Archive for the ‘General Musings’ Category

Shady Characters…

August 5, 2011

Greetings fellow netizens!

I should be posting more, I really should. Poor blog. I’ve ignored it for long periods.

Today I’m talking about an interesting bit I just learned. (well, it was interesting to me, so I thought it might be interesting to you as well)

This week I was facilitating an introductory Captivate class. One participant asked me what the difference was with using the Drop-Down selector as opposed to using the icons for making textual elements Bold, Italics or Underlined.

Here you can see the panel in Captivate.

And until I had been asked this question, I have to admit that I was blissfully ignorant. I had never given any thought to the “style” drop-down. At least not until this point.

So I pinged some of my associates to ask if they had better insights. The responses I got back were a bit less than conclusive. One response simply said that “this worked like it does in Microsoft Word” and another talked about the three generic T buttons being like “faux” formatting.

What was interesting to me was that of all the folks I asked, there seemed to be no definitive answer. So I went digging for more in order to offer a reasonably coherent answer to the class participant that asked.

So keying off my first response, I opened Microsoft Word. And I was stymied at first because I have Word 2010. It doesn’t seem to offer dialogs like older versions did. It has the infamous “Ribbon”. But fortunately, if you look in the lower right corner of the section and click, voila! A dialog!

Notice that it has a drop-down labeled “Font style”. And that provides the clue we need.

See, when someone designs a font for our operating system, they design all the different characters that compose the font. But not only may they design the characters, they may create different sets of characters.

And therein lies the key to explaining this. What the Font style drop-down does is to allow us to select the set of characters within the installed font.

To contrast this, I headed for the Fonts area of Windows. I looked at a font named Milky Way that I had installed. When double clicking the font, Windows only opens a single window to present the single set of fonts. And likewise, if I select this font in Captivate, the drop-down only lists a single item.

I’m a software nut so I tend to install lots of software. Many packages also install additional fonts. So I looked at another font that is installed on my PC. It is named Myriad Pro. And if I try to double-click that particular font when viewing fonts in Windows, I see that several different sets are included as shown below:

So the bottom line on this appears to be that if you select from the drop-down, you are choosing a specific character set inside the font. And that will apply to all the text in the element you have selected. And if you make a selection and use the generic letter Ts (I hate the generic representation and long for the good old and more familiar B I and U) you are advising Captivate to apply its own formatting to make the selected text appear as desired.

And as my class participants stated, you can get some bizarre behavior by mixing the two elements.

Until next time… Rick 🙂

WebCam Max software review

April 8, 2011

I was going to write about this anyway, then I saw a bonus where I could obtain a free license of WebCam Max software by simply providing a review, so I figured why not?

What the software does

If you visit the main WebCam Max site you will see that this software is used in conjunction with a Web Cam to provide all sorts of wild and zany effects. These are quite fun and I find that they help me achieve some very interesting and entertaining still photos that I capture and use for my ever changing (and ever growing) collection of Facebook profile pictures. The effects are added in real time as you capture with no post editing required. In my testing, it seems to work fine with Skype video. Not so well when recording using Camtasia Studio. The computer slowed to a crawl when recording with Camtasia and pointing at the WebCam Max for the additional video.

Downloading and installing

In my own experience the software is initially somewhat tricksy to download. You are directed from the WebCam Max site to cnet’s Download.com. Perhaps it was a fluke and it doesn’t happen often, but it took me perhaps five attempts to coax the actual download to occur. Once downloaded, however, installation was a breeze. If you wish to try it out, visit the WebCam Max site by clicking here.

Using the software

Once you start the application you see a splash screen. From there you have to choose to Try or to Buy. Your call here on whether to try or to buy. Personally, I opt to try as I like to put things through their paces before an actual purchase ensues.

Okay, so now you should be in. The software seems pretty intuitive. I suppose the developers of this software felt it was so intuitive that it didn’t really warrant an official help file. And as any of you reading my blog know, my roots are in help file development. So it’s only natural that I would be the one in search of a help file.

