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My summer road trip on the AIR Bus

by Ryan Stewart

It isn't every day that you get to start work and then, a week later, get on a bus that will travel around the country, stopping at various cities to hold an event. That's exactly what happened when I started at Adobe and became a part of the Adobe on AIR Bus Tour.

The bus tour consists of 18 stops in North America to promote Adobe® AIR™, our new platform for developers to take their web skills and build real desktop applications. At each one of the stops, we would hold an event and invite developers to come check out Adobe AIR. The events were great, and we got to meet a lot of developers, but actually riding on the bus from city to city was an experience that you can't describe in one or two words.

Ryan in Cincinatti

Ryan Stewart presents at the Bell Museum in Cincinnati

AIR Camp Portland 1

The bus stops for AIR Camp Portland at Kell's, an Irish pub

AIR Camp Portland 2

Developers converge inside Kell's bar room

Danny in Vancouver

Danny Dura gets off the bus for AIR Camp Vancouver

AIR Camp Vancouver

Developers pack into the Temple Bar for AIR Camp Vancouver

Boys on the bus

Kevin Hoyt, Mike Downey, Daniel Dura, and Andre
Charland en route to AIR Camp Pittsburgh

AIR Bus outside Pittsburgh

AIR Bus arrives in Pittsburgh

The longest leg of our tour was the trek from Los Angeles to Dallas, which took us about 24 hours. On the longer treks, we would leave late at night, usually midnight or 1:00 AM, and then hang out while we rode along. At some point, we would fall asleep and then wake up and (hopefully) be closer to our destination. On the LA to Dallas trip, we woke up and still had quite a few hours to go. Luckily, we had a lot of stuff to help pass the time. The bus was chartered from a company that usually rents buses to rock stars. As a result, it was fully equipped with all the luxuries you'd expect. We had a couple of TVs with Xboxes connected to each one, as well as sound systems in the front and back of the bus. The bunks on the bus even had individual TVs, so you could go to the bunk and still be watching what everyone else was watching.

Even with a bus that had that many diversions, we had to make sure we didn't get on each other's nerves. The one rule we had on the bus was that you couldn't mess with anyone while they were in their bunk. Luckily, the group was pretty tame. A lot of people spent time developing applications.

We had the bus wired up so that people could track us and also watch what was going on inside the bus at any given time. Ted Patrick put together a chat application (built on top of AIR, of course) that we used quite a bit. It let people watch the live feed of the bus while being able to chat with us and anyone else using the application. It made for a good way to connect with people who were interested in the tour. We also had a GPS unit on the bus that fed into a makeshift server, and an application that would plot our location on a map. Edward Mansouri did a couple of cool mashups with the GPS information, including one that told us where the nearest Starbucks was to the bus at any given time. The bus APIs even got on ProgrammableWeb, a very popular mashup portal.

The best part of the bus tour was the guest stars, and getting to meet and hang out with so many cool people from the tech world. From San Francisco to Seattle, we had Robert Scoble on board and got to pick his brain about blogging and tech. He was also able to do an interview with Kevin Lynch, who rode on the bus part of the way to Seattle. Having guys like Andre Charland and Lee Brimelow on the bus for the full first leg was really cool. Lee's session on Flash and AIR always went over really well.

We also got some Ajax heavyweights on the bus. Dion Almaer from Ajaxian rode with us for a couple of stops and was a blast to hang out with. He gave us some great feedback on AIR and Ajax. We got an interview with him, Andre Charland, and Kevin Hoyt about how Ajax and AIR fit together. It's been these kind of impromptu conversations that made the trip so valuable. When you're essentially stuck on a bus with someone for that long, you're bound to get to know them a bit — and then you can start exchanging a lot of ideas with them.

On the second leg, we brought along Ben Forta, who was a huge hit at all the events, talking about ColdFusion and AIR. We also brought along Chafic Kazoun, who authored Programming Flex 2, which has been one of O'Reilly Media's bestsellers. Chafic talked about using native windows in AIR. We also got some time from Christian Cantrell, one of the AIR rock stars who works at Adobe. He covered the SQLite database and the APIs associated with it. When you get the chance to talk about technology with these kinds of people on a bus, you know it's special.

I think one of the things that stood out about the bus tour — for both the riders and the participants — were the venues. For the tour, we wanted something that was informal enough to keep it fun, but still conducive to a conference-style format. That's not an easy task, but it resulted in a lot of cool, quirky venues. My favorite was in Cincinnati, where we held the event in an old church that had been converted into a bell museum.

My official job title is rich Internet application evangelist, which draws some odd looks from my parents and friends. Because of the job title, giving the keynote address at the church venue in Cincinnati was both cool and very humbling. A lot of the other popular venues were microbreweries, which really helped capture the essence of what the tour was about — a bunch of developers hanging out and learning about Adobe AIR. The venue in Seattle was probably the best microbrewery we went to, but there were others as well.

It was surprising how much the weather played a part. In Vancouver, BC, we held the event on the covered rooftop of an Irish bar during record high temperatures. The room was packed and sweaty, but most people stayed for the entire thing. It's something we get to brag about now. In Atlanta, we were in a historic theater and got to present on a day when Michael Buble was performing (he had five tour buses!). It was funny to see everyone dressed up, headed for the theater, as we were finishing up. The venues for the bus tour helped give it a lot of personality and really made the events.

The Adobe on AIR Bus Tour has been a fantastic experience. Getting to talk to you, the developers, has been the best part by far. At every stop, we get a ton of great questions and people who want to show off the AIR application they've been building. To watch all of this excitement surrounding a runtime in beta is something very special, and it's an affirmation for me that AIR is something developers really want. Our mix has been about half Ajax developers and half Flash/Flex developers, so we're also drawing interest from a new group of developers. Adobe has always made great design tools and now we're starting to get developers excited about our platform.

This week, the bus tour wraps up with its final destination in Chicago for the MAX 2007 conference. If you're at MAX, I encourage you to come explore the bus and see what the fun is all about. You can't beat a bunch of geeks on a bus talking to developers and drinking beer!

 


Ryan Stewart is a platform evangelist for Adobe and has been doing Flex development for almost five years after starting out as a ColdFusion developer. He focuses on Adobe's platform technologies, including Flex, Adobe AIR, and Flash Catalyst.