NSConference 7: A Look Back

Last fall, I received an email that read, “I would like to invite you to be a speaker at NSConference 7”.

In the invitation email, conference organizer Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott (@macdevnet) described his intent for the conference:

“At NSConference I want the speakers to be with the attendees all the time. I want you to be at the sessions, I want you to be at the meals, I want you to be at the events. I want you to mix, eat, drink and chat with as many attendees as possible.”

“What I require most in an NSConference speaker is enthusiasm and a love of being with the OS X and iOS developer community. Right now I am not looking to pick talk topics, as it’s all about people first.”

I accepted the invitation immediately.

All About People First

In his opening remarks, Scotty expressed the same intent in a different fashion. He said that the speakers and topics were, of course, important, but the real heart of NSConf was creating an environment where members of the developer community could interact.

Leicester Athena

Leicester Athena
Photo by NotFromUtrecht via Wikimedia Commons

The format at NSConf was unlike other conferences I have attended. Each segment began with a 30-minute talk followed by two 10 or 15-minute blitz-talks, followed by a 30-minute break. This approach packed three topics plus plenty of time to talk with fellow attendees into a 90-minute block.

The venue was the Leicester Athena, a gorgeous 1930s art deco theater re-styled to host events. The seating was at round tables, giving folks a chance to talk with one another. There was a massive stage with great lighting and sound (and yes, a full bar on stage too). It is truly a beautiful venue, well-suited to Scotty’s goals for the event.

The days were filled with speakers giving talks, conversations with attendees and lots of coffee and tea. In the evenings, good food and more conversation. The first night was the banquet, each table set with a candelabra, with wine and a meal served at your table. The second night was the party, with a buffet meal and mingling.

It was after folks had a chance to be fed at the party that we launched into our Breakpoint Jam.

Breakpoint Jam: NSConf Edition

The idea behind a Breakpoint Jam is that the band is made up of whoever happens to be in town for a conference. Folks practice up some James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs on their own before arriving, we do a quick rehearsal the day of the show, and then we perform.

I find the most stress-inducing shows are when all the musicians are new to the Breakpoint Jam — this was one of those performances.

It takes a leap of faith to get on a plane in San Francisco and fly over 5,000 miles to England, knowing you will be performing for a theater full of people with musicians you have never performed with, rehearsed with, or in some cases even met before.

Kevin Cupp on guitar, James Dempsey on vocals, Jonathan Fox on drums and S ‘Scotty’ Scott on bass at the Breakpoint Jam during NSConference 7

Kevin Cupp, James Dempsey, Jonathan Fox and Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott kick off the NSConf 7 Breakpoint Jam
Photo by Cathy Shive

That leap of faith was rewarded by musicians that pulled it all together amazingly well in the rehearsal time allotted.

Guitarist and iOS developer Kevin Cupp (@kevincupp) did perhaps the best walk-on guitar part in Breakpoint Jam history, having learned every nuance from the rehearsal tracks I had sent.

Longtime NeXT and Apple indie developer John Fox (@djembe) added a full drum kit to a Breakpoint Jam for the first time, skillfully playing the varying musical styles from the driving beat of Goto Fail to the Hawaiian breeze-inspired Liki Song.

Rounding out the core trio of Conditional Breakpoints for the evening was NSConf’s own Scotty on bass. (It is no coincidence that Scotty was positioned closest to the on-stage bar.)

For The Liki Song, backup singers arrived in the form of Laura Savino (@savinola) and Ruotger Deecke (@roddi) making their Breakpoint Jam debut, and Uli Kusterer (@uliwitness) whose bass voice is perfect for the ‘object alloc’ chant beneath the choruses.

And, on the ever-important slide-advance keyboard, the incomparable Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking).

Kevin Cupp playing guitar, James Dempsey singing and playing ukulele, Jonathan Fox playing drums, Laura Savino, Ruotger Deecke and Uli Kusterer singing, Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott playing bass.

Left to Right: Kevin Cupp, James Dempsey, Jonathan Fox, Laura Savino, Ruotger Deecke, Uli Kusterer, Steve ‘Scotty’ Scott.
Image by Marius Ciocanel

It was tremendous fun to play on that big stage, in that beautiful theater, complete with lighting effects (and a fog machine, I think). The show was only possible because of all of those who joined in the jam—a big thank you to them for lending their talents to the show. And of course, a giant thank you to everyone the audience, it was a privilege to play for you all.

The Future: A Look Back

Scotty had stated that this year’s NSConference would be the last. When I looked at the schedule, I saw that Scotty had chosen my session The Future: A Look Back to be the last talk of the last day of the last NSConf.

The talk took a look back to the Apple/NeXT merger and the history of some of the technologies that we use today. After the talk, some old-timers told me that they enjoyed the walk down memory lane, while some more recent arrivals to iOS and OS X development commented they appreciated hearing some backstory on the technologies they are using today.

James Dempsey Presenting ‘The Future: A Look Back’ at NSConf 7

The Future: A Look Back at NSConf 7
Photo by Raphael Sebbe

Scotty had also announced that, although this was the final NSConf, he hoped to do another event in the future that took the best of NSConf, but proceeded in a different way — different enough that calling it ‘NSConf’ would be misnomer.

