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By Sprezz | Monday 22 April 2013 21:06 | 3 Comments
The Introduction Here at Sprezz we've just got back from the latest RevCon hosted at the Sheraton Music City in Nashville and it has to be said we had a great time. This was possibly one of the least stressful conferences for us as presenters in recent history. (Of course the same can't be said for poor Nancy who had the usual vicissitudes to contend with along with some new ones (Presenters losing their presenter tag from their badges anyone?)). Now we didn't attend every session so we can't provide commentary on all of the sessions (and for this, we apologise unreservedly to those whose presentations are not commented on) but we're sure that between our comments and those of other individuals you'll be able to piece together an overview of what went on.

The Venue The Sheraton Music City is a pleasant looking building nestled in acres of landscaped gardens. It isn't really local to anything much but to the delight of at least one member of the Sprezz party there was a Carl's Burger joint within walking distance (if you didn't mind risking life and limb playing "dodge the traffic"). Apparently, pavements (or sidewalks as they seem to be referred to in North America) are an optional extra in this part of the States.

The rooms were comfortable, the staff were pleasant and the courtyard provided an ideal setting for sunny lunches during the conference. The bar was reasonably priced and provided a good selection of bar food - pretty much duplicating what was available in the restaurant.

The Anecdote To the additional delight of more than one member of Sprezz there was a good liquor store and a Walgreens just a short car ride away. We arrived at the venue early as Saturday night stays are de rigueur if you're to stand any chance of getting a less than extortionate transatlantic fare. So we took the opportunity to visit this place and stock up on some interesting beers and wines.  This provided your author with a first in my 4 decades of visiting the US :- I actually got to call 911! As we exited the liquor store a car swung into the car park, came to rest diagonally across two parking spaces and the door opened. A few seconds later, the partially clad male driver stepped out of the car and then fell flat on his face. Picking himself up he careered into the wall and felt his way along it before turning the corner and entering the liquor store to stock up on more booze. He then staggered back into the car and drove erratically off. So for obvious reasons we called him in.

The Conference Sessions The theme this year was undoubtedly O4W with the majority of sessions being devoted to this maturing tool. Mike's opening talk outlined the goodies that we had ahead of us before introducing a keynote speaker (Billy Kirsch) who actually proved to be more interesting than I might originally have thought. Now I have to be honest I've never heard of any of the songs he's written and I only vaguely recognised the names of the artistes he's written for but this is likely down to my distinct lack of country music in my otherwise eclectic music collection. The task he set us was to collectively - in small groups - help him in writing a song about Revelation. After a slow start this started to pick up as people became more animated and it has to be said the end result definitely beat "People Products and Partners" from a Rev conference in ancient history.

Next up was Revelation X presented by our very own Carl Pates. Now X is going to be a scene changer in my view if these previews were anything to go by. Whilst maintaining backwards compatibility (as we have come to know and respect Revelation for) they will be introducing a whole host of new exciting features and improvements to the product. Carl showed a number of ways in which the Presentation Server is going to be improved graphically (and let's be honest if we can't deliver good-looking apps we're at a disadvantage to our competition) some of which are illustrated in the screen capture below. In addition (and in no particular order) we were also told of
  • Improvements to the compiler to remove the 64K limit
  • Improved error checking in the compiler
  • Stripping out of UI code from the Engine to make it easier to port to other platforms
  • Improvements to all controls to support reflection - so we can programmatically query what properties and methods it exposes
  • Rewritten form designer that will be OLE aware out of the box - OLE controls will be as integrated as native controls allowing specification of the DEFPROP property so that they can be made data aware without programming
  • Extending the form designer to use all Windows Common Controls natively
  • Improved screen presentation techniques allowing screens to be "slid" onto the screen from any direction (much like alerts appear on the desktop)
  • The use of RXI files to allow for configuring OpenInsight sessions externally
The audience were also encouraged to submit their own requests for modification and improvements to this landmark release.

