The Thing That Happened At C4[3]

I’m back from C4 now, and as I come down from the adrenalin rush of a fascinating weekend, followed by a not-that-bad-yet-still-horrendous flight, one thing from this weekend has stuck with me. And I think it’s going to stick with me for some time to come.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the movie Serenity: that feature-length conclusion to the television triumph that was Firefly. Perhaps, like me, you’ve only seen it once. That’s because of this one scene that is too painful to watch, where our beloved character Wash is — OH GOD OH GOD, I can’t bear to even write it! My mind jerks away from the moment as my hand would wrench back from a fire.
After the events of yesterday — Saturday — I’m tempted to do the same thing. A Horrible Thing happened, and I want it to not exist. Yet this moment, and what happened after, deserve really close scrutiny.
Let’s start from the top. As a surprise guest, Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzch presented Marshall Culpepper, the lead developer for a product called Appcelerator Titanium. This product does something pretty miraculous: it allows you to code a single application, in the Javascript language, and have it converted on-the-fly to the Mac, Windows or Linux. Hell, you can even use Javascript in Appcelerator to write iPhone and Android applications!
I’d never heard of this product before this presentation, but you can bet that my ears perked right up. I’m a web developer who’s struggled for years to learn Cocoa and Objective-C. Here was a guy who purported to give me a language I already knew, and build the apps I want to build, for whichever platform I wanted. Crazy talk!
I’m no software engineer, but I can’t help but fathom that there is a serious, metric assload of engineering in this thing. The kind of shit that would empty my bowels if I were to see it. So I watched with skepticism, but with an evaluating mind.
As it happened, the rest of the room — mostly seasoned Cocoa developers — had a somewhat different opinion. I saw it in the body language: the muttering to each other, the shaking heads, the rolling eyes. But the documentation is right there in the Twitter back channel. Several of us took to it with our opinions on the talk, in real time.
mikeash: My eyes glaze over the moment I see the phrase “web technologies”
4:22 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
kevinhoctor: Adobe Air as your comparison?! AAAANNNKKK. Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you for playing though.
4:28 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
cbarrett: Oh Ess Ecks is nails on a chalkboard.
4:29 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
Skroob: Switching to doing your UI in HTML/CSS is gonna be a REALLY hard sell in this room.
4:29 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
4:32 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
jterhorst: “All the things a normal desktop app can do…” plus, being bloated and unstable as hell. Just like AIR.
4:34 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
nilobject: Remember to get some sleep so that you don’t crack people up around you by nearly falling asleep every 5 seconds.
4:35 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
And so on. But this wouldn’t be a true telling if I didn’t include myself in this stream:
aaronvegh: Since when is the language the major barrier to developing for a platform?
4:48 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
Which in my defence wasn’t meant as a slag so much as a statement that frameworks are the barrier to entry (in my opinion), while this project seemed focused on the language. But I think you’ll agree, the tone of this chatter was unfriendly to say the least.
When an intermission followed Marshall’s presentation, the consensus among us was that we’d watched a pretty spectacular flameout. It wasn’t until just now that I went back to this back channel stream and read it again (in horror) that I saw a sternly justified warning from @violasong:
violasong: frigging behave, people. Marshall’s here as our guest to share something cool+geeky. How about some respect.
5:03 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine
Indeed.
Like the moment of Wash’s demise in Serenity, I think we C4 attendees were all too keen to bury it in the back of our minds, and drink after drink after drink. So when we arrived for the first talk on Sunday morning, it was with some difficulty that all of us in that room were dragged, forcefully, into living that moment again.
Before the first speaker, Kevin Mitchell, could tell us about PyObjC, Wolf let loose with a very clear, very angry, very emotional rebuke. I can’t quote it verbatim, but it went something like this:
“Every year, I try to bring you something outside of your comfort zone. We as indie Mac developers tend to reside in an echo chamber, so I want to share with you experiences outside of what you know. These people come here, at their own expense, and sometimes with great difficulty — Marshall came here in spite of having his wife over 8 months pregnant. What I saw on the Twitter back channel was rude, and insulting, and wrong. It doesn’t befit who we are as indie developers, and it’s not what C4 is about. We should be on the presenter’s side.”
The last part was the most haunting and striking part of his speech:
“Those of you who did this are not part of what C4 is about, and you shouldn’t return to this conference.”
These words were not delivered easily. The emotion was painfully apparent in his voice, and he was clearly between rage and tears. The silence in the room was achingly long, and I wondered, in those microseconds that stretched for an eternity, how it would resolve. Then, the most unexpected thing happened: we started clapping. Support for his words, acknowledgement of what he’d said, and hopefully, the beginning of a new maturity for the attendees of this conference.
Wolf did something brave in the face of craven behaviour. He looked into the darkest pit of what we had collectively done, and rather than turn away, he jammed his stake in the ground and said “this is unacceptable”. In that moment, Wolf became not just a community leader, bringing us together every year, but a moral leader. He showed us that our indie lifestyles are more than just writing code and chatting up your fellow Mac nerds. He showed us that we are snobs about our technology, and that we are not charitable to outsiders.
It’s a sobering moment, and one that I’ll carry with me for years to come. Thank you, Wolf, for demonstrating the better path.
I’m back from C4 now, and as I come down from the adrenalin rush of a fascinating weekend, followed by a not-that-bad-yet-still-horrendous flight, one thing from this weekend has stuck with me. And I think it’s going to stick with me for some time to come.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the movie Serenity: that feature-length conclusion to the television triumph that was Firefly. Perhaps, like me, you’ve only seen it once. That’s because of this one scene that is too painful to watch, where our beloved character Wash is — OH GOD OH GOD, I can’t bear to even write it! My mind jerks away from the moment as my hand would wrench back from a fire.

