Reflections on the first 360|Flex

The next 360|Flex conference is coming up in March in San Jose. I got to thinking about my history with 360|Flex and wanted to reflect on how important the conference has been for me. This post is about the very first 360|Flex conference that was in March 2007. It’s self-indulgent, but I hope it doesn’t come off as egotistical. My goal is to explain my personal experience and my path, not to brag about how cool I am.

I attended the first 360|Flex conference in San Jose simply as an attendee. I barely knew anyone (at least personally) in the Flex world. I had been attending the Flex user group meetings in San Francisco for just a bit before this conference and so I had met a few people very briefly like Tom Ortega (conference organizer) and Ted Patrick (Adobe evangelist). I had been blogging for literally only 3 months. I was still very inexperienced (even if I tried to mask that) and I wasn’t at all confident in myself (I really tried to mask that).

Opportunity #1:

The night before the first keynote of 360|Flex I got an email from Mark Anders from Adobe (who I had never met) telling me he was going to be showing a demo app of mine during the keynote. In the email he said:

“Make sure you attend the keynote, because I’m going to feature your RSS reader in it as a demo!  I hope that’s ok! 🙂  I’ll also be asking you to stand up and take a bow, so make sure you look great!  See you tomorrow!”

anders_rss_reader_360flexHope it’s OK? Fuck yeah, it’s awesome. Completely unexpected. I had butterflies in my stomach all night until the next morning, I was like a little schoolgirl. I got there early the next day, I wore a black sweater that I thought looked kind of professional in a dorky tech way, sort of Steve Jobs inspired. I realize now that I probably looked like a tool, but hey, it worked alright for me. Keynote came, the demo was shown, people seemed impressed and clapped and I did a little stand up wave kind of awkward thing. Super nervous, totally weird, but people saw my face. And after the keynote I met Mark and chatted with him and some fellow Adobe employees a bit (at the time I was seriously considering trying to get a job at Adobe, so I was sucking up pretty big time I think).

Opportunity #2:

On the second day of the conference Ted Patrick approached me and asked if I could put together a demo of FlexLib components to be shown at the keynote on the last day of the conference. I think this was in the afternoon and he was going to show it the next morning. I proceeded to go sit in the back of the last session of the day and crank out a little demo explorer app to showcase some of the components. To spice things up I threw in an extra water eyecandy effect that I was in the middle or working on. I threw the demo together fairly quickly and got it over to him for the next day. The demo was just a small part of his keynote, but during it he did get my name in there and point me out in the crowd, and people seemed to dig the water effect nonsense 🙂

So with a whole lot of luck I had managed to get my name mentioned in both the keynotes of 360|Flex. I’m grateful for these opportunities, they felt like they came out of nowhere and suddenly people were coming up to me to talk (as opposed to me sheepishly approaching people in the awkward tech-dork way).

Opportunity #3:

I remember sitting in the back of some session (can’t for the life of me remember anything about the session) and I happened to be sitting next to Tom Link and Brett Cortese from Universal Mind. I wasn’t at all tapped into the Flex consulting scene at that time, so I didn’t know the name Universal Mind. But I was sitting there in the back and Tom was reviewing some app that UM was working on. It was a sort of business dashboard app that had a slick UI that let you customize various charts. I can’t remember the exact conversation, but I remember looking over his shoulder and being impressed with the app and chatting about it a bit. He mentioned Darron Schall’s name at some point. I had been collaborating with Darron a bit on FlexLib and so I got online and started asking him about UM. Turns out he had only good things to say (and he apparently said good things about me to UM as well). After 360|Flex I left Tom with one of my ridiculous business cards. We ended up getting in touch shortly after and following up and the rest is history. I just passed my two year anniversary working for UM and I’ve had a hell of a good time.

Swing and miss

At the conference Ted Patrick introduced me to a guy from Yahoo. He was interested in hiring a Flex contractor for an internal project. If I recall correctly the basic plan was to have this Flex app that let Yahoo employees create different layouts and combinations of various Yahoo widgets, which would eventually turn into Yahoo web pages. It was sort of a prototyping tool for internal use. I had never done Flex consulting work before. I had never done any independent consulting whatsoever. I didn’t have the utmost confidence in my own abilities and I certainly didn’t feel comfortable asking for a lot of money. But I figured, fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?

