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The PowerShot Presentation

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A couple of weeks ago I gave a presentation to the Metropolitan New York Macintosh Alliance (MetroMac) and the Long Island Macintosh Users Group (LIMac). Both went well, the audiences asked great questions, and it was an all around good time. I was particularly amused by the MetroMac method of attracting new supporting members: Anyone could enter the raffle for software, clothing, or some of my books, but you did so knowing that if you won something and weren't already a supporting member, you'd have to join on the spot.


But that's not what I want to tell you about today. Instead, I want to pass on a clever method of giving a presentation in a room full of people without a projector, unexpectedly borne from necessity. As soon as I arrived at the MetroMac meeting, the president, Chris Bastian, told me that he'd been unable to secure a projector for the evening, since someone else in his office had needed it at the last minute for a presentation in Albany. (Chris relayed this news with the slight concern of the native New Yorker that Albany was very far away and probably had horse-powered electrical generators.) There was a TV in the room, but I had no cables to connect it to my iBook. Luckily, the room wasn't all that large, and my slides weren't absolutely essential for the audience, so I resigned myself to not being able to show off the cool things I'd been able to do in Keynote.

A few minutes later though, a guy who worked at NBC came in, and, upon learning we had no projector, announced that if only we'd told him, he could have brought the right cables to connect to the TV. Slightly irked at the implication that any properly prepared geek would have had these cables, I started thinking if there was any way I could use the TV to give my presentation. A few seconds later, I had an idea, but it was such a long shot that I didn't say anything and instead worked secretly through most of the Q&A section of the meeting. Here's what I did.

Hacking a Presentation -- The tools at my disposal were my iBook, my presentation in Keynote and QuickTime formats, Ambrosia's Snapz Pro X screen capture software, my Canon PowerShot S100 digital camera, an Addonics Pocket DigiDrive USB card reader, and a cable for connecting the camera to the RCA video input jack on a TV. I don't normally carry these last two with me to presentations, but since I was also visiting relatives and planning to take pictures, I'd thrown them in the bag before leaving home.

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I knew that I could connect the camera to the TV, and I also knew that I could copy files from the iBook back to the camera's CompactFlash card using the USB card reader (something that's not possible with the normal USB cable that connects the camera to the Mac). I knew I could make JPEG screen shots of each of my slides with Snapz Pro X; the main question was if I could trick the camera into displaying them.

I first tried to start my Keynote presentation and take a screen shot of the entire screen with Snapz Pro X. Bad idea - as soon as I invoked Snapz Pro X, Mac OS X stopped responding to the keyboard and trackpad. Time for a hard restart. For my next attempt, I used the QuickTime movie that I had earlier exported out of Keynote as a backup, and Snapz Pro had no trouble taking screen shots of the QuickTime Player window.

Rather than blithely copy the images to my Compact Flash card, since I knew the camera would ignore files that weren't in the right place or named correctly, I gave my screen shots sequential names using the same format that the camera assigned to its photos. Then I copied the screen shots to the folder on the CompactFlash card that contained the most recent photos. Swapping the card back into the camera, I turned it on and was rewarded by the sight of my screenshots! Zooming out to see nine thumbnails at a time didn't work, as it does with normal photos, but that wasn't important. A few seconds of cable plugging later, and my presentation was showing - in pretty decent quality - on the TV set. Frankly, I was amazed it worked.

The only slight problem was that the camera kept shutting itself off to conserve battery power (I had another battery and a charger with me as well, just in case). I should have turned that setting off, but in the heat of the moment, I didn't think of it, and instead just pushed a button every so often to keep it awake.

If you think you might need to employ this trick at some point, I recommend testing with your camera first, since cameras from other manufacturers may not be so easily fooled. Also make sure you have the appropriate software and hardware as part of your standard travel kit. And although the presentation isn't as impressive as it would be from Keynote via a projector, your audience will be so impressed with your raging geekhood that they won't care.

Keynote Comments -- Although I'm not up for (or probably qualified to do) a full review, I used Keynote for the first time to create this presentation, and overall, I was impressed. I don't create that many presentations, but I've always found myself butting heads with PowerPoint in the past. Keynote proved much more fluid and easy to use, and its automatic guides are absolutely brilliant. When you're positioning an object, Keynote automatically provides a guide set to the center (or the edges) of nearby objects. Occasionally I needed to remind it which other object was important by selecting it, and then going back to the text or graphic I was placing. Keynote's slide-to-slide transitions are gorgeous, and although I had to refer to the slim manual to figure them out, it can also do slick "builds" of objects appearing on and disappearing from a given slide.

I did run into three problems with Keynote. First, since my presentation covered products introduced at Macworld Expo, I used Apple's PR photographs of their new products, since they were much better quality than the images I could pull from the product Web pages. Unfortunately, the PR photographs were huge - 7 or 8 MB each in some cases - and when I copied those into my Keynote presentation, Keynote happily stored the full size image in the bundle it creates for your presentation (Control-click it and choose Show Package Contents to see what's inside). By the end, my presentation was 76 MB. Of course, I could have reduced the size of the images manually, but it would have been nice if Keynote had offered an option to do so for me.

Second, Keynote lacks a text feature I particularly like in PowerPoint. When you're adding bullet points to a text block in PowerPoint, it automatically reduces the font size of the entire text block if that's the only way to make the text fit. Keynote doesn't do that, instead forcing you to fiddle with font sizes manually in those cases where you need just a little more room. I'd encourage Apple to think about the best way Keynote could help the user deal with this extremely common situation.

Third, although its performance was completely fine on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, on my iBook, with its 500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor, Keynote occasionally stuttered and moved slowly when drawing a slide. It's not too surprising, particularly given the size of some of my images, but I'd encourage you to test on the Mac you plan to use for a presentation to avoid unpleasant surprises.

On the whole though, the pair of presentations went extremely well, thanks to Keynote, to the trick I came up with for moving the presentation to my camera, and to both user groups.

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