Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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December 2007, Week 1    

GRAB THE FRAMES

 doggie

If we ever did a top 10 list, Camtasia Studio would definitely be on it. This is TechSmith's master program for creating instructional videos.

Camtasia captures screen frames, either singly or strung together in motion, to create a new video. Its primary use is making tutorials and training videos, but it can also save companies a ton of money answering tech support questions.Camtasia Roxio found this out when it used Camtasia to make tutorials for its award-winning video editing software. Using Camtasia saves it about $20 million a year in tech support.

The new version 5 of Camtasia is the easiest to use so far. It holds your hand every step of the way, guiding you through the creation of a video, including the capture of all or any part of a PowerPoint presentation or external video that can be merged into your own. If you have a web camera recording action outside the computer screen, you can click "add camera."

We came back to Camtasia after spending weeks with a similar program, Adobe's Captivate 3. It's not that Captivate 3 couldn't do training videos; it was that it took such a long and winding way to get there. We weren't captivated by that. Camtasia, by contrast, was easy to follow. There are free online tutorials available for Camtasia Studio, but tips on screen as we ran the program made them unnecessary. There's also a big price difference between the two programs: $699 for Captivate 3, but only $299 for Camtasia Studio 5.

What's noticeably new in Camtasia 5 is the big "capture" button. Instead of having to figure out how much of a screen you want to capture as you move through the frames creating a video, the program can capture the whole screen and use "smart focus" to zoom in on the area you were focusing on before.

Everything takes just a few steps. Click to define an area of the screen you want to record, or take the whole screen. Choose where the sound is coming from, either a microphone or the computer's own sound system. Click "record" when you're ready.

Videos created with version 5 of Camtasia now run at 30 frames a second, the speed we see as natural motion. They can also be edited that way, which means video from external sources can be brought in without having to synchronize it to your own video.

With any video you make you can insert call-outs, comment boxes, voice commentary, picture-in-picture, and cut or keep whatever you think best when you do the final edit. People making training or instructional videos with Camtasia can add quizzes or surveys to the final cut. The quiz can freeze the video until a correct answer is typed or clicked.

When you're all through, you can let Camtasia show you how to share it. The program usually recommends saving a file as FLV, the format for Adobe Flash Video, which loads quickly on the Web. But there are many other choices, including one for producing a video for iPods. Lots more info on features can be found at Camtasia.com.

SWISS ARMY MEMORY

Now we have the Swiss Army flash drive. This is a USB flash drive housed in Swiss Army Flash Drivethe familiar red case of a Victorinox Swiss Army knife. The drives come with built-in pocket knife, scissors, nail file, ballpoint pen, screwdriver and flashlight. Costs run $60 for 1 gig of memory, $80 for 2, and prices vary slightly depending on the gadgets inside.

PAINT YOUR LAPTOP

For the unusually precise price of $186, you can have your laptop painted from photos you send to NVousPC.com  or choose from any of the scenes on the Web site. Most of them look quite striking. You might try racing car flames; oneNvousPC of the color choices is "Corvette Yellow."

Another site: Skinit.com, sells vinyl stick-ons for laptops and iPods for around $30. Lots of sports logos and flags of the world.

YOU CALL THAT FUNNY?

LaughLab.co.uk is a humor site set up by a couple of British professors trying to find the funniest joke in the world. So far they have received over 40,000 jokes and 1.5 million rating remarks on which are the funniest. Here's a short version of the second-place winner; it's up to you to find joke No. 1:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are out camping when Holmes shakes Watson awake in the middle of the night.

"Watson," Holmes says. "Look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

Watson looks up and says: "I see millions and millions of stars. Some of them may have planets, just like ours, with intelligent races, just like ours. It's amazing, isn't it, Holmes?"

"No, you fool," replies Holmes. "What you can see is that someone has stolen our tent."

BOOKS

"Using Microsoft Office Visio 2007" by Steve Holzner; $45 from QuePublishing.com.

Visio is a $259 program, but probably worth it. It has tools for making organizational charts, flow charts, office floor plans, circuit diagrams, Web site Using Visio 2007maps, road maps and calculations. Just playing with this stuff can be as much fun as a game, and much more useful.

Let's say you want to add a ramp for handicap access. You type in the height of the doorway from the ground and then pick the starting point for the ramp or the incline. The program will tell you how long your ramp has to be for either situation. This is the simplest kind of trigonometry, of course, but makes design easy. Academic pricing is $33 at swexpress.com.

By the way, this is Steve Holzner's 106th book.


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