Flash Builder tips from Mike Lively

I came across some of Mike’s videos last week. He’s very easy to listen to and I would recommend listening to these videos if you’re into Flash Builder, objects and classes, away3D etc.

Flash Builder shortcuts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0J-ZcXUIQU is just a quick video for beginners,

Hold Ctrl over a reference, it will be highlighted, click to go to definition
Alt + down arrow, move selected code
Ctrl + Alt + down arrow, duplicate selected code

Mike has done many videos, Java, Flash CS5, Papervision, Mate, SQL Server, PHP, Second Life, Facebook…lots of videos! Currently looking at Flash Builder, SQL Server, Google Apps, Android, mobiles. The videos are well produced and he is easy to follow.

Mentions Christophe Coenraets Android w Burrito on the Adobe Dev Connection site. Android is on my peripheral vision, but the article looks useful nevertheless.

I thought I just promote his channel a little, http://www.youtube.com/user/mikenku. Thanks Mike; good luck with the non-profit.

Playbook tests

Having a look at the Playbook development using Flash Builder. I had installed on Windows and ran up the VMWare simulator for the Playbook. All seemed to be fine, but then I couldn’t see the Create New Actionscript Mobile Option in the menu, so was a bit stuck. So I thought that I’d check the Mac version. Here, that menu was available, so I decided to give this a try and then ran into the problem of there being no VMWare Player version for the Mac. I decided to try the VMWare Fusion trial to see if it worked, but might try Virtual Box later as that is free. I can’t see other people with the same Windows problem, so when I get back to the office I might reinstall and try that again. (Worked after I uninstalled and installed again! – (edit) but needed to be in a fresh workspace)
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Blackberry Playbook

Went to a big discussion around the Playbook today. It was put on by the Blackberry and Adobe groups and gave a feeling of a strong entrance into the field by this device. It has some good features and with the Adobe Air runtime almost built in to the operating system, it should provide Flex and Flash developers the tools to produce some applications quite quickly. There are also advantages in doing this as, if you can get an app approved in their app store before mid March, the developer will get a free device. All the big guns were there, MDs from both companies and they had the stats to show that Blackberry had the top market share in smart phone and imply that they would carry this on into tablet devices.
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FlashCamp, London

I went over to the Barbican to have a chat about what the major aspects of Adobe Max were; a quick update. I wasn’t sure in the end whether to go, but I’m glad that I did. It gave me a reason to have another look at the Flash Builder update that has just arrived. I have been pushing more Flash free web interfaces since having the iPad and using it to develop interfaces with. It just seems so much cleaner than all that code and project set up in Eclipse, but I was also feeling guilty. I had slipped away from the testing and structure that the Eclipse environment gives and slipped into using the odd bit of notebook or textWrangler to update some of the files. I really need to get back to moving to a path of unit testing and one button deployment with rollback.
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flashcamp_UK – a fine day out

I went across to see the Flash Camp the other day. Organised by Chester of Emak Mafu (there must be a story behind that name!) and interspersed with Robin and sundry other Adobe types, it was an excellent day out and worth going; new people to meet; lots of ideas; not quite as in depth as the Flex Camp last year but lots of stimulation nevertheless. This is just a quick note to keep some of the memories and the links around for myself and anyone else that might find them useful.
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Normal texture maps for away3d

With a view to being on the Away3D seminar for a couple of days, I decided to look at making a normal map. I use 3dsMax and quickly found a tutorial at http://www.game-artist.net/forums/spotlight-articles/43-tutorial-introduction-normal-mapping.html

Did all the modelling parts. All OK except for no display in the viewport. Couldn’t find the checkbox. I’ll have another look later.
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Adobe Flex and Apollo for Elections

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks putting together some intranet pages for the 2007 Local Election coverage. The pages are used by the journalists covering the event and had to show a deailed view of the constituency results. I started off with Expression and ASP with some Ajax thrown in, but later decided that it would be an ideal test for a Flex application. It’s a one night only situation, so if it doesn’t work well it would only matter for a day or so. We served it with prebuilt xml files of the results, which are transferred to the client with regular updates. The flex app at the client end can then make various filters and selections from the list to create the separate displays. We had designed the system to be driven from a web service but, in the end, there was much debate and jostling around with database interfacing and we didn’t want to be delayed. We decided to start with the xml files and move later if we had time. Of course, we didn’t. Now that the database is finalised, we can move to the web service option for the General elections when they arrive later in the year.

