Monthly Archives: February 2009

Lotus Notes for GTD!

I was listening the the net@night podcast the other day and heard a great episode where David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) mentioned that he uses Lotus Notes for managing his task lists.

I’m a long-time Notes user – even before I worked for IBM, my previous company used Notes, so I think I’ve been through from around version 4.5 to 8 now (and I really should get around to installing 8.5!). I’m not going to be a fanboy about it, but I have to say that it’s getting better all the time… and the fact that we have folks like Mary Beth Raven actually discussing the application design choices on her blog, and interacting with users as she does so, has clearly improved things.

Nevertheless, I was both surprised and pleased to hear that David uses Notes as part of his GTD process. I’m curious as to how he does so! By the way, he’s on Twitter, too.

Shout out social!

My friend, colleague, blogging buddy and Opportunity Australia Ambassador Jasmin (aka the remarkable wonderwebby) is spearheading the social media drive around an event called Shout Out Social:

Shout Out Social is a community organised and created art exhibition to be held 14th -15th March 2009, raising awareness and funds to help women free themselves from poverty.

Jasmin invited me to contribute some images to the Flickr pool. The idea is that you either include a ‘word that matters’ in the image, or in the description, for the cause you are ‘shouting out’ for. I’ve contributed a number of photos – here’s my “shouting out for friendship” image 🙂

Keeping them clean

The event itself is in Melbourne which is a little far for me to travel, but I’m looking forward to seeing media and how my work contributes to the cause.

It’s a fantastic campaign and a great idea for an event. Please take a moment to explore Jasmin’s sites and contribute.

Useful tools for homebrew media – my OS X workflow

As I’m sure regular readers are aware, I’m producing a wider range of media than ever before, now that I’m a regular podcaster and creating a range of video content as well. I thought it would be useful to talk a little about the range of tools that I’m using – far from professional level Final Cut or anything!

Hardware

The hardware is pretty varied. The core of the whole “system” is the MacBook Pro, which I use for pretty much all of my editing. That also has the iSight camera, which is adequate for videos which need to include my face, although I’d like something higher quality (any recommendations?). I’ve mentioned iGlasses before, which is useful for adjusting the iSight input. From an audio perspective I use a USB headset and also a Blue Snowflake USB microphone, which is absolutely great – compact, convenient, and it captures excellent quality sound.

If I need to capture video away from the computer, my current camcorder of choice is the Kodak Zi6 which can take HD 720p footage, albeit at a quality limited by the rest of the hardware (lens, sensor etc). I’ve yet to do a proper review of this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from either the Flip Mino or the older disgo Video Plus which I’d tried. I also sometimes grab snippets of video on my compact Canon camera.

Screencasting

For screencasts I use ScreenFlow. This is just a wonderful piece of software which is capable of recording both the screen, and from the iSight simultaneously. This allows the video to be overlaid into the screencast if required, so you can personally narrate what is going on. Even better than that, ScreenFlow lets you zoom in on windows and desktop features, and is really a general purpose compositing application… if you look at this video I made when I talked to a friend recently, you’ll see there are no desktop elements at all, just the video stream from the camera, a picture of him, and the audio, with some nice image tilt and reflection effects applied. ScreenFlow has also recently added text annotation features, which are really useful.

I’ve yet to use it for any practical purpose, but I also just downloaded OmniDazzle, which is now free. OmniDazzle lets you highlight areas of the screen with visual effects using a single keystroke – I can see this being useful in combination with ScreenFlow in the future.

Video editing

A few weeks ago I blogged about iMovie 09. I know a lot of people really dislike both iMovie 08 and 09, but I’m totally comfortable with both versions now, and I have to say that 09 is just beautiful. I’ve had no issues with it – it’s great for rapidly mixing and editing video, still images and audio. Watch my introductory series on YouTube or the whole thing as one movie on Viddler. I wrote a bit more about my use of iMovie back in December, too.

Here’s a tip: have you ever wanted to create some animated titles of your own? I have one word for you – Keynote! When I created the Home Camp TV title sequence it was a simple matter of creating a slide with some animated elements in Keynote, and exporting it as a Quicktime movie (which I did without sound, allowing me to overlay a choice of audio on the title sequence in iMovie). It’s great for quickly creating JPEG stills with text for titles, too.

In terms of finding audio to accompany videos… I’ve used both the pre-canned loops that come with iMovie, and also used some audio from Podsafe Audio. I do find that site a bit cumbersome to search though, so I’d be interested to know of any other useful, royalty-free resources.

