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360Flex / Day 2 / Sessions

"Creating a Visual Experience - Theory & Strategy" - Juan Sanchez and Andy McIntosh
"Creating a Visual Experience - Part 2, Hands-on"- Juan Sanchez and Andy McIntosh
"ByteArray 202" - Ben Stucki
"Buzzword: How'd They Build That?"- David Coletta
"WebOrb" - Mark Piller

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"Creating a Visual Experience - Theory & Strategy" and "Creating a Visual Experience - Part 2, Hands-on" - Juan Sanchez and Andy McIntosh
I have followed Juan's Scale Nine site for quite a while now as a great example of how great Flex could look if developers put in a little effort into skinning their applications. Juan has made it extremely simple to customize the look-and-feel of your Flex apps through CSS skins and has provided a showcase and free download of these skins on his website. That said, going into the session I was expecting to learn a lot from a knowledgeable source -- and that I did.

Juan handled most of the first session while Andy took on most of the second hands-on session. Juan first covered the different means of styling your apps (style tag, css, AS3 setStyle(), packaged SWFs, etc), and then went over how to implement each. I highly suggest you download the presentation (link below) and review the chart where Juan breaks down when and why to use styling (CSS) or skinning (replacing visual elements with graphics). The hands-on was also very helpful and while Juan initially wanted to show a more complicated example, I think keeping it simple turned out for the better as it allowed the core concepts to be shown more easily.

You can download the presentation and source files (before and after), as well as a list of resources on skinning on Andy's website: http://www.andymcintosh.com/360Flex/. Juan has also posted his thoughts on the session on his blog.

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"ByteArray 202" - Ben Stucki
One thing a lot of developers (especially those coming over from Flash/AS2) don't realize about ActionScript 3 is its ability to read in raw binary data. Utilizing this as a tool in AS3 has allowed creations such as AlivePDF (an AS3 PDF maker) and FZip (AS3 ZIP file native read/create). In theory, with enough time and effort you could read or write any type of data using AS3, thus making it expandable for just about any purpose.

Man, did this session ever bring me back to my days of computer science classes in college. Ben started off giving an overview of binary data, bit and bytes, and then created a simple example where he accessed the ID3 data of an MP3 file (including embedded album artwork) from within AS3. Overall, a cool session that showed with a little effort you could have AS3 interact with just about any file type.

Ben has a blog where he posts about his continuing efforts.

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"Buzzword: How'd They Build That?"- David Coletta
I'd have to say, this was one of the most entertaining sessions of the conference. Dave is a great public speaker (be sure to check out his public speaking tips, a reflection on his 360|Flex talk) and was incredibly open about how they built Buzzword. Honestly, I assumed this would be a 80 commercial on Buzzword, but in reality he really dug into the process and code used to create such a complete web application.

A few notes on what stood out for me:
+ The team developed their own testing framework where they can record actions and then reuse those tests on each build before releasing it. The framework actually outputs an AS3 class which when run outputs XML which can be compared to results from prior tests.
+ The application consists of over thirteen Flex projects. This is done for two reasons: build time in FlexBuilder is much shorter when broken down into discrete pieces, and user load times are less (or rather incremental) because the app is broken down into several SWF files that get loaded as needed instead of all at once.

Dave also had the best quote of the conference: “They’re not hacks. They are performance optimizations that are difficult to maintain.”

Dave has a write-up about thoughts on 360|Flex on his blog. He also has round-up posts on each day at the conference on his blog.

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"WebOrb" - Mark Piller
I attended this session because I wanted to see what the difference was between WebOrb and other alternatives such as the free, open source AMFPHP. I mainly develop with PHP as my server-side language, so that was what was of most interest to me. Most of Mark's session focused on Java and their upcoming AIR version which both offer significant advantages over what AMFPHP offers - but in Java.

Overall, this session did end up feeling like a commercial for WebOrb, but it was well presented and if I actually used WebOrb I might of walked away with additional knowledge.

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