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Flash on the Beach 2010 - Day 1

Flash on the Beach 2010 - Day 1

It's that time of the year again where the European Flash community migrate in droves to the cold southern coast of England. As usual, the attendees of the FOTB conference got a humorous treat at the opening ceremony - with a Flash-Boyband-act featuring Steve Jobs! After that Adobe followed up with sneaks for Flash Player 11, Flash Professional, Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst.

After the this years stunning title sequence, conference organizer John Davey got the show started. He did a quick check of how many attended the conference for the first time by asking them to stand up and surprisingly almost half the room got up. He also did the inverse called out the veterans that had been there all the five years and not surprisingly that wasn't just as many. First up on stage was no less than four Adobe product managers for the keynote of the conference.

Keynote

Richard Galvan (Product Manager for Flash Professional) & Thibault Imbert (Product Manager for Flash Player) took stage in front of a fully packed room and started off by going over a little Flash history. This was a nice trip down memory lane and it's amazing when you think about what this little plugin has become capable of. From it's start in animation to the fully fledged engine now running even on mobile devices with Flash Player 10.1.

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Despite Steve Jobs famous Thoughts on Flash, the platform is doing better than ever and it's such an important addition to competing phones that companies such as Samsung and Motorola highlight the Flash Player as a core feature in their new phones. Motorla even ran full page ads mocking Apple saying "Flash websites? There’s a phone for that".

They also showed the Samsung Galaxy running flash pretty smoothly, full screen in the browser, with advanced content such as the Audio Tool that is an online music generation and performance tool. Next up in the Keynote was the part that we love the most at these conferences - sneaks of new features!

Keynote sneaks

This part of the keynote was started with a look back at the last months development with the new 64-bit Flash Players released on Adobe Labs and the Internet Explorer 9 hardware compositing using the GPU to draw the Flash content. The first demo was no less than stunning and it's going to benefit everyone that uses the Flash Player - not only the developers. Thibault Imbert, the Flash Player pm showed 1080p video playing in the browser consuming about 50% of his Macbook's CPU. He then switched to a new version of the player pulling only 6% CPU! He also showed the same video playing with a complex overlay with no hit in performance and only 15% cpu use. This is going to do wonders for video on the web and it's also the first time it's been showed publicly what Adobe can achieve when now that Apple finally opened up access to the hardware.

 

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Next up were some sneaks for Air 2.5 and Flash Professional. Those that have played around with Android development have realized that the process has been a little cumbersome. In the upcoming version, Flash can publish directly to the Android device if it's plugged in via USB! Not only that - there's a new Export as bitmap (under render drop down) feature that will render vector content as bitmap right on the stage, but you can still resize, let go, then it will re-rasterize again.

The feature that really wow'ed the crowd though was a demo of incremental compilation. If an MP3 (or other asset) isn't changed, it won't have to re-apply the compression so the compile time will be considerably less!

Food betas!

Next up in the keynote was Andrew Shorten (Product Manager for Flash Builder) and Doug Winnie (Flash Catalyst product manager), showing off the new two-way interaction between the two products. Yes - you can soon go back and forth and this does indeed make Catalyst more interesting. Another new feature was "suction cups" to lock objects position and sizing based on constraints and you can now also preview real time scaling of Catalyst projects directly in the IDE.

Neat stuff, but we're not entirely sold on Catalyst yet. In Flash Builder, the design view now draws much faster and you'll get more code completion and code hints in the upcoming version.

The new versions are codenamed after sandwiches (Burrito for Builder & Panini for Catalyst) and we'll certainly see more about these at the Adobe MAX conference next month.

 

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Marc Thiele, Andre Michelle and Frank Reitberger checking out the program using the FOTB iPhone app

Grant Skinner

The first session of the day for me, after the keynote, was Grant Skinner's talk entitled ADHD FTW LOL!. Always a crowd favorite, Grant usually does a more technical talk, but this time around he discussed how himself and his team have been able to do such amazing work for so long by taking little pockets of time (20-30 minutes a day) to just play.

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Grant getting ready for his presentation, Photo by Marc Thiele

He started off the talk with a slide showing how many Flash developers, including himself, are an odd mix of polar opposites including logic/creativity and focussed/distractible, but even though these were competing personality traits, they could be used to create some very interesting work, especially the distractible one. Apparently, if you take just 20 minutes a day to just play around with code, or whatever, you will accumulate 3 weeks of that time by the end of the year. This may sound like 3 weeks of wasted time, but he had several compelling arguments (including a Coke project and offers from 3 gaming companies) to the contrary.

Some of the big reason for taking this play time include:

  • Avoiding Boredom - sometimes pulling a problem out of its context and playing with it will create a better solution faster than just staring at it.
  • Develop new skills - he talked about teaching himself proper 3D, because of an experiment he saw.
  • Create opportunity - he mentioned building a demo game using multiple android-based devices, and posting a video on vimeo, then getting 3 offers from gaming companies shortly there after.
  • Create usable code and tools - he showed the tool RegExr as an example of that).

