Viewing entries in

Learning Ruby on Rails Development - My Progress

Learning Ruby on Rails Development - My Progress

As I took the very easy decision (albeit painful, lonely and stressful at times) to create Braindu I also undertook to learn some new technical skills.

Braindu is a complex web application that uses a number of cutting edge web application development technologies, which I've discussed briefly before.

On the server side, the platform is built using the now popular and impressive Ruby on Rails platform. My development team are extremely experienced Rails developers, but for this project, I wanted to get stuck in myself and learn to code Rails apps from scratch.

I've talked before about how I'm sudo-addicted to online learning platforms, such as Code School, Codecademy, Treehouse &

But alas, with everything you have to take in, everything you come across from tutorials, courses, videos, documents, articles, e-books, plugins, gemfiles, extensions, frameworks, libraries... it opens you up to a whole world of information that you need to navigate, store, manage, curate and constantly refer to on a regular basis as you advance your practical knowledge and experience with a framework like Rails - it's a frickin' nightmare.

How I Learn Ruby on Rails with Braindu

How I Learn Ruby on Rails with Braindu

Fortunately for me I've got Braindu. The product that is encouraging me to learn Rails is also the app that is helping me to learn rails (and many other companion technologies, such as SASS, HAML, SVG, CoffeeScript) and now I cannot live without it.

Now I know I have a slight conflict of interest, but seriously, my learning process has been transformed.

And with Braindu, I can share with you my collection of resources - a live and organic repository of information relating to my mission to hold my own at developing web applications and software. Amazing considering that I couldn't even build a website but 4 years ago.

Sit back and Browse with the Read View.

Sit back and Browse with the Read View.

I've got a long way to go to be able to have at least a modicum of technical credibility among the experts that I work with every day, but the ability to get closer to the technical team's challenges through better technical skill development and knowledge is already paying dividends.

Right, back to a brief coffee break and a dabble with the Evernote API via the new Codecademy API pathways. How I've changed.

Glass: I'm Eating This - Google Glass has me excited

Glass: I'm Eating This - Google Glass has me excited

I just watched Google Glass developer advocate Timothy Jordan's 50 minute long presentation from SXSW, where he publicly presented the Google Glass Project, some interesting use-cases and a first look at the Mirror API.

The whole platform feels sleek, elegant and simple. The API is similarly so, where the interaction and information transactions are small, timely and impactful snippets that augment what you are doing right now and otherwise, get the hell out of the way.

Design for Glass - The Glass design is unique and fundamentally different than existing mobile platforms. It's important to build and test specifically for Glass to create a great service.
Don't get in the way - Services should be there when you want them and out of the way when you don't. They should never take precedence over what else the user may be doing.
Keep it timely - Glass is most effective when in-the-moment and up-to-date. User requests should be handled immediately and information should always be fresh.
Avoid the unexpected - Giving users unexpected and unpleasant functionality is bad on any platform, but particularly bad on Glass given how close it is to the user's senses.

I've been working on a fascinating project with Nutribu, a startup looking to transform how we interact with the complex and boring world of nutrition into a fun, social and competitive experience.

Google Glass could be the answer to how we may capture real-time transactions, like eating a meal, in an unobtrusive or overly clunky way - a problem which currently exists with web and mobile nutrition diaries and calorie counters.

Instead, Glass potentially offers all sorts of mechanics to make nutrition, eating consciously and with access to relevant information about our consumption a fun, data-driven and socially interactive experience.

It also gets me thinking about we access our personal information repositories, with services like my very own Braindu, so that our data is available to us in an actionable, real-time mechanic. I'm very excited to try out the API and build Mirror API-based services.

You can see my Braindu chart on the subject of Google Glass here with links, videos, images and notes that I expect will grow over time.

The Realitiy of Building a Startup from Scratch: Aaron Patzer -

It's an oldie, but it's a goodie! I can't believe it's over 3 years old now...

This is easily one of the most informative, most helpful, most entertaining insights into planning and building your startup from scratch.

A video presentation by Aaron Patzer, founder of who built and sold his company to Intuit for $170m in just a few years.

He talks openly and candidly about the various stages of your business, what your headcount should be (and the mix of roles), what your business goals should be, what your costs should be, how much runway you should have, when you should be looking to raise the next round of finance, what your models should look like.

