Joeflash’s Enigmacopaedia


Help me speak at 360|Flex (and kick some ass in Flex Builder)

Posted in Flex, Workflow, Flex Builder 3, Conferences by Joeflash on the January 17th, 2009

John Wilker, one of the organizers of 360|Flex, has put up a voting system to help decide from 124 speaker submissions which 40 make the cut. If you wanna find out how to kick some ass in Flex Builder, like how to tweak the Eclipse JVM to speed up compile times, use Subclipse for subversion, or code like a mad dog, go vote for my talk. Full description as follows:

Kicking Ass and Taking Names: Optimizing Flex Builder Performance and Workflow

Flex Builder is a great tool. There are times when using this tool is great, grand, works like a charm. And other times it’s an excruciating experience akin to waiting for paint to dry while a crack team of ninja monkeys shove bamboo under your finger nails. This session will show you how to kick some serious ass in Flex Builder: speed up the IDE, code faster, leap tall buildings in a single bound and shoot lasers out of your eyes. (Okay, maybe not the lasers part, but still.) In this session we’ll be talking about:

  1. Optimizing Flex Builder Performance
    • Project Development Best Practises
    • Speeding up Eclipse
    • The Heap Status Indicator
    • Why Compilation Slows Down
    • Command-line Startup Options
    • JVM Memory Tuning,
  2. Using Language Intelligence
    • Code Assist, Syntax Highlighting, Mark Occurrences, Go to Defintion, etc.
    • Code Preferences
    • The Class Outline View & Sort Options
  3. Managing Workflow
    • Useful Keyboard Shortcuts
    • Search & Refactoring
    • The Diff Tool
    • Layouts for Productivity
  4. Customizing The Workbench
    • Custom Shortcuts
    • Customizing the Editor (Syntax Colouring, Changing the Editor Font Size, Bookmarks, etc.)
    • Editing the Workspaces List
    • Migrating a Workspace without getting an ulcer
  5. Code Versioning in Flex Builder
    • The Built-in Eclipse History / CVS
    • installing and using the subclipse subversion plugin
  6. Assorted Plugins (a melee of Eclipse plugins that’ll make your life easier)

Vote Now!! : )

And here’s my official conference bio (in case you’re wondering who the hell this guy is):

Joseph Balderson (aka “Joeflash”) is a freelance Flex and Flash Platform Developer living in central Ontario, Canada. He spends most of his time in his home studio mainlining code like a junkie on a binge tripped out on trance music, surrounded by three loving cats whom he’s training to meou on cue so they can answer the phones for him (but so far no success). In his spare time he… wait, what spare time?? Joseph is a staff writer at CommununityMX, and lead author on the upcoming book
Professional Flex 3 by Wrox/Wiley Publishing.

My First MAX Experience is 8.5 out of 10

Posted in Adobe, Conferences by Joeflash on the November 23rd, 2008

Here’s a review of my whole MAX SF 2008 experience, first posted at groups.adobe.com. My experience was reviewed based on Labs, Sessions, General Sessions, Sneaks, Food, Exhibitors, Location, Unconferences, Parties/Events and the Conference Website. On the whole I gave the experience a 8.5 out of 10.

Labs:
I was very impressed by how the labs were conducted. “Using Data Services to Power Flex Applications” by Christophe Coenraets was very smooth and by the numbers, all the examples worked, and the TAs made solving learning issues and keeping up with the session easy. Even though the topic was a review for me, I got a lot out of it, as Christophe was able to answer some tough questions after the session that had been bugging me. It was very rewarding learning from such a master.

I have to hand it to Duane Nickull and James Ward in “Building Service Clients with Flash and AIR”, they had their game down cold. They checked in with everyone frequently to judge the speed at which the tutorials were going, and we completed all the exercises, including a few that James had come up with the night before, which all worked without a hitch, which was great to see (although this was as a result of giving the lab w few times already, so I guess they had a few practise runs ;) I would have liked to have seen a bit more advanced examples, but it was a great overall introduction to connecting Flex and AIR apps to many different data formats: WSDL, SOAP, RSS, AMF, SQL, etc. To take a lab like that with two supreme flex-fu masters made it feel like I was taking martial arts lessons from Bruce Lee and Jet Li. :) Haiya!!!

Although it made certain examples difficult (such as the Yahoo Maps mashup), I actually think it was a good thing not having internet connectivity in the labs. I’ve given Adobe training sessions before, and the most difficult thing is keeping the attention of the attendees when they are busy checking their email. And it’s easier doing a lab with localhost anyways, rather than worrying about connectivity bandwidth.

The only thing I was not too thrilled about with the labs was the lack of final files to look at while the lab was going on. Usually if the lab gets too advanced I just follow along with the final files, which means I can still absorb the concepts. But fortunately these trainers in the two Data Services labs I attended had it down so well that I didn’t need the final files to keep up, but it would have been nice anyways.

The Thermo/Catalyst lab was a bit of a disappointment to me, but maybe that was just because as a developer I wanted more than just an intimate walk through the interface. I wanted to what is under the hood, how is it built, what code does it output, how do you use the tool in a production workflow from Illustrator-to-Catalyst-to-Flex. For a tool that’s designed to take a load off the developer’s workload, it was little basic, though I think a lot of people got  lot out of it. I eventually got these questions answered at the BOF session, so it’s not all that bad.

Recommendation: if a tool is being released that is both for designers and developers, split the lab into two tracks — one for designers, like the Thermo/Catalyst lab, and one for developers, so each party can find out what the tool will do for THEM.

The only thing I would change with the labs is make them correspond more closely with the sessions, so that people don’t have to miss two session time slots just to attend one 1.5 hour lab.

Sessions:
Luckily all the sessions I attended were great, did not attend any duds, though I heard second hand how some of them were. As a rule, if you’re going to have a good conference session,

a) Have it be by a known expert in the community with experience presenting, otherwise you run the risk of having inexperienced communicators with nothing ground-breaking to say. I spend a lot of money to attend MAX, and I expect be listening to experienced people. Although I have a great respect for community initiatives, MAX is not the forum for amateurs.

b) Make sure the demos work: don’t waste our time by having the audience beta test the speaker’s app.

c) To the speakers: post your slides and your code up on the MAX website or your own blog, before the session or within hours of the session. A few months from now I’m not going to remember which sessions I went to, and any chance to absorb and really learn from your session will have all but dissipated.

Evey conference I go to seems to incur the same routine of spending an entire day a few weeks after the conference hunting down blog posts for code samples so that my conference experience wasn’t totally wasted. It would be nice for a change if MAX could be the exception to that norm.

d) Provide working wifi. I can count on one hand the number of conferences I’ve been to in the last ten years where internet connectivity actually worked consistently, for both speakers and attendees. Adobe, you’re all about connected experiences. Put your money where your mouth is by providing a stable internet connection for all 5K attendees and the speakers. I know that’s a big job, but as from an industry leader I would expect nothing less. You’re playing in the big leagues now Adobe, and so should your conference experience.

e) Don’t insult us by providing “recharging stations.” In the time it takes me to recharge my laptop I’ll have missed three sessions. You had the right idea at the ON AIR Tour, do that: provide power strips along each isle so that people can connect their laptops while the session is going on. Combine that with working wifi, and you’ve got a potential for audience participation that is off the charts. I can understand and in fact condone no internet for labs, but for a session it is different. I would have liked to use an app like Mind Manager to take notes, which would have vastly increased what I got out of it, and if the speakers had distributed code ready, I could have followed along with the code they were presenting, while it was all happing.

You’ve got to get more interactive in the sessions. Stable wifi and access to power, along with available code and slides while the presenter is doing their thing is one way toward that goal.

I was very impressed by the session picker, allowing you to register for sessions, and the scanning device which let those who preregistered get first access to the session. That part was exceptionally well done. Though I think it could have been communicated a little better that even if a session or lab is “full” you can still try for a seat. And some ill-informed volunteers were still scanning for access half way through the session. I had to completely ignore one guy who kept telling me that I could not go into a session, despite the fact that it was 1/2 over and plenty of seating was available. The MAX staff were really great on the whole, no complaints, except for that one time, where he was a little too enthusiastic about his job.

The timing was also well done. Half an hour between sessions gave everyone lots of time to have a bathroom/refuel break and get to their sessions before the next one started.

On the whole I was very impressed by the quality of the sessions and the knowledge of the speakers. Most of sessions I attended were a delight, and those that were not, I just moved.

General Sessions:
The first general session was a big yawn. Though in Adobe’s defence I do understand they need to do the marketing shtick. On the one hand from a fanboy perspective it was great to see Adobe forming important alliances with the likes of Google and Disney. On the other hand it seemed like a lot of boring dudes in suits giving marketing pitches to the VIP section in the first two rows. One redeeming factor of the first session is how they gave a general overview of the technologies by dividing the presentation into 1) Trends, 2) Social Computing, 3) Devices & Desktops. For the managers in the audience that must have been really useful.

Tuesday’s general session generally rocked. But I got the distinct impression that you’re reserving some goodies up your sleeve for the other two MAX conferences. Which is cool, I understand that. But at least tell us you’re doing that so we don’t feel gypped. I expected some announcements around Flex 4 and Flash Player 10 point releases, or even penetration numbers. And what about Pacifica?

The only thing I would say was really missing is, even though I’m a developer now, the designers in the crowd must have been sooooo bored. You guys are coming out with huge advances in your creative tools, but the emphasis was overwhelmingly on the tech/developer side of things. Maybe that’s just a fact of general trend in the industry itself, maybe there’s no designer-ly stuff left to invent or talk about, but I doubt it. It’s all about balance.

And in a more specific note on content, I get that you want to push the whole mobile thing, but as a Flex and AIR developer, I am not convinced. SHOW ME THE MONEY AODBE!! Get Flash working, on a stable mobile platform that is ubiquitous, and then you’ve got me, heart and soul. What I heard regarding mobile is not any different than what we were told in 2000, in 2002, in 2004, and 2006. Every two or three years there’s this big push for mobile, and yet developing for it still feels like pulling my toenails out by the roots. Your Flash Player penetration may be great, and the browser/desktop development experience is solid, but for mobile it just blows. I personally will continue to refuse to develop any mobile solutions until you guys (and the mobile industry) have your shit together. Stop giving us platitudes, and give us a platform that works, on a huge range of devices, with the full power of at least Flash 9 and ActionScript 3 behind it. And what the hell was that with the iPhone? Here is is — no it isn’t, SYKE!!!. C’mon… I think that baker metaphor was apt — mobile shows great promise, but unfortunately at this stage IT IS STILL HALF-BAKED. N’uf said.

Sneaks:
The sneaks were on the whole well done. Get a geek in front of a mike with a huge audience, and chances are they are going to bore the hell out of 50% (or more) of the crowd with geek-speak. But that didn’t happen, which is feat unto itself. So I think your scripted “00B” play worked well, and forced the speakers to remain focused on the theme and the topic at hand and not tangentialize too much.

BUT WHERE’S THE ROADMAP? Are we supposed to guess? Are you saving that for the other MAX’s? A Sneak Peek without a roadmap is like road signs without a map: you know where the stops are, but no idea how you’ll get there.

Food:
The food on the whole was great. I think few people realized that the food in the Marriott salon was slightly better than the food in Moscone West. If someone is taking even one lab, they should know about the food for lab attendees. I didn’t sample the food in Moscone, but the continental breakfast and the lunches at the Marriott, including the welcome reception diner on Monday was great. And the free supply of munchies, coffee, bottled water and even pizza and beer at the BOF was the icing on the cake (and wow that was kick ass pizza!).

That I didn’t have to go out and spend money on breakfast or lunch for four days for good food plus snacks and coffee definitely made the price of the conference worth it for me. If you were charging those rates with minimal food and drink then I’d really question coming back. As it is it helped me stay satisfied, energized and focused on the sessions instead of where to eat and how to stay hydrated.

Huge kudos to Effective UI for supplying everyone with refillable bottles so we could all stay hydrated in an environmentally sustainable fashion.

The only think I would change is to keep the coffee flowing all day long, which would have made it easier after a night of parties. :)

Well done on the food Abobe.

Exhibitors:
A good number, but the booths were a little small, leading to crowding/swarming, blocking passageways, etc. And here too there way way too much emphasis on the development side. For me it was great, cause it felt like being at a Flex conference. :) But the designers must have felt major gypped. There was almost no designer presence in the exhibitors. I was kinda hoping to see new advances in drawing tablet/creative suite applications and cool After Effects/Photoshop plugins, but maybe all that is passe now that we’re all so focused on mobile RIAs? As great as all this dev stuff is, don’t forget where you came from, Adobe.

Location:
The location was fantastic, the layout of Moscone West ideal for getting to and from sessions. The general session hall was a bit of a bottleneck though.

Having the labs in another building was understandable, and you got used to it when you were there, but an underground tunnel connecting the two locations would have been better so I didn’t feel like a Hobbit plumbing the Mines of Moria.

At least it was better than the last MAX where I heard you had to do cross country training just to get between sessions. This location layout was great, but could be better.

Speaking of location, I was very impressed by the hotel reservation system. It allowed my to book my conference ticket, register for my sessions and book my hotel, all from one (more or less) site. And when I got there the hotel had all the info I placed in the form, including my special requests, and had a room all ready and waiting for me, no mixups or missing reservation. Very professionally done.

Unconferences:
The unconferences really could have used better signage (maybe up high, at right-angles to the flow of traffic?), better promotion, and better informed info booth personnel. As it was I didn’t attend a single unconference session despite wanting to, because they competed for MAX slots. If you want community participation, make them part of the MAX experience. Suggestion: on the very first day, give the unconferences an entire time slot, so that nothing but unconferences are going on, in the regular session rooms. This will give them all a chance to direct attention to their “booth” or “alcove” areas for the rest of the conference, and give people a chance to attend them at least once without worrying about missing anything in the regular conference.

Parties/Events:
The Sunday reception seemed like a private party, since all the literature said “by invitation only,” until I figured out that that meant for Sunday lab attendees only. There was considerable confusion about whether it was a private corporate function or a general reception for Sunday attendees, and the fact that there was considerable lineup, well, I just went elsewhere with a bunch of people that didn’t feel like standing in line.

The Monday party was good, and the Tuesday one was better. Being my first MAX I have nothing to compare it to other than to say that the Science Academy was a really neat location, the entertainment was fun and the food was amazing. Well done Adobe.

Most of the action at conferences like MAX as far as networking is at the after session parties. Part of the after session time except for Tuesday felt like a guessing game to discover where the real parties were, through word of mouth, even though the other after parties were not really private, just that they were hosted by some of the sponsors I would guess. So knowing about them though an “after events” board would have really helped. A section on the MAX conference site dedicated to after-events, whether official parties or just simply personal meetups, would have saved a lot of walking around.

Conference Website:
Despite the hotel reservation system and session planner being very well done, here’s where you guys need some serious improvement. The user experience was not consistent across the three applications: 1) reservation system, 2) session planner, 3) experience website.

I’ve already commented on the experience website, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that if I were Big Spaceship, Blitz and 2Advanced, I would not be so quick to slap my logo on this endeavour. The games are fun and the graphics superb, but I’m there to get information, purchase and reserve, with playing games a distant fourth, so the user experience needs to be in that order of priority.

Conclusion:
As my first MAX conference, on the whole a fantastic job. Overall an 8.5 out of 10.

PS: I will definitely be registering for next year’s MAX 2009 in LA on October 4-7.

Some Sites Should Never be Done In Flash

Posted in Flash, Usability, Flex, Adobe, Flashturbation, Conferences by Joeflash on the November 7th, 2008

…Unless they do a decent job at duplicating HTML-like functionality. You see, I have a bone to pick with companies and developers that try to shoehorn a solution into an inappropriate technology. The Adobe MAX 2008 Experience website is a most succinct case in point.

When I go to a conference, I like to assemble all the information available to me in an Excel spreadsheet I can just print out and carry around with me, so I don’t have to look up where everything is when I get there. A bit anal, perhaps, but there it is. This year when I go to Adobe MAX (which is my very first MAX, BTW) I thought I would not have to do that at all because the Session Locater will spit out a customized PDF with all my choices and reserved workshops. Fantastic!!

Only thing is, it won’t list my second and third choices in case I feel like wandering, so I create my spreadsheet anyways. Problem is, the PDF the session locater outputs has the text locked down. Whaa? I try and copy-paste, and all I get is gibberish. Now I understand PDF security preventing copy-pasting on legal documents and such, but on a personalized conference schedule? You know, cause I’m such a Man of Mystery jetsetting from one top secret conference to another, I need that kind of security. Whether by accident or design, this is strike one. So I type the sessions into my spreadsheet by hand, wondering why I’m even bothering. (Update: figured out I can copy-paste the text from the session locator, so I’m happy on that score. : )

But my beef is not with the Session Locater app as a whole, despite this dreadful oversight. That is clearly an excellent use of Flash, a great example of a Rich Internet Application. I go in, do what I need to do, download my PDF and I’m good.

So I’m trying to find out more information on the ‘after events’ for Adobe MAX N.Am. 2008 — you know, the parties and shmoozefests where the action really is ;) Specifically, more information on what’s featured in the “birds-of-a-feather/meet the team” sessions on Tuesday night, so I can include it in my spreadsheet.

I don’t find anything in the Session Locater. Nothing on the customized registration page. Nothing in the MAX Conference Brochure PDF.

Where do I find it? It’s under Highlights on the main “Experience” website. Okay, so far so good: the site has deeplinking so I can bookmark where this info is so I can find it later on.

Okay, so I think, it’s text, right? I can just select and copy. Uh, no. The text here is locked down as well, no can do copy. Here is a Flash site full of text, and right-click > copy is disabled! WTF?! Is this another state secret? So I try to output the site to Flashpaper, to PDF, anything that will gimme da text, fool! No luck, all I get is truncated sentence fragments and goobledygood.

Okay, so the whole point of my spreadsheet is to have the information in a customized, portable format I can carry around with me so I don’t have to dig through the conference literature or open my laptop and surf to the conference website (and pray, pray really hard for a good internet connection). But I’m sure as hell not going to print out screenshots of the damn thing or I’ll burn through a whole printer cartridge.

So I gotta ask the question: who in their right mind builds a Flash website with mostly text, with no print functionality, no textfield copying allowed, all in Black so no one would even dare print out a screenshot? Someone who was in a rush to get it out the door and didn’t think of the user experience, that’s who. That’s madness!

So you know what I did? Not to be daunted, I did take screenshots. Four of ‘em, which told me what I needed to know. I screencap’ed them, cropped them, and inverted the colours so they’d be in white instead of black so I can print them out. Here they are:

Adobe MAX NA 2008 Highlighhts ScreenhackAdobe MAX NA 2008 Highlighhts Screenhack
Adobe MAX NA 2008 Highlighhts ScreenhackAdobe MAX NA 2008 Highlighhts Screenhack

But really, should I have had to go to all that trouble just to make the data portable? The user experience of that website is so old skool it makes my teeth hurt, and is every argument that people use against using Flash. The animations and the game is cool, but I could care less about the eye candy when I’m looking for information. Flashturbation or what guys…

Some sites should never be in Flash. Such as text heavy, hyperlinked websites. Like brochure sites. Like blogs. Like research papers. Sites that the user will want to print out a lot of information. Not unless you’re willing to add the user experience features to make up for this handicap, and even then. To this day I refuse to bookmark or refer to any links from Flash-built blogs, on principle, because they’re such a pain in the ass to use.

Flash just got a whack of new text features; it has deeplinking; it has SEO; it has print functionality; it has enhanced clipboard copy; it has dynamic PDF conversion; it can iron your shirts and predict the weather. So use these features. Or make the site in HTML. But don’t botch the job and make us all look bad. Sorry, from the industry leader of this technology, I gotta call it like I sees it.

Adobe, you did a fantastic job of the MAX conference, I am deeply impressed by the organization of that event on so many levels. But after spending a months’ salary just to go to a conference, well… I expected a better experience. (web experience that is — I’m sure the conference itself will be blast!!)

For all I know this information will all be in the conference booklet I get when I get there. That’d show me and my big mouth, huh? :)

Live From FITC!

Posted in Conferences by Joeflash on the April 18th, 2008

I’ve accepted a position a few weeks ago as Official FITC Blogger this year at FITC Toronto 2008, which I’m quite excited about attending. Being a Toronto native, it’s nice having such a fantastic, world class conference right on my doorstep.

Check out the FITC Blog here.

Kickin’ It At FITC Toronto 2008

Posted in Conferences by Joeflash on the March 24th, 2008

I’ve not yet had the time to fully comment on the sheer super amazingness of the 360|Flex geekfest in Atlanta last month, but you can be sure I won’t miss bloggin it up about kickin’ it in my home town at FITC Toronto 2008. This year I’m an “official conference blogger”, which means it’s like, my job to go and tell people about how cool it was eh?

There’s plenty this year for everyone: design stuff, code stuff, video stuff, weird stuff, parties and workshops… I’ve always been a fan of FITC, and have gone every year I could since it all started back in 2000, and this year will be no exception. Toronto has lots to see and do, a whack of very awesome restaurants, and some very far out clubs. I can’t wait for the after parties! Beauty, eh? Like, be there or be a hoser! :)

Sorry, I don’t have a discount code for yous like some people, but if you’re a member of the Flash In TO user group, you should have received a 10% discount code in your newsletter email.