First day at EEB Hub

Wow.  Where has the time gone?  World Campus was all someone could ask for from an employer – great people, support, experience, and more.  However, I could not pass up the opportunity that was given to me by the Energy Efficent Buildings HUB (www.eebhub.org).  I am still technically working for Penn State – as the Hub is a group of researchers, institutions, and companies brought together by the Department of Energy.  The grant is managed by Penn State, so my employer stays the same.

What will I be doing here?  We’ll have to see how it shapes up.  I know for sure I will be doing some IT support – Cisco TelePresence, desktop troubleshooting, web development, and whatever else comes up.  Stay tuned to see what I actually end up doing!

My family will be relocating to the Philadelphia area in a couple of weeks – the EEB Hub is located at the Naval Yard in Philadelphia.

New year… new job… new city… new adventures!

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Omnidisksweeper – finding and delete big files from my Mac

Today is my second to last day as  Multimedia Specialist at World Campus Learning Design.  I am in the process of cleaning up my computers.  I am doing a secure erase on my main computers, but I am choosing to keep one of the computers intact since it has some legacy software that will be useful to the group when I am gone (such as Macromedia Flashpaper, various versions of Camtasia and Captivate, Adobe Presenter, etc.).

There was a whole lot of hard drive space that was unaccounted for and I couldn’t easily figure out what was using it up – a quick google search came up with omnidisksweeper.  http://www.omnigroup.com/products/omnidisksweeper/

Quickly and easily found what was hogging up the hard drive space and “destroyed” the guilty files (in my case, a lot of Premiere Pro cache files).

 

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JW Player, Play playlist item by filename, rather than index

Problem:

I have a playlist of 45 items that will be played via javascript throughout one page (it’s a glossary page with audio files).  I found myself repeatedly making mistakes on which index belongs to what word.  As it stands, you would have to remember that the 40th item belongs to a specific word and play it by using jwplayer(‘playerID’).playlistItem(39).  What happens if I insert an item on the playlist?  I either have to put it at the end, putting things out of alphabetical order, or have to go back and change all the index references in the page.

Solution:

When the page is loaded, I go through the entire playlist once and create a key/value object with the filename and index.  Now I can play the items by name.  Instead of jwplayer(‘playerID’).playlistItem(39), it will be a much more readable playItemByName(‘the40thitem.mp3’).  This will be MUCH more easier to debug and maintain.

This could easily be modified to play using the title or description instead.

The code:

// Go through the playlist and create a key/value pair array so that we can assign playlist index numbers (since jw player can only reference playlist items by index, not name)
var playlistIndices = new Array();
$(document).ready(function() {
var i = 0;
for (i=0; i<glossaryPlaylistItems.length; i++) {
var path = glossaryPlaylistItems[i].file.split(‘/’); // split up the path by ‘/’ for next step
path = path[path.length-1]; // get the filename, lose the folder reference part
playlistIndices[path]=i;
}
});

function playItemByName(itemName) {
jwplayer(‘glossaryPlaylist’).playlistItem(playlistIndices[itemName]);
}

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Multicam editing in Premiere Pro CS6 and its many quirks

So we (World Campus Learning Design Multimedia Specialists: Brian Strauss, Pete Warren, and myself) went on a very interesting video shoot recently. This was for a psychology class modeling some simulated psychotherapy sessions; we were able to get students from the Penn State theater department to do an excellent job as patients and therapists. This was a 3 camera shoot with primary audio from wireless lavalieres and a secondary room microphone as a backup.

I made many, MANY discoveries during the editing process that others may find helpful.

Here’s an overview of what our process ended up being.

  • Import all the clips into Premiere and organize them into whatever folder/bin structure works for you. This is important, because we will be creating a couple of intermediary sequences in order to get the job done.
  • Go through each clip and mark the in points (we used a clapper – not timecode).
  • Create a sequence from each scene/clip (some scenes may have more than one clip since our camera chunks them into 2GB files, so one scene may have two or more clips). This will also give us the ability later to set effects on the entire clip without going through the hassle of selecting multiple segments in the sequence when they have been edited/cut.
  • Create a multicam source from the sequences (not the clips!).
  • (optional)You can right click the multicam source and click on edit sequence in audition, which will bring up all the audio tracks in Audition in multitrack mode – AWESOME! You can then create a mixed down audio file that can be put into the audio track of the CamChanges sequence.
  • Create a sequence from the multicam source. We will call this sequence “CamChanges.”  This is where you will do the camera changes – Record multi-camera edits.
  • Finally, create a sequence from the “CamChanges” sequence. We will call this sequence “TimeEdits.”  This is where you can make the “time” edits/cuts.

