Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ultimate Video Bundle - App Review

The Ultimate Video Tools bundle consists of several utility apps to assist with converting images and GIFs to video formats. Most of the apps offer the ability to use music from previews on iTunes.

Frequently while searching for apps in the iOS App Store I come across multiple apps from the same developer which are bundled together. Usually these bundles cost less than the total price of purchasing each app individually. However, like music albums, sometimes there are only one or two great hits in a bundle

The Ultimate Video Tools bundle is one that includes eight useful apps. I discovered this bundle while searching for an app to convert GIFs to video. The apps I have used are described below.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

First post revisited - Google Sheets

This post is a repost of my first blog entry about Google Sheets.

I didn't realize until today that I have been working on this blog for 5 years.

January 31, 2011

On January 31, 2011 I published my first post this blog:

Excel is the spreadsheet application included in the Microsoft Office suite of programs (which includes Word, PowerPoint, and other applications. It was originally released for Mac in 1985 and for Windows in 1987.

Google Docs is comparable to Microsoft Office – except that it is an online application. Docs has applications for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms. Google Spreadsheet is not quite as full-featured as a software-based application, but still has a large collection of functions and basic charting capabilities. By the way, did I mention that it is FREE?

May 26, 2016

An interesting phenomenon of blogs is that a certain percentage of information changes over time. Sites may no longer work, information may be outdated, or readers may be interested in different topics. However, in the case of Google Sheets, although the app itself has continually improved through the work of Google, the app is still applicable to us today.

I utilize Sheets everyday to track my writing progress. I recently wrote about how to create a Google Form, and the data from the form is transferred to a Sheets file. Although I still use Excel as the main repository for my writing progress (because of the ability to create charts and better data handling) Google Forms and Sheets have helped me improve my process.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Another Set of Mental Jogging Prompts

More brainstorming prompts from the book Mental Jogging by Reid J. Daitzman.

In previous posts I reviewed the book Mental Jogging by Reid J. Daitzman, and later share some more games from the book to stimulate the imagination.

Eleven Mental Jogging prompts

The  book consists of 365 prompts to stimulate your creativity. Below are ten prompts. These are great to think about while commuting and at parties.
  1. Six or more places never to put grass seed.
  2. Seven or more reasons not to smell a rose.
  3. Seven or more things to think about while descending on a parachute.
  4. Six or more ways to produce electricity.
  5. Seven or more day dreams everybody has. (Possible answers below.)
  6. Seven or more important news events of your parents' lifetime.
  7. Eight or more non-sport uses of a football.
  8. Six or more college majors that least interest(ed) you.
  9. Eight or more routes from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mexico City, Mexico
  10. Nine or more uses of dust.
  11. Seven or more uses of bamboo.

Possible answers for Seven or more day dreams everybody has: The book lists 75 possible answers for this prompt.
  • 1. Getting into first choice of colleges.
  • 11. Being valuable.
  • 21. Becoming involved in a grandiose scandal.
  • 31. Having a famous face.
  • 41. Lavish clothes in abundance.
  • 51. Real jewels for every occasion.
  • 61. Printing your own money.
  • 71. Being able to fly.

Mental Calesthenics
Mental Jogging also includes twelve mental calisthenics (one for each month) that are more complex mental tasks.  The one below is from February.
Sit in a comfortable position in an area of distractions and noises. Take three deep breaths and exhale through your nostrils. Close your eyes and image a BLACK SQUARE, BLACK RECTANGLE,  BLACK CIRCLE, BLACK OVAL, and BLACK RECTANGLE. Repeat the exercise, this time make the shapes another color of your choice. Arrange the BLACK shapes alphabetically, from left to right. Make them disappear one at a time. Open your eyes. 

Note: don't close your eyes if driving.

If you are looking for ways to increase your speed of thinking or the volume of ideas as solutions or creative approaches, I encourage to buy Mental Jogging and try some of these exercises. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Best Seller in a Weekend - Webinar Review

Best Seller in a Weekend is the business of Alicia Dunams. This post is a review of a webinar I attended.

Alicia Dunams

The best description of Alicia's business is from her own website:
Alicia Dunams motivates thousands of entrepreneurs around the world to play big to produce the business results and life they want. She’s coached hundreds of entrepreneurs worldwide to write, publish and market their book during her acclaimed live Bestseller in a Weekend program.

I came across Alicia's website while searching for creating a book quickly. I signed up for her mailing list, and subsequently received an offer to attend a webinar: Best Seller in a Weekend. This type of service is targeted towards individuals who want to establish themselves as experts within their fields by writing a non-fiction (how to) book.