The example shows the use of Aero Glass, translucent edit lines with glyphs, translucent editbox with a gradient background, native Windows Common Controls and native progress bar.

Next up, David Goddard of Revelation Australia presented his techniques for using Git (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Git_(software)) with OpenInsight. Using some new Repository hooks and a bit of discipline, he was able to show that even a one-man shop could benefit from this easy to use distributed revision control source code management system. Along the way, he redefined "source" in this context and persuasively argued that you'd have to be daft not to use something like Git. Or as we say up North, you'd be a daft git not to use Git.

Finally, the last session of the first day was given by SRP's own Don Bakke who provided an insight into their daily working practices. Of particular interest to us at Sprezz was the thorough demonstration Don gave of the use of JIRA as a project management tool. In-house we use Joel Spolsky's FogBugz and it has its limitations. Don's presentation was enough to make us reconsider JIRA as an internal platform. In addition to JIRA Don extolled the virtues of a paid for Google Apps account - and this isn't solely that the paid for version is ad free!

A large chunk of Thursday morning was given over to O4W training. In addition, there were presentations by Mike (on using MVed data) and Bob Carten on using the BRW. Regretfully I wasn't able to attend any of these as Aaron and I were holed up in our room ignoring the sound advice "never make changes to software just before a dem - it'll end in tears". But in our defence, we only had three iterations of changes. It's funny how doing a dem will flush out bugs that haven't been caught in months of beta testing!

The first session after lunch divided us. Kevin (from SRP) always does excellent presentations but the call of David Hendershot's inaugural presentation as a Revelation employee proved too strong for us to resist. So we sat in whilst David explained the various different aspects of the O4W API he had used in creating the O4W Environment window.

Again, division reigned supreme - watch Mike present AREV32 or watch Stefano Cavaglieri talk about speed improvement techniques for OpenInsight. Finally, reasoning that I'd done enough AREV32 presentations that Mike's talk would likely yield no surprises, I opted for Stefano's talk and I was very pleased that I did. Whilst a lot of the ground covered was familiar territory, the talk provided several interesting twists - not least, the revelation that on a UTF8 system BREMOVE was significantly faster than remove. The showstopper though had to be when Stefano populated an edittable with half a million rows so quickly that if you blinked you'd miss it. Of course, there was an element of smoke and mirrors - the half a million rows were stored as a single row so there was only one read and one set_property required. Still it underlined a very serious point applicable to everyone when dealing with edittables. The edittable is written in C++ and as such, it uses fixed length structures. So if you add a row with say 10 columns of data length 80, the edittable control will have to MALLOC some 800+ bytes. Now MALLOC is an extremely expensive operation clock cycle wise, so if you can avoid multiple MALLOCs you're laughing all the way to the bank. That's why building up a huge array and THEN updating the edittable is so much quicker.

Finally, it was time for Aaron and I to present. We'd decided to pretty much have Aaron explain the concepts and then have me demonstrate the software with interruptions from the peanut gallery at the side of the stage. So Aaron provided a very in depth review of the many issues associated with deploying packages of software. This is something that's dear to our hearts in Sprezz Towers. We have core routines that are used in a variety of products and we can't afford when installing new products into an existing system, to overwrite previously installed software with an older package. Say you'd installed our SFX framework that uses version 7.4.0 of our ZZ_CORE_UI package, you wouldn't want to subsequently install S/List and accidentally install version 7.2.4 of the same ZZ_CORE_UI package. So we started with a quick look at the sort of package framework we need to install by showing a simple customer-tracking database developed for a UK client - screen shot follows

In the above example all of the tricks - such as automatic hyperlinks to options events, menu softkeys, integrated QBF - are provided by a variety of Sprezz in house packages that need to be deployed with the application itself.

So in the rambling manner that is found either charming or annoying depending on your preference I demmed our in house tool for managing this. And for once we actually managed to complete the entire presentation without having to rocket through slides at a rate of knots with seconds to go!

