Archive for September, 2006

I plan on doing a condensed version of my Make Your Own Robots: Integrating and Controlling Popular Electronic and Robotics Kits with Adobe Flash at MAXUP during Adobe MAX 2006 next month. Based on a lot of feedback and questions I’ve gotten recently on this topic, there are a lot of developers out there aren’t aware of the great kits/solutions for connecting your Flash applications to external peripherals and electronics. So I’m going to give a rundown on all the systems I’ve worked with, and the pros/cons of each. I’m really gearing this at getting people pointed in the right direction and exposing them to what is readily available and where to get started. The sessions are short, and I could do several hours on this topic, and have no idea when my time-slot will be, so if you don’t catch my MAXUP session or simply want to know more, make sure to keep an eye out for me and introduce yourself if you want more info. I’ll try to make myself available in the community pit for questions as a representative of the Philadelphia Flash Platform Group and my recent induction into the Adobe Community Experts.

If you don’t know what MAXUP is, it is a BarCamp-style community track hosted by Ted Patrick and Mike Potter of Adobe. Ted has a great Breeze Acrobat Connect Presentation that gives a great overview of MAXUP. By the way if your going to MAX, make sure you check out Ben Watsons “We Demo You Going to MAX” contest, you might just win an iRiver device.

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We had a great turnout last night at the third Make:Philly Meeting . My presentation went pretty well and there seemed to be quite a bit of interest based on the questions and follow up I’ve received so far. I even managed to pick up a LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit in time for the meeting to show off a little bit about it as well along with the other kits I demonstrated. The main demonstration was a firewire webcam that I created a system to motorize and control the pan/tilt of the camera via Flash and BlueMelons BlueSense kit. Signals sent over Bluetooth through an XML socket server. I am even able to control the pan/tilt of the camera automatically tracking objects that appear in a webcam view inside of Flash via the bitmap API of Flash 8. Here is a large photo of the project in its current state. I plan on releasing the Flash source files when I’ve got them polished up a bit more. I’ll also try to post up a movie up of the system in action. I also plan on talking about this a bit in the MAXUP community sessions at Adobe MAX 2006 in Las Vegas next month.

In the meantime I’ve made available the presentation stacks in three handy formats. I really like Apple’s Keynote now and used it for putting this stack together – first time I used Keynote and it worked really well. Its too bad Breeze presenter doesnt integrate with Keynote like it does with Powerpoint, that would make for some really great presentations…. Anyway – the files are available in Flash, Acrobat and Quicktime. The Acrobat version is the lightest-weight at 2.3MB but no razzmatazz animations, the .swf Flash version at 3.4MB has some animations and sound that get translated from the original Keynote file, and the Quicktime version at 47Mb has all the cool effects, etc. of the original presentation. (We shall see how long my bandwidth holds up on that version – so get that version while its hot!)

Make Your Own Robot: (Right click on PC’s/Control or Right-Click on Macs to download)

One tip for outputting files from Keynote to Flash: Keynote outputs Flash 6 files, but doesn’t turn on compression, so the files are way larger than necessary. A quick run through Flasm with the -z command line option, and you’ve got yourself a much smaller file. The preso above shrank from 6.6Mb down to 3.4Mb – quite a savings.

Finally – there should be some photos and videos on the Make:Philly site of last nights meetings very soon. I uploaded about 136Mb worth that should be posted soon. The photos and videos consist of last night “Makers:Challenge” where we had to make a motor powered boat traverse a length of water in a timed fashion. I was on the winning team (the Pontoon Goons) making a boat that crossed the finish line in 6 seconds.

The next meeting is shaping up to be really great – an Art Buggy contest – see the site for more info.

UPDATE: I couldn’t get one of them together in time, and forgot to make mention of it in my preso or in the materials, but there is an open source kit called the Arduino covered recently in Make Volume 7. You can put it together yourself, buy one from the Arduino folks or places like Spark Fun. They have a nice open source IDE to program it and its cross platform, Mac(PPC/Intel), PC, Linux – I’ll try to incorporate this into the next version of the preso along with a Gumstix computer for a super tiny robot controller. I’ve also added this as a resource link on my MAX 2005 Flash on Every Screen Project Archive

UPDATE:I just happened to run across this great (if not a little sick) Flash animation titled: “Robots Are Our Friends” at AlbinoBlacksheep.com – thought it was apropos – enjoy!

