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Check out Jeanne's new eBook
A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter

available at Amazon and at Google Play Books (available at $1.99 through January 15, 2018)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter revisited: The Official Announcement!

Season’s Greetings, everyone! 

In case you didn’t know (and why would you), an old post of mine entitled "A Furniture Refinisher’s Newsletter" is my most popular post on this blog. Well, at least by the numbers. I don't know if anyone actually reads it. But let me tell you a little bit about it nonetheless. This post actually had a previous existence: it used to be a scrolling news page (entitled "On the Road") at our business website Second Looks Refinishing and Antiques. In that incarnation the page informed prospective customers of items we had for sale as well as upcoming flea markets and antique shows. Since I never deleted anything (just kept adding stuff to the top), it accumulated quite a bit of history. Well, in 2009 we scaled down our business (we kept the refinishing and dropped the antiques). I moved the news page to this blog, thinking to update it with Ben’s occasional refinishing activities, never dreaming so many people would find it. As I already said, I had no idea why. Nobody ever left a comment. Were people just landing on it by accident on their way somewhere else? So I asked Google that question and subsequently discovered that people's favorite search terms seemed to include words like  “Victorian” and “Eastlake” and “chifforobe” in their searches.

Ah, so they were wanting information on specific pieces of furniture from specific eras. Ok. Drum roll please ...

For those people (and anyone else), here’s the good news: my old post A Furniture Refinisher’s Newsletter is now fully fleshed out and has a third incarnation as an ebook! You can find the ebook both at Amazon and at Google Play Store.
In my mind's "ear," I can hear my readers asking, "Yes, but is this book really for me"?

That’s a very good question, one I asked myself often over the two-year span of writing this book. Who was my audience?

I can tell you this: this version is a light-hearted peek into our years in the business through the lens of a marketing tool I developed on our business website – a scrolling newsletter. Through reading our ads and little stories you learn how we got involved and grew our sideline furniture refinishing business. The book has lots of photos.  Practical observations as well as advice from “lived” experience are lightly sprinkled throughout the narrative. Here's an additional guide for prospective buyers:
  • You don’t necessarily have to buy anything to enjoy visiting antique malls, flea-markets, and garage sales. You just love doing it. Paging through this book would sort of replicate that experience for you right at home in your easy chair.
  • You are a do-it-yourselfer. You would like to refinish a piece of furniture. You’ve never done that before. You don’t know if you even can. Or if you even should. You look at the piece’s current condition and wonder if it’s even possible. While this book doesn’t fall in to the expert how-to category, it does have tips and advice and can show you some dramatic transformations. It can show you what’s possible.
  • You have that entrepreneurial spirit, and your passion is “old stuff.” You’re sort of flying by the seat of your pants at this point. Well, you can learn a little about what to do and what not to do in this ebook by critically evaluating someone else’s experience-ours.
  • You are simply looking for that one piece of information or advice; finding it is worth the price of this small ebook. 😊

If you recognize yourself (or someone you know) in  any of the descriptions above, this book may be for you.

Well, there you have it. A Furniture Refinisher’s Newsletter (the eBOOK) is available for the Amazon Kindle at Amazon and is on Google Play Books (and Google gives a more detailed preview). I'm working on versions for Barnes and Noble's Nook and Apple’s iBook store (so stay tuned).

A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter available for the Amazon Kindle and on Google Play Books

Cheers and best wishes for the holiday season!


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

So, you want to write an ebook ...

A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter

Check out a preview of our new ebook at Amazon or at Google Play Books!

Greetings again to my readers!

This post continues the story started in the previous post. First let me recap briefly. I have spent almost two years writing an ebook about our former furniture refinishing and antiques business. That book A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter is finally finished and available for purchase at Amazon and at Google Play Books. But even though I'm finished (finally!), it turns out I'm not; I find that the contented albeit often lonely experience of writing this ebook has left me with a lot to share and talk about! So let's talk shop! Who among you, my readers, is currently contemplating writing an ebook? If you are, then I hope this post provides some helpful sign-posts along your journey.

What I shared in the previous post is just one of the hurdles I encountered in my ebook-writing adventure. And that hurdle was more about the technical aspects of promoting your book on your own website than it was about creation. So ...  here's the rest of the story.

Monday, December 04, 2017

That darn viewport statement!

Click here to preview my book at Amazon or at Google Play Books!

Well, it's finally time to roll out the blog and social media announcements for my ebook A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter just in time for the Christmas season, yay! When writing the book, I compared our 20-year ventures into the antiques and refinishing business to a journey ... and subsequently discovered the same comparison held for writing an ebook! Writing an ebook was a very looong and sometimes tedious process. It started in earnest in Jan 2016 during winter's rest. Back then I hoped the book would be finished before growing season; instead it was (finally!) finished in Dec of 2017, amidst all life's interruptions big and small. And I learned enough on the way to post about writing ebooks for some time to come!