However, my reasons for wanting a help file go beyond just wanting to know if one is supplied. I have a question that would possibly be found in the help. So I did fire the question off to the support area for WebCam Max.

Operation is pretty straightforward. You choose an effect and suddenly see it appear. The really cool aspect is that you can apply multiple effects. For example, one effect shows your image as if you are in a rear view mirror. Another shows your image as if you are in a stadium or on a billboard. And if using multiple effects, you can create some interesting looking situations where you look as if you are on a rear view mirror on a billboard.

Assuming I’m able to accomplish my own goal, it would seem that for me the software will be well worth the price of admission. But speaking of the price for admission, I’d be lying if I didn’t also say that in my own opinion, the pricing structure is a bit on the questionable side. I have to admit that when I purchase software, I really dislike paying what amounts to a “usage fee” for a specific time period. It seems the structure on WebCam Max allows for “renting” the software for one year at one rate, or purchasing a lifetime license at a higher rate.

Until you choose to upgrade to a paid version, you have to accept the WebCam Max logo plastered on what you create. And to me that’s perfectly reasonable and expected. After all, creating and maintaining software costs money. And unless you are just a hobbyist, you won’t stay in business long just giving it away at no charge.

From what I see of things, once you pony up and upgrade, you get access to 2,000 or so additional effects. I’m crossing my fingers here and really hoping one of the effects allows creating a transparent background so I can become a floating “Talking Head” to superimpose on web pages or other videos.

How can it be improved?

As I stated earlier, I’d love to see some form of help that describes various aspects.

I’d also like to see a teaser page that presents all the additional effects available. This would go a long way toward knowing if the software will work for you.

Another thing that would be nice (and possibly included in a help system) is the ability to use your own backgrounds and effects. Sort of an “Effects construction kit” and it would include the ability to share effects with other WebCam Max users.

Overall, it’s a neat little piece of software. But this carries a warning. I find that neat little pieces of software like this tend to attract attention from very large companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. And once they get acquired, these larger companies tend to extract the bits that make sense to them to roll into their own products, then discard the original product and its user base. And that’s very unfortunate.

Being pushed in a new direction

April 5, 2011

Whomever may be reading this, hello!

Life is interesting and often you get pushed into directions you never anticipated. I’ve recently experienced this first hand so thought I’d share. It also somewhat explains where I’ve been lately.

Like many folks, I attend church on a regular basis. Unlike many folks, the church I attend isn’t your normal run of the mill. But enough about that. I don’t believe in Prosthelytizing. I only said what I did to provide some context for what comes next.

We moved into a new building at the first of the year. Upon moving, I was asked if I would like to participate by operating the PowerPoint slide show. And therein lies a world of wonders I’ve recently encountered.

I’d always noticed the slide shows as they were presented. For a brief period I had also pondered whether I might volunteer to assist. But there were some pretty strong personalities involved so I shied away from it. However, situations change and this one did. So I said yes to the opportunity. Little did I know what I was in for!

Being interested in Adobe Captivate, I was aware of PowerPoint, but really, aside from the classroom import had never really had a reason to use it in earnest. Well I have a reason now!

PowerPoint 2010 is an amazing tool. But I’d be lying if I said that the duties were only PowerPoint. See, our church also incorporates live video. Both the PowerPoint and the live video are projected to a wall on either side of the stage. Additionally, the same signal is also transmitted to a flat panel HDMI TV in the lobby area. So the job entails many different details. I have to switch between PowerPoint and live video at appropriate moments. I also have to ensure I am presenting the proper slide at the right time. And if that weren’t enough, I also have been tasked with controlling lighting, as the switches are right next to where the media PC is placed. So at specific points in the service, I must dim the lighting accordingly.

So now I’m deep into PowerPoint. Also using a product called Screen Monkey and am finding that more time than I anticipated is being spent on volunteer work.

Cheers for now… Rick 🙂

Reflow Revisited

January 28, 2011

Earlier I blogged about my confusion with the ePub hubub and all the hoopla surrounding reflow.

