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The Death of Flash

I logged into my Mac the other day, and got a popup for Adobe Flash. Over the last few decades, I’m used to these coming up every other week to annoy me about updating to the latest version. This time, it was almost sad, because it told me to uninstall the Flash plug-in completely.

I always had a mixed relationship with Flash, long before it was bought by Adobe and it was still Macromedia Flash. I think part of it was that it seemed to suddenly become the cool new way to develop content for the Windows desktop, with suboptimal capability on the Mac, and dodgy support on Linux, all authored in a proprietary studio that cost too much. I was a Linux-only user, at least at home, from 1992-2005, so that covers most of the salad days of Flash, and pushed it pretty much off my radar.

I actually spent the first part of that timeframe avoiding graphical browsers as a whole, only using Lynx or Emacs/W3 from home, which seems ridiculous now, but I had a slow modem and an even slower machine back then. When I did finally upgrade to slow DSL and an actual Pentium, I was the type of contrarian who did not want to add plugins, downloads, players, and other overhead to my machine. Also, as an early adopter of the web, I was aghast that people wanted to use Flash as a UI replacement inside the browser. There were sites that simply loaded up a .SWF file and opened it across the entire web browser window, presenting all of their own navigation and UI within the app. It seems like every crappy metal band did this in about 2004. I’m sure if you visited the Queensrÿche web site back then, it would have had a “front page” Flash file that animated a bunch of burning flames or dragons or something, along with blocky icons of their logo you had to click to actually see anything. On my Linux web browser, it would be a giant blank page with a broken-document icon in the middle, which I’d hopefully be able to click to get to Page 2, but sometimes that didn’t work, either.

Jump to much later, and Flash became center stage in the mobile wars. I worked on Windows Mobile and Android phones, which both (sort of) supported Flash. But I owned an iPhone, which didn’t. This was always a point of derision for Android fans, who would pull up some random statistic about how the 24 million people playing Bubble Blaster 7 would never buy the iPhone. Steve Jobs wrote an infamous open letter about this in 2010, about why Apple refused to support Flash. At that time, it seemed almost unfathomable that in a distant universe, nobody would be using Flash. But it was a horrible battery hog, and didn’t have a great story for working on mobile devices with a touch screen. And a big reason for that Jobs manifesto was that an iPhone Flash player would always be second-class, compared to the native Apple UI. The Windows player would be faster, work best, and have the most updates. Go further down the hill, and the Apple version of the player would have some subset of functionality, and everyone would bitch at Apple because Marble Monster 3 didn’t work on the iPhone.

I think Flash quickly fell by the wayside a few years into the 2010s, although I don’t know when. At some point, Safari either didn’t come with the plug-in and you had to install it, or maybe it was there but not turned on by default, and you could turn it on per use. iOS had an app store and real apps, and that was that. Windows Mobile died. After two or three years of Android users saying the iPhone would fail for not supporting Flash, Adobe killed Flash on Android in 2012. I haven’t actively thought about Flash for years, until I heard about the EOL.

There’s one random memory about Flash that makes me miss it. In the summer of 2007, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, attempting to maybe re-curve my career. The lack of tech writing jobs (in Denver, anyway) made me want to become a developer, but I couldn’t decide on a language or skill set. I was doing some Ruby on Rails for a friend’s company, but my wife worked for a marketing agency, and they doled out big chunks of cash to “interactive” firms who did web sites, usually with Flash. I can’t draw, but I knew enough JavaScript that I could figure out ActionScript, and assumed the rest of it was just finding the right book or tutorial or something.

I think I did buy the Dummies book at the Borders (RIP) in Stapleton and gave it a once-over with the 30-day trial of the software. The studio or whatever it was called was pretty straightforward, and I never developed any muscle memory for doing anything in Flash, but I was able to kick the tires and do the basic example projects. This quest pretty much ended at that point, and when I found a copy of Flash CS3 cost 700 bucks. But it was fun screwing around with a head-bouncing-around-the-screen demo and a pick-an-answer trivia game.

I still have a copy of those SWF files and it’s oddly nostalgic and bittersweet to see them now. Not because they’re useful or I regret not entering a career of being an interactive designer (or whatever), but because it reminds me of that summer, my first months in Denver, and everything else that happened in 2007.

Anyway, RIP Flash. Hopefully someone comes out with a good emulator ten years from now so all of the GenZ kids can remember Gem Shooter or whatever they played as a kid.

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Various Long Reads 2/19

Haven’t done one of these in a bit, so here’s more:

