LMB hack days: Remy Sharp

An interview with Remy Sharp at the line-mode browser hack days.

Remy Sharp at the line-mode browser hack days (Image: Dan Noyes/CERN)

Name: Remy Sharp
Nationality: British
Travelled from: Brighton, UK
Profession: Web developer, self-employed

Why did you come to the CERN line-mode browser hack days?

Well, mostly to play at CERN! And the history of it: getting to play with code in really tight constraints – trying to replicate something that's tucked away and not really used anymore. It's just cool that the people who gave us the web as it is today were there 20 years ago doing sort of what we're doing today. And of course a couple of days hacking is always fun!

What was your focus during the hack days?

My role was the coding part. I have a lot of experience writing Javascript-based applications. I could see how Javascript could solve a lot of the problems to replicate this old browser. So I worked on the back end server that allows you to visit any other website and get it into the line-mode browser.

I also worked on some of the effects in the line-mode browser. We're quite pleased with the cursor rendering on the screen replicating the old terminal. Using new technology to be able to do that, and tricking the browser into thinking it's doing that.

Did any parts of the hack jump out as particularly challenging?

The way I think of it is like this: Today's society is all automatic-focus cameras. And the expensive ones are the old, manual-focus cameras that you had all this control over. But 25-30 years ago you couldn't get an automatic camera – it was too hard. Those folk who were writing code were able to put pixels in specific points, and for us to replicate that today is difficult. Today, it's really easy to make text flow perfectly and expand to the screen, but what we want to do is make it fit into an 80-by-24-character spot and get the positioning absolutely right. We want the cursor to blink, we want it to render character by character – that kind of stuff is really hard now.

We're in this kind of automatic, easy time, so the hard part was making the browser not work as well as it does today. The hard part was making it work as badly as it did in the olden days. Which is just ridiculous fun!

How do you feel about the result?

I'm really pleased with what we've got now. There's bits that I know aren't perfect and I know I want to do more work on, but it's a bit like an artist – they see mistakes in their work but other people might not see that. I think what we've got creates a bit of an experience. People will be able to view their own homepage, and view the first website as well. I think it looks really good at the moment.

And it was really cool to come along and be here where the web was created, and then come to the LHC and be amazed by wires and metal. I'm kind of in awe of it – it's all sinking in slowly.

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