February 17, 2013
I’ve given two community presentations recently about the history of the Bartlesville Public School District since 1950. In January I was with the Downtown Kiwanis Club and this past week the Arvest Friday Financial Forum, held each Friday at 10 a.m. at the Eastside Branch. You can now view my presentation as an online video.
Making the Video
I put the slides up on the web back in January using Microsoft’s SkyDrive service. Its online PowerPoint tool is actually quite good, although the stupid thing would not play back my slideshow when I saved the PowerPoint file to SkyDrive with fully embedded fonts, saying some were restricted, even though I’d downloaded them all free from the internet. Switching the Tools settings in the PowerPoint Save Dialog Box to only save used characters fixed that issue.
The slideshow is much better with narration, however, so this weekend I decided to invest the significant amount of time needed to add audio narration, background music, and convert the presentation into a video. I had purchased a Plantronics USB headset with microphone last year to record audio narration for the August 2012 bond issue video; using USB for sound recording in Windows is much easier than relying on the old analog line input on the computer.
I was displeased with the sound quality of the built-in sound recorder in PowerPoint, so I used Audacity to record audio narration, saving it as an MP3 file for each slide. That turned out to be a mistake; PowerPoint is not compatible with all of the MP3 format variants. Mind you, all of the MP3 files I created would import into PowerPoint and play within the program itself. It was when I told it to create a video that it balked (after trundling along for a very long time), saying several of them were in an incompatible format. Unclear instructions allowed me to try and convert them within PowerPoint for compatibility, but only some were converted and the remainder were reported as Unsupported.
Aaaaargh! PowerPoint has never handled imported audio and video well. All too often the files will not work at all, or work on one machine but not play on another. Even formats they claim to fully support don’t always work: witness the MP3 issues I encountered. I know there are oodles of video and audio codecs, but for goodness sake you would think PowerPoint could fully support MP3! Thankfully much patience and perseverance usually finds a work-around.
In this case I used the free Boxoft MP3 to WAV converter to rapidly convert the MP3 files into the old uncompressed WAV format which PowerPoint seems to use without fail. (Audacity will save to WAV, but it isn’t good for batch conversions.)
Then I had to delete the audio link for each slide and create a new one. If Microsoft had any intelligence, it would create a wizard that let’s you quickly attach a series of audio files to each slide in a show, pre-set to play automatically and hide the audio icon, and automatically set the time for each slide to match the length of each audio recording. But instead you have to add the audio file to each slide and then use multiple clicks to tell it to play the audio automatically on that slide and hide the audio icon. Then you have to look up the length of the audio file in seconds (I looked at each file in Windows Explorer to see that) and then use more clicks to go to Transitions and set each slide to auto-advance after the appropriate amount of time. It is SO STUPID to make me do this over and over when computers are ideally suited to such mindless automation. Maybe there is some way to automate some of this in PowerPoint, but if so, it is not obvious.
Since each set of slides covered a different decade, I wanted matching background music for each set. I didn’t want to break copyright, plus I run the risk of having my video yanked or its audio cut out if I post a video to YouTube with any copyrighted music. I have repeatedly made vacation videos in iMovie on my MacBook Air and uploaded them, only to have them flagged for copyright violations. Each time I’ve filed an appeal and won it since I was using the music built into iMovie, for which end users are fully licensed. But it is ridiculous to have to go to such lengths.
So I did web searches for “royalty free 50s music” and “public domain 50s music” and the like to find suitable background tunes from the likes of sounddogs.com and freepd.com. Then I used Audacity’s Amplify Effect to take those tracks down 20 to 30 decibels, edit them to the length I needed, and add a Fadeout Effect. I then saved the tracks as WAV files and imported them on the first PowerPoint slide for each decade, setting the audio file to “Play Over Slides” and going into the PowerPoint Animation Pane to tell it to “Start With Previous” so it would play simultaneously with that slide’s narration and then keep playing over the later slides. I also had to tweak the Animation Pane settings for overlay graphics and the like in some slides to ensure that my narration would integrate properly.
Once the whole thing was finished, I told PowerPoint to save it as a video. It trundled for over an hour and I then viewed the result. I made a few tweaks, including splicing in some new audio for one slide using Audacity, and then had it render the video again so I could upload it to YouTube.
The entire process took many hours, but admittedly is simpler than what I did back in 1995 with fellow physics teacher Lynne Shaw, creating a 35 mm slide show (a real slide show with actual slides in a Kodak carousel) with synchronized audiotape narration. Years ago I converted that presentation into PowerPoint and later made it into an online video. But if PowerPoint had a decent narration wizard, that would have saved me several hours of tedium.
I long ago gave up on the execrable Microsoft Word from ever becoming a decent word processor (long live WordPerfect!). And don’t get me started on how stupid Microsoft Excel is about not auto-updating charts to match added spreadsheet data. Now I’m wondering if PowerPoint is ever going to wise up. All of Microsoft’s Office products are both ubiquitous and mediocre. But I am glad that I was finally able to render the presentation in a more accessible and full-fledged format.