Tuesday, November 29, 2016

AltCV version 2

One of the first activities for CLMOOC does #DigiWriMo is a re-run of the AltCV exercise. This time, inspired by Charlene Doland's from last year, I decided to have a go with the free version of Animaker. Time was limited, as was talent, so the output is nothing spectacular, but Animaker caertainly is an easy way to quickly create an animated video. I'm not quite sure I've really fulfilled the AltCV remit - more a minimalistic real CV in an alternative form, but I'm fairly satisfied with the results.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My first stop motion animation

Most of my cast on set
Today's daily create is to "Create a video story with children’s toys and/or cut out drawings". I'm glad I spotted this one early, because as well as being a fairly challenging one, it's the first one that I've suggested, so I had to do it! I was inspired to suggest this by the YouTube channel ToyTrains4U, which hosts the prolific output of a family who make videos using children's toys. (One or two cans of Strongbow may also been part of the inspiration...)

My plot had to make use of the toys available - a few miniature Doctor Who figures who usually sit on a shelf above my desk, a knitted froglet that Sarah made to keep my server 'Tiny' company and some plasticine I had lying around. As my 'actors' are only 3cm tall, I only needed a small set - I found a suitably sci-fi looking picture online, which also had green window areas, and after a bit of editing printed it on a piece of A4 photo paper as my set. I used my webcam,clamped to my desk to take photos using the Windows Camera application.

The animation took surprisingly little time once I had it set up, though I did keep forgetting to move all the toys between each frame. The next challenge was to turn my 180 or so images into a video. Google/YouTube guided me - someone has already made a simple explanation of how to use Magix Movie Edit Pro, the video editing software I use, to do stop motion.

I made each photo 4 frames long, and then extended the first and last photos to provide time for titles. Finally I used the green screen effect to make the windows transparent, and put a moving space painting, again found online, behind it.

I'm quite pleased with my results - it's far from professional, and the story is probably impossible to follow, but it's a lot better than I expected my first attempt to be.

If you'd like to join me and an on-line learning community in experiments with simple animation, why not take part in the DigiWrimo-ish Pop-Up Make Cycle, starting 28th Nov. Watch for the hashtag #DigiWriMo for more info.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

WebAssembly - a way to create educational simulations for the web?

I just came across WebAssembly in a news post on The Register - this is quite an exciting development from the e-learning point of view. Simulations can be one of the most effective teaching tools, allowing student to investigate things and do experiments that would be impractical to do in the real world. Although it would be perfectly possible to write simulations for education in JavaScript, the ones I've used have been compiled desktop software, written in C++, and probably would have run too slowly in the browser.

C++ applications on the web is not a new idea - LLVM implemented in JavaScript provides that, and OpenTTD online shows that it can work remarkably well, however WebAssembly is likely to lead to better tool support, much faster execution and the option of writing in rather nicer languages. As it is supported by Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Apple it should be implemented in all the most popular browsers. This combination of good (and ideally easy to use) tools and near universal browser support should make it much easier to target the browser, and also to port existing simulation code to the browser.

Of course, at one time Java Applets and Flash both promised much of this, and security worries and politics have largely eliminated them. Hopefully WebAssembly will avoid these pitfalls, however abuse by advertisers could still be a problem, and that might well be its downfall.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Making a video ident

Most of the videos I've created and put on-line so far have been basic screen casts: either demonstrations or how-to guides for pieces of software. I'm hoping to do some more varied and interesting videos in future, and I've been looking at some other people's videos that broadly fit into the types of thing I might want to communicate. One thing I've noticed a lot of people who put videos on-line do is have their own video introduction or 'ident' at the beginning of each video. there are several websites where you can create an identity video by adding your own title and local to a template, for example IntroMaker1, however I decided to try and create my own.

Any videos I make as part of my job for The University of Glasgow should follow the University's brand guidelines if they are public, which include a two second display of the university marque at the start of the video. My personal ident is for videos that are not made for the University,

A couple of video intros that I quite like are Alice Keeler's Vlog and Nottingham Trent University's My Favourite Scientist series. Both are quite simple and unpretentious - no attempt to look like a Hollywood studio's ident - but also memorable. Both of these provided some inspiration for my design.

I decided on a simple design with my personal URL and twitter handle as text, and a picture. Initially I thought a caricature of myself would be a good idea, but unfortunately I lack the talent to create that. I tried generating a fake pencil drawing using photofunia, but felt the result looked too perfect, and obviously artificial. Instead I used smoothdraw and a graphics tablet to draw my own version, tracing over a photo on a lower layer.

Smoothdraw with the drawing on the top layer, a semi-transparent layer underneath it to help me see the drawing more clearly, and the photo on the layer below that.

