Beyond the lens: the real power of the Flip Camera

I have owned my Flip Mino camcorder since August 2008, and I’ve carried it with me daily. Most days I have it in my front left pants pocket, where it is within reach for a quick video, should the need arise. I’ve posted an quite a few videos on the web, and I’ve even started a separate video blog. As I’ve become more proficient at using the Flip Camera, I’ve become tempted by newer and flashier cameras.   It’s easy to see a new HD video camera and think about how much better my videos would look with a newer piece of hardware.   A new camera would bring new issues to resolve, such as dealing with new video codecs, finding the right video editor for various video formats, or even buying a new computer for more video editing power.   For now, I’m sticking with the Flip Mino (the non-HD version). The Flip is a snap to use, even if the video quality is not as good as the newer HD cameras.   However, an often overlooked (and perhaps one of the most robust) features of the Flip Camcorder is the FlipShare software. I have found FlipShare to be a fantastic feature of the Flip line of cameras.     It’s not iMovie, Adobe Premiere, or Final Cut Pro, but it does a great job at editing and producing video with very little effort.

As soon as you plug in your Flip Camera to your PC, the Flipshare software automatically launches. (Note the software does not work on Macs). The software will show you all the videos that you have on your camera, allowing you to browse quickly to the video that you’d like to edit.   Since the software is installed on the camera, you can install this on other computers to edit video (assuming you have the rights/permission to do so).   This means that you can shoot video while on vacation and use you in-law’s computer to edit and upload the video to the web.   No need to worry about software licenses, as the software is on the camera.

Screenshot of the FlipShare Software

Screenshot of the FlipShare Software

While not terribly robust, FlipShare does allow you to trim the beginning and end of a video clip.   If you’d like to clip more sections of   a clip, I’d suggest making a copy of the clip in Flipshare and saving the clip back to the camera.   If you need multiple tracks from the same clip, just trim the duplicate clips at the desired places.   It’s not as easy as splitting a clip in other applications, but once you do it a couple of times, it’s pretty easy to do.

It's easy to trim clips with FlipShare

It's easy to trim clips with FlipShare

To arrange the clips to make a movie, all you have to do is drag and drop into the Arrange menu.   You get a small preview so you can see how your movie will flow between clips.   While it’s not perfect for advanced storyboarding, the simplicity of arranging items this way is very convenient.   It’s made for putting together a movie quickly and easily, and it excels in that purpose.

Arranging clips is easy

Arranging clips is easy

On the title screen, you can add basic titles and credits to your movie.   I’d love to see an option to put titles on individual clips, but that is not a feature.   There is a workaround, however.   When I needed a title transition between clips, I actually rendered the second and third title clips separately from the main movie. Then I pull the other rendered movies back into the movie to make what amounts to three movies in one. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.     In   cases where I need a lot of title transitions, I typically just use Windows Movie Maker to edit the file.   Bear in mind, however, that Windows Movie Maker for XP will not edit the video files from the HD Flip Cameras.

It's easy to add simple titles and credits

It's easy to add simple titles and credits

While many would argue that WMV is not the best video format, it works fine for my purposes.   It uploads easily to all of the major video sites, and it’s compatible with all of my Windows computers.   Another cool feature about WMV is that it works great with my Xbox 360, allowing me to stream family videos from my PC to my television over my wireless network.   My kids love seeing themselves on the big screen TV via the Xbox.

The FlipShare YouTube window

The FlipShare YouTube window

The FlipShare software has the ability to upload directly to Youtube, but I found that the quality suffers when using this feature.   It’s hard to explain what happens, but it seems the sound quality is degraded significantly when using this option. I’d recommend saving the video to your hard drive via the Create Movie option, rather than the Share Online option, then uploading to YouTube via the web interface.

Another feature if the software is the built-in music tracks. There are seven music files built in to the software, and four for them are actually worth listening to.   If you don’t want to use one of the tracks, you can select an mp3 track from your computer.   I tend to try to rotate the included tracks rather than worry about trying to find a copyright-free piece of music to use in my videos.   You can select whether you’d like the music to be softer than the audio in the movie, to be louder than the audio in the movie, or to simply exclude the audio from the video footage.

Take a snapshot from video

Take a snapshot from video

A final feature that I really like is the ability to take a snapshot from a movie.   If you’re using Blip.TV or Vimeo to host your videos, those services give you the option to upload a custom thumbnail for your videos.   YouTube just takes a snapshot of the video after you upload it to the site, and you get to choose from three very random snapshots from the video.   If you’re using Blip or Vimeo, you’ll want to upload a custom snapshot, and FlipShare makes it really easy to do that.   Simply select a clip and browse to the frame in the video to choose a snapshot.   Once you have that, you can upload it to Blip or Vimeo for the custom thumbnail.   If you’re using YouTube, you may just have to deal with the default snapshot (which for me is when I have the goofiest look on my face).

