One week ago (5-6-17) I had a dilemma. I woke up to a warm and hazy morning, but it wasn’t hazy because of humidity. It was the haze of smoke – from the West Mims fire in the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, to be exact. There was a strong smell, and occasionally small flecks of gray ash would float down from the sky. It would have been an uncomfortable, and probably unhealthy, ride on any of my normal cycling routes. I would instead have to load my bike onto my car’s bicycle carrier and drive south and east.
One of my favorite places in my new state of Florida is the “GTM” – officially known as the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. It is just off of Florida’s Route A1A, which is a road that follows the entire Florida coast. It starts in KeyWest, heads northeast to Miami and then runs mostly north to Fernandina Beach. It ends just before you reach Ft. Clinch State Park and the St. Marys River outlet on the Florida/Georgia border. What I’ve seen of the road – I’ve gone as far south as Daytona Beach – is pretty spectacular. In countless sections you get a pretty good view of the ocean from the road. Near the GTM there are several parking areas with crosswalks across A1A where you can get over to the beach.
A1A also has bike lanes! And so with smoke filling the skies in Jacksonville I headed to the GTM to park, and then rode my bike south to a place called Vilano Beach, just north of St. Augustine. Overall about a 20-mile round trip of cycling. It turned out to be one of the nicest rides I’ve ever had, simply because of the scenery (and the weather). Traffic was relatively light, and though the speed limit through the area is 55 mph, the cars weren’t too annoying. Vilano Beach is a cute little village where the Tolomato river outlets into the Atlantic. There’s a nice pier that juts into the river (though I didn’t walk it this time).
There is a cool looking retro/art deco hotel called the Magic Beach Motel located in Vilano Beach as well. In both of the photos you can see the slightly orange tinted smoke from the big fire.
After stopping to explore a bit more of the area, it was time to head back to the GTM. The picture at the top of this post was taken from the northbound bike lane, and as you can see, the ocean is in full view from the road (and so is the smoke – those aren’t clouds). The ride was slightly more difficult heading into the northwest wind, the one that was blowing the smoke southeast. After completing my ride, I put my bike back on the car. The drive north gave me a better view of what was hovering over Jacksonville.
We’ve had varying amounts of haze and/or smoke filled skies since. Many residents of towns northwest of Jacksonville are still monitoring the fire to see if they’ll need to evacuate. The could use some rain, without the lightning, to knock down the fire a bit. The fire has burned almost 150,000 acres and it’s currently only about 15% contained.
When I used to train for cross-county running and track in high school, it was a matter of putting on running shorts, lacing up my shoes, stretching and heading out on the road. With cycling there is a bit more of a production, with filling water bottles, adding gloves, helmet, a pocketed jersey, and occasionally pumping tires. Add to that the concern over the smoke in the air, and there was the need to set up a bike carrier and get the bike safely and stably on the car. I had to drive a good 30 miles just to get to a healthier area to ride. In the end, it was truly worth it – and all trivial compared to what some residents, and of course the fire fighters have been dealing with.
So I consider myself lucky to have so many novel and fun places to ride. Next time maybe I’ll ride all the way into St. Augustine. Did I mention I was lucky?
Quick update (long overdue) about just one of the things I’ve been working on. Actually, it’s been done for a while, but today this card arrived in my mailbox – my official FAA issued UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) Remote Pilot’s license. I thought about doing a whole “I believe I can fly” thing, but I just need to get a blog post out and share this.
I desperately need to blog about numerous things, and by that I mean I’ve got tons of stuff to share, but I haven’t had much time to give posts the attention they deserve. I blame Twitter (which has also been therapy for me lately) because it’s so easy to give a topic short shrift when you can just tweet it.
Today I passed my FAA Part 107 Knowledge test! Now just need to submit paperwork to receive remote pilot certificate.
— Andy Rush (@rushaw) March 2, 2017
I passed the test way back in the beginning of March, and I just received the card today. Two months is typical for others who have gone through this process. There is a whole storyline of how this all began for me, and I’ll write about it in a future post, but it’s been quite a journey, and trajectories have been altered along the way. However, stay tuned because I’m feeling that there’s lots to talk about in 2017 (not just drones), and though the year is more than 1/4 over, it’s better late than never.
