Chris Caldwell

As Creative Director for gskinner, Chris constantly pushes the boundaries of technology and design. His innovation has allowed him to work with large brands such as Google, Atari and NASCAR, and earned him multiple international recognitions from the Webby’s, FWA’s and Pixel Awards. To learn more, connect with Chris online at CodePen.io/chriscaldwell or on Twitter @caldwellcreates.

A Mental Model for Media Queries

Handling layout changes across a broad landscape of devices and browsers typically involves the use of media queries, which enable layouts to bend and flex based on their viewing environment.

Most queries I see are built around the concept of width:

@media screen and (max-width: 640px) {
    body { background-color: blue; }
}

I love the simplicity of this methodology. It’s straightforward, easy to implement, and it works with content that comprises most websites. But what about web-based apps, the website’s younger cousin? Is this model the most effective media query strategy that can help us with the unique challenges of designing web applications? Continue reading →

RegExr v2: Build, Test, & Learn RegEx

RegExr is exactly six years old today. Built in Flex and AS3, it was a largely accidental outcome of exploring a few technical concepts I was interested in at the time (tokenizers/lexers, advanced text interactions, regular expressions).

RegExr v1 circa 2008

I thought the end result might be useful to others struggling to learn or work with RegEx, so I released it online. Its popularity took me by surprise, with around 10M hits and 150K patterns saved to date. This is despite being essentially abandoned since 2008.

I’m happy to announce that the neglect is finally ending, with today’s release of RegExr v2. Rebuilt from scratch in HTML/JS, and (hopefully) improved in every way. I’d like to believe that RegExr v2 is the best way to learn, build and test RegEx online today.

RegExr v2

Key features:

  • clean, modern design
  • video tutorial
  • expression syntax coloring
  • underlines expression errors in red
  • contextual help for all regex tokens and errors on rollover
  • updates matches as you type
  • support for testing substitution/replace
  • full reference of all JS RegEx tokens, with loadable examples
  • searchable database of community submitted patterns
  • drag and drop text files to load their content
  • save and share patterns with others via direct links
  • undo/redo
     

I also dug through over 240 comments on the original blog post, and implemented a ton of suggestions:

  • larger monospaced text and support for browser zoom (my eyes are older, my monitors are larger, and 10pt font just doesn’t seem so cool now)
  • vastly improved tokenizer, that is (hopefully) 100% accurate to JS RegExp standards
  • improved documentation, now with examples
  • support for pasting full expressions (including flags)
  • save includes your sample and substitution text
     

Now that it’s released, we’re going to try not to let it stagnate again. The first order of business is to clean up the code and commit it to the RegExr GitHub repo, so that it becomes a living project with community support.

We’re also going to try to clean up the existing community patterns – likely scrubbing any that now have errors (due to differences in AS3 and JS for example).

Following that, I’m going to be taking a look at different options for wrapping it in a desktop installer, so you can run it offline and save your favourites locally (input on this is welcome). I’d also love to make it usable on mobile devices, not because I think there’s a huge demand for testing regular expressions on mobile phones, but as a challenge to see if it can be done well – I think the “click to insert” feature of the reference library could work really well.

I’m also planning to write up a blog post exploring some of the technical challenges and decisions that we made while building this.

If you enjoy using RegExr, you can help out by tweeting, facebooking, gPlussing, blogging, or otherwise sharing/linking to it so others can find it. Version 1 disappeared almost completely from Google a few months ago (I believe they downgraded pages with only Flash content), and I’d really like it to recover in the rankings.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think of the new version of RegExr, and any feedback on how to make it even better.

New versions of CreateJS released!

Wow. What a difference of couple of years makes. Most of you have noticed a shift in the industry over the last two years towards HTML5 — instead of running away from this change, we’ve embraced it. Our response was CreateJS: a collection of Javascript libraries that allow us to create the same high quality experience and quick turnaround that we are known for.

Not only has the framework been a major part of our development, but some great tools have been created to improve user workflow, such as ToolKit for CreateJS and Zoë.

We are happy to announce new versions of the CreateJS Libraries, available now on the CreateJS CDN and GitHub.

This update includes a new common event model, vastly improved documentation, and a ton of new features and fixes for each library. For specific information on the changes, please review the VERSIONS.txt file in the relative GitHub repositories.

