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June 2000, Week 3 -- The One Minute Movie Producer

 
 

 Camtasia

   "Camtasia" captures screen shots. There's nothing too remarkable in that. But this new program from TechSmith captures them in sequence, allowing you to quickly create a presentation or training video, complete with voice-over.

   TechSmith gained a reputation from its screen saver "SnagIt," which came out a few years ago. Working on that base, Camtasia greatly extends the power of that utility and captures any sequence of screen shots, or any portion of a screen. These frames can them be moved and edited much the same as editing a movie.

 

   Camtasia is designed to work with Windows and it doesn't matter how the image gets on the screen. In other words, you can capture screens, or frames as they are often called, from a video, the web or a single screen in a program. You could construct repair manuals, for example, by scanning or loading digital images and then stringing them together in the proper sequence.

 

   Cursor movement and mouse clicks can also be captured. You can zoom in on a screen element or pan across a larger screen. Important features can be highlighted with a kind of spotlight effect. You can add your own commentary when capturing a frame or wait till later and add voice when the movie is finished. Company logos or other identifiers can be added to frames as watermarks.

 

   The frames are captured as compressed AVI files, a Microsoft standard. The finished sequence is also an AVI file and can be saved to disk or sent out over e-mail and the web. The AVI file can be viewed by Macs as well as Windows computers if the viewing computer has the proper de-compression utility. To cover that problem you can encapsulate the entire video as a self-extracting file, complete with the proper decompression routines. In short, the viewer will just click and open.

 

  There are quite a few programs for creating and editing videos but nearly all of them concentrate on motion video and require a considerable learning curve. Camtasia is simplicity itself, easy to use and fun to operate. The Camtasia list price is $150. Phone info: 517-333-2100; web: www.techsmith.com.

 

Snap Shot

 

 

   A new version of "Snappy" from Play, Inc., can also be used to construct brief videos but takes a much different approach.

  While Camtasia is all software, Snappy is a device. One end of it is plugged into the parallel port on a Windows computer and the other end can be plugged into a video camera, VCR or TV. The device itself has a large blue button, and clicking on it captures the incoming video frame. This is different than capturing frames from a program or image on the computer; Snappy is not designed to do that.

 

   In fact, Snappy captures a frame from a video before that frame is displayed on the computer screen. So in practice, you have to click the button a second or two before the image you want appears on the screen, guessing what second it will appear. After a while you get the hang of it.

 

   The Snappy device came out several years ago and was a big hit. It kind of disappeared for the last few years and is reappearing now with enhanced software. Still, if you never heard of it back then, it's a new gizmo to you. It's a good way to organize individual photos and to product presentations. As with Camtasia, you can add voice, music and sound effects. The Snappy street price is $170. Phone info: 888-888-7529; web: www.play.com.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.ivolatility.com For the sophisticated speculator. The site tracks price volatility on stocks and options and compares current and recent periods with their historical (long term) volatility.

 

-- www.zdnet.com/zdhelp General tech support. Answers and procedures for many problems with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and even game machines. Hardware peripherals and e-mail problems are dealt with as well. All in all, an amazing site.

 

-- www.planetit.com  Specialized tech support, this one aimed strictly at IT (Information technology) professionals. Not all questions are answered; the most interesting ones are selected for a detailed response and that response is posted to the site. Covers Windows, Linux and mobile computing problems.

-- www.mojam.com Maintains listings for live music concerts around the world. Type in the band or city you're interested in and the site brings up future concerts there. If you have a band, you can also list your own concert dates here, and you can look for like-minded musicians.

-- www.morningstar.com This leading company for ranking mutual funds offers a free e-mail alert on what's hot and what's not.

-- www.abelltolls.com Site compares rates for long distance service from various providers.

 

-- www.classmates.com  Help in finding old chums and flames from high school. There are a couple other sites that do this as well. The problem with all of them is they don't list many high schools or classes. They are basically dependent on visitors filling in the blanks to build their database. This one claims 6.8 million "self-registered" graduates on file for high schools in the U.S. or Canada. That may seem like a lot but it's only a tiny fraction of all graduates. Good luck.


froggyville.com/
froggycam.htm

-- www.earthcam.com This is one of many sites that compile links to web cameras around the world. There are thousands of such cameras broadcasting pictures daily and you can find more sites at Yahoo and Lycos.

   NOTE: Readers can search more than three years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.