Monday, October 1, 2007

Totally Free Photos

A challenge in doing affordable but legal design work is finding a source for good free photographs. With a stock photo you pay based on how you are using the photo (and each time you want to use that photo). With a royalty-free photo you pay a set fee for the right to use that photo in just about any way and as often as you desire (google "royalty-free photos"). What I like is the totally free photo, which can costs you the time to download it and which you can use as you like (within reasonable limitations imposed by the site). Here are some of my favorite sources.
A disclaimer: I cannot guarantee that there are no offensive images to be found in these sites.

Sources of Totally Free Photos (suggested by an anonymous commenter - thanks!)

There is no good way to know which of the images at and are in violation of copyright law and you're better off avoiding them. As you find other good sites, please let me know and I'll add them here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Video "Capture" on the Web

Since we've had high interest in the process of capturing video from websites like YouTube and Google Videos, I thought that the next blog entry might usefully outline this process. I'm labeling this "capture" rather than download, since the websites in question aren't really offering you a simple button to click on for downloading, so we're capturing the video to our local computers by using some nifty technology. Yes, I know that Google has a download button, but there are other limitations in place which we're bypassing.
One small warning: although YouTube generally exercises care in eliminating offensive material, Google is generally more open, and even on YouTube stuff gets by. Also, exercise caution regarding violation of copyright law - availability is not the same as permission to use.

UPDATE: I've just acquired a MacBook Pro (may write more about this in an entry later) and have tested and can confirm that Firefox and Downloadhelper work perfectly well in the Mac environment. Also, VLC has a Mac OSX option which works superly. Quite a bit of the NCH software is available in a Mac variant, but sadly, not Prism.

Software for Capturing Videos
The key to my system (not to say that there are not other methods) is to use Firefox as your web browser. This is a free download, and I've gotten to prefer this browser quite a bit over Internet Explorer, not least for the add-ons. The add-on you need to capture video is called Downloadhelper, also free and a very simple tool to install (it'll even update itself as needed, with the help of Firefox). By the way, another tool I really like, mentioned in the sessions, is Flashblock, which gives you control over whether or not you want to play Flash content on web pages.
Once this software is installed, you'll see a little graphic which looks like a molecule between the address bar and the Google search bar at the top of the screen. If there's downloadable content, it'll change from grey to multi-color and start spinning. Click on the downarrow just to its right, and select which file you'd like to save (generally only one is listed, but sometimes there are several). You may need to change the download directory, but on my system the default download directory is My Documents\My Videos - go there to examine your new guests. You'll know the download is done when the (1) is gone from beside the spinning graphic.

Software for Viewing Videos
There are many possible formats for videos - .flv (YouTube and Google), .wmv (Windows Media), .mpg/.mp4 (these ones are generally fairly "portable" and easy to play), and .avi (MANY variations on this one). There are two ways I'll mention here for playing these varied formats: installing a codec pack like KLite Mega Codec Pack (free), which gives your regular software the capabilities of playing almost everything (it should add this capability to PowerPoint also, but I haven't tested this yet - let me know if you've tried it and I'll update the blog with a yes/no on that); and a second option is using a universal player like VideoLan (or VLC), which is also free. I've personally chosen to go the VLC route, as it's an excellent and compact solution, and I like the elegance of this.

Software for Converting Videos
While the viewing solutions mentioned above take care of your computer, what about if you need to insert a video into PowerPoint and play it on another machine? The safest thing to do is to convert the file from, for instance, a captured .flv from YouTube and convert it to an .mpg which will play in PowerPoint without any coaxing. For this I use a free program called Prism which is made by NCH software (I'll be using a number of their offerings - excellent stuff: you might want to upgrade some items to their pro versions just to support them, as we'll use a LOT of their free stuff).
To use this, download Prism and install it (click on the .exe file). Once it's installed, click on the icon (or select the program from your start menu), click on the "+ Add File" at the top to add a file (for instance the downloaded .flv in your My Videos folder), select the output format you want (lower left of the window) - I'd suggest .mpg (Prism's default settings for .mpgs will work well), and then click on "convert" (lower right of window) to let the program run. Could hardly be simpler. (I just noticed that there's an "Add DVD" option - I'll have to play with that and try it.) It'll save the file into your My Videos folder by default - move it wherever you want to use it.

Have fun!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Blogging and Gmail

Blog Hosting and Software
Free software and hosting for your blog is available here. This is a part of the excellent set of tools offered by Google and is very easy to use.
We'll talk about some other options, like the powerful options available at, but that tool is more complex and has been less stable than the Google blogger in the experience of my colleagues. Wordpress does include more capabilities for podcasting, but we'll talk more about that in another blog, and there are ways to add podcasting into blogspot.

GMail and (Some of) Its Wonders
If you don't already have a GMail account (another Google offering), you should do so: there are some real benefits to such an account. Information on getting an account can be found here. One of these benefits is the GMail File System, which allows you to use the generous amount of space on GMail to store files which you can then easily retrieve anywhere you can access GMail.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shopping and Pricing Gear

Checking Prices and Vendors
I like to check for prices at pricescan or Google Product Search (which used to be called froogle). You can look at categories of items or enter a model number to search for prices. Nervous about buying online from an unknown company? Check them out first at the reseller rating site.

Places to Find Deals
Not sure what you're looking for, but like good deals? I like to see what the current Woot is (this is a site which offers one item every day, starting at midnight Central time, with a flat $5 shipping). I also like to check techbargains, which tries to put together a list (contributed by internet users) of all the good deals to be found on the 'Net. There are also several sites that offer coupons which could reduce prices at general sites or on brands (rather than specific items). For instance, one such site is the techbargain coupon site, and there are others (which I'll add as you make me aware of these or I remember them).

Places to Buy Stuff
A few places I've found to be reliable and worth my business because of price and service include
  • Newegg, which sells all sorts of electronics and computer gear
  • BuyDig, which is a bit more oriented to photo and video gear but also often has the best price on other stuff
  • B&H Photo and Video, which is a terrific source for all sorts of professional (and amateur) photo, video, and audio gear, as well as other stuff. They generally are not the cheapest (although every now and then they are) but they have a GREAT reputation
  • CompGeeks, which has some electronics but is more computer oriented, and often has excellent prices on close-out gear. A hint: on most items you can save 10% by entering "techbargain" or "techbargains" in the coupon box (can't remember which: leave me a comment if you find which one works and I'll edit this post).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Welcome and Structure

Welcome to the
Tech Roadshow

Welcome! This blog will originally created to aid with the LEAD Seminar: Technology, presented by the Northwest Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God. Besides distributing and augmenting the information generated during the session, I envision it becoming a resource for a much broader community. A blog makes the information more available and easier to update, offers convenient access to the sites mentioned, allows you to be a part of the discussion and us to help each other, and it's also good stewardship, saving a chunk of a tree or two. Besides, it's just plain cool!

I'll be doing a thematic blog, which means that each entry will be associated with a specific topic rather than simply journaling what is happening that day. Small editing changes will simply be done in place, which means that if you're doing an RSS feed you may not see those changes. Major changes and enhancements will be noted by deleting the original entry and creating a new one, which will show up as a new item in your reader.

This is NOT an official communication of the NW Ministry Network or of my employer, Northwest University. It has been set up by Waldemar Kowalski for the convenience of participants in the LEAD Seminar and to benefit anyone who is interested. NU as well as the NW Ministry Network bear no responsibility for the contents of this blog nor any consequences resulting from use of information posted here. Yes, this is indeed the Small Print.