Basic Computer Skills
At our local library the
only prerequisite to my courses and workshops about Movie Maker and Photo Story
is 'Learning to use a Mouse'.
From a mouse class to Movie
Maker is a pretty big leap. There's a number of what I call basic
computer skills that will make your story and movie-making
experiences easier, skills that are not well covered in books, classes or
I'll use this newsletter to go over
10 of the basics that I wish everyone was skilled at before they jumped
into a movie project. By basics, I mean skills using a computer that
are independent of the software apps being used. Let's do these 10
Browsing folders and files...
including 'hidden' ones
Copying and pasting
Dragging and dropping
Renaming files and
Checking CPU and memory
Making your virtual memory
Checking hard drive free
Defragging your hard
Creating and editing low
level text files... like html and xml
Here's a link to an online
tutorial about basic computer skills from the University of
Maryland... if my notes are confusing, maybe it
will help. The opening paragraph on the site echoes my feelings
about the more prepared you are for the
experience, the greater your chances of success and
... before getting into them, here
are a few notes...
Earlier this year I took a
first shot at blogging... in April/May... and it didn't
work. With one undated response that I couldn't figure out how to respond to, it
wasn't effective. This week I started a second attempt.
APress, the publisher of Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero,
invited some authors to blog on their site, and I took them up on
I'll try to keep the blog
notes on a high level... not like Q&A topics on a newsgroup or
forum. The blog link is on the Online > Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts page of
the website, and the initial topics are the wave of Windows digital media
galleries around the country, and the evolving beta version of Movie
Maker for Vista.
.... on to
the main topic...
Browsing folders and files...
Do you remember 'directories'
and 'subdirectories', the words we used in the days of DOS,
the operating system before Windows? Today we call them 'folders' and
'subfolders'. Whatever they are called, they contain files and
other sub-level directories or folders. For analytical thinkers like
me, a tree view of a hard drive makes a lot of sense.
... but it seems we're moving
away this kind of structure, and toward a world of virtual storage
spaces... where it doesn't make a difference where something is... as long
as you can find it on your computer when you need to.
I spent an hour this summer
with a friend on an Apple computer, looking for a video
file... and gave up. We knew it was someplace on his internal hard
drive or attached external drive because we had captured it from a camcorder.
But the Apple operating system just wanted to show us the virtual items,
not the location in a way that made sense to us. The computer didn't think we
could be interested in which drive the file was on. From what I see of
Vista, the world of Windows is going down the same path. Someday I'll look back
and wonder why I wanted to know where something was.
Back to today!!. One reason to
find a file is check it's name, and rename it if needed.
Start by making sure you
see the file's extension. Not all files need an
extension, but those we work with have one... usually 3
characters long (WMV, AVI, MPG, XML, PNG, BMP, JPG, WAV, WMA, MP3, etc.). The
Movie Maker project file is an exception with its 5 character MSWMM
extension. Another exception is a recorded TV file with
a DV-MRS extension.
If you don't see the file
extensions, as they are hidden by default, change the
view... right-click on My Computer > Tools > Folder Options > View
tab > Files and Folders > Hidden files and folders > change the option
to 'Show hidden files and folders'.
Windows XP gives you a number of options to view the contents of
in Groups by any detail of your
files such as name, size, type, or date modified.
as thumbnails of image and
tiles... as large icons
slide-show type view of a folders with images (this is the view I'm using
at the right). The controls under the larger image are used to go
through the files like a slide show... a really handy view when importing
If you're using only one of these views, explore the others and
you might be surprised... right click in white space of the folder to
get the list of choices...
You can see in the image at
the right that the file extensions are included, the ones shown being
This picture shows some files in the Movie
Maker > Shared folder, the place for things such as custom xml files and
associated png images. I've pasted two views together... the view at the
left without file extensions, and the view at the right after changing the
option to view the extensions.... you then see .txt, .png, and
You can copy a single
character, a word, sentence, document, file, folder filled with files, and
groups of them together. One way to think about the
computer's copying is to
envision putting the item onto an invisible clipboard... one that can
hold only one thing at a time... if you copy something else, it replaces
whatever is on the clipboard.
