Conceptual Reference Books vs. Tutorials

I need to learn Flex so that I can throw together a demo of an application in the next couple of weeks. I know what I need to do, some other kind soul has done the programming and even published the source for the hardest element in the application, so I just need to ramp up on the language so I can take that code and run with it.

Being a research queen, I headed over to Amazon to look at the reviews for Flex books. I read all of them and decided on Programming Flex 2… forgetting, apparently, that I have the attention span of a gnat and so a conceptual programming book is doomed to fail to teach me something new.

I did make it through 100 pages before MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) set in and I stopped being able to understand any of the words on the page. I shook the cobwebs out of my head and went back to Amazon and discovered that I probably wanted this book instead, since it’s in a tutorial format instead of the bone-dry lecture format of the other one. I was going to head down to Borders to get it, but my daughter called to be picked up from school so I didn’t get the chance.

Having returned home, I hunted for reasonable online FlexBuilder tutorials and found that Adobe actually has some really good tutorials in their documentation. Turns out that there’s also a special deal with their training provider for 30 days free, so I signed up for that. In fact, these two training courses map almost exactly to the book I didn’t end up buying and I’m probably going to get more out of an online presentation.

So, having read 5 chapters/100 pages of a perfectly good reference book in 3 hours this morning, I had a vague understanding of the overall application and how it worked, but no idea at all how to do anything in the application. Doing 11 tutorials later in the day (about 2 hours) got me much closer to where I want to be – I finally said “uncle” when my brains started dribbling out of my ears. I plan to spend the next couple of days doing more tutorials and then I think I’ll have more than enough experience to do what I need to do. Heck, a goodly part of my job is going to be making prototypes – I might as well learn this one really well before trying out OpenLaszlo.

What did I learn? O’Reilly makes really good reference books, but I just can’t learn from them. I need someone to tell me how to do various things and I’ll pick up all of the intricacies from that. I’m good at identifying when my kids aren’t learning something with a particular method, but it’s harder to remember that I have the same limitations. On the other hand, the O’Reilly book will be a good reference, so it wasn’t a waste of money.

Dialogue & Discussion