Webinar Summary

You can view the full slick deck from the webinar via the SlideShare presentation below.

These are the highlights from my notes
1. Amazon search results - how the algorithm works
  • How you publish (CreateSpace, Kindle, and Amazon's own publishing companies receive a high prioritization).
  • Higher sales translates into better ranking within a specific category.
  • The number of legitimate reviews for a book indicates interest in the book.
  • A book title (and subtitle) based on specific keywords enhances visibility.

2. Alicia's basic process
  • Identify 6 concepts related to the topic.
  • Develop 20 questions for each concept (a total of 120 questions)
  • Get a friend to ask you these questions while recording.
  • Transcribe the recorded question and answer session.
  • The resulting transcript forms the bulk of content for the book. Two hours of recording roughly translates into 20,000 words which is the equivalent of a 100-page book (5x8 dimensions).

3. Establish yourself as an expert
Use this template to establish yourself as an expert:
  • My name is ____.
  • I help ____ be/do/have (insert your target audience)
  • _____ (your expertise)
  • so that _____ (results).

You can use this same information to pitch your book:
  • My name is _____.
  • I'm the author of ____ (title)
  • which teaches how to
  • _____ (subtitle).

4. Create a title and subtitle
  • The title of the book should be a noun.
  • The subtitle of the book should be a verb.
  • The words "teaches (how to)" should silently connect the title and subtitle.
  • Example: Straight A Student (teaches how to) Get better grades today
  • Example (Actual book): Blog a book (teaches how to) Write, Publish, and Promote Your Work One Post at a Time

5. Establish bestseller status
A strategy to achieving bestseller status is to select a super niche category for your book. The next step is to use social media to coordinate the follow:
  • Set up a book-buy blitz where as many individuals as possible buy your book within a limited time (24 or 48 hours).
  • Enlist the help of friends, associates, and bloggers to help promote your book.
  • Arrange for bulk purchases through civic clubs and chamber of commerce groups.
  • Generate interest through pre-orders.
  • Key point: Start promoting while writing via social media (posts, tweets, photos).

Slideshare Presentation

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hero's Journey

Hero's Journey Story Structure using The Tale of Peter Rabbit as an example.

 In 1949 Joseph Campbell published a book titled The Hero's Journey. In the book Campbell describes a parallel structure found in all myths that transcends time and culture. While this portion of the book is helpful as a story tool, the book is heavily influenced by the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud.

In the 1980s Christopher Vogler, a script consultant working for Walt Disney Pictures, published a memo in which he described the various structural elements of the the hero's journey, but without the psychoanalytic elements. Vogler later expanded the memo into The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.

The concept of the hero's journey is that every hero - the protagonist or main character of the story - goes through a variety of stages in a journey, starting with leaving home and concluding with returning home as a changed individual.

The steps of the journey

  • Ordinary world - the main character in the world as it was before the ensuing adventure began.
  • Call to adventure - The main character is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure.
  • Refusing the call - The protagonist is reluctant to accept the call to adventure. People are naturally averse to change, and the character must decide to remain in the ordinary world or begin a journey of adventure.
  • Meeting with the mentor - Someone in the main character’s life is older and wiser. This mentor advises the character in the decision to leave the ordinary world, and often offers tools, wisdom, and strategies to the character.
  • Crossing the threshold - The main character fully enters the special world of the story. This is usually the beginning of action in a story. In a movie, crossing the threshold typically occurs after 30 minutes. Once the main character crosses into the special world, he cannot return easily to the ordinary word.
  • Tests, allies, and enemies - The main character encounters a series of tests in preparation for future battles and to build stamina - whether physical or emotional. The hero also meet allies who will assist as the story proceeds, but the hero also encounters a variety of enemies who assist the antagonist of the story.
  • Approach the inmost cave - The protagonist and allies enter what appears potentially to be the end of the story. It is a place of danger.
  • Central ordeal - This is the low point of the story, and it appears that all may be lost. Yet, the main character returns to life, physically or symbolically, and reinvigorates the hero.
  • Reward - Also referred to as “seizing the sword,” the hero now claims the reward he fought for in the previous steps. Often, a tool or strategy of some importance is obtained which will contribute to a success conclusion of the story.
  • Road back - Most antagonists do not want the protagonist to keep the reward and take action to thwart the success of the main character. The most dramatic and intense scenes of a story occur in this step.
  • Resurrection - All of the action during the road back culminate in a final scene of life or death. Either the protagonist will defeat the antagonist, or the opposite will occur.
  • Return with elixir - Having survived the final battle, the main character can now return to the ordinary world, but now with new experience, reward, or love interest.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

As noted in previous posts, the Tale of Peter Rabbit is a simple story that clearly illustrates the various steps of story structure. For this post, Peter's tale is organized according to the elements of the hero's journey.