There are utilities that let
you have multiple clipboards and let you see what's in them, but we'll
assume you're not using them.
Try to explain what's going on
during a copy/paste operation it to a newbie user... it's easy to show them
but hard for them to grasp what's happening... grab the controls, do a couple
and tell them things like "... got it?, it's easy, you
Copying puts it/them into
... pasting takes it from
the clipboard and puts it/them into another
To copy, make a selection and use the Control-C keys (or
right-click the item and select Copy)... to paste, select the location to
paste to and use the Control-V keys (or right-click the item and select
In Photo Story 3, there's only
one thing you can copy and paste... that's text on a picture.
In Movie Maker, you can copy
and paste most anything:
entire collections, including the
clips in them
one or more clips in a collection...
to the same collection for a 2nd set of them, to another
collection, or to the open project
one or more clips in a project... to another point in the same
project (set the new point on the timeline first), or to another
project (close the one you copy the clips from, and then open the other one to
a selected video effect or transition to one or many
a batch of video clips on the video track to the
audio/music track, at any selected point on the
An advantage of being able to copy
and paste between projects is to do something such as having a
reference project with your favorite settings for title clips... the font, font
size, transparency setting, colors, etc... get them just right and then copy the
clip from the reference project to your working one.
When you want to do the same thing to many items at
once, instead of one at a time, the first thing you need to do is select the
batch of items you want to be included in the process. The process could be
a renaming, a cutting or deletion, a drag and drop. The items could be a set of
folders, files, clips in a collection, clips on the timeline or storyboard,
transitions in a project... just about anything. The selection process is the
To select multiple items, select the first one with your
mouse... then hold the shift key down if you want a group of sequential items,
and (keeping the shift key held down until done) select the last one of the
You can't select multiple items in Photo Story, but you
can in Movie Maker. If it works, use it. If it doesn't work, don't assume
anything is wrong... the programmers just didn't include the feature.
Dragging an item, or a batch of selected ones, from a
window of one app to a window of another one makes life much easier many time.
It can be easier than copy and paste.
Sometimes you can't copy and paste, but you can drag and
drop... examples are WAV files from a folder in your file
manager to an open collection in Movie Maker,
and an image file from a hard drive folder to a Photo Story 3
If copy/paste doesn't work, try drag and drop... if drag
and drop doesn't work, try copy and paste. It's up to the programmers of each
app to put each of these options into the software. And it's easier to try
them than it is to look it up in the help file or reference
Tip: Sometimes dragging and
dropping can be used to copy items from one place to another... but at
other times it moves the file rather than copying it. Be careful... if
you think it's copying but it's actually moving, you could regret
it when you go back later and look for your
Sometimes neither copy-n-paste or drag-n-drop work,
such as music files from a hard drive folder into the add music window of Photo
Rename Files and
Renaming is easy if:
(1) the file you're trying to rename
isn't being held open by some software... if it is open, you need
to close the file or the software first.
(2) there's not another file in the folder that already has
the name you want to use.
This error message comes from Windows Explorer when you
try to rename a file... in this case, yes the name is already being used by
another file, but you want to do it anyway. With Windows Explorer you need to
delete the file first and then give the other file its name.
Total Commander, my favorite file browser, gives a
different message, one that tells you the other file exists, but gives you
an option to overwrite it.
Skilled computer users are so used to doing things such
as checking a file's extension and renaming them as needed.
Photo Story doesn't use source file names, or let you
rename them. Movie Maker lets you rename collections, and the clips inside the
collections... but not video effects and transitions. Select a collection or
clip and press the F2 key to get to the renaming feature.
