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cf.Objective(ANZ) Wrapup, Day 1: Holy brain burn, Batman!

I’m writing this on the plane on the way back to Perth from Melbourne after two mind-blowing days of ColdFusion conference goodness at cf.Objective(ANZ). I’m surrounded by screaming babies, someone behind me keeps kicking me in the back and the person in front put their seat back the second the seatbelt light went off, meaning my notebook’s keyboard is pressed into my chest and typing is next to impossible. And there’s only three hours left to go. *sigh*

Huge thankyous are due to the whole cf.Objective(ANZ) team for pulling it off – conference hosts Jared Rypka-Hauer and Steven Hauer, unfortunately neither of whom could make the trip down under; Jim Louis, meeting planner extraordinaire (“meeting planner” being the US term for what we would refer to here as an “event manager”); and my fellow Australian and New Zealand based committee members Barry Beatty, Toby Tremayne, Andrew Mercer, Kai Koenig and especially Mark Mandel, who did an unholy amount of work in the leadup to the conference.

A great committee is not enough: conferences don’t happen without the generous financial support of sponsors; the expertise and willingness to go the extra mile of speakers; and of course, the people who buy tickets and come along. So credit is due to all.

Despite the fact that I was tweaking, refining and testing my own presentation right up until 15 minutes before I went on stage, I only managed to miss two sessions the entire conference. But given that there were two simultaneous tracks, there were a whole stack of difficult decisions that had to be made.

Here are some notes from the presentations that I got to see:

Ben Forta and Terrence Ryan: Opening keynote

The conference was kicked off by host Jared Rypka-Hauer via a pre-recorded video, during which is strongly suggested that we make sure that Jim didn’t have to buy his own drinks. Then it was over to Mark Mandel to introduce the keynote session: the original CF guru Ben Forta.

Ben gave an overview of the current state of ColdFusion, including the marked increase in developer numbers since Macromedia was acquired by Adobe. The message he was preaching: it’s a good time to be a ColdFusion developer.

Ben didn’t spend much time on stage however, handing over to evangelist Terry Ryan. Terry ran over some of the coolest features: in CF9 and shared some of their internal performance figures which clearly show how much faster CF9 is than previous versions: again, good news for developers.

Andy Welsh: Getting Social with CF

After morning tea, faced with a choice between Andrew Muller’s session on publish-subscribe RIAs and Andy Welsh on “Getting social with CF”, I elected to go to Andy’s Facebook-focused session. While I don’t have any plans Facebook applications anytime soon, I was interested in the technology and impressed with how far the platform has come. Andy had plenty of warnings for us, however: Facebook don’t give any useful support to developers, they change things constantly and without warning (with the side effect that the documentation is often out of date), and in peak times (i.e. lunchtime) things on Facebook grind to a halt. Despite all this, there is huge potential in the market – as  Andy said, that set of challenges is nothing small businesses and freelancers don’t face daily – and Andy will be releasing his “Angry Ape” framework for building Facebook apps in CF sometime shortly.

Kai Koenig: Creating Online and Offline Workflows with CFPDFFORM

After another break, it was a choice between Mark Mandel’s session “Rapid OO Development with ColdFusion Frameworks” or “Creating Online and Offline workflows with ColdFusion’s CFPDFFORM” with Kai Koenig. Kai’s like the “big bro” I never had, so I decided to show my support upstairs in the Heritage Room. In the session, Kai examined just what was possible with ColdFusion’s PDF functionality, versus what was possible with the much more expensive LiveCycle services, and urged developers to be sure that they actually needed the full LiveCycle before letting their organisations commit to the purchase. He talked about situations where hybrid online and offline PDF workflows were needed, and demonstrated a customisable PDF Christmas card generator that he had worked on.

Andrew Mercer: Future Proofing Your Application Development

After a very nice lunch of sandwiches, salad and little cakes, I decided to miss both Andrew Spaulding’s session “From Flash Catalyst to Flash Builder and ColdFusion: The Ultimate RIA Workflow” and Mike Schierberl’s very popular session “JVM Tuning and Optimisation” to spend some quality time in my room with my presentation. But I made sure I made it back in time for fellow West Australian Andrew Mercer’s session “Future Proofing Your Application Development”, up against Indy Nagpal’s “Improve ColdFusion Development Process: Using Decentralised Version Control with Testing and Continuous Integration’.

Andrew took the bold move of presenting with no slides. He described some common scenarios faced by programmers of various skill levels and the possible outcomes. He reiterated the idea that design patterns solve a particular problem – and if you’re not having that problem, then you don’t need that design pattern. He also urged developers not to feel pressured into diving into OO development if they don’t understand or don’t have need to.

Andrew also talked about three relatively new “lite” frameworks, which have each been designed as a antidote to the trend for the major frameworks to be large and cumbersome. The session had plenty of time allowed for audience discussion and a spirited discussion of various frameworks ensued – several attendees myself included) expressing a fondness for the days of Fusebox 3 when development was much simpler and more fun.

Justin Mclean: Connecting Hardware up to ColdFusion

The final session of the day was a choice of Justin Mclean’s “Connecting Hardware up to ColdFusion” or Geoff Bowers’ “Cascading View Inheritance”. Given that I’d seen Justin’s session in Perth at Edge of the Web which had used Flex code samples, and had in fact ordered an Arduino starter kit of my own, i decided to catch his presentation again and see if i could pick up some extra ideas as this time he was using ColdFusion sample code.

The hardware referred to in Justin’s presentation title is in fact a small hobby electronics component set made in Italy called Arduino. A number of different components are cheaply available, enabling developers to cobble together anything from pointless flashing LEDs, to useful environmental sensors of all descriptions, to fighting robots and even web servers. Justin has just released his ColdFusion library for developing Arduino applications in ColdFusion to RIA Forge.

All in all, it was an exhaustingly busy day and I came away with a head full of ideas and new knowledge. After dinner with a whole bunch of conference-goers at a Japanese restaurant called “Chocolate Buddha” in nearby Federation Square, I managed to tear myself away from the bar after just one beer, and work on my presentation for the following day.

Stay tuned for my day two wrap up!