Archive for June, 2006

This is big news day on all fronts for Adobe, Flex 2, Flash Player 9 all released, new Developer Center content, Flex.org launched, the Flex Derby Winners announced, ColdFusion 7.0.2 released, and now to top it all off and extra bonus: “The Adobe Flash Professional 9 ActionScript 3.0 Preview (“AS3 Preview” for short) is a preview of the next release of the Flash authoring tool. Formerly known as “Blaze”. It extends the capabilities of Flash Professional 8 and includes a small subset of the features that will be shipped with Flash 9, which is scheduled for release in 2007.” Read more about it and download it after reading Jen and Peter deHanns article about AS3.0 and the Flash 9 preview.

Adobes servers are really going to get quite a workout this week. Judging by the speeds at which I was able to download the files tonight from Adobe tonight (over 320k a seconds sustained download speed for each of two simultaneous downloads, Mac and PC versions of the AS3 preview), Adobe is really pushing out the bytes over their pipes for al the latest goodies. I’d hate to see their bandwidth usage bill this month – yikes!

After you get the preview, make sure to check out Emmy Huang’s article about Flash Player 9 in the Developer Center for Flash. So much new content and things to play with – its as though Christmas has come early. Almost forgot, Cairngorm for Flex development has hit labs.adobe.com as well. What is Cairngorm you ask? Well to quote the source, “The Cairngorm Microarchitecture is a lightweight yet prescriptive framework for rich Internet application (RIA) development. Cairngorm is an implementation of design patterns that the consultants at Adobe Consulting have successfully taken from enterprise software development (with technologies including J2EE and .NET) and applied rich Internet application development using Adobe Flex.” So there you have it.

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Do you learn best from books? I always enjoy diving into a book and having a good physical reference I can refer back to when I’m tackling a new subject. Back in 2000, there were only a handful of books on the topic of Flash. Today there are easily over a hundred or more on the market for all kinds of Flash and ActionScript related topics. There are several new books coming out that I am looking forward to on the topic of Flex 2 and ActionScript 3 that you’ll be able to purchase to supplement your craving for more info and documentation. I’m especially excited since they are all written by individuals who I can personally vouch for, and I think most of the Flash community would agree with me that all the authors listed below are the cream of the crop when it comes to Flash and ActionScript development. Here they are in alphabetical order with links to the books through Amazon, as well as links to the individual authors blogs:

These books will all certainly end up on my shelf. I can only hope that the editors left in all the jokes and great sense of humor that these guys have as well, I’m actually a bit scared as to what kind of anecdotes that Chafic and Peter might have tried to slip into the Programming Flex 2 book πŸ˜‰ I hope I have enough brain matter to absorb the nitty-gritty code that I’m sure Darron, Colin, Keith and Joey have crammed into their books – I’m afraid I might have an aneurysm or something if I try to read all three simultaneously.
There are a couple more books on Flex 2 and AS3 coming out as well that I know of, I’ll be sure to post up another entry with more listings with more details soon.

Oh and congratulations are in order to Darron on winning a 42″ Plasma and an XBOX 360 for the FC64 emulator in the “Just Freaking Cool” category in the Flex Developer Derby (see additional winners) – I’ll see you on XBOX 360 Live Darron. πŸ™‚ Hats off to Claus Wahlers as well for his work on this project and his win in the Flex ROW Developer Space Race enjoy the iPod!

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Just a bit ago this evening Adobe released that latest version of the Flash Player – Version 9. This release incorporates support for AS3 (ActionScript 3) and the Flex 2 Framework. The new player actually incorporates two Virtual Machines, one for content prior to Flash 9, and one specifically for Flash 9 AS3 based content. To quote some material from labs.adobe.com on Flash Player 9: “The new virtual machine is significantly faster, supports full runtime error reporting, and industry-standard debugging. It includes binary socket support, allowing developers to extend the player to work with any binary protocol. Flash Player 9 also contains AVM1, which executes legacy ActionScript for backward-compatibility with existing content.”
Flash Player 9 is now the default version served up from Adobe for new installs and upgrades. Based on this release, the release of Flex 2 is imminent as well (Update Flex 2 has been released see update 2 below). Lots of news to hit about this shortly. More info fromhttp://labs.adobe.com/ about Flash Player 9 – which will probably migrate to the main site shortly with updated information.

