictures.

Closing words by WebVisions Executive Director Brad Smith
Party location in the inner courtyard
Left to right: yours truly, Mihnea Ovidenie (Adobe Romania), Harish Sivaramakrish (Adobe India) and Raul Hudea (Adobe Romania)

Overall it was a great experience and I look forward for the next year session. I got to know some great people, got a peek behind the scenes to see what it takes to organize such an event and last but not least I got my eyes open on several advances in the field of Web Technologies that could make my professional life even more interesting.

Two weeks until WebVisions Barcelona

At the end of April I was lucky enough to receive one ticket to WebVisions Barcelona, courtesy of the great people from Smashing Magazine. I can only say that I am delighted for the opportunity and can hardly wait to be there. While not my first event ever (I participated to Barcelona Developers Conference in November) I can say that I am more eager for this specific one. Mainly, because of the topics chosen: a lot of the sessions are geared towards modern web technologies, like HTML5, CSS3, top-edge javascript, responsive web design. To sum things up, it’s about all the cool buzzwords that populate the web design and front end community.

My ticket covers only the two days of presentation and not the workshops. However I also have the chance to participate (free of charge) to the events in the first day (the visits to the main web studios of Barcelona and the networking reunion in the evening). Hopefully I will manage to find the time to do it. As for the bulk of the conference, I plan to attend to all the sessions related to front end technologies. I am lucky that the schedule does not put two of the same category at the same time.

Another thing that excites me is the presence of two Romanian speakers (at least going by their names), both part of the Adobe Air team and contributors to the WebKit engine. Back in April, when I won the ticket, Adobe had planned to bring 5 speakers, 4 of them with Romanian-like names. In the end it seems there will be only two (Mihnea Ovidenie and Raul Hudea) and I aim to participate to both their sessions.

In the end I hope to be able to personally give my thanks to the Smashing Magazine representants at the conference, to learn a lot of new interesting things and maybe start some connections with other people participating.