Aaron presents in a light hearted, honest and genuine way which is clear that as a nerd turned super confident CEO, there is a by product of success that is arguably more powerful than the economic rewards (which maybe great). That as CEO's we develop as individuals to people who are respected and that we can respect ourselves.

Watch the video. Bookmark it. Watch it again. Come back to it later as well.

Cinema 4D: Experimenting with Sound Effectors

Since I've been learning After Effects and been following Andrew Kramer's Videocopilot, my interest has been peaked towards 3D visualisation and animation. As Videocopilot's Element 3D plugin (which I love) has been a signal of the importance of 3D within After Affects compositing going forward, I have kind of followed like a little lost sheep.

I'm no stranger to 3D, having worked during my Retail Design years with some top 3D designers and visualisers. People like Matt Tipping, Creative Director @double-europe, James Cutler @mintviz, Joe Wright @spudcreative, Florent Beaujot @Artform - but they were the one's creating the magic, not me. I just won the business.

So, armed with Maxon Cinema 4D, some tutorials from, Greyscale Gorilla and others, I've been learning and playing.

A couple of months ago, the guys from KiteRight - a charity which uses KiteSports to improve the lives of people who normally wouldn't be able to access the sport - posted a visual on their Facebook page, with an idea to turn it into KiteRight branded globes which would animate to music.

Kite Right balls inspiration

Kite Right balls inspiration

So, initially I had a play with it in Adobe After Effects, using the Element 3D plugin. This was pretty basic and only took a few minutes, to generate a bunch of colourised spheres, with a texture map containing the Kiteright logo. I then animated some basic rotational parameters of the balls and a camera to do a quick sample render. This is it...

From there, and coming back to the initial topic, I decided to have a play with it in true 3D space using cinema4D and toy around with Sound Effectors, using the MoGraph suite of tools. 

I'd been playing around with syncing animation with audio keyframes in After Effects previously, so made for a good set of features to test here. I found a really excellent tutorial by GreyScale Gorilla on the subject.

I picked a song that I'd bought from Audio Jungle, called "Live My Life" by MetroLightMusic, which is nice and uplifting and quite apt for the cause.

Here's the initial result, which I abruptly cut short because a) it's just an initial draft and b) I was using my crappy laptop which takes ages to render out the .tif sequence and I couldn't wait around.

The great thing about this technique is that you can basically swap out the audio in C4D for any track and get a completely different animation effect thanks to the combination of Dynamics engine and the audio-based animation.

I think you'll agree it's a pretty awesome little effect.

Finally, I took it into After Effects for a bit of colour correction, added some composited elements, vignettes etc.

Be kind, I'm learning...

Video SEO: Simplified

Video SEO: Simplified

According to video SEO experts, Simplified.TV,

Video is the richest, most engaging form of online content. It transmits the most information in the shortest amount of time.

Given a choice, most people prefer to watch a short video over reading a long page of text. With steadily cheaper equipment for production and ever greater bandwidth for delivery, online video content will represent 90% of web data by 2014.

What you probably didn't know is just how powerful video is for great SEO. Now think about , we want to appear high up in Google Search rankings, right?

We know Video SEO is powerful - Videos, properly submitted, are 53 times more likely to generate a first page Google ranking than traditional  SEO techniques, according to a (not so) recent study by Forrester Research.

We know that the powers that be have a vested interest in the success of Video - Google owns Youtube, well, you knew that, right?

My Tip - make sure your videos and the pages on which they reside are indexed and submitted to search engines properly.

You should submit an XML sitemap for both your content permalinks and your videos which are identical (same title tags, descriptions etc.)

It's hard work keeping up to date with the ever changing world of SEO, video SEO, search engine submissions, video hosting. So, if in doubt speak to someone who is doing it - not experts - but people who are learning the lessons the hard way, through experimentation, testing, breaking things and measuring the results.

Creating an Explainer Video: Taking a Shortcut

Time is of the essence, I need something and I need it now.

So one option is to cheat and use a template. There are more and more resources available to use as the basis for your explainer video. Since a good explainer follows a particular model and is made up of a number of components it's safe to assume you could bottle that process, apply a theme and just change the content.

Yes and no.

It's always going to be a compromise. So much of what makes a great explainer is about the personality and the narrative, it's not always possible to take some pre-existing template and have it instil the same message you would get from a custom made fully owned video.

But, you can get something done quick and inexpensively and that's in and of itself, part of the challenge. So here's what I did.

I really like the Envato marketplaces and a particular favourite is the VideoHive site. Predominantly, these are Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4d templates with some stock footage and motion graphics resources. 

