Last week I attended the second UK PHP Conference in London. The organisers had clearly listened to the comments after the first conference, and this year's event was even better. It's the only event of its kind in the UK, and deservedly popular, with a large lecture theatre completely packed.
Like last year, the conference was a one-day, one-track event, and good value for money at £50. It kicked off with Cal Evans, the editor of the Zend dev zone, presenting "My First Mash-Up", getting down with the code to walk us through various ways of tracking a UPS parcel on GoogleMaps with a traditional server-side model and an AJAX model.
Next up was Simon Laws talking about SCA for PHP. Obviously I'm biased but I thought this went really well. Despite being a big lecture theatre, there were a lot of good questions raised throughout the talk, particularly from people who hadn't seen annotations used for dependency injection before: "are annotations bad for performance", "does it work asynchonously", and so on.
After lunch was Kevlin Henney on "Objects of Desire", a talk only loosely about PHP, and one of the highlights. Kevlin is an independent consultant and trainer, specialising in programming languages, OO design, agile development process, patterns and software architecture. He is widely published, but I hadn't heard him speak before. He turned out to be a witty and entertaining speaker, with a lot of wisdom to impart, and deserved the ovation he received.
The big name speaker came next, Rasmus Lerdorf on "Fast and Rich Web Applications with PHP 5". I'd seen Rasmus give a similar talk a couple of times, so there was not much new content for me, but watching him walk through the process of improving the throughput of a simple site one hundred-fold was as impressive as ever, and many of the audience said this was their highlight. Rasmus also got some good questions which were answered .. frankly!
The final wild card was Bill Gaver, a professor of design at Goldsmiths College on "Designing for the Curious Home". Bill and his team go way beyond conventional design issues, resarching some crazy technology ideas, for example wiring up a family home to try and detect the "mood" and then print a daily "horoscope". The one I'd like in my home was the "drift table", which has a viewing window that allows you to float over satellite views of the planet, rather like being in a hot air balloon. Bill says "through these examples, I suggest that computation can go beyond supporting problem solving, consumption and entertainment to enhance a far more varied and subtle range of domestic activities and values". I did notice some muttering around me about the relevance of this talk to the conference, but for me it was much more memorable than many a technical talk.
I had previously whinged to Marcus Baker that it was maybe a bit questionable to select the speakers without a public cfp, but I changed my mind after I'd enjoyed the sessions so much. The personal selection of speakers gave us a more stimulating selection that a committee would have come up with. It could be a new model for computing conferences, akin to the annual Meltdown festival at the South Bank where individual curators (John Peel, Nick Cave, Morrissey, David Bowie, this year Jarvis Cocker) preside over a quirky and personal selection of performances.
After the conference lots of attendees decamped to LivingSpace, where much beer was consumed, and I was happy to meet a small UK contingent of PHP Women. The conversation alternated wildly between PHP-related subjects and knitting and crochet. My male colleagues are always complaining about me expecting them to take part in two discussions simultaneously, so I revelled in this. I did have to go through a bit of a post-feminist reevaluation to get to grips with the interest of young women in handicrafts, a subject which I had personally cast off many years ago, but once I'd seized on the key role of the Jacquard loom in the history of computing as a rationale, my surprise dissolved. I wonder if the UK PHP Conference team would accept a paper on "Babbage and Knitting" as the wacky topic for the 2008 conference? We thought there were about fourteen women at the conference, of 235 attendees. Someone captured us on Flickr. Later at dinner it was nice to meet Steph Fox in person for the first time, too.
Some other people's photos from the conference are here. It seems Rasmus had a lot of people throw an arm around him and expect him to smile for the camera :-).