So last week I submitted the final version of A Furniture Refinisher's Newsletter and created my Amazon Author's Page. This week I have "successfully" updated all my various websites - blog, Second Looks Furniture Refinishing, photography, portfolio, and writing sites - with information about the book and where to get it. Now is the time to craft posts for this blog and my Second Looks Facebook page to help me roll out The Big Announcement on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-in (and also to do promotional pricing on my ebook at Amazon for this Christmas Season; and maybe even pay for some boosting on Facebook).

But waking up this Monday morning all I can think of is "that darn viewport"! In the process of updating my websites I had to reacquaint with HTML and CSS (mark-up languages for creating web pages). Hadn't touched any of it in so long! It started coming back to me, but not all at once, the trick being to leave yourself a breadcrumb trail, especially in how you originally conceived and designed your web pages. Like most things, I was hoping that putting news of the book on my webpages would be easy (you know, just stick it in).

But no, of course not.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Design Implications for Online Training Videos - Lessons from the field

Some time ago I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post entitled How to Monetize Your Job Interviews. It told the story of an interview I had a few years ago that took on a life of its own. This interview, which was with an instructional-design firm, required me over the course of a weekend to complete and submit instructional design plans on how to insert a drill-bit into a cordless drill. The interviewer sent me the design specifications via email. I diligently completed the required components of the design. Then (geek that I am) I added on a short video which I uploaded to YouTube (I guess as an example of leveraging existing technology and resources to reach the intended audience at any time on any platform). The video itself was very quick and dirty and also extremely short (1:06 minutes in length). I did not have a cordless drill nor did I know how to operate one; so I got my husband Ben to show me on his corded drill. The video had no sound, instead focusing on my hands and their actions Charlie-Chaplin style. I submitted my documents and the YouTube URL to my interviewers via email and waited for a reply. The position, alas, did not materialize so I continued my job search, completely forgetting about the video I'd left on YouTube - until a year or so later, that is, when I received an email notification that a viewer had commented on my video. I went to the YouTube site to read the comment and to my astonishment saw that my little video had around 16,000 hits!

To make a long story short, today the video stands at 153,745 views with 57 comments (mostly thank-you's), 183 likes, and 44 dislikes. While people seem to have definite opinions about this video, I'm still amazed that anybody has even taken the time to watch it, let alone to leave a comment or press a "like" or "dislike" button. In 2014 I monetized the video, Since then it has earned me around $260.00 in income - and counting (which won't put me in the millionaire class anytime soon, but hey, every little bit helps - especially on a retiree's income). ;)

Since I am now happily (and lazily) retired, the rigors of serious scholarship elude me; however, after reviewing these latest statistics from YouTube, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the question "Just what IS it about this video?"

I do believe there are some design implications in this little story: not only for those who provide just-in-time training for employees but also for those who compete for the attention of "on-demand" learners (e.g. for Photoshop tutorials). What in the world has made 154,000 people (and counting) choose to watch a crude video (with no sound) on how to insert a drill bit into a cordless drill?

Well, I have a few thoughts on that:
  • the video is brief- in fact you don't even have to watch all of it, you can probably get the gist in twenty-four seconds and be on your way. Not only does this brevity respect people's time, it is also great for slow-bandwidth connections. Also this video is short enough to retain most of it in memory (and even if someone needs to refresh their memory, a one-minute video is relatively painless to "rewind" and watch again).
  • the video is silent - there's no language to process and, for international audiences, no language barrier to overcome.
  • the video focuses exclusively on the hands and what they are doing - you never see a complete shot of a person or a shot of a talking head. Reflecting back on my own experience, I often find the presence of these in a video to be an annoying distraction, an unneeded "layer" that inserts itself between the learner and the business at hand.