So with no prior consulting experience I quoted him $125 an hour. Pulled straight out of my ass. My logic was that I didn’t actually need the work yet (I was happily unemployed) but that if it came through and I was making over a hundred dollars an hour I’d would dive in head first (and be scared shitless in the process). I was far more scared of actually getting the gig than not, since then I’d have to actually be worth what I saw as such a ridiculous rate. I ended the email like this (parentheses are my thoughts, not in the actual email): “I’m happy to discuss the project further. I find the concept very interesting (I didn’t really), so even if I’m not involved in the development I’d be more than happy to give my opinions on the project (this was true, since I had no experience whatsoever I figured that any involvement would help me). Let me know how you want to proceed, and regardless let’s keep in touch about work that Yahoo is doing with Flex (having contacts inside companies like Yahoo can never hurt).” Send. And then I never even got a response. Ego bruised, but not badly.

The Jesse Warden validation

warden_thumbThis is funny because it’s a story I’ve never told Jesse (or anyone for that matter) and it showcases just how insecure I was at the time. I had been talking to Tom from UM about consulting and he had mentioned that Jesse Warden had been doing a bit of consulting for them as well, and that I should talk to him to see what UM was like. Jesse (who I had never met) was sitting against some wall working on a laptop and I walked over and said some awkward introduction like “Hey Jesse, it’s nice to meet you, I’m Doug McCune.” After being caught completely off guard with Jesse’s caffinated million-word-a-minute style of speech we got to talking a bit and then he said something like, “Where the hell did you come from? Like all the sudden here’s this Doug McCune guy coming out of nowhere making our computers blow up with this crazy fire and shit.” (I had recently released a fire effect demo). It’s funny how that interaction sticks so vividly in my mind. I probably laughed it off and said some kind of thanks, but inside I was beaming with pride. Jesse fucking Warden knew who I was and thought my shit was cool. That’s actually the exact moment that I knew that I was on some kind of path here, that this was actually going to work out.

This conference was huge for me

I had no expectations going into the conference, I figured I’d attend like I had attended various conferences before, sit in the back of sessions, take notes and write down links, and hopefully learn good material. I had no idea I’d get the kind of exposure in the keynotes that I ended up getting, or that I’d make the connections that I did. I ended up meeting Jesse, Deepa, Ben Stucki, Renaun Erickson, Mark Anders, Ely Greenfield, and countless other people. And these people that I met actually knew who I was. I couldn’t fucking believe it. My head was literally spinning at the end of it all.

Data Visualization

My Data Visualization Presentation from RIAdventure (full video and slides)

On the RIAdventure conference I gave a presentation about the past, present, and future of data visualization as I see it (fun side note: RIAdventure is the only conference I can say I “went on”). Luckily, the organizers filmed the entire thing, and we now have the video of the whole presentation that you can watch. This presentation covered a brief history of the field of data visualization, with the focus on the invention (in the not too distant past) of many data visualization techniques we take for granted. The point of the historical exercise was to point out that new opportunities with new data that we have before us present new opportunities for invention. I talked about new trends I see emerging in the data itself (massive datasets, city data, you life data, stream data) and what those trends mean for us as data visualization software engineers (I also argue that everyone will be a “data viz” engineer to some degree in the future).

I hope you enjoy the presentation, it was a lot of fun to create and to present. I learned a ton from the research and it was exciting thinking about the future of the field. Below is the full video (low resolution streaming from vimeo, or you can find higher resolution streaming form screencast here, or you can even download the full video file). Also embedded below are the slides that go along with the presentation, and you can always download the slides as a PDF.

Also check out some of the other presentations from RIAdventure.




Let’s go on a cruise! RIAdventure is going to be sweet

RIAdventure speaker badgeTom Ortega and John Wilker, who organize the kick ass 360|Flex conference, are teaming of with Joshua Cyr, who organized the first RIAdventure cruise. They’re planning a new event that will be a 7-day cruise that features a 2-day conference. The cruise, called RIAdventure 360, is going to leave from New Orleans and hit Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

The conference will take place December 6-13, 2009.

Only new, forward-looking content

The speakers are required to prepare new content specifically for RIAdventure 360. That means no canned presentations that you saw 5 times already at past MAX conferences. The content has to be fresh, it has to be cutting edge, and it has to be made specifically for this event. This requirement is awesome. I think that all presenters at all conferences should prepare fresh content every time. Sure, it’s more work, but if you can’t prepare fresh shit for a conference then you should present less often. But of course that’s just a personal opinion with no disrespect meant to anyone on the speaker circuit 🙂

The speakers for this fine event will be: Ted Patrick, Ryan Stewart, Faisal Abid, Samuel Rivello, and… me!