Audio editing

I’ve not done a great deal on the audio-only side of things, but my essential tools here are Audacity for editing and cleanup; and Levelator for post-processing. That’s a really important point, by the way: only levelate your audio once everything is mixed together, the whole point is that it’s going to analyze everything and modulate the volume equally… if you have a bunch of snippets of audio and levelate them separately, then edit them together, you may well still end up with volume variations.

Another quick tip at this stage: to avoid issues with VBR MP3s showing up as weird (and incorrect) lengths in some tools, I bring the audio file into iTunes and do the MP3 export in there.

Imaging

For “proper” RAW photo editing and management, regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Lightroom. I use Pixelmator for finer adjustments on exported images.

Beyond that, I find that iPhoto is useful for quickly grabbing snapshots from the digital compact camera for compositing into iMovie clips. Skitch and LittleSnapper are both very useful tools as well as they enable me to rapidly take, resize and annotate screenshots or clips of web pages. For diagrams and so forth, there’s nothing that can beat OmniGraffle.

Extras

Finally, a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Transcoding to different formats is through either VisualHub (now defunct) or ffmpegX. QuickTime Pro is an essential (and highly cost-effective) upgrade too, since it lets you make very quick edits to QuickTime movie files and control the output format more finely.

There. Now, I imagine this may attract a range of “have you heard of…?” “why aren’t you using…?” and other responses, but that’s how I’ve currently settled things. Hopefully some of the tips and thoughts here will be useful to other amateur content creators, too! 🙂

Alex Cornish with a string section

I went to a quite lovely gig last night – it was the third time I’ve seen my friend Alex Cornish playing live, but the first time I’ve seen him play with a string section, and in a church! The venue was St Giles-in-the-Fields church, which is just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road tube station in London – a cosy place for this kind of event.

There are a few short clips on my YouTube channel… not the best quality as it was dark, and only made with a digital compact camera (plus a few sound clips capture on the iPhone) rather than anything else, but a little iMovie 09 magic has helped here and there 🙂

It was all very civilised given the venue, and I was even able to get home at a reasonable hour. The new mix of Alex’s debut album Until the Traffic Stops is great, by the way – highly recommended. It is also worth checking his site for the downloads that he sometimes has available.

Harmonica Jazzed up

I’ve put a few photos up on Flickr as well, again bearing in mind the lighting conditions and my choice of camera for the evening… I noticed a couple of guys with DSLRs moving around the venue so hopefully there will be some much nicer shots available at some stage.
Update: here are some really good shots from the gig.

On Javascript frameworks

My PHP and MQTT post provoked a number of questions in the comments, via IM and on Twitter about why I chose Prototype over jQuery or Dojo (and I imagine there may be other choices too). I was also asked why I’m not using WebSphere sMash.

I have no particular affiliation or preference here. The simple and most honest answer is that I was looking for an easy way to make an Ajax call and the Prototype introduction made it sound really straightforward (which it is). I also wanted something compact, as I knew that in the long run this is going to be embedded into an iPhone webapp where (down)loading times will matter. I admit I’ve done absolutely zero analysis of the relative sizes of the three frameworks, but Prototype seemed OK, even though it could be smaller. [just checked, and prototype.js is marginally larger than jquery.js by a few bytes, not looked at dojo… but wow, OK, 90Kb is not so small!] Given that this is for an iPhone app I might be better looking at whether iUi offers what I need instead.

So I’m doing this partly for my own education – I’ve talked a lot about Ajax and Web 2.0 and stuff but have been away from web coding for a while. I may well try all three frameworks, and I’m interested in opinions. At the moment the only requirement is the ability to easily update an inline div in a page with the results of an HTTP POST call. I could probably hand-code the XMLHttpRequest call if I want to be super-compact about it, but Prototype seemed quick and convenient. I suppose on the Dojo side, I have a perception that it’s more about widgets and will take more of a mental jump for me to use. Thinking about it now, I assume it must have the core Ajax call stuff in there too, but again the Prototype sample just popped out at me and worked after a web search 🙂

As for the PHP vs sMash question – I have nothing against sMash / Project Zero, but I do have a small Ubuntu box which has PHP installed already, and I didn’t need to do much more to that (except get SAM added as a PHP module). Again, speed and convenience was pretty much the driver here.

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts. I have no axes to grind and I’m interested to learn!