And he showed plenty of great examples of things that have come out of this including his multi-player asteroid game, a 3D kaleidoscope, and a record player that plays MP3s and adds the noise found in real vinyl. He also ended by reminding us to not worry about failure, because if you're doing it right, you will occasionally fail, and taking risks is where all the fun is anyway.

Stacey Mulcahy - Developing for the Social Media Douchebag - an Intro to Social API's

If you follow Stacey on Twitter, you know she knows a lot about Social APIs and services. Her stream is like a constant stream of lovely interruptions to your workflow and it takes a lot of practice not to follow them all as you know they'll be funny.

Lately she's been working on an application that allows businesses to monitor social networks and what is happening around their brand, including a complete workflow for handling these interactions among a team. The session was filled with lots of gems presented in Stacey's straightforward no-bullshit tone.

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Nobody cares about your stupid (farmville) farm

She started off talking about Facebook and why everyone that have ever worked with it hates it. It's hard to be everyone's friend and she said "I won't add you unless I've had at least two drinks with you". Another lesson learned was that when working with these services, you should always have a backup plan. Make sure you're planning for failure. The APIs will fail (often) so it's a matter of handling the Fail gracefully.

After sharing a few Facebook and Twitter gotchas, she went over to talk about how important it had been to do something fun while working with those APIs. Playing with Twitter + Hype + Robotlegs + Air produced a fun app that had the crowd cracked up for the last 10 minutes of the talk. As many of the other talkes this year, this talk was quite untechnical, but highly amusing!

Conrad Winchester: RobotLegs + Signals

The Pavillion was full for Conrad Winchester’s session on RobotLegs and Signals. Conrad, a memorable graduate of last year’s Elevator Pitch, gave a well-structured talk on the benefits of MVC and the RobotLegs framework. Using a simple calculator as an example he evolved the app from a single class to a cleanly separated MVC codebase using Robot Legs and Signals.

With the first iteration he separated out the model, explaining that this allows for unit tests to be made on the calculations. Further iterations separated the classes out into Model, View and Controller. It’s notoriously hard to gauge the technical level of a room but as this session dealt with a specific implementation of MVC it’s likely most of the attendees were familiar with the pattern. 

The history of Actionscript MVC frameworks is long and varied but almost all of them are the work of Java developers working with the Flex framework. RobotLegs is relatively recent but is becoming a popular choice. It’s light (around 30k) and uses metadata for dependency injection. This requires much less boilerplate than other alternatives. 

Conrad showed how the RobotLegs message bus works using simple clear diagrams. Flash events are passed via the bus to other parts of the application. The most common criticism of Flash events is the “magic string” system of identification. Robert Penner’s solution for this is called Signals. These are essentially instances of events. The major benefit being that they are type-safe.

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In the final part of the session Conrad combined RobotLegs with Signals. This simple yet powerful addition simplifies the code even further whist providing type-safe events. There was a lot to take in with this session but it was very useful.

Robert Hodgin

The last talk of the night before dinner break was Robert Hodgin. I've been a big fan of his work since he first spoke at Flash on the Beach 3 years ago. His work has since expanded in new directions, but continues to awe the crowd.

He started with a little history of himself. Getting his first computer, going to math-focused school then graduating and going to art school, and how that had a major impact on his career. He also showed some early computer-generated art, including a lot of fractals and mandelbrots, even some generated in 3d, which was crazy.

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He, then moved into some of his work starting with a newer experiment he built for the release of Cinder, an open source C++ library for creative coding. The experiment was a Reaction Difusion explorer, and was very impressive seamlessly moving from what looked like liquid ripples to dune migration patters with just a couple keystrokes from Robert. He also showed the experiment he built as a 5-step tutorial for Cinder, a simple particle system used to draw in a picture.

He then quickly jumped to what he called "his latest obsession", magnets. He showed some striking pieces he built by simply stacking these tiny magnets onto one another to create very intricate 3d shapes. He showed a single piece that had 6,000 magnets in it.

As he continued to show more of his work, some new, some I had seen before, he kept coming back to something he'd learned. He showed a piece he collaborated with a cello player on where he generated a landscape and moved through it with trees and grass as well as some light particles. Then he showed a picture of a huge tree on a coast line. He showed the work he did generating butterfly wings, then showed a picture or a real butterfly. He showed and talked about the work he had to do to simulate collision detection in snakes, then he jokingly talked about he easy collision detection seemed to work in real snakes. What had happened over the years of building natural simulations in code was that he said his appreciation for these objects in nature had grown.

As always, Robert's presentation was inspirational and extremely enjoyable to watch. His work definitely requires a big screen to fully appreciate it.

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This first day also featured Mario Klingemann's last talk for some time ahead. He is now taking a break from public speaking and given the amount of research that goes into the sessions he presents, this is very understandable. I only caught the last part of his session, but he had built a puzzle-solving machine/software! Got to love that!

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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