Recap: Adobe ColdFusion Summit 2013

I’m going to try to capture my thoughts on Adobe’s recent inaugural ColdFusion Summit 2013 conference. You’ll find lots of my own opinions here and a bit of rambling. There may or may not be much of value to you as a reader.

Overall Impression

For the first year of a new conference, I felt like the conference organizers did a decent job of pulling it off. Acceptable facilities, good food, good reception, good WiFi, good breadth and depth of topics to choose from and delivered by a combination of both known and previously-unknown (to me, at least) speakers. The conference itself had a few rough spots (more on that below). I came interested primarily in hearing Adobe’s position on ColdFusion’s future and walked away convinced that at least the Adobe CF team itself is convinced CF does have a future. I remain concerned about certain aspects of that future and not entirely convinced in the CF team (but that’s a subject for a separate blog post).

Facilities and Conference Stuff

I should preface this with the statement that I am not a “Las Vegas person” — very little about Las Vegas itself is appealing to me. I’m also not crazy about big resort hotels, and the Mandalay Bay Resort is nothing if not that. I would be perfectly happy in a smaller conference facility somewhere else.

Signage is definitely not the resort’s strong suit, and we spent 45 minutes wandering around Wednesday evening looking for the early check-in location and asking people that seemed to be associated with the hotel and/or convention center where it was before someone finally pointed us in the right direction, only to find out they didn’t have our t-shirts so we gave up and went to get dinner and just waited to check in Thursday morning. Check-in itself on Thursday morning was simple, smooth, and fast. If you are going to offer some sort of early check-in, make it easy to find and have the stuff ready, or don’t bother.

The session and keynote rooms were sufficient but only barely so: sub-par audio, small screens, and poor room layout all made for challenging settings for both speakers and listeners. I’ve had to present in rooms like those, and it is challenging at best. I did like the classroom sort of setting where everyone was sitting at tables, and the decent WiFi coverage was a pleasant surprise. Only one of the rooms had power at the tables; it would have been nice for that to be more widespread. Having all of the presentation venues very close to each other was a plus.

At several points in both the opening keynote and the closing comments delivered by Adobe reps, they touched on having to cap attendance at 500 and how that number was significantly above what they originally had planned for. I left wondering if the juggling to accommodate a larger-than-initially-anticipated group of attendees resulted in some juggling on the facilities side and contributed to room layouts, etc., that left quite a bit to be desired.

I appreciated the single-sheet agenda handed out at check-in, although I would have liked for the single-sheet agenda to have included the names of the speaker(s) for each session. The conference Web site was acceptable, although I never did figure out why they wanted us to set up a schedule there… and the session-scheduling part of the Web site was pretty clumsy. I couldn’t install the conference app on my phone, but no one I talked to using the app on either Android or iOS was impressed with the app or even had much positive to say about it.

In general, the length of the sessions, breaks, and the overall length of each day was about right. Very few of the sessions I sat in on, however, left any time for questions at the end; this may be something the organizers and content committee should touch on with presenters in the future or extend the sessions slightly to accommodate questions. (I would be curious to hear opinions from the presenters themselves on this item.)

My impression is that the conference organizers hadn’t made plans to either record any of the presentations or provide a central place from which presenter slide decks could be downloaded; the second of those two was a particularly surprising decision or oversight.

Some of the stumbles were surprising given that Adobe has been involved in conferences larger that this for many years. If there are to be subsequent versions of this conference — and it seems pretty obvious from the closing wrap-up that the intent is that there will be — and if the conference organizers can retain the generally high quality of most of the content and if the conference organizers can address some of the facility-related shortcomings, this could be a very good conference in the future.

