What I Learned About Presenting From Cirque Du Soleil

As an evangelist, obviously a lot of what we do is presenting. I always wish I could make my presentations more interesting and more of a show so I’m always watching how other people present. A great example is Cirque Du Soleil, which came through Seattle as part of their Kooza show. At a basic level, the Cirque Du Soleil presentation isn’t too different from any other presentation. A lot flashier, a lot more badass, but still a basic presentation. As I was watching I noticed a few things that I wanted to jot down and (hopefully) incorporate in my future presentations.

Make the easy stuff seem hard

This one is pretty basic but the Cirque Du Soleil guys do a good job of it. At the beginning in most of the acts, the performers look a little tentative. There’s a bit of a dramatic flair, they look like they’re concentrating really hard (and they probably are) and setting a baseline for what’s coming later. By building up the suspense the audience is impressed right from the beginning. The stuff after that is just gravy. And when they break out the safety gear, you know stuff is going to get real.

Always mess up

I thought this was fascinating. In a couple of different performances, the performers screwed up the act. Once it was a high wire guy messing up a jump and another time it was during a giant spinning-dual hamster wheel act where one of the performers almost falls off. At first I wasn’t sure it was on purpose, but after asking around, they always mess up the same part of the show. Why? One, it adds dramatic flair. But most importantly, it adds to the perception that this is really hard stuff to do. Then when they go into the hard stuff and nail it, the crowd goes nuts. I’m not sure how to do this on the tech side, but I have a couple of ideas.

Know how awesome you are

These guys (and girls) do these acts on a pretty consistent basis. They’re so good they can create a fairly convincing fake mess up. At the end, they let you know it. They do a great job of selling what they just did and getting people to cheer for them. Ultimately I think this is about confidence, but it’s also about taking yourself outside of the bubble and remembering that not everyone can do what you do. When you travel with Cirque du Soleil all you see around you are people just like you, but you’ve got to remember that the audience can’t do what you do. And make them love you for it.

Have a theme

One of the reasons I love Cirque du Soleil is that every act has a theme. The costumes, the props, the music and the choreography all revolve around a central theme. Kooza had a definite South Asian feel and some of the acts played up that more than others. But all of it together helped tell a story and engage the audience more and each act built on the theme a little bit. This is probably a bit tougher to do in a technical presentation but I can think of some things I’d like to do that would be more thematic in my presentations.

If you get a chance to see Kooza, it’s a great show. Just watch for the mistakes.

New role at Adobe

Over the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the Platform Evangelism team at Adobe – a smart, diverse and unique group of people who care passionately about Flash and who genuinely like helping others learn about new technology.

A big part of that role has been spending time out on the road talking about the Flash Platform and showing how to use Flex, Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder to create rich Internet applications. An equally important part of being an evangelist is listening to feedback, suggestions and constructive criticism from designers, developers, technical architects, press & analysts and channeling that information back into the product teams so that we can fix bugs, add new features and improve workflow between tools.

I’m hoping to use some of that experience, gained from talking with many of you, in my new role at Adobe, as Senior Product Manager for Flash Builder.

I’m really excited about taking on this new position – there are lots of great additions in the upcoming version of Flash Builder 4 (currently in beta), including the data centric development tools, the network monitor, support for Flash Catalyst projects and enhancements to core code editing, refactoring and debugging features. But there is a whole lot more that we can do to enhance developer productivity, enable a more fluid design/develop workflow and, with the availability of Flash Player on smart phones and the upcoming mobile version of the Flex framework, to support multi-screen application development.

Whilst the engineering team continues working hard on completing Flash Builder 4 for a release in the first half of 2010, I’ll be joining with more of a view on future versions of Flash Builder and be part of the team planning out what’s important to developers building applications on the Flash Platform.

If you are interested in some of the directions that we’re thinking about and didn’t attend MAX, I’d encourage you to watch the Flash Platform Tooling & Framework Roadmap presentation on Adobe TV.

I’ll be relocating to San Francisco with my family in the New Year and am looking forward to the many new experiences that will come from living in California. I will of course miss being in Europe (although maybe not the winter weather so much), working with all my friends on the European evangelism, PR and marketing teams and being close to the many people I’ve met at conferences, user group meetings, Flash Camps and other local events. I do hope however that I’ll be back during the year to support some of the European events/conferences and to get feedback on our plans for future versions of Flash Builder.

I’m going to do my best to continue blogging here, I’ll continue to be on Twitter and more than ever I welcome your comments and thoughts on how you’d like to see us develop Flash Builder.

