It’s been an odd week, with lots of rain and too little sleep, but I have been fairly productive. First up is my latest how-to video: ‘ESO – how to build a pointy wall’. It’s quite a long video so I don’t expect anyone to watch it all the way through!
The reason I’m showcasing this video is because of the new skills I’ve learned using VideoStudio Pro 2021, my video editing software.
The first thing I learned was how to create short, animated visual directions. The video below is only a few seconds long and demonstrates what I mean about a ‘visual direction’:
The animation is created from within VideoStudio Pro 2021 using the Painting Tool. I can see this tool getting a lot of use once I start making how-to videos for self-publishing.
The second thing I learned was how to manually fade the background music in and out. VideoStudio Pro 2021 has a feature called ‘Audio Ducking’ which is supposed to make the music go quiet when there’s narration on the video. The feature is okay, but I wasn’t too impressed with when it decided to raise and lower the volume of the music. So I went looking for a manual solution and found one. 😀
The blue track is the music track, and the purple one is for narration. When I’m talking, I want the music to be very soft, but when there’s a gap in the narration, I want the music to swell. The section of the tracks I’ve circled in red is one of those gaps. As you can see, the white line showing the volume of the music goes up – i.e. becomes louder – while I’m not talking.
To make VideoStudio Pro display the audio controls, press the icon circled in red below:
Controlling the volume of the music manually is a bit time-consuming and ‘clunky’, but I think the end result is much better.
In case anyone is interested, the music was created by Peritune, a Japanese composer who writes lovely, non-jarring music that compliments my videos beautifully.
And last but not least, I’ve just made my new Youtube ‘handle’ :
I’m not quite sure how the handle is actually supposed to work, but apparently in time, it will be used to personalise the URL of my Youtube channel. A small thing, but Indies have to grab their branding where they find it!
It’s Sunday here in Melbourne, and for a wonder the rain has stopped so I’m going to do a garden promenade with the animals.
After the amazing PowerPoint effects achieved by Diana Wallace Peach in my previous post, I just had to see if I could master some of those techniques myself. The answer is…kind of. This is my, ahem, masterpiece:
I don’t think I’ll be headed to Cannes any time soon. But…I did learn some really useful skills, and today I’ll walk you through the PowerPoint ‘Remove Background’ option. If you’ve tried this option before and given up in frustration, don’t worry, I had the same problems so we’ll do it step by step. 🙂
The first step is to open PowerPoint [hereafter known as PP] and select a blank slide.
Next, click the ‘Insert’ option on the Ribbon and find an image that you want to work with:
The image below is the first one I worked with:
The picture frame looks as if it’s empty, but in reality the middle is not transparent at all. It’s white.
In order to have the mask appear as if it were inside the frame, I had to get rid of the white in the middle. Easier said than done. When I tried to remove the background in PowerPoint, PP wanted to delete the frame, not the white in the middle!
PP helpfully colours the area[s] to be removed in purple. Pity that’s precisely what I want to keep. -rolls eyes-
I guess the default setting assumes that whatever you want to keep will be in the middle…. Trust me to do everything backwards. In my own defence, however, the labels on the buttons and the explanations of those buttons only made sense after I’d finally worked out what to do and how to do it. -grumble-
Anyway, allow me to explain the buttons:
Mark Areas to Keep
If you hover your mouse over the ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ button, you’ll get a tooltip that says: ‘Draw lines to mark areas to keep in the picture’. I assumed that the word ‘lines’ had to be some kind of misnomer. It would take a lifetime to draw enough lines to take out half a picture! Ditto for the ‘Mark areas to Remove’ button. I was wrong.
When you click on the ‘Mark Areas to Keep button’, and then draw any kind of line across your picture, a whole section of the picture will be selected. In the following screenshot, I clicked ‘Mark Areas to Keep’ and then drew a line from the top left of the picture frame to a point near the bottom. The line was not straight:
Given that the picture frame is made up of straight lines, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to ‘fill in’ the frame properly. What I discovered was that the ‘line’ is not set until you release the mouse button at the end point.
In other words, you click the mouse at your start point and hold it down as you drawn the line. If the line is wonky, you can straighten it just by moving the mouse. So long as you keep the mouse button held down, you can keep moving the line wherever you want:
Mark Areas to Remove
Once I’d ‘marked’ all the purple areas and changed them to ‘keeps’, it was time to mark the middle as an ‘Area to Remove’. The principle is the same as for marking areas to keep: click the ‘Mark Areas to Remove’ button, click the mouse on an area to be removed, hold down the mouse button as you move the mouse across the image, release the mouse button to trigger the ‘remove’:
If you make a mistake, you can undo the last line by clicking the ‘Delete Mark’ button and then clicking the line you wish to remove. That second part is critical as nothing will happen unless you do. You can also use the keyboard shortcut CTRL-Z to ‘undo’ the last thing you did. So much easier.