Session Recap

A few thoughts on the sessions I attended…

Day 1 keynote (Ben Forta, others): Disappointing. Ben Forta started with a quick look back at the history of CF and at some of the successes and failures in CF along the way, talked a little about where he sees things headed, that CF has now been dead for more than half its life and continues to grow and evolve in spite of being dead, and finished with a few of his own opinions on what CF’s strengths are and where it should be headed. Ben gave way to a couple members of the Adobe CF team and the keynote — for a keynote, but particularly for a day 1 keynote of a new conference — went off a cliff. It turned into a detailed demo including code, etc., that felt like it had largely been thrown together and had not been rehearsed or screened to fit into the allotted time. This was not opening day keynote stuff, either in content or in presentation. More concerning to me, though, was the contradiction between BF’s take on where things should be heading… immediately followed by lots code and demos of the CF team’s CFCLIENT efforts. I’m not a fan of the CFCLIENT idea, and nothing I heard in sessions or follow-up blog posts has convinced me that CFCLIENT and the effort/resources Adobe is pouring into it are a good choice. To have that contradiction so visible within the content of the opening day keynote reinforced my own concern that Adobe and the CF team don’t see the importance of some of the “soft side” of CF: the value of communication and the importance of getting the message right. I’ve increasingly felt that way for the past couple years and this conference repeatedly reinforced that concern. The keynote itself suffered greatly from the combination of terrible acoustics, high A/V system volume, poor physical layout, small screens, and speakers with accents speaking way too quickly. There were portions, even during BF’s portion, where I simply could not understand what he was saying and it was even more challenging with the other members of the CF team. In watching the #CFSummit2013 twitter feed during and after the keynote, I know I’m not alone in those concerns or in my take on the keynote.

Language enhancements in ColdFusion Splendor (Vamseekrishna N of the Adobe CF team): Poor. Illegible slides (yellow text on white background rendered at a small size, anyone?), almost entirely a repeat of stuff from the keynote (which admittedly should not have been in the keynote in the first place), poorly organized and presented content, and struggles with tools. (Seriously? A CF team member that doesn’t know how to change the font size in Adobe’s flagship CF development tool?) Poor audio, bad room layout, small screens. In terms of the changes coming in the language itself, I see some things I like: member functions, something closer to full coverage of the language’s capabilities in CFSCRIPT, better/more complete JSON handling.

Java Integration (Dave Gallerizzo): Good intro presentation to what you can do with Java both in using existing Java libraries and in invoking CF stuff from within Java. Good presenter. Nothing really earth-shattering or eye-opening for me there.

What’s New and Different in ColdFusion 10 on Tomcat (Charlie Arehart): Very good. Charlie is one of the rare speakers with both extraordinary knowledge and the ability to share that knowledge effectively in the setting of a conference presentation. I’ve used Tomcat for the past couple years outside of just in ColdFusion’s stack, but even so there were a couple of nuggets from his session that were new and potentially valuable to me.

Advanced OO in ColdFusion (Scott Stroz): Very good. Scott’s usual blend of expertise and humor made for an informative and enjoyable session. Despite being assigned to a huge room, Scott has enough presence, clearly is a sufficiently experienced presenter, and structured his slides in a manner that the setting itself did not detract from the presentation.

Preview: ColdFusion Splendor (Rupesh Kumar): Good. Lots of overlap with the technical detail already covered in the keynote and in the earlier session on coming language enhancements, but I felt like Rupesh did a much better job of covering the relevant content at an appropriate level and in an understandable manner. Realistically, though, I think the CF team would have been better served by having this be the primary session touching on what’s coming in the next version of CF here and avoiding the duplication of content in at least three sessions. One slightly surprising thing that came out of this session was when I asked about approximate release dates for the next version, Rupesh’s response indicated that it would be “sometime next year”, representing a pretty significant slip from earlier communications.

Reception: Good. Good setting, free drinks, and decent appetizers for a couple hours in one of the restaurants in the conference resort. Great setting to just sit and talk, as well as to circulate. Enjoyed a short conversation with Elishia Dvorak of the Adobe team, and appreciated the fact that someone from the Adobe team was making an effort to find out who was at the conference and what they were working on.