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Next Sunday at 7pm at the next Make:Philly meeting I’ll be doing a small presentation about utilizing Blue Melon’s line of BlueSense hardware kits, how they can work with Flash and how the kit stacks up compared to similar systems (Making Things Teleo, Make:Kit, Phidgets, etc). Blue Melon is a company from the Netherlands that makes this great line of hardware modules (sensors, controllers, devices, etc) that communicate over Bluetooth and USB. They have software kits for integrating into MAX/MSP, Processing, Pure Data, Flash, Mono/C#, C, VB.Net and Java. The really cool aspect of this system is the Bluetooth integration – so you aren’t tethered by a cable to your project and computer which allows for some really interesting capabilities. I’ve been playing with my kit for a few weeks now, and I hope to have my little project integrating it with Flash and projector apps like MDM:Zinc polished up for the meeting. I’m going to post a full review of the kit here after the presentation next Sunday.

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I am proud to say that on August 10th of last year I was one of the first few Flash developers to buy a copy of Grant Skinners gProject Panel. I realized what a boon it was to my productivity right away and have been using it ever since. For those that don’t know gProject is a drop in Panel for Flash MX 2004 and Flash 8 that does everything and much more that the built in project panel should do. I’ve been meaning to share my experience using it for some time, so here goes:

Every single Flash project I have worked on over the past year has been easier to manage thanks to gProject. One job in particular during this past summer that I worked on, a large interactive touch-screen based kiosk/exhibit piece for the United Jewish Federation of New York about the life of Ernest W. Michel, would have been extremely difficult to have completed had it not been for gProject.

The project had several gigabytes worth of data and hundreds of assets I needed to keep track of, mutiple XML based configuration files to manage everything, and several external class files to control animations, video content and integration with a Director wrapper. On top of all the assets and development files, I was at least 3 parties removed from the end client, so I went through numerous revisions in a period of a few weeks in order to get things exactly the way the designer had envisioned. We even had some pretty complex Flash based UI control mockups that allowed the designer to tweak settings to exactly as desired and then output XML for me to plug back into the final piece. Did I mention that I was on the final stages of this project while my wife was just about ready to give birth? Well, the one thing that helped keep me sane and allowed me to stay organized with all the back and forth and revisions, was gProject. gProject let me effortlessly keep track of everything, see all my files and folders from within the Flash IDE without having to change context to the Finder or switch my mode of thinking. Towards the end of development when the final testing was being done on the installed hardware, we had to nail down a few bugs, again gProject let me easily manage several different versions to do some regression testing and make sure the fixes didn’t introduce new problems. In the end when it was all delivered and Ernest himself got to see it for the final approval he was nearly moved to tears. Nothing says you’ve done a good job like making someone cry.

I have to admit that I don’t use some of the more advanced features of gProject like auto-integration of Unit Testing framework code, but stuff like the Quick Project feature, Organize Library utility, and the general ability to keep track of all your files/classes/assets (and organize them how you like to work) and quickly compile them (even multiple files at once) with the click of one icon sure go a long way. gProject brings plenty of value with its project list and recent file list, and has a great number of deeper features for the more advanced Flash developer. Did I mention it will even create stub classes for you in packages based on a template class you provide? With the latest version 1.3, Grant even added in a cool replacement Start Page panel that replaces the default Start Page in Flash with one with a sleek black look and feel that integrates your gProject project list, as well as bonus RSS reader that pulls in content from MXNA and Fullasagoog aggregators.

After working with gProject on every single Flash project for the last year, I really don’t know what I would do without it. I would feel as if Flash was crippled in some way if I had to give it up now. Its one of those things that should have been packaged with Flash from the beginning. If you want to read more about it in depth, take a look at the documentation to find out about all the features and to see additional screenshots. Of all the software packages and add-ons, components, etc. that I’ve purchased or invested in over the years for Flash, I can honestly say that for the money this is definitely one of the top items that has increased my productivity across the board. Don’t take my word for it though, read a couple other reviews from the past about it, and then pick up a copy for yourself.

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