In this post, I’ve attempted to point out some of the features of the FlipShare software.   There are videos all over the web demonstrating the video quality of the Flip Cameras, but few have attempted to explain the software features of the camera.   While a camera’s video quality should be reviewed before purchasing a camera, it’s also important to look at some of the other features, including ease of use.   The FlipShare software is a major selling point for the Flip line of cameras.   It works well for its intended purpose (assuming you’re on a PC) and will enable you to create videos quickly and easily.   If you’re in the market for a pocket video camera, please take the time to look at more features than just the lens.

The chocolate and peanut butter are mixed again: Using Trillian Astra with Meebo Widgets

A while back I wrote about how Meebo and Pidgin are like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. In that blog post I described how to use a plugin for Pidgin that would allow you to connect to your Meebo widgets through the Pidgin IM client. Well, for some reason, this stopped working for me quite some time ago. My Meebo widget wouldn’t display my online status, so folks received a message on all my web pages that I was not online, when in fact I was. I abandoned the Meebo/Pidgin method and used Digsby for about a year. Digsby is a client that has native widgets built in, and for the most part, it works pretty nice. However, Digsby had a habit of reducing my PC’s speed to a crawl, so I’ve always been on the lookout for another method. I recently got Pidgin to work again(sort of) with Meebo, but I encountered frequent crashes when someone would just land on my widget page.   I’ve had crashes with the Pidgin/Meebo setup before, and it’s quite annoying.   I have to have a dependable IM client to do my job, and the Pidgin/Meebo setup just wasn’t working out for me.   Enter Trillian Astra.

Trillian Astra is Cerulean Studios newest version of the popular multi-protocol IM client. I downloaded Astra about an month ago and set about to see if I could connect to the Meebo widget through Trillian Astra.   Once I figured out how to get it working (no plugins needed), Meebo connected wonderfully to the desktop client.   I’ve been using it ever since, and it’s worked great.   The magic of chocolate mixed with peanut butter is back, and boy is it good. If you’d like to set this up   and taste it for yourself, here is how I did it.

1.   First go and download Trillian Astra and follow the instructions for installation.   Trillia Astra requires you to set up a profile with them, as your information is stored on their server (much like Meebo or Digsby).   This allows you to install the client on multiple machines, but only have to set up your various screen names once.   This makes the client easy to use on your laptop, PC, and home machine without having to setup your profiles multiple times.

2.   Once you’ve set up a profile after installation, you can add your various Identities and Connections.     First, add a new connection as a Jabber/XMPP protocol, and put in your Meebo login information as “yourloginname”@meebo.org.

Enter your Meebo Username and password

Enter your Meebo Username and password

3. Click on the Settings button to make sure your settings are the same as the screenshot below.

Settings for the Meebo connection

Settings for the Meebo connection

4.   Finally, click on the Privacy link on the left side of the preference screen.   This is very important to do, otherwise you get annoying popup messages every time someone hits your widget. Make sure you check the box to allow all incoming requests.

Approve all incoming requests

Approve all incoming requests

5.   Once you complete all those steps, you’re ready to take IMs   as they come in from your Meebo widget.   Here’s what it looks like:

Using Trillian with a Meebo Widget

Using Trillian with a Meebo Widget

In the month that I’ve been using this, I have not had any trouble at all.   Folks may wonder why I don’t just use Meebo for all of my IM needs.   Even though Meebo is a great online service, I still appreciate having a dedicated desktop IM client.   I’m pretty good about updating my status when I’m not available (teaching, in a meeting, at the gym, getting coffee, etc) but occasionally I forget.   If you forget to make yourself unavailable before you leave your desk, then Trillian will automatically set your status to “Away” after a certain period of inactivity.   Meebo doesn’t do this, so if you forget to set your status before going to a two-hour meeting, that’s two hours that patrons or friends may think you’re ignoring their questions.   For the person who is constantly up and down from his/her desk, I believe that Trillian is the best IM option.

I hope you’ve found this guide useful.   If you have any tips or questions, please feel free to leave a comment on this post.   I’m curious to see if this setup works for others and would love to learn about others’ experiences with Trillian and Meebo. I’ve now got a hankering for a Reese’s, so I’m off to find a vending machine.   😉 Good luck and happy IMing!