This release is really significant as the level of performance, features, functionality, and light file-size, will help cement it in place as the de-facto runtime for RIA web applications, and soon, desktop applications with the forthcoming Apollo runtime. The Flash Platform is looking to be more and more of a solid choice for development with each new release.

Ted Patrick, new hire at Adobe as a Flex Evangelist has more and his thoughts as well here. There is bound to be a flurry of additional posts about this release on the aggregators and other places by tomorrow morning. I’ll update other relevant links and info I find useful in this post.

UPDATE: Flex 2 Released and FLEX.ORG resource site launched.
A great new resource was launched by Adobe this evening to coincide with the release of Flex 2, to quote the Flex 2 team, “Flex.org is a starting point for developers working with Adobe Flex Builder 2, Flex Data Services 2, and the Flex 2 SDK. Here you will find links to technical and support resources from both Adobe and the developer community. We are working to evolve this site over time and we welcome suggestions at anytime.” Go ahead and check it out – a fantastic resource for Flex 2.

More articles:

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I just finished putting up a gallery of photos of my new son Owen, my wife Melissa and a bunch of other family members that I have taken over the last few weeks. I had contemplated how best to handle a large image gallery on my server, and meet the following goals:

  • Get it up quickly
  • HTML and Flash versions
  • Easy to upload/administrate
  • Optimized use of my remaining server space
  • Have the UI and images appear within the context of my domain/URL

I am in the middle of migrating my existing accounts with Mediatemple to some newer packages with more space, currently most of my server is dedicated to client files, so I didn’t have a lot of room for images until the migration is complete. So I decided to use one of three different photo services I have accounts with: Parazz (formerly Shutterbook), Kodaks KodakGallery (formerly OFoto) and Yahoo’s Flickr. Of the three Flickr has a documented API so I went with it for my temporary solution. Parazz has an really easy to parse XML format for users and galleries, and I’ve got a mobile Flash Lite app working on top of it, but since they don’t publish or publicly document their API or XML format, it could break at any time, so that was out, and I don’t know of anything but hacks for KodakGallery, which is really a walled-garden designed to promote sales of their other offerings. They really should consider opening it up – i would certainly use the WiFi features of my Flash Enabled Kodak EasyShare-One more often if they had an open API.

Last night I uploaded a bunch photos to my photoset of my son Owen on my Flickr account with a great batch upload tool for Mac OS X and Flickr. I was able to quickly tag everything and optimize my images prior to upload to save on my free monthly upload quota. (I haven’t doled out for a Pro Flickr account yet, but now I probably will). Once the images were up, I started whipping up some PHP scripts for the HTML portion. This was fairly easy thanks to a great PHP library phpFlickr. phpFlickr makes it really easy to consume the Flickr API in PHP. It does require some elements of the PEAR library to be installed, and some of those elements require PHP 4.3.0 or greater, which on my current server I don’t have installed, but I was able to use some pieces of the PHP_Compat library of PEAR to get things working really quickly. the PHP_Compat library emulates a lot of functions and features of newer versions of PHP for older versions of PHP, its saved my bacon a few times in the past year or so. Once I had phpFlickr going it was pretty easy to customize one of the included examples to fit my needs. I wanted a page that would retrieve and cache links to all the thumbnails and full size images of my Owen Martell Hall photoset. I also wanted the descriptions and titles in the alt tags for the images. It took me just a few minutes to get that working, and then I used some JavaScript to have the links popup a small window that passes through a link to the full size image on Flickrs servers. It works great, and the built in cacheing methods of phpFlickr are pretty good, giving you an option of either local file cacheing or a MySQL based cacheing mechanism. I went with local file DB just to get things going, and will probably switch to the MySQL method when I’ve tweaked things a bit more. It actually made it easier to understand what phpFlickr was doing when I could look at the local .cache files during the PHP coding.

