PHPUK 2013 Conference

PHPUK 2013 LogoI got to go to PHPUK 2013 last week courtesy of my employer, Mendeley, who sprang for our team to go for both days. This is just a few thoughts on each of the talks I attended written up for the PHP Hampshire group.

Unfortunately, I managed to catch the conference bug. I guess when you have that many people in an enclosed space, it was bound to happen. So that’s why this post is a little late.

Venue

The Brewery
Wow, really swish place.  It snowed a little while we were there, didn’t settle, but it did give it a certain dickensian quality. The WiFi was strong throughout, the food was excellent, the booze… well they ran out alarmingly quickly. Not sure if that’s their fault or ours, so I won’t hold it against them! My only complaint is that track 3, the Inviqa/Sensio track was split across two rooms, one had a big projector and pa system. It wasn’t ideal, but we could live with it. The issue was that the cable hooking up the projector was obviously dodgy. There was static on screen, and it kept cutting out. Could’a done something about that considering it was an IT conference. There were one or two facepalms.

Friday

Aral Balkan: You are a designer
Good talk and a great start. It was all about user experience as opposed to graphic design and what he referred to as “prettifying”. He had a selection of amusing pictures of people who clearly don’t get it, and a few stories of people who really did. Apparently ticket machines were sent straight from the centre of hell. He also went through his idea of what using a washing machine should be like. Fascinating ideas, but he’s going to need a purpose built house!

Nick Belhomme: PHP Traits, Trick or Treat?
As James is I’m sure aware, I’m not a fan of traits, there be sleeping dragons. I went to this one hoping he could change my mind and show me why they’re actually amazing and what really cool stuff can be achieved with them. When he likened them to runtime copy-and-paste, yeah… no. He used the word “caveat” a lot so the moral I took from the talk was… RUN AWAY!

Helgi Thorbjoernsson: Cranking Nginx up to 11
Good speaker, definitely going to play with nginx. He talked about some of the various caching techniques and popular modules. Seems you can do a lot more with it than I had first thought. There was even talk of hooking it straight up to MySQL and skipping PHP entirely. Though he did note that sort of thing is more of a “hey! look what we can do! now let’s find a way to make it useful…” type of thing.

Rowan Merewood: From the Ground Up – Coding, Deploying, and Scaling with AWS
Jeez, there was a lot of material to cover there. It really was a quick aerial tour of AWS and how to get started. As someone with no experience with AWS as a whole, I was left with just a fuzzy overview of how it all fits together. Talking to some of the guys there, I think I’ll play with Heroku first.

Andrei Zmievski: “Small Data” Machine Learning
Really damn interesting topic, but I’m somewhat at a disadvantage having never studied maths at an advanced level. The talk was easy enough to follow, but there got to a point where I had some big gaps in my knowledge. I think I’ve got to go and google a few things and maybe take another look at those videos Stanford put out.

Richard Johnson: PHP is evil and wants to eat your babies
To be honest, I was expecting a little more from this one. Good fun speaker, but didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know. $$var is bad. Be careful with null characters. Use prepared statements. Don’t include() on a variable. That kind of thing.

Panel Discussion: Frameworks – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
In all honesty, this was a bit of a farce and pissed me right off. There was a twitter stream up on the projector that was more-or-less ignored, they took a couple of questions from the audience, really inane stuff like “what’s your favourite…”, “do you think X is any better now?”, “Which ones do you think should go die in a fire?” that kind of thing. Lots of obsessing over what’s “better” like there is such a thing, and a lot of agreeing with each other. Maybe not such a balanced discussion. I would have like to have seen a devil’s advocate fighting the corner of roll-your-own. The twitter stream was 90% people saying “Hurry up! Beer now!”. I shit you not.

Saturday

Martijn Verburg: The Diabolical Developer
Very funny talk, the man’s a total troll. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t going to rest until he’d offended 90% of the crowd! But he had a lot of very good points, and I think it was a pretty balanced talk. He played devil’s advocate for all those things that typically make you face-palm, I liked that. He questioned design patterns, best practices, the agile methodology. No one was spared, it was refreshing.

Ben Longden: The Hypermedia API
Good speaker, covered the topic well. Nicely done talk and it was interesting. But if you’ve used the Atom Publishing Protocol at all, then again it’ll be vaguely familiar to you, some of the ideas are just abstracted and given a new name.

Sara Golemon: Scaling with HipHop
Really interesting. She blazed through the presentation quite quickly, but freestyled pretty well for the rest of the time. It actually worked out pretty well, it didn’t feel like filling time at all. She did make a few mentions to various projects going on internally to Facebook that she wasn’t allowed to tell us about. Which is fair enough I guess, but still, it’s not nice to tease. I think I might have a play with HipHop. But I don’t see myself actually using it anywhere. It has lots of fancy features to squeeze as much performance out as possible, including lose typing system so you can typehint integers and the like. Lots of cool stuff, but unless you’re Facebook, it probably won’t make that much difference.

Derick Rethans: OpenStreetMap for the Web
Really fascinating talk, definitely one of the ones I enjoyed the most. OpenStreetMap really has a lot going for it, but is perhaps having a hard time competing with google in some areas for obvious reasons. I really want to look into that some more, there are a lot of good ideas in there and it’s really open ended. One of the things I liked was that it was also a reflection on the communities that use it. In germany, there are parks with every individual bench marked out, including what times it gets the sun, whereas in Kibera, Nairobi, they’ve mapped out the slum including all the little walkways, back alleys and basic necessities like toilets, clinics, chemists and butchers. Gives you pause for thought when you see what a society thinks is worth mapping.

Michael Maclean: Making PHP See
I really don’t know what I was expecting from this one. OpenCV library and PHP, c’mon. I was a little disappointed when he blasted through the slides in about 20 minutes, and when there weren’t very many questions it ended ahead of schedule. A lot of what he talked about was stuff you can do with GraphicsMagick. Reducing noise, highlighting edges, that kind of thing. He gave a few ideas of what could be done with OpenCV, but kept saying “but you wouldn’t use PHP for that” so I’m not really sure what the goal was, other than sheer curiosity that is. I think a working example from start to finish wouldn’t have gone a miss. Something like, “find the edge between the red and the blue, and tell me the angle” or “tell me when there’s something obstructing the driveway”.

Phil Leggetter: Realtime Web Apps in the Wild
Interesting, but again, not much that I wasn’t already aware of. WebSockets are the shit. He had his “second screen” demo which worked, so you could load his page and log in on your phone, then various slides had extra stuff pushed to the phones which was pretty cool. He talked a little about the platform he works on, but when I looked at the overview diagram of basically what it does and how it sits in your application, I realised that I had actually already written something similar. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a finished product, but as a basic HTTP/WebSocket bridge, it works. The only disappointment was that he had a number of things he wanted to demo but they just didn’t want to work. He was quite disappointed too, I believe he said “Noo! This one is really fun! Aw…”.

The full list of talks at PHPUK 2013 on Joined.in. They recorded them all too, but don’t appear to have posted the videos yet. I’ll add a link when they do.

The Mendeley Web Team
The Mendeley Web Team: (Left to right) Nick, Chris, Antonio, Paul and My ugly mug. Hiding behind the camera is Rosario.