I was admittedly totally confused by this as HTML content is primarily what I work with. And it reflows based on the page.

Well, as life would have it, lately I’ve been experimenting more with ePub and other eBook types such as Kindle. See, my wife received a Kindle as a Christmas gift. I’ve been playing a bit with it and I now am beginning to see the light on why reflow is an issue!

One of her requests was to copy a PDF book she has been reading over to the Kindle. Fortunately, it’s as simple as connecting the Kindle to the USB port of the PC and copying files across to the proper locations. Her reaction to the PDF on Kindle was ICK! And after looking it over I finally see what the issue is.

The PDF is simply presented much like a static image! Sure, the Kindle allows her to zoom in to try and read the text, but it also obscures other text as you zoom in and the text doesn’t reflow. AT ALL

So I’m guessing that because most folks are comparing against the tried and true PDF format, reflow actually IS a big deal after all!

Until next time… Rick 🙂

Changing Course…

December 16, 2010

Hello all

So today I attended an eSeminar that was facilitated by RJ Jacquez at Adobe Systems. The eSeminar was focused on ePubs output. Being someone involved with eBooks, I was naturally interested, so I attended.

This is a cool new output ability for some of the Adobe products using my beloved RoboHelp as a conduit for publishing to this new format. And kudos to the team for adding the scripting ability within RoboHelp 8. I seriously wish I understood it.

So let’s talk about possibly the single most confusing point I have when it comes to ePub.

It seems that when discussing the the main advantages of the ePub format, the ability to “reflow” text is often touted.

Speaking as an old hand at working with on-line content, admittedly I am viewing this with a somewhat critical eye and going “huh?”. Seriously, I’m having a major brain fart with understanding why it’s such a big deal.

I’m wondering if many of you out there are also scratching your heads over the same issue.

For anyone that may be reading this and still wondering what I’m rambling on about, here is some background. I began my journeys with on-line content back in 1992. At the time, we edited our documents in Microsoft Word and used this way cool “Word add-in” called “RoboHelp” that had all these Word Macros that caused specific codes to be inserted that the WinHelp compiler would recognize and properly convert to a WinHelp file.

So here is where it gets interesting from the perspective of the ePub and reflowing text hyperbole. And the source of my utter confusion!

The image below shows a WinHelp document displayed in the WinHelp viewer.

WinHelp Example 1

And now, I’ll resize the viewer and observe the text.

WinHelp resized

Notice how the text simply adapted to the size of the window? Ummm, isn’t that “reflowing”? And this was back in 1992!

The same seems to hold true for Compiled HTML Help files (CHM) format, anything Web Based and even Adobe’s new AIR Help format.

So as you can see, it causes those of us with experience in these formats to seriously question why all the hubub about being able to reflow text?

It baffles me nearly as much as Apple’s proclamation that the iPhone can now perform copy/paste! w00t! I mean, really, come on now, you invented something we accept as common on any PC in existence? Why all the crowing about something you forgot to include to begin with!

Until the next whenever… Rick 🙂

 

 

 

 

Windows 7 and Flash Player

May 9, 2010

Greetings

Well I’ve been humming along with my new PC and so far so good. There have been adjustments to the way one has to work and so far I’ve been seemingly adjusting well. There are some things I find that are really cool, such as the ability to simply tile two applications side by side by just “tossing” the windows to the side. To “toss” a window, just grab the title bar by clicking the mouse and dragging it. Then using a quick motion, you act as if you are tossing the window to the left or right side of the desktop. It’s way cool. The application just snaps into place occupying half the screen.

Another cool feature I stumbled across is the ability to grab a title bar and “shake” the application. What happens is that all other applications minimize. But these cool things aren’t the purpose of this post.

The real purpose of this post is to report a disturbing discovery. Many folks are aware that I’m a CHM fan. I find the format to be very efficient and handy. As a result, I create lots of CHM files to accomplish this or that. When I facilitate training, I use a CHM file as a guide to keep me on track. So today I opened a CHM file to view it. There was nothing really special or out of the ordinary with my CHM file. I’ve opened lots of them since migrating to Windows 7. But there was something I had not noticed. That is, I had not noticed it until today.

