Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Repost - 10 Writers Who Use Old Technology

In a couple of previous posts, I wrote about the need to consolidate different calendars into one and how I use blank journals to create a planner.

Recently I came across a slideshow of ten famous writers who use older technology, ranging from pen and paper to typewriters, to craft their books.

Another author not featured in the slideshow above is Vladimir Nabokov, most well-known for writing the novel Lolita, about a man madly in love with a 12-year old girl.  Nabokov wrote scenes and dialogue on 4x6 index cards.  He would reorganize these cards to create his novels.

Regardless of how you write, the most important thing to remember is to write. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Communications training from an FBI investigator

Today I attended a live webinar delivered by Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist, former FBI negotiator, and author of Just Listen.  The essence of the webinar and his book is that we don't really listen to others.  Especially in this era of multitasking and smart phones, we may or may not actually even comprehend what someone is saying to us.

People are like computer modems

In the webinar Dr. Goulston used the example of the modem, which used to be the piece of computer hardware that connect a computer to the Internet or some other network of computers.  The memory capacity of modems would eventually fill to capacity, at which point the modem needed to be disconnected to dump the memory.  Dr. Goulston's analogy was that we typically focus on ourselves to the exclusion of others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People recognized this over 100 years ago when he recommended that we "become genuinely interested in other people" and "encourage others to talk about themselves."

Mirror neurons

A mirror neuron is a neuron that is triggered to repeat the same behavior that is observed.  This phenomenon was first observed in the 1980s in macaque monkeys.  The researchers found that the same neurons fired when a monkey picked up a piece of food as when the monkey observed a researcher picking up a piece of food. 

This is significant for people because a large component of learning is based on observation.  Additionally, mirror neurons allow us to be empathetic and feel what others are feeling in a given situation.  Curiously, according to Dr. Goulston, this ability to related to others is frequently absent in autistic children, suggesting that mirror neuron dysfunction may contribute to autism.

The mirror neuron gap can be widened when we perceive ourselves differently from how others see us.  For example, we may view ourselves as confident while others see this as arrogance.  You may consider yourself to be sensitive and others perceive you as needy

The mirror neuron gap can be narrowed through effective communication leading ultimately to effective listening and thus connecting at a different level.

4 levels of talking and listening

You have probably been in a situation where you are speaking to someone and that person continues to working on the computer or check the phone.  This can be frustrating!  On the webinar Dr. Goulston discussed four types of talking and corresponding listening modes.
  1. Talking Over - Removed Listening - Perception of being condescending.
  2. Talking At - Reactive Listening - Lecturing.
  3. Talking To - Responsible Listening - Where most business communication occurs.
  4. Talking With - Receptive Listening - The level for deep communication.

Tips for getting through

Dr. Goulston concluded the webinar with these tips for connecting with others.
  1. Talk with to talk to someone, but never talk at or over.
  2. Ask fill in the blank questions, such as "You want to do this because ____?"
  3. Ask the impossibility question - "What is something that is impossible to achieve but would help you achieve your goal faster?" and use the answer to identify underlying opportunities. 
  4. Encourage the others to keep talking by responding with "Say more about ____", "Hmmmm," or "Really?" (not cynically).
  5. Focus on the ICU - topics that are Important, Critical, and Urgent.

 If you would like to learn more, I encourage to purchase the book at or your local bookstore.

If you found this post helpful, please comment below and share on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review of Vittle whiteboard recording app

Khan Academy is a website features thousands of instructional videos on a variety of education subjects including math, science, and history.  Developed by Sal Khan, the project started as YouTube-based tutorials for Sal's younger relatives living in a different state.  The videos feature whiteboard-style drawings using a Wacom tablet and voice-over by Sal.

There are a number of apps for the iPad and other tablets that record both drawing and narration.  One of my favorites is the app that I am reviewing in this post - Vittle

Vittle features

As you can see from the screen capture below, the layout of Vittle is lean with a panel of options across the top and paging at the bottom.  The screen capture displays the settings available with each option.

Import Keynote as PDF

In addition to the whiteboard functionality, you can also import PDF presentations from Keynote, DropBox, and e-mail.  Once imported you can annotate on top of the presentation.

Video capabilities

Vittle records each video as a scene, so you don't have to record an entire presentation in one take.  Once scenes have been recorded, you have the ability to delete unwanted scenes and reorder scenes.  When ready, you can save the video to the camera roll for additional editing in iMovie or for upload to the video platform of your choice. 

Some video recording apps require you to use their servers to house your videos.  I prefer to have mine saved to the camera roll for both control and the flexibility to do additional editing, and Vittle lets me do this.