Skype-ing and Screensharing With Stephen

Yesterday I had the good fortune to connect with Stephen Francoeur via Skype. He and I spent a little time testing out the new screensharing options in the newest version of Skype.   We had fun poking around with the new features, and I recorded some of what we saw.   I used Camstudio to record my screen, so unfortunately you won’t hear Stephen on the other end.   Next time I do this I might try to figure out a way to record the audio on the other end of the line. Nevertheless, I was quite pleased at how well the screenharing in Skype worked once we figured how to actually use it.   Thanks to Stephen for taking the time to play.

9 things I’ve learned in the four years with the Biz Wiki

The original Biz Wiki

The Biz Wiki

It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since I created the Biz Wiki. When I first wrote about using a wiki as a research guide, I had no idea where the wiki would go. For the four year anniversary, I think it’s important to address some of the things that I’ve learned over time.

1. Don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit

It was risky, initially, to drop my old static html research guides in favor of the wiki format.   It took a lot of work porting the content over (and I use “port”, as I didn’t simply cut and paste the old content in the move to a new system).   I had no idea how the new wiki would be received, or if it would even be used at all.

2. Experiment with new forms of media

In the process of trying something new, you get to experiment with new forms of media.   One thing I learned in this process is the way a media is “intended” to be used may not necessarily be the way that you wind up actually using it.   In the case of the Biz Wiki, I had originally set it up so that it would be a true wiki and that anyone could add or edit the content.   I didn’t promote this that much initially, and I still probably could have done a better job of encouraging students and faculty to be active in the wiki’s content.   However, four years later, I have a better understanding of where my faculty are and how busy they are.   As an example, I recently emailed my faculty members a list of items that I was recommending to cut, as I have to cut $68,000 from my budget.   Can you guess how many responses I got?   About 3.   Bearing that in mind, I think it’s unlikely that my faculty have the time or the interest to edit the Biz Wiki.   They see that as my job (as is managing the library budget), and as long as I’m doing a good job, everybody’s happy.   Many have questioned whether the Biz Wiki is actually a wiki at all, since I am the only one managing it.   You can call it what you want, but for me, it’s a wiki, and it just works.

3. Keep it fresh

A wiki is designed so that you can add and edit content with ease.   However, even a wiki with content as exciting as business research tools can get a little boring at times. (really, it can).   There have been times that I have gotten really, really bored with the wiki, so that even editing the existing content can become a chore.   It’s difficult to do, but I think it is really important to push through the doldrums and continue to manage the content.   When I find that I’m doing as much as I should to manage the content, I try to make a habit of periodically picking a random page and trying to tweak it in some way.   I’m also in the process of overhauling my Biz Wiki Screencasts page into something that is a little more user-friendly and easier to manage.

4. Steal ideas from others

In the process of keeping it fresh, sometimes you just run out of ideas.   I became very tired with the old look of the Biz Wiki, so I went looking for a new one.   As luck would have it, another popular wiki has a pretty good front page, so I borrowed the code, changed the colors, and made it my own.   Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I figure the more I can make the Biz Wiki look and feel like the Wikipedia, the easier it will be for my patrons to use.

Borrowing ideas from others is one of the best things you can do to make your content relevant to your users.   I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of how others are using social media and tools.   I look at other libraries, but I primarily like to look for other non-library examples.   I feel that if I just look at how libraries are doing things, then I may not be seeing other really good examples of social media.   As an example, take a look at how Larry Hyrb, the brand manager for   Microsoft’s Xbox Live uses twitter, a blog, 12 seconds, video, and podcasts. I look at stuff like he’s using and try to think about how libraries can use these tools to sell our brand.   We may not use them in the same way or get the same kind of feedback from our users, but we can still use the successfully to reach our patrons in different ways.

5. Listen to feedback

Now I’ll be honest here.   I don’t have faculty members calling and telling me how great the Biz Wiki is or how great I am. However, I do have students tell me that they used the Biz Wiki because their professor told them to.   That in itself is a huge compliment. Sometimes students whom I have never met or taught stop me in the library and tell me how much they appreciate the Biz Wiki and how much it helped them.   One professor even tells his students that they have it easy, thanks to the work that I’ve put into the Biz Wiki.   I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but comments like that help to keep you motivated.

Constructive criticism is also helpful, although I’ve not received much about the Biz Wiki.   However, the Business Blog was recently reviewed by a library school student, and it helped to hear an outsider’s perspective of that tool.   I recently became a bit bored with the Business Blog as well, and I changed the template up a bit and used the student’s comments in the process.

Most of my feedback comes not from glowing reviews about the Biz Wiki or the Business Blog, but from listening to others.   Students and colleagues often tell me they searched for a particular topic in the Biz Wiki and did not find what they needed.   I take information like that, as well as the current projects students are working on, and use that for new or additional content for the wiki or the blog.   Listening to your community’s needs is truly one of the best feedback mechanisms you can use, and it will help you keep your content and your services relevant.   I’ve also found that looking at the hit counts for the Biz Wiki and Business Blog can show me what is being used and what is not.   Obviously I try to create more content that is similar to the stuff that is being used.

