Speaking of Flash…

Long ago, as a follow-up to my giant hit “Duck!” I undertook a much more elaborate project. Once more, Jose provided some of the key images (William Shatner, mainly), and I did the rest.

I never finished. I got close, and I put a lot of time into it (lip-syncing is time-consuming, to say the least), but it’s not quite there yet. There are flat spots. I haven’t got the easter eggs in yet. No credits, and no preloading. It looks like the audio has been shifted a frame. Still, there’s a lot to like about it, too. It’s Shatner, after all, at his psychedelic best.

I’d finish the thing, but I don’t even own a version of Flash that will run on my current hardware, and Flash is expensive. Hard to justify shelling out that kind of cash just to put the final touches on this monster. Still… It would be cool.

Note that this animation is interactive — don’t take your hand off that mouse just yet! Your final score will be displayed at the end. Also, there are a couple of things that happen differently each time, and a lot of things going on you won’t notice the first time through. Not as many as I planned, but the project is stalled.

If someone who has Flash would be interested in helping me get across the finish line, let me know!

Notes: It may look like it’s running, but you need to right-click the animation and select ‘Play” to make it go. (Controls are obviously something that didn’t get put in before the project stalled.) I optimized this animation for slightly larger display; if I could figure out why there’s no full-screen option when you right-click I’d fix that, too.



The Rise and Fall of Adobe Flash

A long, long time ago, I wanted to make lava lamp buttons for my Web site. I wanted the shape of the lava blobs to be random and mathematically controlled, and it had to be done with vector graphics – animated gifs would have been huge to provide something that even remotely felt random, and back in those days most people connected with dialup modems.

I searched high and low for a vector animation tool and couldn’t find one. There was Macromedia Director, which I used extensively back then, which put out files for Web play in a format called Shockwave, but it wasn’t a true vector-based program. Not the right tool for lava lamp buttons, that was for sure. I’d started playing with a java applet to draw my buttons, but it seemed like vector animation was something the Web really needed. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, and he said, “Oh I know some guys with the tool you’re looking for.” At the time it was called FutureSplash.

I mentioned FutureSplash to my boss. It was going to be huge, I predicted. His response: “Maybe we should buy them.” (Ah, those dot-com boom days, how I miss them.) Three days later Macromedia announced that they had bought FutureSplash (for a lot more than we could have paid) and contracted the name to Flash.

The rest is history — until the present.

There was even a time when I imagined that a lot of the Web would end up as Flash. Or at least it should. Flash had a lot of things right that HTML had managed to screw up. You could do a lot more, and with Flash the Web experience began to approach the quality of experience people had in other parts of their computing lives.

Macromedia and later Adobe seemed to go out of their way to prevent Flash from taking over the Web. Creating Flash became ever more complex and ever more expensive. Nowhere was the simple “baby Flash” that Joe Amateur could use to build a nice site without first getting extensive training and shelling out a few hundred bucks for tools.

Meanwhile, Flash designers didn’t help in those early years, either. So much Flash became “look what I can do” rather than “look how I can make your visit to my Web site better” that Jane Surfer started resenting Flash. “I waited 60 seconds to download this?” A good example of that sort of waste is at the top of this page, in fact. There are a couple of fun things in the banner, but they don’t enhance the Muddled Experience very much.

Now, the world is shifting again. If you’re reading this site from your iPad, you don’t see the banner at all. No Flash in iOS. This is something the other tablet manufacturers have made a big deal of—but maybe not for very much longer. Microsoft’s next tablet OS won’t support Flash, either.

HTML, the platform I get paid to dislike, is becoming HTML, the platform I get paid to deal with. HTML5, CSS3, full SVG support, and robust JavaScript libraries make possible just about everything Flash can do, without Flash. That’s a lot of things to learn and manage to get a job done, however. Before, a designer could just master Flash and be confident that their work would look right wherever the Flash plugin was installed.

What’s needed is a tool like Flash that, after you’re done designing, outputs your masterpiece in Web-standard format, with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. When something like that comes out, the handwriting will be on the wall for Flash.

