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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Good Eye Instagram: Love the New DMs

Direct messages are now IG reality and I, for one, am plenty excited. Almost as much as with the roll-out of 15-sec. video this summer.

I don't care if this is a knee-jerk to keep young IG users from wandering onto Snapchat or Path, this is a feature I've been dreaming about ever since I first waded into Instagram over two years ago.

By that time, I was a Twitter junkie and although the Instagram platform was so engaging, I really missed the opportunity to contact followers directly. I wasn't about to adopt a secondary platform like Kik - as many did - just to contact my to IG friends directly.

I've sent one sorry little DM so far, so I've nowhere near explored the possibilities of this feature, but my mind is racing. I can now send a pic or 15-second video clip to one, or any combination, of my followers. That's a big deal. Why?

Here are four simple things Instagram DMs will do for me and IG users across Instaverse.

1) We can now share messages privately, rather than conversing in public under someone else's pics and vids. Hey, I love the whole watercooler thing, you know. The idea that IG conversations are convened around public images. But sometimes rather than communicating on public bulletin board, all I want to do is leave a private post-it.

(Anyway, thank you Instagram. And thank you Facebook for not messing up platform I still love, at least so far, after you horrified everyone with your $1 billion IG purchase 18 months ago.)

2) Community managers for organizational Instagram ccounts can now respond to followers privately. This gives them greater flexibility to offer guidance or deal with complaints.

3) Instagram pics and video will allow for asynchronous meetings. Sure you can do this on other platforms already. But IGers will appreciate the fact that working groups, organizational teams, and family members can now huddle privately, whenever.

4) Personalized Christmas or holiday greetings to friends, colleagues and family members will be a cinch. There's a lot to be said for warm and fuzzy video/pics targeted to people you love.

As with any new tech, IG users will respond to the DM ability by creating a tonne of new uses for the feature.

Some tech press is already hailing Instagram's DM announcement as meh, and sure it's been a long time coming.

But IG users are going to go crazy for the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Better Way to Record Audio to Your iPhone or iPad

The superb iRig mic plugs right into your iPhone/iPad, costs roughly $60, and is available at your Apple store.
If you shoot video on your iPhone or iPad you know how hard it is to get good quality sound. The same holds true if you're recording for Sound Cloud or Garage Band on those same devices. The built-in microphones just weren't made to capture sound well.
The iRig Mic is a great way to give your video or audio productions the sound they deserve.
This microphone is solid but lightweight, has a built-in wind screen, and captures superb quality audio at three different settings.
The bottom one is perfect for recording live music that usually registers as a hot, fuzzy mess on your iOS device. This setting tamps down the sound so you can actually hear your favourite band on playback.
The middle setting is good for recording sound within a a foot of the source. This is good for streeters or video interviews with people where you pose a question, then hold the mic close to your subject to get their thoughts.
Finally, the top setting puts the mic in ultra-sensitive mode. This is perfect for events where you're either far away from the source or the source audio is weak and you need all the boost you can get.
I've tested this ultra-sensitive setting in situations where I was about 15' away from speakers at a press conference and the difference in sound quality between the iRig and the built-in iPhone mic was incredible. The iPhone's mic's sound was weak and frankly compromised the viewability of the video, whereas the iRig-recorded sound was bright and clear.
I've also used this mic in a noisy construction site where I need decent quality sound on a subject's voice. Placing the mic about 2 ft away from the subject - again on the top setting - cut through the din and gave me decent quality sound. A little hot, but perfectly listenable.
My son has used this ultra-sensitive setting to record voice and guitar in our sunroom, positioning the mic on a low table about 3-4 ft. away and it worked well.
The iRig mic also lets you monitor sound quality by letting you plug a set of headphones.
Check out this great, inexpensive microphone at your local Apple or music store.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

3 Knockout Instagram Vids for Inspiring Movement

Since Instagram added the ability to shoot 15-second video, you've likely been experimenting with this new medium. It's perfect for giving people a taste of what you're experiencing, from a brilliant sunset, concert or festival, to a skateboard move, a newborn - or even the fish that didn't get away.

While scanning the hashtags I came upon three videos that really got me thinking about movement. Hope these will inspire you, too.