Happy Monday morning! Getting in to work today I checked my Feedly (RSS reader – yep, I still use RSS every day) and discovered that Tim Owens at Reclaim Hosting had written a post about using Clarify for documentation. Clarify is a piece of software I am familiar with, but I had forgotten about. I will be doing documentation for an exciting new project that is coming up (more to come…). After a quick search, I discovered I had a license lying around… The following is the “WordPress Export” directly from Clarify that tells the story of finding a license and “upgrading” to the latest version of the software.
It really was quick and easy and I post this largely unedited to show you what I slapped together. I’m thinking this will be software and a workflow I will return to often in the upcoming weeks and months. So here it is, my story of rediscovering Clarify…
When I worked at the University of Mary Washington, I always got a kick out of a new semester and hence new websites from a new group of students using WordPress. Whether it was UMWBlogs or a new Domain of One’s Own project site, “Hello World” posts would dominate the UMW landscape. As I continue my ed-tech work here at UNF, I am going deeper into the world of WordPress. It’s still somewhat intimidating as I think about projects I would like to accomplish, but don’t feel like my skills are “there” yet.
I’m attempting to expand my WordPress network, by attending my first full WordCamp here in Jacksonville this weekend (April 16-17). I attended a WordCampEd conference at George Mason University in 2008. Here’s a post from Tom Woodward about that event with that picture of me deep in thought. I also plan on attending the inaugural WPCampus event in Sarasota FL in July (15-16).
As I read some of the bios of folks who will be presenting at the WordCamp, I see lines like “I’ve been working with WordPress for 8 years…” and it got me thinking about how long I’ve been using it. Well, here it is. My “Hello World” post from June 21, 2005 – almost 11 years ago.
By no means am I claiming any expertise, especially in the coding arena. I am a hacker-wanna-be-coder. I get WordPress sites to do what I want by brute, ugly, force. And sometimes I can’t get WordPress to do what I want. That’s where the great WordPress community comes in. It’s something I want to tap into more here in the land of sunshine and palm trees.
I’m realizing now that I could write several posts that start with the title, “WordPress and Its Amazing …” However, this post tells a funny story about broken web links. I use a plugin on many WordPress sites, including this one, called Broken Link Checker. I get emails that notify me of any broken links on my site(s) and I am then able to modify the link or eliminate it altogether.
I did just that on this post from 2008. As I look at that post again, I see I need to do more updates on links for the colleagues mentioned. However, by updating the post, it sent out notifications to the folks mentioned in the form of pingbacks/trackbacks. One of those notifications was received by none other than Gardner Campbell – you know, that guy I worked with/for at UMW, and with whom I recently had a happy reunion.
How did I know? Well, because Gardner re-read that post from 2008, and decided to comment on my last post about WordPress. Ironically, the post from 2008 was some smack-talking about how much my colleagues were (or were not) blogging. As Gardner said, it generated a number of comments. That post reminds us all that it is forever thus – that we all struggle with wanting to blog, but don’t for all kinds of reasons – except for Jim Groom, he is always blogging.
So my excuse for this blog post is two-fold. First, is that Broken Link Checker is a handy little plugin that helps with the maintenance of your site and making sure links go somewhere. Second is that this Broken Link Checker “process” literally allowed me to reconnect with people on the web. For as long as I have been doing this blogging (since 2004), tweeting (2007), facebooking (whenever) thing, I have been amazed at the connectedness thing. Through those technologies I can know what people are thinking. I can visualize the nostalgia for days gone by. I can see the constant struggles that we work through in the present. It’s mostly at a distance, but it isn’t any less real. So thank you Broken Link Checker, and thank you Gardner Campbell, for keeping these links alive!
flickr photo by Hernan Piñera shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
Several years ago, I got tagged as the “media guy” while I was working at the University of Mary Washington, which meant I was the resource for all things video and audio in DTLT (UMW’s Teaching and Learning Division). We all at one time were wildly experimenting in WordPress and sharing out what we were doing often. However, while Jim Groom was heavily evangelizing WordPress, and Martha Burtis was getting deep into the code, I was diving into digital media, and would defer to their expertise. Now, I will probably always defer to their expertise, but in my new role as Coordinator of Online Course Media Development at UNF, I get to more generally combine my knowledge of digital media and online publishing. In 2016, and beyond, digital publishing has to feature WordPress. Why? Openness.
