SlideCasting: The SlideCast

I’ve finally put together a slidecast on how to create a slidecast (very meta). It’s short (only 3 min), but it shows off the basics of how to use slideshare to make web multimedia using only a ppt file and an mp3.

It was interesting what I learned making this slideshow. The media form is really spare compared to video. For instructional content this is actually great, since you can direct the viewer’s attention to exactly the part of the screen that you want them to focus on. It reminds me of the way technical manuals always have line drawings instead of color photographs: sometimes lo-fi is BETTER if it lets you draw attention to the right information.
Also, I had pre-recorded the mp3, but I found I had forgotten to say some stuff that was really important (for example, the keyboard shortcuts for editing the beginning point of a slide, and the url of archive.org). I was able to easily add slides that had that information. PPT is a lot easier to edit than an audio file, so you can easily fill in the gaps from an audio presentation with text.
I also discovered one bug: Camtasia (which I used to create the mp3) generates mp3 files that claim to have a bit rate of 0 kbps. While the files are actually fine, the file attribute is set incorrectly, and so it was not playable by the flash player. Simply opening the mp3 file in audacity, and then exporting it again fixed the problem. Audacity is free and open source, and is a great audio recording / editing package. I’ll update our faq with this info (Update: Beth Kantor gets credit for first reporting this bug. Thanks Beth!)
The flash application for synchronizing the mp3 to the slideshow was really hard to code: I’d love feedback on it and how we could make it better. Doug Kay (from ITConversations) seemed to like it:

They have an excellent editor, written in Flash, that allows you to set the slide-transition points relative to the audio file.

Someone else wrote (in a comment):
Wowzer! That’s very powerful. I especially love the fact that I can go forward and backward through the presentation, using the slides as a visual indication of where I am in the presentation.

Speaking at StatupWire in Washington DC today

I’m talking at the startupwire group in McLean, VA (just outside of Washington DC). I’ll be talking about some of stuff that has happened (and some of the stuff we’ve learned) from the first 6 months of slideshare: if you’re in DC please drop by.
This talk will be interesting: we’re doing it via video skype + slideshare, with the result being projected on a big screen. The audience will see me, and I will see them, but it might be hard to make actual eye contact.

“A failure to disarm”: Colin Powell’s 2003 ppt on slideshare

Check it out: it’s the original PowerPoint file that Colin Powell used for the 2003 UN meeting where he argued in favor of the invasion of Iraq.
As a historical document, it’s quite interesting. It’s remarkable how flimsy the evidence for war looks in retrospect. Remember the aluminum tubes? The “mobile weapons labs” that looked a lot like Winnebagos? The endless recordings of low-level Iraqi officials talking about hiding stuff? The satellite photos? It’s all here. It’s interesting how little emphasis was given to the human rights angle (only 1 out of 45 slides).

I hope that more “historical powerpoint” gets uploaded to SlideShare over time. These are important documents. And our tax dollars paid for their preperation, so they belong to us!

Top 10 things I hate about my new macbook

I got a new macbook last month. It’s a nice machine, with 160GB Hard Drive, 2 GB RAM, and Parallels 2.5 and Vista preinstalled. I was ready for switching to be a little bit of a hassle. But I really wasn’t expecting to still hate my mac, more than a month into owning it! Here’s my top 10 gripes.
1) It crashes. At least once a day (the screen says “you must restart your computer now” in about 5 languages). Friends say this is likely a hardware problem: I’ll be calling applecare (1-800-APL-CARE) tomorrow to try to get to the bottom of this.
After rebooting, it puts up a dialog box which asks if I would like to report the problem to apple / find out more about the problem. A nice thought. However, pushing the button does absolutely nothing!
2) No gtalk. Seriously, WTF? I rely *heavily* on gtalk. I use it not just for chat but also as a simple way of exchanging files, and as a way of having quick voice conversations. How, in mid-2007, does gtalk for mac not exist? Is there some back-story involving software licencing issues that I’m not aware of? Is google worried about apple as competition? This is a seriously lame thing about the mac, and it seems to be entirely google’s fault.
3) The software installation process is just weird. After installation, you often have to copy your entire application over to the “Applications” folder. Excuse me, shouldn’t an installer do this?
4) The mac approach is to have a top menu for an application that appears at the top of the screen (above the main rectangle of the application). Unfortunately, this really sucks if you’re using multiple monitors. Your main app is on your nice big LCD screen, but the top menu for it is over on the other monitor!
5) Weird modal problems that are not apple’s fault, but still suck if you are transitioning from windows. For example, when you are in the file chooser, a windows user is used to pressing the “return” key to open the directory and move down to the next level. On OS X, this action selects the current directory and closes the dialog box!
6) The wide-screen format of the macbook is seriously constraining. It’s hard to design or even to read a decent chunk of a document without having to scroll.
7) That pretty white laptop gets dirty *really* fast. Black is an 150$ feature that I actually wish I had bought, not for fashion reasons, but just because it wouldn’t look grungy. White is a terrible color for a product that gets daily use like this.
8) The power adapter requires a ground (my ex-house had many 2-prong outlets. Fortunately, my new pad in SF does not have this problem, so this is less of an issue for me now than it was 2 days ago).
9) Requires special dongle for connecting to a VGA Monitor. Pretty much every monitor except the ones you buy from apple are VGA.
10) No built-in support for right-click (two-button mouse). I realize I can attach an external mouse for this, and I also realize that ctrl + click = right click. But still: I want that button!
Looking at this list, at least half the problems are hardware problems (maybe more, if #1 turns out to be a faulty hardware issue). So if only I could buy a thinkpad that would run OS-X, I’d be pretty happy! Sigh…