1) Choreographed one-shot video. Most of us build our Instagram videos and Vines with quick cuts and the occasional pan. But what if you eliminated the cuts entirely and shot in one take? Look at the flow - and great choreography - evident in this work from Sarah Vickers who blogs at Note how the fashion is almost incidental to the setting. There are more fluid one-shot videos in her Instagram gallery to inspire you. Click here to see them.

2) Falling out of frame. This visually surprising work comes from Miklas Manneke from South Africa who used the hashtag #tiltvidgram to describe the action. It came out on top in @Instagram's recent #whpmyfavoriteplace challenge. Creative motion requires some deliberate out-of-box thinking - and Miklas and collaborator @garethpon rocked the muse on this one. Go to Miklas' gallery here.

3) Urban stop-motion. New York Times columnist and author Nick Bilton created this brain-tickling video that entertains your eyes by showing stop-motion vehicular and pedestrian traffic on a busy city street. Click here to check out the awesome stills in his Instagram gallery, too.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Stand and Talk 2: Why You'll Love Instagram Video

Upstart platform Vine has had a tremendous impact on the social media landscape with its easy-to-shoot, six-second video format. But Instagram struck back brilliantly this week by introducing video to its uber-popular photo-sharing site. As of July 20, 2013, you can now record and post 15-second videos to your Instagram account.

This isn't simply a great competitive countermove, but a handy new tool for educators for all the reasons I cite in the video above. I know you'll find your own reasons to love Instagram video. If you're a teacher without an IG account yet, consider opening one and start contributing to this tremendously supportive and  creative community. It's a great way to share what the world looks like through your eyes and the eyes of your students (if you have social media releases for them, of course).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Make Your Own RSAnimate Videos with Videoscriber

Ok, so you have seen those RSAnimate videos where a disembodied hand draws and writes to a voice-over of Sir Ken Robinson or another famous TED talker. You can actually do something very close to this with Videoscriber from Sparkol - without even knowing how to draw.

Invest a few minutes in this video and do not be put off by slightly poor sound. What you see once the demo starts will floor you. Check out the second and third tutorial and some of the promotional vids as well.

Imagine the possibilities for yourself or project work for your students. I am not sure if there is a an educational discount, but there is a pricing scale you can check out - and a seven-day free trial.

I owe this one to Steve Snider, formerly of the NEA and now with Integrated Media. Thank you so much, Steve. You can bet I will be checking out Videoscriber this summer.

Stand and Talk 1: Boost Your iPhone Audio

Getting good quality sound - or sound that is simply loud enough - on your iPhone or iPad videos is a real challenge. For anything farther away than your arm, the built-in mic just does not cut it. A good option in some circumstances is the RODE SmartLav mic. This basic lapel mic lets you isolate your voice from the ambient sound around you and substantially boosts the pick up on your voice.

My mistake in this video was to position it about 6 inches from my collar - the recommended distance. After I reviewed the video, I realized that was much too close. You can hear the sound running a bit hot and clipping after I plug the mic in. Because the SmartLav is so sensitive, a better distance would have been perhaps 10 inches down.

Still a good product, though - and one way to deal with the frustration of poor on-camera sound. In a future post I will tell you about the iRig mic - a real premium product, more flexible than this, and at the same price.

Happy recording.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

12 Reasons to Love the Boogie Board

Why in the world would you need a Boogie Board?
Okay so you have this brand-new stylus for your iPad – and you're frustrated. The writing experience isn't what you thought it would be. It feels like a big fat crayon. And there's no way you can replicate the feeling of pen on paper - no matter what note-taking app you use. The amount of words you can squeeze onto a Penultimate page is drastically fewer than you can get with paper and your writing is blockish and ugly.

In the vernacular, you're not a happy camper.

So you buy yourself a $30 Jott Pro stylus - you know, the glamorous one with the flat round disc hugging the nib. It's a great conversation piece, but that same disc that used to glide over your glossy pad for the first week or two seems to skip now. And you find out you need to buy thermal compound from the Source and apply it between the nib and the disc to fix the problem. (Can you tell this is autobiographical?)