  • Ordinary world - Peter and his siblings lived with their mother in a sandbank underneath the root of a very big fir tree.
  • Call to adventure - Mrs. Rabbit said, "Run along and don't get into any mischief." In this situation, Peter call to adventure is the mischief of which his mother admonished her rabbits to avoid.
  • Refusal of the call - Peter's siblings obeyed, but Peter was "naughty."
  • Meeting with the mentor - Mrs. Rabbit further warned the warren: "Don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden; your father had an accident there and was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor." In this story, Mrs. Rabbit serves as the role of mentor by providing a specific and meaningful consequence of visiting the garden.
  • Crossing the threshold - Peter went directly to the garden.
  • Test, Allies, and Enemies - Peter encountered Mr. McGregory - his archenemy. Peter ran away, but couldn't find the way out. In the course of his adventure he was encouraged by the sparrows.
  • Approach the inmost cave - Peter was closer to getting caught as he ran away from Mr. McGregor.
  • Central Ordeal - Peter was even closer to getting caught with seemingly no way out and hid in a watering can. He  drew attention to himself by sneezing.
  • Reward - Peter slipped through the window, narrowly escaping.
  • Road Back - While still wandering around in the garden, Peter finally spotted the gate, although the path was obstructed by Mr. McGregor.
  • Resurrection - Peter ran for his life towards the gate. He squeezed under it and was out of danger.
  • Return with Elixir - Peter made it safely home. The elixir was knowledge gained from his experience. In a later story Peter's cousin Benjamin Bunny wanted to visit the garden, but Peter was very resistant.

I like the hero's journey model. It has more structure than the three-act structure, but a manageable number of steps.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Dale Carnegie's Secrets of Success

The link in this post displays a list of tips from How to Win Friends & Influence People and How to Stop Worrying & Start Living.

I recently reviewed How to Stop Worrying & Start Living by Dale Carnegie. In an earlier post on paradigm changing books, I included How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Today's post features a link to a PDF document on the Dale Carnegie corporate website. The PDF contains all of the tips from both books.

The categories of tips are:
  • Become a friendlier person
  • Win people to your way of thinking
  • Be a leader
  • Fundamental principles for overcoming worry
  • Basic techniques in analyzing worry
  • Break the worry habit before it breaks you
  • Cultivate a mental attitude that will bring you peace and happiness
  • The perfect way to conquer worry
  • Don't worry about criticism
  • Prevent fatigue and worry and keep your energy and spirits high

Link to Secrets of Success

You can download the PDF and print the pages. If you don't have have to read the books - which are excellent and should be read by all - at least familiarize yourself with these essential points.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Presentation Rehab Tip 6 - Arrive Early

When presenting, arrive early to setup, test connections, and make sure everything is ready.

I have attended a variety of professional concert events including the rock group KISS, contemporary Christian artist Amy Grant, the legendary island man Jimmy Buffet, Seventies crooner Neil Diamond, and numerous classical concerts. For all of these events and many others, I never saw the band or orchestra doing a sound check while we were trying to find our seats. Instead of waiting until just before show time to make final tweaks and adjustments, professional musicians have learned that it is more beneficial to arrive early before the audience arrives.

You, as a presenter, can apply the same practice to your presentation. A number of technical gremlins can cause delays and problems. Being present early enough to check and correct audio, visual, and computer connections will mean you are ready to present when your audience arrives. Additionally, by working through the technical and setup details in advance, you can utilize the time just before your presentation to find a place to mentally prepare or spend time speaking with audience members.

Beyond the preparation to ensure that all of the logistics, presentation slides, and technical adjustments have been made, it simply looks professional to be prepared and ready. In Britain, at least when I was a there as a child, the trains run on time. If a train is scheduled to leave at 8:03AM, you'd better be on the train by 8:02AM or you may miss it. This is sensible as there is a network of trains waiting to move in to the station and there are other trains people have to transfer to along the way.

As much as possible, I try to start presentations or conference calls on time – i.e., at the announced start time. Will some people be late? Yes. But some will be there early. It is professional to start on time. The likelihood of this occurring is enhanced when you arrive early enough to test your presentation, Internet connections, and other logistics.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

App Review for Writing on Your Phone

This post review different apps for writing on the iPhone. Apps discussed are Notes, Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and Google Docs.

Recently I came across an e-book written by Andrew Mayne, a television personality and author.  In How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours, Mayne offers general writing advice on a several different topics. In one of the chapters, Mayne discussed how he uses his smart phone to write.

