Archive for the ‘PHP’ Category

WordPress 2.7 – Ahhhhhh!

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

I guess WordPress doesn’t consider the changes they’ve made in 2.7 (released today) to be big enough to warrant a change to the major version number (which would make it 3.0). However, there are a few features now built-in that I’ve been dreaming about for so long that simply incrementing the second number seems to sell this version short. At least they named it after one of my favorite jazz musicians. This release is called “Coltrane”. Nice.

My top two feature requests: Check!

First and foremost, the number one thing on my list of desired features is now a reality: I can make bulk changes to the categories of my posts. So, when I add a category to WordPress, and then realize that lots of my old posts really belong there, I don’t have to go searching around and changing them by hand. I still might take a stab at doing back-end automation here, by scripting a tool that’ll search the content of all of my posts, and if the content has, say, 2 out of 3 terms in my search criteria, it’ll add the post to the category, using whatever database trickery is necessary. However, this solves almost all of my needs (save my need to hack things, sometimes for its own sake).

The other feature I’ve been wanting for a long time is also now a reality: replying to comments without having to go to the post page to do it. You can now moderate and reply to comments right in the dashboard.

This, for me, is huge. I’ve been waiting for these two particular features since about 2005.

More Baked-in Goodness

Some other niceties are now built-in that used to be addon modules in WordPress, which is great, because I’m always worried about third-party modules breaking and being abandoned as new WP releases come out. The nicest for me, as someone who maintains their own wp install, is the automated WP upgrade. Used to be an addon, now built in.

Another nice feature, if you *are* someone who doesn’t mind third party modules, is that now you can browse available modules, and install them, without leaving the wp interface.

Yes, another complete redesign

The admin interface has been completely overhauled, again. The last time they did this, a buddy and I discussed it, and although he felt one or two things were nicer, I felt that they had not addressed the biggest problems with the interface. Well, they fixed it by doing something I didn’t actually expect: they admitted defeat.

Instead of overhauling the interface, they’ve empowered the user to do it for themselves. Want the editor to fit the width of the browser window? No problem. Never use all of those features in the editing interface? Get rid of them. Only just noticed all those news items in the dashboard? Make them more prominent. You can do all of this by dragging and dropping things around, or collapsing them to ‘icon-only’ view.

I am writing this in 2.7, and in the editor interface, I definitely feel like more of what I need is readily available instead of buried somewhere in the countless blocks and sections and whatnot – which reminds me that there’s also a new (and quite nice) menu interface – also a part of the interface you can customize.

Check out the video and notes on the WordPress site. The tour video does a great job of giving a quick rundown of the new features I’ve mentioned here, and lots and lots of features I *didn’t* cover.

Hacking Drupal 6.x’s front page (or any other page)

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Drupal themeing is addictive. I’ve been so busy mucking with the new layout for one of my sites that I still haven’t gotten all of the content moved over, categorized, etc. I was really itching to fix “one last thing” on my site, and that was the front page.

My new layout uses the litejazz theme from RoopleThemes (though this tip should work with any theme, with only minor modification), which is super, super nice. It has three different color schemes, a million or so user regions to use, nice block formatting, lots of options and features… the works (thanks very much to the Roople folks for their work, btw).

Anyway, one thing I haven’t seen *any* themes do is provide an option to turn *off* the main content area on the home page (or any other page, for that matter). I wanted my home page to consist only of snapshots of various areas or aspects of the site, and the main navigation. I’m not doing some big news site or anything, so everything I’m doing fits into blocks. I don’t need the main content area. Turns out there’s a dead-simple way to get rid of it.

In your theme folder, whatever theme it is, there’s a file called page.tpl.php. Drupal (actually, PHPTemplate, Drupal’s theme engine) applies this page template to all of your site’s pages… unless it’s overriden!

Drupal’s theme system has a naming convention you can use to create page templates for any page or class of pages you want. So, if you want /node/8 to have a special look or feature that doesn’t exist anywhere else on the site, you can make a copy of page.tpl.php called page-node-8.tpl.php, alter the required parts, and /node/8, and only /node/8, will reflect those changes.

The same works for page-front.tpl.php, which is the home page of a drupal site. If you want to remove the main content, you can delete just that portion by removing lines that reference the $content variable. In the case of litejazz, I removed the entire ‘squeeze’ div, and now my footer touches the boxes in the top header area. Perfect!