What I noticed was that a CHM that worked just fine on Windows XP Professional (my previous operating system) no longer worked just fine on my shiny new Windows 7 PC. I had displayed a page that presented a Captivate movie. Where the Captivate movie was supposed to appear I saw a large placeholder instead. Upon attempting to view the Captivate movie I tried many different things.

My first attempt was to try and install the Flash Player. I reasoned that the Flash Player must not be installed. I primarily use Firefox as my browser. I knew that I had configured Firefox to present Flash. But unless a web page just doesn’t want to play nice with Firefox, I seldom open IE. My reasoning said that IE must not have the Flash Player added in. I know that the CHM viewer relies on IE for bits of its display, so it seemed to make perfect sense to me that if IE didn’t have Flash Player capabilities I would not see my Captivate movie inside my CHM page. So I opened IE and be-bopped over to the Flash Player install page. Installed just fine so I should be good!

I display the CHM again and was a bit perplexed as things didn’t seem to change. So I’m thinking that perhaps another area needed to be touched. Perhaps I need to somehow run the HH.EXE in Admin mode so that changes could be made somewhere else. I struggled big time in making HH.EXE run in Admin mode. The bottom line was that I ended up disabling User Account Control and restarting the PC.

Ran the CHM again and tried to update. RATS! Nothing worked. Then I recalled that CHM files have an ability to open URLs by clicking in the upper left corner. I tried that and visited the Adobe Flash Player site. My brain was abuzz and I was all tingly thinking I had FINALLY sorted how to do it! But nope. Upon attempting to install the Flash Player, I was greeted with a link to an Adobe Knowedge Base article. I’ll link below for your reading pleasure.

Click here to read the article

The bottom line is that the Flash Player or Add In isn’t available for 64 bit systems yet. So I must have been using the 64 bit version of the HH.EXE file and whatever bits of IE that are needed must also be 64 bit. Frustrating to be sure, but at least now I have an explanation for the odd behavior.

Until next time… Rick 🙂

The questionable value of consistent Application Interfaces

May 6, 2010

Hi gang

One of my favorite applications has recently had an interface update. Namely, Adobe Captivate. In considering the changes, I find that I often hear words similar to those below used to describe changes.

“Yes, it’s great because the new interface shares that of all our other applications. This means you can come up to speed very quickly with our other applications.”

But I have to stop and ponder that. I have some rather serious concerns about the validity of it. Please bear with me on this.

Sure, the overall look and feel of the application may now be totally consistent and follow suit with the other applications produced. But does it really help me here? I mean, beyond the first screen. Yeah, I know that on the first screen I can generally open my most recently edited projects easily and I know that other common functions are there. Such as opening the help or being presented with news about the product. But I have to conclude that this is pretty much where it ends.

So Captivate now shares the same overall interface with Flash. We have panels galore and items in different places. However, I cannot say with a  straight face that knowing the interface for Flash or Captivate makes me immediately proficient in the other application. How can it?

Sure, you have panels for this and panels for that. Maybe you know that the properties for something are always in this panel. But how does that help you learn the application any easier? The point is that different applications do different things. Each application has its own specific functions. You use Flash to create Flash stuff. You use Photoshop to edit images. Once I become familiar and comfortable with the new application interface for Captivate, I’m STILL going to be mostly bewildered by Photoshop and will still have to pick and poke to figure out how this new content aware thing will help me or how to create layers and all that, won’t I?

I dream of the day when we have the capabilities of those proposed in The Matrix. Where all it requires is a special download to our brains and suddenly we can fly a helicopter. Or navigate Photoshop or Flash. (At the moment, for me, Photoshop and Flash skills aren’t really that much different from what it must take to be able to successfully pilot a helicopter. I’m likely to be equally successful with all three.)

Until next time… Rick 🙂

The school of hard knocks…

April 9, 2010

Hello world! 😉

Okay, this one is more of a general musing and a bit of rambling.