The Flex app was extremely easy to put together. I used several of the built in components: accordions, split boxes, charts, repeaters etc and I also put together the result bars as mxml components. This is the page,
Local elections intranet

Click on the picture to see the final results; it may take a few seconds to download the xml files as they are over 200k. The bars were all setup as mxml components and were able to take their colouring from a css file. All I had to do to get a list was to give a repeater control and tell it the filtered data source. Flex was then able to display the list with all items fully coloured. So easy. The charts were useful. They were given the same data source and just produced a basic display straight away. To get the histos individually coloured, I had to write a custom renderer, but that was again, surprisingly easy to add in. The components seem to be written with the idea of programmer modification, and I think that will be sufficient for most people. If you need to , then the Flex interface controls have recently been made open source so you can go right back to the code. This is so easy that there must be a downside. I think that performance might be something to be aware of. By making it easy to combine controls together, nest controls within other controls and have many of the sizes controlled from bindable variables the novice programmer could put together a complex interface that takes a large part of your processing power. In this system, it was quick and easy to get data from xml files, but they grew in size as the evening went on, which slowed down the refresh proportionally. We need to plan to hold result objects on the client so that we only need to get the new results each time. We shall do this for the General Elections. I think that it was a valuable experience to see how quickly developments can be done in Flex and what the problems might be.

In the same vein, I wanted to try Apollo and we had an ideal small job for it. On the night we had to get figures from the database into our vizRT graphics system. As the evening progresses, the prediction for the colours of the seats in the Parliament changes, so it’s handy to have an automated way of keeping the model up-to-date without the operators having to deal with the depths of the model. It’s easy to get things wrong in the heat of the moment. The graphics machine is controlled through a TCP socket and this is easy to setup in Flex. We had already read the results from the xml so there wasn’t much more than a few calculations to do. Because we were now a desktop app, we took advantage of saving various defaults and settings onto our local drive as a file that any user would be able to see. The installation of the Apollo runtime was less than 5Mb and was simple to do. The building of the install file, (called an air file) allowed us to bundle in some icons and a style sheet. It installed very quickly. It doesn’t give a choice of where the install should go yet. This is coming later apparently, but I’m not sure whether we would want to put it anywhere other than the default. Our corporate IT lockdown will probably dictate where they install in the end. Updates also installed over the top with no problems. The whole operation was easier than I’d imagined. I must try to do the same on a Macintosh. In theory it should be identical. As more of the designers are sitting with Macs, it might be a way to help them automate some of their day to day tasks.

All in all this was a pleasant experience from Adobe and goes some way to balance their appalling upgrade prices on the CS3 software. I’m still angry that it will cost us almost as much to update our Photoshop Creative Suite and Production Studio bundle as we paid for them less than six months ago. I do want the new technology, but the feeling I get from the Flex software is much more positive.

Apollo arrives

Well, the long awaited Apollo has now arrived in alpha form. I shall be interested to see whether it lives up to its initial hype. We had a go with the WPF dotNet extension and that looks pretty cool. Trouble is that there’s a lot of learning to do, to get your head around all the Visual Studio environment. I’m sure that it will take off but it will be some time before the large corporates have Vista on their desktop so it will need a special instal of WPF when you install the app. WPF/E, although a cut down version, might be the one to bring more pressure to bear on Adobe and the Flash player. It should be a small download of 1Mb and installs without user intervention. However, Apollo will compete for sure with the dominance of Flash. eBay is one of the sites being quoted as developing a desktop version. I’m sure that there will be many others.

Apollo alpha

Let’s download it and have a play. There’s a lot of documentation, around 13Mb, and the sdk another 18Mb. But the biggest download is the extension for the Flex2 environment, at 40Mb….wow! Better go and have a look.