CFHour session (Scott Stroz and Dave Ferguson): Really poor. I’ve listened to their podcast for the past few months and typically enjoy (or sometimes just tolerate) their mix of information, opinions, commentary, and humor. This one seemed to take a big turn south when it became known that they were not going to be able to record the session. Any apparent attempt to provide value seemed to go out the window at that point. I should have just gone and gotten another beer. Funniest part was Jason Dean’s brief appearance. Some interesting back and forth with the audience when the subject of the recent security event involving someone taking copies of source code for Adobe products was raised, but still no word of any sort from Adobe or the CF team on what was taken, what they are doing in the aftermath of the event, or whether they believe this event represents any sort of additional security concern for CF users.

Side note: Earlier in the day, I had stopped to ask a couple questions of one of the CF team members at their table set up in the hall. I posed the question of when Adobe would be making further information available. The team member immediately turned to look at one of the more senior team members who came over and recited almost verbatim the line that as long as I didn’t have the CFIDE stuff publicly available and had my server locked down, there were no known risks. This isn’t even the question I asked… so clearly they had been directed to simply recite this line and try to move on. When I asked a second question about support for Apache 2.4, I got a shrug and a “we’re not sure”. OK, then… oh-for-two. Time wasted; get some lunch.

Day 2 keynote (Avi Rubin): Good. Interesting discussion of software and information security. Not specifically CF-focused, which generated some Twitter traffic, but still absolutely relevant to those of us working as within the application development space. Very enjoyable change of pace.

NoSQL (Dan Wilson): Very good. Really approachable introduction to NoSQL through MongoDB. Good breadth and depth for an intro. Good mix of technical content, experience anecdotes, and Dan’s dry sense of humor. I’ve never played with a NoSQL back-end for data storage, but after sitting through this session, I plan to look hard at it for certain portions of the less relational information we’re collecting and maintaining in some of our applications. Great slides, even for code content and even taking into account the poorly laid-out presentation space.

Closures (Adam Tuttle): Very good. A great introduction to the concept. Really liked that his preso was based on Reveal.JS and was available for us to follow along with on our laptops while he went through it, completely eliminating any concerns about visibility/legibility of code snippets, etc. I’ve used callbacks and anonymous functions in jQuery more than in CF, and even occasionally some simple closures in JavaScript, so very much enjoyed digging a little deeper into this. Very much liked Adam’s preso deck and appreciated his understated approach in presenting.

Amazon Web Services (Brian Klass): Very, very good. Probably the most eye-opening session for me of the conference. Brian did an incredible job of cramming a very broad and very deep subject into an hour. We’ve not done anything with moving toward AWS or any other cloud-based infrastructure yet but have been toying with a move in that direction for a couple of reasons. This was a real eye-opener for me as to just how different hosting in that environment would be in terms of architecting and maintaining infrastructure compared to just standing up another physical server in our current network DMZ. Great slides in terms of content and legibility, and a very knowledgable, polished presenter.

CF911: Server Troubleshooting (Charlie Arehart): Very good. Typical Charlie Arehart presentation: great content, great slides, great delivery. As has always been the case when I’ve attended one of his sessions, I walked away with several specific items I will go dig into. I’m convinced Charlie is one of real gems of the CF community with his experience, knowledge, ability and willingness to teach and share, and his personality.

Advanced Caching (Rob Brooks-Bilson): Good. I figured this would be sort of a throw-away for me, as I sat in on it simply because there was nothing more interesting on the agenda at that point… but I have to say I was impressed. Very interesting presentation on what’s becoming possible with some new products to enable caching on a huge scale. Not really relevant — at the huge scale discussed in Rob’s presentation — to my current work, but it was interesting enough to keep me awake (despite being exhausted) and convinced me that I do need to look into caching at least a little bit.