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that probably the best part of the dem was when we'd finished one of our very respected colleagues came over and expressed a wish to have such a tool himself.

The last morning was given over to Bryan Shumsky - ostensibly discussing mobile application development techniques. But recovering from a bout of loquaciousness in his earlier presentation, Bryan initially played catch up with his previous session! Nothing was lost however, as he retained adequate time to actually set out the challenges provided when creating mobile apps with O4W and of course to explain how O4W magnificently rises to these challenges.

Finally the conference wrap up from Mike with the now obligatory slide show of the previous few days' mayhem. As a soundtrack to the initial set of slides, we were treated to a recording of the company song we created together on the first morning! Mooting a conference most likely in more than a year's time Mike sent us on our way feeling very positive about the future.

The Evenings The first evening was the signup evening - so collecting our conference packs - a cute laptop sleeve in a tote with a T-Shirt and our badges and schedules, we stood around Revelation's open bar and caught up with those old friends who'd already arrived.

The second evening was billed as a chance to mingle and show our colleagues what we'd been up to since we last met. To this end Nancy laid on a magnificent repast (and an open bar serving some killer signature cocktails - can we see a Revelation Conference theme developing here?) and a number of tables that people could set their laptops on and show off their wares. Whilst strictly speaking not a ware - we couldn't fail to be impressed by the tablet computer with removable keyboard that Jim Vaughan was playing with! I was able to take the opportunity to have some extended chats with industry stalwarts - catching up on where they were these days. And some of them are in fairly remote places! Naturally, I couldn't resist the temptation to talk about O4W to a few of my colleagues and to explain our philosophy that we tried to do as much as possible using the O4W 4GL and keep our API use to a minimum. This was looked at askance by some of our colleagues until we explained just how much was possible using modified templates and custom CSS. As an example, we showed a system we'd written for a European client which used virtually no API calls, just a few commuter modules.

In addition, by utilising an MFS and some built in O4W hooks the app displays the prompts in the language of the data entry person, but the data in the language of the person whose details are being recorded!

The third evening was the infamous Rev night out - and what a treat was in store for us this time! Loaded into two large coaches, delegates and travel partners made their way into the middle of Nashville to a venue called The Wildhorse Saloon. We were ushered inside and to a specially reserved seating area abutting and flanking the main stage where as we entered a Country and Western singer was playing a string of (what I am sure) were classics. Once again, a tasty selection of local food was displayed and unsurprisingly... there was an open bar. One or two brave souls ventured onto the dance floor during free form line dancing and one delegate in particular displayed stunningly good dancing skills. After a while, the official teacher took the stage and all and sundry were encouraged to take to the dance floor to learn the basics of line dancing. Now given that I'd managed to spend the past few decades successfully ignoring line dancing I wasn't really planning on partaking but something about Nancy's infectious enthusiasm (and vice like grip) persuaded me otherwise. Despite my fleeing the floor after having nearly trampled a travel partner I was again encouraged by Nancy's vlg to take the floor and finally complete two whole dances. I then fled the floor leaving it to less lead footed delegates. All too soon, it was time to return to the hotel and have a nightcap in the hotel bar with some of the more determined delegates.

The Summing Up It was commented on by several people that the conference felt a lot more relaxed and less frenetic than some previous conferences. Whether that was down to the laid-back nature of the venue or the manageable schedule is a judgement call with the likely answer being a bit of both with some more thrown in for good measure. The ample opportunities for socialising with the great and the good of the Rev community was much appreciated and it was fun forging yet stronger links with so many of our foreign friends.

I imagine that the next conference will feature a whole host of new information both on O4W and on the new features in RevX. For now all we can say is a big thank you to Nancy and the team for once again hosting an excellent conference and strongly encourage you if you're not already to follow Carl's Blog for details of OI X and of course Martyn's blog for general Revelation news.

Watch this space!

From left to right -  Kevin Fournier (SRP), Andrew McAuley, Carl Pates, Aaron Kaplan (All Sprezz)

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