And here it is. Adobe, makers of Flash, have announced Edge, the animation tool that will eventually replace Flash. It looks pretty good. It doesn’t do anything remotely close to what Flash does (no mention of audio that I’ve found, for instance, so my banner would have to forego the theme song, and interactivity will have to be handled outside the tool as well, as far as my first glance tells me), but it does a great deal, and when you’re done the product will work in all modern browsers, including mobile ones. Adobe has applied their long, long experience making animation tools to make the user interface slick and clean (though you will want a really big monitor).

Flash will be around a long, long time yet; it still lets a developer build Web-based user interfaces that would be a pain in the butt to create from HTML and the rest of the alphabet soup. That gap is narrowing, however, and as Edge gains in features (and, alas, complexity), the marginalization of Flash will accelerate. I’m impressed that Adobe said, “If Flash dies, we’ll be the ones to kill it.” They really are the right people for the job. Now all we need is “baby Edge.”

Need More Guest Poems (and animations)!

Now that the poetry cycles up there in the header (except on Internet Explorer), people are likely to see a lot more of them on each visit. Sure, there’s well over a hundred in the rotation, but as every american knows, more is better. You can help! Send me yout little poems either here in the comments or by email, along with the name you want to appear with it. If you want your picture next to it, of course you have to supply that too. Otherwise I might just pick something. I have a couple of poems in the roatation —notably the ‘theme haiku’ — but mainly that little area is a place for guests to play.

And who knows? We know that great literary movers and shakers frequent this site. This could be your shot at the glamorous life of a poet!

Edited to add: Heck, why stop at poetry? You may have noticed the occasional duck flying through the header every minute or two. The way that’s done, I can load and play pretty much anything anyone out there puts together. It shouldn’t be too intrusive, of course, but with one simple tweak to your animation I can put it in the random list. Whether you’ve been thinking about learning a little Flash or you kick Flash’s ass, here’s a great chance to strut your stuff.

What could POSSIBLY be cooler than that? Nothing, that’s what!

Getting Shaggy!

Just goofing around a bit the other day; My hair’s been getting pretty long and I was curious how it looked. I took advantage of the time-lapse repeat picture of my phone. After WAY more futzing around than is justified by the result, here is what I ended up with.

Yep, this is how I spend my time.

It’s Not Too Early to Start Begging, Is It?

You know what I’d like for Christmas? I like a version of Adobe Flash that is actually designed to run on my computer. My old, old version of Flash (old enough to be made by a different company) works – mostly – but is slow and crash-prone. Anyone got a used version of Flash that runs in Intel-based macs they’re not using anymore?

Note that this would be a highly impractical gift, allowing me to waste time with greater efficiency than ever before. Flash is also very expensive and there’s no way I can justify paying for a new version based on what I do with it. But if someone out there bought Flash thinking they were going to take over the Web and then discovered what a pain in the butt Flash can be, think of me.

On a related note, I am making slow progress on the next animation, a much more ambitious follow-on to the ducks animation. I’m sure I’d be done by now if I had the right software…

Jose Drew a Duck

Yep, Jose was learning Flash and at one point was doodling while resting his brain. He drew this duck. Then I made the duck’s wings flap and beak move. What fun!

Of course, once one has a duck with flapping wings, one must make the duck fly around. Thus clouds and other accessories were required. But once things get longer, you really start to need some music. I poked around and there was the Polkacide version of the duck dance.

Once there was music, then the animation needed to be much longer to match, more ducks were required, and the whole effort had to tell a story of sorts. Far too much of my life later, this is the result. I may still tweak it a bit — there are some dead spots that would be good to fill in — but on the other hand I’ve wasted far too much of my life on this dang thing already.

I haven’t been able to test the loading screen on a slow connection, so I really don’t know if it works or not. It’s supposed to give you the button to start the animation when it estimates the download will finish in time. If anyone out there can tell me if it works, that would be cool.

Um… that’s all there is to it, I guess. Hey, John! Can you give me permission to use this music?