Writing Tools

Prior to the advent of computers there were really three ways to produce words that would eventually result in a book. If you had a generous budget you could dictate your writing and pay someone to transcribe it. If you were lucky enough to have a typewriter, you could type your pages. Finally, if you didn't have a budget or a typewriter, you could simply write words on paper. Computers have largely eliminated these problems, but still have one characteristic in common: you still need to carry a tool with you.

This is often my situation. Sometimes I write using my laptop and sometimes using my iPad with Bluetooth keyboard. However, after reading Mayne's article, I decided to experiment with typing on my phone.

The advantage of using phone to create content is that it is immediately available all the time. Who is without a phone for too long? You can now write a few sentences when waiting in line. You can write between other activities. With a dictation feature, you can even dictate a few sentences into the writing app of your choice.


For my Writing 365 project, where I am writing 1,000 words per day during 2016, I have been using Microsoft Word for Mac and Apple Pages for iPad and Mac. At the same time, I have used Google Docs to create outlines for various documents.

Since I already have the apps for Word, Pages, and Docs on my iPhone, I decided to determine which would be best. I decided to use the classic speech, The Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln.

Microsoft Word for iOS

I first opened Word for iPhone, pasted the text of the speech and viewed the result. The default when both creating documents and opening existing documents is to display the text as a full page, and you have to scroll to view full paragraphs. There is a button to toggle between page view and text view, but because the default is the page view, this requires an extra step. The Word app also requires a Microsoft account to edit documents.

Apple Pages for iOS

Apple Pages provides the same basic app across platforms. While there is considerable additional functionality on the Mac, the iOS versions are still fairly powerful. Pages works well on the iPad, but has the same problem as Word on the iPhone. Unlike Word, I could not find a toggle button to switch between text and page views.

Google Docs

Google Docs defaults to the text view, with a toggle button to switch to page view. This is perfect for the iPhone. Since all three apps provide for basic formatting, including paragraph styles, Google Docs provides the best scenario: text view which is perfect for iPhone and basic formatting capabilities.


Notes provides basic text entry, but only offers limited style or formatting options (apparently with no way to modify the styles).

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Apple iMovie Book Trailers

Use Apple iMovie to create dramatic trailers to promote movies, events, and books.

iMovie trailers

Movie theaters always play several preview of upcoming movies prior to show the actual movie you paid for. Most of these trailers are fast paced, with exciting music that builds over the course of the 1-2 minutes, several clips of the movie, and often dramatic narration. Apple created an app just for movie trailers.

The purpose of movie trailers is to create a desire in viewers to return for another movie. Back in the day of movie rentals, most DVDs or video cassettes included previews. The idea of creating a compelling preview trailer is now used for other purposes including book and event promotion. The Epic Reads channel on YouTube is a create source for ideas.

While it is possible to cobble several video clips together, add text-based clips, and add dramatic music, the iMovie app (available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad) will do much of the work for you.


iMovie has two choices for creating movies.
  1. You can create movies, in which you basically start with a blank canvas and add video clips and images.
  2. You can create trailers, in which you select from one of several available templates and insert several brief clips and fill in a template for text.
The two limitations of using the trailers option are that you cannot delete or add additional clips and you cannot do any type of voice-over narration. However, the idea of the trailers is that they are based on generally accepted formulas for what is effective. There are also workarounds for both of these limitations (see below).

The video below shows four of the trailer templates available for iOS (iPad and iPhone). These are the templates I believe are best suited to book trailers. The Mac version of iMovie contains more templates.


In order to make the process go as quickly as possible, it is a good idea to spend some time planning your trailer.
  1. The first step is to select a trailer. Each trailer includes a planning section with an outline, studio information, and scene list.
  2. Once you select a specific trailer, make a list of clips and write out the text to include in the appropriate sections. 
  3. Import the video clips into your media library (Mac) or camera roll (iOS). You can create videos, buy videos from stock sites, and/or search for free content online (Creative Commons, public domain, or free). Most of the clip lengths in the trailer templates are 2 seconds or less. You need around 20 clips for the majority of templates.


Once you have created your trailer, you can save it to the camera roll or publish it to YouTube and other sites directly from iMovie. However, if you need to customize the trailer further by adding narration, cutting scenes, or add additional clips and photos, you will definitely want to save it to the camera roll and import it back into iMovie in order to create a movie.