6. Help people find your content

You can create the greatest site in the world, but if you don’t link to it anywhere, no one is going to use it.   Yes, I am stating the obvious here, but some could use to hear that over and over.   In the case of the Biz Wiki, I link to it in various places on our library website.   You can find a link on our subject guides page, in the Company section of our database portal, in the industry section of our database portal, and listed twice in our Business section as well.     I’m also blessed to teach several hundred students each quarter, and I am sure to promote the Biz Wiki there as well.   It often helps to show them something they really need to get them to return to your site. As an example, if I have enough lead time, I may try to make a special guide just for that class.   Just a hint, show them the guide at the end of class, not at the beginning.   Otherwise it’s a little difficult to keep their attention.

7.   Adding and maintaining content is hard, regardless of the technology

Whenever someone asks me about wikis, I try to tell them in some way that wikis are not for everyone.   While a wiki makes it incredibly easy to add and update content from anywhere, it still takes time and effort to maintain the content. The bigger the Biz Wiki becomes, the more effort it takes to maintain.   I’ve got quite a few pages that are in need of updating, and I even have a few pages that will need deleting.   It takes time to do that work.   A wiki makes it pretty easy to do the work, but it does not make time move slower.   Other projects and priorities can distract me from the wiki, and occasionally I have to go in and knock the cobwebs off.   A wiki is an awesome vehicle for disseminating library information, but it does not have an auto pilot.

8.   If one tool doesn’t work, get another one

Sometimes thing just stop working.   I used to use Pidgin to connect to all of my IM services and with Meebo, until one day the Meebo widget stopped displaying my status.   I was disappointed, but I didn’t cry or freak out about it.   When your hammer breaks pulling nails you go get another one.   Likewise, when your widget won’t work, you find another tool that does.   In my case, I found Digsby, and it works wonderfully for what I need it to do. In a similar fashion, I have begun using Blip.tv to host all new screencasts that I do.   This tool allows for easy embedding of videos, and also gives me viewership stats.   It’s easy to get attached to the tool that you’ve used for so long, and new tools may not have the same feel as that old hammer did.   But new tools may eventually feel more comfortable and be more useful in the long run.

9.   Don’t settle

With any web 2.0 or library 2.0 or other tech tool, it’s easy to try something, and if it works, continue doing the same thing   or using the same tool.   While it is comfortable to keep doing the same thing, even if it has proven successful, I don’t think this is good for librarian or their services in the long run.   I’ve mentioned how bored I’ve grown with the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki over the years, and how that boredom drove me to some new ideas. I can only imagine how bored regular users of the sites must feel.   To alleviate my boredom, to challenge me, and to offer my patrons new and improved content, I have started doing more with screencasts and web video.   I look like a dork at times doing the videos, but at least I’m offering new and useful content to my patrons. I’m also learning something in the process, which means I’m growing as a librarian and hopefully enhancing the services that I offer as well.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I thank you for sticking around.   I’m also curious what other might have to say.   What projects have you started and what was the most important thing you learned from them?   How did you keep the projects fresh and growing?   If the project died, why? What advice do you have for others who might be afraid of trying something new?

Does Flipshare degrade sound quality when uploading to YouTube?

The FlipShare software that comes with the Flip cameras allows you to do some really cool things with ease.   One of the features it has is the ability to let you easily upload a video to YouTube from the FlipShare menu.   It’s a convenient feature that doesn’t require the user to open aweb browser and go digging for the file.

The FlipShare window

The FlipShare window

Unfortunately, uploading a video to YouTube this way can have negative affects on the video, particularly the sound.   As an example, take a look and listen to the following video.   This video was uploaded with the FlipShare software.

Now watch and listen to this video, which was uploaded via the YouTube website by browsing to the raw AVI file on my desktop.

In the second video, you will notice that I don’t sound like I’m talking underwater, as I do in the first video. The sound in the second video is clear, but the first video the sound is quite garbled or hissy.

YouTube file names

YouTube file names

In looking at the screenshot above, it appears that FlipShare or YouTube does something to the file when it is uploaded via the FlipShare program.   The raw AVI file is changed into a file named Video 67, and for some reason it does not have a file extension.           This file name change could be the result of the compression that the FlipShare program uses, and the result is degraded audio that has a slight hiss.   I have no idea what causes this, but my only advice would be to upload your Flip videos via the YouTube website, rather than through the FlipShare program.