PapaJohn's MVP LogoMovie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #80 - Dec 3, 2005

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 online tutorials.
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
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 satisfaction.
... 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 it.
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'.
Filmstrip ViewWindows XP gives you a number of options to view the contents of a folder:
  • in Groups by any detail of your files such as name, size, type, or date modified.
  • as thumbnails of image and video files
  • tiles... as large icons
  • filmstrip... a 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 source files.
  • icons
  • list
  • details   
View ChoicesIf 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 JPGs.
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 .xml.  
Extensions Hidden or Not

Copy and Paste
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 know!!...".
Copying puts it/them into the clipboard...
... pasting takes it from the clipboard and puts it/them into another place
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 Paste)...
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 paste into)
  • a selected video effect or transition to one or many places
  • a batch of video clips on the video track to the audio/music track, at any selected point on the timeline
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.

Select Multiple Items
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 same.
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 group.
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.

Drag and Drop
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 project.
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 material.
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 original.
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 Story 3.

Rename Files and Folders...
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.
Rename Message - Explorer(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.
Rename File - Total CommanderTotal 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 be changed.
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 extension.

Check CPU and Memory Use
Open Task Manager
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 CPUs.
CPU and Memory Usage
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 handy.
Procesor Affinity
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.

Memory Use
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.

Virtual MemoryIncrease 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 Space
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. Disk Management

Before DefragAfter DefragDefrag a Hard Drive
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 camcorder.

Create and 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.
Open With NotepadBy 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 with Notepad.

Conclusions and Closing
I'm thinking of putting a section in my next book about the 'basic skills' needed to get the most from Movie Maker and Photo Story... this is my first attempt at such a list.

Have a great week...