Marks in constant recording

Alex Hayes pulls a phone out of his pocket Recently a few friends came up to the mountains for the TALO swap/meet 05. We talked about a variety of things to do with teaching and learning online. The nature of the conference was open source - meaning that there was no agenda, key note speakers, or otherwise structured communications. We just got together and started yaking! It was great. Some really good ideas and thoughts were flowing freely. We talked over a Mexican lunch, we talked while walking the National Pass Trail, we talked over drinks at the Carrington, we talked and talked.

Recording such conversation is almost impossible. Remembering all the great ideas is just as impossible. But I remember one idea Alex Hayes (pictured), Sean FitzGerald and I had that could solve this problem - the marking in constant record.

Take your average mp3 recorder. Mic yourself up and hit record. On a 512meg card you should expect a few hours of recording, enough to get the majority of a night conversation. But going back over that massive flog of raw recording to edit it down to digestible content is a job I wouldn't wish on anyone. On top of that, once the 512 card is full, you have to find another card to get the breakfast conversations. Its just too much. What we really need is a recorder that does constantly record, but when you have that moment in conversation where you realise, "hey, that's a great idea!" you reach down to the mic cable and press a button that marks near to the end of the sample you want to keep. The recorder stores your out point mark and adds an inpoint mark automatically - say 5 minutes before the out. When the cards nears full, the recorder deletes everything but the marked recordings, freeing up some card to continue recording. Back in the editing misery, at least you know that the majority of what you have is what you though was good at the time. You might miss a few things with that auto 5 minute in point mark, but I'd say on the whole you'd get most of it. 5 minutes should be enough I'd imagine, for someone recording to realise what was being said was worth keeping. If that person was to mark an out point within 5 minutes of the last, then the reorder would know that more than 5 minutes was needed, it would just keep the in point at the original mark point.

This could work for video as well of course.

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Blue Mountains rail line

traveling from Lithgow to Sydney by public transport is a joke. It can take nearly twice the time on the train as it does to drive, and cost almost the same! While millions of dollars are being spent upgrading the Western Highway to accommodate the road traffic, not enough is spent on the rail to make it even close to viable for commuters.

There are 2 tracks running the Blue Mountains line. Coal, freight and passenger trains share the lines. My idea is to have the coal, freight and express passenger trains running one line and all station shuttle trains running the other. This could dramatically improve the travel times for longer journey commuters, and possible allow for more frequent trains running all stations between the express stops.

For example; If I lived in Leura and commuted to the University of Western Sydney everyday, I could catch the Lawson to Mount Victoria shuttle or drive to Katoomba, and catch the express to Kingswood stopping only at Lawson and Springwood before arriving at Kingswood. (Note that Penrith is no longer a major stop on account of the obviously higher passenger numbers at Kingswood). Quite likely then, my journey from Leura to Kingswood would be as fast if not faster by train.

Because the one rail is used for the less frequent express trains, more trains could run the other line. Ideally there would be one train per shuttle section, moving back and forth all stations between the respective express stops.
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A better screenrecorder

Betsy Webber from Techsmith, authors of the screenrecording software Camtasia dropped me a line last week, asking me to try out Camtasia and offer some feedback. I had tried Camtasia a couple of years ago so I offered these initial thoughts before downloading it again and giving it another belt.

The ultimate screen recorder would:
  • Record screen and audio recordings to open video formats such as Mpeg and swf
  • Export key still frames from the screen recording to Jpeg, editable to PDF
  • Export audio to MP3, oggVorbis, and WAV
  • Allow for live and collaborative online screen/audio demonstrations
  • Be free and open source!! ;)

Since those initial ideas, I've had a quick go of Camtasia and had some more ideas on what Techsmith could do to make it cook! But first of all some initial comment on the recorder as it is at the moment.

The download was nice and small, and the install went on without a hitch. I started using it straight away without having to read any instructions which is always good, but may have something to do with my experience, so I still think it could be made a whole lot simpler. I have a few ideas on that later. One thing that caught me out in my first try was missing the record audio button, and therefore getting through a lengthy recording with no audio! The default should be to record audio with the option button being to not record it... I was really impressed with the export file wizard, and the excellent variety of formats to choose from for exporting. My initial suggestion still stands though - the one about a Jpeg (or perhaps the Gif would do it) that can be exported into an editable PDF.

So, there are my initial impressions of Camtasia. I didn't do any editing of the recording, which I will talk about below, in my further suggestions. Camtasia still needs to be made much simpler, with the options and settings more in the background. Less is more so to speak.

The criteria I have for recommending software to teachers is this: "It has to be free, easy, and web based". Camtasia is not free, is almost easy (but not easy enough), and is not web based.

FREE: Camtasia (or a lighter version of it) needs to be free so that as many people can use it as possible. Its no good if a teacher can afford to buy and use it, but her students can't.. etc. It also needs to be free (or a lighter version of it) to curb the community acceptance of pirated software.

EASY: I don't know why, when Camtasia sparks up, it needs to open up in its edit or studio mode. I think it would be much nicer if all that opened initially was a small bar with big buttons for record (F9), pause (F9), stop (F10) and options. That's all. Under options of course are the various settings. Audio is recorded as a default, as is full screen. These settings, and all others can be changed by clicking options.
When stop is selected the option to export or edit should be offered. Exporting bring up the wonderful wizard, editing brings up the studio.
generally I and many other teachers are too time starved and demotivated to want to edit and glossy up a screencast. So editing would be best left as a final option not a first.

WEB BASED: Here's the kicker! Here's where I think Camtasia could solve a whole bunch of problems for themselves and their customers, and make Camtasia the killer screen recording application.
Camtasia should set up a server and capture people's screens and audio for them, host them and serve them in multiple formats via URLs and licensed to Creative Commons. Camtasia would quickly become a primary source for screenrecordings, and vast numbers of people on Macs, Windows, Linux and languages could join in. It would be the Flickr for the screenrecording world. If hosting and recording was too difficult, then I'm sure Google Video or OurMedia would be interested in a project partnership.
I wonder if Camtasia were to look into Mozilla's open source code for Firefox, whether they could even achieve this web based versioning for the screen recorder through the FireFox Browser!
Camtasia could offer the web based recorder as a free and open version of Camtasia. Those who want the option to record, edit, host and serve for themselves would buy the full version. Those on web based only get a free web based recording, but no editing.
Of course, people using the web based recorder would need broadband, but access to broadband is improving.

If Camtasia did this, I would sing for years!

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