Focus on the future of RIA

This is a conference about the future, not the present. I’ve been formulating some ideas about what I’d like to present, but I haven’t quite solidified my plan yet (hell, if the conference is about the future I can’t plan it too far ahead, everything will change!). I’m currently playing with some ideas about the future of data visualization in application development. We’re reaching the point where data storage and bandwidth have reached levels capable of transmitting massive data sets, but we haven’t yet understood the implications this has for application developers. What if you had access to the location data of all the cell phones in the country? Or your entire genome? Or the record of every dollar ever spent by the government? The data is coming soon (much of it is here already), but if we, as RIA developers, don’t have the skills necessary to make sense of it all we’ll miss the opportunities to truly innovate and impact the world.

One big party!

And of course this is a cruise after all! We’re going to be partying it up like it’s nobody’s business. The conference also includes dinner discussions about our industry, which I think roughly translates to getting Ryan and Ted drunk enough to spill some Adobe secrets.

Get a free 360|Flex ticket!

And if all that wasn’t enough Tom and John are also throwing in a 2-for-1 deal. If you sign up for RIAdventure you also get a free ticket to the next 360|Flex in February. So if you want to have a hell of a good time while geeking out, go sign up for the RIAdventure cruise.


Hitler Goes to CFUnited

Here’s the video that I showed at CFunited yesterday of Hitler (as a Flex developer) finding out he’s speaking at a ColdFusion conference.

A little context for those who didn’t attend my session: I was doing a demo of how to use the Adobe Open Source Media Framework that involved creating a Flex app that added subtitles to a video. The demo also showed tying in another open source library to automatically translate the subtitles into other languages (so the demo wasn’t just completely silly). Also, the demo I showed after this one was using Axiis for data visualization (hence the reference to the data viz demo in the video).

And for those of you who didn’t attend CFUnited, I assume this won’t be nearly as funny, but maybe you’ll still get a kick out of it.


Sneak Peek at content from my CFUnited Presentation this Friday

CFUnited speaker badgeThis Friday, August 14, I’ll be speaking at the CFUnited conference in Virginia. My session is titled Riding Coattails to the Top: Using Open Source Flex and ActionScript Projects (yeah, I know my session titles are getting too verbose) and will be all about using the thousands of open-source Flex projects that are out there in the community. I’ll be covering projects like Axiis, Adobe’s Open Source Media Framework, computer vision libraries, and a host of other cool projects that you should know about.

I’m preparing a handful of demo applications that I’ll be showing off as examples of integrating some of the coolest open-source work out there. The goal of each example is to show how to integrate at least two open source projects together to create a sweet application. The screenshots below are from a few of the apps that I’ve been working on, just to give a little taste. If you’re going to be attending CFUnited be sure to stop by my session on Friday at 1:30.



If you’re going to be at CFUnited be sure to flag me down and say hi or find me at the bar on Friday night!


I got punk’d at 360|Flex (in my own session!)

So there I was at 360|Flex giving my presentation. I guess when you call your session “Cool Shit” you’re just asking for people to fuck with you 🙂 So I’m going through some example applications and I’m near the end of the session and I get to the grand finale. The demo I was about to show was an augmented reality demo, combined with some head tracking stuff too. And I figured since it’s called “augmented” reality I’d do a demo that really captures that word, so while standing there in front of a packed room of developers I take off my shirt to reveal an augmented reality marker on my chest. When I step in front of the webcam the video detects the marker and shows a big muscular chest instead of my wimpy geek body. As I was doing body builder poses and taking silly pictures, suddenly *whack* – I get hit in the face with a flying object. Not quite sure what the fuck just happened, so I keep going on with the presentation like normal (for some reason the fact that someone threw something that hit me in my face didn’t seem all that abnormal). Then suddenly there’s a massive barrage of projectiles raining down on me. It takes me a while to figure out what’s going on, and then finally I understand: the audience is pelting me with little bouncy balls. What the fuck?

This video of part of my session has been floating around a bit, and if you don’t know this back story you probably have no idea what the hell is going on. But check out the video, and when you see me posing with my muscles and then suddenly recoiling in pain, and then you hear everyone laugh, that’s when I start getting hit with a shitload of bouncy balls.

