creacog

Product Owner/Manager; Digital Project Manager, ex-Developer Available for Product Owner roles
Product Owner/Manager; Digital Project Manager, ex-Developer Available for Product Owner roles

Goodbye Flash

So, I finally uninstalled Flash Player on 31 December 2020 as it ceases to be supported by adobe.

Adobe Flash Player was removed from your system.

Consequently a number of the older articles on this blog, if they didn’t already, will cease to make sense. I started the blog back in 2006 when I had decided to freelance and focus my programming skills on flash.

I now have couple of archive boxes books and DVDs of redundant material.

The first time I encountered Flash was around 1996/1997. I was at the time developing CD-ROM applications using Macromedia Director. The web was starting to take off, although outside of corporate networks everybody’s access was via a dialup modem. Very slow. Browsers were pretty crude and inconsistent in behaviour for all but the most basic interactions.

We had a visit from someone at Macromedia that excited our manager at the time, but I didn’t see the potential in Flash. Yes, it used vectors. Yes, it had animation. But there was little or no interactive capability – no programmatic language – Director was so far ahead.

My career moved to project management, and Flash did make it’s way into our studio, primarily in the realm of designers – interactions remained extremely limited but Flash had two key valuable properties that I think gave it a solid foundation: It looked and behaved the same, no matter what browser or platform, and that being vector based, it was extremely bandwidth efficient compared to anything that could be built in Director (or Authorware)

Next step in my career was server side, and xhtml/javascript. Flash added a further string to its bow by enabling video streaming – mixed with vector animation and more sophisticated interactions – again maintaining consistent appearance across platforms and browsers while the browser wars raged.

As the dot com boom went bust, I went freelance, but having to decide where to focus. I spent time learning Java and Flash, and eventually Flash won my attention – I have always enjoyed working on ‘creative’ projects along with designer and other creative types.

I enjoyed programming ActionScript 2, but Flash felt somewhat buggy at the time. The ActionScript components were good in principle, but again, buggy – so much time spent developing workarounds against a tight deadline.

I really enjoyed programming ActionScript 3 – It was far more solid. capable and better structured, Flex provided a solid framework that did not suffer the problems of the earlier UI component framework.

Flash with Flex remained great at:
* Being consistent across platforms
* Providing a video playback platform
* Proving an animation platform and intuitive ways of tying interactions together with ActionScript
* Enabling designers and developers to work together on really interesting creative projects

In 2010, I was really disappointed by Steve Jobs thoughts on Flash, but more disapointed by Shantanu Narayen’s response. It didn’t feel like there was a technical initiative coming to solve the issues raised by mobile. On reflection, Steve Jobs was right. It is true that performance was poor on mobile devices – certainly on my HTC Desire. And using flash to attempt to emulate the new touch controls, even the scroll inertia was hugely wasteful of cpu cycles compared utilising controls already built into the mobile systems.

I quite liked AIR, and used it with Flex on a few projects. It worked well, although it exposed the perennial issue of the UI controls not necessarily behaving as a user would expect. Yes it continued to provide consistency across platforms, but when we move into an application space, compliance with the expectations of the host system becomes more paramount than ensuring the application looks pixel-for-pixel the same across platforms. Attempting to adapt (testing for OS to decide where to position things like dialog button defaults and window controls) became tedious. The end result – spend the extra effort, or release an inconsistent product.

Most of my discussion is from a programmatic / application point of view. For all it’s faults Flash Platform created a great community of designers and developers and a few who could wear both hats, working to build some wonderful projects while the browsers were somewhat chaotic.

Having seen the full life cycle of a product makes me feel old. From its humble beginnings, to massive dominance, to falling back as other technology caught up and surpassed. I still have a sealed copy of Flash Builder 4. I wonder what I’m going to do with that.

Here’s a search that will return my old flash related bloggings

As reported elsewhere

Posted by creacog, 0 comments

Summer 2020

What a year!

As previously written, for me, 2019 was awful.