Closing remarks (Adobe rep; no idea who he was and he didn’t introduce himself): OK at best. Nothing earthshaking or new to wrap things up. Reiterated that there is growth in the Adobe CF customer base (at least when measured in new customers) and he emphasized that this was new customers, not just new license sales. Also touched on Adobe’s efforts to support the CF community through their and others’ education initiatives.

Summary

The conference itself came off reasonably well and has potential to be even better in the future. I certainly came away feeling like attending was both time and money well-spent. Some very, very good presentations with real value for me and my team. I continue to be concerned about Adobe’s management, support, and vision for the evolution of the CF product, perhaps less so than 6 months ago, but still concerned. I’ll write more on that in the near future.

Chicago: Home again

I made it home last night with little trouble, although it was close at one point.

We wrapped up the conference yesterday at mid-day. My last presentation went well, and then we bailed, heading for the airport early figuring the sooner we got to O’Hare, the better. We got stuck in traffic just at the entrance to the airport; there was something going on at one of the terminals — we never did hear what, although at one point we heard something on the shuttle driver’s radio that they had the terminal completely closed. After sitting literally motionless for close to an hour in traffic — and thinking how glad we were we had decided to leave early, and watching people walk with their luggage past the stopped traffic as they took matters into their own hands, presumably with the intent of making flights — traffic began creeping forward and eventually loosened up so that we made it to the right terminal in plenty of time. Got a bite to eat, took a nap, and boarded for SLC pretty close to on-time… only to get stuck in pretty much another traffic jam. At one point the pilot indicated we were number 20 in line for take off (weather off to one side of the airport had the place down to a single runway for departures).

We ended up leaving Chicago more than an hour after our scheduled departure, and were faced with a 100+ knot headwind (more info from our ever-helpful crew on the flight deck). I figured that our already relatively tight connection in SLC was history… and it nearly was. We came in on the far end of one concourse and had to get to the other end of another; by the time we got to our gate, they had already closed the door. We were pleasantly surprised, though, that they called down to the ramp, held the plane and sent us dashing through… and somehow they got our bags on board.

Home again, safe and sound. And it feels good to be back. Deb, Li, and Ian were glad to see me. Li was pretty excited to see me this morning when she woke up, and it was fun to get to snuggle a little with her this morning. I went in to work for a couple hours to take care of a couple loose ends, and now I’m off for a couple days of vacation (not counting the weekend) to try to refuel and reconnect with life. I came home to something unexpected: we bought a white 1986 manual Subaru GL wagon for Ian to use. One more step as he grows up; this one feels bigger than most.

I’ve got a couple pix on my phone that I will pull down and post from one of my early morning runs out to Navy Pier.

Chicago: Last day

I head for home later today, and with any luck will be back in my own bed this evening…

It’s been a really full week here in Chicago. Three of the four presentations we’re involved in are now past — I  have one left that I am leading today — and one of them went well, the others not so much. That’s fodder for another post (or not). At any rate, it has been a good week here in Chicago:

  • We’ve been able to connect (or re-connect in some cases) with people we work with and rarely get to talk to face-to-face
  • A couple of very interesting sessions at the conference itself
  • Great weather, good food (had good deep-dish pizza at Gino’s East on Superior on Tuesday, and a pretty good filet at Shula’s steakhouse last night), and a pretty decent conference facility

Now if we can just make it out of O’Hare on time this afternoon. I was amazed at how quickly we got out of O’Hare when we came in Sunday evening (under 15 minutes between when we stepped off the plane and when the shuttle pulled away from the curb), but I think this will likely be a different story.

