R Blank


29 September 2007

What Adobe technologies are you currently using?

Almer/Blank, the development agency that I run, is an Adobe Solution Partner for the Adobe Flash platform. The technologies on which we focus are those based around Flash. I've been working with Flash authoring since 1998 and focused on that tool for many years. Since Flash 4, I've focused a lot on using ActionScript to create Flash applications. Recently, more of the work that my agency takes on is done using Adobe Flex and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR).

We also do a lot of work with video, so I often use the Flash Video Encoder, as well as On2 Flix and Sorenson Squeeze, to encode video on my computer. I also use the On2 Flix Engine and FFMPEG for server-based encoding applications. A lot of the video and multiuser applications we build are powered by Flash Media Server.

The community is always spawning great new innovations, which we like to use when appropriate. One recent example of this, which we really love, is Papervision 3D (hosted by OSFlash) to execute really cool 3D work for Flash projects.

What is your most recent project you've built using Adobe technologies?

Every project we do at Almer/Blank uses either Flex or Flash, or sometimes both. As our work has turned to Flex, which builds great interfaces for content management systems, more of our applications have moved behind firewalls and cannot be seen by the general public.

For example, we recently rebuilt the content management system for LiveNation's Interactive Venue Network (IVN), which distributes video, animated, and interactive content to all displays at all of the venues for LiveNation and House of Blues. It allows concertgoers to interact with those displays—for example, sending text messages and pictures to the screens—using any cell phone.

One project we've spent a lot of time on recently, and that is publicly viewable, is a licensable, private-label video sharing network. We've implemented the software for a variety of sites, including a network of automotive-enthusiast communities (PowerTV Online) as well as a real-estate classifieds website (Your Video Views.com).

What about Adobe technology excites you, inspires you, or makes you say, "Wow that's really cool"?

As always, what makes me excited to do what I do every day is how awesome Flash is—in terms of what the technology offers, what the community does with it, and the quality of people in the industry.

Flash has always been cool—really cool. But as one who is really active with the technology and the community, I can say confidently that the pace of innovation has really stepped up several notches since Adobe acquired Macromedia. I think the most significant recent example of this is Adobe's announcement that the next release of Flash Player will play back H.264 video! That's really remarkable. And the announcements just don't stop. I thought for sure we would have a break between Flash 9 and Flash 10, but nope!

The launch of Adobe Labs has been an amazing contribution to this dynamic of nonstop innovation. Seriously, what other top software firm publicly distributes alpha technology, inviting public participation in its development? This gets future technology in the hands of developers now, preparing us for it, getting us excited by what's coming, and inviting our active participation and feedback. It feels that innovation, and the community's active participation in it, has become a nonstop process at Adobe.

How are you involved with the community?

The strength and vibrancy of the Flash communities have always been one of the best parts of working with Flash. I first learned Flash from great sites like FlashKit and ActionScript.org, and I joined my first Macromedia User Group in 2000. In 2001, I founded LA Flash, now home to three Adobe User Groups for the Flash platform and with over 3,000 registered members. My focus at LA Flash is, of course, providing great education and information to our members. But I also spend a lot of energy helping to build the regional industry, encouraging networking, running job placement events, and connecting talented people with firms that need that talent.

I also teach a fair amount. I am on the faculty at the USC Engineering School, teaching Flash to the rich media developers of tomorrow—and helping a lot of them get jobs in Flash through LA Flash so they can easily segue from school to real life. I also run the Rich Media Institute, an Adobe Authorized Training Center that offers workshop-based training on specialized topics for Adobe developers. I also love going to conferences like FITC, which help me keep up to date with the latest innovations and let me keep in touch with others in the global Adobe community.

In the past two years I've been doing a lot more writing. I frequently contribute to the Edge newsletter, and my new book, AdvancED Flex Applications (Friends of Ed) is set for release in December 2007. As well, I have two video training titles from Magnet Media: JumpStart Flash CS3 and Inside Flash 8.

I'm planning to catch up on sleep in 2009.

What is your favorite or most useful electronic gadget that you own? How about one that want, but don't own?

