BOFs or Birds of a Feather Sessions allow people with common interests to gather and just talk about anything and/or everything about their common interest! This time I went for three BOFs, all of them focused around Squeak and Smalltalk.

The first one was on Tuesday evening and it featured several short talks by various people. I have to say that the highlight of that BOF was about the by-now-well-known XO laptop (formerly known as the OLPC laptop). We even had two demo units available for us to try out if we wanted. The XO laptop is a marvelously piece of technology for its price. Undeniably, it is built to withstand all the harsh conditions that it might suffer through. However, as mentioned by the presenters the biggest roadblock for this project might not be technology but the lack of actual educational contents to put onto the device itself. Right now, there are no official educational materials that will be installed onto the machines yet. And for a machine that is supposed to function as the all-in-one textbook replacement, this is a major predicament. In fact, it might be a serious blow toward the success of this system. And no one knows what is the best solution to this problem.

There were also two presentations on language tools for Squeak: OMeta and CAT. OMeta is a project by Alessandro Warth and is already available from SqueakMap. It's pretty compact and has some nice features for parsing languages. Alessandro has actually implemented a Javascript interpreter on top of it but the source is not yet available. CAT is another tool for language recognition by Jamie Douglas. It has more features compared to OMeta -- can support PEG and CFG, has better error messages, automatic AST generation and some AST rewriting. It's currently not released yet but from what I have seen during the BOF demo it is as good as ANTLR and I will definitely be looking into it. It might be fun and useful to create a simple IDE for CAT in Squeak like what AntlrWorks does.

At another BOF that I attended, Dan Ingalls did a presentation of the Lively Kernel project at Sun. Basically the project shows an implementation of a Squeak-like system in Javascript. Since Javascript is supposed to be cross-platform and runs on all modern web browsers, it is one of the best choices to implement this project in. And by taking advantage of the latest SVG features in new web browsers, one can actually create a lot of graphics without all the overhead of loading images. The demo for the Lively Kernel project is available from its website and runs fine on the Safari 3.0 and above.

The final BOF I attended was the Seaside BOF organized by Roger Whitney who is currently on sabbatical at UIUC. Unfortunately I arrived late for this BOF since I thought I have misplaced my keys and had to go to the lost-and-found office to check on that. I must have arrived more than halfway through the BOF since they were already going into the QA session. The attendees had very different backgrounds: there were some newbies like myself who have read about Seaside but have never used it and there were clearly some veterans who have worked extensively on Seaside. It would have been good if a quick walkthrough demo could have been done to introduce the newbies to Seaside development. Some attendees did raise some interesting questions. For instance, how many projects were using Seaside; what is needed to set it up quickly; which databases did it work with; what hosting options were available (besides hosting it yourself). Fortunately there is an up-to-date website, appropriately named seaside.st, that addresses those questions. I must say based on the short demo that web development with Seaside certainly has a different feel. It requires the developer to use all the tools from Squeak (or some other Smalltalk version). However, like Rails, once you have accepted the philosophy of Seaside, web development is certainly better than what it used to be.

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