Thursday, August 20, 2009

7/12/2009: The Joy of LectureScribe, or, "I love it, warts and all"

I finish the first draft of the video at about 4 a.m., having made constant revisions to the script along the way. That’s probably not so different from the way professional productions go, except I’m sure the pros don’t bother to write all the tiny changes into the script itself since there are so many alternate takes anyway. One thing about LectureScribe that I love is that there are no alternate takes. Everything is working forward, building out onto the end of what is there. You are allowed multiple “boards,” luckily, which I am using to correspond to the 8 title-carded segments of the lecture plus a ninth board for the end credits, but within each board there is no looping or editing except to erase from the current point forward.

Other things about LectureScribe that I love (PLUSES):

+1. LectureScribe is super-easy to use. I can see sending students a snippet of LectureScribe video (or posting it on instead of trying to talk them through complicated things on the phone.

+2. No camera means no makeup, no miking problems, no splicing problems, and best of all, no lighting problems!

+3. The pointer mode (F7) works well as a way to emphasize things without having to add ink to the screen.

+4. Undo (Ctrl+Z) undoes the last few pen strokes in order, making it easy to edit handwritten text that is destined to appear on the screen at the next audio start point.

Unfortunately, there are also several things I desperately wish could be corrected or enhanced, but probably won’t be, since LectureScribe is freeware. These are my MINUSES:

–1. For some bizarre reason, R (record) pulls the previous frame up as the backdrop, even when you have already pasted the new one. The only workaround I could find is to use RS to record a wee bit (with the wrong frame in foreground), then BS to go back to the “real” part of the previous backdrop, then FSFSFSFS to find the first frame of the new backdrop, then K to clear forward, then R to start recording the WAY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN RECORDING FROM THE OUTSET, i.e., with the new backdrop. [Update 8/1/09: I have found a more streamlined workaround. Simply start a new board (what the software developer probably intended) or type RSR after setting the new backdrop as desired. The letters R, S, R should be spaced out over about one second, not drummed at high speed.]

–2. There is no way to loop audio. This has its advantages, since it means I can’t endlessly dither over alternate takes, but it also leaves me with no way to edit out uhs, ums, and misspeaks, especially those that are discovered only on playback.

–3. Aspect ratio is just plain crazy and that’s all there is to it. After a lot of trial and error I finally figured out how to get things in their (more or less) proper aspect ratio by sizing the board windows. On my computer, an IBM T61 laptop with 1280 by 800 resolution, that means maximizing the app window, pushing the board window’s title bar all the way to the top so that most of the title bar disappears under the top part of the application window, pulling the lower right corner of the board window to its maximum lower right extent, and then pulling the left edge of the board window so that the lower left corner is then directly underneath the midpoint between the blue and gray pen icons. Anything less than this attention to detail means output that distorted either horizontally or vertically, even if (especially if) elements are pasted in using the “X” that is supposed to show you what dimensions preserve the aspect ratio. This is the sort of thing that would be completely unacceptable in commercial software, but I am willing to work with it because the rest of the software is pretty good and, oh yes, did I mention that it is FREE?

–4. There seems to be no way to paste (or even erase, for that matter) all the way to the edges. That means that pasted slides always end up having artifacts (thin or thick letters, missing rows or columns of pixels) at unpredictable places, and worse yet, every single take is slightly different.

–5. Using PowerPoint slides (which is, of course, not recommended since this is a pencasting program and not a full screencasting program) means a crazy multi-stage process: develop slides in PowerPoint at 83% zoom factor, paste screen shot into Pbrush.exe, move screen shot to upper left corner, prune to 800 by 600, save 24-bit bitmap to LectureScribe directory, and finally use Alt+F, I in LectureScribe to insert the image. However, as noted in the previous “minus” item, no two insertions will ever be the same because of the random number of pixels in the margins, and there is no way to go flush to the margin if you want to be able to erase things later. In the finished Simpson’s Paradox video, there are a couple of places where lines or a bit of ink are left over from the previous canvas, and either there was no way to get rid of it, or I didn’t notice it until later and couldn’t face doing the whole board over from that point forward. (Remember, there is no looping or punching.)

–6. There is no good way to copy and paste between frames of LectureScribe. I pasted “LURKING VARIABLE” with a starburst pattern by using a bitmap and eyeballing the aspect ratio. Yeccch. Why is it that an already sized bitmap can’t default, when pasted or inserted, to its CURRENT SIZE? Gosh, how hard could that be?

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