Archive for the ‘Software Tip’ 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 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.

Windows 7 and Flash Player

May 9, 2010


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:

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 🙂

When Captivate Links don’t

June 19, 2009

Hello all

This post is intended to shed some light on a Captivate phenomenon that is reported time after time after time in the support forums.

Okay, so what am I talking about here?

Normally what happens is the Captivate developer inserts a Button or a Click Box object that is intended to be used to link to a Microsoft Word Document, PDF, Web site or other file. They preview using F4 to preview in Captivate and the links work just dandy. But upon previewing using the web browser or viewing immediately after publishing, the links fall flat and just refuse to work.

What gives?

Like an overprotective parent, the Flash Player is likely blocking the link without your knowledge. Normally when links like this are present Flash will issue a warning alerting you.


Unfortunately (and I’m unsure as to exactly why) this dialog doesn’t always present itself. Instead, the Flash Player lurks on your system and silently blocks the linking, leaving you scratching your head and wondering why the Buttons or Click Boxes aren’t working as they should.

The trick to correcting things is to open the Flash Player Settings panel and pointing at the location where your files exist to mark them as being safe to work with. If you get the dialog above, you may conveniently click the Settings… button to open the Settings Panel. However, if the dialog isn’t being presented, that’s probably a bit of a stretch!

I’ve had a small tutorial on the web for a long time now that has been successful in walking folks through the basic process. While it’s not my proudest work to date, it does seem to get the mission accomplished. You may view it at this link.

Note that fixing things so the links work for a preview may prove to be a bit problematic. This is because when you preview, you are viewing from a temporary location. So it’s best if you can Publish. Then mark the Publish location as being safe.

Since this post first appeared I’ve created a related post. You may view it by clicking this link.

An old dog learns a new trick!

June 4, 2009

Hello world!

I’m guessing you probably thought I forgot about my blog! No, things just got really busy for me. I’ve been traveling a bit and spreading Captivate and RoboHelp joy across the United States.

So what is this new trick you speak of?

Here’s the deal. During one of the recent classes I was facilitating, one of the participants mentioned something about a specific desktop display setting she should be concerned with. She said that the person advised her to configure it specifically in order to achieve the best Captivate output.

Needless to say this was news to me and I was more than interested.

Mind you I’ve known for years that Windows offered something referred to as “Font Smoothing”. Personally, I don’t like the effect and I regularly turn it off. I suppose this may partially account for why I’ve never noticed it having any effect on the Captivate movies I produce. However, I’ve noticed that when I open PowerPoint and watch the latest “Best pictures of 2008” PowerPoint that has arrived in my In-Box (which looks suspiciously like the one that had the “Best pictures of 2007”) that upon exiting the presentation PowerPoint ever so helpfully enables the pesky option. So I end up visiting the dialog a LOT to turn the silly feature off!

However, it came as a total shock and surprise to me to discover that this little setting would affect the way Text Captions were rendered in my Captivate movies.

As I so often do, I decided to put it to the test. I wanted something to show and illustrate to future class participants. So that evening in my hotel room I tested and screen captured and tested and screen captured. Below is the result of those tests.

To check or change this setting:

  1. Click Start > Run…
  2. Type desk.cpl into the Run dialog and press Enter.
  3. Click the Appearance tab.
  4. Click the Effects… button.

The table below contains images of three different Captivate movies. Below each movie is a magnified image of the text so that you may see the effect.


That’s it for the moment. Hopefully you found this as interesting as I did. You probably didn’t though. I’m pretty much a nerd when it comes to this Captivate and RoboHelp stuff. Folks look at me and their eyes sometimes glaze over when they see how excited I get about it.

Have fun all…

Just Show Me already!

April 27, 2009

Well here we are a few weeks later and the shiny new Adobe support forums seem to be hummng along quite nicely!

I’m really enjoying (and exploiting) the ability to insert images into forum posts. I know some were wringing their hands about this and didn’t see it as a good thing. But IMNSHO, it is quite good and infinitely helpful.

Unfortunately, as with anything, there is one big ole hickey with the process.

The hickey? The forum users! msnembarassed

For some reason most of them seem to be missing the fact the image may be inserted inline with the text of the post. Instead, many seem to be using the ability to Attach files.

The problem with this approach is that it causes a couple of issues.

  1. Any file attachments are immediately placed into a queued status until apparently a forum moderator reviews and approves it. Until that happens, none of the forum helpers can actually SEE the image.
  2. The answer may be delayed or entirely overlooked while we wait for the attachment to finally become available.
  3. We have to locate and click the attachment to view it.

The better approach is to use the little Camera icon just above where you type the thread content.


Using this approach will make the image immediately visible right there inside the thread.

Hopefully this will provide a teensy bit of insight into how some of us forum helpers operate.


April 17, 2009

Recently I was in Seattle, WA where I assisted Adobe by staffing the vendor booth. These events are always a good time. I get to meet many of you and showcase the amazing new products that Adobe is offering.

One really super cool aspect of this situation is that I get to spend time with some of the fine Adobe folks. This year was no exception. RJ Jacquez was present and demonstrated some wonderful new collaboraton features with the Technical Communication Suite. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dhiren Jani, the new Product Manager for RoboHelp.

I have no recollection of exactly HOW the subject came up, but at one point we began discussing the RoboHelp Start Page. At least that’s what I call it.


I believe everyone I know refers to this as either the RoboHelp Start page or the “RoboHelp Starter”. And that makes total sense. Primarily because in the RoboHelp HTML application, the tab is labeled “Starter”.

Apparently inside Adobe they don’t refer to this page by the same name. The developers refer to it as the “DWS”.

Several things came flooding into my twisted little brain when I heard the term DWS.

Here are just a few:

  • Dancing With Stars
  • Dating While Single
  • Driven White Snow

Now maybe I’m just twisted, but the true meaning of what the Adobe folks call it never came to my mind!

The meaning? Dynamic Welcome Screen.

I believe that all Adobe products are adopting this approach. What remains a mystery is whether all other develpment areas refer to it the same way.

Am I alone in wondering why Adobe would be surprised that I called it what it is labeled?

Hoping your weekend is well…