Although the iPad is designed to draw with your fingers, I prefer using a stylus when using whiteboard and drawing apps.  Lots of stylus choices are out there, but I prefer the Griffin "Stylus for iPad and Capacitive Touchscreens" available for $14.99.

Video of Vittle Review

Below is the video I created using Vittle.

If you found this helpful, please comment below and share on Facebook.  If you download Vittle, let me know how it works for you.  What have been your experiences with whiteboard recording apps?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Greenscreen Effect Editing in Camtasia

Recently I posted about discovering the website and how I found a narrator there to create an advertisement for  You can also watch the video, which is at the top right of this blog.

Media used for video

The video Mike delivered to me featured him reading my script in front of a green screen.  Here is the original video as I received it:

The use of green screens and blue screen in Hollywood and in television weather studios has been around for several decades.  The advantage of filming against a solid color that is strikingly different from other colors in the video is that the background can be replaced with other video or still images.  With today's powerful computer graphics, movies like The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (Episodes I, II, and III) make extensive use of this technology to create fantasy worlds.

As I noted in the blog post about, this video was as much an evaluation of Fiverr as it was a promotional video.  I was satisfied enough with the result that I decided to include it on my blog as an "About this blog" video.

I decided to go with a simple background, a screenshot of

Edited in Camtasia

Camtasia is a video screen capture program with fairly good editing capabilities.  One feature missing from Apple's iMovie but available in Camtasia is the ability to remove a color, that is, use the green screen technique.  The developer of Camtasia, TechSmith, offers a 30-day trial of the full software.  I use Camtasia for Mac, but the functionality is available in all versions.

Step 1 - Arrange the elements.

Place the background below the video image.

 Step 2 - Select Video FX and drag "Remove a Color" onto the video.

Step 3 - Select the color to remove and adjust.

  1. Use the color picker to select a color from the video to remove (typically, this will be your green screen color).
  2. Use the Tolerance slider to adjust how much beyond the selected color is displayed.  For me 0-20% is an effective range.

The results

The final video looks exactly like I expected.  Mike, the narrator, appears to be standing directly in front of the screen shot.   I also added a yellow banner to make the web address more visible.

If you found this helpful, please make a comment below and share on Facebook.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Super 8 Camera App

In 1965 Eastman Kodak developed an 8mm film designed to be an improvement over previous types of films for home movie cameras.  Designated "Super 8" the format and corresponding camera became popular with film makers and is still used today for dramatic effects.

Searching for Sugar Man

Although I was already familiar with the Super 8 camera, I learned today about the Super 8 app.  The director Malik Bendjelloul used both the Super 8 camera and iPhone app to create the Academy-awarding winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.  The movie is described as "Two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock 'n' roller, Rodriguez."

Bendjelloul ran out of money during the filming, and decided to use the Super 8 app, which replicated the look and feel of the camera, to finish the film.  At the 2013 Academy Awards, the film won for Best Feature Documentary.

Super 8 Movie

The Super 8 app was developed by Paramount Pictures as a way to promote the movie of the same name, Super 8.  Written and directed by J. J. Abrams, the movie"tells the story of a group of young teenagers who are filming their own Super 8 movie in a small town when a train derails, releasing a dangerous presence into their town" (from Wikipedia). 

Super 8 App

The Super 8 app costs (at the time of this writing) $0.99.  The app has several features including multiple lenses and a variety of sharing options.  My video review is below:

If you found this helpful, please comment below and share on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Repost - How video production affects engagement

Because of the availability of screen recording apps, smart phone cameras, and more interest in online learning, videos as a medium for educational instruction has never been used more.  A recent study analyzed four different types of video instruction to determine which method is most effective.

The findings below are taken from the blog post written by the primary author, Philip Guo, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester. 

The above figure shows four main kinds of videos on the edX platform:
a.) a recorded classroom lecture,
b.) an instructor’s talking head,
c.) a Khan-style digital tablet drawing (popularized by Khan Academy),
d.) a PowerPoint slideshow.

Question: How does video production affect student engagement in MOOCs [Massive Open Online Courses are free classes offered online to everyone and may have thousands of people registered to attend]?

How we went about it: We measured engagement by how long students watched each video and also whether they attempted to answer post-video assessment problems.

We took all 862 videos from four edX courses offered in Fall 2012 and hand-classified each one based on its type (e.g., traditional lecture, problem-solving tutorial) and production style (e.g., PowerPoint slides, Khan-style tablet drawing, talking head). We automatically extracted other features such as length and speaking rate (words per minute). We then mined the edX server logs to obtain over 6.9 million video watching sessions from almost 128,000 students.