There seems to have been a surge in explainer type templates, so worth checking out what's available., but also great for logo stings, openers, video slideshows and lots of others things.

I found a template which fit my style - bright, colourful, clear text placeholders, optional use of screencasts and I also liked the default music which I had to buy separately via AudioJungle.

Here's the video I chose and here's the result.

The key to these templates is that they need to be put together properly and this one was, so it's easy to dig in and change the easy things like colours, logos, text.

I wanted to customise mine  bit further, so I tweaked the timing to kind of fit the voiceover, added additional compositions and effects. This is where hacking away at a pre-existing template starts to get messy - because it flies in the face of best practise. 

1. You're trying to fit the voiceover to the video until that sounds too false, so then reverse engineering the video to fit the butchered audio... and so on...

2. Depending on how the originator structured the compositions, applied effects and used the original assets, it's difficult to manage since you didn't create it, so your knowledge of where everything is maybe counter intuitive.

So, if you're going to use a template, my advice is spend time finding one that's as close as dammit to what you want and avoid over customising. Any customising you do, make sure it's key to what you're trying to get across or because you're having fun practising playing with someone elses project.

Take that understanding and move on to perfecting your own process and make the video of your dreams from scratch, which is what I'm now doing but safe in the knowledge I have a half decent fall back in the meantime which cost me £20 and half a day of buggering about with it (and a lot longer rendering it).

Creating an Explainer Video: Outsourcing to Professional VoiceOver Artists

Because you hate your voice so much, there may be no alternative!

Look, I don't really dislike my voice that much, more objectively, as an amateur, it's more the realisation that I could benefit from some guidance. It just doesn't feel right at this point in time and it's causing me a bit of a mental hurdle from continuing this process. If I'm not confident in the script and less confident in the voiceover, how can I possibly commit to the illustration and animation, which should take the bulk of the time?

So, I came across (thanks to Miguel @ Grumo Media - cheers dude!) - a marketplace for VoiceOver talent. Homepage Homepage

This service is actually very impressive, as it turns out. I think that in some ways, the fact that I'd taken the time to take the process seriously and create a documented project brief (more on that in an upcoming post), I created a free account and posted my requirements on

You can apply all sorts of relevancy filters to your project, such as language and regional variations, styles, like conversational, humourous, friendly (I'm intrigued to know what dark and menacing would sound like) and some other parameters, including budget.

My script is around 1 minute long, and I entered a budget range of $100 - $250, suggested that based on my parameters, I should expect 93 responses. Cool.

Every new project is vetted by and this I think is important in determining what happens next. By ensuring, on behalf of the VO talent, that projects are genuine and reputable, the VO talent is more inclined to actually invest in their response - and this is what really impressed me.

Within 1 hour of the project being approved, I had 20 responses. Within a few hours I had 40 responses.

So, with reference to a couple of paragraphs ago, the investment the respondents make is massively important - the personal message and the REAL recording of YOUR SCRIPT, which you can listen to via the audio player. Some record a small portion, some record the whole thing. To hear your script interpreted and produced in this way is really great and a lot of fun to go through listening to them all.

Some just upload their demo reel, and I have to admit, I just skipped those. The many that had  gone the extra mile had set the bar high, and those who didn't take the time to record at least a bit of the script failed to make the first cut, regardless of their voice. responses list responses list

The bids submitted ranged from $100 up to $350. The responses, even though I selected a non-gender specific bias in the filters, were 99% male. The one female, was really good and also the most expensive, so I'm seeing a correlation here - are there many female VO's out there? if so, maybe there's an opportunity for you....

So, I encourage you to check out, gets my recommendation.

Creating an Explainer Video: Voiceover Recording

Why I hate my own voice and you will hate yours too.

That's just the way it is, you have to be Craig David (who was reportedly pulled over by police and was listening to his own music) not to shudder at the sound of your own voice. So, when deciding to go about recording your script as a voiceover, on a tight budget that doesn't stretch to expensive studio and professional VO artist time, I can really see why people get stuck here.

For the MySpareBrain explainer, of course, I wanted to persevere with the process on my own - warts and all, you might say. So, as a first step at least, I was planning to record my own voice speaking the script I mentioned in my last post.

Once you get into the audio part of the project, you realise that's a whole other world of jargon, tools, technologies, processes, effects and skills. I did some reading and collected some useful resources, which I've added to the Explainer Video Research chart on MySpareBrain.

