BarCamp London X

Wednesday, 15 October 2014 21:43
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The last weekend of September was BarCamp London X. It was free and hosted in Microsoft's offices near Victoria Station, and overnight a decent percentage of the 300-odd attendees slept in sleeping bags. Everyone was encouraged to give a 25-minute talk themselves, so I did my first ever public talk, about how search engines work. The whole weekend was awesome fun and I could've spent many more days there given the opportunity.

Bread making, assembler, and werewolves

The first thing I want to say is that the atmosphere at BarCamp was absolutely wonderful. It wasn't all tech-oriented so there was a diverse group of people around who were all very friendly and knowledgeable about various geeky things. The place never felt too crowded or too noisy, and the organisers did an amazing job of decorating all the conference rooms to various themes and providing amazing food for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, and midnight snacks!

Staying overnight in a sleeping bag on the floor was fun - how many people can say they've have a sleepover at Microsoft? - although we didn't get much sleep, largely due to participating in an epic game of Werewolf that started off with around 30 people in it in one of the larger conference rooms. We were bolstered just beforehand by free late-night hotdogs! I was a villager and the werewolves won, but I lasted a pretty long way into the game, and I found it as fascinating to be part of as watching the end of the previous game had been. I can see why this is apparently a BarCamp tradition.

After the big group game, about six or seven of us stayed up playing several rounds of One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which had a handy iOS app so that the phone could be the narrator rather than a non-playing person.


The first thing everyone did after arriving, getting their goody bags (BarCamp and Twilio t-shirts from Vektor, they are so soft and comfy), and watching the opening talk, was to fill in The Grid. This was the ad-hoc schedule for the weekend, where everyone who wanted to do a presentation just wrote their name and the title of the talk on a postcard and blu-tacked it into their chosen timeslot and room. It was a really efficient way of getting a schedule together with minimum effort.

Emily and I decided it would be best to get our talks out the way as soon as possible so we could relax afterwards. We'd spent most evenings in the week leading up to BarCamp putting our slides together (finding CC-licenced photos on flickr is fun!) but I hadn't had a chance to fully rehearse mine. However, my timeslot was also chosen by Tom Scott for his talk, so that took the pressure off somewhat.

About two dozen people turned up for mine, which was something of a shock as I'd picked a room sized for a dozen at the most, but I'm told I did a pretty good job. Emily took a video of the whole thing, which I can't bear to watch and certainly won't inflict it on anybody else, but if you're curious the video and a link to the slides are here on Lanyard.

The crown I'm wearing came with the room; each room was themed differently so some speakers were doing their talks with various props like inflatable pirate swords in hand. This room was called #DE00A5 CASTLE, which I'm sure must be a reference to something...

It took me quite a while to calm down from the adrenaline afterwards (sorry Emily) but going for a walk down to the Thames to see Totally Thames' Great River Race helped burn off some steam.

I won't enumerate everything I went to in detail because I'd be writing this for months, but there were six slots I went to that really stood out for me:

Build your own pizza oven by Emily Down

Emily's talk, just before mine. It linked to the site with the original instructions she used, and had lots of photos of the pizza oven being made over the last year or so. Then pictures of us eating pizza!

"Stressed? Make some dough!"

Unfortunately I can't make out the name of the guy who did this so I can't attribute credit to it, but he had bought breadmaking ingredients and equipment earlier in the day and talked us through how he started making bread as a way to unwind after work. The important thing for him was to never measure the ingredients - just do everything by how it feels. Make glue!

We got to make some ciabatta dough to take home (unfortunately it disappeared overnight), and found out that raw bread dough is really rather tasty.

How Emulators Work as told through the medium of Space Invaders by Matt Westcott

This was a really good primer on how emulators work. The speaker had written an emulator in JavaScript for the 8080 processor, which the arcade game Space Invaders ran on, and explained how essentially it was just iterating through the file with a gigantic switch statement for each possible opcode.

The playable version, which is actually emulating a real Space Invaders 8080 ROM, is here.

Chocolate Tasting Workshop by @mostlyaboutchoc

A talk about the history of the cacao bean, the various different types, and how they are turned into chocolate. With five samples of plain dark chocolate selected to have distinctive tastes, from coffee to fruity. Informative and tasty!

DIY Physio by @hadleybeeman

This was a great hour-long session in the auditorium with all the chairs cleared to turn it into an ad hoc physio studio. This session was geared towards people who sit at a computer all day and have bad posture, and instructed us how to use a tennis ball to reset the tense muscles in our backs. Tennis balls were provided!

I got a lot out of the session - it was essentially how to give oneself a really strong massage by wedging the tennis ball in certain places along one's back muscles, and I felt a lot better afterwards. It was just what we needed having spent the night on the floor!

Tales from a 1980s Games Programmer by @NickFitz

A really interesting and entertaining talk from, as the title suggests, an 80s programmer who worked on a few PC DOS games; specifically porting them from the Amiga and the fun and games involved in doing so (including writing binary patches by hand). Nifty stuff.

Full schedule

Someone kindly photographed the whole thing and uploaded it to flickr. This is no mean feat given that it usually looked something like this:

barcamplondon x grid

Here are the things I actually went to:


  • 11:30 - 11:55: Build your own pizza oven (Emily Down)
  • 12:00 - 12:25: Anatomy of a Search Engine (Nick Murdoch)
  • 12:30 - 12:55: The Art of T-Shirt Printing (@Vektor)
  • 13:00 - 13:25: Personal Genetics: What your DNA knows about you (@imranghory)
  • Lunch (sushi): Totally Thames' Great Boat Race
  • 15:00 - 15:25: #HodgeWedding: How I Planned a Wedding Without My Wife Knowing (The Hodge)
  • 15:30 - 15:55: Beyond D&D: All the other games you should play (@palfrey)
  • 16:00 - 16:30: Stressed? Make some dough!
  • Afternoon tea (amazing cakes)
  • 17:00 - 17:25: How Emulators Work as told through the medium of Space Invaders
  • 17:30 - 17:55: Hacking Through Space & Time (@cbetta)
  • 18:00 - 18:55: Chocolate Tasting Workshop (@mostlyaboutchoc)
  • Dinner (Square Pies, nom)
  • 20:30 - 21:15: Doctor Who live broadcast.
  • Evening: Epic werewolf game. Midnight wieners. More werewolf (one-night version).


  • 08:00: Hi floor! Make me a sammich! Croissants et al for breakfast.
  • 09:00: Played giant Connect 4 with Emily
  • 10:00 - 10:25: #Audience
  • 10:30 - 10:55: Facing your Fears (@creativeapricot)
  • 11:30 - 12:25: DIY Physio (@hadleybeeman)
  • 12:30 - 12:55: Real Life (EEG) Brain Training (@BillinghamJ)
  • 14:00 - 14:25: Gender Discussion: How to Avoid Accidental Sexism
  • 14:30 - 14:55: Tales from a 1980s Games Programmer (@NickFitz)
  • 15:00 - 15:25: Lightning Talks (including, from memory, how to be a contractor, book recommendations, the philosophy of AI, etc)
  • 15:30 - 15:55: How we ran BarCamp London X: Ask us anything
  • 16:00: Closing Talk


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