Movie Maker doesn't let you rename a clip once it's in a
project. The name is inherited from the clip in the collection... and can't
The 'name' of the clip shown at the right shows that it
can be a paragraph long, up to 256 characters. It's a far cry from the days of
DOS when names were limited to 8 characters followed by a 3 character
and Memory Use
Checking CPU and memory usage is one of the easiest
things to do in Windows XP, but few outside programmers, geeks and hackers
know about it or do it.
Right mouse click any unused part of the task
bar at the bottom of your desktop (the blue bar at the bottom in the picture at
the left)... select Task Manager and then the Performance tab.
My new HP laptop has a 3.4 GHz CPU... but it's really
two CPUs, not one. In the Task Manager, the uppermost right hand CPU Usage
History chart is divided into two sections, one section for each of the
The left half is for CPU 0 and the right
half for CPU 1.
This is the first computer I've had with multiple
processors. When I'm in the Processes tab, I can select any of the running
processes, right mouse click on it, and choose 'Set Affinity'. That lets me
assign the process to one of the CPUs, something that can come in
As I write this, I'm also listening to music... I've
unchecked CPU 1 for both of these processes, which limits them to
using CPU 0.
I'm also rendering a movie with Movie Maker limited
to using CPU 1. That let's the rendering have 100% of one processor... the
rendering goes full speed ahead, and the music doesn't miss a beat, nor
do I notice any slowdown in my writing.
Keep one eye on the CPU usage and the other one on
memory... still on the same page of the Task Manager.
The physical RAM on this computer is 2 GB (the
Total Physical Memory)... things work fast if the Total and
Peak numbers in the Commit Charge section stay below the size of the
RAM. When usage goes above the RAM size, things slow
dramatically, but still work... as long as they stay below the 'Limit', the
total of physical (RAM) and virtual memory.
Increase Virtual Memory
Many failed attempts to save an
overly-complex project can be resolved by increasing virtual memory...
if you know how to do it.
Access the setting by Start > Control Panel >
Performance and Maintenance > System > Advanced > Performance Settings
button > Advanced tab > Virtual Memory Change button.
In round numbers, my laptop has 2 GB of RAM, a virtual
memory setting that starts with 2 GB (the Initial size). When that
limit is bumped into, Windows XP will give a message about reaching it, and
will proceed to raise it to the maximum size of 4 GB. Beyond the 6 GB
memory level (2 RAM + 4 virtual), my system would crash.
Crashing when rendering a movie would simply
mean getting the familiar message about not being able to save it. A trip
to this setting and raising the maximum allowed size might be all that
is needed to try rendering it again, and being success.
Check Hard Drive Free
There are easier ways to make a quick check of free
space, but let's take a look at the hard drive on this new laptop using Start
> Right click My Computer > Manage > Disk Management.
Disc 0 is my 100 GB hard drive, which has a bit over 30
GB in free space. Disk 1 is an inserted USB thumb drive. The 3rd drive
shown is my CD/DVD drive with a DVD in it.
Defrag a Hard
Staying in the Computer Management window, but moving up
to the Disk Defragmenter feature...
I selected the C drive, asked it to Analyze, and
then viewed the report at the left... the summary was 'You do not need to
defragment this volume'... but the detailed report showed files with as
many as 1,463 fragments.
Sometimes I'll defrag anyway, even if the report
suggests I don't need to, especially if I see a file that I'm working
with in the list.
Some movie tasks run better on a hard
drive that is well tuned... such as capturing video from a camcorder,
previewing and viewing movies, and copying a movie to a digital
Edit Low Level Text Files...
Files such as html (for
web pages) and xml (for custom Movie Maker effects, transitions, and title
overlays) need to be plain text files or they won't work. Create and edit them
with Notepad, an app included in Windows.
Open Notepad by Start >
All Programs > Accessories > Notepad... or Start > Run > type in
notepad > OK... or however you usually do it.
By default, Notepad assigns a .txt file extension... which
you can over-ride to make it .html or .xml as needed, either during the
initial save or right afterwards by renaming it.
To open an existing html or
xml file with notepad... right click on it in your file browser and opt to Open
Have a great week...