We have also introduced a minified CreateJS library to the CDN, containing all the latest libraries in one handy file.

With this release, we are happy to announce the launch of the CreateJS blog, which will provide a centralized location for announcements and articles about the libraries. Read more about the update to the CreateJS libraries here.

Thank you all for testing, feedback, contributions, and bug reports…keep them coming!

The Evolution of (Web) Development Tools

I’ve seen a few people complaining about and/or questioning the lack of mature tools to develop content for the modern web (aka HTML5), and it got me thinking about the evolution of these tools, and how challenges are solved for technology platforms in general.

In my (albeit limited) experience, there is a natural progression for a maturing technology stack, particularly one without a single master (ex. Flash and iOS development differ somewhat because the tools and platform are directed/developed by the same entity).

First, you will see the development of a lot of frameworks, starting with micro-libraries that address a single challenge, and evolving to macro-frameworks like JQuery that tackle an entire workflow. Developing frameworks has a very low barrier to entry, and provides an ideal way for developers to explore and share a variety of potential solutions for challenges. Because the libraries are written in the domain language, it also means that any developer encountering a problem can address it directly with a language they are familiar with.

As problems become better defined, and specific solutions begin to emerge as more dominant, you start to see single purpose tools created, often as command-line utilities. These have an increased investment compared to frameworks, and require that the developer has knowledge of both the problem domain, and basic desktop development.

Next, you will see partial workflow tools, which aggregate and leverage the single purpose tools (either directly, or by borrowing approaches). These put a UI on top of a number of solutions to make them more accessible to users. Again, these involve increased investment, and require additional capability (UX/UI design, more advanced desktop development).

Finally, you will see the emergence of full-scale workflow tools. These represent a major investment, generally require a team of specialists to create, and are built over the course of months or years. As such, they need to build on top of standards, approaches, and frameworks that have been well vetted by real-world use. Even then, their early releases will be limited, and will require a huge amount of community feedback and multiple revisions to “get it right”. With this in mind, early release with rapid iteration is a critical practice for any tool that aims to be successful in this space.

As an aside, code editors tend to follow an accelerated path, simply because the problems they are solving are less tied to a specific technology platform, and have been thoroughly explored for other languages.

Of course, none of these steps happen in isolation. In the JS world, you can see all of these underway simultaneously. There is an unending stream of new frameworks, as developers explore challenges, with a number of more mature ones gaining traction. There are a number of popular single-purpose tools (ex. LESS, Closure Compiler, Zoë). There are a few partial workflow tools (ex. CodeKit). And finally, there are a number of early entries in the more robust tool category (Edge, Sencha Animator, Flash Pro’s Wallaby, etc).

Further, this evolution is massively complicated and slowed in the HTML/JS world by the constant flux of the technology, the non-trivial issue of supporting multiple browsers/platforms, and the question of legacy support. Tool makers need to wait for a standard (or more frequently, a collection of standards) to stabilize and be broadly adopted/accepted before they can risk the investment to build on top of it.

This is obviously a simplified look at the problem, but hopefully helps illustrate where things are today, and why we don’t have access to fully mature tools for HTML5 development yet. They are coming, but it’s going to be an incremental process.

Updates to EaselJS, SoundJS, TweenJS & Zoë!

I’m very happy to announce that I’ve pushed major updates to a number of our javascript tools and libraries for developing rich content with HTML5. It’s very exciting for me to see these starting to realize some of the vision I’ve had for them over the past year, both as individual pieces and as a suite of tools to make great interactive content using web standards.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what was released:

EaselJS v0.4.0
The latest release of EaselJS (our HTML5 display library) has a completely reengineered sprite sheet engine, which includes a host of new features: multi-image sprite sheets, variable frame dimensions, frame reuse, image preloading, and a new data format. Note that this change will require some minor updates to existing content using sprite sheets in EaselJS.

We’ve added filter effects, and a few sample filters, including a box blur filter by Mario Klingemann, who has agreed to write a number of other filters for the library.

There’s also a fantastic new build system, built on top of Node.js by Adobe’s own Mike Chambers. And, of course, a whole pile of other feature additions, optimizations and bug fixes. Check the VERSIONS file for full details.