I used Xara to create the rest of the basic image parts as png images - a background (plain white), the URL and twitter handle text, and three transparent images of possible hashtags of the type of things my YouTube channel might cover.  (In the screenshot below the three transparent images are overlayed on the second page.)

Xara Photo & Graphic Designer was used to create PNG images and also to experiment with layout and general appearance.
The final component before going into the video editor was to record background sound. For this I picked a fairly sci-fi-ish sound on my Roland GW-8 keyboard, and recorded a few seconds of improvisation using Audacity, repeating many times until I was fairly happy with it.

I used Magix Movie Edit Pro to create my video, using Google and YouTube for hints on how to do things.
The project in Magix Movie Edit Pro 2016.
I don't know if the finished intro/ident is what I'll stick with, however I think it was a useful exercise, helping me improve my video and graphics skills.
The finished video.
If you'd like me to make a more detailed description (or video tutorial)  of any of the steps, let me know in the comments below.

1. A Google Search will find many other similar sites.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


In a couple of days the people of the U.K. will be voting on whether or not to remain part of the European Union. Or rather, a select group of the people of the U.K. will be voting - many of my friends will not be allowed to vote in spite of having made their homes here, paying taxes and being a full part of our society, just because they were born elsewhere in the E.U. Another group excluded are U.K. passport holders who have made their homes elsewhere in the E.U., and have lived there for 15 years or more. While I can understand the second of these groups not getting a vote in U.K. elections, in this instance the outcome of the vote directly affects them so surely they should get a say.

In any meaningful concept of democracy, the people voting should include all the people directly affected by the outcome. In this referendum two substantial groups who are potentially the most devastatingly affected by the outcome are excluded - this is not democracy, this is a horrible parody of democracy more akin to the pseudo-democracy of an apartheid state.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Post "away-day" thoughts

The "away-day" happened, there were no major fights, and lots of people went to the pub...

The morning consisted of us being split into cross team groups to discuss how our activities map onto the new department strategy - a strategy that currently make no mention of core activities, although that will apparently change. For some it was quite informative, and probably a worthwhile exercise. One aspect that we were expected to look at was where activities go across teams. To my mind this showed up two quite separate ways in which more than one team is involved in similar activities. There is a lot of positive cross team collaboration, but it is usually informal and ad hoc, however, I felt that we also discovered that there are quite a lot of occasions when one team inappropriately intrudes on other teams responsibilities.

In the afternoon we more or less went back to our normal teams, though the largest was split in two, and a couple of our team were transposed into the media unit to even up numbers. The bosses were in a group of their own. In these teams we were given a couple of pieces of paper, and asked to set one or more goals for three years in the future, with a list of actions (with dates and names) aimed at getting there. This felt to us like the classic bad management howler of setting rigid task completion dates, and effectively setting us  up as hostages to fortune...

Finally we went back into the morning groups to take our 'team' messages back, in a sort of very broken version of the jigsaw classroom. So what did we find out? Every team thinks that they do not get enough respect, and are not sufficiently involved in decision making. The cynic in me guesses that any specialist team in any large workplace in the world would say exactly the same...

Finally we were told that we will continue to occasionally work in our morning teams, presumably to improve cross team collaboration in future, before a large party headed to the pub. Large groups in pubs are not a nice environment for a partially deaf person, so I declined.

So was it worthwhile? Who knows?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pre-away day thoughts

Tomorrow we have a department 'away day'... I've been fortunate enough to only be forced into taking part in three such events in the past, two planning/collaboration ones in conference rooms, and one team building one with paintball guns... From that limited experience, my expectation is that the only real beneficiaries of tomorrow's event will be the owners of some local hostelry, assuming sufficient of us are still on speaking terms at the end of the day. I'm a big fan of evidence based practice, whether it's for software development, teaching or management, so I've had a bit of a search for the evidence backing up the use of away-days. So far the best I've found is a suggestion in Dogbert's Top Secret Management Handbook that they can be used to reduce staffing costs, provided they take place in a suitably dangerous environment to ensure fatalities. There are a lot of websites espousing the benefits of away days, but always emphasizing that the best results will be achieved if you pay the site owners lots of money to organize it.

CPID have a page on 'How to... run a management away-day', which is less cynical than Dogbert, and less self-interested than the facilitation companies. Their first two recommendations are "a clear and agreed reason for spending the time away together", and "clear guidance on what the participants need to do before the event". - We're not off to a good start here...

But now I need to get back to work, because apparently the little programming task I was doing as a favour, that was due at the end of May is now an essential requirement for next week, and the specification has changed...

If  I survive the 'away-day' I'll blog again about how it went. Maybe it will be a nice positive blog post! (I'm hoping that the managers will be attempting planning, and the rest of us will be equipped with paint-ball guns.)