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A Project Management Poem

'Twas a week before deadline,
And all through the office,
Desk jockeys are working,
To add that last bit of polish.

Whiteboards are filled to the edges with tasks,
And hard drives are spinning fast.
From office to office computers are buzzing,
The i7 and quad core renders are mind numbing.

With K-cups dripping and snack products stocked,
The workflow is humming and may never stop.
But as time ticks past like blank discs from a spindle,
Day after day the punch list will dwindle.

A hundred and fifty mpeg2 files await,
On a hard drive destined for arrivals late.
All will be sent like the end of a race,
And projected on screens around McCormick Place.

Some videos arrived on the formats requested,
But a few were in flavors not even suggested.
Come DIVX, and Quicktime and h-264,
1080, 720 and soon many more.

But in the end the flavor matters not,
For a video is a video and it's all about plot.

The pallet it fills with boxes and crates,
New products are shipping and books that we make,
Are due from the printer in time for the truck,
To take our dear cargo on the road with some luck,
When arrived in Chicago our goods will be waiting,
For 5 days of sales, promotion and celebrating.

Yes, it is time for our annual surgical convention. Most important of all is great teamwork that makes everything come together like poetry.

Thanks for rhyming.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 25, 2009 at 12:05:26 pm poetry, teamwork

Shortcuts

It has been well-established that multi-tasking is bad news. However, in the regular course of day to day computer activities, it is necessary to have multiple applications running. Shortcuts to apps and documents are a great time saver. Sure, this is a very basic concept, one that has been in Windows since the beginning, and even back to DOS if you think of the BAT file, but still worth mentioning as a workflow improvement.

This is where the Windows Quick Launch toolbar comes into play. This is by no means a new feature, but I find that the ability to have instant push button access to frequently used tools saves seconds at a time - and those seconds add up. Maybe I have gotten a bit carried away, as the task bar keeps growing.

Whenever I think of a shortcut, I think of those great Family Circus cartoons from the Sunday Funnies, where Billy takes a circuitous route around the neighborhood when he is called inside for dinner.



Trying to find something in Windows can have the same feeling.

So here is my laptop quick launch toolbar, with explanations to follow:


(click image to enlarge)

1 - Desktop - this is obvious - sometimes you have so many windows open you either need to clear your plate (clear your mind) or find something on the desktop, without opening yet another window. You can always hit Windows-D.

2 - Internet Explorer. The only time I use this is when checking a new website or update to make sure it is compatible. Occasionally javascript behaves differently in IE. And some client websites only work in IE. Thankfully, Netflix streaming movies now work in Firefox. Oddly it took the adoption of Microsoft SIlverlight to make a non-Microsoft browser compatible.

3 - Word - this is obvious and perhaps the most used feature on a computer.

4 - Excel - another frequent flyer. What better way to track assets, timelines or money.

5 - Nero Quick start. While I generally only use Nero to burn a DVD ISO, occasionally a regular data backup fits the bill.

6 - My Documents. I make sure to use the same icon on all computers, so I always know where My Docs can be accessed.

7 - Photoshop - easy access

8 - In-Box - I like the movie screen icon, reminds me of viewing home movies in Grandpa's living room. I keep a shared read/write In-Box on my computer. This is where my colleagues place WMV or FLV files of edit versions for review. This folder tends to fill up fast, so periodic clean-ups and backups are in order.

9 - Video Inspector. A handy little free app that tries to identify the details of codecs in video files. Sometimes it does not identify the codec but it does tell you the audio sample rate, which can sometimes be the culprit if a video does not play back in Premiere.

10 - Firefox. I'm using it now.

11 - Audacity. Not the best audio editor, but for recording a quick pickup for a temp narration track or a simple cut or paste edit, it works. And it's free.

12 - FileZilla. While Fire FTP is a plug-in for Firefox, I have had better happiness with FileZilla for FTP transfers. We do a lot of FTP transfers, even within the office, but often around the country and the world. Still waiting on the FTP login for the Hubble.

13 - My Computer - a quick way to get a bird's eye view of everything. Windows+E does it too.

14 - Calculator. Windows has this normally buried in the accessories folder - most inconvenient. While I can do many normal functions in me head, thanks to many happy Tuesdays watching Danica McKellar on tv - a calculator is much easier.

15 - Adobe Encore.

16 - Pigdin. We don't use IM too much anymore, aside from the occasional Skype chat, but this is a AOL-free way of accessing any of the popular IM services. Meebo.com is even better.

17 - Premiere.

18 - Sorenson Squeeze. Since I use Premiere CS3 on my laptop, Squeeze is necessary for any batch encoding. It is also a fast way to make an MP3 file, since Premiere CS3 does not offer MP3 export. Back in the early 2000's we used Sorenson 3 QT files for all multimedia projects.