Enter the Boogie Board - no not the surfing kind. I'm talking about the $49 London Drugs special - the Boogie Board Jot 8.5 - quite simply the dumbest writing tablet in the world. It's single function, feature poor - and absolutely brilliant.

The only thing you can do on this tablet is write and erase. I've had mine for about 2 months and I'm loving it. You cannot save, export, buy apps for it, choose fancy paper or even start a new page.

But it has plenty of features to love:
  1. It's perfect for making lists, brainstorming, drawing.
  2. Kids love being able to draw, scribble and pass notes. 
  3. It's super light-weight and thin.
  4. You can quickly scribble down impromptu presentation notes and use as a oversized 3x5 card. 
  5. The low-energy screen is always on and it will be for months - power for the earlier versions lasted 10 years.
  6. You are always zero clicks away from your note. 
  7. It has much better wrist suppression than the Penultimate app. 
  8. Viewing is excellent in bright sunlight.
  9. Built-in magnets let you slap it onto the fridge or metal filing cabinet.
  10. The screen is pressure-sensitive so you can make fat or thin strokes.
  11. There's a holder for the stylus, unlike previous versions. 
  12. The writing experience is perfect - a pleasure - frustration-free. 
Frankly, there are many situations where pulling out your tablet is a much better choice than using the Boogie Board. But that's why you have a tablet, right? And for about $100 you can buy the Boogie Board Rip which does let you save notes and export them to Evernote. 

But this inexpensive little writing tablet wins hands down in certain situations. I attend plenty of pressers and special events where the Boogie Board is perfect. When working my way around a venue taking pictures - indoors or out - it's so easy for me to ask kids and adults to write their names down on the board, then keep shooting and use that information in tweets or Facebook posts later.

If I need a second page, I just snap a pic of the board with my iPhone, erase and reuse. 

Awkward? I've become quite used to it. And, horror of horrors, if I were ever to leave the board behind at an event, I'm out $50, not $700 as would be the case with my iPad. 

Drawbacks? Plenty. Besides those mentioned already, the low-contrast screen takes getting used to - you certainly can't use it in the dark - but is good enough for most applications. There are plenty of other limitations. Again, all you can do is write and erase.

But I'll put this cheap little tablet up against any other electronic "analogue" writing experience. 

Because of the subtle drag on the stylus, it feels like the closest thing to pen and paper you'll find. My handwriting is not big and blockish, but fine and well-formed and I can fit more words length-wise than on many note-taking apps. I throw this pad in the case with my other equipment wherever I'm shooting or live tweeting. 

I mulled buying this Boogie Board for a half hour in the store before I sprung for it because it seemed like such a redundant purchase. Such a dumb idea for an iPad owner. 

Then again, the tech world is full of brilliant dumb ideas. 

Just ask Jack Dorsey.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How much social exhaust do you generate?

How much exhaust should you be generating in your social media interactions? Is it an inevitable part of building a Personal Learning Network or should you be looking at paring down some of the unnecessary banter in your online relationships. Watch this two-minute "walk and talk" I captured with the Socialcam app on my iPhone. It's not meant to be pretty, just to convey some quick thoughts and ask for feedback.

More bloggers who are pressed for time are opting turning to Socialcam as a short-form way of getting their thoughts out, rather than meticulously crafting a blog post. A master of the thinking person's walk and talk is Winnipeg teacher Darren Kuropatwa. Always thought-provoking, Darren has produced 80-plus short videos for his #whilewalking series - all while walking between his home and the bus stop.

Want to challenge your thinking? Check out Darren's insights and questions. I'm pretty sure you'll find some new ideas to love.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Simple slide creation with Haiku Deck

Haiku Deck is the best application for creating presentations on iPad
Not sure why I hadn't heard of Haiku Deck before, but I've been playing with it for a few days now and quite like it. I was going to say it's a great app for quick and dirty presentation builds, but I've learned it's not so quick (I tend to tinker quite a bit) and it's not that dirty (limited functionality compared to Keynote, but fairly decent results).

I loved putting together this little biographical deck above. It's something I can adapt to kick off a workshop. All but one of the pictures are mine, and I found being able to pull down a Creative Commons image right from within the app itself very handy. Take the time to explore Haiku Deck. You're bound to find a use for it somewhere.