Why did we have to do all that? Well, it turns out that if we just drop the multicam source into a sequence and start making time edits and camera changes, Premiere gets very confused. The audio/video kept going off sync. If you do things in a very specific order (make the camera edits first, then make the cuts), then it seems to work fine. However, as soon as you need to make any further changes to the camera chosen, it seems to go off sync again.

One big downside to this workflow is that you don’t see the camera changes and time edits on the same sequence. It’s abstracted.

An alternative way to do this would be to set up the sequences in a more logical manner – no intermediary CamChanges sequence, and use the razor blade and choose which camera each segment uses manually (instead of using the live multicam record tool). This is more intuitive, so you’re not dealing with two sequences to make separate camera change and time edits.

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WordPress theme updated, new Lightbox plugin

Decided it was time to update the theme. Now moved over to Brunelleschi 1.5.3 by Kit MacAllister. I’m all about letting the content speak for itself. I don’t like bright colors. I don’t like light fonts on dark backgrounds. The layout should be exactly the same, so hopefully no one will get lost.

As I was updating my theme and plugins, I realized that the lightbox wasn’t working on some of my posts. I also decided that I wanted to have the ability to use a modal lightbox for iFrame content. Now I have moved to Pirobox (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/pirobox-extended-for-wp-v10/) from the jQuery lightbox plugin. I liked the flexibility and simplicity of Pirobox. It automatically detects images in posts and adds class=”pirobox_gall”. Additionally, I can add manually add it, in addition to attributes like rel=”iframe-650-450″ to a <a> tag for iFrames. Overall, I am please with how easy it was to add and how the finished product looks.

You can see how the iFrame lightbox looks on this post – CRIMJ 450W, Racial Percentages, Version 2
You can see how the img gallery lightbox looks on this post – Snap by Lectora Quick Review

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CRIMJ 450W: Racial Percentages, Version 2

The instructor requested some changes, so we revamped the look/feel as well as the functionality of this short self-assessment exercise. Original can be found at CRIMJ 450w Racial Percentages, Version 1.

There’s been a change in Instructional Designer for the course, so now it’s Kristin Bittner.

Racial Percentages Self -Assessment Exercise

Feature added:

  • Sliders instead of dropdown menus.
  • Instead of checking if the percentage adds up to 100% on submission, it’s continuously checked as the slider is moved.
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Snap by Lectora Quick Review

I had a chance to play around with Snap by Lectora (http://www.trivantis.com/snap/e-learning-software-for-PowerPoint-Presentations) for a few hours.  It is marketed as a e-Learning Software for PowerPoint presentations.  Their main marketing strategy is presenting themselves as a low cost competitor to Articulate Studio (http://www.articulate.com/products/studio.php) and Adobe Presenter (http://www.adobe.com/products/presenter/).  Since one of their main selling points is price, Snap boasts about its $99 price tag compared to Articulate’s $999 and Presenter’s $500.  However, it’s also worth noting that Presenter is only $75 through Penn State’s computer store (through Penn State’s agreement with Adobe).

I have had the most experience with Adobe Presenter, so the review will reflect that.  I will be making comparisons to Presenter as the standard.

The rest of the features are actually very comparable.  Snap claims that there are many differences, but the actual differences are not as dramatic.

In this review, I’ll cover:

  1. Clearing up some overstatements by Lectora
  2. Features that set Snap apart from the competition
  3. Feature comparisons to Adobe Presenter
  4. Conclusion

Clearing up some overstatements by Lectora

http://www.trivantis.com/snap/compare-us-vs-articulate-vs-adobe

Pricing

As I have already mentioned, Adobe Presenter is actually very affordable IF your organization has a contract/agreement with Adobe.  This is true of many Adobe products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.

Live Support

Although I never called Adobe’s support phone number, it seems misleading to claim “None Available” when Adobe clearly lists a phone number titled “Installation help and product help” (http://www.adobe.com/support/contact/). Additionally, Dean Blackstock from Learning Design has had tremendous success dealing directly with developers at Adobe who have helped with issues and been very helpful when issues have come up (specifically with the Flash Media Server).

Integrate with Social Media

Another prominent feature on the Snap webpage is social media integration. Unfortunately, when looking closely at all the features of Snap, it turns out there are NO social media features in the Snap product itself. The integration is actually from snapchannel.com where you can upload your Snap presentations (albeit it is very easy to do from the publish function of Snap).

Display Speaker Notes while Recording

I’m not sure why Snap would claim that Presenter does not have this feature, but it’s definitely there.

Features that set Snap apart from the competition

WebWindow

Snap has the ability to embed a ‘web browser’ within presentations. It seemed pretty buggy during testing (the layout was wacky and Angel would force the browser to navigate to a ‘normal’ window instead of using the WebWindow within the presentation.

However, this has a lot of potential for bringing tidbits of interactive elements and other course elements in to the presentation interface.