Discard All Changes
This is like a global undo. If you select this button you will delete every single change you have made. Use with caution.
This is the button you hit once you’ve done all that you want to do to the image. ‘Keep Changes’ bakes all the changes so they ‘stick’. No more undoing any of the changes. It’s the last step in the whole process.
And now for those eyeballs.
PP is very good at detecting curves so long as there is a strong contrast between the object and its background. The eyeball I wanted to use is perfect…except for the bit at the top where the eyelashes are basically the same colour as that part of the eye.
To excavate that eyeball from the eyelashes, I made the image as big as possible using the slider down in the status bar [bottom of screen]. Then I clicked on ‘Mark Areas to Remove’ and drew teensy weensy little lines. <<cue grinding of teeth>>
My stubbornness persistence paid off because I managed to get an almost circular eyeball, but when I tried it in the mask, the not-quite-perfect curve was noticeable. So I cheated. I turned the eyeball upside down. 🙂
I should say here that the easiest image to clean up was the mask!
Although the left side of the mask is in shadow, the shadow is a different colour AND there’s still enough contrast to allow PP to detect the edges.
All in all, I’m loving the ‘Remove Background’ function in PP. It has limitations – the lack of curved lines is a big one – but for large jobs that can be a little rough, it’s miles easier than vectoring an image in Corel. As always though, you have to use the right tool for the right job.
My thanks to Diana for introducing me to a very useful tool indeed. 😀
Down the bottom you can see a number of playlists. They’re just categories of videos. The how-to playlist only contains one video, but in time, I intend to create videos for all of the relevant sections of the free ‘How to print your novel with Kindle Direct Publishing’ book.
I’m not there yet in terms of skill, but the video below is my first attempt to do a how-to for the ESO housing editor:
This video will be the first in a series, but boy was it hard to do. Having a chatty narration ‘style’ is one thing, waffling on is another.
Lesson number 1: boring viewers is a cardinal sin!
Lesson number 2: waffling on is boring, especially when the viewer only wants information. 😦
As my narration style is naturally, um, ‘chatty’, I’ve had to do a lot of cutting and splicing to get rid of the waffle. Great practice in editing, not so great for the sound quality which waxed and waned with each splice. In the end, I was forced to do one long take with deliberate pauses so I could edit out the worst of the gaffs without affecting the sound quality too much.
Those hiccups aside, I’m really enjoying this learning curve. If any of you are already experienced in creating videos or have recommendations for tools to use, I’d love to hear them. I’m currently using RecMaster which is a great entry level video recorder, but maybe not quite powerful enough for my ambitious projects.
I also have a favour to ask – could you please subscribe to my channel? Youtube will allow me to have a customised URL for my channel – i.e. something with my name in it instead of hieroglyphics – but only after I reach the magic number of 100 subscribers. At the moment I have 4. It’s a big ask, I know, but I would really appreciate your help on this one.
This is another Offspring special, a basic shortbread recipe with added chunks of Plaistowe dark cooking chocolate. My contribution was the milk. 😀
The photo is a little washed out because it was taken at night with a flash. The shortbread actually looks more like this:
For those who have never tasted shortbread before, it’s an odd combination of dry, crumbly texture that literally melts in your mouth. It’s very easy to make and we love it. If you want to try it yourself, the recipe follows:
Traditional Shortbread [with added chocolate]
Note: the recipe is on the back of the McKenzie’s rice flour packet, and you will need rice flour in addition to ordinary wheat flour.
225 gm of plain flour [all purpose flour], sifted,
115 gm of rice flour, sifted
115 gm of caster sugar, sifted
pinch of salt
225 gm of unsalted, room temperature butter [do NOT use spreadable butter as the oil and/or process used changes how the butter works in recipes].
about 1/4 cup good quality cooking chocolate, chopped into smallish ‘chunks’. We used Plaistowe cooking chocolate because it’s actually good enough to eat on its own so long as you don’t like your chocolate very sweet.
Pre-heat oven to 150 C. This is a slow oven.
Grease your baking tray [we didn’t, we lined it with baking paper instead].
Combine both flours, sugar and salt in a bowl.
Rub in butter and knead gently until a smooth dough forms.
Add the chopped chocolate and gently mix into the dough.
The recipe says to transfer the dough to a floured surface and ‘shape as required’. That basically means you can cut pretty shapes out of it. We don’t do any of that. We place the dough directly onto the baking tray and spread it out by hand or with the back of a spoon until it’s about the right ‘depth’. Shortbread should not be thick! 1/2 an inch is more than thick enough.