Ultimately, this was an exercise in getting stuck in and seeing what I could cobble together, what worked, what didn't and frankly, just trying to make the best of it.

I started by recording the voiceover just using my iPhone voice recorder app. It was a method used by Authntk and talked about on their blog. They seemed to a really good job with it, so I thought, why not?

Here's a sample:

Actually, the result was surprisingly OK, considering. The main issue was actually getting the files into a format that I could use easily. By default, the iphone records the audio files into an .m4a format (read more about m4a and MPEG-4 here). I found that to get the files onto my computer without an active iTunes account setup and synced (I'd just got a new PC), the only way is to use the direct sharing options - email or SMS, which is a bit of a pain.

Then, for some reason, I couldn't seem to get Adobe After Effects to import the raw .m4a  files into the Project Panel. I didn't look into it too closely and maybe completely wrong, actually, come to think of it, it may not have even been an After Effects issue, but anyway, the point I want to make is that felt I should convert the files to a different format, so I chose .mp3 - Audio guys please do let me know what I should / could have done via the comments below.

So, I used this very nifty little audio converter app to do that.

When I put this audio into After Effects with a rough cut and placement to the animation, it really wasn't working. If I'm going to cringe at my own voice, I at least want a better quality recording to cringe at.

Since I was going to need to do a fair bit more voice recording, and eventually get over the fear of hearing my own voice, I decided it would be a good idea to invest a little bit in a half decent microphone setup. When I say half decent, that is raising my standards from the £4.99 Argos special that I also had in my armoury (and preferred the iPhone recording results).

After doing some more research, I called the guys at Sound Exposure, who I found had some great reviews. The sales guy there was really helpful and enjoyed chatting about what I was up to. I settled on a Sennheiser E835, a Tascam US-122 MkII Audio Interface, and a Konig and Mayer 23200 desk stand.

It took a little while to get it setup, mainly because the audio interface drivers were a little outdated in their support of operating systems past windows XP. The experience was all a little clunky, but eventually got it working and figured out what th knobs and dials were for on the unit.

So I set about this time, recording in the free open source audio software Audacity.

Now Audacity is actually really easy to use and it's very flexible and quite intuitive. It's not the sexiest looking piece of software, but it's free and it works. The only problem was, I still wasn't happy with the end result. Now, it's most likely that the problem is totally down to me, operator error, but I didn't have time to dig in more thoroughly and figure it out.

Instead, I dug into the Creative Suite a bit further and took a look at Adobe Soundbooth. To get acquainted, again, I did a bit of research for the usual blogs on the why's and wherefore's. I also did this Soundbooth CS4 course on which I thought was very well constructed, sufficiently in depth but not too technical or boring.

Initially, I imported the audio from the Audacity project into Soundbooth and it was OK, I found working with Soundbooth (as a result of the course and my recent surge of interest in other CS applications) really easy - possibly more so than Audacity, since I was already used to many Adobe conventions and UI elements.

The first thing I tried to fix was the persistent hum in the background of the Audacity audio, when played back in Soundbooth and other software, which was the predominant cause for my dissatisfaction with the result. Soundbooth has a toolkit for this, in the Tasks panel, under the "Clean Up Audio" heading. Using the Noise reduction filters, I found that I could reduce it, but I still wasn't happy with the result as the amount I needed to apply started to audibly distort the voice audio.

So I tried a do a direct record, again, using the Sennheiser mic setup, direct into Soundbooth. This cleared up the humming noise completely and I was much more happy with the result (bearing in mind personal prejudices). 

In the course, I learned about compression, reverb, EQ and other effects (of which there are many) and the temptation was to go crazy, but for now, I've decided not to apply anything and keep it as is. The danger is I'll go crazy and completely lose the point of using my voice, which is to be a raw, natural, passionate explanation of what we're upto at MySpareBrain, from the voice of the CEO.

Creating an Explainer Video: The Script part 1

Why no-one wants to write a script - it's harder than it looks.

So, as it turns out, the script is where you should start. Even if you're outsourcing the production to an agency, the script is yours. It's your chance to get your message across in your way - which is very important.

It's strange that you see quite average looking videos (in terms of technical production) that create very compelling and often viral explainers - because the message resonates with the audience perfectly. Often, it's the script and the voiceover (we'll cover that later) which makes the difference.

