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Mike Riley

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Using Flip Video's Mino for Programming

July 13, 2008

Every so often a new technology innovation comes along that opens my eyes a bit wider and drops my jaw just enough to allow the word "wow" to pass my lips.  Such moments happen once in a few years.  Seeing Flip Video's Mino in action was one of those moments.

I had heard about the Mino via the usual tech gadget channels but hardly paid much attention to it, looking upon the news as yet another cheap video capture device.  How was this device any different than the cheesy cameras built into countless mobile phones or purposes-built digital cameras that had video recording mode?  It wasn't until I had the chance to actually put the Mino to use did I realize the problem it was solving.  Recording was as simple as turning on the power and pressing the big red button just below the Mino's crisp 1.5" 528x132 resolution LCD.  With such a small candy bar size device, I anticipated the video to be shaky and motion sickness-inducing but it was both actually easier to handle and watch compared to other, larger video cameras I have shot with in the past.  And best of all, the Mino was built for today's digital video generation.  

Demonstrating these features for family, friends and co-workers elicit a mildly excited "that's cool" response, but the real surprise comes when I press the release that pops up the Mino's USB plug that eliminates the snaring wires often associated with digital still and motion cameras alike.  After explaining that the Mino mounts as a USB drive that can charge its internal battery while the recorded 30 fps, 4 Mbps bitrate MPEG-4 Xvid AVI formatted files are copied from its 2 GB storage capable of holding an hour of video, that's when the "Wow" hits them too.  Even more impressive is the fact that plugging this USB connector into a Windows, OSX or Linux system yields the same results - a mounted removable drive on the desktop containing the AVI files that can be easily copied to the computer's storage system.

Remarkably, the Mino provides a camera mount at its base.  Combined with a tripod base like a Gorillapod, the camera can be literally mounted on any surface that the Gorillapod can cling to and record away.  Cubicle walls, desks, even hats can provide a base of operations for the Mino to indelibly capture the moment.

So besides the obvious consumer uses for this amazing, lightweight and most importantly, inexpensive portable device, two other immediate coding best practice opportunities sprang to mind.  The first was an opportunity to use it to record peer programming and user acceptance testing sessions.  While the screen is being recorded by the various screencast solutions, the Mino can be recording the participants.  After attaching to Mino to the top of a monitor where the code resided, I recorded the user's reactions while they navigated the application.  Marrying the two of these captures using any non-linear video editing program, employing either via cut scenes or picture-in-picture, the final presentation was considerably more effective.  Additionally, this configuration can be used for more requirements capture when audio or written documentation isn't comprehensive enough, as well as to produce engaging educational screencasts using the same capture techniques.

Finally, the various opportunities I have to conduct interviews at live technical conferences has just been made much easier thanks to the Mino.  In fact, since the product is less than $200US, purchasing two or three of them and positioning them in the classic three camera interview arrangement and compiling the files in post-production via a Non-Linear Editor (NLE) like the open source Kino I wrote about in this Dr Dobbs Journal article is thousands of dollars cheaper than the closest alternatives.  Thanks to products like the Mino, many more programming-related commercial presentations, screencasts, product evaluation and reviews, video podcasts, user requirements capture and testing highlights, historical and shared paired programming reviews and interviews will become more ubiquitous.

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