Prick the dough with a fork. We also ‘score’ the surface lightly with a knife. This makes cutting the cooked shortbread easier.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes until a light, golden brown. The end.
A tip from us: leave the shortbread on the tray and gently cut along the scored lines while the shortbread is still a bit soft and pliable. The shortbread will firm up as it cools. Cutting it once it’s cold and crumbly is…not very successful.
And there you have it. Another day, another treat. If you have favourite treats of your own, please link to them in comments. Oh, and if you have favourite cups or dishes to go with the treats, please link them as well.
The following how-to uses the WordPress interface [as at July, 2020], not the old Admin. Dashboard. When you’re done, you’ll end up with a small, slideshow of images that can be quite effective at catching the eye of casual visitors.
You will need at least one sidebar in your theme – i.e. a visible area next to or below the spot at which your blog posts normally appear. I have two sidebars on my theme and they both appear to the right of the blog post area:
My particular theme also allows me to have a ‘footer’ bar, and this is where I’m going to put my slideshow.
Next, you will need to have images to place in your slideshow. Yes, obvious, I know, but you will need to:
edit the images so they’re all the same size – it looks better,
upload the required images to the WordPress media library before you begin creating the gallery.
Once all the images have been uploaded* to your media library, you’re ready to begin:
If you are in Reader, click the tab for ‘My Sites’ [top left of your WordPress screen],
From the list of available options in My Sites, click ‘Design’,
Design has two further options – Customize and Themes. Click ‘Customize’,
From the Customize options click ‘Widgets’,
You should now see the areas that can take Widgets**
As mentioned earlier, my particular theme has three such areas and they look like this:
Finally, select the area in which you want your gallery [Widget] to appear. For me it was ‘Footer Widget Area’.
You should now see a button for ‘+ Add a Widget’. Click it to be taken to a list of available widgets [listed in alphabetical order]:
Scroll down the list until you reach ‘Gallery’. Select it. You should now see the gallery widget, ready for you to use:
Type a title for your gallery [because you can have more than one], and then click the ‘Add Images’ area as shown above [big red arrow].
You should now see the images in your Media Library. Unfortunately, there is no helpful message to tell you what to do next. A simple ‘Select an image’ would have been so helpful…ahem.
Click the first image you want to include in your gallery. Don’t worry about the order because you can change that later.
On the right of the library of images you will now see a box for adding information about the image you have chosen. Type in the title and…
DO. NOT. CLICK. ‘Add a New Gallery’ ! ! ! This is not how you complete the selection of your first image! ! !
Okay, I’m really going to get grumpy here with the WordPress developers. Not giving any clues as to where bloggers are supposed to go next is just asking for trouble. Most people are not mind readers. Really poor design.
To complete the selection of the first image and go on to select a second image…just click another image. Yes, I know, about as intuitive as a kick to the head.
Continuing clicking images until you have selected all the images you want to place in your slideshow. At this point, mine looked like this:
Down the bottom of the screenshot you can see the six images I chose. The bit on the right shows details for the last image I chose. I added a title for clarity, but you will get a chance to add a caption later. Last but not least, there is the blue ‘Create a new gallery’ button. Now you can click it.
The next screen will be the ‘Edit Gallery’ page. Here you can re-order the sequence of images by dragging and dropping them into the correct position. You can also add captions to each image and change the size of the image [Thumbnail is the default]:
I only added two captions to these images, but I did move the image for The Vintage Egg to the end of the list.
When I was happy with the sequence of images, I clicked the small down arrow next to ‘Type’ to show the available display options [the default is Thumbnail Grid]. Down the bottom of the list is ‘Slideshow’. Click it and then click the blue ‘Insert gallery’ button as shown.
Almost done! You should now be looking at a preview screen. As my gallery is in the footer, I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to see it working:
If the preview doesn’t work as expected, click the ‘Edit Gallery’ button to the left of the preview. If everything does work as expected, click ‘Done’ [to save the gallery].
Finally, click ‘Save Changes’ to save the whole lot.
To exit from the customize area, click either the back button or the ‘X’ button [to the left of Save Changes].
Apologies for making this such a long how-to, but I wanted it to be suitable for even the newest blogger. And some of the interface was down right murky.
Have fun, Meeks
p.s. this post was created using the block editor. To get the * asterisks down the bottom to show as asterisks [instead of automatically beginning a bullet point list], I had to press the spacebar a couple of times. Apparently this ‘told’ the block editor that I wanted to stay in the paragraph block. -rolls eyes-
* Please contact me in Comments if you need help getting to this step.