Cheers,

Andrew

ActionScript/Flash/Flex Library for Geonames

I’m working on a mobile application demo that relies heavily on the Geonames service and in the process started work on an ActionScript library for accessing the web service that you can find on Github. If you aren’t familiar with Geonames it’s a fantastic project. It’s a database of placenames from all over the world (over 8 million) and each has a bunch of data (including latitude and longitude) about it. The database includes everything from physical features like mountains to schools and parks in cities. And it’s all free.

The API is really basic right now and it only implements the findNearby method but hopefully it’s a start. And I want to round it out as I start to use it for more demos. It’s a really amazing amount of data.

The Littlest Flex Developer

My blog has been pretty dusty the past couple of weeks even though there is a lot going on in the Adobe world. Normally I try to stay away from the purely personal stuff so I humbly beg your forgiveness for this detour into Ryan’s life. I’ve been very preoccupied for the past week because on March 27th, my wife and I welcomed our daughter into the world. It’s our first and we’re having a blast getting to know her. I’m on paternity leave for another week so while I’m keeping up on what’s happening with Apple’s tablet, Flash Player 10.1, and Adobe AIR on devices, I can honestly say (maybe for the first time ever) that it’s not occupying much of my time.

I’ll indulge one small parental moment and share a couple of pictures of our daughter, Juniper Olivia Stewart. And I’ll be back to blogging next week. But probably a bit more sleep deprived and (even) less coherent than usual.

Example Added for GpxAs3 – The Flash/Flex GPX Library

Last week I added an example file to the GPX library that Simeon and I created for Flex/Flash/AIR applications. If you haven’t seen it and are interested in checking it out you can grab the code from the project page on GitHub.

The example provided is a very, very basic one that just takes a GPX file and plots the waypoints on Google Maps. It’s an AIR application so to use it you just drag and drop the GPX file onto the app. The code is here.

I haven’t been able to do anything cool with it yet, but I have some things in mind once I get a bit of downtime. If you’re using it, I’d love to hear about it.

The Locked iPuzzle

So the iPad came and as expected, everyone can’t stop talking about it. I was cautiously optimistic about Apple’s tablet. I’m a sci-fi fan with a gadget fetish and I was loving the idea of carrying around a computer tablet just like they do in all of the latest science fiction movies. And Apple has a way of completely turning the computing world upside down. They have an elegance and polish that makes the intersection of software and hardware a nirvana.

Part of that is because they rule their platforms with an iron fist. The iPhone is obvious. It’s arguably the most closed platform in recent memory. Every application has to go through Apple’s approval process, can only be listed on Apple’s store, and Apple takes a cut. It’s a fantastic device, it provides developers a way to make money, but it is incredibly closed and arguably bordering on big brother. But OS X isn’t perfect either. While I can install my own applications and control my own settings, things like getting the right APIs for the Flash Player to handle video or multi-touch aren’t possible.

The iPad Cometh

So when the iPad was released and it was just a bigger iPod Touch, I was incredibly disappointed. If this is the future of computing then we’ve already lost. Apple is taking total control to a new and unfortunate level. It’s the same pay-to-play model as the iPod Touch so that you’ll be buying your applications from Apple (so they can take their cut), buying your videos and music from Apple, buying your books from Apple, and dealing with their DRM for all three. The ultimate lock-in.

The Honey Trap

This is what bugs me. As an evangelist I’m annoyed Flash isn’t on the iPhone. But as a user, I’m terrified that Apple has put a vice grip on getting content on my devices. It used to be that when you bought a device, you owned it and could basically do whatever you want with it. The model of the iPad and the iPhone is the opposite of that. You’re essentially paying for a device that then gives you the privilege to buy content from Apple. The honey pot of a seamless software-hardware experience has become a nightmarish trap that keeps you stuck and struggling.

As Mike Chambers said better than I can, having some support for HTML5 in Safari doesn’t make an open platform. One of the great parts of the “open web” is exactly how open it is. Anyone can put up any piece of content, at any time, without asking for permission. The web is accepting of Flash content, HTML content, Silverlight content, numerous video and audio codecs, and other plug-ins. Users have the ultimate choice about what they want to see and how they want to see it. That ecosystem has led to a lot of great, free content like games, video, and applications.

Which is why Apple has locked down the device. They can’t make money off of free. And instead of giving users choice and opening up their devices, they’ve decided to lock it down. The iPhone and iPad are each great pieces of technology and Apple deserves to make money off of them. But they could be so much better if they were open. The number of innovative things that an open ecosystem could do with this technology is mind-boggling. But that won’t happen because the only ideas that will see the light of day are ideas Apple lets through.

We’ve come a long way from 1984, but obviously not long enough.