With that in mind, I closed my talk as follows:

“As we wind down to the last session of the last NSConf, I’d remind you that in this developer world of ours, nothing is ever truly gone. Specific implementations come and go, particular instances are created and released, but the underlying themes stick around. That’s true whether we are talking about technologies, or the community of people that use them to create magnificent things.”

Almost Like Being There

Being at NSConf was a fantastic experience — I learned a lot and had the chance to meet and get to know people I would likely not have met otherwise.

I’m very grateful to Scotty for inviting me and to the entire conference team for doing a fantastic job and for treating the attendees and speakers very well. NSConf had an easy-going feel, but everything hit its mark. It takes a great team to make it look that easy.

The next best thing to being there would be watching the amazing talks. And as of last week they are available to everyone on the NSConf 7 channel on Vimeo. I encourage you to check out all the talks, including my talk The Future: A Look Back, which I’ve included below. •

NSConference 7 was held March 16-18, 2015 in Leicester, UK.

Going Upthere

I’m very happy to announce that I have joined the team at Upthere.

Here’s the gist from upthere.com:

Our team is hard at work in Palo Alto, CA, building out the future of the cloud. We can‘t wait to tell you more, but right now we‘re working very quietly. Some really great engineers and designers who‘ve built some of the world‘s most successful products are already here.

Even though I’m now at a stealth mode startup, I’m not dropping completely out of sight.

I’ll still be speaking at conferences and James Dempsey and the Breakpoints will continue performing and writing new songs whenever inspiration strikes.

In fact, I’m gearing up for a spring tour that starts in England and then criss-crosses the USA. At each stop I’ll be speaking and performing in a Breakpoint Jam — a set of songs from our iTunes chart-topping album Backtrace.

I hope you are able to make it out to one of these excellent conferences. If you do, please say hello! •

Breakpoints in Vegas — Album Preview Jam

Last Friday night, just a stone’s throw away from where Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack performed their legendary shows, James Dempsey and the Breakpoints made their Las Vegas debut. The jam featured songs from the upcoming album Backtrace.

Album Art for James Dempsey and the Breakpoints Album 'Backtrace'Taking the stage for the first time as Conditional Breakpoints were Jean MacDonald (@macgenie) founder at App Camp for Girls, on guitar for Goto Fail; and Matt Smollinger (@mattsmollinger) of Skaffl on backing vocals for The Liki Song.  Josh Smith (@kognate) of AllTrails made a switch from blues xylophone last month to guitar.  Adding to the excitement, Jonathan Penn (@jonathanpenn), recent hire at everyone’s favorite fruit factory, flew in just in time to don his trademark sunglasses, tune up and jam. Finally, Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking) of Dim Sum Thinking delivered his excellent keynote before jumping in on slide-advance keyboard.


Coming this fall

This fall will see the first album release of James Dempsey and the Breakpoints and Breakpoint Jams from coast to coast. Sign up for updates to keep up with the fun!

Get Email Updates

An Eclectic Breakpoint Jam in Columbus

The 2014 Fall Tour kicked off at CocoaConf Columbus with the most eclectic collection of instruments ever assembled for a Breakpoint Jam.

It was a night for newcomers to the Breakpoint Jam.

Every breakpoint in the house was conditional except for veteran Breakpoint Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking) of Dim Sum Thinking. Daniel, fresh from the latest revision of his new book, A Swift Kickstart, delivered a fantastic keynote before working his slide-advance magic.

Eric Knapp (@ejknapp) of Madison College introduced the crowd to the Chapman Stick playing a solo song before giving familiar James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs a new twist.

A jar of Breakpoint Jam

Have you tried the Breakpoint Jam?

CocoaConf mainstay Will LaFrance (@wjlafrance) made his debut as a Conditional Breakpoint on classical guitar.

Reprising his initial performance in Washington DC last March, Mark Dalrymple (@borkware) of Big Nerd Ranch showcased his talents on trombone on Modelin’ Man and vocals on The Liki Song.

Josh Smith (@kognate), co-author of the recently-released Build iOS Games with SpriteKit, arrived at the conference in the midst of transporting a xylophone across state lines, giving Josh a chance to join in the jam as well.

Thanks to everyone in Columbus, we had a great time and hope you did as well!

The Fall Tour continues in at CocoaConf Las Vegas in September, where James Dempsey and the Breakpoints will make their Vegas debut! •

Don’t miss any of the fun, sign up to get email updates!

Get Email Updates

March of the Breakpoints — ‘Goto Fail’, Chicago, DC

March was a busy month for James Dempsey and the Breakpoints, with a brand new song and video (ripped from the headlines!) and Breakpoint Jams at CocoaConf Chicago and Washington DC.

Goto Fail

Goto Fail is inspired by actual code, the code that caused a big security issue in iOS and OS X earlier this year.  Not that Apple has a monopoly on SSL issues in 2014 — The recent Heartbleed Bug only drives home the last verse in the song:

Don’t think your own code is some bug-free oasis,
It’s probably screwed up in a couple of places.