When I purchased my first Apple iPod, I found it really revolutionary. It wasn't just a new way to listen to music, it entirely shifted the way in which I consumed music. Not only could I listen to music anywhere, but I could carry my entire music collection with me! And when I heard something cool on the radio, I could immediately find it on iTunes, buy it, and take it with me right then and there. Nowadays, my favorite gadget is my iPod Shuffle— 240 songs in a device smaller than any watch! It's so easy and thoughtless now to bring music with me everywhere I go, that I've been listening to a lot more music.

So many people seemed surprised that I don't have an iPhone, especially since I love Apple products so much. But I don't particularly want one—at least until it runs Flash and AIR. To me, for a gadget to be really great, it has to be cool, useful, and answer some real need in a unique way. Since I have my laptop with me everywhere, I don't want the power of an iPod on my phone; I want the smallest, simplest phone possible.

Of course, no gadget run-down would be complete without mentioning my Nintendo Wii. They should have called it the "Wow"! When we hooked that up in the office, we didn't use the Xbox 360 for over six months. (I am the undisputed Wii Tennis champion of Venice Beach). The game play is so easy, innovative, fun, and rewarding, that it materially shifts the nature of gaming. It's a game-changer, in much the same way that I think the original iPod was. And, of course, it runs Flash!

Favorite TV show, movie or band? Why?

I like a lot of music, and I'm strongly influenced by KCRW here in Los Angeles, which is the best radio station in the country. If I picked a favorite band, I'd have to choose Ozomatli. Their music is not only great, but to me it sounds like Los Angeles; they provide a soundtrack to this amazingly dynamic, disparate, and diverse city.

Right now, I'm really into the Nortec Collective out of Tijuana. Their new album is "Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3." The music is really rhythmic, funky, and easy to listen to. It has a traditional Mexican feel, but is really contemporary. It's a unique and smooth sound, and I can listen to it while working, writing, or just lounging. In fact, that's what I'm listening to right now.

What's the one thing you'd love to see in Adobe technologies in the future?

So many of my wishes were realized with the release of Flash CS3 Professional, Flex Builder 3, and Flash Player 9.0.6 (ActionScript 3.0, full-screen video, H.264 support, persistent framework caching—the list goes on and on), so I need a little time to build a brand new wish list!

Two features of Flash that I would really like to see implemented include a time-based timeline instead of a framerate-based timeline (so that I can changes the framerate of a movie without changing the timing of my animations) and a "camera" instead of a "stage" (so that I can change the viewer's perspective of my animations without reanimating the entire timeline).

I'd also really like to see an ActionScript panel in Flash that works as well as most any other ActionScript editing tool. Still after nine versions, I find it very uncomfortable to code directly in Flash. These days, I'm using TextMate (for Mac OS) and Eclipse (for both Mac and PC).

On the Flex side, I'd really like to see Adobe come out with a good UML editor that can automatically generate the class files from my UML schema.

If you could build something you considered revolutionary, what would it be?

It's been over six years now since my colleagues and I at Wildform created Flix, the first video encoder for Flash (now owned by On2 Technologies). At the time, we strongly believed that adding video capability to the Flash platform was really revolutionary, and I think we were right—although it took a few more years for that to play out.

These days, I think my desire to innovate has a narrower focus. The past few years have seen truly remarkable leaps in the technologies that power Internet-based experiences, and the features that companies are developing based on those technologies. So I focus on sorting through the mass of new features, interactions, and experiences that have been pioneered in the past few years, and choosing and modifying them for new products.

For example, there's only one YouTube. Almost certainly, no one else is going to build a generic video sharing network that will become that big and successful. Still, many of the features and concepts that YouTube has innovated can be applied to create value for other businesses and organizations. I like figuring out how to do that.

I think the LiveNation IVN that I mentioned earlier is a good example of this. Utilizing the same technologies that allow people to post and distribute video on websites like YouTube, we've networked hundreds of venues around North America into a platform that enables LiveNation to generate additional advertising revenue, and gives their concertgoers more options for entertainment when they're at those venues. While I think the IVN is innovative and a success, I don't consider it revolutionary. Then again, I've gotten a bit sick of that word, so I'm fine with that.