Recently my Windows XP machine was rendered nearly unusable. Seems that despite having Anti-virus software installed, I managed to pick up a Trojan Horse. Here I thought I was being a good do bee and I had Avast anti-virus installed. I’m protected, right?

As it turns out, Avast performed its normal cycle of updating the virus definitions. Moments after it updated, WHAP!!! Seems it discovered a Trojan Horse in some obscure file. I’m not even sure if the file was an actual Windows file or not, but it sure seemed that most of my applications liked using it. So Avast quarantines the file.

Then things got worse. Nearly any application I opened was apparently looking for the file. Bummer… BIG TIME BUMMER!

About the only way I can imagine that the trojan got there was that I had been installing lots of different trialware and freeware in efforts to determine the simplest way to configure my setup for movie production. Ahh well. Lesson learned!

So I knew I was facing a potential reload of the OS to get things right. I’m looking at the aging computer and thinking that perhaps an upgrade was in order. So I bit the ole bullet and upgraded to a 4 Gig Windows 7 64 bit machine. Sweet! Except there are certain things that don’t seem to like 64 bit Windows 7 all that well. I knew that it offered an ability to tell applications to run in XP compatibility mode. Hmmm, mine seemed to be missing that capability. Further research seemed to indicate that my PC had Windows 7 Home Premium installed. And Home Premium doesn’t offer that little nugget. What to do?

Well, I upgraded the Home Premium to Ultimate. Now I can run the apps with no issue, right? Not so fast. Some apps STILL refused to work properly despite my attempts. Then I poked around Google more and discovered the Windows Virtual Machine with Windows XP Mode. Seemed to install okay. Had one small hiccup where it was unable to connect to Microsoft to validate my copy was genuine, but I tried again and it was all good.

So now I have a Windows XP virtual Machine where I can run nearly all the apps I was running before. (Captivate 1, 2 and 3 – RoboHelp X5, 6, and 7 and other apps.) I’m mostly a happy camper. And I’m largely productive again. Still will be a while before I’m *FULLY* productive, but such is the life of an upgrade, no?

Anyhoo, if you have been wondering where I’ve been. There ya have it! Rick 🙂

Dual Monitor Magick

February 5, 2010

Hi folks

Long time no post! Well, business has been super slow and I’ve been super busy! Lately I’ve been using Camtasia Studio to create some training videos. During the process, I was tasked with using a second monitor. I like the setup overall but when you are recording the primary monitor, certain issues emerge that one doesn’t normally encounter or really even think about in day to day use.

For example, I know that when I’m using Captivate I have options to hide the Captivate icons on the Taskbar and in the System Tray (or Notification area if you are a Windows Vista or 7 user). This is great as there is no evidence you are using Captivate to record. But I’m not using Captivate. I’m using Camtasia!

Camtasia works with two parts. There is the Camtasia Recorder that you use to record the screen, then there’s Camtasia Studio, where you make the edits. When you run Camtasia Recorder, you may configure it so that it minimizes itself to the System Tray. You may also configure the System Tray area to hide the recorder. So far so good. But I wanted to display Windows Notepad on the second monitor to display my script. All seems well and good so far, right?

The problem I encountered with this approach was that I wanted no evidence I was running Notepad. See, all running applications are placed on the Taskbar. A bit of Googling landed me on the following page:

www.mediachance.com

This site offers a totally FREE utility that adds a Taskbar to your second monitor! You may ask why that’s helpful. Well, the Taskbar on the second monitor contains the applications you placed there! This means they are removed from the Taskbar on the primary monitor and allows you to have a squeaky clean environment for recording.

How cool is that?

Until next time… Rick 🙂

Double-takes

June 20, 2009

Okay, I’m in a weird mood. There’s nothing unusual about that, though.

Here where I live they sell some supposedly intelligent food choices in the grocery stores. But I have to seriously question this one!

SmartChicken

Looks like this one was a slow learner to me! The “smart” one’s are still walking around and clucking, aren’t they?

Man I hate to eat the remedial students!