Tools of the Trade
When I started Older Eyes – Bud’s Blog four years ago, the plan was to post essays about the experience of feeling older and yes, getting older. Once I began posting regularly (which took a number of months), I found that theme a bit narrow. Older Eyes’ slug line became Reflections from an Older Perspective, which seemed adequately broad to provide for almost daily posts and appropriate, since it is the only perspective I have at this time in my life. Of course, the plan was also be discovered by an editor that happened to be wandering the blogosphere and end up with writing as a vocation, not an avocation. But plans change over time. I now post on almost anything that strikes my fancy (although I am stuck with my Older Perspective) and I’ve mostly settled contentedly into the joy of writing for writing’s sake. Having a few souls who drop by is whipped cream frosting. There is a pay off, however, beyond the joy of writing that is very beneficial to this sixty-nine year old mind, and that is learning … truthfully at a pace I haven’t experienced since graduate school. One could probably suggest that the knowledge that a crow-flock is called a murder of crows is simply trivia, but such discoveries keep these old brain cells popping … and provides some interesting fodder for small-talk. And as my posts have evolved to include more visuals … like photos and videos … and sounds, I’ve learned to use an arsenal of useful tools I thought it might be worthwhile sharing. Some of these relate particularly to the WordPress.com experience but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be useful to anyone. Here are a few:
IrfanView: IrfanView is one of the oldest and most popular freeware image editors. It is easy to use and includes the functions you’d expect, like image cropping and color adjustment. I frequently use it to save large image files from my camera as smaller jpeg files. It also allows you to produce stand alone slide shows from your computer files and provides batch processing functions that allow you to, for example, rename or convert the format of a large number of files in one operation. You can get it here.
PrintScreen: I never used the PrintScreen function provided on most PCs until I started blogging. It is a quick and easy way to create an image file of anything that appears on your monitor. For example, if I want to show a section of this post as an image, I simply push the Print Screen key, which copies the entire screen to the clipboard, then paste it into Irfanview, where I can crop it to the particular part of the image I want.
Windows Live Movie Maker: Provided with all Window computers, Movie Maker is perfect for producing videos to upload to VideoPress. It allows you to assemble both pictures and videos from your computer into movies. You can adjust the duration of each image and the playback speed of the videos and it offers interesting animated transitions between images as well as a number of visual effects. I particularly like that I can add a musical track and match the movie duration exactly to the music with the Fit to Music function. It also offers some titling and text functions, but I like to produce my titles shots in Powerpoint, then copy and paste them to IrfanView so I can save them as images. Movie Maker only produces Windows Media Video (wmv) files, which are fine for playing on my computer but not always compatible with WordPress (even though they are supposed to be). So I also use:
WonderShare Video Converter: WordPress’ VideoPress seems to be consistently happy with the video format known as mp4, so rather than wonder whether a particular wmv file will play on WordPress, I began converting every file to mp4 before uploading. I tried to download a number of freeware converters, but they always set off my virus and malware scanners. There are services like Zamzar that will convert your files online for free. You upload your file to their site and a while later, you get an email with a link to download the converted file. I tried it once but the converted file ended before the end of my movie and I don’t especially like the idea of uploading my videos to an unknown entity. I ended up buying WonderShare File Converter here for $60 (the free version places a watermark on your video). It very quickly converts files to and from nearly any format. Since smartphones and cameras often produce unique formats, it’s useful to have around anyway. WonderShare also provides the ability to burn DVDs, create files for mobile playback and a number of editing functions I haven’t even tried yet.
Audacity: Audacity is a remarkable free audio recording and editing software package that you can download here. With it you can record sounds from any source, including microphones, audio devices and anything you can play on your computer. So, for example, if you want to include the call of the California Quail in a video, as I did yesterday, you hunt down a website with an audio of the quail, then open Audacity. You press record, then play the track on the website. Bingo. You’ve captured the sound which you can edit (for example, using only part of it) and save it as an mp3 file which can be attached to a movie using Movie Maker or directly uploaded to you blog using an audio widget. I won’t kid you … Audacity is very complicated because it can do so many things but the recording function is easy to use. I’d be happy to post about it if anyone’s interested.
So, that’s what I’ve got today. If you find some of these freeware functions are useful, I’d recommend rewarding the developers with a contribution on their website. They need to eat, too. Recently, someone asked me what I used to insert audio clips into my post. With WordPress.com, the capability to incorporate audio and video comes with certain paid upgrades, which saves me from trying out various widgets, which is what you have to do with self-hosted WordPress and some other blogging platforms. Maybe I’ll post about that on another day.
So, what interesting tools have you found in you blogging experience?Explore posts in the same categories: writing and blogging comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.