The Flash Platform in a multi-screen world
Day 3 sadly got off to a bad start by me. I embarrassingly assumed that Serge Jespers’ session entitled “The Flash Platform in a multi-screen world” would be about running a flash-based application across multiple monitors. So I went to his session, only to discover that he was indisposed (not sure if he was ill or not) and so Mark Doherty was standing in for him. I went to a talk by Mark last year. I have nothing personally against the guy, I just really do not like his presentation style, nor do I find his subject matter very interesting. By this point though, with the session having started, there was no point in me leaving and heading off to my second choice for this slot: Koen de Weggheleire’s talk on vectors, as that was in the Pavelion Threater and so would be full.
As a quick ranting aside, Koen’s talk was on real vectors, ie lines connecting points in n-dimensional space. It was not about the “generics by the back door, but only for one class” type-safe arrays that Adobe added to flash player 10, but then annoyingly called vectors. One would have thought that in a company that produces Illustrator and Flash, someone would have been able to explain to the developer involved just what a vector was, and what a type-safe array was. My guess is the developer in question in Java-trained as – as far as I know – Java was the first language to introduce this bizarre naming practice.
Anyway, as I had no interest in applications on mobile phones, which was the true topic of Serge – and thus Mark’s – talk, I spent the hour writing my day 2 blog post, which goes some way to explaining the horrendous number of mistakes in it that the boss spotted and kindly pointed out to me <blush>.
Preparing for the Flash Catalyst’s era
The next session was by Marco Casario and covered Flash Catalyst. This was another session that the boss and I attended together and we were split on our opinions of it. Marco has a style of presentation that seems to divide people. He plods along at a slow pace, covering things very carefully. The boss’ take on it was that Mike Anders built two Catalyst-based applications in 40 minutes and Marco didn’t even build one in over an hour (he overran). My take on it was that Mike Anders clicked away like mad, so I got an idea of what Catalyst could do, but no idea how he did it. Marco on the other hand took it nice and slow and so I now know how to navigate my way around Catalyst as a result.
After lunch (I skipped the next session as nothing appealed), was the “Jam Throwdown”. We had six top quality speakers given 10 minutes each. They’d had little time to prepare, so the fact that all six were great is a testament to their skill.
First up was Grant Skinner, showed us how he plays with balls a lot. Some of his balls were really quite pretty.
Next up was some guy – I didn’t get his name, sorry – doing some clever stuff with encoding images in ways that could be sent over twitter and other low-bandwidth mediums. This seemed to involve firstly reducing the image to a small number of cells (inversely sized in relation to the area’s complexity) and then iteratively generating images via deterministic “noise”, or rotating existing images and using “best fit” area matches to populate the image.
To dive off into yet another aside, it struck me as wonderfully ironic that, in an age where rather strange folk in the US patent office view editing XML data files as “invention”, this man was prepared to show us his genuine inventiveness with no strings attached. Hopefully he is happier than all the world’s software patent layers combined, as he deserves to be.
The next session was by Julian Dolce and was much more up my “Nerd Street”. It covered an ANT plugin that lets a developer working within FlexBuilder generate and test SWF’s from FLA’s. The caveat – I think – is the fact that it was achieved by driving the Flash authoring tool, so it was of little use to those of us who see the Flash authoring tool as little more than “a bit of a waste of money really”.
Next was a demonstration of some clever sound generating software by Andre Michelle. I have the musical ability of a two year old, so whilst undoubtedly clever, this stuff really went straight over my head.
Jeremy Thorp was the next speaker. He is currently working on designing a playground using software that randomly generates swirling paths through 3D space, constrained by the need for example for slopes of no more than 5 degrees, to ensure wheelchair access. Google Earth was used to get the terrain data and – assuming the satellite images get updated at some point, his “artwork” will also appear on Google Earth in future.
The final “speaker” was Joa Ebert, though he didn’t speak. Instead he wrote – from scratch in 9 minutes 40 seconds – a OpenGL-based Java program that played music and had a 3D shaded box-like visualisation component in it. And he used a blank-key Das Keyboard to do it. Every developer present now hates him as our bosses will be wanting to know why we can’t code that fast 🙂
Research Realtime graphics with Flash 10
Ralph Hauwert’s session in the Pavilion Theatre was packed out and the room was unpleasantly hot as a result. Having accidentally lost all the work he’d prepared for FOTB, he’d produced a new session that took us through his personal graphics journey, from the days of the Commodore 64, through the greatness that was the Amiga and on to Flash. Using 3D techniques that went totally over my head, he demonstrated some really amazing graphical effects that Flash can achieve. He interestingly also pointed out that little of it used pixel bender as it isn’t actually that fast compared with what can be achieved with AS3 and Alchemy (and presumably a lot of “tinkering”). At the end of his session, Ralph announced he was leaving the PaperVision team. As I wasn’t even aware he was on the PaperVision team, this announcement was wasted on me. I gather it came as a real shock to some people though.
The last session of the day was a really great inspirational talk by the ActionScript-programming, tattoo-covered, skateboarding artist, Joshua Davis. He was very funny, very talented and he did something truly amazing: he explained the point of Flash on the Beach to me. I tend to complain about the lack of developer-orientated sessions and the over-abundance of “arty farty inspiration” sessions. For example, Grant Skinner’s spheres spinning about on the screen pulsing in time to music are all very pretty, but they are useless. So why does Flash on the Beach have so many of them. Joshua’s take on it was that he spends around half of his year just playing with those “pretty, but they are useless” ideas and half actually doing productive work that earns him money. The former may not directly yield anything useful, but it inspires him in his productive work. Likewise, Grant’s spheres may not directly have any real-world use, but they inspire him to learn more about Maths, Flash and ActionScript and so indirectly benefit him in his real work.
If John Davey is reading this, I’m sure he’s thinking “finally, the dimwitted developer has got it” as I’m sure that was John’s aim all along with FOTB: to inspire people to think beyond their comfort zone and to open their minds to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It’s taken me three years to get it, but I finally have got it. I’ll still continue to want more of the seriously hard-core nerdy programming sessions that I tend to bemoan the lack of, but I’ll also embrace the inspirational sessions far more too.
To wrap up, I’d like to publicly make a suggestion to John Davey. Each year, the number of attendees at Flash on the Beach. This year, hundreds of people really did say “bollocks to the recession, let’s go to Flash on the Beach” and they did so in record numbers. The result though was that the Pavilion Theatre could not cope with the numbers of people that wanted to attend the sessions there. If the conference is to grow any more, then it needs a bigger venue. The obvious solution (I’ve no idea of the practicality) is to expand it into the Theatre Royal, which is opposite the Dome and to add a forth, more technical, “track” that would take place in the Pavilion Theatre. That way the numbers of people attending could increase and we could have more technical sessions. Everyone would then be a winner.
So that’s it, the sensation that is Flash on the Beach 2009 is over and it was absolutely brilliant. Here’s looking forward to next year…