Drupal 6.x Themeing Tips

Monday, December 8th, 2008

I’ve done some theme customization for Drupal, and I’ve used drupal as “just a user” for years. Recently, I took on a project to take a designer’s theme and make it work with Drupal. I’m pleased to say that, minus a couple of little quirks, it’s been relatively simple. Here are a couple of tips for those starting out:

  • Use CSS for the main layout. If you must use tables for some small part to get it just right, fine — but the high-level layout should be CSS. There are a million reasons for doing this that have nothing to do with drupal, but in addition, the way drupal manages the pieces that it manages (like menus and blocks created in the admin interface) encourages CSS use.
  • Don’t hard code anything that you don’t have to. Use the ‘base_path()’ and ‘path_to_theme()’ functions in page.tpl.php so that if you decide to base another theme off of this one by making a copy of the theme directory, it’ll ‘just work’, instead of having to go through and change every reference to every ‘img src’ in all of your files.
  • Get to know Drupal. You might be thinking you have a div that’s being hidden or isn’t showing up at all. In reality, it might be that you have a drupal block that your current login has no permissions to use, or a menu item that doesn’t apply to the current login, in which case it won’t show up in the menu listing. Also, you might have drupal’s caching enabled, which it shouldn’t be if you’re building a theme or doing development in general. To turn off caching, go to Admin->Site Configuration->Performance, disable caching, and then click on the ‘clear cache’ button.
  • Also under ‘get to know drupal’: depending on where your images are referenced, you need to use different paths. So, if your images are all in a directory under your theme dir called ‘images’, then images referenced in page.tpl.php need to be relative to the drupal top-level directory (so, ‘/sites/all/themes/<theme>/images/<imgfile>’). But in styles.css, you can use a directory relative to the styles.css file (so, ‘/images/<imgfile>’). I’m not 100% sure what the difference is, but presumably page.tpl.php gets ‘include’d into the main PHPTemplate theme engine code, which is somewhere else under the drupal top-level dir, which is why you need the full path. Correct me or clarify this in the comments if you know for sure.
  • Try to make time to learn about the Advanced Theme Creation Kit and/or Zen, which might make theme creation much simpler and faster. I did mine from scratch, and it’s ok, but if I had the time I’d rather learn to make use of these tools.
  • Pick up Drupal 6 Themes from Packt Publishing. It’s a great resource for learning this stuff, in spite of the absolutely awful code formatting in places, and some minor-but-annoying errors. Get it anyway. The conceptual parts of the text are fantastic, and the errors aren’t insurmountable. You can download a PDF eBook (with copy/paste enabled!) at the Packt website.
  • Use the CSS reference at w3schools.

Some general development practices can’t hurt either. Use some kind of version control for your theme, like SVN, CVS, Mercurial, Bazaar, git, or whatever. This will make it easy to revert to earlier copies of your work if you blow things up, and if you can host the SVN service somewhere that’s not on your development machine, it can also serve as a backup (though you should be backing up your machines anyway).

If you have other tips, leave a comment!

Reunion with Drupal, Break from Django

Monday, November 17th, 2008

My Drupal Reunion

I started using drupal maybe 3-4 years ago. At the time I wasn’t all that impressed. I liked it better than Joomla (Mambo, at that time), and it was a little more featureful than PHP-Nuke. But even back then I hated that this thing was really making some sweeping, grand assumptions about what I would be using my Drupal site for. I used Drupal for, and it was ok. I left Drupal once, to give MediaWiki a shot, but the truth is I didn’t want a wiki, so I went out and tested a bunch of other applications, and wound up back at Drupal. The 5.5 release was quite a bit better, and it got the job done.

About 2 weeks ago (maybe less?) I downloaded version 6.6. I poked. I prodded. I looked for new themes and found lots of them, and they were pretty cool. I looked for theme and module-building tutorials, and there were lots of them, and even entire books were published on each of the topics – even specifically for version 6 of Drupal. I looked for modules, and found a few useful ones who actually showed a trend of following the Drupal releases pretty closely. I also found that a couple of things I had used as modules in earlier releases were now built-in.

I fiddled on and off for a few days and was able to get a site together for my company’s web site that’s way, way better than the wordpress site that was there before. I’m also redoing the main site using Drupal.

What about Django?

