Conference wrap-up: ZendCon 2008

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I’m a little late to the party with this one – ZendCon was weeks ago now! For the third year in a row, I attended the Zend PHP Conference, which was in Santa Clara, CA this year. As I write this, I’m on a plane from San Jose, Costa Rica back to Atlanta after having just attended the first annual Schematic Technology Summit. What can I say? It’s the conference that the entire PHP community looks forward to all year long! This was another great opportunity to connect with old friends and meet some new ones.

This year, Schematic was represented by myself, Pablo Viquez, Robert Swarthout, and Ben Ramsey. Ben and I were both speaking, which makes two years in a row for me.

For the first half of tutorial day, I attended PHP Development best practices by Matthew Weier O’Phinney and Mike Naberezny. In general, I found that I’m already taking part in helping to apply the techniques and practices they presented. It’s always nice to walk away with talks with a “I/we know what we’re doing!” feeling.

During the last half of the day, I attended Jay Pipes “Legend of Drunken Query Master: The Apprentice’s Journey,” which was excellent. It’s been a while since I’ve really had to optimize MySQL queries, tune instances, etc. Jay’s talk was a great refresher on these topics.

He also illustrated some cases in which you’d need to do some strange things to squeeze performance out of MySQL, such as placing most-frequently-used fields in, say, one InnoDB table, while placing the rest of the less-frequently-used values in a separate table – perhaps using InnoDB on your master database, and MyISAM on your slaves. This helps keep the index in the buffer space, which makes for faster lookups.

Now, I get it – you want to squeeze all that you can out of your database – but, in my opinion, practices like this are just strange and unorthodox. I’d be willing to use them as needed, but frankly, I’d only resort to them if I REALLY had to. If it was a matter between my database consistently falling flat on its face with performance issues, then I’d consider. In the meantime, I’ll tend to stick to more standard database design practices.

During the regular conference days, I attended some great talks. I always walk away from ZendCon somewhat inspired and energized to sink my time into PHP-based activities, such as unit testing, continuous integration, and tinkering with the latest and greatest Zend Framework components.

In particular, I need to polish up my Zend_Log_Writer_Mail proposal, and pay some attention to the recent comments and suggestions. Granted, it’s a trivial component being proposed, but if I can improve on it a bit to make it more useful to a wider array of developers, I’m certainly committed to doing so. It’d be great to get this class into the 1.7 release of Zend Framework!

Of particulate note was Terry Chay’s Unconference talk. Every time I see Terry speak, I have another one of my “We know what we’re doing!” moments. Maybe it’s easy to nod my head and agree with most everything Terry says, but really, his talks always verify that both my personal thought process and that of my employer, Schematic, is generally in-line and headed in the right direction. I look forward to seeing Terry’s polished up, movie clip-filled version in the coming months!

Also huge props to Keith Casey, this year’s Unconference chair. That schedule was packed full of great talks!

On Tuesday, I presented my new talk, “Rickroll To Go with PHP, WURFL, and Other Open Source Tools.” In general, I think it went well. Did anyone else Rickroll their audience at ZendCon? Doubt it! That talk may have run a tad short, but I didn’t feel right cramming more slides in just for the sake of time. I covered a wide range of material, such as some basics on WURFL, use of FFmpeg for video and audio, and how to use ImageMagick and the imagick extension when optimizing images for consumption by mobile devices. This talk serves a niche area of the PHP community, so I’d love to be able to refine and repurpose it for some other conferences in 2009.

As has become the custom, Twitter was all over #zendcon this year! Between coordinating group outings, looking for mini-DVI-to-VGA adapters for MacBooks, and reporting the state of hungover colleagues, Twitter is the Swiss Army Knife tool of PHP conferences! If you’re not on it, get with the program!

Also, as has become another custom, we tend to get news of various PHP’ers jumping ship to join other companies in the weeks after ZendCon. This year’s big headline is Cal Evans’ move from Zend to ibuildings as the Director of their new PHP Center of Expertise. Congrats, Cal and ibuildings! Cal, the South will miss you!

But, that’s about it! I look forward to both speaking at and attending ZendCon 2009.