Towards the end of 2019 as the brain switched back on to matters of career. I focussed more on Scrum and agile in general, with the PSM-I to at least reduce the barrier to entry with an Agile employer.

bootlacehankymask

Opportunities to interview were starting to improve, then, COVID-19!

Considering what the family went through last year, we can only be thankful that we didn’t have that to deal with on top of everything – and of course thinking of those having to cope in this year’s circumstances.

Of course career opportunities and those roles that were looking promising quickly dried up in March/April. Now, with lots more people entering the job market, the immediate future looks challenging. My focus remains on finding a role within an Agile/Scrum environment, where I can transfer tonnes of digital experience along with the last couple of years of learning Scrum/Agile/Product. That learning needs to be put into practice.

I got my hands on a new Mac, so I am bang up to date with OS versions and current software. The big screen is ideal for working with JIRA, Miro and Lucidchart.

So, learning and self-improvement continues, and I’ve added a reading list of the resources I have found most useful. This blog will be kept more up to date as and when I find things that I think are worth sharing.

Sunny day in the park

All said and done, long walks everyday have been a good way to clear the mind and start the day.

Posted by creacog in Personal, Product management, 0 comments

Hello to my iMac 5K 2019

As previously noted, my trusty Mac Pro Early 2008 has been end of life for some time. It entered Apple’s vintage and obsolete products list back in 2015 and the last supported Mac OS version is 10.11.6 dates from 2016. Over it’s time, filled with hard drives, memory upgrades and a replaced graphics card. Switching to SSD for the system drive in 2014 gave it a new spring of life. Still a decently speedy machine, but it kicks out some heat. Over recent years, 3rd party application updates have been dropping backwards compatibility so after 12 years use, it is time for something new.

While the iMac has been at “Don’t buy” status for some time on MacRumors, with the prospect of a 2020 iMac rumoured to have a substantial redesign. The 2019 MacBook Pro (or its expected 2020 update) having been much improved over the prior generation would have been an option, however the ‘Covid-19 lockdown‘ triggered the decision to act. With everyone home based, there is less reason pay a premium for a Mac Book Pro and having found a base configuration 2019 5K iMac on Apple’s Refurb store (≈£230 less than a non-refurb) seemed very good value in comparison.

iMac 5K 2019

Upgrading the memory to 24GB was quick and easy and inexpensive using the 16GB kit from Crucial and an inexpensive 2TB external drive serves as a TimeMachine backup drive.

The most painful part of the process was the time taken to encrypt the drives and to transfer data with the Migration assistant.  I now have a fast machine which doesn’t blow heat into the room. The 5K screen looks great compared to the 12 year old 23 inch cinema display. I have no problem with the size of the bezel, it frames the screen from the background in my room. It will be a little bit more of an issue when I eventually add a second screen.

Having skipped four major OS versions to Catalina 10.15.4, I expected a lot of change. The increase in security permissions checking was a little annoying at first – but less annoying than a compromised system. I was looking forward to Dark Mode, but sadly I found that I don’t like it. The white on black text is too high contrast for me, and it presents a heavier font weight – making differing text styles less clear. Further, the Mac OS X application windows rely on a shadow rather than border chrome to define the edges. These shadows are ineffective as visual cues when everything is dark, so it is back to light mode for me. Being able to run current versions of XCode, Photoshop, XD and others, and the much improved quality and speed of video playback on the 5K screen are more than worth cost of this machine.

I’ll be continuing with my trusty Matias Tactile Pro 2 (used daily since 2006). I’ve never understood why anyone would choose to use laptop-style keyboards with a desktop. Apple hasn’t offered a decent keyboard since the Apple Extended Keyboard II.

Posted by creacog in Apple, Mac OS, 0 comments

Qualifying in Scrum

I have worked in largely non-Agile, non-Scrum organisations. With my Product ambitions, ensuring my next role is Agile is something of a challenge. I have stacks of experience of handling the sort of problems that always arise in any event – mostly due to change management. My feeling is that in a Scrum environment, through its three pillars of Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation change should be immediately easier to handle, not harder.

