DrupalCon DC

published on March 15, 2009

After 15.5 hours of travelling (1.5 hours on the train, 8.5 hours of flying, 20 minutes of bus, 30 minutes in the metro and the rest spent waiting or walking), I arrived at the Harrington Hotel in Washington D.C. Immediately afterwards, I left for the pre-con registration, at which already about 400 people registered themselves.


The next day I got up at 6:08 AM since I couldn’t sleep due to the heat in the hotel room and because I was volunteering at the DrupalCon registration booth. With about 10 volunteers, we registered about 800 people in 2 hours (registering consists of giving them their lanyard, personalized name card, swag bag and redirecting them to the t-shirt booth). It worked pretty efficiently :)

Thanks, Drupal community!

I’d like to thank Bonnie Bogle once more for her Herculean organizing efforts. And of course a thank you to all attendees whom all partially paid for my travel expenses and Drupalcon ticket (I won a scholarship). I hope you’ll all benefit from my work in the end!

My session & bachelor thesis

For me personally, the most important event was my own session,

Drupal CDN integration: easier, more flexible and faster!. It was so important to me because it allowed me to gather more feedback before I was going to start doing the actual work — the coding — of my bachelor thesis. So far it’s only been about research and presenting (at FOSDEM and now at DrupalCon DC), so I know the field pretty well by now.

But to guarantee success1 this presentation was vital, because it was the only means of massive direct contact with the community. Through which I hoped to gather more feedback to have a better big picture and the contacts necessary to work more efficiently.

The presentation itself was a success, about 100 people attended my session, which is more than I anticipated because it’s such a narrowly scoped topic and because there were so many interesting sessions in the same time slot I was competing with. 8 or so people came to talk to me afterwards, we stood there talking for another half hour, which is an awesome (and big) response!

In total I got about 10 (I probably forgot some) useful “links”: people who wanted to contribute some of their time or knowledge to help make my efforts a success because they were familiar with big CDN setups, Drupal core patches or maintainer of related modules. I’ve listed the most interesting ones in terms of potential impact to progress of my bachelor thesis below:

  • Michael Krakovskiy of FastCompany, who has experience with Akamai setups and thus may give me insights on what I should do to allow for pull CDN compatibility
  • Andrew Morton (drewish), the contributor of Drupal 7’s File API. He explained me what direction he’d like to see me go with my Drupal core path that will add the ability to alter file URLs (and unify the generation of those URLs).
  • Larry Garfield (Crell) of Palantir, who is pushing to get handlers into core. A handler is a pluggable subsystem. An example could be a pluggable caching subsystem (to switch between memcached, database and file caching for example). Since you really only want one piece of code that decices how a file URL is altered, it’s a perfect match for writing a handler for it. But it’s not certain that the handler core patch in its current form will support my use case in the most optimal way. We had a BoF session about handlers, which was more of a hail storm of design patterns than very productive, but I guess that’s normal for something as abstract and widely applicable as handlers.
  • Benjamin Cool Root of Development Seed, who’s very interested in data visualization and might give me some pointers on how to visualize all the data collected by the Episodes module.
  • Arthur Foelsche (arthurf) of CivicActions is interested in using the daemon I’ll be writing to make transcoding more scalable than the current system of his Media Mover module (which uses just PHP and is thus limited in execution time and scalability).


I won’t discuss any sessions in details, but these were my favorites:

  • Keynote: Is Drupal moral? was presented very eloquently, fluently and enthusiastically by David Weinberger (whom is a philosopher instead of a Drupal guy). He made many interesting points (one of his most interesting quotes from the Drupal perspective: “knowledge takes on the form in which it is stored”).
  • Migration is not just for birds was introduced by Moshe Weitzman and demoed by Mike Ryan. The presentation wasn’t very good: they failed to communicate clearly what’s possible and what’s not. Nevertheless, the things they were presenting about — the Table Wizard and Migrate modules — are impressive enough to end up in this list. It may not be very clear what the current limitations are, the potential is very clear: a set of solid tools to migrate any data into Drupal. Awesome!
  • Many of us like Drupal’s principles, concepts and abilities so much that we fail to see the bad things. I was like that too, once. Over the last year, I’ve started seeing the things that suck in Drupal (there’s still plenty of them). That’s why I loved James Walker’s aptly named session Why I hate Drupal. It removes the fairy tales and brings you back to planet Earth with a smack in the face. He indicates in which ways Drupal fails and what we can/could/should do about it.

Party all night long?

In contrast with previous DrupalCons, the parties ended much earlier (or at least the ones I went to). By state law, no alcohol is served in Washington D.C. after 01:30. So most parties ended between 01:00 and 02:00. Which is good in the end, because more people were awake in the mornings :).

The food on the other hand, sucked. Both on and off the conference. The lunch served at the conference was very well organized, but burgers during every lunch with ridiculous amounts of meat and fat, besides simply being not tasty, is odd. At least it was edible, which cannot be said of the previous DrupalCons I attended (Barcelona and Szeged).

Traveling back

After about 1.5 hours of flight, our pilot announced that we were flying back to Washington D.C., because 2 of the 4 generators broke down and we needed at least 3 to safely cross the Atlantic Ocean. We ended up in the Hilton hotel near the airport and tried to use our time as useful as possible. I fixed a couple of Hierarchical Select bugs and started writing tests for it.


I almost forgot to mention this, but during the code sprint (which I was only able to attend from 10 AM to 2 PM), I fixed/closed/replied to 22 issues of Hierarchical Select! (issues were fixed/closed unless marked otherwise):

I don’t think I could’ve been much more productive :)

  1. Success of my bachelor thesis being measured by the fact that it’ll 1) really have an impact on page loading performance and 2) actually be used by Drupal users and companies. ↩︎


Dave Reid's picture

Wim, It was great to meet you in DC! I didn’t get to attend your CDN session, but sounds like you have some great parties interested. And that’s some amazing progress on your Hierarchical Select work! Glad you had a good time!