What is amazing about the timeline of WordPress and its feature set is how it continues to improve in terms of functionality and in terms of style – what a WordPress expert would call “theming”. One of the most important aspects of WordPress and its open source ecosystem is that it opens up the code to add extensibility. You can begin with a basic theme and extend its functionality because you have access to the code. Best practices encourages the idea of doing “child themes“, but what other system allows anything like it? For those who don’t know, a child theme in WordPress uses smaller bits of code outside to modify a “parent” theme. That way when a theme gets updated (functional or security updates), the code changes you make don’t get overwritten by the update.
Plugins are another way WordPress extends functionality. What’s astounding to me is that there are some incredible plugins that provide functions that I couldn’t even have imagined back in the wild DTLT experimentation days. That’s the advantage of open. People build off of each other’s ideas, and if there is a feature that you have thought of that you might like, there’s a good chance a coder has thought of it too. And if they haven’t, you’ve got great opportunities to suggest a feature in some open forums, and they might add it. If they don’t, you might even be able to build it yourself. You may not have those kinds of skills, but there’s nothing about the system preventing you from doing it yourself.
As I begin to experiment with WordPress again, I hope to communicate some of my favorite themes and plugins. One that I’ve already talked about will produce “featured images” from YouTube thumbnails, for example.
“If you will it, dude, it is no dream.”
The Center for Instruction & Research Technology (CIRT) recently held its Open House for UNF faculty. One of the popular stops on the tour was the video studio. With the help from one of the CIRT Techs, Veronica, we talked to faculty about what a studio with a green screen (wall, actually) can do. I’ve talked about green screen production before, but how you think about something changes with the context. That context is now online courses at UNF.
One of the requests we get is to create Narrated PowerPoint (slide) presentations, especially for online courses. That typically consists of getting a faculty member some space to record – either their office, or another space – where they can record with a USB headset that they borrow from us. Then they have at it with the standard record narration feature of PowerPoint.
A step up from those presentations is using a screencasting program such as Camtasia (PC and Mac) or ScreenFlow (Mac only, but my favorite). With these programs, recording is similar to the standard narration feature, but you have the ability to directly publish to a site like YouTube. You can then embed the YouTube videos on web pages or in your LMS software.
Now there are several options for publishing narrated PowerPoint slides, and there are many screencasting options (besides Camtasia and ScreenFlow). However, the purpose of this post is to simply show you the setup and result of a relatively dynamic version of a narrated slide presentation. I use the word “slide” because the program I use is Keynote on the Mac, so I’m speaking of the generic term slides. You can use Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides if you’d like.
The following video was created in the green screen studio using ScreenFlow to record the screen AND video. I then use the Chromakey feature to transparently layer myself onto the presented slides.
This serves as a quick example of a how-to for creating narrated slides with video overlay. The setup to record the slides and video is relatively simple. Stand in front of the green screen in the studio. Use ScreenFlow for recording the computer screen and use a Logitech USB webcam for the video recording. The USB webcam is used because it’s easily integrated into the recording process within ScreenFlow. Then the green is “keyed” out to produce the resulting video with myself in front of the slides.
The audio setup is a bit more complex, but that’s just because I want good quality audio, and not the audio from the webcam, which is only so-so and gives that hollow room sound. It is fairly easy to accomplish with a USB interface like a PreSonus AudioBox, or in my case a Zoom H4 using the built-in USB interface feature. We use the Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun microphone connected to the Zoom on a boom stand.
So what does the setup look like? Well the webcam can be mounted on a tripod, the laptop with ScreenFlow can be placed on a stand or table next to the webcam, as well as the recorder. ScreenFlow’s recording setup screen allows you to choose the video and audio inputs. In the picture below is the webcam on the tripod on the left, the laptop in the middle, and the recorder on the (lower) right.
More detailed photos of the setup:
Let the experimentation continue.
