Going to the other place – or a weekend at DrupalScienceCamp

I went to the Drupal ScienceCamp  for the weekend to learn more about Drupal and also how one runs a DrupalCamp, since we are thinking of doing one in Oxford. Having come across on the Friday and met some people, the weekend really started on the Saturday, run by some of the team behind the recent Drupalcon in London.

Having arrived early on Saturday and met Rachel Lawson and Euan Bayliss at NAPP Pharmaceuticals (who kindly donated the building), I caught Finn and other Drupallers. The day started off with a general welcome and then into the first session, Responsive Design using Fluid Grids, presented by Tim Davison. This is an area where I sort of know the theory but have never fully explored so was keen to learn so that sites can run on (largely) any device. I can see one or two things that I might try this out on, though not Drupal related at the moment.

I stayed in the room to hear Steven Jones giving an Introduction to Module Building. I’ve been writing modules for things for a bit but it always good to get a refresher and to rethink the basics. He also managed to pull off a live coding session in writing a quick module. I was impressed about that.

After lunch, I went to the LessCSS presentation which was more on the theory than a Drupal application. The framework solution tends towards large teams and to building maintainable large CSS files, rather than small projects. However its flexibility promises a way of reducing lines of code and making it more re-usable. There was a warning that getting it wrong could create large .less files and smaller CSS files but that may be a learning curve for developers. I like the fact that you have the choice of pre-compiling the .less files and loading the pure .css file or using a PHP or Javascript compiler to compile in the fly.

Following that Steve Purkiss gave a presentation on From Flip Charts to Features and beyond! Starting out from mind maps to find out what the clients needs are and to “think first, code later” (which is the reverse of what I believe is 37Signal’s way of build first with minimal planning). This allows you to discover and use the client’s domain language and vocabulary and allows for missing elements to be found early rather than having to rebuild later. A suggestion for then beginning to build a dev site which demonstrated the states for the client with the Context, Features and Delta projects. Using Drush make and drush site install as well builds the site and allows it to move it between servers but as yet, I have not quite managed to get this to work in a current environment.

The final session was Will Hall’s Migration, Upgrading and Moving House which focussed on the use on the Migration module and the idea of unstructured and structured developers. Again this is something to be explored with the drush make stuff to ensure that some current work can be moved forward. It does look like a good choice for ensuring that content can be moved between databases. Again more goodness to try shortly.

The Sunday was given over to a BarCamp style day which was great and sweetly flexible.

I went to Károly Négyesi‘s presentation on the Relations module. Whilst I cannot see an immediate use for it, it is always good to know about other approaches to relating content rather than just using views. There was some interest from those interested in CRM systems to set up donation forms or relations inside it. It appears to be an API to make relations much easier.

The sessions on migrating sites and high performance sites was pulled together and we overfilled the room that we started with. Steve Jones of ComputerMinds led the discussion about Aegir, Pantheon, MySQL, Varnish and Apache. He announced the Pergola project to set up a set of scripts using Puppet as a base to create a recipe based loading system to set up a site in an emergency or to ensure that changing servers can be managed to and build the site in the same way taking out any uncertainty. One useful reference is on the London Drupalcon site in the Damn Quick Drupal site. There a loads of resources and options for differing servers but if a community effort can come together to educate and share knowledge, then all the better to showcase how Drupal can be set up in high performance situations on boxes of all sizes without necessarily requiring an operations team to atleast get started.

After lunch, we talked about Drupalcamp’s: The good, the bad and the ugly in order to get a better idea of how to run one. The notion of community and shared resources was mooted and I gather that there are thoughts to resolving this. However we learned a lot for the proposed Oxford Drupalcamp in terms of organising and setting up a site using COD. One of the running themes, and this is perhaps how the Barcamp style does best, was the event is more communal and less rigid. There is more flexibility to either listen or to get  a group of people together to do something. It also encourages the attendees to participate. The UK Drupal scene does appear to be fractured and in need of a place to pull information together. Perhaps this will change, I would hope so. It would be great to have one place to find UK related Drupal information easily.

Driving back to Oxford was a chance for a good conversation with Jam, the Acquia Community Affairs manager, and Finn which made me think and reconsider ways of doing projects and community affairs. Getting slightly lost didn’t help and I’ve spent most of today recovering and writing this post. I learned a fair amount and took notes so need to spend a day or two trying things out again. That, too me, is the sign of a good meeting.

(Note re:title: traditionally, Oxford and Cambridge are rivals so the title is a reference to that. I’ve lived in or near both cities and really do not particularly care about the rivalry. It is meant as more tongue in cheek.)