So it turns out that some devious developers (I believe led by Nate Beck) were out drinking at some place where you play games and get tickets that you can redeem for prizes (aren’t you boys a bit old to be at Chuck E Cheese?). So they get a bunch of tickets and what do they decide to cash in for? Bouncy balls. All bouncy balls. Then the next day they come in to my session, and I have no idea how they pulled this off without me noticing, but they hand out these little bouncy balls to everyone in the first few rows of the room. Apparently the instructions were: when Doug takes off his shirt, let the balls fly. Awesome. I guess word had gotten out enough that I was doing something that involved getting partially naked (either from my tweet or just from me spilling some details when I was out drinking). And you gotta admire the guy who threw the first one (and hit me right in the face no less), that takes balls (pun obviously intended).

So that’s the story behind that video for anyone who saw that and had no idea what the hell was going on. Nate, I admire your creativity, you got me good. But you better watch your back, I’m going to be sure to be in the front row of any presentation you might be doing 🙂

P.S. I’m working on posting all my slides and code from my session, hopefully I’ll get all that up tomorrow.


FlexCamp. Miami. Friday.

UPDATE: This event has passed. For some reason this post showed up again on the Adobe aggregator. Apologies for that, don’t got to Miami on Friday unless you just want to get some sun.

If you’re in the Miami area or could use a nice weekend vacation, go check out FlexCamp Miami and get your Flex groove on Miami Vice style. The event’s got a great lineup of speakers and some pretty dope topics from Flex 4 to frameworks to robots to UX. I hear that Andy Powell’s session that’s called “How to Blow Your Mind with AIR” might actually have blow for all attendees. And word on the street is that Greg Wilson from Adobe is going to be doing the keynote in his underwear. If you’re in the area you should definitely stop by, and if you’re from out of town maybe you can grab a plane ticket for dirt cheap (stimulate that economy!) and fly in and even buy up some nice foreclosed waterfront property while you’re there. The event itself is recession-priced at a measly $30, and you can even pony up the cash at the front door when you walk in.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Hurricane100 Room
BankUnited Center
University of Miami


Disclaimer: I have no actual information that suggests Andy will be dealing drugs or that Greg Wilson will be naked.


I’m sponsoring 360|Flex

360flex_sanjose_badge200.gifI’m an official sponsor of the 360|Flex conference! I think I am the first and only “just a normal guy” (not a company or independent contractor) to be a sponsor. I’m not looking for clients, I’m not looking for work… I’m just a dude who likes the conference. I like it so much that I was really sad about not being able to speak at the next 360|Flex in San Jose in August. So since I can’t be there, I figured out how to get my face in front of y’all anyway 🙂 I’m sponsoring the official 360|Flex shirt that all attendees will get and all you suckas have to wear my silly face on your sleeve.

screenshot057.jpgCheck out all the sponsor logos on the 360|Flex site (screenshot on the right). You see that dumbass-looking face with the thumbs? That’s me!

Why the hell?
I owe a lot to 360|Flex. At the first one in San Jose back in March 2007 I made a ton of contacts that have helped me professionally. I happened to sit next to Tom Link and Brett Cortese from Universal Mind in the back of some session and we started talking. Now I’m a full-time employee with Universal Mind doing sweet Flex work. I got some of my work shown off in the keynote of that conference too, and people started hearing my name and wondering who I was.

Then at the second 360|Flex I did my first-ever conference presentation (on custom Flex component development). Suddenly I was somehow an authoritative Flex developer, and the main reason I actually spoke at that conference was because Tom Ortega asked me to in one of our local Flex user group meetings (in addition to planning 360|Flex, Tom also runs SilVaFug). I made a lot of friends at that conference and felt like I really became a part of the Flex community. And then I had a blast at the last 360|Flex in Atlanta, where I spoke again.

I make damn good money as a Flex developer, and I owe a lot of that to the fame and connections I made at the 360|Flex conferences. So this is my little way of paying some of that back. So thank you Tom and John for all your hard work!


I’m Speaking at Flash on the Beach! (what should I present?)

FOTBI’m speaking at the Flash on the Beach conference in Brighton, England in September! I’m really excited about this conference because it’s not a Flex conference, it’s a Flash conference (but of course there will be plenty of Flex represented). I’ve got a little notoriety among you Flex developers, but Flash guys are like, “Doug McWho?”, so that’ll be pretty dope to get out in front of a different audience.