Zoë v1.5.0
We’ve released a major update to Zoë, our tool for exporting sprite sheets from SWF animations. It supports EaselJS’s new data format, and adds some great new features like variable frame dimensions with more optimal rect packing, and intelligent frame reuse. The latter allows you to set a threshold for how similar frames can be, and Zoë will automatically remove similar frames and reuse them in animations. Testing on some old content, we saved 20-50% on file size with this feature, with virtually no decrease in animation quality.

This release was a bit more rushed than we would have liked, so you should expect to see a v1.5.1 release before too long that polishes things up and adds additional features such as multi-image export.

TweenJS v0.1.0
This is the first “official” release of TweenJS. TweenJS uses a simple API of chained commands to sequence tweens and actions to create complex animations and timed events. For example:

Tween.get(ball).to({x:200},500).wait(750).to({alpha:0,visible:false}).call(onComplete);

TweenJS makes a great companion to EaselJS, and also has some basic support for working with CSS properties, which will be extended in future versions.

SoundJS v0.1.0
This is also the first official release of SoundJS, our library for working with the HTML5 Audio tag. Sound in HTML5 is a complete mess to work with, and this library aims to make it a bit easier. It handles preloading, allows you to assign a fixed number of tags to a specific sound, provides volume control, and manages sound interruption.

This library is still a little rough, but we’re planning to continue to clean it up and add functionality (ex. WebAudio support) as time permits.

in summary
All of these projects are free and open source, released under the highly permissive MIT license, and are hosted on GitHub. I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to these releases, even if just by providing feedback or encouragement. Hopefully people find these useful in their own quests to build amazing content for the web!

As an aside, now that these releases are out of the way, I’m considering doing a series of posts or videos on getting started with some of these libraries. I think it would be particularly relevant as Flash developers start looking to create content in HTML5, and web developers look to create more interactive content.

Music Visualizer in HTML5 / JS with Source Code

It’s no secret that I like building music visualizers, or that I’ve been playing with HTML5 a fair amount lately. Given that, I thought I’d combine the two interests, and build a music visualizer using JS, the canvas & audio elements in HTML5, and the EaselJS framework.

The primary challenge was that Javascript doesn’t have any built in mechanism for accessing the volume of a playing audio tag. To address this I wrote a little AIR application that will read an MP3 file using Sound.extract() and export peak volume data as a text or JPG image file. I then wrote a JS class called VolumeData.js that reads in these files and provides access to the data via a simple interface (ex. myVolumeData.getVolume(time) ).

With those pieces in place and tested, I started putting together a demo of it in action using EaselJS. Two of the newest features were compositeOperation support (which let me approximate an “add” blend mode), and the drawPolyStar method, both of which I used to excess.

I think the end result is pretty cool, though it requires a fairly modern system, and will still melt your CPU – I was intentionally pushing things hard to try to find the performance limit. It requires an up to date browser to run.

I built two variations: Star Field and Atomic. Occasionally dynamic audio loading seems to break on certain browsers, just reload if it gets stuck on “loading music”.

If you’re interested in building your own music visualizers in HTML5/ Javascript, you can download the demo source, VolumeData.js class (MIT licensed) and VolumeData AIR application here. Also, be sure to check out the latest version of EaselJS (we just released v0.3.2 today).

Please let me know if you build anything cool with the code. I’d love to see it.

Zoë: Export SWF Animation as EaselJS SpriteSheets

Alongside the release of EaselJS v0.3 we’re also releasing the first version of Zoë, a free Adobe AIR application for exporting SWF animations as sprite sheets (single images containing a grid of animation cells), including frame data for use with EaselJS.

This means you can use Flash Pro to lay out your animations then very easily prep them for use with EaselJS and the HTML5 canvas element.

We used an early version of Zoë to prep all of the animations for the Pirates Love Daisies game we released a few weeks ago, which let our illustration team work with a tool they felt comfortable with, using tweens, skeleton constraints, and graphic symbols.

Here’s a quick feature overview:

  • Exports a single sprite sheet image, or individual frames
  • Reads frame labels in the swf to generate frame data.
  • Writes frame data as JSON or EaselJS files
  • Calculates the frame dimensions automatically based on the animation content
  • Saves profiles to make it easy to re-export when art changes

And a screenshot:

You can grab Zoë from easeljs.com/zoe.html. It’s currently not open source, but we’ll likely release the source once we have a chance to fix any major issues that arise with the public release and clean up the code.