Pew Pew Laser Blog

Code. Glass art. Games. Baking. Cats. From Seattle, Washington and various sundry satellite locations.

Finding Projects for Open Source Contributions.


Have you been thinking about contributing to open source projects, but didn't know where to start? Here are a few ways to get started. find projects which are actively welcoming new contributors by highlighting their "starter" issues - bugs which are small in scope or otherwise make a good introduction to the project.

How I Got Involved With CascadiaFest.


I feel very lucky to have been invited to organize CascadiaFest for the past two years - first as Browser (JavaScript) Day Curator, and this year as CSS Day Curator. Sometimes people have asked me how I got involved with CascadiaFest in the first place, so I thought I'd tell that story.

Way back in 2013, I decided that it would be good for my professional development for me to attend some conferences. I had just started a new job, with some savings left over from unemployment time, and so I even had some budget to attend conferences on my own dime. I had met Carter Rabasa (founder and long-time organizer of CascadiaJS) by attending the SeattleJS meetup in the previous year. So I arranged a trip to Vancouver, BC for CascadiaJS in November. On the Hacker Train up from Seattle to Vancouver, I met Tracy Hinds, who had organized the Hacker Train all the way up from Portland.

CascadiaJS 2013 was an absolute blast. The talks were interesting and educational, and I met a bunch of new (and now long-time) conf-friends and even got mistaken for a speaker! I followed new friends on Twitter, and CascadiaJS on Github. Not too long after coming home, I wrote up and posted some of my notes and published them on this blog. I knew I would be ready to do it again in 2014.

And I did. CascadiaJS 2014 was in Portland, and I bought a ticket and lodging nice and early. Beyond being excited about attending, I had even begun to think I might be able to speak. I had even submitted a talk. It was pretty awful, but that's the first step. 2014 was just as wonderful as the last year - I made sure to thank Tracy and Carter (head organizers for that year) personally, since I knew it was a ton of work to organize something so big and so lovely. (Organizing a conference is kinda like organizing a wedding, every year.) Since I followed the CascadiaJS repo, I was able to observe many parts of the organization process, and contributed some (hopefully!) helpful thoughts for the next year.

By early 2015, I'd had some success with my talk proposals, and had managed to speak at 2 other conferences. Thus I felt qualified to help other people with their talk proposals and I volunteered to do so; and also to help with CFP out-reach - something I feel passionate about. But Tracy responded asking would I be interested in becoming a core organizer and curating JavaScript Day? After only a little thought, I responded "absolutely yes"!

So, there you go. I got involved by attending first, providing useful feedback to the organizers, and participating in the community.

Johnny-Five on tinylab.


I got my tinylab last week; it's a nifty little prototyping board with an Arduino Leonardo and a bunch of embedded components that was funded on IndieGoGo. So naturally I wanted to get Johnny-Five working and start fiddling with the tinylab as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it seems like the hardest part of every hardware project is the grand upgrading of the softwares that must proceed fiddling. Here's the process that worked for me.

  1. Re-install Node. My Node installation was a few versions old, and somehow npm was missing. So I went ahead and installed Node.js from I decided to live dangerously and install the "Current" version rather than the Stable one.
  2. Upgrade My Arduino install was older than the Leonardo, so I needed to upgrade it too. I got version 1.6.10 from
  3. Upgrade npm packages. npm outdated showed that several packages (including Johnny Five) were out of date. This required a few rounds of npm update.
  4. Write the Johnny Five code. I checked the excellent Johnny Five docs and wrote this code for the first LED on the tinylab.
    var five = require("johnny-five");
    var board = new five.Board();
    board.on("ready", function(){
      var led = new five.Led(13);
    This should make LED1 (on pin D13) pulse on an off. At first I tried using "D13" to address the LED (since that's what's silk-screened on the board) but it was just 13 that worked.


Here is some tinylab documentation that might come in handy next time:

Interviewing a Front-End Developer.


A while ago, I interviewed for a job with a company that I was absolutely in-love with. I'd been excited to see that they were looking for a front-end developer and I applied right away.

