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Flash 8 - Late Summer 2005

There are quite a few new abilities slated for Flash 8, now expected in late summer. The one that excites me most is the new text rendering engine. At the moment, small anti-aliased text can look blurred when compared to text renderered by the system. Also of interest is the bitmap handling features - I'm hoping that also includes dynamically loading .gif images.

Posted by Alexander on February 20, 2005 | Flash 8 - Late Summer 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

CD-ROM Based E-Learning Still Prevalent

E-learning Poll: I'm not sure how scientific the poll methodology here is, but some interesting things are thrown up. CD-ROMs are the most prevalent form of learning in organizations - over 70% use CDROMs for e-learning.

note: While a lot of products in e-learning are CD-ROM deliverables - I think a lot of developers are using Flash rather than Director or Authorware because they know it will transfer easily onto the web when needed.

I'm not so impressed with “e-learning is more effective when combined with more traditional forms of learning” (83 percent agree). - The statement may have been interpreted to mean 'when combined with additional' - in which case you might expect a very high agreement.

Posted by Alexander on February 17, 2005 | CD-ROM Based E-Learning Still Prevalent | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Premier Elearning Resource

The E-learning Centre is an incredible resource for E-learning products, services and events. It's got a slight UK bias, but I think E-Learning users and creators from all over the world will find it the most complete reference available. The founder, Jane Knight also keeps a 'What's New blog' related to the content of the site.

Posted by Alexander on February 16, 2005 | Premier Elearning Resource | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rapid E-learning

I think she means Rapid E-learning Content Development. Rapid E-learning conjures images in my mind of people clicking their way through hours of content in minutes.

There are a growing number of tools for creating e-learning content quickly and cost effectively. There is definitely a balance to be struck between the lower development costs of a Rapid Content Development tool and the flexibility of a fully-featured tool like Macromedia Flash. To my mind, rapid E-learning Development Tools seem particularly useful in the area of fast prototyping and where you'd rather minimize on new programming code.

Posted by Alexander on February 15, 2005 | Rapid E-learning | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Compressing XML for Flash

I've been giving some thought to compressing XML for use in Flash today and I wanted to share my results. Earlier I posted a piece on HTTP Compression and I believe that is the best solution for the problem that most people are trying to solve - namely shortening download time. There's another problem though that I want to address here, and that issue is reducing the actual storage space required.

Essentially what we want to do is to store the XML documents in a compressed format that Flash can read. Easy, you say - use Mario Klingemann's xml2swf. Essentially it wraps the XML as a String variable inside a SWF file. The SWF is readable by other pieces of flash, and it's compressed because Flash MX and upwards can use compression. So problem solved!

Not quite.

Flash strings have a 64K limit. That's a lot for most strings - but it's peanuts when you're dealing with multi-megabyte XML documents. And those are the kind of documents that I typically most want to compress. So I played around with this today and found that the 64K limit applies only to embedded strings. If the strings are dynamically created, the limit doesn't apply.

So, in order to store arbitrarily long XML documents, you firstly create a flash file to hold the XML. Call it data.swf. Then break up the XML into chunks of 63K each. Set each chunk as a different variable. Then use actionscript to amalgamate those chunks into a single string or XML object. Publish. You can then load that compressed data into other flash files and access the final string.

I put together a quick proof of concept and it works nicely - although I think i'd want to automate the process if I were using it in a project.

Posted by Alexander on February 14, 2005 | Compressing XML for Flash | Comments (3) | TrackBack

HTTP Compression for Flash XML

HTTP Compression works so transparently that even some of the most technically aware folks that I've know haven't known of it. Some files are highly compressible, HTML, TXT and XML are sometimes reduce to only 10% of their original size. Webservers will often (with mod_gzip) compress files before sending them out and browsers will automatically unzip them when received. That's an ideal solution when CPU cycles (for compression) are plentiful and bandwidth (for sending) is scarce.

