Handyman Toolkit

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By the end of Chapter 5 of the book, I’ve discovered that yes, you can learn how to use this software without the assistance of a book, but had I been able to obtain this book a year ago when I started tinkering with Blend during my spare time, I would have greatly benefited from having this “in my back pocket” sort to speak.

The biggest confusion factor which I had when cutting myself off of Adobe products, cold turkey, to force myself to learn how to use Design and Blend, was the “when do I use the stackpanel over wrap panel?” or “Should I make this a canvas or a grid?”. Plus there was the creation of something primarily vector instead of part raster and part vector – that bit is something that illustrator gurus will likely not have any problems with, but most who design for the web tend to take preference to Photoshop – and only on occasion delve into primarily vector bases.

Now, the intent of this chapter was to get you familiar with the Layout elements and the unique attributes each layout element presents, however, there are underlying instructions which would assist a raster-based designer into being more comfortable with the ideas and ease when using vector shapes. They’re not that different to create and have the added scalability that raster(bitmap based) images just cannot do due to their innate nature.

In any event, the entire chapter is essentially “This is what X is, how about we apply this to give you hands-on experience with X”. We went over the following: Border, Canvas, DockPanel, Grid, Scroll Viewer, StackPanel, UniformGrid, ViewBox, and WrapPanel layout elements.

By the end of the chapter, the application is like a circus of vendors in graphical format. Victor is sure to mention in his book that he’s well aware of the lack of space towards the end.

Without further ado, I present my circus:

Click to view full sized image
Click to view full sized image

3DImage – a video of the lab

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Depending on the project and the visuals, I felt that it would be beneficial to not only blog about the experience while going through the book, but to give further visuals for those who are following this blog – perhaps it will assist those in making their decision as to which books might be good – so here is a youtube video of one of the very first things which you are walked through doing in Victor Gaudioso’s book on Expression Blend 2.  This is at the very end of chapter 3 and is pretty easy to do.  I took it a step further than explained, but if you are following along in the book, you’ll notice that nothing that I have done here is outside the scope of information that has been explained through the first few chapters.  To reword that: If you’ve never used MS Expression Blend before, you could use the knowledge gained up to this point to emulate what is done in this video.

Chapter 3 – The Pan Tool

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I’m nearly through chapter 3 and I feel the need to take note here in the blog of a few points which I keep finding, forgetting, and finding again – which he mentions in this chapter.

The double-clicking of the Pan tool.

Far too often when I’m working on UI, I zoom in very closely on my objects to make sure that everything is lining up, every detail is perfected, and often I find the answer to the, “I’m not quite sure why, but that doesn’t look quite right – can’t put my finger on it, I just know that its not right.” by zooming in.

All of that sounds great – detail oriented being a rule of thumb of mine, however, there’s 1 issue with zooming in: It often is difficult to get to OTHER objects without zooming out, locating item, and the zooming back in.

Well Expression blend has a nifty thing with their pan tool.  When you double-click on it, your view will center on whatever object it is that you’re clicked upon in you objects bar.

When I’m not remembering that this functionality is there, it drives me nuts trying to remember what it is that I did in the past to make quick moving w/o zooming out.  Hopefully making note of it here will keep it more permanently in my mind.

Btw, if you’re lost – I’m going through Victor Gaudioso’s book on Microsoft Expression Blend and blogging as I go.

Chap 2 *check* Moving right along

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I’ve finally completed chapter 2 (didn’t take very long – lots and lots of comments though… ) and I would have to say that I am happy with the book so far.

It maintains my first impressions – that the author is talking to me as opposed to writing a book.  I have a very difficult time getting through books which are so “technical manual” that the words start meshing together like someone who hasn’t a clue how to enunciate.

The final product from chapter 2’s “lab” also included something about triggers that I didn’t know.  I’ve been hand-coding triggers with my very limited knowledge of C# when I could have been using blend to do it all for me.

My conclusion: This book will likely fill in far more blanks than I imagined, when chapter 2 has already brought me to an easier way to do things… though I’m the type of person who somehow always manages to learn something the more difficult way and at some point after, often WAY after, I locate a much quicker, simpler, and easier way to do that same something.

