This weekend I attended the fifth (my third) PHPNW annual conference. As a member of the local PHPNW user group and community, I volunteer as a helper which involves getting delegates registered, getting the speakers to the right place and making sure everything’s running smoothly. Starting on the Friday evening hackathon social, I got chatting with a few faces old and new and once I’d eaten, got coding with Mike – we did the Ordered Jobs Kata in PHP – pairing and using PHPUnit. We continued with this, along with getting in conversations with other delegates, until around midnight – then Mike gave me a kickstarter demo on Phing – the PHP Deploy tool – which I’ve used before, but never written build scripts for, so that was a really useful session – well in to the morning!

Arriving at the conference centre bright and early, donning our new PHPNW12 red helper t-shirts we got people registered and handed name badges out. Once we had everyone settled in, the event kicked off with a truly inspiring talk from Google’s Ade Oshineye on relating API design to real world usability (like doors that are hard to work out how to open). I then shadowed Patrick_Allaert for his talk on PHP Data Structures – I learned an awful lot about the different data structures available in SPL – I had no idea they were even there. Picked up some other useful tricks and tips too.

I chatted with Ben Waine over lunch and headed over to Michael Heap‘s talk on designing systems to scale, though the room was full so I ended up hanging out in the “corridor track” with the Magma crew. In the next session I opted for the unconference track for Ben’s talk on ‘Testing Your Shit with Behat’ – cool to see Behat in action! Next up I was shadowing for Google employee Ian Barber, who gave last year’s keynote (before he worked for Google) entitled ‘How to Stand on the Shoulders of Giants‘, which is well worth a watch. This year’s on ‘How to Build a Firehose’. A really interesting talk on how to deal with exposing live data streams in real time.

Following the usual wrap-up of the day, the social happened.

Somehow I managed to get up in the morning and head back to the conference centre. The first talk was on Responsive Design at the BBC – a fantastic and intriguing talk from John Cleveley. The second talk slot had two talks I really wanted to see – Adrian‘s talk on using nginx on the Raspberry Pi, and ‘To SQL or To No(t)SQL‘ by Joroen Van Dijk – but I was down to shadow the other track, Recognising Smelly Code, which I really enjoyed – had some really good points and the speaker shared my adoration of good naming conventions and the single responsibility principle.

Another great conference – it gets better every year, without ever having been bad. Thanks to Magma for organising, and to all the sponsors and delegates for making it an awesome event. It really reminded me how great the PHP community is.

I will close with a statement expressing my opinion of Drupal:

Photo credit akrabat, Stuart Herbert and vcrgardener

Barcamp Blackpool 2012

This weekend was Barcamp Blackpool – held at the Norbreck Castle Hotel in North Blackpool. It’s the fourth event they’ve run since it kicked off in 2009 – and the second I’ve attended. Last year was great fun but I only stayed for the day – this time I stayed the night before and the night after, which exponentially increased the level of fun!

The pre-barcamp social was held at the West Coast Rock Café, where Robie and I had a “Big Pig” Burger and Ash had a 20oz steak. Don’t believe me? Here it is:

We had some laughs and I discussed music with Alex (aka “The Error Messages Guy”), which led to me debating with Mike about which Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack featured the NOFX song The Separation Of Church And Skate.

In the morning we strolled downstairs for breakfast and headed over to the event where people started to congregate. Seeing the familiar faces and a few new ones, I chatted away. I noticed Freaky Clown had arrived, so I went over to introduce myself. I saw him speak at Hack To The Future and we’ve chatted via email and twitter but never properly met. He’s a very interesting guy – a grey hat hacker who goes by an alias. He works in penetration testing and computer security and takes an interest in lock picking. He blogs about his findings at The Grey Hats. He had been observing me throughout the day and watched me enter my phone’s unlock pattern, and told me he had. He also went round stealing people’s identities:

Following an intro talk from the utterly amazing organisers Lally and Les, the board kicked off and began to fill up. Failure on the part of Ash, Robie and me meant that none of us had, as we intended to, prepared a talk to give, so we just waited to see what other people were talking about. I browsed the board and saw a few interesting topics but with getting tied up in conversation with various people – including my old friends from Magma, I didn’t make it along to any talks in the morning. While chatting with Jack, I spontaneously decided to put down a talk I’d given at the first Manchester Raspberry Jam, but unfortunately I didn’t have the slides with me – so I’ll save it for another time. While chatting, Martin brought up the fact that (in his opinion) I want to swap my Android phone for an iPhone, and I explained to the group that it wasn’t true, and obviously they all played along saying I had an iPhone.

