Matthew J. Kellett

Website Architect and Developer

PHP Unconference Europe (PHPucEU) 2011 Review

What is an Unconference?

Well an unconference is a unique approach to conferencing. A typically conference usually consists of a pre-defined series of talks and presentations across two, sometimes three streams.

This is where an unconference differs; the main basic principle is the same, however talks and presentations are voted for and submitted at the beginning of each day. This means that all of the topics up for discussion are relevant to the audience and based around peoples interests.

Another difference is the length of the presentations, typically they last for about an hour with 10 mins or so for a quick break before the next set of sessions start. At an unconference however this tends to be the other way round with most of the time being allocated to coffee breaks to allow for meeting new people and discussion about the previous session.

The Venue

Upon arriving in Manchester before 9am (suprisingly easy when there's no traffic), I was quite suprised to find out it was being held in a bar, despite the name being Pitcher & Piano.

Whilst being in a bar isn't necessarily a bad idea for a conference there are a couple of issues:

  • Flaky wireless due to the number of people trying to connect to an infrastructure not suited to 100 people with multiple devices
  • Noise levels can get particulally high when the bar is open to the public at the same time as the conference

These points aside, the venue itself lead a pretty good atmosphere providing plenty of space and seats for people to chill out and discuss the sessions of the day. The food they provided was also particularly tasty and I will highly recommended it.

The Sessions - Day One

After registering and everyone turning up, the event kicked off with a quick introduction into how the event was going to be run. It was at this point I found out about the whole concept of "decide on the day" approach to conferencing with the main emphasis being given to coffee / tea / beer / wine breaks hehe

Anyway after the voting occured I decided to attend the following sessions

The following sections include a brief overview of the presentation / discussions that I attended.

Speaking for Developers

This presentation was all about how developers can give presentations easier. The main focus was around conferences but many of the aspects discussed could quite easily be applied to many different aspects of a developers career, such as article writing.

The main point I noticed from it was preparation, preparation, preparation and whilst this seems like common sense it's quite suprising the number of times I find myself un-prepared when giving a presentation confused Hopefully this will now change following the points that came out of Lorna's presentation.

A great example of how conferences should be started with a well-presented, enthusiastic talk by Lorna.

Dealing with Errors

This was a presentation provided by James all about dealing with errors in PHP. Whilst most of it I was aware of and have already implemented a full error handler I wanted to attend this to see if there was something I was missing. As it turns out, there are some very cool tools for reporting these errors instead of simply storing them in a database or sending them via email.

The main one covered in the presentation was one called Elastik (need to play with this) which is being developed as an open source project.

Overall this was a great presentation with some tricky questions which got answered pretty quickly.

Memory Management, Garbage Collection, destruct(), debugging memory

As the title suggests, this was a panel discussion about memory management in PHP. The main point from this discussion was that, unlike languages such as C, PHP does a pretty good job of managing memory usage on it's own and this has vastly incresed in 5.3.

Quite quickly though, this discussion started to cover more advanced memory techniques which made me feel like I was back at Uni during an architecture lecture ... in a good way though.

Web-site Performance: Getting the page to appear quickly

This was by far one of the most participated in discussions of the day and covered various techiques about speeding up the web page once you have finished building it in PHP. The main points to come out of it though are as follows:

  • Reduce the number of http requests by combining scripts, css and images
  • Make use of browser technologies to compress and cache content i.e. css and js
  • Use appropriately sized images and make use of current technologies to make them smaller
  • Inject fonts rather than using images for text

I found this to be one of the best sessions of the weekend even though most of the techniques are very familiar to me. Great discussion with many ideas being raised for discussion cool

PHPDox - an alternative to PHPDocumentor

This was an interesting presentation about an alternative to PHPDocumentor (a document tool for PHP based on comment blocks). Personally I couldn't see any major benefits other than being able to customise the reporting and output of the documentation far more than you can with PHPDocumentor.

Some of the customisations you can do with this system are quite intriguing and maybe worth looking into but I think for now I will be sticking with what I know.

Overall it was a well-presented but there were times when the content being delivered was being done so a little quick to digest. Might have been because it was the last session of the day wink

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