Friday 9 July 2010

Flash Camp Manchester

I spent yesterday at Flash Camp Manchester, a completely free event for Flash devs in the north west. I've never been to anything like this before (big events like this doesn't happen too often up this end of the country), but I'm really glad I went, it turned out to be a pretty fun and informative day (and we got some nice swag too, of course!)

The keynote by the Adobe people was more of a sales pitch than anything else, which I guess is fine considering they're... well, they're Adobe and we love their products (for the most part). The problem for me was that they were trying to sell Flash Catalyst to us, and I still don't see the point in it. As far as I can tell (and stop me if I'm wrong), it's a visually-oriented companion to Flex/Flash Builder, that lets people jam together prototypes and stuff without getting into code. But... why? It might just be me, maybe I missed the boat with this one, but I can't see myself spending a few hours dicking around in Catalyst when I could make better use of the time by getting stuck into the project itself. It's supposed to be a rapid prototyping tool, but prototyping what exactly? The only thing I think we as developers would need to prototype would be complex interaction or something like that, whereas Catalyst basically allows us to layout reasonably complete presentation pages. (Direct quote from the presentation: "no code, no thinking". Really?). If I want to prototype page content, I'll use Indesign, Powerpoint, or whatever (or even *gasp* a pencil and some pieces of paper). If I want to prototype interaction I'll damn well use Flash! There's absolutely no reason you can't knock out a quick and dirty proof-of-concept piece of Flash in half an hour. Please someone correct me if I've grossly missed the point with Catalyst, but at the moment it's a resounding "pffft" from me.

Next up was a guy representing the Open Source Media Framework, and this session kind of confused me for a while. The presentation was immediately very technical (explaining functionality and bits of code and all sorts), and I didn't really have a very good idea of what OSMF was, and what it could do for me. Turns out that OSMF is actually a brilliant idea, and something that I can absolutely benefit from using (as I've no doubt ranted before, my hatred of working with Flash video is relentless and furious). It looks really exciting anyway; having a single media player solution that doesn't care what you throw at it is hugely appealing, it's just a shame that the presentation was so confusing initially. I'll definitely be investigating it further before I tear my hair out on my next video project.

The Adobe guys came back at this point, to show us some more Catalyst. I said: pffft.

The next presentation was arguably the best one of the day, Michael Plank from Powerflasher came on and explained a little about FDT, before sticking a song on and writing the fastest code in the (north) west! The point of the exercise was to demonstrate that the features in FDT can speed your coding up by automating or assisting with common tasks. I'd dabbled with FDT before, but never seen anyone use it expertly, so it was a real eye-opener to discover just how awesome it actually is when you know what you're doing. And what's more, the Powerflasher guys gave us all a free copy of FDT 3.5 Pure too. It's an approach that's completely at odds with the way Adobe do things: Powerflasher haven't sat and trawled through a feature list, they just did a fun, rapid-fire demo and then gave us the software, which is definitely the way to do it in my book. Great session.

At first glance, I didn't think the next session would interest me too much, as I'm not particularly into mobile development (of course I'm sure that will all change when I bag a sexy Android phone when I upgrade...). It turned out to be a really interesting 45 minutes, with the Ribot guys giving us some insight into mobile development and how people interact with everything in general. By far the most interesting thing they came out with was an experiment into which finger people use to ring doorbells. Of course, we all assume the index finger, but it turns out that the answer was the thumb. This didn't make any sense to me, until they revealed that the survey group were all teenagers: their physical behavior has been altered by their high mobile use (text a lot, and you'll ring doorbells differently: fact.). I found this absolutely mind-boggling anyway, and am now thoroughly paranoid about how I ring doorbells. Thanks guys.

The Android session by the Adobe guys was great: really insightful, especially considering I'm still pondering my next phone. Well, I shall ponder no more, it's Android all the way. Not much to comment on here, but once I get stuck into mobile apps I'm sure I'll have a hell of a lot more to say! :D

To close the day, Seb came on and, despite technology seeming to hate him, stole the show. I'd seen a lot of it before, but it's always nice to see half the room waving their arms manically and shouting like idiots (unnecessarily, heh!).

So yeah, it was a long (and hot!) but thoroughly inspiring day. And if nothing else, I now have a copy of FDT, and of course: a Rubik's cube. Win.


  1. Hi Dan,

    Glad you enjoyed the event, its clear that the Midlands User Group is growing strong! It was great to come to Manchester for a couple of days, and our intention (now that we've got Mike on board) is to visit more often.

    I can only apologise if our keynote sounded like a sales pitch, the intention was to mix it up from the norm, but the Internet/WIFI was against us. Our "push" around Catalyst was prompted by a feedback that folks didn't know what it was for, so let me explain..

    As Evangelists, our role is to keep people up to speed on the platform, we're thinking "what can I use this for?".

    We've got tons of ideas, and the most obvious one is building apps, but Mike was showing a prototyping workflow that starts in Catalyst, as opposed to Photoshop, to demonstrate that it can stand on it's own.

    Our goal is to inform, and help people discover new things, at the same time that we do, and I'm sorry if we got that wrong. This feedback is great though, I guess we should re-tune!

    What's great is that you took on board my thoughts around mobile, and certainly an HTC Desire is the best way forward right now. Maybe next time I can show more of the workflow for development and packaging?

    Trust me, once you've run your first AIR2.5 app on Android you'll never look back :-)

    Mark Doherty - Adobe

  2. Hi Mark, thanks for commenting! Nice to see people are reading this thing...

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Catayst can turn artwork/concepts into working prototypes so quickly, I think my issue is more that I can't see any way that it would speed up my process at the moment (if anything, extensive prototyping would probably slow me down: I tend to have content and layout done in a more traditional way and then maybe do a few quick interaction tests in Flash, and that's about it). Perhaps that's me speaking as a impatient developer though, maybe I'm not your target audience! I might run it by some of our designers, perhaps they'd have a much different view of things.

    I'd definitely be interested in more Android workshops/presentations, I went into Flash Camp as a mobile development virgin and came out of it quite excited about getting stuck in.

    Thanks again for getting back to me, hopefully Flash Camp Manchester will become a permanent fixture!



  3. Hi Dan,

    Nice overview of the day, I agree with you that it does seem that Catalyst is being pushed a lot. As a Flex developer I don't see the need for me to use Catalyst, funny enough I like writing code.
    The day itself was great, I too am looking forward to working with AIR on Android and FDT.

    Anyway nice overview of a great day.


  4. Hi Dan,

    Really precise summary of the Day. As a pure AS developer, Flash catalyst doesn't interest me much. Although, some intriguing facts about the mobile UX's, was good as well.

    But Seb-Lee, did stole the show at the end. I've been thinking about going to FOTB as well.

    I really enjoyed reading your blog.
    Keep it up matey..!


  5. Thanks for posting the review Dan!

  6. Hi Dan,

    Nice diary of the day. Seems to be a running trend that we developers dont quite get Catalyst.