19 - Slip art and DVD labels - this is a shortcut to a file server. Every new pice of artwork for a package design goes in there for safe keeping and access from anywhere on the network.

20 - In-Box on a colleague's computer - same purpose as described above.

21 - CD Label software. On the odd occasion when we have a free CD label printer floating around the office, it is handy to be able to use.

22 - I found a set of Star Wars icons, which help to differentiate apps from docs in a fun way. This Jawa links to an Excel file that tracks assets for an ongoing project.

23 - This FX7 Medical Droid links to an online video library.

24 - Finally, Cloud City goes to our home page.

25 - This next icon is for some piece of software I don't use, and I think I'll delete that right now!

26 - This bull's eye is the icon from the CD currently in the computer. Normally it is, in fact, a CD icon.

27 - Network Places.

28 - Links to my other computer.

29 - Links to a colleague's computer.

30 - Nero Burning ROM - this goes right to the dialog to burn a ISO file to a DVD. Very handy for Encore DVD projects.

31 - This Word doc icon links to...a Word doc that I refer to a lot. Sure I could print it out, but it is updated regularly.

32 - This Excel icon links to...oh you know.

33 - Another frequently used and updated document.

34 - Flash Media encoder. This came before Media Encoder CS4 - batch encoding for FLV files only. Handy for works in progress.

35 - Hmm, a repeat of the previous icon like this. Better delete it.

36 - Link to the In Box on my editing computer.

37 - Link to the normal CD printing computer.

38 - Thunderbird for e-mail.

39 - Outbox on another computer - like an inbox but for files to retrieve.

40 - MPEG Streamclip. A handy little utility for playback and conversion of odd video files.

41 - You guessed it.

41 - Mobi Pocket Reader - a reader for E-Books. Some free, some not.

42 + 43 - Two more computers on the network - these should be changed to unique icons - darth vader and princess leia ought to do the trick.

44 + 45 - two more frequently used doc.

On all of these, the mouse-over tells you what it is. The unique icons, especially the ones with meaningful..er..meanings - visual mnemonics if you will - are easy to click without waiting.

And that is what this effort is all about - reducing the extra little fragments of time spent waiting, looking or trying to remember where you put things.

In other words, increasing efficiency.

Thanks for reading. Gotta go update my Jawa.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 19, 2009 at 11:00:27 am workflow, windows, efficiency

The Other Mike Cohen

In other words, this is a blog where I talk about nothing to do with Media Production or Project Management. But maybe there are still some business and/or creative lessons to be inferred from what I do to unwind...

You see, a few weeks ago, my wife reminded me that I had not taken a vacation yet in 2009. So I did what all husbands should do..I listened to my wife and took the week off.

Business lesson 1: Listen to those you care about, as they likely care about you too.

I set out an ambitious agenda for myself. I need some structure and I bore easily. On most vacations I get what my Dad calls "schpulkes." My wife knows this too, so on day one of my vacation when I declared "I've sat around the house for 3 hours. Not that I don't like hanging out with you, but I'm going to the movies. Is that ok?" Of course.

Business lesson 2: Ask permission even when you know the answer. In other words, show common courtesy and don't get complacent.


I went to my local multiplex, approx. 2 miles from home, to see District 9. Holy COW, what an amazing accomplishment. So many sci-fi movies have tried to have action and a good story and failed. This one succeeded on all levels and was made on a shoestring. I wouldn't mind shooting a sci-fi movie on the same shoestring budget, by the way. Peter Jackson, I am waiting for your call.

Business lesson 3: Appreciate the work of others and find inspiration.

Speaking of shooting my own sci-fi film, I am on about page 20 of the first draft of a short film I hope to shoot next Summer. That ought to be good for a dozen or so blog posts!

Business lesson 4: Always be thinking of the next big thing.

So that was Saturday.

Sunday was garage cleanup day. Living in a 2 bedroom townhouse style condo, my basement is especially small, so the one-car garage holds the overflow. Generally I only garage my car between Nov and April. In the intervening months it goes to seed. I should have taken before and after pictures, but after about 4 hours I had dismantled a few shelving units, disposed of numerous dead rodents and organized my collection of digging, cutting and chopping implements. Still to sort our is the back half of the garage. Something tells me those cherished notebooks from 9th grade geometry are not as interesting to look at as I remember.

The result, so far, is not too bad.



Business lesson 5: Stay organized. Cut the clutter.

Monday, Labor Day.


