Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Should I use Windows Movie Maker?

August 2008 - My wife rarely reads this blog so I’m not concerned about her finding out. However, if you do run into her, try to keep this our little secret.

We have our five year wedding anniversary coming up in about a week. I've never considered myself a great gift buyer (she took back the mother's day gift I gave her and last year's Christmas gifts) so I decided to dust off my creative energy and make something.

The thoughts are to produce one of those photo videos, with music, that shows us before our son, our son, dad with son, mom with son and then our family. It's kind of like those videos you see at weddings where tender music plays while old, sometimes embarrassing, pictures of the groom and bride transition through. We had one and paid (as in dollars) dearly for it.

My dad, who is an Microsoft curriculum instructor at a community college, is a big fan of Microsoft's Movie Maker. I once asked him how he produces his videos and he pontificated for a good half hour about how Movie Maker can do just about everything, including wash his car. Given his backing, I thought we'd give it a try.

Things started off well. I did a short proof of concept (POC) with one Johnny Cash song and about ten pictures that I had locally on my PC. Using Movie Maker, I was able to put the POC together in about fifteen minutes. Thinking I had everything mastered, I started with the gift.

I have about 110 pictures that I imported and started to work with. I dragged them here and there to make sure they were sorted just the way I wanted them. After about an hour, I decided to add some music and then preview it. Seemed to work well except the music was a bit too long. This is where the problems started.

The first problem I had was you can't change the duration of a picture which is added to your timeline. The default is 5 seconds, but if you wanted to make it say 6 seconds (to match up the duration with your song length), you can't. The only way you can do this is delete the picture, change the default duration and then re-add it. Movie Maker is free (or at least priced in the purchase of your OS) so I didn't complain too much. However, when I highlighted the picture to remove and replace it, Movie Maker froze up. This is after an hour of adjusting pictures and not saving. ;)

Now you're probably thinking that I'm an insouciant idiot for not saving my project. I'll give you that. But, it is my belief that software should not just "hang." I shut down all other applications and waited over an hour. Nothing. Thinking that Movie Maker might have saved a temporary copy of the project for me (like Word does), I ended the Movie Maker process and started to sweat.

From what I can tell Movie Maker was able to recover some of my changes, but I can't verify how many. 110 pictures is hard to keep track of, but I did notice a few were out of place. For the next fifteen minutes I started to adjust the pictures again. Low and behold, once again Movie Maker froze on me. Luckily this time I had saved a copy every five minutes.

This entire process went on for about two days (not contiguous of course). I found myself saving the ignominious Movie Maker file after every change I made. It was getting ridiculous.

Oddly, the fact that I had to save the file so often wasn't the turning point in my relationship with Movie Maker. It was the fact you can't change the duration for added pictures. This small, missed feature is at the nexus of my frustration. And given I was adjusting songs (with different lengths) at the same time, I was pulling my hair out.

It was at this point I decided to change vendors and look for a more robust commercial product. Remembering that Adobe had a number of "creative" tools, I checked out their site and found Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0. I wasn't prepared to pay the $100 purchase price, but I did find a 30 day evaluation. And it was probably the best decision I've ever made.

Not only does Elements provide a far better user experience, you can easily change the picture duration!!! And even better, you can click a button that says something along the line of "Match duration with song length" which automatically adjusts your video slide show. The duration for 110 pictures over three songs is 5.3 seconds (transitions are two seconds). Instead of adding/removing pictures in Movie Maker, all you do is click a button in Elements.

My conclusion is, that I should never use Movie Maker again and buy Adobe Elements. I see Adobe had a video editing software as well called Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0. The best price I've found is from Amazon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Should I sod or seed my lawn?

July 2008 - For the past month and a half, my wife and I have been working on installing a new concrete patio. While we still have a few things to wait on, finally our hard work has paid off. To be 100% honest, we did outsource a significant part of the construction, but there is work involved in that and I'm counting it.

The majority of our "real work" was tearing out the old wooden deck and landscaping around the new, stamped concrete, patio. Tearing out the deck took, what I would consider, little intellectual thought. The landscaping on the other hand, was both a cerebral and manual challenge.

We have a slight water problem in our basement. When it rains hard, or if snow starts to melt too quick, we end up with water pooled against the back of the house. Even though our basement is poured (rather than blocked), water finds its way in quickly. We only get "seepage," but any water in the basement stinks. Being we were getting a new patio, we thought it would be a good time to use some creative landscaping to help circumvent the water problem.

After pilling two cubic yards of black dirt, we ended up with a small hill separating our lawn from the neighbor's. The goal is for water to hit the hill, then flow either down the West side or South side of the house. In years past it traveled right up to the house with little to stop it.

Now to my point. The new hill, and the area surrounding the patio, needed grass. My wife, who is a fan of alacrity, wanted to sod it. She felt that sod would be the quickest way to get the project finished. Not to her surprise, I took a contrary point of view and felt seeding it would be best. Why you may ask? First of all, when I put the two cubic yards of dirt in, I was very careful to control my depth in relation to the new patio. I wanted the grass height to be short of the patio instead of overhanging it. Second, I was concerned about economics. That is, I had it in my mind that sod was far too expensive. But was it?

Seeing my lawn cost $85 dollars. That's $12 for three pounds of seed, $13 for fertilizer and $50 for an erosion mat. An erosion mat is that green mesh that you put down over seed to keep rain from washing the seed away. The new hill desperately needed one.

Sod at the local Bachman's in Apple Valley is $5 for a 2.5 x 6 foot role. I figure the area we wanted to cover is 250 square feet. Meaning I'd need about 15 rolls for a total of $75. I'm thinking that since my car is pretty small and my wife's is new, we'd need delivery. While I didn't check on prices, let's assume divert is $25 (they are right down the road).

My calculations leave me with seed costing $85 and sod costing $100. Though the numbers are closer that I thought, I went with seed. Today, after learning some of the benefits of sod (better for erosion areas), I may have went with sod. However, the seed was cheater and easier to plant. And if it wasn't for the erosion mat, seeding would have been a no brainier for my small section.

After the grass is in, or if it is washed away and we decide to sod, I'll provide everyone an update on where we're at.