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of what I would call little "speed videos" on Facebook. They quickly show how to do relatively simple tasks such as fold socks or prepare a recipe or create a craft or even braid hair in exotic ways. These very short videos are often well orchestrated and thought out - they look professional and they get tens of thousands of hits on Facebook. Additionally, they share the following characteristics: the camera focuses exclusively on a close-up on the hands and what they are doing; not only are the videos mostly under a minute in length, they take advantage of video technology's ability to time-lapse and to speed up; no one speaks in these videos although many  of them provide background music; printed language processing is held to a minimum with an occasional caption or arrow super-imposed in a strategic position; and animation is used to varying degrees. You could say they sometimes use media within media. These little videos are reminiscent of the silent movie techniques used in the 1920's. Like other viewers, I find myself willingly watching and re-watching these videos to try out "what-ever-it-is." They are fun to watch and intrinsically motivating. Following are some examples of how these videos are done:

How to Make Apple-Pie Cookies (by Tip-Hero)

length: 1:04 minutes

Some of the design choices in Tip-Hero's video below can be effective in "talking" videos that teach more complex tasks. Following the recommendations from a graphics-design class that I took at our community college a few years ago, I find myself often searching for tutorials on how to do stuff in Photoshop. While I prefer good illustrated, text-based tutorials to slow-streaming and often meandering videos, I will watch video-based instruction that is short (around seven minutes in length), easy to follow, and well thought out. An excellent example is Marty at Blue Lightening TV. His videos focus exclusively on the computer screen. They are extremely succinct; every single action on the screen is purposeful and intentional. To aid the viewer in following along with his voice, he strategically super-imposes captions and animation such as circling or underlining. Often his videos are time-lapsed and speeded up in certain sections; even though his videos are short, he thoughtfully includes more helpful information than many longer ones I've watched! I just love his work! Here's a example of one of his short tutorials:

The Best Way to Colorize a Black and White Photo

length: 7 minutes

Recently I have even seen some of these concepts extended to (short) online newscasts! Check out this video on the current presidential campaign from Aljazeera America's online channel AJ+. Interesting multimedia reporting techniques - a mix of media within media!

Does the DNC Hate Bernie?

length: 3:05 minutes

As far as training and informational videos there are techniques and then there are techniques. We could learn a lot from the little "speed videos" above. Although they are deceptively short and to the point, a lot of work and thoughtfulness has been put into their preparation. They are respectful of people's time; they are fun to watch; and they are extremely easy to understand and follow. Speaking from my own anecdotal experience only, I judge them to be extremely effective. And if I'm "late to the party" with this post, then I'd just like to contribute this testimonial to the growing body of evidence. ;)


A few more examples of speed videos from Facebook:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stories from the Farm - The Jacksons' Barn

View from the parlor window when we first moved in (2005)
I've entered 2016 with a series of three posts relating to the joys and pains of prairie winters and living in old farmhouses. To go along with the photography theme of this blog, I included several photos, mostly winter scenes of seasonal birds and lovely sunrises and sunsets. Now before I "lay down my pen," I want to tie off a common thread that runs through these previous posts. In a couple of them I keep mentioning the view of our neighbors' pole barn across the field and against the horizon. Truth is, I have particularly enjoyed this scene ever since we moved here ten years ago. It is nicely framed by our parlor window and by the window over my kitchen sink. It changes with the seasons and looks spectacular at sunrise. I also enjoy it whenever I'm out in the yard.

So to wrap up this January 2016 series, following are glimpses of the Jacksons' barn in different seasons:

Over the rainbow (March 2011)

Spring daffodils (March 2012)

Beyond the lilacs (April 2012)

Cloud drama at sunset (May 2012)

Nimbus clouds (June 2010)

Part of the pleasure of seeing the Jackson's barn is that it brings to mind our neighbors of many years, Ray and Sharon Jackson. Here's a closer view of the barn at Ray and Sharon's 85th and 80th backyard birthday celebration (2013).
In an interesting side note, our neighbor Ray Jackson (and his brother Dale who lives further down the road on 700 S) grew up in the farmhouse where Ben and I now live - back in the 1930's and '40s when it was a working farm, complete with acreage! Oh, the stories they can tell - like waking up in the morning in the upstairs bedroom with snow on their blankets and how the old farmhouse used to look and where the old barn stood. Ray's wife Sharon can chime right in with tales of the days she and Ray were courting and she would visit this house. Ray and Sharon are engaging story-tellers! (And of course a complete history of our old farmhouse would also need to include our good neighbors the Ricks's who also grew up on and farmed this property after the Jacksons.)

In closing I thought it would be fun to collage some of the photos I've included in this January series of posts so that my readers can compare and contrast the view of the Jackson's barn through the different seasons. :)

Through the seasons and through the years (2006 - 2012)  - collage done with the Atlantas App for Windows 8 and Windows 10

And now that I'm hopefully done with this series, it's time to look toward spring. It may still be January, but the days are definitely getting longer!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Prairie Light

Here comes the sun  (encroaching sunrise, November 2015).

