ShowPlayer

October 27, 2014

I’ve built an app in Adobe AIR for Windows which allows me to display images and videos on a projector.  The app is designed with theatre performances in mind.  I suppose it could be used for presentations, but it is built around the concept of a playlist.

The ShowPlayer interface

The ShowPlayer interface

Features

  • The app plays Mp4, JPG and PNG files.
  • Videos play with time remaining displayed and can be set to loop.
  • There’s a BIG stop button which is easy to find.
  • It’s a full screen app, so I also show the current time.
  • The display resolution can be set manually, so if you’ve prepared HD videos but use a smaller resolution projector, they resize.
  • You can leave yourself messages / reminders

Unlike some of the things I’ve talked about in this category, this app is standalone so if you’d like to use it, you can download it here if you’d like to give it a try:Mediafire downloadI’ve included a README.txt file with instructions on how to set up the playlist.

Once installed, all you need to do is copy the showplayer_content folder to your C: drive and place any videos in there (along with the playlist file)


Converting videos so they can be edited

April 18, 2014

At Cramlington, we don’t currently have a third-party video service.

Not that sort of video service!

Not that sort of video service!

Instead, having an entirely Windows server environment, we’ve used Windows Media Encoder and WMV files to stream all our videos.

Together with Graeme Porter (since moved to be Walbottle Campus’ VLE Coordinator), I put together our own video database system (CramTube – yeah, our naming’s not got better either).  We also methodically went through all of the encoding settings in Adobe Premiere to determine best compression – size ratio.  Using WMV we achieve around 4 Mbs per minute.

  • Bit rate encoding: CBR, 1 pass
  • Maximum bit rate: 550 kbps
  • Width: 640, height: 480

At this setting, you see a little artefacting (it’s not yet a word, but I’m holding out hope), but the file size has to double before the quality noticeably improves.  And so far, we’ve only rolled out Android devices to students which can play WMVs fine.

 

The problem

Of course, there’s a problem.  In this case, it’s our students, who use their Android tablets and phones (only in 6th form supposedly) to record video.

I'm currently pushing for month long detentions for filming the wrong way.

I’m currently pushing for month-long detentions for filming the wrong way.

Shockingly, they also to want to be able to edit it.  Trouble is, there’s no app in existence (I’ve looked) that allows the user to record video as WMV.  And if the student wishes to edit the video, generally it involves a trip to the IT support office with a memory stick.

Our Solution

Please note, that this bit is entitled Our Solution.  I’m sure there are many other ways to achieve this, but this is our solution using products we had to hand.  The solution required:

  1. Some way of students uploading video (large files).
  2. Have it convert automatically.
  3. Be able to download the new file.

1 – PL Upload
To solve the first point, a Google search (sorry Bing – I never even considered you) discovered PL Upload.  This system is a lovely bit of code which allows large files to be automatically uploaded by users.  This gets round the problem of standard file upload forms timing out.  The documentation is a little off-putting, but the example file provided works just fine.  From there, it’s easy enough to adapt to suit your own design.

2 – Adobe Media Encoder
The next part involves converting the video from whatever format into the editable WMV.  We’re lucky enough to have Adobe CC for our department.  It’s meant we have the latest versions of all the Adobe products, though I think AME has had watch folders for some time.

Hang on….sorry, got ahead of myself.  In AME, you can set up the program to “watch” for new files on a network drive.  So every time a user uploads a video file using PL Upload, it drops into one of these ‘watch folders’.  AME, running on a spare PC detects the new file, converts it and saves it into another folder.

3 – Auto menu – PHP
On upload, we used a bit of our own code to rename the video file with the user’s username, time and date.  Using a variation on the auto menu code I shared last time on this blog, the user sees a list of all the videos containing their username.

And that’s it.   Obviously AME can be set to convert to formats other than WMV, but seeing as our students use Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 (site licence years ago) and Windows Movie Maker (free), we find it’s the easiest format.

So far, only our sixth form students have used the uploader, but our Year 7 students are using a stop motion app which only saves in MOV or MP4 formats.  PL Upload being a web-based tool should allow them to upload and convert.


Auto Menu (PHP)

March 19, 2014

More often than not, I get asked to upload and link some files from our teachers to one page or another.  This is part of my job and I’m happy to do it.  But sometimes, I get asked to upload 20 – 30 files in one email.  This gets tedious.  And generally, I’ve no sooner finished than I get another email requesting a couple more in another location.  Complaining about this seems a little childish, but the truth is, it’s boring work that takes time.

How geeks deal with repetitive tasks

How geeks deal with repetitive tasks

I’m a great believer in “Work Smart, not Hard”.

Work smart, not hard

Work smart, not hard – nailed it!

Being a WSNH believer (some would say an evangelist), I wrote this bit of code, which automatically populates a page full of links to the resources inside a folder.  It even takes into account sub-folders.

Script

Hopefully, you can implement this yourselves, but if not, drop me a line.

You can download the script here.  I could have pasted it here, but the formatting was lost and it looked really ugly.


Sparkbook

January 28, 2013

Sparkbook is a database driven system I’ve built for school which populates students directly from our MIS (Serco Facility) and allows teachers to quickly mark them against different criteria.

The system is designed to be customisable, so teachers can add their criteria. There is a tiered marking system built in – teachers can choose from 5 (and counting) marking tiers:

  • Expert, Apprentice, Novice
  • Gold, Silver, Bronze
  • etc…

You can set a target and Sparkbook calculates both the current level and ultimate grade.   It’s the sort of thing, I’ve discovered lots of staff had been doing manually in MS Excel for years, spending ages build all their spreadsheets.

Finally, I’ve described it as a mobile device companion markbook, in that it can run from a tablet (resized automatically and linked from our Frog VLE) leaving the user’s computer screen free.   Very handy if you are marking online work, no changing windows.

I’ve only soft launched it so far.  That is, I’ve linked it in, but not drawn everyone’s attention to it.  I prefer to do introduce new systems this way, it gives systems time to settle in.  There are bound to be glitches, change requests and training issues. By simply making the link available without a grand announcement,  it naturally limits the number of teachers who try it without training.

Showing off

I’m aware in writing this post that Sparkbook isn’t actually available for you all.   Sorry about that.  My long-term ambition is to take a lot of the systems built at Cramlington and package them up as a product for other schools.   Delays in MIS product updates have killed that ambition for the moment and even then, I’ll have to investigate just how we’d go about providing a dynamic product such as this; but that’s the goal someday.   For you, it’s either hang on or apply for a job teaching at Cramlington Learning Village.