Category: Personal

Cucidati, Sicilian Fig Cookies

Recently, a friend whose fig tree was particularly productive this year, asked me what all my mother would do with such a bounty (they are both wonderful cooks). Rather than giving her just the recipe, I decided to film my mom preparing and talking about her own grandmother’s fig cookie recipe. Not only do I get to share my mom with the world, I also get to preserve one of my favorite memories:

Recording her also provided me the opportunity afterwards to play around with video editing software, something about which I keep wanting to learn more but have had few projects to do so. It also served as a reminder of what my folklorist friends like to say about fieldwork: be sure to check the batteries before leaving the night before and make sure to bring spares. Well, I forgot and less than halfway through filming, ended up needing to switch to recording from my smartphone.

I was a little anxious about splicing the clips together because I also did not pay attention to the video format in which I was recording. One camera used the .mov format while the other used .mp4. But I assumed that a video editor should be able handle multiple formats.

The least expensive software usually is an online version. However, I’ve played a little with Google’s online editor via YouTube, and found it slow (at least my connection made it slow) and its interface limited. This time, I wanted to try a desktop package instead.

A while back, I familiarized myself with Microsoft Movie Maker in case students from my Early American Literature course needed technical help for a video essay assignment that was to serve as their Final for the semester. I remember thinking it was adequate (and free), so I went to find an updated version. Unfortunately, only the same 2012 version was available for Windows 7. Regardless, I installed it.  Like YouTube, it has a fairly simple interface, including a Timeline in which you can rearrange or cut unwanted footage. However, my footage contained a number of uncontrolled moments (background noises and other conversations) that needed finer control in order to lower the volume or edit those out.

Frustrated, I decided to try a different product. I’m already a big fan of TechSmith’s screen capture program, SnagIt. I’ve used it for a couple of years, and love it for jobs requiring more than Windows’ basic screen capturing ability. So I decided to try their Camtasia Studio program. (The availability of a fully functional 30 day trial was also a big carrot).

I must admit up front that I am almost a complete novice with video editing. And like any novice, I jumped into the program manuals be damned. I discovered that the interface isn’t as intuitive as it seems–again, this is a novice’s perspective. However, after much “suggesting” by TechSmith to watch their tutorial videos before getting started, I finally gave in and watched some of the intro tutorial videos. I’m happy I did; they quickly oriented me. Even so, their videos didn’t always give the depth I needed. For example, adding a Title or Credits is not as straightforward (in version 8) as one might expect. It’s part of their Callouts object but even after watching their tutorials on the subject, I still needed help from the community with adding them before the actual start of the video.

Even so, after spending only a few hours of adding, splitting, deleting, and stitching clips, as well as integrating transitions and finally adding credits, I felt quite relaxed with the interface. I do realize there is still much I need to learn and experiment with, but my 30 day trial is almost over, and unfortunately, the cost, even for educators, is currently prohibitive. Having said that, though, I do realize other similar packages also cost quite a bit. For future class projects, I still would like to find a free solution, even an online one, that is just as powerful and easy to use. Although I have never tried it, I hear great things about Apple’s iMovie, which is included free with iOS.

NEH 2012 Jefferson Lecture: Wendell Barry

Kudos to the NEH for making inspiring lectures like this available online (it also streamed this live)

(I would have embedded the video, but I’m having a devil of a time disabling the autostart. Their embed code has no autostart variable, but I tried adding one and setting it to not play (play=”false”) along with other variations but none of my attempts have worked…)

Wendell Barry is one of those rare individuals who tries to walk his talk, inspiring the rest of us to also try. A write-up of the lecture appears here.