Flex/Flash/Actionscript, Uncategorized

What I learned from my 360Flex session

360Flex logoI’ve been reflecting on how my session at 360|Flex went. Overall I was very happy, I really enjoyed the communal vibe we got going with the discussions. The session ended up being a conversation among developers. I started out giving a presentation with slides and all that jazz, but that quickly got sidetracked and we ended up just sort of shooting the shit and sharing different tips on custom component development. Awesome. That meant I was able to chill and let everyone else teach the session. It kept me interested, and I hope it did for everyone in the session too.

David Coletta took notes during my session (as he did for all the sessions he attended at 360Flex, friggin good work with the notes David). I should also point out that David contributed a lot to the discussion while he was note-taking, impressive! Dan from polygeek.com has some thoughts on the session as well. He wrote that the “session itself was sort of open source,” which I think is really cool that that’s how it turned out. There are a few more notes on the session from some guy named Dave. Apparently he overheard someone say “will there be notes posted from this meeting? This is really kind of scattering my thoughts.” I worry that it was a bit too incoherent, I definitely jumped from slides to code to pulling up random websites to discussion. I hope it was a good balance for people, but I could see how it might have been difficult to follow.

If you have any thoughts about what you liked about the session and what you didn’t, please email me and let me know, or leave comments.

The thing I liked the most about the session is that I learned a bunch of stuff. I don’t claim to know everything about developing custom components, a lot of the people in my session knew a ton more than me. Here’s a list of the things that I learned during the session:

  1. I suck at properly using commitProperties and invalidating properties correctly for optimal component performance. This was pretty hilarious during the session because before the session I was talking to Deepa and she asked if I was going to go over when to use commitProperties and using dirty flags for property validation and all that. I said that I don’t know how to do that, I end up not doing it in my code, so no, I wasn’t going to cover it. She was appalled. It was like I told her I’m naming my first child Silverlight. So then the funny part is that I’m up there at the podium and the very first question that was asked was Andy McIntosh asking “Doug, can you explain when to use commitProperties?” I almost died, it was hilarious. So I promptly responded that no, I don’t know a good explanation of the proper use of commitProperties, would Andy like to discuss how he does it? And then Andy and Deepa taught the session for a while while I took notes. Awesome.
  2. Monkey Patching is a sweet term. I called it “underriding” classes in the framework, not sure where I got that term, it’s certainly not a “correct” term, but I didn’t have anything better. So then Tony Hillerson pipes up and tells me that in other languages there’s a term called monkey patching that is used to describe pretty much the exact same thing. Cool, I had no idea.
  3. There’s a [Mixin] metadata tag. I had never even heard of this. I was going over using a static function to initialize default styles for your component and then Adam Flater yells out that you could use the [Mixin] metadata tag and that would allow you to have an init() method that would get called once for your class. So in the session I pulled up the blog post on Adam’s site and we went over the code straight off his blog. Cool.
  4. I sound like Tom Hanks with Tourette’s. I disagree with this one, but it’s hard for me to judge my own voice. Doug Schmidt seems pretty adamant about this, so it must be true.
  5. Other random stuff. When we were talking about styles vs properties on custom components Tony talked about using both styles and properties to define the same property, which meant that a developer could take their pick and use either the property or the style (ie they could do it all with CSS if they want, or all via direct properties in AS). Nice, hadn’t thought of doing that. We all bitched about not being able to reference static variables for our Event names in the Event metadata. Doesn’t seem like anyone’s found a solution to that one (same for defining possible enumerated values for properties in the Inspectable metadata tag). Someone else mentioned that when I was showing my custom event code I had forgotten to have a Event.clone() function to clone the custom event. Yup, my bad, good catch. That’s what I love about participatory audiences.

We ended up covering a lot more material with a lot more expert knowledge than I would ever have been able to provide on my own. I think maybe instead of a single presenter running a session we should think about doing more panel-like discussions on a specific topic. Get four or five badass Flex devs together, have one person in charge of making sure things don’t get completely off track, and then just let the discussion take over. Let everyone share the tips that they know. It might end up being the worst session ever, but I think it would turn out really well. What do you guys say… Deepa, Tony, Andy, Adam, David, you all in?


My 360Flex slides and code

Here are the slides from my presentation at 360|Flex, as well as most of the code I presented. The presentation is embedded below using SlideRocket, or you can view it at the standalone link here.

That presentation is almost the same as the one I actually went with in the session (minus a few unimportant last minute edits). The hard part about doing a session that jumps between the slides and code in Eclipse is I don’t have any of the code we went over in the presentation. So here are a few of the examples that I covered, with source code.

Resizable Wrapper component
Demo | Source Code
This is a container component that adds resize handles and a drag bar that allows you to resize it’s contents and drag it around. Pretty straightforward, not too exciting. You would use the component like any other container and wrap it around the object you wanted to resize. So something like:


Adding resize handles to every UIComponent
Demo | Source Code
Now this is where we get into the cool stuff. In my talk I explained “underriding” core framework classes (I guess it’s actually called monkey patching, thanks to Tony Hillerson for teaching me this). I first learned about this technique on Michael Labriola’s blog. In this example I use the resize/drag component that I made and apply it at the base mx.core.UIComponent level. This means that every single framework class that extends UIComponent (every ui component in the Flex SDK) will have the ability to use the resize handles. No need for an extra wrapper container, or an extended ResizableImage or anything like that. It just works. Isn’t that cool?