YouTube

The YouTube embed function is extremely simple and well executed.

Video Narrations

Snap has the ability to import or record videos to be used as a narration for the slides. This means that the videos can be synced with custom animations as well. There’s also a very simple video editor built into Snap. Though it doesn’t have the ability to do any advanced edits, you can trim the beginning and end of the video.

More question types in survey/quiz

Snap does have a larger pool of question types than Presenter. It has drag&drop, hot spot, essay, survey ordinal, etc.

Feature comparisons to Adobe Presenter

Audio and video import

One common workflow at Learning Design is receiving .ppt files with the audio files embedded into the slides. This is because the content authors typically do not have Adobe Presenter installed on their computers. Adobe Presenter can then import the audio narration. However, Snap does not work in this way. Snap can only import files – not internal audio objects.

Audio Edit

Adobe Presenter’s (second picture) audio edit function displays all the slides and all the sounds in one timeline. Additionally, it also displays the ‘clicks’ for any custom animations within the slides. Snap (first picture) displays one slide at a time and the only way to adjust when the ‘clicks’ occur is by using the “Sync” function, which involves actually playing the audio slide and clicking a button at the desired intervals.

Publishing

Both Presenter and Snap have various publishing options (such as CMS/LMS, web, cd, etc.). The publish function seems to take MUCH longer using Snap. The same 26 slide presentation took Snap a bit under 30 minutes, while Presenter took under 1 minute.

Both products produce a professional interface that works well. The text is not rasterized, so it scales well. This also keeps the size down on both products.

Conclusion

I would not recommend Snap to anyone who has a need for a PowerPoint plug-in to support narrations and interactive elements. Overall, it is not as polished as Adobe Presenter, but the basic functionality is almost exactly the same. There are a few stand-out features that could push Snap over Presenter, though. If you absolutely need a “WebWindow,” great YouTube integration, video narrations, or more robust quiz questions, Snap is worth a look. The learning curve is pretty low if you are already familiar with Presenter or Articulate Studio.

However, if you are not able to get Presenter for less than $500, then Snap is a better bang for your back. Presenter is better, but not $400 better.

The dealbreaker is in the advanced editing/syncing. If you have any need to adjust timings on custom animations or do editing on audio narrations, Presenter’s interface is leaps and bounds better than Snap.

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Threaded Comments in blogs.psu.edu

This is OLD – from 2008, but, blogs.psu.edu can support threaded comments.  Just takes a bit of work – modify the template… just a little copy/paste.

http://www.personal.psu.edu/bak147/blogs/brad/2008/10/test-of-threaded-comments.html

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Adobe Max 2010

Overall impressions:
This year marks the second year Adobe Max was held in Los Angeles, CA. This was my third Adobe Max. Every year, personally, I’ve had extremely different take-aways; however, the main thing that seems to stand out is multiscreen/mobile development.  Next year, Max will also be in Los Angeles.

Adobe is out to push products; without selling products, they can’t exist. Therefore, they are pushing the Flash platform. This would be all good and well, except Apple refuses to add Flash to their iOS devices, which continues to gain ground and marketshare. Adobe continues to leverage strong partnerships with Google, Samsung, Motorola, and others to push Flash to standardize multiscreen platforms (TV, Mobile, Tablets, Desktops, etc.). The clear message spoken throughout the conference, though, was Flash and HTML5 get along. They’re not enemies.

Regardless of platform, mobile “hits” on the internet are growing. They are growing so fast that, according to the first keynote speaker, mobile will overtake desktop by 2015. This doesn’t mean that the World Campus needs to shrink every course and put it into mobile devices (or does it?); it does mean that we need to pay attention and take mobile development seriously. However, with the advent of devices such as the Logitech Revue sporting Google TV, we need to look beyond to multiscreen – rather than just mobile. This is probably my biggest take-away from Max 2010 – start pushing out parts of courses to multiple devices.  There doesn’t seem to be a great push for multiscreen in general – especially in higher ed – so pioneering in this technology would present great opportunities to push to envelope, publish, and present.

I’ve also had a chance to pick up many practical skills. In particular, due to the recent push for more media/video in our courses, I attended a few sessions on streaming and the Open Source Media Framework/Strobe Media Playback. Adobe finally has a decent media player (that is NOT the flv media playback inside Flash Professional). It’s fairly easy to skin, but may be more challenging to fully customize. The Flash Media Server seems to continue to move forward adding a lot of features (peer assisted streaming).

Finally, jQuery is now adding Mobile specific code. This, in essence, will replace other frameworks such as iUI or jqTouch.

I only attended one session that was higher education specific presented by the University of Denver. They are running some interesting applications using Adobe AIR, but nothing very exciting in the mobile field.

Recorded sessions and more: http://2010.max.adobe.com/online/

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