I am missing Deb, Li, and Ian. This post from Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog yesterday hit home; I just wonder if the postscript is a noun, a verb, or just an exclamation…

MAX Day 3 Recap

A quick recap of the final day of Adobe MAX…

  • Started the day in an excellent hands-on lab session led by Simon Slooten on building CF-powered Flex applications. He did a great job moving through an appropriate amount of material to introduce those of us who haven’t yet had a chance to play with Flex and using it as the front-end for Web-based, data-driven apps.
  • Sat in on a fairly interesting panel discussion on what might lie ahead for the next year or so within the RIA area for developers. This one could have (and probably should have) been at least half an hour longer.
  • Finished the conference with a session with Sean Corfield on event-driven programming within CF. Kind of a mind-bending concept, focused on using a similar paradigm within the server side of the Web app world as you would use on the client side with a Flex- or AJAX-based front end. Very interesting. It might have been easier to get my head around more completely had it (my head) not just plain been full at this point in the week.
  • Spent a couple hours wandering around downtown SF and Chinatown with the guys. It was good to just wander and watch people. Had a great dinner at a place called Santorini Mediterranean Cuisine: dolmos, saganaki, hummus, babbaganoush, souvlakia…

And it’s a wrap. I head for home and family this morning.

All in all, not a bad conference. I’d come hoping for a better feel for what Flex is/does/might help us with and hoping for some general nuggets as far as CF and Web app development in general. I got both of those, along with a chance to talk to fellow developers and get a read on where Adobe is taking CF. Adobe, generally speaking, did a decent job with the conference: decent broad coverage, decent venue, good end-of-day events, decent stuff in the exhibit hall. Thumbs up for those. Thumbs down for not providing a decent bag to the conference attendees, nor for even including a pen with the shopping bag full of throw-away product literature when you check in, and for not ensuring decent WiFi in the convention center (Opera Mini and Google Talk on my Blackberry were lifesavers this week). And a big “Thank you!” for Kristen Schofield of Adobe’s CF team for the CF t-shirts for me and Jeff on the last conference day!

It will be interesting to see where the new Bolt CF IDE goes, and how it compares to existing alternatives like CFEclipse, etc. Mark Drew has indicated that Bolt by no means signals the end of life for CFEclipse. Given that IDE’s tend to be a religious thing with some (most?) devs, I’m sure there will be some interesting turns ahead.

MAX Day 1 Recap

A quick recap of day 1 of the MAX conference:

  • Kevin Lynch’s keynote was impressive and earth-shaking but there wasn’t much really earthshaking there for me as a CF developer. Maria Shriver stole the show, as far as I was concerned with her appearance and talk on the work — supported by Adobe — in conjunction with California’s Legends Trails project.
  • Good presentations by George Neill and Jerome Doran on the role of laziness in innovation and by Stephanie Sullivan on solving some common “design problems” (from the talk title; I’d call them more layout challenges) with CSS. Both suffered a little — particularly the session on laziness — from trying to cram way too much content into a 1-hour timeslot.
  • Excellent presentations — introductory level, for the most part, but that’s how they were advertised and what I needed — on Flex and ColdFusion by Jeff Tapper and Mike Nimer.
  • Probably the best piece of schwag I’ve gotten so far is a House of Fusion Library Volume 1 CD with all of the past issues of the Fusion Authority Quarterly and Flex Authority Quarterly magazines in PDF format. Kudos and thanks to the HoF folks for making these available! Both are good pubs.
  • The venue is decent, but suffers the common temperature problems (read: too cold!) of most conference centers, particularly in the rooms where the sessions are held. I’m not packing my laptop or anything else that needs WiFi coverage to work, but Jeff indicated (and this was backed up in a couple of blog posts I read as well as what I saw during presos) that the wireless coverage is spotty and slow.
  • Decent evening meal of Indian food at a place called Naan-n-Curry on O’Farrell a block or so from the hotel with Jeff, Marco, and Blaine. We’re only a couple blocks from Union Square, so we wandered a bit after dinner. I saw a family there in the square by the ice skating rink with a little girl who looked a lot like Li and had to be very close to the same age, and it made me realize how much I miss her; that’s the one real downside to traveling, especially being gone two weeks in a row.