Month: October 2005

Captivated by Captivate

Macromedia Captivate is a pretty sweet product. I was looking for something to use to create a Flash demo of an application we recently rolled out. I took at look at a free tool called Wink, Camtasia Studio from TechSmith (makers of the SnagIt screen capture software), and Macromedia’s Captivate, formerly known as RoboDemo.

For quickly creating Flash files based on screen activity, Wink is hard to beat, especially for the price (free). Camtasia had a lot to offer but I had read some complaints about crashes and I figured Macromedia’s support for Flash would be more robust. So, I downloaded the 30-day trial from Macromedia’s site and went to work.

What an excellent tool! Creating demos and tutorials is as easy as creating a PowerPoint presentation. Most users will be able to jump right in without cracking open the doc. The nice thing is that it also has the capability to add quizzes and it can report test results to an LMS. So, not only will I be able to use it for demos and tutorials but I’ll be able to create some CBT’s as well.

For the demo, a colleague and I first whiteboarded the entire thing and scripted the application demo segments. Then, she created PowerPoint slides while I captured the app demo. I then imported her PowerPoint file into Captivate, wrapping her slides around the app demo segments. We briefly considered adding a soundtrack but we decided it wouldn’t work well with the interactivity we needed to include. We spent some time fiddling with the transitions, adjusting mouse paths, and adding some branching (so viewers could optionally skip certain segments). Nothing at all in the neighborhood of technical. We wound up with an extremely polished Flash file that can be distributed via CD, standalone executable, web site, or email.

At $500 the tool is the most expensive option of the three I looked at but it seemed well worth it.

Recent reads

Hey Ranger! : True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks, by Jim Burnett. A quick and humorous read about the crazy things that happen to park rangers. The author’s sense of humour is pretty corny but entertaining. The first half of the book is better than the last half. The last half feels a little bit like filler.

Alone at Sea: The Adventures of Joshua Slocum, by Ann Spencer. This is a biography of Joshua Slocum. Joshua is a legendary sailor who had to learn how to find meaning in his life as the age of clipper ships gave way to steam. He refurbished an old oyster boat and sailed around the world single-handed. This was an informative book that got me excited about learning more about Slocum and reading some of his books. My only complaint was that the story seemed to jump around a bit instead of being strictly chronological. Reading this gave me an appreciation for how someone like Bernard Moitessier might come to idolize Slocum.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris. I think David Sedaris is hilarious. This collection of essays is similar to his other material in that it focuses on his childhood, his family, and the mundane details of life, in general. The first half of the book seems funnier than the last half. By the end the essays left me feeling a bit sorry for the guy. His family strikes me as full of people who are funny as hell to read about but that you might not want to spend much time with.

Documentum kicked off user conference today

Documentum kicked off their annual user conference, Momentum, today at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. I’m here with a couple of colleagues. Patrick Dawson and I are presenting on “How Southwest Airlines Designs High Usage EMC Documentum Applications” tomorrow morning. Tuning and performance is usually a hot topic so I’m hoping for a good turnout.

This is huge: VMWare Player

Those VMWare guys are geniuses. They are distributing a version of VMWare that can run, but not create, new virtual machines. It’s called the VMWare Player. For my little piece of the world it means my sales organization does not need the full VMWare Workstation product to use my demo virtual machines. And, if the licensing issues for the software installed on the image can be worked out, I can more easily share my images with my clients for proofs-of-concept, demonstrations, trials, etc.

From a much broader perspective it means that VMWare just became a lot more accessible to a lot more people. I predict we’re about to see an explosion of people making their products available ready-to-go VMWare images. There are already some available on the VMWare Technology Network but they are from major players. I’ll bet we’ll see a bunch of LAMP images springing up all over the place as well as those showcasing other open source “platforms”.

What if the VMWare Player becomes as ubiquitous as Acrobat Reader or Flash? I don’t see my parents getting one any time soon but for the technical set, it’s huge.

Of course the problem in all of this is the amount of space a virtual machine image takes. It takes a long time to move and a lot of hard disk to store. When your parent company, EMC, is in to storage in a big way, that last part is probably not a big concern of theirs.

Needless to say, I am excited. Way to go, VMWare!

Timely reference to personal knowledge management tools

What a coincidence. Tom and I were just discussing his (never-ending) search for a better approach to personal knowledge management. We specifically talked about Personal Brain, which is a tool he tried a while back and abandoned, just like McGee
. Maybe one of the two tools McGee mentions in this post will get him closer to pKM nirvanna. (Neither are open source).

Tom has had some recent success with TiddlyWikki, which is a “reusable non-linear personal web notebook” that runs locally and requires no server.