What’s Up With All the PHP? Or My New(ish) Role at Adobe

I’ve been blogging more recently about PHP, which my be confusing for people who know me and my ColdFusion background. But in looking at things, the PHP community has been incredibly vibrant and successful on a number of fronts. We’ve started adding more support for PHP developers through partnerships and support of things like Zend Amf, the PHP Data Wizards in Flex Builder, and encouraging community speakers at events like ZendCon. On the Adobe side, Mihai Corlan has done a fantastic job of creating resources for PHP developers who want to learn Flex. The team needed someone to take the lead here in North America and I asked to do it (Lee is busy with cool Flash stuff and going to Latin and South America). So now PHP developers have a go-to guy here in North America working to further the PHP agenda here at Adobe and helping more PHP developers be successful with Flex and Flash.

So why me, someone with little PHP experience? I’ve always felt like evangelism is about growing your developer community and developer relations is about helping the community you have. At Adobe we don’t really have a specific developer relations role (it’s basically Mike Chambers) so the evangelists end up doing both. Which is fun because our community is awesome. But I also wanted a challenge and to grow professionally as an evangelist. I thought the best way to do that would be to get out of my comfort zone, immerse myself with a new technology, and execute on ideas that could be applied to any technology by any evangelist.

Luckily we’re working with some great PHP people and the PHP community is a very welcoming and open place. There are a lot of places where PHP and Flash fit really well together so there are features like data visualization, collaboration, video, and data-heavy applications where I think PHP developers can use Flash in a helpful way. And in the process hopefully I’ll end up being a better evangelist and helping to grow the number of Flex developers.

If you’ve got ideas, or applications that show off Flash and PHP together, I’d love to hear them. You can always drop me an email at ryan@adobe.com or call/text me at (307) 438-9716. I think 2010 is going to be a huge year for PHP and Flash momentum.

New role at Adobe

Over the last couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the Platform Evangelism team at Adobe – a smart, diverse and unique group of people who care passionately about Flash and who genuinely like helping others learn about new technology.

A big part of that role has been spending time out on the road talking about the Flash Platform and showing how to use Flex, Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder to create rich Internet applications. An equally important part of being an evangelist is listening to feedback, suggestions and constructive criticism from designers, developers, technical architects, press & analysts and channeling that information back into the product teams so that we can fix bugs, add new features and improve workflow between tools.

I’m hoping to use some of that experience, gained from talking with many of you, in my new role at Adobe, as Senior Product Manager for Flash Builder.

I’m really excited about taking on this new position – there are lots of great additions in the upcoming version of Flash Builder 4 (currently in beta), including the data centric development tools, the network monitor, support for Flash Catalyst projects and enhancements to core code editing, refactoring and debugging features. But there is a whole lot more that we can do to enhance developer productivity, enable a more fluid design/develop workflow and, with the availability of Flash Player on smart phones and the upcoming mobile version of the Flex framework, to support multi-screen application development.

Whilst the engineering team continues working hard on completing Flash Builder 4 for a release in the first half of 2010, I’ll be joining with more of a view on future versions of Flash Builder and be part of the team planning out what’s important to developers building applications on the Flash Platform.

If you are interested in some of the directions that we’re thinking about and didn’t attend MAX, I’d encourage you to watch the Flash Platform Tooling & Framework Roadmap presentation on Adobe TV.

I’ll be relocating to San Francisco with my family in the New Year and am looking forward to the many new experiences that will come from living in California. I will of course miss being in Europe (although maybe not the winter weather so much), working with all my friends on the European evangelism, PR and marketing teams and being close to the many people I’ve met at conferences, user group meetings, Flash Camps and other local events. I do hope however that I’ll be back during the year to support some of the European events/conferences and to get feedback on our plans for future versions of Flash Builder.

I’m going to do my best to continue blogging here, I’ll continue to be on Twitter and more than ever I welcome your comments and thoughts on how you’d like to see us develop Flash Builder.

Cheers,

Andrew

iPhone versus Android (HTC Hero edition)

htc_heroAfter MAX I went backpacking and fell in a river with my iPhone in my pocket. The iPhone is not a fan of water so it was totally dead. I have to get a new one through the Adobe system but this week everyone at Adobe has been on vacation so I wasn’t going to be able to pick up a replacement. That left me with the HTC Hero that I’ve got for demoing Flash mobile content. I swapped the sim card and I’ve been using it all vacation. I hadn’t used any phone but the iPhone for a prolonged period of time in a while so I figured I’d write up my thoughts on the iPhone versus Android now that I’ve actually had to learn the Android quirks.