I’m going to be presenting on a yet-to-be-determined Flex topic, and I’ll likely ask for some suggestions as I’m refining my presentation ideas. Here are my current potential topics:

  • super-sweet data visualization in Flex
    I’ve been reading lots of Edward Tufte books and other information visualization books. These are fantastic resources to help you think about effective ways of visualizing information, and I’m thinking about taking many of the principles and applying them to the Flex framework. This would involve the creation of a bunch of altered charting controls (new axis renderers, different chart types, etc). And I’d analyze what’s good and bad about the current set of data visualization components available (in the Flex SDK, the iLog component set, and the open source community). I’d probably throw in some brief mapping examples too.
  • Maps, maps, maps
    I’ve been doing a ton of Flex mapping applications for work. Unfortunately a lot of that stuff can’t be shared (I certainly can’t show much of the code, and I can’t even show demos of some of it). But I’m thinking about doing a session that goes over all the different options for AS3 map components (we now have ESRI, MapQuest, Google, Yahoo, UMap, Poly9). A year ago or so ESRI was pretty much the only game in town, now there are a bunch. So I’m thinking about showing some demos of how to use the different map components, and some data visualization techniques for working with geospatial data.
  • advanced open source Flex projects
    My presentation at the last 360|Flex conference in Atlanta was on using open source projects in your Flex apps. I’m thinking about doing a part 2 of that topic anhd going into more depth with a smaller number of projects. My last preso was sort of the shotgun approach (ie show many projects with only cursory information). This preso would be focusing on creating two or three demos that combine a handful of projects and dive deeper into the code and how I went about creating the demos.
  • Decompiling Flex applications for fun and profit
    I’ve been playing a lot with SWF decompiling tools and ripping apart lots of Flex applications. There’s a lot you can learn from this (it’s not an inherently bad thing to decompile someone’s code). I’m thinking about stepping through the process of decompiling an app and talk about what you can learn, what decompiling actually gets you, how you can piece things back together, etc. I figured I could rip apart one or two main example apps (like Photoshop Express or Buzzword). I toyed with the idea of submitting this as a topic for MAX, just to see if Adobe would let me rip apart the Buzzword code base and show it off to everyone. But I figure at FOTB it’s all fair game.
  • Using Flash 10 features in your Flex apps
    I’m considering a presentation that focuses on taking advantage of all the new features of Flash Player 10 (specifically in relation to the Flex SDK). I’m considering this topic because it would force me to stay on top of the new technology and know my shit. I haven’t yet played with FP10, so this would force me to do some cool stuff.

I’ll be holding down the Flex front with a few other guys, I know that Ben Stucki and Tink are both going to present on Flex topics. I’m also excited to meet some Flash peeps I’ve admired for a long time.

So if you’re looking for a European vacation near the end of September, then come to FOTB and hang out in Brighton! It’s gonna be sweet.


Upcoming conferences (where I’ll be, where I won’t)

This is a quick post to about a few of the conferences I’m either speaking at, going to, or regretting not being able to attend.

When: August 18-20, 2008
Where: San Jose, CA

I can’t go! Nooo! I’ll be in Sweden. I might make it back in time to come and hang out with people at one of the last parties, we’ll see. Tom tried to convince me to fly from Sweden to Cali and give a presentation the next day and that just sounded like a horrible idea, so sadly I won’t be presenting at this 360|Flex. I really wanted to, I think 360|Flex is one of the best conferences, and it’s certainly where I’ve had the most fun. I’ve attended the first three 360|Flex conferences (all the ones in North America) and I spoke at the last two. And since I love the conference so much (but can’t present a session this time), I’ve made sure I’ll still make my mark on all attendees (more on that in a post tomorrow).

speakerbadge_200_120_e.gifFlash on the Beach
When: September 28-October 1, 2008
Where: Brighton, UK

I’m presenting! w00t! I’m looking forward to this one, I get to fly over and kick it in England and present cool Flex shit to a bunch of Flashers. I’ll write a full post about FOTB shortly…

screenshot001.jpgAdobe MAX
When: November 16-19, 2008
Where: San Francisco, CA

I’ll be attending MAX, but not presenting. I thought about submitting a session topic, seeing as MAX is literally in my backyard this year. But I’ve heard some horror stories about multiple required submissions months and months ahead of time, and that’s not really how I roll. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with writing Flex for Dummies, so the MAX session topic submission just sort of felt like an additional ordeal I didn’t want to deal with. That said, I’ll definitely be there and we’re going to rock the shit out of San Francisco, so come and play.