A front-end developer is a highly specialized skill set, and it's pretty different than the skill sets of other types of developers. An experienced front-end developer (I've been doing this for 10 years) is deeply familiar with current HTML, CSS, JavaScript, as well as current browser support and debugging techniques. I know about image compression and optimization, accessibility, content management systems, and even a little about design and SEO. It's a role akin to the kicker or keeper on a football team.

Back to the interview, we'd gone though a few basic questions and the interviewer had moved on to the algorithm questions. It was a little more complicated than Fizz Buzz, but it wasn't too tricky. But I flailed around for a while trying to both understand what the interviewer was asking, as well as trying to logic out the solution. I didn't solve the algorithm easily enough, and I didn't get any further in the interview process.

Why evaluate a front-end developer based on a algorithm? It's such a very small part of the job, and especially over a video conference after a full day of work, and it's the wrong test to get the front-end developer to demonstrate their best. It's like evaluating an NFL kicker based on their tackling skills - sure, they need to do it sometimes, but a proper blocker will always be more skilled at tackles.

How a Code of Conduct Works.


Bottom line - your events (from meetup to conference) and even your open source projects need a code of conduct. What is a code of conduct?

Let me tell you precisely how a code of conduct works to change interactions during an event.

Last year, I attended a conference as a workshop volunteer. After the workshop, a speaker from the previous day wanted to ask me some follow-up questions about the workshop. While he spoke a little English, he wanted me to step outside to the plaza where his translator was. I agreed.

Let's review the power dynamic here: me = unimportant volunteer, him = very important speaker.

He was from a country where (I suppose), it's common for men to escort women by leading them by the elbow. While we were walking outside, he put his hand on my elbow, and I (being perfectly capable of finding the doors outside) removed it. He again put his hand on my elbow and tried to lead me towards the door. I again removed it, and looked him directly in the eyes and said "no". I then stomped through the doors and found the translator. With the help of the translator, the speaker apologized if he had offended me. I said that I was fine and I answered his questions from the workshop.

Here is how the conference's code of conduct worked: I knew that - regardless of any power imbalance - the conference had my back. I was empowered to enforce my own boundaries and I did so. I was a bit irritated by the incident, but I took care of it myself. Situation resolved, no escalation, no problem. That's how a code of conduct works.

What I'm Looking For in a Talk Proposal.


I'm curating CSS Day at CascadiaFest this year, and earlier this month we finished our speaker selection process. Since I've evaluated hundreds and hundreds of proposals for CascadiaFest, I thought I'd share what I'm looking for when I evaluate a talk proposal. At CascadiaFest, our selection process is masked; we do most of the evaluation before revealing the identity of the person who wrote the proposal. (Though it's sometimes possible to guess who has submitted the talk.) Naturally these thoughts are only about my process, and do not represent any other curators or selection committee members.

Setting Up User Styles in Firefox


While reviewing talks for CascadiaFest, I wanted to find a way to hide comments from other reviewers until after I'd formed my opinion of the talk. I figured this would be pretty easy to do with user styles - the browser's base set of CSS rules that are followed for every site. In Firefox, these styles are stored in userContent.css in your profile folder.

Doing so proved a little more complicated than I anticipated, because Google's search results seem to interpret "userContent.css" as "userChrome.css". As you can imagine, this made it a little difficult to find information on userContent.css. Here are the two references that I did manage to find:

Here is what went into my user styles:

@-moz-document domain( {
  ul.comment-list { opacity: 0 !important; }
  ul.comment-list:hover { opacity: 1 !important; }

The @-moz-document domain "selector" allows me to limit these styles to pages delivered from a certain subdomain. I then hid the elements using opacity, and showed them when they were hovered over. Opacity isn't always the best way to hide things with CSS; but in this case I did want the elements to take up space on the page, and for their children to also be invisible. And a user stylesheet is a fine place for !important; I always want that style to apply, even if a higher specificity selector would override it.

After editing userContent.css, you have to restart Firefox for the changes to take effect.