I decided to certify. Being self-funded, the Scrum Alliance route was going to be out of my reach, so PSM via Scrum.org is my way to go. The prospect of having to pay to to re-sit the test is extra motivation to put in the work to pass first time and there really is more to it than just reading the scrum guide a few times. My route:

On completion of the assessment, a score report is returned with percentage achievement by focus area (e.g. Product Value) with corresponding links to specific resources if improvement is needed in those areas.

So, for me Job Done now to learn by doing!

PSM I

Awarded: Dec 13, 2019

Concluding, the study and practice assessments were all valuable experience and leave me more determined than ever to work in an Agile, preferably Scrum environment going forwards.

Posted by creacog in Agile, Product management, 0 comments

Book donation to NMOC

An enjoyable trip to The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, UK. Excellent presentations by the volunteers there explaining the history and operation of the codebreaking machinery including the BOMBE, Tunny, Heath Robinson and COLOSSUS. I’d very much recommend anyone visiting Bletchley Park walks the extra few paces to visit this separate museum in Block H.

BOMBE

There are working exhibits of so many of the computers important to computing in Britain, from mainframes through the explosion of personal computing from the late 70s.

A key purpose of the visit was to donate an old book and punched cards. I received these from a neighbour in 1986 while studying A-level computer science. The book dates from 1973 and relates to an ICL 1900 series Main Frame.  The ICL 2966 in the museum is far more recent but is running as a 1900 and gives a feel of the scale of the machinery then used.

It was interesting to read, some 46 years since it was written. I am reminded of a time when it was unusual for people to encounter, let alone own or carry, any computing device.

Introduction to computer systems
Technical Publication 4955 International Computers Limited 1972
Reprinted 1973

Posted by creacog in Retrospective, 2 comments

Summer 2019

I admit I am writing this retrospectively in 2020 and setting the publish date back to 2019, the context of these words.

A change in work was much needed, and I turned a redundancy into a sabbatical, the last months of 2018 It was de-stressing and an opportunity to explore some tech outside of my day-to-day. I studies VR applications from a user point of view, having got hold of an oculus Go and it was fun to launch my dad into space. I spent some time working through LinkedIn Learning courses on Unity and Blender, to get a feel for the development steps involved in getting an application onto the Go. I enjoyed the experience, however the application build times were enormous on my old 2008 Mac. I wrote up a few notes at the time. I also found a fairly comprehensive Product Management course on Udemy to work through: Become a Product Manager | Learn the Skills & Get the Job.

As we entered 2019, it became clear that my father’s cancer journey was taking a turn for the worse and after a frankly horrible time for him and those closest, we lost him this summer.

My sister especially put a huge amount of time into building the family tree on ancestry. My contribution mostly taking the form of PhotoShop restoration and repair of old family photos, many I hadn’t seen before. It was quite an emotional journey, with resulting images I am quite proud of, only saddened to be unable to share them and hear the tales first hand from those pictured. For example:
An important photo including my grandad and grandmother prior to a flight to the Isle of Man on a de Havilland Rapide in 1938. I took an experience flight in a similar aircraft in May of this year, flying out of Duxford.

Photograph of passengers about to board a de Havilland Dragon Rapide in 1938 - 2019 scan of the photo before repair
Before
Photograph of passengers about to board a de Havilland Dragon Rapide in 1938 - 2019 scan of the photo after repair
After

Posted by creacog in Personal, Photography, Product management, 0 comments

Speaker repair

I have an old NAD-320 amp and pair of JBL Control 1G speakers attached to the TV, but hadn’t used them in a while. Trying out Netflix and finding Hans Zimmer Live in Prague, the TV speakers were certainly inadequate. But what an awful crackling sound from the JBLs. They were about 20 years old, but hadn’t had too much use. Taking off the grill, and the reason was clear…

The foam, around the main cone had gone crispy, cracked and started falling apart. Even 20 years on it is still possible to buy JBL Control 1 speakers new, but I didn’t want to dump these if they could be repaired.

