My WordCamp Vancouver 2016 Experience

5 minute read

Went to my first WordCamp yesterday (a conference for WordPress users, and WordPress is software that runs blog’s and websites like this one).
I was actually all ready to go last year too (I bought an early bird ticket) but I had recently re-dislocated my shoulder again, and the date for surgery was the day before WordCamp. What’s more, while recovering I was attached to some ice machine for reducing swelling. So I was stuck at home, and all I could really do well was sit in front of the TV and play “out of this world” on Super Nintendo.

Getting there

Getting to WordCamp was an adventure. Normally, from Shawnigan lake, I’d have to drive for ah noir to Nanaimo or Victoria, wait for about 40 minutes go board a ferry, ride on the ferry for 90 minutes (I always enjoy the sailing though) then drive for about an hour through traffic to downtown Vancouver: about 4 hours one way, and that’s assuming you can catch a ferry when want. Arriving at 9 am at BCIT downtown Vancouver was going to mean leaving at 5am, and getting from to help with putting kids to bed for 7pm was going to mean leaving the conference at 3pm (actually earlier with ferry schedules). And round trip this would be about $200 (fir ferry, gas, and parking).
Instead I discovered I could take a Harbour Air sea plane from Maple Bay (30 minutes away) which would get me to downtown Vancouver in an hour, and BCIT was only a 10 minute walk away. It cost about $250 round trip, but it was so much more convenient, I could attend much more of the conference, and it was a nice adventure.
When I arrived at the Maple Bay Marina at 6:50 I struggled a bit to confirm at which dock I should wait for the sea plane. I saw no sign and the online instructions didn’t help (their directions mentioned landmarks which I also couldn’t find, instead of just using the dock letters which were clearly marked).
At one of the docks, I saw a Harbour Air sea plane, but it was so tiny I assumed it must be a different one. It looked like it only had space for the pilot.
So I wandered around, asked some lady walking her dog (didn’t ask the guy complaining that the washrooms were closed), called up Harbour Air headquarters (they weren’t open yet), and double checked their website. Although I arrived 20 minutes early, by 5 minutes before takeoff I still didn’t know if I was in the right spot.
Them I heard an engine running, which sounded like a sea plane, and followed my ear. I hopped onto a dock (which said to not trespass) and about 100 meters off, at the end of the dock, I saw the sea plane pulling up. Phew! (And yes it was the same tiny one I saw earlier, but at a different dock).
I showed the pilot my ID (didn’t drop it in the water!) and hopped in. I reminded me a bit of squishing into the back of a pickup truck where they have this two tiny sideways facing seats only kids can fit into. It wasn’t that bad though.
The pilot was friendly, and showed the one other passenger and I the safety video from an iPad (“the most high tech piece of equipment on board”). It was actually amusing and informative. The narrator told the passengers to turn their phones off, and when one didn’t comply, tossed it overboard with a “plop!” Also, it pointed out that the tiny plane actually had 6 exits (my first reaction was to think that was also a joke): two in the front by the pilot and copilot, and two in the middle on each side (one I entered through), and each of those doors also had a kick-out window (oh and the doors could be opened as easily as a car door).

Taking off was a smooch nerve wracking, but mostly fun. We made a stop on Saltspring Island (2 hours by driving, waiting, and ferry) but 5 minutes flying. The pilot did a nice tight turn in approaching the docks and I could kinda feel above-normal G forces.
The whole flight was really picturesque and enjoyable (once I got over the idea that I could open the door and fall a kilometer to my doom).
So an hour after (1st) takeoff I was in downtown Vancouver, wandering past the sky scrapers, making my way to WordCamp.

What happened there

Checkin was nice and easy (thanks to volunteers!) I’m actually pretty happy to get the t shirt, and my 3 year old will love the stickers.
Luckily I got off on the right foot. I got some muffins, and started chatting with basically the first person I found: Doug Rider. He was friendly and interesting. Iirc he’s basically retired from being some kind of music recording technician in LA to building WordPress websites in Portland. I learned the term “hamburger menu” from him, and actually about’s DNA testing for family history. (It was a little funny because he also got into mentioning “and actually there this church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that’s really into family history. They’re into some pretty weird stuff, like admitting people into their church after they’re dead, but they’ve got a bunch of nice resources…” I sorta had to interrupt him to let him know “ya know Doug, I’m actually a member of that church”).
The first presentation I attended was “how to not design like a developer” by Tracy Apps. It was interesting hearing about a bunch of tools to make web design more easier for works without an artistic bone in their bodies. One I took note of:

  • for telling you what colors compliment each other and go well together
  • for evaluating and comparing design option
  • for getting classy textures for website backgrounds
  • is a design framework (I think I heard of it, but basically didn’t know any details), that apparently works quite well with WirdPress too: use bootstrap to design your layouts, then pick out the pieces and put them into WordPress theme template files, et voila, you have a new custom theme built in bootstrap, that works great on different devices
  • has some specialized bootstrap stuff for WordPress
  • google fonts has a tool for picking fonts that look good together
  • for creating backgrounds from SVGs so they’re both fast and derailed
  •  snap.svg for really cool things you can do with JavaScript and SVGs

And there was more I didn’t take note of. But hearing of all these tools certainly makes design much more approachable for boring folks like me.
Another presentation I really enjoyed was by Andrew Taylor about diagnosing site performance with New Relic.
He gave a concrete case study to show how to improve a site’s performance drastically.
The example was of a site running woocommerce, with a page showin 25 products, their terms and taxonomies, and a Twitter feed.
He showed the sites initial performance: about 2 seconds per page load. He used New Relic to analyze how much of the request was used by PHP, MySQL, and external services.

  • By caching the Twitter feed results for a few minutes, the wait time for external services basically got reduced to zero
  • By upgrading PHP from 5.6 to 7, it took off about a quarter of the PHP load time
  • By using an object cache, he avoided hitting the database and dropped MySQL time to almost zero
  • By using “require” instead of “get_template_part” in his template code, he further improved PHP time significantly
  • He switched to using a full page caching plugin to basically reduce all the request to nearly 0.2 seconds (except when the cache expired)
  • He used a CDN to deliver media, CSS and JS files much more rapidly
  • He converted the site to use HTTPS so that it could support HTTP2 which supports “multiplexing”
  • Also, by using a service like Elastic Search, he got better search results (there are WirdPress plugins for this) which I think were easier on the database

Those were probably the best presentations from WordCamp for me.

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