Wednesday 29 June 2011 by

What happens when you wedge four Txp geeks in a room? Surprisingly little in tangible output, but some great codeworthy exploration and daft pictures. Find out how the North Bristol Txp meet went down.

It’s June and it’s raining for a change in the UK. Despite the precipitation in North Bristol — far enough away from the motorway for the drone of cars to be unnoticeable — sits a quiet abode. The living room contains four people who have previously met on occasion yet are virtual strangers, brought together by one thing: Txp.

Was it a meeting of minds deciding the future of Textpattern or just four guys in a room, chatting about simpler living, alternative energy sources and the sad state of compulsory education while enjoying fine home-cooked spaghetti bolognese?

Turns out, a bit of all of the above.

Throw away your television

Here’s an interesting factoid to kick things off: among the four of us — Graeme, Jeff (jsoo), Stef (bloke) and Steve (netcarver) — guess how many TVs we own between us?

The answer you may (or may not) have been expecting is… none.

Coincidence? I think not. We all chose to free ourselves of the television shackles some time ago and are now living sans idiot box. Some have commented in the past that our code volume and ideas must be a product of being able to warp the fabric of spacetime. I like to think it’s because our alpha waves aren’t being diminished!

Bragging rights

No meeting of coder types would be complete without a sneak peek at upcoming pluginery and some swapping of ideas. I demonstrated my new rights management plugin, the revamped smd_bio, and a PayPal IPN framework plugin based in part on the pioneering work of Steve.

I hope these plugins — combined with yab_shop and smd_access_keys — will take Txp to new levels in the community-driven and e-commerce domains; and dream of the day that Graeme’s rewritten permanent links plugin surfaces, because it’ll certainly blow your shirt off.

A framework for all seasons

With the boasting out of the way, the conversation leaned towards the admin side and, specifically, how we envisage Txp 5 shaping up. Some topics were an exploration of things already known — such as how to improve internationalisation/MLP support and how to phase Txp 5.x.y for minimal disruption while making sure we don’t miss anything.

This encompassed all manner of techie-ness, from code path analysis and testing hooks in other MVC frameworks, to questioning the proposed move to Sam’s Spark/Plug over other, arguably more mature, MVC products out there (such as Symfony, Yii, Cake, and Zend).

While the others are attractive in their own rights — if occasionally heavy — we believe that Spark/Plug has some unique features that plugin authors will love. And the fact it’s pretty lightweight and developed with Txp in mind is all the more reason to use it as a platform.

Some things are yet to be built in: I believe the recent CSRF protection that Robert put into Txp 4.4.1 is one such feature. But make no mistake, Spark/Plug is a powerhouse under the hood and we’re confident it’ll deliver.

Functionality vs usability vs cool

Graeme has been living and breathing Rails and all things MVC so his input to the discussions opened my eyes to a lot of geekery I didn’t know existed. For example, Konstrukt and backbone.js which appears to have the potential to allow us to defer the rendering of widgets to the client side.

It’s an interesting proposition: from what I can gather, the server would send back details of the elements we wanted to see on the screen, and the javascript would handle their display, creation and interaction, only posting back what it needs to the database. Is this the future of data rendering, or just another fad? Let’s discuss its merits.

Other radical ideas such as moving Txp’s Sections tab from Presentation to Content — because it could be argued that it’s merely an arbitrary division of content rather than a structural device — sparked some deep thought and much head scratching. No conclusion drawn.

While minds immeasurably superior to mine contemplated Txp 5’s fledgling code base, I ducked out to fix my laptop power connector. It required disassembling most of the machine via 25 differently-threaded-and-sized screws and bending the casing out of the way while Steve guided the soldering iron in to reflow the dry joints.

But all hail the miracle of solder: my eight-year-old veteran laptop escaped the scrapheap once more… though I did predictably have one screw left over upon reassembly. Rats.

Promotion (or lack thereof)

This week’s hot topic on the forum and the Facebook Group has been on Txp’s perception from the outside world. Extending our feelers from the increasingly spammy and outdated forum to other avenues of communication seems a smart move to reach a wider audience.

A lot of sites once cherished by the community have sadly been left to rot: we felt that was bad for our image and jarred with our efforts and desire as a community to build the user base. As part of a drive to re-establish our voice, I contacted Sam Brown while at Steve’s house about welovetxp.com with a view to bringing it under the “corporate” wing (for want of a better phrase). Sam has agreed. One or two other resources might follow suit if we can get the techy stuff sorted. More details on that to follow.

The overarching thought on this subject is that for Txp to be taken seriously outside the forum we need to show our human side and promote the heck out of our wonderfully flexible, powerful, lightweight, if slightly ungainly to the casual observer, CMS. Any access you may have to online mags, blogs, reviewers, tweet-fanatics, etc will help spread the word that we’re not a has-been or an also-ran but have something unique to offer web designers of all persuasions.

Meet me by the fountain; I’ll have the rose between my teeth

Of course the other way to become noticed is to get together just like we did. Any time you’re travelling between cities, let everyone know and something might come of it. Take along a camera and post the meet shots on flickr, blog about it, send the pics here or the Facebook group so we can publish them and talk about the meet. Whatever it takes. We know our community contains the nicest bunch of people around, so let’s prove it!

And on that note I shall leave you with eight choice photographs (click the pic to view next slide). Whether they inspire or frighten you is open to debate. Regardless, thank you to Steve and his family for putting up with us eating their food and using their electricity. I enjoyed the company of everyone and I’ll certainly be doing something similar every chance I get. Do join me.

Stef in a delightful bonnet

This delighful bonnet is just the ticket for Stef

Graeme working

Graeme deep in code land

Jeff contemplating

Suitably arty shot of Jeff contemplating Spark/Plug

TXP 5 functional diagram

TXP 5 functional diagram... or maybe not

The TXP rocket

The Textpattern rocket: to the stars! (oh alright, we didn't draw this, just annotated it)

TXP 5 in code

Jeff and Graeme weaving code magic

Mind the Stef

Is there any wonder nothing gets done around here?

The Specials

Who let the coders out? It all went a bit silly from here (l-r) : Steve, Graeme, Stef, and Jeff