Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Flip Video

In my two previous posts you've seen the two videos I've made with my Flip Video, one made indoors, one outdoors. Even though I have no innate talent for visual arts, and these are my first efforts at creating video, they at least look decent. That's just one of the amazing things about this little camera.

Another is that it is really little, about the size of a cell phone. Ease of use is incredible. There's a power on/off switch, a small screen so you can see what you're photographing, a red button that you click to record and stop recording, and surrounding that red button a circle you press to zoom in and out. There is a Play button and a Discard button, and on the right and left of that circle are "Forward" and "Back." And that's it!

You can't adjust the lighting, but you don't have to. I've gone around the house trying to find conditions under which it can't take a decent picture. The room has to be very dimly lit in order to appear dimly lit, and the only room in which it could not produce a picture at all has no windows and no lights on.

I'm hardly the steadiest person in the world, but if you look at my videos (see the two posts previous to this one), you can see that some kind of steadi-cam must be built into this tiny package. Definitely built in is all the software necessary to edit your footage and create movies from it. For each of the videos I've made so far, I shot approximately half an hour of footage, then edited it down in one case to five minutes, in the other to eight.

To download your footage and edit it into a video, a USP connector pops out of the side of the camera. The camera must be plugged into a USP port while you're editing, because the software is in the camera. The method is intuitive and simple, and if you want to you can add the music that is supplied, or music you have saved on your own hard drive.

You can save up to an hour of raw footage in the camera, but if you then want to shoot more you have to delete something. The Flip Video company claims that they will never build a version of this camera that takes a memory card (some nonsense about not being able to put the editing software on the hard drive if they added a memory card, which even someone as ignorant of such things as I am knows is nonsense -- adding memory cards does not cause hard drives to lose their software in any other electronic equipment). As a memory card slot is the one thing everyone wants, I predict that we will see that feature by the time next Christmas rolls around. I want to take this neat little camera on vacation, and not have to drag my laptop along in order to bring home more than an hour of footage -- and so does everyone else.

Which brings me to how I know that the company is currently claiming they will never give users the one thing everyone wants. Yesterday I had reason to test Flip Video's claim of 24/7 service by phone or email. Guess what? The claim is true!

Yesterday was Christmas Day. I spent the day with friends, and then in the evening decided to do the update on the Flip that I had been asked to do the last time I had it plugged into the computer. As last time I had video to download and edit and didn't want to risk problems, I didn't allow the download at that time.

So I emptied the video in the camera to my hard drive, and then downloaded the new software and started the installation process. It did its thing for a while, and then told me to disconnect and reconnect the camera. I did so. After the beeps I was told to expect, nothing happened, and nothing happened, and nothing happened--until after six or seven miutes up popped a box saying "Your camera is in an unknown state. Call Customer Service for help." And it gave a toll-free number.

It was 9pm on Christmas Day. You can imagine how much hope I had of getting Customer Service. But I called, expecting to at best be allowed to leave a voice mail message.

Imagine my astonishment when, upon my punching the number to talk to someone, a live person came on the line instantly! She was friendly and helpful, and talked me through manually putting the new software -- which had successfully downloaded to my computer -- on the camera's hard drive, then testing it to make sure it was working properly. All this, by the way, without requiring me to prove that I owned the camera or give her any of my personal information before getting help!

Then she asked me how I liked the camera and what improvements I would like to see. When I told her that the only improvement I wanted was a memory card slot, that's when she told me that in spite of that being what everyone wants, the company has no plans to provide it.

Except for that one point -- flatly refusing to provide the one improvement every user wants -- my experience with the Flip video camera has been wonderful. The camera is incredibly easy to use, and the service unbelievable. If you long for the days of the Instamatic camera, and have never mastered all the bells and whistles of your digital still camera, I can heartily recommend this neat little easy-to-use video camcorder.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Exercise and Cancer Recovery

I had breast cancer in 2001. Fortunately I found it early, so all I required was a lumpectomy and radiation--but I am the poster girl for self-examination, because nothing showed on my routine mammogram six months earlier. I found the lump myself, and went straight off to my doctor. The rest is history, and I am a six-year survivor.

My home town, Murray, Kentucky, has a very active breast cancer support group, which I joined, and began participating in the Relay for Life as one of the 8th Wonders--a relay team made up completely of survivors. We're a lively bunch!