Some files are already compressed - like .gif, .jpg, often .swf files - and these would make bad candidates for further compression, so the webserver has a list of file extensions that it typically applies compression to. Inexplicably, often this does not include .xml files. Check with your hosting provider. Alternatively, rename the files with a .txt or .htm extension to guarantee the benefits of HTTP Compression on your large XML files.

Posted by Alexander on February 14, 2005 | HTTP Compression for Flash XML | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Double Bubble. Computers Set To Be The Next Big Thing

I'm always on the look-out for the next big investment mania. The key being to get-in early and get-out early. My feeling is that commodities will be the clear winner by the end of this decade, but hi-tech is already beginning to look dangerously like a bubble again. Successful tech companies like Macromedia, Amazon and Yahoo are all up six-fold since their lows just over two years ago. I don't believe they are over-valued at this point, just that they were severely undervalued after the dot bomb. If it is part of a Double Bubble, I'd wager that it is still in it's early stages.
Another factor is that right now, Robert X. Cringely thinks that Venture Capitalists have $25 Billion to throw at new ventures.

Posted by Alexander on February 11, 2005 | Double Bubble. Computers Set To Be The Next Big Thing | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Flash on the Nokia Series 60

I can be a luddite when it comes to mobile phones, but this Macromedia press release about Nokia looks significant - I'm guessing it applies to Flash Lite (similar in scope to 20KB size limited Flash 4 apps). Waldo Smeets is hoping for a Flash 7 player on mobile phones - I'm wondering if Macromedia will jump straight to a Flash 7 player, or work their way through Flash 5 first on their way. I pretty sure there won't be a Flash 6 player released again, because the Flash 6 and Flash 7 file formats are so similar.

Posted by Alexander on February 11, 2005 | Flash on the Nokia Series 60 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You lookin' at me?

One of the most popular things on the Central Question website is The Aggression Questionnaire. I guess that's because it has a wider appeal than just for people who are interested in technology - it gives back information about the respondent in the form of a report.

I've added bar charts to that report today, making the feedback much more graphical and user friendly. I've been able to do that because of a new feature that I've added to the Xander Compiler - that's flash components parameterizable with run-time scores. So you generate a score based on your answers, and that score is then fed into a component to give back a visual representation of that information.

So...are you feeling angry?

Posted by Alexander on February 10, 2005 | You lookin' at me? | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Not An End-Of-Process Test"

This Guardian article illustrates how online assessment can be used to support rather than evaluate learning. This Pembrokeshire college is using screener tests to identify and offer tailored support to any students with literacy or numeracy problems.

Posted by Alexander on February 09, 2005 | "Not An End-Of-Process Test" | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Package Exchange Notification Services

Tom King of Macromedia posts today about PENS, Package Exchange Notification Services. It looks like a way to standardize the 'publish to LMS' function. At the moment, most content authoring tools will allow you to 'export to SCORM' which will give you a .zip file, which you might then upload via a web form or ftp to your LMS. PENS holds out the promise of making that process a lot smoother.

Posted by Alexander on February 09, 2005 | Package Exchange Notification Services | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Technical Sign Language

This caught my interest, it's about a dictionary of technical sign language. I notice that the BBC repeats a lot of TV shows late at night with sign language additions. Maybe sign language animation is something that could usefully be added to content or the Operating System as an accessibility addition. I wonder if a voice to sign language animation converter is the next logical addition.

Posted by Alexander on February 08, 2005 | Technical Sign Language | Comments (0)

Mobile Content Rating

This might be of interest if you're planning on providing content to mobile devices. It's a system of suitability classifications - the ratings appear to be the same as on DVDs/Games but the onus is on the provider to assign the ratings. It's only content that is provided directly by the phone company that is covered, not internet material where the phone company is simply a conduit.

Posted by Alexander on February 08, 2005 | Mobile Content Rating | Comments (0)