Went for a brief bike ride, just around my condo complex. One thing I did not do well this Summer was stay in physical shape. Well, no time like the present to get back on the horse. My wife and I devised a new diet for ourselves, better managing our calorie, carb, fat and protein intake per day based upon recommendations for our target weights and activity levels. Like any project, I setup an Excel spreadsheet to automatically tally the numbers. Day 1, fish. Day 2, chicken. Day 3, beef. Rinse and repeat.

Business lesson 6: Manage your data and use this data to help you meet your goals. Also, take care of your self physically.

Tuesday, Budget Day.

Over the past 8 months, my wife and I have seriously revised how we keep our books. For a while, in order to track our expenses, we entered into Excel not just every receipt from every purchase, but each item purchased. I can tell you exactly how much we spent on fresh raspberries, red wine or DVD rentals. From this data we determined where the waste lives and managed to revise our monthly budget accordingly.

With the budget under control, we then created a spreadsheet listing all monthly expenses for a three month period, and then copied and pasted an average month out three years to project our cashflow for the near future. Such a document allows us to anticipate home improvements, vacations, debt to income ratio, major purchases and reserves.

Business lesson 7: Know where you stand and where you are going, and keep good records.

Wednesday, with many of the goals for the week wrapped up, I truly took the day off. I watched another 5 episodes of Lost Season 2. Just when I had given up on the crazy storyline it got interesting again. I will admit to fast forwarding through some of the flashbacks. We also watched a couple of movie DVDs. Crank 2...forgettable unfortunately. A few gratuitous fight scenes but not one of Statham's better action movies. Most interesting is the fact that this film was shot on HDV. And the film made clever use of text supers and music, almost like a comic book.

We also finished season 2 of the BBC series Skins - a show about the outrageous social lives of a group of college kids in Bristol, UK. Lots of partial nudity and drug use, perfect for teen audiences! Seriously, all of the characters have some family or personal breakdown and the young actors all do a great job. Season 3 has a new cast and is, alas, not as interesting, and highly edited for American tv - not good BBC.

Business lesson 8: Have fun. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Thursday - A Fine Day Out!

Today we took a ride along Connecticut's shoreline, from New Haven to Old Saybrook. We stopped at a bead shop so my wife could stock up on some supplies for a few projects. Next we found a gourmet grocery store/farm stand and had a browse around. Many tempting treats but, oh, our diet...bah. Finally, after a quick picnic in the car we hit Hammonasett State Beach, walked along the boardwalk briefly and took in some salty air. When we first started dating we did some camping next to this beach, ate lobsters and generally fell in love. Nice.

Business lesson 9: Get outside and enjoy the nice weather. The same goes for the work day. If you are sitting at your computer for hours at a time, take five minutes and walk outside. It does you good.

Friday - more relaxing.

Saturday

Shopping for the week, Costco, BJ's Target - all my favorite stores.

Business lesson 10: Know how much things cost and go for the best value. After all your most important customer is yourself. Remember your bottom line. And if you are on a diet, remember your waist line.


Sunday


Planted some Spring bulbs in the garden and trimmed some overgrown trees and shrubs. Did some laundry and made a to do list for the very busy week ahead.

Business lesson 11: Put your best foot forward. Appearance is important. Plan ahead and anticipate what is to come.


Summary

I know what you're thinking...geez man, take a vacation. This was a nice vacation and I only now post-operatively have come up with these business lessons.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 14, 2009 at 1:53:31 pm business, philosophy, vacation, filmmaking, gardening

MBA? We don't need no stinkin' MBA.

As soon as I get a GANTT chart as an e-mail attachment, that is a sure sign there is an MBA degree holder on the other end. Now don't get me wrong, an MBA is a great accomplishment, and those who use their knowledge to start successful businesses are to be commended.

But for those of us in business, who got here in a roundabout way, such as by starting in a creative job...well we learn as we go. What are some examples of learning business knowledge from creative efforts?

Example 1 - Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth (ok, that's a cooking example too)

You are working on a script for a video. The writer met her deadline and you like what she's done. So you send it off to your client for review. The next day you get it back with some Track Changes revisions. Nothing too bad. So before getting the green light for the shoot, it has to be run up the chain of command - your client's bosses. Suddenly, you find yourself sitting at a long conference table, accompanied by 6 people you have never met, your client and the worst pot of coffee you've ever tasted. You spend the next 4 hours copiously taking notes as the committee analyzes every word, apostrophe and colon. And speaking of colons, this coffee is racing through your system a bit too quickly. When the script review is finished, instead of being told to make the changes, you have to sit through 30 more minutes being scolded for not following your original orders. In other words, the client decided, via a laborious process, that what they asked for is not what they wanted. But it's your fault of course.

What's this got to do with business? Everything. Managing expectations is one of your key roles in business. You are happy to take the client's money, but are you prepared to help the client know what they want and expect what they are getting? Sometimes the only way to learn this is to drink that bad coffee.