In fact in the end I only made it along to two talks – both by Freaky Clown. The first about image manipulation (detecting nippes in a folder of photos, etc.) and how easy it is to find out where someone lives by the EXIF data embedded in the photo file; the second on how he hacked the world in 7 seconds. Both excellent talks – I highly recommend you go see him talk if you ever get the chance. During his first talk my phone bleeped and he jokingly referred to it being my iPhone. Hilarious, FC. Following the closing remarks where I picked out raffle tickets for prizes (Android phone holders) and Gemma (who was the previous organiser) thanked Les and Lally, we headed to the bar. Drinking commenced, followed by dinner.

During Alex’s comedy act in the evening (involving vintage computer games) I was asked to go up to the front to demo a game of music management game Rock Star Ate My Hamster on his ZX Spectrum – a game brought out the year I was born – 1988! I got up to the front to play on it, sat down at the keyboard and realised I’d left my phone, tablet and netbook on the table. I had been sitting next to Freaky Clown. He’d seen me enter my unlock patterns and passwords that day so he could probably get in to them with ease. I was somewhat concerned. When I got back I expressed my concern (admitting my foolishness) and he said he wouldn’t do anything like that…

This was followed by more drinking and a couple of games of Werewolf:

I’ve never played Werewolf before, and the rules weren’t explained before we started playing, so I had a really weird experience. Things happened, I didn’t really follow why. People accused each other of being werewolves, rapists and other things, and some people seemed to get voted out of the game. Every time I shut my eyes I had no idea what, if anything, was supposed to happen. It reminded me of the sorts of games we played in Cub Scouts (wink murder, that sort of thing) but because things happened when my eyes were shut I couldn’t really figure it out. Every time I shut my eyes I had to convince myself this wasn’t some elaborate trick where I was being trolled by Ash, Martin and the others. I was eventually “killed” and left the game at that point. I went over to Tim to demonstrate my Rubik’s Cube solving ability, and went on to rejoin the group for a second game. I kept quiet most of the game while I tried to work out what was going on. It got down to there being four of us and I felt like I had to say something, so I sounded my view that of the two other people than Ash and me, one of them had aired deductive reasoning and the other only spoken up with jokes and messing around, but said it in a really vague way that Ash didn’t get, so they ended up voting to out the other one and if I’d have managed to get my point across I’d have been proved right and we’d have won. I understand the game better now and look forward to playing again. After that, I had my sexuality questioned by Martin’s girlfriend and we talked about Adventure Time. I then solved the Rubik’s Cube so fast it fell apart in my hands:

A few people asked me what the reason behind the emerging micro meme ‘MORNING BEN’ they had witnessed on Twitter. I explained the full story to a few people over the weekend – it starts with a few of us noticing that someone, who shall remain anonymous, always taking the opportunity to put me down and correct me over the tiniest detail, and us joking that if I were to say ‘Good morning’ and it was 12.00 or 12.01 this person would leap at the chance to say I was wrong. So Farkie started saying ‘MORNING BEN’ to me at 12.00 every day. And then Martin saw it, and did the same (not knowing the in-joke), and other people would see one of the tweets, at various times of the day, and do the same. Then a few more people tagged on, assuming the joke was just to say good morning to me in the morning. So now, most days, I get a bunch of tweets with ‘MORNING BEN’. Usually in the morning, which is ironic. And with the iPhone thing that’s now caught on, why not add that in? And call me a hero, like the papers did last week:

Had a fantastic weekend – great to catch up with friends and meet new people. I really feel at home at places like Barcamp, where people share my sense of humour and geekery! Where would I be without it? Probably here.

Hero Kayakers Rescue Whitewater Dinghy Man

Last Wednesday, 26th September 2012, two friends and I took advantage of the rainfall and headed to the River Irwell in Bury to paddle from Nuttall Park to the Burrs Activity Centre. Upon arrival at the park the rain began again, and as we approached the bank to put on, the water was extremely high and running very fast:

We got on and within a couple of minutes we hit the gorge section, which I would say was pushing grade four. Not particularly technical, but rather severe in its volume, with very big waves and rapids:

About half way through the gorge we spotted something orange ahead, as we got closer we noticed it was a person wearing a life jacket, clinging to a branch. We immediately got out to see what we could do to get to him. I paddled over in front of him and got out as close as I could. One of my fellow paddlers, Louis, had run around (there was a bridge ahead) and got to a position above the man. He set up a rope from above and I clipped myself to a tree with a sling. Louis threw the rope to him which he caught, but kept hold of the tree until we instructed him to get hold of the rope with two hands (he also appeared to be pinned against a rock, which made it hard for him to get out of where he was) – once he let go and freed himself, keeping hold of the rope, we guided him to the bank and I stepped out to pull him in (the sling restricting me from getting dragged out in to the flow), and between us we managed to get him safely on the bank. Meanwhile our other paddler Liam had called for the emergency services. I stayed with the casualty, waiting for assistance while Louis went to get a jacket for him to keep warm. The man was bare legged (just in underpants) and barefoot as his trousers and shoes had been swept off him. His legs and feet were cut and very bruised. I spoke to him once I got him seated safely, ensuring he stayed put and not try to stand up. I asked what he was doing, he said “rafting”, I said who was he with, he said by himself. I asked how long he’d been stuck where we found him, he said about half an hour (it was probably less). I asked his name, where he lived and if anyone knew he was out, stuff like that. I reassured him we would get him out soon (we were stuck on the steep rocky bank at this point, with need of assistance to get him up to the path). He kept muttering things like “I’m too old for this” and “I’m not doing this again” – he told me he was nearly 50 (though the papers said 55). He was extremely cold, somewhat bruised and battered (though no serious cuts or gashes) and obviously very shaken up. I also noticed he had a scratch on his head (at this point it occurs to me he wasn’t wearing a helmet!) – he said he’d done it last week, on another river. Shortly after, some rescue workers arrived on the path above and I signalled to them where I was. There were a few minutes of deliberation before they threw a throwline (Palm, might I add – the same ones we all had) down to me and instructed me to wrap it around both of us a few times – I did so, and they sent another one down telling me to do the same – so the two of us were now roped together with the ends tied to trees above. We heard and saw a helicopter above us, and more and more rescuers appeared above the bank. A few times they shouted things down to me, one of which was whether he could walk out. I didn’t think so but asked him, he said yes, so I relayed and added that he was barefoot. Some time later a couple of them (from Fire & Rescue) approached us from the side. They asked him his name and asked if he thought he could walk out if they guided him – he said yes but that he was concerned about sharp rocks, and complained of hypothermia. They shouted up to see if they could get him some shoes but didn’t in the end. They helped me unravel the ropes around us and said to leave them to walk him out. I was with him for about 40 minutes from getting him out of the water to leaving him in the hands of the rescue people. I went round to where it was easier to walk up the bank, and was asked to relay the information I knew to the police and the rescue team. There were about 30 people from the police, fire brigade, paramedics and such – all standing by on the path above, and then I noticed the array of their vehicles along the narrow road! They managed to get him out ok and sent him to hospital. The rescue people told us he had described his craft as an “inflatable dinghy”. We were thanked by the team and eventually we headed back to our car.

Thanks a lot to the fire service who really helped us get this man to safety. Excellent service and fast response. I was impressed with how quickly they started to review the situation and analyse how they could have improved coordination of getting their vehicles to the right place.

The three kayakers had every piece of equipment going, including ropes, wet suits, helmets and mobile phones, and without them and their equipment the man would almost certainly have died – the water was staggeringly fast. When crews arrived, the kayakers were in the water with the man and he was up against the bank, practically unconscious. The crews secured him using rope lines to stop him going down into the water while the water rescue boat made its way to the scene. He was suffering from hypothermia and some cuts to his legs and was taken to hospital for treatment.

~ Station Manager Kev O’Connor, Greater Manchester Fire Service The man was very foolish to be out on his own in an inflatable dinghy in flood without a helmet. (four no-no’s for me!) The annoying thing is this sort of thing gives paddlesport a bad name – when it’s not even real paddlesport. We were definitely in the right place at the right time – and just as importantly – with the right kit. It’s amazing how useful a few slings, carabiners and throwline can be. We could have easily said “we won’t have chance to throwline each other on this river” and not taken them, but we did by habit. To be honest I didn’t take everything I would if I was leading a larger group – no first aid kit, no spare clothes, etc. This has reminded me it’s important to carry emergency kit. It’s unlikely that anyone would have seen him to call for help. If we hadn’t have been there he’d have probably drowned, and then the papers would have said “canoeist dies in accident” – so at least we were there to turn the headlines around as well as rescue the guy.

Thankfully, some well-prepared kayakers were brilliant in helping the man and got our crews to the scene quickly and, with the professionalism and training of the firefighters, they were able to rescue this man. We hope he makes a speedy recovery from his ordeal.

~ Councillor David Acton, Chair of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Authority Here are some links to articles:

Also here’s a photo of today’s Manchester Evening News with the picture the fire service took of the three of us:

Update 9th May 2013: We received an award from the fire service.


Receiving the Chief Fire Officer’s Commendation for bravery at a presentation in the Ramsbottom Fire Station ~ River rescuers presented with bravery award