ICT on the road

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Ray Fleming continues his travels

Every time I write this column, about the "action research" my family is conducting with technology on a round-the-world trip, I start by telling you about some glamorous location where I'm writing it. Well, today I have to be honest and admit that I'm in a hot camper van in the rainforest in Queensland, Australia. But in the tropical heat it's definitely too hot, and at the minute I'd swap it for a nice cold day in the UK in January. I remember walking to the annual BETT schools technology show in Olympia where many of you may be next week and appreciating the fresh air - some of that would be good today.

Since the last column, we've had our 15 minutes of fame on the BBC's Holiday programme, and we're preparing for their follow-up visit, which you'll see in March at the end of the series. You may even have seen my daughter Charlotte (below) using the family's Tablet PC to keep her maths schoolwork going.

We're also using the Tablet PC to make short videos for the family website (www.rfleming.net). It wasn't so long ago that you needed a special computer to do video editing, but technology has caught up, and we're able to do some sophisticated work just using a normal PC. Our Tablet PC is a year old now, so runs at less than half the speed of a desktop computer you'd buy today, and the Sony digital video camera is an everyday one we bought a couple of years ago. But that doesn't matter, because the technology means that I can plug the camera directly into the Tablet, and start video editing straight away. Windows XP has Movie Maker built in, but we wanted something a bit more flexible to make videos for the website. So I opted for the Pinnacle Studio software, which only cost an extra pound;35.

The other thing your PC must have is a firewire connector, and these are common now on both desktops and mobile computers. And once you've got those things, it really is "plug and play". In fact, the hardest part is deciding what video to create, and how to edit it. On our travels there are lots of things we could film, but most are either only of interest to our family, or are much better seen on TV. However, some things have a wider appeal - especially the kind of accommodation we're staying in. Another is the camper van we're in at the moment - how do you fit four people into a space half the size of the smallest bedroom in our house?

Making the videos involves thinking about the audience ("What would your classmates want to know?"), creating a basic storyboard, and then filming sequences, with the addition of creating more than one angle of the same thing (climbing a staircase for example). And then we sit down together at the PC and start to edit.

The final stage is to publish the videoon the website in a format for everybody to see. On the PC we have a high-quality video, but this is too big to publish. We have to compress it down so that it doesn't take up too much bandwidth. Pinnacle Studio includes the software to create a compressed (Mpeg) version, which reduces the size by reducing the quality.

We make two versions of each video - a smaller one for people using modems, and another for people with a broadband connection. We then load it on to the website from any internet terminal, anywhere in the world. And that's it done! We've discovered that "video editing" doesn't involve any magic at all - other than making sure that what you start with, the idea, is magical enough for people to enjoy the finished result.

You can check out our web diary at www.rfleming.net.

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