To our knowledge, this is the largest-scale study of video engagement to date.

Here's what we found and a couple recommendations:
Here are our seven main findings and corresponding recommendations for creators of online educational videos:
  1. Shorter videos are much more engaging. Engagement drops sharply after 6 minutes. Recommendation: Invest heavily in pre-production lesson planning to segment videos into chunks shorter than 6 minutes. This is the most significant recommendation!
  2. Videos that intersperse an instructor’s talking head with PowerPoint slides are more engaging than showing only slides. Recommendation: Invest in post-production editing to display the instructor’s head at opportune times in the video. But don’t go overboard because sudden transitions can be jarring. Picture-in-picture might also work well.
  3. Videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings. Recommendation: Try filming in an informal setting such as an office to emulate a one-on-one office hours experience. It might not be necessary to invest in big-budget studio productions.
  4. Khan-style tablet drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides or code screencasts. Recommendation: Introduce motion and continuous visual flow into tutorials, along with extemporaneous speaking so that students can follow along with the instructor’s thought process.
  5. Even high-quality prerecorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up into short segments for a MOOC. Recommendation: If instructors insist on recording traditional classroom lectures, they should still plan lectures with the MOOC format in mind and work closely with instructional designers who have experience in online education.
  6. Videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging. Recommendation: Coach instructors to bring out their enthusiasm and reassure them that they do not need to purposely slow down. Students can always pause the video if they want a break.
  7. Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos. Recommendation: For lectures, focus more on the first-time watching experience. For tutorials, add more support for rewatching and skimming, such as inserting subgoal labels in large fonts throughout the video.

Original blog post

Journal article

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fiverr - services for 5 dollars

I was recently introduced to, a website where people offer their services for only $5.00.  What services you ask?  Almost anything you can imagine (within expected business and Internet services).

I was directed to to find someone who could create several backlinks for a project.  Backlinks take people from someone else on the Internet to your webpage.  However, once I started exploring the website I was intrigued. 

What is Fiverr? offers services in six different areas, listed below along with the subcategories of services.  Each basic service, referred to as a "gig," costs $5.00.  Each offer also includes enhancements, called "gig extras."  Gig extras cost additional money.

How Fiverr works

Each purveyor of services on has a webpage with all of the various gigs that are available.  You can search by category of gig (see list above) or, once you have viewed information about a gig, see what other gigs a Fiverr is offering.  The average number of days to complete and the number of order in queue are listed for each gig.

One category of gigs that I found interesting are the Online Marketing and Video.  There are many Fiverrs who offer to make a video promoting products or providing a fake product testimonial.

My promotional video

I decided to try out an offer for a 50-word (about second) promotional video.  After reviewing various offers for a promotional video, I selected Mike Porter.  Mike promised to record a video up to 50 words against a green screen, so that a background could easily be added later.  I paid $5.00, and sent him the following script: is a blog website created by Douglas G Pratt to help you "become more."

You will find posts on

> technology and innovation,
> creativity and brainstorming,
> perspective.
> learning and knowledge, and
> presentation and communication

When you visit be sure to subscribe by e-mail.

Four days later, Mike sent the video.  I added a background and decided to shorten the video.

I will definitely be using from time to time to take advantage of different services. 

Have you tried any services offered on Fiverr?  If so what did you think?  If you liked this post please comment below and share on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An epic writing project

Back in 2012 I shared a post about a Bible project that consisted of writing out one Psalm per day for 30 days. This was a richly rewarding activity as it forced me to slow down and meditate on the thoughts written down originally thousands of years ago.

When I was in college, I applied similar techniques to electronic music.  As a keyboardist with an interest in classical music, I used MIDI technology to program several large works by Wolfgang Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach.  This is the best way to get inside a composer's work:  to copy it note for note.

I have now launched a new epic project - copying the entire Bible by hand.  Many people read the Bible from cover to cover every year, and several Bible-reading plans are available

In the post about the Psalms, I shared the story about a man who wrote out the entire Bible in 2.5 years.  My goal is to write out 10 verses per day.  So far, since I started at the end of April 2014, I have exceeded this goal.  I expect that it will take me 5-6 years to complete this.

Epic Works Compared

To give you a sense of the enormity of this project, below is a chart that compares three epic works of fiction and the Bible, in terms of the number of total words.

Initial Progress Report

Thus far, I have complete 9 chapters of the first book, Genesis.  The chart below shows the chapters for each book of the Old Testament.  As I complete chapters, I'll update this chart with the goal of an annual progress report to begin next year.

Have you ever tried a project like this?  How did it come out?  If you like this idea, please comment below and share on Facebook.