** Widgets are small ‘apps’ that you can insert into your blog to make it work the way you want it to. Widgets can include anything from images and buttons to galleries and links. Widgets can only be placed in certain areas of your blog. Those areas will depend upon the type of theme you chose when you first created your blog.
The title of this post should have been ‘Coffee and Cake’, but we made the Triple Choc Chocolate biscuits last night, and it was too late for coffee, so…
Ahem. The Offspring and I adore these biscuits because they really are made with three lots of chocolate. There’s cocoa and melted chocolate in the biscuit dough, and then there are lumps of chocolate in each biscuit as well [the recipe is at the end of this post].
You can see how gooey and melted and divine those lumps of chocolate are here:
That’s why these biscuits are at their most divine straight from the oven. They are delicious cold as well, but not quite as delicious. 🙂
Now, a word about sweetness. If you love super sweet, commercial biscuits, you will not love these triple choc biscuits. There is sugar in the biscuit dough, but not a huge amount, and the chocolate is unsweetened, dark chocolate. The cocoa is unsweetened, Dutch cocoa as well so the overall effect is not overly sweet.
There, you have been warned. For everyone else, I hope you enjoy the following recipe. 🙂
[We only ever make half quantities at a time so I’ve provided the cut down quantities in brackets. They’re not exactly half quantities, but they work.]
1 1/4 cups plain or all purpose flour [1/2a cup and a ‘bit’] 2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch cocoa [1 tablespoon ] 1 teaspoon baking powder [1/2 a teaspoon] 3/4 of a teaspoon salt [1/4 teaspoon] 500 gm good quality bittersweet dark chocolate [250 gm] 125 gm unsalted butter [60 gm] 1/2 cup sugar [1/4 cup sugar] 3 large eggs [add 1 whole egg, then crack a second egg into a bowl, beat it and add half of the beaten egg only]
Preheat oven to 180o C or 356 F [make it a little less if using fan forced]
Line a large baking sheet with baking paper
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt
Melt 3/4 of the dark chocolate [about 190 gm if making half quantities] with the butter in a small saucepan – don’t let it burn!
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sugar [I let the mixture cool a tiny bit before the next step]
Stir in the eggs, one at a time until well mixed
Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined
Cover the dough with cling wrap and chill for up to 1 hour
Remove teaspoon sized balls of dough and place on the baking sheet, about 3.5 cm or 2 inches apart [the balls will expand a lot as they bake]
Push small [or larger] chips of the dark chocolate into each biscuit [we like big gooey lumps so tend to use 1 large piece in instead of 2 or 3 smaller ones]
Bake in the middle of a hot oven for 10 minutes or until just done. I set a timer for 8 minutes, turn the sheet, and reset the timer for another 2 minutes. The biscuits should feel slightly squishy to the touch. This is what you want as they will harden as they cool. If you leave them in for even 2 minutes longer, they’ll be hard and biscuity instead of soft and chewy.
Allow the biscuits to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. That’s the official line. The unofficial line is that you can eat them as soon as they don’t burn your fingers….
Have a wonderful day, and don’t eat the Triple Choc Biscuits all at once!
I don’t actually like the taste of sourdough, sorry, but I absolutely loved this Youtube demonstration of how to create your own sourdough starter.
You know how I’m obsessed with teaching ‘absolute beginners’? Well, this video how-to is literally the best I have seen. It’s clear, perfectly paced and step-by-step, with no small-but-vital bits of knowledge taken for granted.
Seriously, if sourdough is your thing, this video could change your life.
To begin, move to the back matter of your document and click the mouse at the point where you want the Table of Figures to appear.
Next, open the References tab and click Insert Table of Figures:
You should now be looking at the Table of Figures dialog box:
As you can see, the default settings are to:
Show page numbers
Right align page numbers
and ‘Caption label: Figure’
If you are happy with these default settings, click the OK button.
Note: if you have created different kinds of captions – for example, one for ‘Figures’ and a second one for ‘Tables’ – clicking the down arrow next to ‘Caption label’ will allow you to choose a different label. In this way you can generate a separate table for each label.
Unlike the Table of Contents, there is no specific command that allows you to delete the Table of Figures.
To delete the whole Table of Figures, you will have to manually select the entire table as if you were selecting a paragraph of text.
Note: simply clicking inside the Table of Figures will not work.
Once you have manually selected the whole table, press the Delete key on the keyboard. The Table of Figures will now be deleted, but the captions underneath the actual images still remain so you can reinstate a Table of Figures at any time.
This is the last of the graphics related how-tos, but the defunct ‘How to Print Non Fiction…’ also contains advanced help on Indexes etc. If anyone would like me to post this information, please let me know in comments.