I know that lots of you were encouraging me to keep moving ahead with Django. I *will* be moving ahead with Django at some point, but what I found is that doing example projects using the dev server and deploying a real application using Apache are such vastly different beasts that doing the former doesn’t really help make you qualified to perform the latter. When I had my site ready to go, and I had it working on my locally-installed dev server, I found myself completely lost when it came time to get it working on my webfaction account. It really shouldn’t be that hard, but it is. Or it was for me.

You can all take comfort in knowing that I still hate PHP and consider it a necessary evil. For the moment, though, I have a couple of projects involving PHP coming up. By the time those projects end, I hope I can be more skilled with Django, and with Django deployment. I’m not even going to mess with the dev server anymore. It’s just a damn tease. I’m going to sit down and spend some time with Django on Apache with mod_* and finally come up with answers to all the questions I had that nobody anywhere seemed to have any reasonable answers to. When I figure them out, I’ll post here and you can all flame me or learn something new, perhaps depending on your own skill level šŸ™‚

In the mean time, while I don’t typically do book reviews, I’d recommend that anyone using Django 1.x stay away from the book “Practical Django Projects”. It’s specifically non-1.0, and you’ll be tripped up from the very first sample app, and it doesn’t get better from there. If you want to learn from the book (and there’s learning to be had from it), download 0.96.x, and use that to go through the book. When you’re done with the book, read the release notes for Django 1.0. You’ll have to make some alterations before moving your apps to 1.0, but overall you’ll be just fine.

I’m a Top 25 Geek Blogger… for some value of “Top”

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I’m not someone who wakes up every day and looks at how my blog is ranked by all of the various services. I check out my WordPress stats, but that’s really about it. However, someone went and did some of the work for me, and they’ve decided that, of the blogs that they read or that were suggested to them, this blog ranks #20 in a listing of 25.

I’m really flattered, but wonder if it’s an indicator that this is a quality blog, or that they should aim higher in their blog reading ;-PĀ  Either way, listing 25 bloggers in a flattering way is a fantastic marketing technique, because most of us are probably egomaniacal enough to say “Hey! Look!” and link back to the list on *your* blog, resulting in lots of traffic. Kudos, and thanks Mobile Maven!

Stop Doing Things That Don’t Work (a.k.a: Excel and Virtual Private Servers are Evil)

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

Note that I’m talking about using these tools in some kind of professional way, and more specifically, I’m talking about using Excel as a database, and using VPS hosting to host “professional” web sites. By “professional”, I mean something other than your personal blog, picture gallery, or other relatively inconsequential site.

Excel is not a database

Here’s the thing: Excel isn’t a database. Most people who don’t work in IT don’t seem to understand this, and they’re deathly afraid to actually communicate with anyone in IT, so they take matters into their own hands, and create problems so big that IT is forced to get involved, because at some point this spreadsheet becomes “critical” to some business function. Then IT gets even more bitter toward the non-IT folk, validating some of the reasons the non-IT folk went that route in the first place, and virtually guaranteeing that they won’t come to the IT group next time either.

So, if you don’t work in IT and are not a geek, know this: Excel is not a database. Excel is not meant to manage data on a long-term basis. For everything you can do with Excel, there is almost certainly a better tool for the job. This isn’t to say that Excel is good for *nothing*, just that it’s generally not good in places where data needs to be managed over the longer term, shared with others, and relied upon for day-to-day operations of a business or department.

Find someone in IT who seems nice and “deals with databases”, and ask them what their thoughts are on the topic. Then tell them the *actual problem you’re trying to solve*, and ask how they would approach it. You’re not likely to hear “Excel” in the reply unless Excel is so rampant in your company that it’s become a corporate standard for creating data fiefdoms, which would be bad.

A VPS is Not “Professional Grade”. Ignore Adverts to the Contrary

No, really – I mean it. I’ve done plenty of consulting for companies who need some kind of fire put out for one of their web sites. Not long into the conversation I learn (for about 50% of the calls I get) that the site is externally hosted on a VPS. Occasionally I get people whose sites are, or are supposed to be, hosted on dedicated servers, but the actual VPS/dedicated server isn’t really the whole issue. The issue is with how these things are configured, and your ability to do what you need with them.

Marketing for VPS and dedicated server hosting often say “full root access” somewhere in the list of features. There are also specs like the CPU speed, amount of RAM, and bandwidth limits. All of these come together to give the unwitting customer the notion that they’re getting full root access to some kind of behemouth server with all kinds of resources. However, things go downhill when you see things like cPanel, Plesk, or anything else that looks like “easy management through web-based administrative interface”. Again, this is probably fine for something that gets 100 hits per month or so and isn’t critical. The minute you can attach a cost to the problems that can arise with your site, you need to ditch these hosting plans.

Why? There are numerous reasons, but I’ll start with three:

  1. There’s typically no failover or “high availability”: if one machine goes down, or one VPS on the same hardware goes nuts, you’ve just ceased to exist on the internet at all.
  2. The CPU and RAM advertised is used mostly by the bloated software used to automate the management and monitoring of the systems (in other words, it’s used by your hosting provider, not your own application).
  3. The system configurations I’ve seen in these environments borders on retarded, and since the end user is managing all of this through a web interface, the only folks left to blame are the providers. So when you have problems, they’re guaranteed to be extra-challenging to solve.

What kinds of system configuration issues? Well, how about every service turned on, every port open (and not filtered) by default? How about downright broken service configurations, ranging from named.conf (DNS) configs specifying features that *can’t* work as configured, to crippled package management tools that disallow package modifications because doing so would break the monitoring/management tools, to php.ini files that turn on displayErrors and turn *off* log_errors. In general, logging configurations are poor or worse, making problem-solving an uphill battle. Every time I log into a VPS I am typically shocked and appalled at what I find. Even if it’s $5 a month, it’s not worth it.

Think about it: if you have a VPS and you have database corruption, what happens? You call support, who will probably just confirm or deny that actions performed by them or their automated routines had anything to do with the corruption (if they were forced to uncleanly reboot the machine, for example, that might explain things). Usually, they’ll say they don’t have any record of any events on the server that might be an issue, and you’ll need to fix it yourself (that’s what you wanted “full root access” for in the first place, right?).

So, you get a system or database guy to look into things. He’ll find that there are no logs, broken configurations, and when he tries to make a change, it’s either overwritten by these wacky automated management routines, or it breaks some part of the web-based management interface. He’ll also find that, while your web site uses about 128MB of the 512MB of available RAM, the host is running software that takes up double that amount of RAM. Wow, what a deal you got!

All of these issues, by the way, can also occur on dedicated servers, but what sets VPS services apart is the performance: it is, at the very best, unpredictable, and often bad. Some hosts try to market their way around this by charging you more money for “low-density” VPS “solutions”. Don’t buy it. It’s not a density issue. Even if you only share the hardware that runs your VPS with *one* other VPS, if that other VPS goes crazy and starts performing huge amounts of disk reads and writes, your site, even if there are only 3 people looking at it, is going to be slow.

The solution? Well, evaluate whether or not you really need the control a VPS gives you. If you’re just running WordPress, a simple CMS, or a brochure web site, you almost certainly don’t need a VPS. Get a web hosting plan. They often offer one-click installations of wordpress and CMSes like PostNuke, PHP-Nuke, Joomla, Drupal, etc, along with phpMyAdmin for doing database operations. runs on Drupal and MySQL, and houses a bunch of articles I’ve written about Linux, System/DB Administration, etc., that I’ve written over the years. It also presents a feed of the content on this blog, and it’s been running on a simple, cheap, web hosting plan for probably 7 or 8 years now. My uptime is better than the sites of friends of mine who decided they needed the control of a VPS. Same goes for this blog (though it’s a different provider). Heck, my beer blog runs on a *free* web hosting solution at DreamHost. It’s not super fast, but aside from that it serves its purpose well, and they have one-click installations for just about everything.

If you need to launch some kind of site that requires things not offered by a web hosting plan, then chances are you’re developing the site, or have some budget or staff for helping you setup/manage/troubleshoot the services you’ll run there. Check out Amazon EC2 and Google AppEngine, and look into dedicated hosting to see if any of those meet your needs.

If you have an IT department, you could, of course, try to work with them on a solution. This is almost always the best solution over the long haul.

A merger, migration, mysql, python, and more news

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

First, (where I was the director of IT) and Clearspring have merged! A side effect of that is that I’m now (happily, on purpose, by choice) a full-time consultant! I’ll have a web site up soonish. Until then, check back here for updates. If you’re a tech firm who needs help, and don’t mind remote workers, send mail to bkjones at Google’s mail service (.com).

