Roundarch Sponsors 360|Flex in DC – The Recap

If I could sum up 360|Flex 2010 in one word it would have to be…Inspirational. Even with all of talk of HTML 5 and flash on mobile devices looming in the air, the future of Flex and the Flash Platform looks very exciting.

There were many great sessions and the hardest thing about being there was choosing which ones to attend and which ones I would have to miss!

Day 1 – Keynote

The conference started off with a split keynote, first by Christian Cantrell of the Adobe Air team and then Doug McCune followed with an uplifting and inspirational talk.

Christian outlined some details about Adobe’s next set of technologies. He mainly talked about the next version of Adobe AIR, code named Zephyr. Like many of Adobe’s set of new technologies to hit the ground running soon (Hero, the next Flex SDK, and Burrito, the next Flash Builder), Zephyr focuses on bringing better support to mobile. Zephyr will include multi-touch for mobile, orientation, acceleration data, camera and camera UI APIs, geo-location, plus much more.

When Christian was finished going over the exciting new offerings from Adobe, it was time for Doug McCune. Before Doug came on Nate beck and RJ Owen added an episode to the long running prank war between them and Doug. This prank was based on a post that appeared on InsideRIA on April Fool’s day. The prank claimed that Doug had passed away due to a number of Flex related accidents. RJ and Nate then delivered a short eulogy before showing video reactions to Doug’s death from prominent members of the Flex community.

Doug, who is definitely not dead, took the stage and began his talk on the value of going off on tangents. He spoke about the value of following distractions and letting them evolve into interesting experiments. His main point was how this approach can keep you sane, enhance your knowledge, and ultimately make you a better developer, even though these tangents may often have little or nothing to do with your billable work.

Doug started by saying he was getting into the refrigerator magnet business. Then began to elaborate and speak about some of the tangents he’s been following recently. Starting with 8-bit maps of cities, reminiscent of the original SimCity, and ending with having some of his 3d crime map visualizations produced as refrigerator magnets. Doug spoke about various different tangential experiments that ultimately ended with the production of these magnets. Each tangent was a conscious decision to spend time on doing something interesting to him rather than something billable. Doug spoke about the value, and necessity even, of doing these types of things to keep programming fun. He then encouraged the audience to take time out of their career to support their passions, which Doug pointed out… “will help us kick ass!”.

After the keynote, I was lucky enough to speak with Doug for a moment about his inspiration for the magnets. He told me that the inspiration came from Inuit Eskimos who used to carve maps onto a small piece of bark. The carvings would allow them to navigate rivers and streams at night by simply feeling the map and being able to recognize landmarks by the raised and relief carvings. This gave Doug the inspiration to do something different and a bit more physical with the great digital 3d mapping that he has been doing.

 

Day 1 – Sessions

On the first day of the conference I saw Paul Taylor speak about his tiny TLF framework for advanced text rendering and watched Jesse Freeman, technical architect at Roundarch, and Jesse Warden debate Flex vs. Actionscript.

Paul Taylor – Tiny TLF

Paul Taylor started the conference with a bang talking about his new Tiny TLF framework. TinyTLF is a framework for advanced rendering of text and is built on top of the Flash Text Engine (FTE). It was developed as an alternative to the flex TLF framework as has a bunch of awesome features.

As Paul explained, TinyTLF is built on some basic core principles. Most importantly, composition over inheritance and proper encapsulation to create a framework that allows additional features to be mapped in later. TinyTLF provides a very modularized and component style approach to text rendering. At the core of the project is a 39k text engine. Paul has also built a styling framework, layout library, decoration library, and a gesture and behaviors library. These pieces can all be used independently, and you can also add or map in your own extensions to any piece of the platform.

One of the best things about TinyTLF is the full support for CSS and HTML. Anyone who has ever worked with Flex 3’s htmlText will understand what I’m saying right away. Flex’s TLF CSS and HTML support is unpredictable at best and does not support true CSS the way traditional web developers would expect. TinyTLF addresses this by providing a better CSS and HTML implementation with a very small amount of overhead.

The final size of the entire core library once compiled into your swf is only 40k. In my opinion, it is one of the best open source frameworks have seen. If you do anything with text, check it out.

Jess Freeman vs. Jesse Warden: Actionscript vs. Flex

Not too long ago Jesse Freeman and Jesse Warden started an argument about whether pure Actionscript development is better than Flex development, with Freeman supporting Actionscript and Warden defending Flex. The formal debate had Chuck Freedman moderating and was very entertaining and informative. A question was posed and the defender had 2 minutes to respond to the question, followed by a one minute attack by the other Jesse, followed by a 1 minute rebuttal. Judges voted on the answers individually and a winner was chosen at the end.

Both Jesse’s had great points and rebuttals but in the end Jesse Warden won. Jesse Freeman’s main point seemed to be that even as a Flex Developer, pure Actionscript is essential for developers to understand and is lighter weight than using the bloated Flex Framework. Jesse Warden’s main point, in my opinion, was that Flex development allowed you to get working applications done faster, which is potentially more important to many modern enterprise client needs.

I believe both of these points are true and valid. A Flex developer interested in becoming an expert is going to have to know Actionscript at a deep level, and Flex developers with a background in Flash tend to be more comfortable with Flex.

Day 2 – Sessions

Leonard Souza: States and Transitions

Leonard Souza gave a great explanation of doing states and transitions well and then a thorough description of how to implement these ideas in Flex.

Leonard started with slides on the anatomy of good transitions. The most important concept he spoke of was focusing on the context of the transition. He encouraged everyone to use transitions wisely, saying “…Abuse of transitions or animation for its own sake is one of the primary reasons that Flash has earned a bad reputation with certain folks on the web”. He then gave examples and descriptions of the fundamental elements of animation, easing, stretching, and so on. He talked about how each of these can be used to reinforce a different context and gave great examples of where each is appropriate.

Check out Leonard’s blog soon for the source code of his example presentation and a more in depth description of the project.

Dan Florio-SWFAddress and Google Analytics for Flex.

Dan Florio, creator of RunPee.com, gave a very informative talk about using SWFAddress and Google Analytics to create some interesting scenarios where developers will be able to get useful statistics from user interactions and system events.

Side Note: RunPee.com is a hilarious website/phone app that allows you to check (and post) the most boring times of a movie. This allows users to research the times so that they can relieve themselves during the movie without missing important parts of the plot. The project makes extensive use of SWFAddress and Google analytics to provide some very valuable information.

Dan’s talk centered on breaking away from the traditional paradigm of tracking links and indexing. Since Flex is essentially state and event driven, this traditional methodology cannot be applied to Flex applications very easily. SWFAddress allows developers to approach deep linking in a new way and opens up some unique possibilities. Imagine you want to fire off an event to Google when a user stops watching a video. How about sending a friend a link to a particular application state? Sound awesome? It is, and it’s all possible with SWFAddress.

Day 3 – Sessions

Huyen Tue Dao: Typography – Text Editing in the Text Layout Framework

 

Coming from a design background and being a bit of a typography nerd, I really appreciated this presentation. Huyen did a great session on the new capabilities, and some lacking capabilities, of the new Flash Text Engine (FTE) and the new Text Layout Framework (TLF).

The presentation was very fast as there was a lot to cover in only 70 minutes. One of the key points I took out of this presentation was the ease with which developers can expand upon the new Text Layout Framework (as seen demonstrated by Paul Taylor with his tinyTLF framework).

She also used the New York Times Reader application, powered by Air 2.0, as a backdrop and source for examples and inspiration. It’s really amazing to see some of the powerful things that the TLF can do right out of the box. She showed great examples of multi-column text flows, text that can flow across multiple components, dynamic resizing of text… plus much more.

Huyen Tue Dao promises to update her blog soon with the complete presentation as well as source code for the many great examples that she presented. If you’re a typography nerd, or just interested in learning more about FTE and TLF I would suggest to follow Huyen as she is blazing the rich text trail.

Wrap Up

 

My brain was bit of mush after attending due to amount of knowledge it soaked in! I was also able to network and chat with some of the best developers and engineers in the industry. The organizers were very nice and hospitable, offering free snacks and all kinds of fun games to participate in. Informal debates, impromptu code groups, great advice and insight, it was everything I hoped for and more! All in all, it was an inspirational and very informative event. If you have a chance to attend a 360|Flex conference I would highly recommend it. You won’t find yourself saying… “I went to this Flex conference and all I got was this stupid Adobe shirt” … although you probably will still get at least one t-shirt.

The only regret I have is not being able to attend all of the sessions. Notably the “Flex Development: The Next Generation” session by Adam Flater, technical architect and evangelist at Roundarch. Luckily the organizers are posting all of them online shortly.

 

Session videos and more information can be found at: http://www.360conferences.com/conference-videos

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