Dear Readers,

Isn't it surprising how the plainest of statements and the briefest of moments can make a lasting impression on our lives? The longer we live, the more meaning some memories take on, becoming the permanent mile-markers or snap-shots in time that continue to shed light on our journey. Truth is, any seemingly inconsequential encounter can inadvertently plant a seed, open our minds to new possibilities, introduce us to something new (usually something that's right under our noses), enhance our powers of observation, or make us more aware of what's around us ... what's in us ... and what's been given to us. For instance, sometime last year I read advice from a photographer who wrote that instead of focusing on objects, we should instead focus on taking pictures of the light, e.g. choosing the camera settings that will best capture the light in the frame rather than the objects.

The lighting effect in this photo looking out from the front stoop of our old farmhouse is due to the time of day (sunrise) and atmospheric conditions of frozen fog or hoar-frost (note how it  covers the tree branches, February 2010).
That comment stuck with me (and if I ever find that link again, I'll share it). I guess one way I come close to doing that is when I take pictures of subjects that are more ethereal to begin with such as clouds, sky, and mist. Such subjects are (usually) far away and less defined; since they are not "solid," they can be challenging for automatic cameras (and everyday photographers, like me) to meter and focus on correctly to bring out their magic. This is especially true in low-light conditions which are when these subjects tend to be at their most dramatic, e.g. dawn and dusk (or as photographers tend to say, the golden hour and the blue hour).

November sunset behind our garage (2015)
In our little corner of the prairie, we get some absolutely glorious sunrises and sunsets. These are especially evident during the late fall and winter months, from November through March. It's taken me a while to realize why that is. During the long days the sun's daily trajectory moves way north on our horizon, starting behind our neighbors' grove of trees in the east and ending behind our outbuildings in the west. While billowing summer skies make spectacular subjects, sunrises and sunsets tend to be problematic because there is no unobstructed view of those points on the horizon. Any pictures of summer sunrises or sunsets tend to be "flanked" by buildings, hidden by trees, and obstructed by telephone poles and cell towers. That's not to say you can't sometimes get a good shot especially if the trees act as a light filter or the silhouette of their branches and leaves gracefully frame the composition.

One of my all-time favorites - the sun rising behind the Jacksons' barn (December 2007)
During the short days the sun's trajectory moves far south on our horizon, starting on the open prairie behind the neighbors' barn and ending behind our horse pasture. Simply put, the sunrise and sunset are much more visible during late fall and winter in our neck of the woods. Amazing that it's taken me ten years of living here to finally reach that conclusion, lol! Anyway, during winter when nature's sounds and colors fade away, don't forget to look upward! :)

Following are some scenes of the the winter prairie that I hope you will enjoy.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Stories from the Farm - Over My Kitchen Sink

Last spring I posted an article On Armchair Photography and Other Vantage Points. At that time the magnolia tree in the back yard was still blooming and I could admire it from a rocking chair that sits by a window in the old summer kitchen (which has long served as anything but that, including a work-room, sun-room, guest room, office, and on occasion a one-room apartment).
A cleome seems to peek in at my kitchen sink clutter (2013)

A hummingbird enjoys a drink from the feeder right outside the window (2006)

View of Jacksons' barn after harvest 2005 (one of my first photos of this vista)

Today I want to talk about a different vantage point, the view from over my kitchen sink (same room designation, different room). Whereas the summer kitchen looks out from the back of the house in three directions (southeast, west, and north), my kitchen sink window looks out toward the front of the house (due east). This unassuming little window has surprised me with  many beautiful views through the seasons. A flower bed with two magnolia bushes wraps around this corner of the kitchen. Beyond it the front yard stretches out to the drive way which curves gracefully in from the road welcoming any visitors. Across the road which is bordered by a field the Jackson's red barn stands out against a wide prairie sky in the distance. So in early spring I enjoy the delicate, glowing magnolia blooms and the colorful spring bulbs in the flower bed; in the summer it's the cleomes and the susans that reach clear up to the window sill, the Queen Anne's lace growing across the road, and the hummingbirds that frequent the feeders; and in the fall it's the view of the Jackson's barn after the corn has been harvested.
A pair of Christmas Cardinals adorn my snow-covered magnolia bush (2007).

But in the winter, it's the beautiful sunrises and the winter birds.

The people who owned this old farmhouse for many years must have loved birds. For many years when Ben and I rode our bikes past this place, there was a purple martin house on a tall pole in the front yard. When we purchased the property in 2005 the purple martin house was gone but we inherited several little bird houses hanging in trees. The flower beds and bushes around the old house with its modern picture windows seemed designed to draw in the birds for all to see. For instance the winter birds shelter themselves from the wind and sun themselves on the bare magnolia-bush branches just outside the kitchen sink window. For that reason I have gotten into the habit of taking out the screen during the cold weather months for a better view - and for the occasional photo opportunity.

So let me introduce you to some more of our fine feathered friends: