Spent a sunny day going on a train trip up to Birmingham for the Flash Camp. I decided that I’d like to listen to Mike Jones talk about components again, with a Flex 4 flavour this time. It was well worth the trip, not just for Mike but there was an interesting bunch of speakers there; a reminder on Away3d and the best demo I’ve seen of the Catalyst workflow. Friendly group up there; I recommend you get to some of the future meetings.
Enrique Duvos gave us the warm up by showing us some of the latest sites using Flash. Automated reality with the General Electric wind vanes (lee brimelow?), the Morgan Stanley finance app which I think is a brilliant looking design. He showed SpreadTweet which hides your twittering in a spreadsheet to fool the boss. The Flex framework has now added more facilities and apparently Tour de Flex has had 6m views now. Enrique also reminded people that there is another E4 GrandMaster Flash challenge open now. Get an Air game app in now and it could win £5k.
Simon Bailey came on with a good description of pureMVC. I have looked at the docs, but I think I may try Swiz first as I prefer to do my own events/value objects. The talk was similar to Clive Hall’s documentation so it gets hard for simple folk like us to follow. Someone needs to give some simple examples of what this means at on object/message level without going into the details. People can always get the detail later from the web site. Good to see it progressing though and Simon could always help out on the freelance side if you’re near Leicester (?).
Mike Jones was next up. I saw his presentation at the London Flash camp and have got on quite well with the Flex3 component kit, so I was happy to hear him talk through how easy it now appears to do the same thing with Gumbo. Let’s see if I can remember how later! Where there was a single base class before, there are now five base classes from UIComponent. To use theme, we now have the event model of Spark rather than the old Halo model with FLex3. It sounds as though I have more learning to do….but it will be easier later….promises, promises. There were some good slides to show the relationships, but have a look at Mike blog for more. I’ll try and get a link to his slides later. THere’s a lot of changes in the skinning department. The look is much more separated from the actions in the Gumbo model. Spark skins can now have states and transitions between states, so maybe we are going to have to use Catalyst to do more of this stuff rather than coding all those hex codes. It’s getting more like Expression Blend every day! Mike also has a new version of his components book at Amazon.
Some relief from the technical detail as James Whittaker talked about graphics using the Degrafa library. The fxg format will have quite an effect on this, so keep an eye on developments. He mentioned Birdeye as another open surce library. I’ve also been looking at the Axiis extensions as well. They look good. If your site has plenty of charts and diagrams these libraries are well worth the effort. Fxg may change things in Flash 10, these are what you can use now in Flash 9.
Rob then gave an up to date view of Away3D. It was useful for me as I wanted to know where the differences and advantages are between Away and its Papervision root. It has been a while since it first branched. Rob and the team have concentrated on stability and ease of use, but they added many features,
- Perspective correction
- Object intraction
- Normals shaders
- Tiling and projected textures
- Dynamic geometry
More recent additions add to this long list,
- automatic triangle cacheing
- mesh animations with the quake md2 files
- advance culling to handle more complex scenes
- new tools – path extrusion, skin extrusion (height map to model)
- bezier patches – the usual utah teapot
- normal map generation
- export of models to dae
- augmented reality
- physics with the active jiglib library
Papervision hasn’t stayed still but Away3D has had some brilliant collaborations. Rob showed some demos of the wiiFlash library, Flint particles, then some examples with the BBC F1 circuit guides, Dragonfly for Autodesk, ITManager for Intel and the lovely Morgan Stanley site.
What’s coming next? Flash 10 texturing will be much better. Reflections using pixel bender combinations, text and vector shapes, pre baked lighting, inverse kinematics, sphere texture optimisation. Looking very healthy.
Anthony and Jerome Ribot from ribot then gave what I thought would be a bit dry, just user interface design, but it was really interesting. They’ve obviously been doing some interesting studies in how people approach a web site. If it’s a negative experience, then more than 60% of users will never return. Makes sense to listen to some of this. They used the term ‘data snacking’ which I thought was quite cute. Hadn’t heard that before, but it fits the actions of a lot of users, me included. Ribot have some impressive clients and are winning awards, so they must be doing something right. THey had lots of interesting things to say about how they are designing their mobile apps – simple, intuitive movements and lookig at gestural systems, touch displays. They try and sketch the design/ui on paper first and then re-use as many similar behaviours as they can. They’re based in Brighton, if you need them, but they’re likely to be busy.
The sessions were then rounded off by Enrique again, with his demo of the Flash Builder 4, Catalyst workflow. As good a demo as I’ve seen. It started with a button in Adobe Illustrator, and a Photoshop file. These were brought in to Catalyst for some simple object building. When the button was exported to Illusttrator again, it had metamorphsised into a multi state button that was then easy to add states to. I thought that I might not like the Catalyst code generation (typical programmer) but it does so much that I can’t now see myself doing without it. It was easy to make a scrollable data grid; components can be moved between packages; data service components can be set up and then taking them into Flash Builder will create so much of the code and event handling for you. It now has transitions and quite a few finished, skinnable components. Look for more as they get towards a release version. Flash builder hasn’t yet got all the wizards in for various types of services. They’ve started with the ColdFusion systems and have changed the PHP wizard from Flex 3. It used to generate a simple (? with classes – not trivial) PHP web service interface for a database. Now it automatically uploads a set of Zend libraries to generate an AMF web service. I haven’t looked at how useful that is, which is a testament to not needing to look. It just works. Have a look at the roadmap and for more details on fxg, skinning etc on the opensource.adobe.com site. Download the betas from the labs site and do it now. THere was mention of the built in FlexUnit testing. I suppose I should look at that as well!
Final part of the evening was a panel discussing how to set up a business and whether you should be independently freelance or work through an agency. Lots of experience came through. I wonder if it was recorded; it would make a good podcast. General thought was to get some experience in a business first. Then balance the guaranteed but lower weekly rates of the agencies with the possible higher rates where you have to sort out the jobs yourself. Negotiating fixed price contracts is an art form that will burn your fingers from time to time. You need to be able to handle customers really well in this area. Make sure you have some indemnity insurance; it’s not expensive.
All in all, a great day out. Small but reasonable venue; everyone was very welcoming and friendly. Make sure you look at the furture meetings. It’s a good place to make friends, learn a few things and maybe do some business at the same time.