This brings me more than halfway done, as I’ve met all the goals in my bullet list, except for having a Flash version. I’ve built a number of image galleries in Flash over the years, but I didn’t feel like starting one from scratch right now, I just wanted to get something working as quickly as possible. So instead of re-creating the wheel, I purchased a copy of Todd Domineys excellent Slideshow Pro component. Purchasing it was a snap through Paypal, and it was only $20 bucks, well worth the money. He also has a new very cool CMS management tool to compliment things, Slideshow Pro Director – for me I can’t use that yet till I am migrated to my new server which supports PHP 4.3.0 or higher. This wasn’t much of an issue for me though as I planned on using Flickr anyway. Todd actually has links to some great scripts in PHP that also use the phpFlickr framework to consumer Flickr API’s and build the required XML feeds that his Slideshow Pro component use. The fact that I had just played around with phpFlickr made this a no brainer, and I was able to use FlickrSSP with just minor modifications. I once again had to use the PEAR PHP_Compat library for a couple functions on my older PHP install in order to get things working, but after that it was a cinch.

I finished things off by making adding a link to the Flash Slideshow Pro version on the HTML page, and incorporated Geoff Stearns SWFObject and ExpressInstall features to finalize everything. I also dropped in an appropriate music track of the Flaming Lips, “Do You Realize” from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, into the XML for Slideshow Pro. There is plenty of room for improving the presentation and aesthetics of how I incorporated this into my site, but for only a couple hours of work, and free hosting thanks to Flickr, you can’t beat this. See the final results here: http://www.impossibilities.com/OwenMartellHall.php and let me know what you think.

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This is a much longer post than usual for me, its a story about my dad and I and some devices we have been playing with, and may provide some useful info for folks in the market for a good mobile device/phone with PIM capabilities. I’ll be updating it over the next day or so with some additional links and photos, but wanted to get the core portion of the entry up before I dive into some other projects early this coming week.

I had a chance to play with a BlackBerry 8700c for a few days recently and wanted to share my thoughts about it. This past week, my parents and brother were in Philadelphia from Georgia to visit and see their first grandson, my 3 week old son Owen. My dad had just picked up a BlackBerry 8700c a few days before arriving. He had purchased it to fill a gap that his Motorola Razr phone is sorely lacking in – a useable address book. My dad has carried around a Sharp Wizard for several years, he has gone through at lest two of the models since the mid nineties. One of the reasons he used it so long, was that it had a really decent address book, and the type was very easy to read. Like me, my father has glaucoma which has progressively gotten worse, so large type, good contrast and readability is key to any device he uses. Last year his trusty Wizard finally started to give up the ghost, as the screen began to fail. So in December of last year he purchased two new black Motorola Razr v3’s since he needed a new phone, and was hoping to be able to replace the wizard as well, plus Cingular was having a great deal for new subscribers. My dad talked to me about it, and I had recommended he go with a Nokia 6681, but because of the price at the time, he wound up with the Razr instead.

As a phone the Razr is decent, the design and size is great, the keypad is top-notch and the screen is pretty vibrant, but two huge hits against it – the UI is horrible, and lo and behold, the thing they call an address book doesn’t allow you to actually store addresses! Names and numbers and email adresses only, not real street address information or other types of data. It’s pitifully organized as well, defaulting to multiple listings of a persons name for each phone entry, only by navigating to a menu with a confusing name and option for Primary Contacts can the entries for a specific contact be consolidated in the overall view or search mode. In my opinion, its the worst excuse for an “address book” I have ever seen on a mobile device, especially a recent device. So my dad realized this not too long after his purchase when he finally got a chance to try and sync up his data from his Sharp Wizard to the Razr. He already had problems with the order on the Razr, as he initially ordered the Black Razr’s but they sent Silver ones instead, and Cingular gave him a hard time about returning those despite it being quite clear on his original order, where he took advantage of a great deal when signing up for Cingular he got a huge discount on the Razrs. So by now over two months had passed since his original order, and he was pretty much locked into his 2 year contract with Cingular, yet the Razr just wasn’t what he was looking for in a phone with some basic PIM functionality.