In my new job, I am getting deep into the inner workings of WordPress again. More about that in a future post (promises, promises). However, I will say that WordPress continues to progress towards a wonderful environment of beauty and extensibility. I know, that sounds like a Deepak Chopra quote. In other words, because WordPress has been “open” for so many years (I started working with it in 2004-05), it is increasingly easy to make a website look good and function well.
Because of the great WordPress community, there are many great themes to work with, and with just a short investment of time you can build a brand new site, or revitalize one, in no time at all. The one that I am working on right now is the Digital Media Cookbook site. I started this exactly 7 years and one day ago. It is again in need of revitalizing. The concept, I think, is a strong one. Present “recipes” for digital media tasks in a format that appeals to those who like to watch video demonstrations of how to do something, but also provide step-by-step text instructions. I know that I have often searched the web for how to do something and preferred the greater context that a video can provide, while at other times I just needed that one step in the process to refresh my memory on how to do something. In one recipe, you hopefully get both.
So for those of you thinking about the title of this post, when will I get to the point? Well, the new theme I am using for the site, called Gazette, has, like many modern WordPress themes out there, something called featured images. Depending on the theme (and that is the beauty of WordPress is it’s flexibility), featured images get presented as thumbnail images in different ways on a site. For example, the Gazette theme not only uses them as “preview” images for the posts on the main page, but it uses them as a nice header image for the post itself. It will also use the thumbnails for a featured post header on the site (as I write this I have not specified “featured posts” yet). In my opinion the implementation of thumbnails look great, and are perfect for a site that features different categories of posts.
So what image would I want to use for the featured image of a recipe? Well, I could get cute, break out Photoshop, and dream up some fantastical image that suits the subject matter, but in this context, and to simplify things, I just want a static thumbnail of the YouTube (or Vimeo) screencast video that accompanies the recipe post. How to get them efficiently is the question. The concept is plain if you’ve ever uploaded video to YouTube. You even have a choice of what thumbnail you can use when you publish your video, but is there an easy way to grab that image to use as the featured image in WordPress? Well, you can right click on the small thumbnails on the YouTube site in the “Info and Settings” tab, but they’re tiny. How can I make available bigger versions?
As is so often the answer, Google “thumbnail generator youtube” and get your answer – Vidthumb. Now I’ll confess I wanted to have YouTube thumbnails as well as Vimeo ones, and I started by using the Boing, Boing YouTube thumbnail grabber, and the Get the Vimeo-Thumbnail! sites respectively. Any of them will give you a suitable version to use as the featured image, the sizes and formats will vary.
The next step is to determine the image that you want to use and right-click on it in the browser and choose “Save Image As…”, save it to your hard drive and then upload it to your WordPress site as the Featured Image. The process of uploading all those images is repetitive, but the process of grabbing the thumbnail is certainly simple.
Simple? You might think that’s the end of the story. No, no, and no my friend, for the quest for automation never ceases. What I really wanted, and I should have Googled this from the start is “thumbnail generator youtube wordpress featured image plugin“. What you get is the Automatic Featured Images from Videos plugin, which basically searches your post for a Youtube or Vimeo link in the first 1000 characters and automatically grabs the thumbnail and saves it as the Featured Image. Jiminy! It couldn’t be easier. It doesn’t seem to work retroactively, so you’ll have to go back in and edit posts with YouTube or Vimeo links and hit the update button. It also doesn’t seem to find the video in the old embed code that you might have used. However, you should be using oEmbed anyway – the process by which WordPress takes the URL for the given media (like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, etc.) and automatically embeds it for proper display/playback in the post. The plugin hasn’t been updated in a while, but their support forum is currently active so hopefully we’re good for the near future. WordPress extensibility continues to amaze, and I think I know what recipe I’ll be writing next.
Photo by Serena Epstein
Thanks to Tom Woodward, I am doing some Thanksgiving WordPress blogging. He wrote this awesome, simple, WP plugin that makes an “Easy Button” for writing posts. It get’s placed in your Dashboard and beckons you to click the shiny button and BLOG! Just be sure to change the bit of code to reflect your website or else you’ll find yourself trying to blog at Tom’s Site.
Here’s a picture of MY button, available in my experimental “Testing” blog.