Archive for September, 2012

Innocents Abroad

September 13th, 2012 4 comments

People have been asking me for years when I’m going to be speaking near [insert name of country in Europe here].

I’m basically a stay-at-home kind of guy, so my answer has always been some variant of  “One of these days. Hopefully. Maybe.”

Next week, it’s actually going to happen.

On Thursday (20 Sept.) thanks to the good folks running the From The Front 2012 conference, I’ll be teaching my day-long “learn how to do your own usability testing” workshop in Bologna, Italy. Details and registration are at and the first five people using the discount code “rocketsurgery” can save 20% on workshop registration.

I’m also giving the opening keynote at the conference on Friday (21 Sept.), and the code “skrug” will give the first five users 20% off on conference registration. It’s a full day of really good speakers in a fabulous XVII Century theater.

Both events will be conducted in English, with opt-in simultaneous translation available for the conference.

(BTW, I’m as puzzled by the pirate motif of the conference site as you are. Don’t worry about it. The producers are really nice, smart people. I just figure it’s a cultural thing.)

My new favorite tool

September 11th, 2012 11 comments

I don’t know about you, but even though I enjoy watching some videos online, I almost always find them to be   t o o    s   l   o   w.

I don’t mind if a film noir from the 40’s drags when I’m watching it on TV; that’s part of the fun. But most webinars (frankly), and even things like TED talks (although I know it’s heresy to say it aloud) can seem to go on forever.

And as soon as my attention starts to wander, I start kidding myself that I can actually multitask, which amounts to a) opening up my inbox and working through some of the email languishing there while I half-listen, and b) gradually losing the thread of what the speaker is saying, which makes it seem even more boring. Eventually, I just close the video.

One problem is the inherent difference between print and video: You can skim print. In fact, we do it all the time. We’re constantly adjusting our pace, all the way from “just glancing at the headings” to “rereading the same sentence until we finally understand it”, with dozens of gradations in between. This flexibility lets us skip over (or at least breeze through) the parts that just aren’t of much interest or value to us.

Granted, the system isn’t perfect. We’re not always the best judges of what we need to pay attention to. And it can often lead to skipping over the harder stuff (the parts we don’t understand), which may be exactly what we do need to read carefully. But for the most part, it’s very effective and efficient. (Personally, I instantly skim past any description of a landscape in a novel. I can’t picture them well in my head, so they add nothing to the experience. If I couldn’t skip them, there are many books I’m sure I wouldn’t have read.)

Which brings me to my tool tip.

Many years ago (perhaps 20), I sometimes found myself watching videos of usability tests that someone else had conducted. As much as I love usability testing, watching a batch of prerecorded tests can be, quite honestly, like watching paint dry. The first few can be fascinating, but after that….

So I went looking and found myself a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder, for those of you under 25) that had variable speed playback WITH AUDIO. Almost every VCR could vary the playback speed somewhat, but 99 percent of them muted the audiowhen you did it. This one played the audio and  adjusted the pitch proportionally so you didn’t get the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” effect.

A few years ago, while again watching some usability test recordings online, I started hankering for the same functionality. In fact, I suggested to the folks at that they add it as a feature. (I had suggested it to some other vendors in the past, but they just nodded their heads and pretended to be making a note about it.) I figured by now somebody must have solved the problem, so I went looking around online, and sure enough, I found just what I wanted.

It’s a tool called MySpeed from

For $29.99 (Windows or Mac), you can use it to speed up or slow down online Flash and HTML5 (FLV and MV4) video. (There’s also a premium version that works with offline files, but it costs more.)

My experience: There’s hardly any informational video that can’t be improved by watching it at 1.4x normal speed. And many can be watched happily at 2x, depending on the content and the speaker’s style. And if you miss anything, you can easily rewind a little and switch (with hotkeys) to normal speed. It can be very satisfying to watch a video in half the time.

There are some caveats, of course: Some sites, like, stream video just fast enough to be played at normal speed, so if you play it faster it will keep pausing to refill the buffer. But Enounce has a free trial version. Check it out. Or let me know if you know of a better one.

BTW, did recently implement it as a feature for the benefit of people watching test videos, and they did a very nice job of it.

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