There are a number of repair videos on youtube (search for “jbl control 1 foam repair kit”) and I found a kit on eBay (though the seller doesn’t appear to be there at the time of writing) consisting of replacement foam baffles and glue.

(edit 9/9/2020: A decent repair video published this year)

Armed with these and a screwdriver, I set about it. Taking photos before disconnecting anything to make sure I could reconnect properly…

Then it is time to get rid of the old foam, held in place by glue in addition to being clamped to the speaker case. Firm but delicate screwdriver action required, especially where the foam is glued to the cone…

Since the foam had denatured it was quite difficult to clean away from the metal frame.

Kicking myself when a slip of my scraper slightly damaged the left part of the cone – though not enough to go through, and not damaging performance in any detectable way.

That done, glue applied around the metal frame and to the back of the cone, and the new flexible foam pressed into place and reassemble…

End result – looking like speakers again, and more importantly sounding crisp and clear.

Posted by creacog, 0 comments

Agility before Agile

Having spent the last 6 years or so, mostly project managing things digital, web and mobile we selectively adopted some artefacts and ceremonies from Kanban and Scrum. However neither the organisation nor clients were ready to fully adopt Agile culture.

Meanwhile Agile has found its way beyond tech’ into traditionally conservative organisations including banking.

There was some agility before the Agile manifesto formally pulled it all together. As a Studio Manager in the late 1990s we had a few things right and which I feel map to Agile priorities:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

We certainly recognised and valued staff who could work in multi-function teams.  We sought designers with technical aptitude and developers with an creative flair to ensure some overlap in skill-sets (T-shaped capability). A core project team consisted of a designer, developer and account manager. Any of whom might be project lead, based on the nature of the project. i.e. a very creative project may well be lead by a designer, functionally complex projects lead by a developer and content driven projects typically by an account manager.

At that time,  laptops were rare and hot-desking impractical with each person’s workstation often highly customised, big and heavy.

We redesigned our studio and it’s furniture to facilitate quick and easy team flexibility. Instead of benches of workstations, we had specially designed furniture arranged in clusters of four. Within the cluster, the centre space was kept clear with computer screens were arranged to the outer edge ensuring team members can see each other, easily communicate and view each screen content with a slight turn. Workstations consisted of desktop computer and monitor both on top of a customised mobile pedestal. Changing teams was simply a matter of unplugging and wheeling the workstation to the next cluster.

Two clusters of 4, ready for workstations
Wine and beer for the opening of the new studio

I haven’t found an environment quite like it since. Of course, laptops and WIFI make the ‘wheelie-workstation’ less necessary. I remain proud of the work we did in that studio, my colleagues and the way we worked together.

Posted by creacog in Agile, Product management, Work, 0 comments

Team ideas = development opportunities

A great video by Ableton showing what I consider to be an inspirational, positive, Product and Development environment. As my mindset shifts from ‘Project’ to ‘Product’, I feel this shows how the team’s knowledge and instincts provide a rich a source of product development ideas. After-all they are already signed up to the mission.

  • Agile makes it possible: (from 2 minutes) Transforming to best practice and an agile development culture improved code quality and development flexibility
  • Hack sprint: (from 6 minutes)
    • Every 5th sprint is a ‘Hack Sprint’, ‘hack’ ideas are put forward, teams formed and concrete demo’s built
    • Demos are presented back and pitched for roadmap inclusion

How this approach contributes to a positive culture of continuous improvement is clear from the video; company, product and personal.

Update: 9/9/2020, I noticed that unfortunately the video had been taken private. I am leaving this post in the hope it might become public once more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tILlZRLhBJE

Posted by creacog in Developer, Product management, Sounds, 0 comments

Baby steps: Trying out Unity development for Oculus Go

My aim was to get hold of Oculus Go, experience and understand current UX for that environment and see how easy (or not) it is to develop for.

  • I am not new to programming, but I have been hands off for a few years
  • I had never used Unity
  • I am new to VR/XR

Notes from my getting started experience over the last few weeks:

Posted by creacog in 3d, Developer, Mac OS, Oculus, Oculus Go, Unity, VR/AR, 0 comments