Soon after, Jeremy invited me along to the monthly PHP North West gathering and while I was there Jenny Dunphy managed to persuade me that I should sign up for the upcoming PHPNW conference.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. The topics in the schedule looked quite varied and interesting but I’ve been away from PHP for a long time and there was potential for me to be bamboozled. On the other hand I might learn huge amounts to bring me back up to date. For most of the day there was two tracks running so I’ll give a quick summary of the talks that I attended here and then finish with a few conclusions from the day. I didn’t take any notes on the day so some of these may be a bit sketchy.
Welcome Keynote: KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
MySQL EXPLAIN Explained
Adrian Hardy’s talk was a good introduction to the use of the EXPLAIN statement in MySQL. He took us through a number of examples of increasingly complex SQL statements and showed how EXPLAIN could be used to alert you to the inefficiency of the queries. He also did a good job of explaining the best ways to create indexes on your tables and simple ways to make sure they get used.
Regular Expression Basics
Ciarán Walsh took us through the basics of regular expressions. Though the subject matter was, as promised, quite basic; it was also thorough and hopefully would give a head start to anyone who hadn’t really used regular expressions before. I have written many regexes before but still found the talk interesting and did learn a few things that I hadn’t used before: using the ‘x’ modifier to allow comments in a complicated regex and the ability to use named matches, and the demos of the ctype functions were also useful.
What’s new, what’s hot in PHP 5.3
From HTML to Drupal in 30 minutes
With a few potential projects coming up that will require many aspects that you would find in a standard CMS I was quite interested to see what would be covered by this Drupal tutorial. James Panton and Chris Maiden took us through the process of pulling the homepage for the PHPNW conference into Drupal. The main aim of the session was to show how simple it was to create a new theme for Drupal, trying to avoid the classic problem of CMSes that all installations look the same. They started with the original HTML file for the PHPNW conference site and replaced sections of code to add in the dynamic parts that they wanted which was a great way to show the possibilities for reskinning Drupal. I might have liked to see more mention of the capabilities of Drupal but they did a good job of covering what they needed to in the thirty minutes they had.
HTML 5: What’s that all about?
Smylers, a fellow Leeds University alumni, took us through the process by which HTML 5 is being designed and the aims that the W3C and WHATWG groups have for it. It was good to hear that with HTML 5 they’re trying to take on board the issues that have cropped up with previous versions of HTML and the design processes those have had. It seems that the main aim for HTML 5 is to ensure the browsers behave as similarly as possible, offering a level playing field for website designers. The spec for HTML 5 will go into detail about what the browser should do if it comes across HTML that it doesn’t recognise, the priority here being not that browsers expect perfect websites, but that the browsers will be able to guarantee that they handle the bad markup in the same way as other browsers. The spec will even offer a full set of test cases, a first for a HTML spec.
Twittex: From idea to live in 7 days
Now I hadn’t intended to go to this talk, I didn’t really think I’d find it too interesting. I’ve done PHP projects, I didn’t feel that I needed to listen to how someone implemented their code, which frameworks they chose, that sort of thing. Fortunately this wasn’t what Stuart Herbert talked about, the talk was in fact more around the management and marketing of the project, and the issues they had. He explained that on the day that Twitter announced that the UK would no longer be having twitter SMS updates, he decided that his company should work on a project to bring SMS back. They worked on the project over the course of a week, essentially 6 days coding and 1 day testing, and ended up first to market. Unfortunately when they tried to publicise their efforts they found that nobody was interested any more, a week had passed since the announcement and people weren’t so excited any more. Stuart took us through some of the lessons learnt such as the fact that they should have announced their intentions as soon as they had decided to start the project. TweetSMS and a few other sites had done this and had allowed people to register their interest so that once their solution was ready, they would have a ready supply of people willing to pay money to receive SMSes. They did manage to get an impressive product out after 7 days though by building on their existing infrastructure.
Panel Discussion: State of the Community
The final session was a panel discussion chaired by Jeremy Coates with Steph Fox, Ivo Jansch, Scott MacVicar and Felix De Vliegher answering questions. They started by answering some pre-selected questions and then went on to answer some questions from the audience. The questions covered a variety of topics and the discussion got quite heated at times (backslash namespace operator!) Overall though I enjoyed this session and it was definitely a good way to find out the general state of the community and see what people’s opinions were on various matters.
Overall I think the conference went well, I certainly enjoyed myself. It was well organised and I didn’t really encounter any problems during the day. About the worst thing I could say was that I didn’t find any sandwiches that I liked for my packed lunch (these were provided for us), but with central Manchester right next to the venue that wasn’t really a problem. Registration was painless and probably quicker than I’ve had at any other conference I’ve been to. The selection of talks was good and varied, finding enough good material for two tracks at the first conference was a pretty impressive achievement. Fortunately I can say that over the course of the day I didn’t find myself bamboozled and I did manage to pick up plenty of new knowledge from the talks. I really hope that they put the conference on again next year and I’m sure I’ll sign up if they do!