Some folks thought I’d passed away due to the uncharacteristic lull in posting frequency on this blog. I’m very much alive — but working for a startup and maintaining a consulting business simultaneously is hard, especially when two large projects fall into your lap at the same time. So what have I been up to?

Well, as part of the now-public merger between the company I worked for and the new company, I was doing the migration of our infrastructure to theirs. That involved rewriting some backup scripts, writing a data synchronization routine (complete with backout capability — I’ll post code samples after I clean out all the site-specific stuff — it’s python and MySQLdb!), set up a different (and kinda cool) MySQL replication scheme, a different (and also kinda cool) failover scheme, test, test, test, coordinate with everyone down in VA at the new company to make sure everything was working and in place, and then “flip the big ol’ switch”.

Now I’ll be writing even more scripts, planning even more migration of infrastructure services components, doing more testing, and retiring old AddThis assets.

I’m happy to say that the folks at Clearspring have been an awesome team to work with. The culture there is kind of like “nobody here is any better than anybody else”, and it has a rather dramatic effect on productivity compared to other places where everyone thinks they’re not allowed to be wrong and have to preserve their jobs and make other people look stupid. Nope, if you’re a junior guy or someone from another department with a good idea, and it works, that’s great! It’ll be poked and prodded at, and if it passes muster, it’ll be deployed. And why shouldn’t it be? Generally, because egos get in the way. In my book, if you don’t stand in the way of something great, you’re more of a hero than if you do. The ideas don’t all have to be yours.

And, get this, they document their stuff! And it’s easy to use and browse! I’m on a documentation project right now for another client, and it’s challenging just to get people to talk about documentation. :-/

So what’s next for me? I’m honestly not sure at the moment. I’m consulting, it’s going well, I have more than enough work, but I also have a little bit of ‘the bug’, so don’t be surprised if I come back here and tell you that I’ve joined some “social multimedia web 2.0 mindmapping in the cloud with sharing” company or something like that in the near future.

PyWorks Conference Schedule Posted

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Hi all,

The schedule for PyWorks has been posted! I’m really excited about three things:

1) there are some really cool talks that I’m looking forward to attending. There are a couple of sysadmin-related talks, AppEngine, TurboGears, Django, and an area I’ve been especially slow to move into: testing (I know, shame on me). There’s lots more so be sure to check it out.

2) the conference scheduling process is over šŸ˜‰

3) I get to meet a lot of people face-to-face that I’ve worked with in the past on Python Magazine developing articles, or interacted with on IRC, etc. One thing I like about conferences surrounding open source technologies is you get to thank people face-to-face for the sweat they poured into some of the tools I use regularly. Mark Ramm, Kevin Dangoor, Michael Foord, Brandon Rhodes, and a collection of Python Magazine authors will be speaking there, and other Python Magazine folks and generally familiar faces will be in attendance.


For those still unaware, PyWorks will be held in Atlanta, Nov. 12-14, 2008. It’s sponsored by MTA, the publisher of Python Magazine, as well as php|architect. In fact, the php|works conference will be held simultaneously with PyWorks, and attendees of one are free to access talks in the other at will. There will also be a “center track” that will cover some more generic topics of interest to developers without regard to the language in use. Check it out!

The promise of Drizzle

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I got to actually speak to Brian Aker for maybe a total of 5 minutes after his micro-presentation about Drizzle, which took place at the Sun booth at OSCON 2008. I was a bit nervous to ask what questions I had out loud, because the things I had wondered about were things I really didn’t see too much discussion about out in the intarweb. I’m happy to report that, if Brian Aker is to be considered any kind of authority (hint: he is), my ideas are not completely ridiculous, so maybe I’ll start talking a bit more about them.

UPDATE: lest anyone get the wrong idea, Brian Aker did, in fact, state that views are not on the short list of priority items for Drizzle, but he did say that views are one of the features he finds most useful, and that they’d probably be higher on any future priority list than, say, stored procedures. So, take my notes below about views with a grain of salt. It’s not necessarily “coming”.