Makes one highly appreciative when you go about learning things that way.

Onward to chapter 3.

Victor's book, Chap 2 – Alert! A discrepency is spotted!

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There is no possible way to actually get through and locate every single error and discrepency in a book. The hundreds of times the author and editors comb through the book and modify things – by the end, I’m sure the entire team feels dog-tired.

However, I’m someone going through the book and using it. My job is to be snobbish, accusatory and unappreciative, as well as blissfully ignorant of the high levels of iterations and reiterations that went into said book. Oh, and I’m supposed to say things like, “I could have spotted this from a mile away” or something to that effect.  I cannot forget the most important part: I must have a high level of grammatical and spelling errors to give a level of poetic irony.

I hate doing things that I’m “supposed” to do.

But I will point out 1 mistake/discrepency here and well – I’ll likely point out the others which I come across because its fun that I spotted it and its even MORE fun to tell that I spotted it.

Anyway, in Chapter 2 you’re requested on page 35 to modify your TextBlock size to w: 400px h:100px and in the screenshot of the program where you make these changes, the comments below the screenshot example read:

“Figure 2-19. Changing the Width and Height of your [TextBlock] to 400 and 100, respectively”

Then later, after modifying the foreground colors to be nearly jab-my-eyeballs-out gradients (sorry, I’m not a fan of the standard use of green-white-red gradients for the purpose of tutorials and teaching material. I find that practice to be abhorrent and if you’re going to really go after something that is easily observed, why not go all the way towards horrible colors instead of half way? Use neon pinks or something, it would match the book’s cover too! I hate pink, but going along w/ the theme presented from the cover, let’s take it home all the way, man!! Consistency! Consistency!), you encounter on page 38 the line:

“Because you set your [TextBlock] to the Width of 600 and a Height of 100…”

Wait, I did what?

I didn’t set my text block to a width of 600 – I set it to a width of 400. *twitch*

Ok, its fairly minor, but I’ll go ahead and change my TextBlock to 600 since you said that I already did. Maybe he’s just trying to use “The Secret” on the readers?

Edit: Just after posting this, I continued and almost immediately stopped because I was trying to as closely emulate his “lab” by using the same font-type.  He has in his picture the font-type of “Segoe UI”.  At first glance, that is likely not an issue.  However, when looking through my own listing of fonts, I’m finding that I don’t have said font.  I’m going to make a guess at where this font came from: One of his recent clients!!  I could be wrong, but w/ it having the label of “UI”, I would be willing to guess that this might be the name of the font which is named to assist with quick-reference, and “UI” designates where that font is used.  Woopsy!  The image of the font looks very very similar to Verdana but with slight modifications to make it almost DIN-Medium.

Chapter 2's "Hello World"

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Going through Victor’s book – chapter 2 is fairly short, but the “lab” at the end of it, the typical “Hello World” which is seen, as he mentions in his book, in most every book or introductory guide to programming, application development, and other types – is already a bit obsolete with the releases of later versions and updates to Blend.

Please note: His “Hello World” is not anywhere nearly as boring as many.  He goes through a lot of the basic orientational-use of Blend including gradients, modifying colors, color stop properties, application window resizing, key-frame animations, quick-key uses, and more.  Its more than worth going through.

In his book, he indicates that gradients start out left-to-right, and instead modifies things to go top to bottom.  Unless I’ve modified my default settings (which I don’t recall doing), mine is set exactly the opposite.  The “Gradient Brush” on mine starts from top to bottom, so several parts of the tutorial, including the very eye… catching *cringe* Christmas colored “Hello World”, which gradients from Red to White to Neon Green, will require you to rotate the gradient angle.   Remember, much like Adobe products, holding the shift-key down will maintain true-angles, which assists in obtaining an accurate rotation of exact 90¤.

I have to note that earlier, I asked the “Why?!” of the C: drive for locatino of projects.  I’m beginning to see why he has that as his choice.  For the purpose of this book, having everything held within a root “Projects” directory makes guiding those reading the book, quite easy.  Most who will be using this book who have different preferences will just place things wherever they want anyway, so it really doesn’t matter except for the use of guidance within the book where a person puts items, so long as they know where the file was placed.  Typical document saving 101.