I recently created a trailer for a book. In the trailer I selected were a couple of extra clip placeholders that I did not need to use. Thus, after saving the trailer as a movie (to my camera roll) I imported it back in as a movie, split the clip into sections, and deleted unwanted scenes. While the iPad is fairly good, you can edit clips with much more precision using the Mac version.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Presentation Rehab Tip 5 - Verify times for the presentation venue

When giving a presentation, always verify when you can access and when you need to leave the room or venue.

The first day of presenting and training went well. The attendees were pleased with how activities went on the first day and were excited about the second and third days. As part of the instructional team, I was happy to stay after the training ended and speak with attendees who wished to keep discussing the content. After speaking with attendees we gathered for a brief huddle to review how the day had gone.

When we arrived the next morning, the coordinator of the space was already in the room waiting for us. One of his staff had to stay past her normal ending time to wait for us to leave. In turns out, as we learned, that we had to be completely out of the space by a certain time, not just finished with the training.

In addition to serving as a thoughtful courtesy to the staff assisting you, possessing this knowledge of when to be in and out may also save you money. There are many instances where you have to pay staff if they are required to stay after hours.

It is always a good idea to check the schedule a couple of days before you arrive. Sometimes rooms are booked far in advanced, and between the original booking and actual event calendar changes may occur.

In the first example of a space with firm start and stop times, we needed to adjust our schedule in order to accommodate the staff. In the second example, we started late and had to explain to some of the participants about the mix up. Neither of these scenarios is good, and both could have been avoided if we had verified the times to be in and out of the presentation space.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Stock Video Sites (Free and Paid) Reviewed

In this blog post I review several stock video sites including VideoBlocks, ShutterStock, iStockPhoto, VideoHive, XStockVideo, Videezy, Videvo, and StockFootageForFree. Four of these are free.

If you do any kind of video production you need stock video footage from time to time. Yes, you could create it yourself, but it takes time and money to create certain scenes. I became inspired to create book trailers and quote videos after viewing several videos from Epic Reads, the young adult YouTube channel for Harper Collins. An good example from the Epic Reads channel is below.

Stock Video

I simply searched for "stock video" in Google. Several sites appeared in the search results. Below are the ones I viewed. It is likely that companies are continually evolving and adjust their policies regarding free downloads of clips. However, as of this writing, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at what is available.

Free sites

This site offers free downloads for videos at 960x540. High definition resolutions (1280x720 and 1920x1080 cost a couple of dollars). The videos are easy to download, and sizes are fairly manageable. I had a few problems logging in the second time. The username is case sensitive. If you fail to log in three times, the IP address is blocked. Just remember your password and you should be OK.

This site is convenient to join as you can sign up with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Yahoo. Videvo requires a share to social media (Twitter or Facebook) every time a video is downloaded. I will probably use Twitter for sharing since I am not very active on that platform. Videvo appears to be connected with Shutterstock (see below) for premium and additional videos.

Stock Footage for Free
Like Videvo, you can join with Google or Facebook profiles. Stock Footage for Free appears to be affiliated with VideoBlocks (see below). Some videos I looked at are no longer available for free (but are on VideoBlocks). This site also provides editorial comments for each video. In my clip compilation below I used a video titled "Beautiful girl running on sunlit wheat field." The description provided was:

Is there anything as freeing as watching a beautiful girl running on sunlit wheat field? Possibly, but for now we will say no. This stock clips makes us think of a young girl leaving the Ingalls farm, the only place she knows to find something new. She’s running far away in hopes of seeing the lights of New York City, or becoming an actress in LA, or potentially just to the next wheat field. Regardless, it’s a liberating feeling!

This site is also well-connected to Videoblocks and Shutterstock. However, there is a nice collection of free footage to download.

Below is a clip compilation featuring one clip each from the sites listed above.

Paid Sites

Personally, I like to find free resources whenever possible. However, there are times when a premium clip is desired, and a paid video download may be required.

With Videohive the cost is per video. The good news is that the prices are fairly reasonable.

This site has three plans.
  • Monthly, $79/month
  • Annual, $149
  • Premium, $198

This site has two levels of membership.
  • Essentials - $40 for 10 images or $90 per month (annual subscription) for 50 images per month.
  • Signature starts at $199 per month for 50 images (full site access).

Another premium site, a basic level cost ranges from 2 images for $29 to 25 images for $229. The professional level is $199 per month for 750 images.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Gettysburg Addess

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln is probably one of the best known speeches in the history of the United States. Written for the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the speech is only 271 words in length and probably took 2-3 minutes to read.

Abraham Lincoln was preceded at the podium by Edward Everett, a politician and orator. He spoke for two hours. The response to Lincoln's speech was initially less than ideal. A reporter from the Chicago Times wrote, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances." The London Times article included this assessment: "The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln. Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce."

Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.