Templating example
Demo | Source Code
I didn’t even get to this in my presentation, I ran out of time and skipped it. I’ll probably do a longer blog post about it in the next few days, but for now here’s an example with code for MXML templating. The basic idea is that I created a base “media player” class that included a progress bar to indicate the playhead time and a play/stop button. Then I used that class as the “template” and extended it to play a wav file and display the filename. Then I extended that to play an mp3 and display the id3 info in the component. And the last extension plays a video and displays the playing video in the component contents.

Thanks to smart people
A HUGE thank you goes out to all the awesomely smart people in my session that ran the thing for me. I’m going to write up a more detailed post with my thoughts on how the session went later, but I want to give a big thank you to Deepa Subramanian (for just being overall badass and answering a ton of questions), Andy McIntosh (for rocking the commitProperties discussion), Tony Hillerson (for monkey patching his way into the session), Adam Flater (for teaching me about [Mixin]), and David Coletta (for sharing his experiences with custom components while working on Buzzword). The session was fun because I got to sit back and let these guys teach everyone how to do custom component development.


Ready for 360Flex and a bit about my session

Well, almost ready. Mohawk? Check. Silly shirt with my silly face on it? Check. Presentation? Ummm, it’s coming along…


Here’s the brief description I finally wrote up about my custom component development session:

This session will focus on advanced component development techniques. We’ll cover some of the basics to make sure everyone’s up to speed, but the focus will not be on updateDisplayList() or createChildren(). Topics that will be covered include: diving deep into the framework to find the meaning of life, overriding the framework to create the components you actually want, using events to communicate from your components, using styles and setting default styles for your components, ‘underriding’ base framework classes like UIComponent, MXML templating, how to deal with pesky private variables when overriding a class, and how to steal other people’s ideas (and code) to make you look smart.

I’m still working on the presentation and I have absolutely no idea how I’m supposed to take up an hour and 20 minutes. Like that description hints at, I’m going to try to focus on what I consider the “non-standard” stuff in component development. I’m not going to make a Hello World Flex component. I’ve got a few cool tricks to show (at least I think they’re dorky cool), and I’ll cover some of the harder stuff like doing good event dispatching from your components and using styles correctly. If I run out of content the session will devolve into a “bitch about what you don’t like in the Flex framework” session, and I have a feeling we’ll be able to fill up a substantial block of time with that.

Want to hang out? Come to 360Flex.


360Flex session list sneak peak released

360Flex A preview of the session list has been posted on the 360Flex blog. I’m doing a presentation on “custom flex component development.” I think I’ll have to snazz up that title a bit before game day.

Looking over the list, I’m excited for the “User Experiences Using Alternate Navigation and Command Gestures” talk by Tony Hillerson. Tony’s involved in the Artemis project, so I’m guessing that session’s going to include sweet demos of using the Wiimote. I love the title of Matt Chotin‘s talk. I’m sure the Buzzword presentation by David Coletta will be packed. And if you didn’t see Mansour Raad‘s presentation about what ESRI’s doing with Flex mapping components, definitely go check that out, that was one of my favorite sessions from 360Flex in San Jose.


Where have I been? Where am I going?

I haven’t been blogging too much recently, but I thought I’d do one of those “hey, I’m alive” blog posts, and also a put the word out that y’all should come to the silvafug meeting in SF in May and to 360 Flex in Seattle whenever that is. I’ll be speaking at both those things.

I’m currently sitting under a thatched roof in El Salvador, somehow there’s a cat-5 jack coming out of the concrete table. Just got back from a trip into Guatemala, and soon I’m off to sail to Nicaragua or Costa Rica. I’ll get back to SF sometime around the first week of May. No Flex work while traveling, although I did consider bringing my new laptop to Central America.

Worst unemployed person ever
I became unemployed at the end of March, even had a sweet retirenement party to celebrate. Turns out I’m really bad at being unemployed and started doing contract work with Universal Mind for a few weeks. Part of me wanted to just sit back, relax, and forget about deadlines and paying work, but the project they got me working on was really interesting, I got to work with some great guys, and all in all had a blast. At least I managed to do most of the work in my bathrobe.

Silvafug and 360 Flex
I’ll be presenting at the silvafug meeting on March 10 in San Francisco. The session will be about custom component development, and Tom Ortega will be leading a training session on the same topic before my presentation. If you’re in the area, come on by Thursday night and tell me how wrong I am about whatever I’m talking about. And if anyone wants to go out for some drinks afterward, I’m always down.

I’ve also somehow managed to convince Tom that I know what I’m talking about (we’ll see if that changes after the silvafug meeting), so I’ll be speaking at 360 Flex in Seattle. I’ll be working out how that presentation will go over the next few months, but the topic will be similar to the silvafug session, basically how to fuck with the Flex framework classes to make the components that you actually want.

So come by the silvafug meeting on May 10 if you can make it. And I’ll try to get back to blogging more once I get back to the States in early May.