With Jonathan Penn (@jonathanpenn) of Rubber City Wizards on guitar, here’s the video of a live version of Goto Fail:


Chicago Breakpoint Jam

Chicago has been the home of a few firsts for James Dempsey and the Breakpoints — the inaugural Breakpoint Jam in 2013 and the debut of a new song “Goto Fail” in 2014.

Not since Murph and the Magictones has a Chicagoland Holiday Inn rocked so hard.

Joining in on the jam in Chicago were a number of familiar faces:


Washington DC Breakpoint Jam

The spring tour rolled on to Washington DC, where we played our set, managing to avoid the world-famous DC gridlock and partisan bickering.

Most of the Chicago crew was also in DC, with Jonathan Penn on guitar and Daniel Steinberg on slide-advance keyboard.

Keynote speaker Mark Dalrymple (@borkware) of Big Nerd Ranch sat in on Modelin’ Man, bringing a trombone solo to the blues tune for the very first time in its long history.


More to Come…

The next Breakpoint Jam will be at CocoaConf San Jose on April 25th.

Also save the date for ‘Live near WWDC 2104’ on Wednesday, June 4th, details to follow!

If you’re a fan, sign up to get email updates.  The next month or two will have some announcements you will not want to miss!

Get Email Updates

Breakpoint Jam Atlanta—Virtual Fireworks and iPhone Slide Guitar

The fall tour of the Breakpoint Jam wrapped up at CocoaConf Atlanta with some memorable moments including some iPhone slide guitar and a newly-minted Breakpoint.

Amidst bursts of virtual fireworks, Daniel Steinberg (@dimsumthinking) of Dim Sum Thinking was formally inducted into the Breakpoints.

Daniel joins the fabled group after his stellar performances on slide-advance keyboard as a Conditional Breakpoint during jams across the country this past year.  Congratulations Daniel, thank you and welcome!

Brandon Alexander (@balexander) of Black Pixel brought along his electric guitar and his Mesa Boogie to amp up the jam more than the usual acoustic performance.

The ever-versatile Jonathan Penn (@jonathanpenn) of Rubber City Wizards played guitar, sang backing vocals and played percussion on the cajón—all in his trademark rockstar glasses.

Also sitting in was Conditional Breakpoint Rusty Zarse (@levous) of LeVous and the Atlanta iOS Developers group.  On The Liki Song, Rusty improvised a slide guitar, with his electric in his lap and the edge of his iPhone as the slide. Never have laser-chamfered edges sounded so good!

The performance in Atlanta was the final Breakpoint Jam for the year. We had a lot of fun and would like to thank everyone for the support.  The jams will continue in the new year—we hope to see you at one! •

We are planning Breakpoint Jams at CocoaConf in Chicago, Washington DC, San Jose and Raleigh. Come join the fun and check out the early-bird pricing.

In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter to find out about live shows and music releases. Or show your support with a download from iTunes.

A jar of Breakpoint Jam

Some Sweet Atlanta Jam

Breakpoint Jam Dallas

A jar of Breakpoint Jam

The spring tour continued in Dallas with our second Breakpoint Jam.

There was a mix of ‘conditional breakpoints’ old and new joining in to play a set of James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs for the crowd:

Next jam is next week at CocoaConf San Jose!

In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter to find out about live shows and music releases.

Nathan Sjoquist, Ben Scheirman, Nathan Eror, Daniel Pasco and James Dempsey at microphones, with instruments, performing.

Dallas Breakpoint Jam with Nathan Sjoquist, Ben Scheirman,
Nathan Eror, Daniel Pasco and James Dempsey
Photo by Solomon Klein

Chicago Breakpoint Jam Recap

A jar of Breakpoint Jam

Last Friday night at CocoaConf Chicago, we had a lot of fun at the first Breakpoint Jam.

Thank you to those who stepped up as ‘conditional breakpoints’ for the evening to play a set of James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs for the crowd:

The next jam will be at CocoaConf Dallas in early April.  I hope to see you there!

In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter to find out about live shows and music releases.

Introducing the Breakpoint Jam at CocoaConf Chicago

Next week at CocoaConf Chicago, we are doing something new that we’re calling a Breakpoint Jam.

A jar of Breakpoint Jam

Readying our first bit of Breakpoint Jam

A Breakpoint Jam is an ever-changing pickup group performing James Dempsey and the Breakpoints songs.

The idea is simple—whoever is in town for a conference shows up and plays on whatever instruments they’ve brought or borrowed.

The players will change city to city, but the goal is always the same—performing a casual, entertaining jam of songs for conference attendees.

To get things rolling next week in Chicago, we’ve invited conference speakers to the jam.

(Once we get a few under out belt, we’ll open future jams up to attendees.)

I’m looking forward to our first Breakpoint Jam next Friday at CocoaConf Chicago—I hope to see you there! •


Speaking of borrowed: If you are coming to CocoaConf Chicago and are local—Can we borrow your acoustic guitar?