FlashForward 2008: San Francisco
The theme of this year’s FlashForward 2008 was passion and that passion certainly came through in all the lectures. The opening keynotes had one of the most magical and inspirational moments I’ve ever witnessed. Miha Pogacnik—a violinist, not directly related to flash—presented the flow of working on a creative idea in the corporate world. He used the second movement of a Bach sonata to aurally and visually show the creative idea, conflict, resolution, higher conflict, and final accent to success that is associated with developing ideas to fruition. Amazingly, he was able to directly relate this to Flash development. Everyone I talked to at the conference was astounded by his presentation. It was certainly the highlight of the conference!
The flow of this year’s FlashForward was different than past years as there was only one track of presentations instead of the multiple tracks as in previous years. From the people I talked with, most seemed to not like the new single-track approach and I can certainly understand why. Great speakers like Grant Skinner, Tinic Uro, and Keith Peters were only given twenty minutes to speak, but Disney representatives were allotted a full hour recruit flash developers. Seriously, for a full hour the Disney representatives did nothing but show off their website and try to recruit. Thirty minutes into it I couldn’t take anymore and had to leave; I went to play Wii in the lobby instead. With multi-track presentations I could have attended another lecture.
After the amazing introductory keynotes, the next series of lectures to catch my attention were the last of the day. They all dealt with sound visualizations and surprisingly each of the lectures talked a good bit about their L.S.D/acid experiences and how that experience turned into Flash sound visualizations. The lecture “The Most Rewarding 8 to 12 Hours of my Life” actually refers to the period of time when he was tripping. But anyway, this series of lectures was amazing. At the end of Robert Hodgin’s lecture, he brought out a cello player. In real time, the musician played and Robert ran visualizations for the music (done Java using OpenGL, not Flash). A musician myself and having attended many many concerts and recitals, I’ve never seen anything like it! As a musician and programmer, I was blown away!
Day Two: The Adobe Team
The unspoken theme of the second day was “Adobe”. The day started off with Mike Downey, Richard Galvan, and Lee Brimelow talking about the new stuff in Flash 10. Adobe is very hush hush about their new technologies, but they did talk and demonstrate some very cool new features. As much as Flash 9 was geared towards developers, Flash 10 is about designers. New features like bone structures and 3D tweens in the timeline are incredible! The way a tween is now done is also completely different: it’s now very similar to After Effects. The impression I got was that Flash 10 authoring should shipping within 2-3 months.
After lunch, Tinic Uro gave his lecture (and this guy just brilliant). Before a full audience, he showed the steps it takes to fix a bug in the Flash Player Virtual Machine. There was a bug with Pixel Bender, so Tinic opened up the source code to the Flash Player (which is C++ by the way) right before our eyes and walked through the steps it takes to fix a bug. Within a couple of tries, poof, the bug was fixed. After his lecture, I was able to talk with him for a bit. I asked him about the new 3D engine in Flash 10. The way Papervision handles interactive 3D objects is to bitmap the original object and interprets the 3D mouse into the original 2D object. I asked how Flash 10 would handle this and Tinic stated the 3D would be the actual object and not a bitmap version of it. This is very exciting! I also asked him about wmode bugs—which he is very aware of the coordinate bugs in FireFox, but ironically it’s a FireFox issue and not Flash.
After a couple more lectures, the Adobe Flash Player team was available for questions and answers. Surprisingly, only a handful (maybe 20 people) attended the session with them, but it was really cool. They talked about changing the fla format into xml so that it can be better cross application and so that Flash wont “eat” library assets once they’ve been imported. They also talked about the recent rejection of ECMA 4 and how they felt about it: it was a political answer though….
Friday was a more relaxed day and I could see people already wrapping up to go home. Lectures didn’t start until 10AM and ended a little early as well. One of the sessions I really enjoyed was hearing the creator of ASUnit give a presentation on Test-Driven Development. In the main conference hall he gave a brief overview of the steps involved. But later (in the smaller conference hall) he talked in detail about how the framework is used. Unfortunately he only had 45 minutes, which this lecture certainly could have been 2 hours and I wish it was. But after his allotted time, he got ran off for another lecture.
As I already mentioned, the Disney segment was horrible. But overall, I was disappointed that new concepts or techniques were not elaborated upon or explored. I could have used more how the visualizations were made and maybe some talks exploring 3D in Flash 10 or any number of technical talks. But there was no technical talk. For good or bad, most of the lectures were pep rally style.
Another issue I got really annoyed at was that several lectures were given in a smaller room that could only hold up to about 40 people. There were several that I wanted to attend to but could not because I couldn’t get into the room. When a conference has 400 some people and is only a one-track presentation it seems ridiculous to me have lectures in such tiny rooms. I was pretty mad about this!
In all, I was very happy with the conference. It wasn’t so much the lectures that made the conference shine, but that I could speak one-on-one with the Senior Engineering Manager of the Flash Player, Tinic Uro, Lee Brimelow, and Keith Peters to name a few. All the people I met were extremely friendly and this is what made the conference a wonderful experience. I look forward to attending the next FlashForward.