Example 2 - Follow the Yellow Brick Road


In other words, follow the prescribed path to success with a client. In design, you often need to follow the client's corporate branding guidelines...to the letter. The client uses a font you don't have? Buy it. The client does their brochures in InDesign and you are a Quark house? Either learn it or hire someone who knows it. Think the corporate brochure templates are bland and all look the same? Don't forget that the work you are doing is a small piece of their million dollar campaign. Consistency is everything when marketing anything.

From a business point of view, little interpretation is needed. You may be a creative type who is now running or helping to run a business, but once you have provided the creative jolt your client needs, follow their rules for compliance with the corporate strategy.

Example 3 - Dance like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

In other words, think on your feet and nail your client's need accurately and decisively when they need you to. A client calls and says "I like the DVD. Can I use this at my exhibit next week?"
Well you know, from a creative point of view, that you hit the PLAY button and the video plays once then goes back to the main menu. Not good for a trade show display. Your answer has to be "You could, but it would be better if it loops."
The client asks how soon they can get that version.

A good client asks how much it will cost. A good creative/business person will get them the goods and if they are a good client or a new client you do it gratis, because you are providing excellent customer service and that keeps 'em coming back for more. New clients and good clients (repeat clients) are the only clients you should have. New clients are not always good, but sometimes you don't know that until the job is finished. Until that time, treat every client the same - they are a good client, because they are a client, and you want to make them a good repeat client. So you do your job the only way you know how - well. Think on your feet to come up with solutions when they need you to.

More examples than I can think of

Don't just take my advice, check out the latest threads from the Creative COW Business and Marketing Forum:

http://forums.creativecow.net/businessmarketing

Read the forum. Better yet subscribe to the new posts. I guarantee you'll be smarter for reading. You'll get the benefit of many viewpoints from experts and novices alike from around the world. Who needs an MBA when you have a COW.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 5, 2009 at 3:57:12 pm business, marketing, creativity, ruminants

Mind Meld



Back in the late 90's I was always the guy to take a stills camera on a shoot, or to various travel destinations. The result was usually a few snapshots, such as of our exhibit booth setup or a group shot after we wrapped.

As the 21st century took hold I continued the tradition with a range of semi-pocket sized digital still cameras. Our first one was a Kodak 1 megapixel unit - for video resolution it was actually pretty good. I got the camera suggested by a colleague who did a doc about the Shroud of Turin.

While the resolution and size of digital cameras has increased, the ease of taking snapshots in everyday situations has not.

Enter the camera phone. Now it is commonplace to grab your phone and take a pic of anything and everything. Since the phone is always with me, I find myself taking pictures of the mundane to the interesting to the merely useful. A phone that takes stills is certainly more useful than a DV camcorder that takes stills. Although a still camera that takes video is another story for another blog. Although the videos from the phone, while low res, are high on convenience and add to the magic of easy access image collection.

Thus, over the past few years, my phone cam has become an extension of my own short term memory. Indeed, I find myself snapping pictures of things that seem interesting at the time, but which I will A not remember and B not have time or inclination to take with a better more obvious camera. And sometimes C you get something just by happenstance that becomes an unexpected treasure.

So take my hand, walk with me, down the road of days gone by.
The places I know, the dates I don't, the phone it does not lie.
I barely knew 2006 the time it really flies.
2007 was the year we had to say goodbyes.
But through it all my trusty phone,
Recorded calls and friends I've known.
And always will I cherish what my brain has not remembered.


Chicago - 2006. Our big medical convention of the year. Love the architecture.

One last visit to Boca Raton - where we spent 20 years of school vacations.

Happy times spent with those we now miss.

Childhood memories embraced by adults!

I always send my wife an action pose before my next trip.

Who could possibly remember a parking garage location a week later?

Making good use of time away.

Landmarks...

Unknown, but worthy of admiration...

Good meals (this is fondue before the fondue)

Not so good meals.

No explanation needed - but seriously folks, who wouldn't want a hot Kosher snack at any time of the day?

One of my old 2 megapixel images wound up on this book cover!

Conventions

Circa 1997

Circa 2008

________________

More Action Shots









Office Renovations





So long VPR-80 - I hardly knew ya!






The Unexpected




This would have been nice at higher quality, but I just don't carry a camera everywhere I go, such as to the Costco parking lot where this was taken!


And of course, everyone takes lots of pictures of their pets. Right? Anyone? Oh well.



Now with the memory clear (on the phone and in my cerebral cortex) I can head off into the sunset knowing that my future memories will be captured for safekeeping.

Thanks for sharing.

Mike Cohen






Posted by: Mike Cohen on Sep 1, 2009 at 4:33:08 pmComments (2) photography, travel



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!




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