Monday, January 26, 2009

Que Pasa?

I'm alive! I guess I've been off the grid for awhile. Things have really ramped up this month at the Basement. Lots of projects coming through... and more responsibility for me personally. I am still trying to learn how to juggle the management hat with the production hat. Seems like I end up doing a full days work of both, meaning some crazy 70/80 hour weeks lately. sheeesh. But I am learning. The company is learning. It is just growing pains really.

I should have a pretty sweet Flash 10 website to show here in the next week. I will keep you posted.

On top of that, we had our first exploratory meeting for Flash Indianapolis. I want to have our first real meeting February 19th... will definitely be posting more on that soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flash 10 in Flex 3 (How to Install SDK for Eclipse)

This is not anything new... many people have posted on this very topic. It just took me awhile to find the links so I'd like to put everything in one place that is easy to find.

1. Download the latest SDK (currently 3.2).

2. Create a new folder called "3.2" in the following directory: Program Files/Adobe/Flex Builder 3 Plug-in/sdks/
(Replace Flex Builder 3 Plug-in with whatever your Flex3 Folder is called)

3. Unzip the contents of the SDK zip file to this folder.

4. Have the SDK Target Flash Player 10 by following these instructions.

5. In Eclipse, go to Windows and open up the Preferences. Off to the left, click on "Flex" and then click on "Installed Flex SDKs". Now on your right, click "Add" and browse for the 3.2 folder you created in step 2.

6. Now you should have Flex 3.2 listed as an available SDK. Check Flex 3.2 and click Apply.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

3 Goals for 09

I thought about recapping last year... but that seems redundant and trite. Its all here. Just start at the first post and work your way up. :)

I think what is more important and interesting is what I am striving for in 09. I have many things buzzing around in my head that I would like to achieve. Many of these things are somewhat vague and hard to measure, such as develop and grow as a leader as the basement grows. And although these types of goals are good and important, I want to focus this post on three goals that are easy to quantify, will make a large impact on my life, and will make a large impact on this blog.

1. Start a Flash Platform Users Group in Indianapolis. The online community for Flash is fantastic, but Indianapolis is currently lacking a local/personal community of its own. I would love to be able to sit down with other developers and share our ideas/experiences. We've been planning this for awhile and have an exploratory meeting coming up. I'm really hoping it takes off and brings some developers out of the woodwork... I know they are out there hiding somewhere. If you are in the area and are interested in participating, dropping by, or even speaking... please feel free to send me a message. mark [at] thebasement [dot] tv

2. I would love to give teaching a shot. During the Fall of 09 I hope I get a chance at an adjunct position. This goal will be tough because it will be mostly determined by others' decisions. However, I will do whatever I can to put myself in a position that will offer students something of value. And if I do in fact get a position, then that adds a second part of this goal: to help students find their passion while giving them the tools to reach it. OK OK, sounds cheesy. But seriously, I want to show people how fun and rewarding interactive media can be and at the same time I want to help them understand how to get their foot in the door and how to complete work the right way, in a manner that matches the real world. Sure, I realize this paragraph probably makes me sound extremely green, and maybe I am. But I feel as though I need to give it a shot. And I feel as though it would help me grow as a developer/leader and could also be extremely rewarding.

3. Expand my developer knowledge outside of Flash. Obviously I want to continue developing and growing within Flash as well, especially with projects such as the Side Scroller Engine. That is a given for any Flash developer and shouldn't need to be said. But I also would like to venture outside of my bubble and comfort zone. I would like to write some Expression scripts for After Effects. I would like to read a book on game development in another language (probably C) and if it goes well I may want to pick up C and test my luck on something like Unity3D. I feel this will be important to help keep me fresh and flexible. It should also make me a better developer and more valuable asset to the Basement team.

So those are the big three. I feel pretty good about them. I will need some help to get them done, but I have confidence that they can and will happen.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Top 5 Books I read in 2008

Don't get this confused with the best books that came out in 08. All of these books have been around for awhile. These are just the top 5 that I read this year and would recommend to a friend.

5. Action Script 3.0 Animation: Making Things Move!
This is the only Flash book to make the list. I mainly read this to ramp up to speed before Keith's next book: AdvancED ActionScript 3.0 Animation, which was just released last week. I placed it at 5th because a lot of its content is old, especially if you have been following Keith back when he ran his lab. However, if you are new to Keith's work then this is a must read. And even if you are like me and have been following him for years, it is still a great refresher and contains a few new gems mixed in with the classics. Can't wait to get my grubby hands on his new book.

4. Unleashing the Ideavirus.
I read a few Seth Godin books this year, but this one is by far his best work. He is an entertaining writer with some very insightful ideas. The main reason he fell to 4th is that most of his books could be summed up in a few chapters... possibly even a few paragraphs. Granted, the examples and finer details are nice to drive home the message and make it stick. When you have some time, check out his blog... its a good daily read.

3. Managing Humans
This is a fantastic read by Michael Lopp, who runs the blog Rands in Repose. Its tailored towards technical people (programmers, engineers, etc) who are becoming team leads and having to manage people as well as code. He has a unique way of explaining complex situations through entertaining stories and analogies. To find out if its for you, check out his popular posts on his blog and see if you can relate to the Nerd Handbook (unfortunately I can).

2. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
Jacob here at the basement recommended this book and I can't say enough good things about it. It was written back in 93, yet everything in it still applies today. You can check out the chapter headers on wikipedia to get a general overview. But I highly recommend reading the book out in full if you are interested in Marketing or if you are an entrepreneur.

1. The Tipping Point
This may have reached #1 partly due to the fact that I just finished it and its fresh in my mind. With that disclaimer out of the way, I still feel its deserving of the top spot. The basic underlying concept is similar to the Ideavirus, yet instead of focusing on marketing and technology, Malcolm Gladwell takes it to a whole new level and applies it to worldly issues. Even if you grasp the basic synopsis, I highly recommend this book. The references and examples given in this book make every page worthwhile. Not only does he challenge the way we market new ideas, but he also challenges how we tackle social problems. This is one of those few books that has the potential to change your perspective.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Importance of Focus Groups

Jacob recently posted the Case Study from our Transitions project. Here are the results from the study:

A 63% conversion rate (more than 60% of visitors to the web space engaged with the interactive tool), an average time on site of 8 minutes, 42 seconds and an 80% tool/survey completion rate across an average monthly volume of 37,850 unique website visitors! Response, conversions and simple engagement to the space and the tool are more than double that of the first-generation EGG. Manufacturing partners, managed care companies and global distributors are all actively seeking ways to integrate this program into their own sales efforts for 2009 and beyond.

You can read the full Case Study Here.

Here is the 27 question interactive tool that the Basement worked on.

From a developer's standpoint, the key lesson I took from this project is the importance of focus groups. Our team finished a majority of the project a couple weeks early so that we could give it a test run and "tweak it" a bit. Basically we had a group of volunteers enter the site with minimal instructions and watched what they did. It was amazing. Some people didn't find the tool. Those that did find the tool did not see any of the 6 videos we created, nor did they see the 3D glasses being built in the bottom right of the screen.

Afterwords, the users were asked questions and were able to give feedback. We were shocked by the comments. My favorite: "I wish I could see the pair of glasses that you recommended." (Um, excuse me sir, they were RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE!) It is soo hard to sit back and have your hard work ripped to shreds. Yet, after licking my wounds it was an incredible educational experience. One that I am very glad that I went through, even if it was painful.

What the users were doing was clicking through the questions as fast as they could so that they could get to the end. The questions and next button had a very horizontal motion so their eyes kept going back and forth, never venturing around to see the blinking video buttons let alone the large 3D glasses being built in the bottom right of the screen. It was simply amazing. They were on a mission and they didn't want to be distracted from finished the quiz.

Therefore, instead of a few last minute tweaks, we faced a full site redesign 2 weeks before launch. Brian came up with some fantastic improvements to the design (which is what you currently see on the tool). We embraced the horizontal eye movement that users were using and moved the glasses from the bottom right and placed it between the question and the next button. Their eyes had to move over the glasses to click on the next button. If they didn't see it then... god help them. The callouts for the videos were also beefed up. They were placed in the same region as the glasses and we used bright yellow color as well as some basic motion to catch the user's eye.

Had we not taken the time for the focus group we never would have realize that our design was seriously flawed and I highly doubt we would have had the same numbers in the case study mentioned above. To me, this focus group was the turning point in the project. One of the keys that made it a success. It was definitely well worth the time and effort, no matter how painful it was initially.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm Baaaaack!

Where did I go? Well I fell off the grid from Christmas Eve until today... 12 days! I haven't had that long of a break in 4 years. Have I mentioned I am very grateful to be at the Basement? Other companies I have worked for usually make a big push before years end, which means long hours and not much time off. Their priorities are upside down, forcing you to squeeze in time with the family during a period you should be focusing on them. The Basement, however, decided to close shop for over a week! Granted, tomorrow could be a swift kick in the balls and the next couple weeks will be packed with some late nights, but I would much rather face them after some time to recoup and refill my tank than face them during the holidays.

And I definitely refilled my tank. I decided not to take my laptop with me, I barely checked my e-mail, and I rarely kept my phone on me. Crazy, I know... yet somehow I survived. Funny how addicted to those items we become. Without them its almost like being home alone when the power goes out... soooo what do I do now? Well, I spent the first half at home with my family: board games, movies, naps, and some Wallyball. Mix in some big family meals and some gifts to exchange. I must give props to my brother for gifting the worst $15 gift in family history: a dead fetal pig. He is a biology teacher so he has access to those types of things. But wow, seeing my 6 year old cousin's expression when she pulled that out was priceless. She is probably scarred for life... but that is what she gets for picking my brother's gift.

I spent the second half also with my family, but this time in Florida: sun, beach, bike rides, crab races, sand volleyball, and kayaking with a dolphin. Did I mention sunny 75 degree weather all week? That might not mean a lot to some of you, but this week's high in Indianapolis is in the mid 30's... burrrrr.

Alright, so the tank is refilled, now what? I already said work is going to be a bit busy (so no work on the game for awhile). That is expected and I am ready. I want to do a year's end blog post as well as goals for next year. I will have those out in the next couple days. Other than that I guess its just back to business.

Thanks for checking in on me. Time to get back to it.