Overall User Experience

I really, really want Android to succeed. But the iPhone is still the king when it comes to user experience. I find the HTC Hero with Android to be much, much less snappy than the iPhone. When I click something on the iPhone, I get an immediate reaction. On the HTC Hero, there’s a noticeable delay which becomes very annoying. However I like the UI for the Hero a lot better. Android has a nice, polished UI that is mostly intuitive and a bit more interesting than the iPhone’s boring button UI. The responsiveness is what got me though. On a faster phone, I could see Android being king here, but right now: Winner: iPhone

Battery Life

I found the battery life between the iPhone and the HTC Hero to be pretty equal, they both last me less than a day with heavy use. But one thing that I found extremely annoying is that the HTC Hero takes forever to charge via USB while the charging the iPhone over USB works really well. As a result: Winner: iPhone

Software

I love the Android software. I know Apple has the “There’s an App for That” crap, but out of the box, Android rules. Being able to install applications with a barcode scan is also really slick. I found the Android software to be more full featured, have many more hooks into the social networking services I’m a junkie for, and generally just more fun to use. If it wasn’t for the sluggishness, it would be perfect. The exception to this is the mapping. It’s abysmal. No gesture support for zooming, you can’t click on markers and interact with them in the same way you do on the iPhone. It’s just terrible to use. But In general, even with that and all of Apple’s apps, Winner: Android/HTC Hero

Typing

I type a lot on my mobile devices because I use them pretty heavily for email. I found it took a while to get used to the Hero’s keyboard. I like the fact that Android offers you a set of words based on what you’ve typed so you can auto-correct. That feature also makes it easy to add things to the dictionary because you can just click the word you typed and it will be added (no more ’shot’ and ‘duck’). But even with that enhancement the iPhone’s keyboard is just better at detecting which letter I want to type next. Maybe I just need to spend more time with the Hero, but Winner: iPhone

Annoying Things About Android/HTC Hero

No sensor that detects when the phone isn’t near your face any more. This is just a limitation of the phone but it is annoying as hell. I also think the phone is too “buttony”. While I like the rollerball, it seems like any time I want to do something I have to click a button. With the iPhone they did a great job of making it as gesture-based as possible. The browser is a good example. On the iPhone, to type a URL, just move to the top of the page, and type it. With Android, you have to push the “menu” button. Takes some getting used to and the iPhone feels more natural.

Annoying Things About the iPhone

No Flash Player for one :) . But I also loved the GPS indicators on the Android. The little stauts icon at the top tells you whether you actually have GPS signal, and the camera lets you know when you’re locked on so it can geotag your photos accordingly. I really wish the iPhone had that.

Summary

In the end, the iPhone is just too damn good. I have high hopes for the Droid, but I’m on AT&T so I won’t be seeing it any time soon. But if the new processor is as good as people say it is, then hopefully we’ll get a snappy Android phone on AT&T soon. When that happens, I’ll ditch the iPhone in a heartbeat.

Reasons to Go on RIAdventure


Ryan takes Doug McCune down at Sumo

This has been an interesting year for the Adobe developer community. We’ve seen public betas of the next generation of Flash Builder, Flash Catalyst, and watched the birth of a large open source project at Adobe in the form of the Flex SDK. We’ve also seen the beginning of developer services like Adobe Flash Collaboration Services, a public beta of ColdFusion which includes lots of Flex/AIR integration goodness, and heard a lot of talk about mobile devices and Flash. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about RIAdventure. Getting a bunch of smart, passionate, RIA minds in the room is a great way to set the stage for next year.

One of the things that’s nice about RIAdventure is that it comes after MAX so we’ll not only have a whole bunch of new stuff to talk about, but we’ll be able to reflect on the entire year while discussing what’s coming up in the future.

My primary complaint of the Flash/Flex community is that there isn’t enough higher level thinking. With two powerhouses like Microsoft and Adobe in the space and a number of smaller, more nimble, and passionate startups, there’s a lot of different ideas about what RIAs are or should be. Throw in the open web initiatives with HTML5, and CSS3 and it really hasn’t been a better time to be building applications on the web. What does that mean for the Adobe developer community? What do you like about what we’re doing, what do you hate about it? The focus this year has been on mobile devices, and that’s extremely important. But it also means that the next phase of what I’ll call “core innovation” is coming up. What does ActionScript 4 look like? What direction do our tools move in? How should we evolve the Flex Framework? These are both geeky, nitty gritty questions as well as larger philosophical questions.

To me, there is no better group than the one we have and no better place to disconnect and think about larger issues concerning Flash Platform developers. We’re not going to have all of the answers, but I think RIAdventure is going to be an ideal venue in which to make your voice heard, hear what others want to see, and make your own opinions heard. Oh, and have a crap-ton of fun while you’re at it.