So, here I am armed with this knowledge and a story to tell - but where the hell to I start in writing a script? In my own style, I try to break it down as to the anatomy of an explainer script, guided by various resources I found online, including this neat little article by Video Brewery and Brad Chmielewski's "Four Questions To Ask When Writing An Explainer Video Script"

Here's what I came up with:


Total - 2 minutes (or as close to as feasible, 1:30 if possible)

[SECTION 1 = Identify Problem]

    [SCENE A - dramatic opener, macro scale problem]

     [SCENE B - reinforce problem with impact on society]

    [SCENE C - relate financially - macro (economy) to micro (individual) scale]

     [SCENE D - reinforce and relate to individual through examples]


[SECTION 2 = Present Solution]

     [SCENE A - Present Product / Brand Name]

     [SCENE B - build credibility of technology / principles]

    [SCENE C - overview of what it does]

     [SCENE D - benefits]

     [SCENE E - reinforce ease of use / low cost]

     [SCENE F - close and refer call to action]


So, I used Google docs to write the script, so I could add to it, edit it wherever I was and had a moment of inspiration or reflection. I could also easily send access to other people (and continue to do so now) to get thoughts and opinions.

I marked up the script with some labels to denote sections, scenes and formatted text to a key of my design to denote some guidance for the voiceover recording stage.

Here's the script as it exists today...

Creating an Explainer Video: Research

Everyone Wants an Explainer Video

This is the first of a series of posts I'm going to do on the subject of creating an explainer video. To kick things off, I want to share with you all of my resources I've collected on the subject, including:

  • Providers of video explainer production services
  • Loads of examples
  • Pricing (where available)
  • My thoughts and notes
  • Freelancers and independant providers
  • Tips and Techniques
Click to load the MySpareBrain viewer, and find the Video Explainer Research Tab to load the chart.

Click to load the MySpareBrain viewer, and find the Video Explainer Research Tab to load the chart.

It has to be said, this is a very interesting area of video production, digital communication, motion graphics, marketing - whatever you want to label it.

The rise of the Explainer Video is quite staggering, and has become necessary for anyone with a technology startup to have in their basic marketing toolkit - for new customers, for potential investors, for prospective employees. But, not just technology, real worldy, traditional companies like builders, accountants, solicitors, hairdressers and estate agents are getting in on the act too.

With a very limited budget, every startup entrepreneur will face similar challenges:

  • How to communicate my complex idea in a simple, entertaining and compelling way?
  • How do I afford to get this actually produced - prices and quality in the marketplace vary hugely?
  • Where do I start? - Script, Music, Sounds, Graphics, Animation, Production, Copy, Effects?
  • How do I know the end product will be what I want?
  • I want a viral video - how do I get that? (ha)

I asked myself all these (sometimes dumb) questions and more, and then decided that it was such an important thing to get right, I repeat

to communicate complex messages in a simple and entertaining way 

I would go ahead and learn to do it myself, since the investment I make in myself would stand me in good stead for the future.

So armed with my relatively new found passion for Adobe After Effects (yes, I'm taking this very seriously), some ideas and a new microphone I'm embarking on a mission, and I hope you'll join me in figuring this stuff out...

Playsongs iOS App Demo

I've been taking my little man to some local parent-child music sessions in our local town. It's run by two very passionate and cheerful ladies who also happen to be quite talented at picking, reproducing and performing playsongs and lullabyes aimed at helping parents and children to engage through music.

Now, here's a great example of the entrepreneur seeing a hidden opportunity. These ladies have great content. They have a local passionate community, fostered over many years. They have created expensive CD's to sell and run sessions, and so are limited to what time they have available.

Their ability to earn is clearly capped with this model. But, with new technology and new content distribution methods, such as native mobile music apps, not only can their music reach more people than they are able to through their sessions, but the product can be far more interactive, engaging, entertaining and cost-effective for the end user.

So, I spent a little time building a prototype of what the iOS could be. Quite interesting really, in that it's simple and also quite technical with http streaming capability for rich media, download and create favourites to custom playlists, custom audio player controls...

Anyway, we'll see... perhaps I can help these ladies and ladies just like them to earn a good living doing something they really care about using methods they may not have considered. If not, at least I'll have the only Playsongs app on my phone for Rudi to play with...

Did You Know

This is another official update to the original "Shift Happens" video. This completely new Fall 2009 version includes facts and stats focusing on the changing media landscape, including convergence...

Mindblowing - keeping the whole thing real.