The Treo and Pocket PC style phones were overkill for his basic needs and more than he wanted to spend on a device. I again recommended a Nokia 6681, as not only would it handle his needs, but it supports Flash Lite 2 and I could even build some customized PIM apps for my dad right in Flash, but my dad was out shopping and stopped by a Cingular store and they started showing him a BlackBerry and how he could swap SIM cards from his Razr and his BlackBerry, and how the BlackBerry could be used in non-network mode, etc. so my dad wound up with the BlackBerry 8700c, which brings us up to a few days ago. While my dad was here, he wanted some help syncing up the info on his Razr to his new BlackBerry. My dad is a PC guy with no Mac experience to speak of other than what I have shown him, and I prefer Mac’s but have PC’s and feel at home on either, just have a preference for working Mac’s. So I quickly setup a new account for him on my laptop, and paired the Razr to the laptop and synced it up and pulled all his contact info, datebook entries, etc. took just a few minutes. Then I paired the BlackBerry with my laptop, but their isn’t native support for BlackBerry’s and the latest version of iSync yet. Fortunately the folks at PocketMac.net famous for their PocketPC syncing software for Mac’s which I’ve purchased and used in the past, offer a free solution for syncing BlackBerry’s through iSync. I really can’t believe its free, as it works quite well, and even allows syncing of Entourage data, and other items, that you couldn’t do with iSync alone. The only minor inconvenience, is that it only works over a tethered USB connection and not the built in BlueTooth of the device. This was just a minor issue, and as soon as I plugged it in to the USB port, it showed up in iSync, and I was able to quickly transfer his calendar, tasks, and contact list to the BlackBerry, and we were in business. Less than 10 minutes spent and everything was working.

I like the screen and the form factor of the BlackBerry 8700c, its certainly easier to read than the Razr, the keypad feels solid and is fairly easy to use and type, much easier than your standard T9 numeric keypad entry on a regular phone first device. The lack of a camera doesn’t matter as the photos on the Razr are terrible compared to the Canon PowerShot my dad like to use, so that wasn’t a factor. The address book is far more useful and for the most part would do what my dad needed and filled the gap where the Razr left off. The BlackBerry certainly has some great email and enterprise level features, but that is the extent to which I like the BlackBerry. Mainly because of the interaction with the device – the scroller/click button used for navigating is not completely awful to use, but its just not intuitive to me. I remember when I bought my Sony DCR-TRV10 DV-CAM which I still use, and it has a scroller/click wheel to navigate its menus, and I thought it was interesting then, but just lacks something when compared to other navigation input methods. I know a lot of people who swear by their “CrackBerrys” as they have become addicted to them and the level of “connectedness” they provide. I think the OS itself lends to the lack of ease of use of the scroller/click button, as there are no visual indicators or hints to let you know when you should click or drill down for more information. To be fair, I’m sure after some regular usage, it would become second nature, but I just kept feeling like their was something lacking, and the lack of a 4 or 5 way nav tool kept making me think that I was wasting time with extra steps navigating menus and options with the wheel. When you compare the head on wheel style navigation of an iPod to the sideways wheel style on the BlackBerry and some older sony devices, the iPod wins because it gives a greater degree of control over the velocity and speed at which you can scroll through items. The sideways nature of the BlackBerry wheel and lack of tactile feedback doesn’t lend itself to the same type of control. I think this could be partially corrected through the OS itself, but on this 8700c, it just isn’t there for me. My dad agreed with me, it was OK to use, but just felt awkward in many ways.

So my dad had paid over $500 for the BlackBerry, and the other shortcoming it has, is that in the daily tasks, he was used to copying and pasting rather quickly or moving entries around on his Sharp Wizard once a task had been completed. He didnt always need a recurring tasks, but sometimes, he might need to do the same task again the following day. With the BlackBerry, the procedure to Copy/Paste/Move to the next day, move to the right hour/slot for the replicated task, was completely arduous, and required way to many steps and spins and clicks of the scroll wheel. This was another strike against it. So we talked for a while, and I finally got to show my dad my Nokia’s which I had been recommending all along. I live in Philadelphia, and my dad lives in Georgia, so we never got to make this physical demonstration before. I showed my dad my 6600, a 6680 and an N70. I demonstrated all the PIM features on each, and how the OS was more intuitive to use with the 5 way nav stick. I also got to show him the progression and refinement of the OS over time on each of the devices. I was able to demonstrate how easy it is to sync your data on a Mac with iSync and BlueTooth, and using the Nokia PC suite on his PC. The address book had everything and more than he needed to retire the Sharp Wizard, the Calendar and tasks were easier to use. All the extra features for opening PDF’s, Office documents, better Web broswing, all really appealed to my dad. The small screen sizes of my devices were a bit small for my dad, but the Nokia E61 is the exact same form factor as the BlackBerry 8700c including the QVGA screen and keypad. This nearly clinched it, but it took one more thing to make my dad consider returning the BlackBerry. Its an interesting feature, that I have never really taken advantage of on my Nokias, but really sold my dad on looking at the Nokias – its the Info Print application. The Info Print application allows you to print out Messages, Contacts, Calendar items, and Notes you have on your device. When my dad has a meeting or a task, or appointment, he likes to print out the information so he has a hardcopy, and sometimes simply because its easier to read for him. So I’m going to look at BlueTooth capable print adapters and printers for him as well. I have an Epson Stylus Color Photo 300m that has an option for a BlueTooth module. I’m going to pick one up and try it out with my devices and see what happens. So my dad is going to return the BlackBerry 8700c, and supposedly Cingular is going to start carrying the Nokia E62, the US version of the E61. The big difference is that the E62 doesn’t have built in WiFi or UMTS, but does have the following:

  • Full size
  • Quad-band GPRS / EDGE
  • MS Direct Push
  • BlackBerry Connect
  • XpressMail
  • Tons of Bluetooth profiles
  • Symbian 9.1 / S60 3.0 edition
  • 235MHz CPU
  • 32MB RAM and 160MB Flash Memory
  • MiniSD
  • QVGA 256k color display
  • USB mass storage support
  • Full QWERTY keypad

..along with all the other standard Nokia Applications and available third party apps. If that wasn’t enough it also has Flash Lite 1.1 built into the device. So again I’ll be able to make custom apps for my dad to fill in the gap for anything the device itself might not do just the way he wants. I’m fairly certain it will also support Flash Lite 2.1 at some point if not already. Just need to get my hands on one. We are going to wait a bit to see when Cingular might start carrying it, otherwise, we are just going to buy an unlocked E61 from MobilePlant/Expansys for a little less than the BlackBerry cost. My only hesitation in purchasing the UK E61 model, is that in the past my UK 6680 model developed problems with the keypad, and despite having full warranty coverage – no one – and I mean no one in the states can repair, and the warranty isn’t good for overseas repair, so I can’t even send it to the UK to get it repaired. I even called Nokia headquarters in Espoo, Finland and all around the world racking up some hefty call fees, all to no avail. Im still waiting to find a distributor for the part on my keypad that needs to be replaced on my 6680 before it is fully functional again. I’ll need to investigate to see what kind of warranty/repair options are provided through MobilePlanet/Expansys for overseas models purchased for use in the States.

Bottom line is, after going through several different devices ranging all the way from a Sharp Wizard, to a Motorola Razr v3, to a BlackBerry 8700c, to several Nokia Series 60 devices, for both my purposes, and my dads basic needs, the Nokias won out in pretty much all the categories. I’ll update this article or make a new entry once we get a hold of either the E61 or the E62.

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I’ve been wanting to update/upgrade my site/blog and infrastructure for some time now, but client work and a million other items always seem to take priorities. This entry will serve as a reminder to me on what I want to accomplish and how to go about it. Now that I have a newborn, I’m learning that having 3-4 hours of uninterrupted development time is simply a luxury I won’t have for some time, and that at most I’ll have maybe and hour or so at a stretch before I need to attend to something. So, I’ve decided to take a staged approach to my personal projects including this site overhaul, tackling small pieces one at a time, and then perhaps a refactor at the end to glue some dangly bits together.This approach might not work for all types of projects, but for my own personal site, it should work out fine. My site has always been a conglomeration of found things, useful bits, and odds and ends jammed together with some badly coded HTML, which eventually evolved into a blog when the word/term hit the tipping point of acceptance. Except for one point in time when it was all Flash, it has never really had good consistent design, or utilized full standards – all completely opposite of what I try to accomplish, preach and deliver to clients, so its always been somewhat embarrassing to me, I just never seem to have time to focus on it, its like the old story of the cobbler who can’t put shoes on his kids feet or the optician with the blind son. It’s also somewhat of a pain to update on the backend, so one of my goals is to make it easier for me to update and make posts. This latest iteration is mainly driven from a highly customized build of an old/outdated version of Pivot. The latest version is almost at a stable release, and I plan to implement it to take full advantage of XHTML and CSS, which should make my job a lot easier. Posting entries with the latest version of Pivot is great, and it supports a lot of standards that weren’t around just a few years ago. As part of my staged approach, I have updated a couple small things while I’m waiting for Pivot 1.30 to hit full stable release status. Here are the few updates I’ve made in the past day or so:

  1. Changed banner ad code so that regular visitors will not see Google ads or certain other types of advertisements, only visitors that have been referred to my site from another link or search engine will see the majority of those banners. There will still be a few, but the most intrusive ones will no longer be visible to regular visitors as a courtesy
  2. Added a section listing all my archives at one easy to use URL. I’m doing this as I plan on also listing lots of individual articles or files that aren’t necessarily in blog entries, and are scattered around my server in over 2 gigs of loose files and folders. This page should make them more accessible. This will also allow me to use some collapse and expand JavaScript code on the DIV’s for the long listings of links and archives in the side navigation of the site, while still remaining visible to search engines.
  3. I’ve added a Links/Resources page with tons of Flash links, blogs, resources, etc. Its not complete yet, as I’m going to add a ton of info for mobile devices, and some other technologies, as well as an automatic inclusion of my del.icio.us bookmarks, etc. Right now it includes an automatic inclusion of all the blogs/sites that the MXNa aggregator aggregates, as well as FullasaGoog, others to come soon. I had a private page on my server that contained most of this info, so now its time to share. This page has lots of content, so I’m also utilizing a collapse/expand JavaScript code to allow more content to fit on the page.
  4. Updated my favorite links/friends/Flash blogs in my blogroll in the right-side navigation. This has been out of date for way too long now and many of the links were broken or directed to spam search engines. I finally automated it and made it easy to edit. I still need to go back and finalize the entries, but now I can do so quicker and with less effort.
  5. I’ve updated my 404 page to be more informative. It’s not complete yet, but it will eventually make some intelligent recommendations on pages that might be close to the URL you typed, using PHP’s metaphone and soundex functions to interpolate out and automatically determine a list of items that might be close to what you were trying to find. Right now its at least offering up a more intelligent error message and a listing of popular resources/links/articles on my site.
  6. Updated my Amazon store area to automatically default to Flash 8 related books and resources
  7. Added one-click del.icio.us bookmarking links for individual articles.
  8. Put in place a temporary new type treatment at the top – was playing around with filters in Flash 8 and went a little nuts. I know its really bad, but at least its new. I really need to focus on the design aspects of the site, but functionality is going to be my first area of concern in this staged approach, at least for the short term.
  9. Updated CSS – I’ve already adjusted some of the A colors for links, hover, visited to be a little easier on the eyes, especially in IE on a PC, but like I said, design wise, I’ve got a long way to go. Once I move to the latest version of Pivot, everything will be in XHTML and CSS, so this will be much easier to accomplish. Right now things are in tables, and hacks abound everywhere. My goal is to have a fully validating XHTML compliant code perfect site, like what I provide for clients

That covers the current minor changes. Got a few more in store, but the big changes wont really be happening until I get the next version of Pivot up and running. I already have a version of it working locally with all the old entries moved over, but I don’t want to deploy it yet till its considered fully stable.
One of my main goals over the next few iterations is to divide my site into two distinct entities, which may end up at entirely separate URL’s eventually. The schism will result in a personal site for posting anything I want and to allow me to focus on other areas of interest besides Flash, and my professional site for clients and items only pertaining to work and my services. Its been a long time coming, and I need it more now than ever. The other side effect of this, is that it will allow me to post more Flash related news at my revamped Philadelphia Flash Platform Adobe User Group Site which is also moving over to Pivot the moment it hits full stable release status. More to come soon…

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I’ve been extremely busy here at the homestead taking care of Owen and getting to know him. He really is amazing. We have had quite a number of family members visiting for the past few weeks, so I have a ton of photos I need to get online for family members and friends, and plenty of email and work to catch up on. I had a free moment today, so I thought it would be appropriate to post a couple photos with Owen modeling his limited edition Flash Is Mobile/Flash Comes In All Sizes t-shirt I got from Bill Perry a while back. Owen is not quite big enough to really wear it yet, but it makes a great blanket for him. With the recent announcements that Adobe has worked with Qualcomm and Verizon to support Flash Lite 2.1 on the BREW platform, I thought this was especially apropos.

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