My three ideas were these:

  1. Materialized views: my experience with views in MySQL is that they just plain old don’t scale well compared to other database systems I’ve used. I used Sybase in 2000 and views scaled better for me then than MySQL views do now, and I’m using them in mostly the same way (which is to say that I’m not using them to do evil things – I’m using them in the way most of the database community agrees they should be used). In the past, I thought materialized views were “nice to have”, but now that I’m working with much larger data sets, without a need for my reporting to be 100% real-time, materialized views would be great. To be honest, I win either way with Drizzle in all likelihood, as Brian Aker has proclaimed that views in Drizzle will not look like views in MySQL. He confirmed that materialized views would be a great thing to have a closer look at, and I was happy with that reply.
  2. “Query Fragments”: I didn’t know they were called query fragments. What I explained to Brian Aker was that I wanted to harvest subsets of cached result sets. So, for example, if I do a date range query (I do that a lot), and the result set is cached, and then my app does another query which is identical save for that the date range is a subset of the one in the cached result set, I’d like to grab that data from the cache. My actual question to Brian was “can this be built in such a way that this would be a reliable, trustworthy result coming from some middle tier component?” And that’s when he told me about query fragments. He said that this idea was not at all crazy, and was also worthy of further discussion.
  3. Vertical data-padding. Well… that’s what I’m calling it. Here’s the logic: I have lots of temporal data. Tons of it. My queries are largely things like “for this user, show me all of the foo’s bar’d — group by day — where day is between these two days”. MySQL is good at these kinds of queries (assuming you index well and, basically, that you’ve read “High Performance MySQL” a couple of times… per edition), but there’s something missing. When I get the result set back, any of the days for which no foo’s were bar’d, I don’t get a record. This is perfectly within the realm of reasonable behavior, but I’ve never known MySQL to let things like being reasonable get in the way of helping their users, so my suggestion was that MySQL, in order to do the comparisons for the “WHERE” clause, *MUST* know what dates fall within the dates in, say, a “BETWEEN” statement. It would then seem logical to have some way to tell MySQL “If one of those dates has no value, return a NULL” (or 0, or an empty string, or something). I don’t know the real name for this proposed feature, but I call it “vertical data-padding” because you’re padding columnar data, which, in my mind, is visualized vertically. Just like when you do a “GROUP CONCAT” or something, I would refer to that as horizontal data padding. I explained to Brian that one way I’ve seen this handled is to have a lookup table of static dates that gets joined to the main data table. You do a left outer join with the date lookup table on the left, and you get back a row for every date whether there’s data in the right-hand table or not. This works when ‘n’ is small (like everything else), but it’s hurrendous when you have, say, 10 million rows to deal with. Then you’re in what I call the “No Bueno Zone”. Brian seemed interested in the problem, and I’ll be discussing that with him further when his life settles down a bit (he’s been at OSCON, and he’s still settling in at Sun).

I want to thank Brian Aker for his enthusiastic attitude toward helping others, and for all of the work he pours into all of this stuff. I also want to say that, for me, Drizzle is really exciting, not so much because the feature set is more or less cherry picked to map onto what I do for a living, but also because it represents an opportunity to get ideas in the door before a lot of legacy cruft makes it impossible to implement these somewhat idealistic features without rocking the boat for the millions of users already launching it into production.

OSCON Day 2: Launching a Startup in 3 Hours

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Launching a Startup in 3 Hours was a great talk given by Andrew Hyde (of and Gavin Doughtie (of Google). Both of the speakers are heavily involved in the recent trend of doing “Startup Weekends”, and is an organization that hosts startup weekends all around the US (and I think internationally as well – Andrew mentioned one in Germany if I heard correctly).

The first half of the talk was about the general concept of a startup weekend, the problems it avoids (“we’ve been working for 9 months and haven’t launched anything”), the problems it brings up (“If you’re not using Java, you’re an idiot, so count me out!!”), and lots of details about how to organize, how to assign roles, and some common tools they use (like Basecamp and whatever your IM of choice is). There was also talk of legal issues, how (basically) to think about forming the company with the people involved, and decisions that need to be made at a business level aside from just the coding.

The second half of the talk wasn’t a talk at all. Instead, people who had ideas stood up, presented their idea in a couple of sentences, and once the ideas were out there, we were told to break into groups and get to work! So people would get up and move over to the person whose idea they liked, and they’d start brainstorming. I decided to head out after about 30 minutes of observing and talking with people about ideas, but when I left, there were probably 6-8 groups of people engrossed in conversations, and the energy level was very high. Overall, it was a really exciting experience!