  • The Bloomberg Keyboard – back before PCs and the internet, Bloomberg used physical terminals to connect traders to stock market information. These terminals all had weird keyboards. A fun look back if you’re a mechanical keyboard nerd.
  • You Are Now Entering the Demented Kingdom of William T. Vollmann – I’ve slowly been working through his back catalogue, but it hurts my head. Vollmann is a seriously weird guy, and I do like some of that. Didn’t realize he had a Bloomington connection, either.
  • Blast From the Past: Garcia’s Pizza in a Pan – Here’s another Bloomington connection, although this is about an Illinois location. My favorite pizza place in college, before it vanished.
  • How Texas Lost the World’s Largest Super Collider – Spending a few billion dollars building a huge o-shaped tunnel underground and then saying fuck it and shuttering the place. I wish this article had more pictures, though.
  • Dahmer’s Inferno – A k-hole I frequently fall down. This article is from 1991, and I remember reading it at the newsstand, but haven’t seen it since, so it was good for a revisit.
  • Follow the Path of Least Resistance: An Oral History of ‘Office Space’ – This movie holds a strange nostalgia for me, because I think I’m the only person I know who saw it in the theater on opening night.
  • Flag Man’s Last Stand – Or, “I’m so glad I spent all this money on 40 acres of land in rural Colorado and now the whole area is infested with live-free-or-die assholes that shoot up abortion clinics and live off the grid.” (BTW, does anyone want to buy 40 acres of land in rural Colorado?)
  • The toy of tech: The Mattel Aquarius 30 years on – My first computer, which I’ve written about before. I wish I could get another, but I know I would lose interest in twenty minutes.
  • “The Linux of social media”—How LiveJournal pioneered (then lost) blogging – I should write more about this at some point, but this article covers a lot of the main points.
  • VAX Notes remembered – Now we’re going even deeper in the “pre-social media info exchange” rabbit hole. I remember VAX Notes having a particularly horrendous interface that was very non-intuitive, but it was the best way back in 1989 or so of hosting your own forum without installing anything.
  • My Street Photography Workshop With Garry Winogrand – There’s a doc on Netflix that I liked about Winogrand, although I do see how he’s so polarizing in the photography world. To me, part of the mystique is that he died with half a million undeveloped pictures from his regular street photography, which sort of dovetails into how I’m amazed that Vollmann cranks out another 3400-page book every other month or whatever.
  • The year we wanted the internet to be smaller – Old, but another bit on weird, ultra-focused communities. I’m starting to sound like a broken record here.

I haven’t plugged a book in a bit, so go get my latest if you haven’t already.

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More Various Long Reads 9/18

I should probably find a better way to organize these link dumps (see previous), but I’m lazy. Anyway, here’s some more stuff I’ve been reading:

  • Lisp Machinery – A Lisp Machine resurrection blog – Lisp machines are a weird artifact of the Eighties race for AI, purpose-built big computers made just to run lisp programs. Here’s a guy that rescued three refrigerator-sized lisp machines and is trying to get them running again. I don’t know why, but I love stuff like this.
  • Planting a Seed in a Toxic Place with Roger Miret – I had a couple of Agnostic Front albums, and had a poster in my room for a while, but didn’t know much about frontman Roger Miret’s backstory in those pre-wikipedia days. Here’s an interesting read about this, in Psychology Today, of all places.
  • The Unknown Notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat – Just watched Sara Driver’s new doc, Boom For Real, which is more about the Lower East Side scene in the late Seventies than Basquiat himself, but was great, except now I’m going to fall down this wormhole for the next week or six. I just wish his estate would do a proper book of his various writing I could buy.
  • Chevy Chase can’t change – I wasn’t a fan of early SNL like others are, so I have no loyalties here, but this is a bittersweet read. Saw him on Norm Macdonald’s show, and was wondering what was up, so here it is.
  • Breathing New Life into Old Cameras – I previously mentioned I fell into this film thing again, and have been reading too much about how to fix old cameras. If you’re in the same boat, here’s a good starting point.
  • Forth: The Hacker’s Language – Forth was a weird language. I always knew about it, but never got into it, because it’s a pretty deep pool to jump into, second only to assembly language. I was reading about the Canon Cat computer, which used Forth, which led to this. Forth is also deeply related to the development of the Macintosh, thanks to the next read.
  • Jef Raskin – The father of the Macintosh computer, sort of. Raskin actually started as a tech writer, the head of Apple’s publications department, but had a lot of radical ideas about the future of the computer-human interface, which eventually led to the genesis of the Macintosh, and many clashes with Steve Jobs. (Two of the biggest things about the Mac, the 68K processor and the mouse, were things he was against.) Raskin later went to Canon and worked on the Canon Cat, which was a Forth-based word processor that never really took off.
  • How Jean Louis Gassée Changed the Mac’s Direction – Sorry for all the Mac archaeology links. My connection to this is I was trying to get a job at Be Incorporated and got into their developer program, but never bought a machine or got the job. (Probably for the best, given the outcome.)
  • The Crash at Sun Valley Mall – Not an economic crash, like most malls are seeing, but an Eastern Airlines puddle-jumper that flew through the roof of Macy’s back in 1985. I mall-walk this place (the other Concord Mall) so it’s interesting to see it in its vintage glory.
  • Too Much Music: A Failed Experiment In Dedicated Listening – I should probably do this. I have way too much music. Luckily, Comcast gave me a DMCA takedown strike for torrenting this week, so I need to quit that, which will help. Everything’s on Apple Music though, and discogs is a problem, too.

Shameless plug: I have a new book. Please check it out.

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Various Long Reads 9/2018

I love long reads. I remember a time when the web was nothing but long articles, and I wasted a lot of time reading them. I’m finding now that this wasn’t really time wasted, and I’m forcing myself to find more long articles that interest me, which is harder than it sounds.

Anyway, here’s ten articles that crossed my browser recently. Feel free to send me yours. Maybe I should make this a thing.

Shameless plug: I have a new book. Please check it out.