After the events of yesterday — Saturday — I’m tempted to do the same thing. A Horrible Thing happened, and I want it to not exist. Yet this moment, and what happened after, deserve really close scrutiny.

Let’s start from the top. As a surprise guest, Jonathan “Wolf” Rentzch presented Marshall Culpepper, the lead developer for a product called Appcelerator Titanium. This product does something pretty miraculous: it allows you to code a single application, in the Javascript language, and have it converted on-the-fly to the Mac, Windows or Linux. Hell, you can even use Javascript in Appcelerator to write iPhone and Android applications!

I’d never heard of this product before this presentation, but you can bet that my ears perked right up. I’m a web developer who’s struggled for years to learn Cocoa and Objective-C. Here was a guy who purported to give me a language I already knew, and build the apps I want to build, for whichever platform I wanted. Crazy talk!

I’m no software engineer, but I can’t help but fathom that there is a serious, metric assload of engineering in this thing. The kind of shit that would empty my bowels if I were to see it. So I watched with skepticism, but with an evaluating mind.

As it happened, the rest of the room — mostly seasoned Cocoa developers — had a somewhat different opinion. I saw it in the body language: the muttering to each other, the shaking heads, the rolling eyes. But the documentation is right there in the Twitter back channel. Several of us took to it with our opinions on the talk, in real time.

My eyes glaze over the moment I see the phrase “web technologies” Adobe Air as your comparison?! AAAANNNKKK. Oh, I’m sorry. Thank you for playing though.

Oh Ess Ecks is nails on a chalkboard.

Switching to doing your UI in HTML/CSS is gonna be a REALLY hard sell in this room.

“All the things a normal desktop app can do…” plus, being bloated and unstable as hell. Just like AIR.

And so on. But this wouldn’t be a true telling if I didn’t include myself in this stream:

aaronvegh: Since when is the language the major barrier to developing for a platform? 4:48 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine

Which in my defence wasn’t meant as a slag so much as a statement that frameworks are the barrier to entry (in my opinion), while this project seemed focused on the language. But I think you’ll agree, the tone of this chatter was unfriendly to say the least.

When an intermission followed Marshall’s presentation, the consensus among us was that we’d watched a pretty spectacular flameout. It wasn’t until just now that I went back to this back channel stream and read it again (in horror) that I saw a sternly justified warning from @violasong:

violasong: frigging behave, people. Marshall’s here as our guest to share something cool+geeky. How about some respect. 5:03 PM Sep 26th from MGTwitterEngine

Indeed.

Like the moment of Wash’s demise in Serenity, I think we C4 attendees were all too keen to bury it in the back of our minds, and drink after drink after drink. So when we arrived for the first talk on Sunday morning, it was with some difficulty that all of us in that room were dragged, forcefully, into living that moment again.

Before the first speaker, Kevin Mitchell, could tell us about PyObjC, Wolf let loose with a very clear, very angry, very emotional rebuke. I can’t quote it verbatim, but it went something like this:

“Every year, I try to bring you something outside of your comfort zone. We as indie Mac developers tend to reside in an echo chamber, so I want to share with you experiences outside of what you know. These people come here, at their own expense, and sometimes with great difficulty — Marshall came here in spite of having his wife over 8 months pregnant. What I saw on the Twitter back channel was rude, and insulting, and wrong. It doesn’t befit who we are as indie developers, and it’s not what C4 is about. We should be on the presenter’s side.”

The last part was the most haunting and striking part of his speech:

“Those of you who did this are not part of what C4 is about, and you shouldn’t return to this conference.”

(Update: @violasong writes that Wolf’s true meaning here was more along the lines of “if you don’t agree with what I’m saying, then don’t return to this conference.” Self-selecting rather than excommunication. Personally, I’m relieved).

These words were not delivered easily. The emotion was painfully apparent in his voice, and he was clearly between rage and tears. The silence in the room was achingly long, and I wondered, in those microseconds that stretched for an eternity, how it would resolve. Then, the most unexpected thing happened: we started clapping. Support for his words, acknowledgement of what he’d said, and hopefully, the beginning of a new maturity for the attendees of this conference.

Wolf did something brave in the face of craven behaviour. He looked into the darkest pit of what we had collectively done, and rather than turn away, he jammed his stake in the ground and said, “this is unacceptable”. In that moment, Wolf became not just a community leader, bringing us together every year, but a moral leader. He showed us that our indie lifestyles are more than just writing code and chatting up our fellow Mac nerds. He showed us that we are snobs about our technology, and that we are not charitable to outsiders.

It’s a sobering moment, and one that I’ll carry with me for years to come. Thank you, Wolf, for demonstrating the better path.

And Marshall, if you’re reading this: you deserved a better reception, you didn’t get it, and I apologize for my own role, however small, in that drama.

Update: Names removed from example tweets to protect the commenters, save my own.