But a couple of years ago we became livelier, when Dr. Matt Wiggins of Murray State University began a program of Exercise and Cancer Recovery and invited members of our group to join. In essence, each participant gets a personal trainer tailoring a program to his or her own needs and abilities. We are measured against our own progress, not against one another or some abstract standard.

I was in the program for a year, becoming stronger and more flexible, when suddenly last June I developed a new set of symptoms that turned out to be endometrial cancer. The important thing for my continued survival is that it was not a recurrence or spread of the breast cancer, but a completely unrelated cancer, and one of the few that can actually be cured.

Unfortunately, the cure requires a radical hysterectomy. Not fun. They remove everything concerned with reproduction, so it is major surgery. When cancer is in the picture they can't take any chances, so I had a big incision and six weeks to complete recovery.

BUT--because of Dr. Wiggins' Exercise and Cancer Recovery program, I was in better shape than I had been since college. I also had a surgeon who doesn't believe in coddling patients--the day after surgery he told me to get up and walk at least eight times each day I was in the hospital.

I did what he told me, and asked him about driving and going back to the exercise program. He told me to wait a week to try driving, and then if it hurt to wait another week. He also told me to go the exercise session ten days after my surgery, and trusted Dr. Wiggins to work with me to get my strength back as I healed. Sure, I started out with just a few upper-body exercises and some slow walking on the treadmill, but now, six months later, I have worked my way back to the two-hour sessions of cardio, strength, and flexibility exercises that I was doing before the surgery.

I credit the exercise program with keeping me strong through this new situation. It didn't hurt when I returned to driving after a week, and eight weeks after surgery I was able to go off on a long-planned tour of Japan, and keep up with everyone else on the tour. Well, maybe not "keep up" with the young and vigorous who sprinted on ahead, but I was able to do everything anyone else did, and I had a wonderful time!

Now, today's video won't be of that much interest to most of you, because you don't know the people involved. Still, it's the second video I have shot and edited, and those of you interested in the Flip Video Camcorder may be interested in what a rank amateur with almost no experience can record and edit. Any of you who are members of the Murray Exercise and Cancer Recovery group will be interested, because you and your friends are in it!

Find the video here that I shot at the group's Christmas Party.

I'm never going to be a great videographer, because I have no visual talent, but it was fun to shoot about half an hour of video and edit it into something that is at least a bit amusing. I definitely recommend the Flip Video camcorder for the electronically inept!

Friday, December 21, 2007

My First Video

A day for firsts. I started my first blog today, and edited my first video.

Some explanation: I belong to the local Humane Society, and do pet therapy at local schools, nursing homes, the Watch program, and the university. I'm just slightly unusual in that my pet is a cat, Dudley, rather than a dog. You'll see Dudley in the first few moments of the video. You will also see a far more unusual therapy pet than Dudley, as the latest addition to our ranks is a llama!

But mostly you'll see our dogs greeting people and making friends.

The therapy pets take part in local activities, such as the Christmas Parade. While Dudley does walk on a leash, as you might imagine a cat doesn't march in a parade very well. However, we have a golf cart that we decorate for each parade, and Dudley and I rode in the cart. You can see people on the sidelines waving to us.

I took the video from the golf cart as we were gathering for the start of the parade, and then during the parade itself. I'm just learning to edit, so please be understanding! This is my first try, both at shooting the video and at editing it. I hope to get better with practice.

You can view my Christmas Parade video here.

I can really recommend the Flip video camera I used to capture these pictures. It couldn't be easier to use, and I think the picture quality is excellent (I don't mean my composing, which is basically point and shoot).

I'm sure I'll be posting more and better video in the future.


Hello. This is my first attempt at a blog

I'm a published writer of books, currently trying to move from the shrinking book market to the expanding media market. If you think that's easy, think again! However, I find myself thoroughly enjoying the challenge of learning something as complicated as screenwriting.

I'm also using this blog to obtain from Simpleology a course on the uses of blogging. You can also get in on this free resource:

I'm evaluating a multi-media course on blogging from the folks at Simpleology. For a while, they're letting you snag it for free if you post about it on your blog.

It covers:

  • The best blogging techniques.
  • How to get traffic to your blog.
  • How to turn your blog into money.

I'll let you know what I think once I've had a chance to check it out. Meanwhile, go grab yours while it's still free.