Saturday, 17 March 2012

Four NVivo 9 tips to save you from trouble, and one from worry.

Written to save NVivo 9 users some trouble and worries.

I've been working with NVivo 9 for almost a year now and here are four important tips on what to do (and avoid). Plus a fifth on what not to worry about:

1. Work on your files locally, not via a network.
Although I was told this at an NVivo workshop last year, I proceeded to ignore it as working off a project file from the local area network folder seemed not to present any problems; it was responsive and saved me the time of backing up from my local drive. That was all good-and-well until I lost a whole day's work, because the file became corrupt! What caused this, I do not know: I suspect an automated Time Machine backup ran and NVivo subsequently froze. After restarting it, the file would not open  and viewing the file's information showed it had shifted from being 180 MB big to 0 KB; not a good sign :(. I now only work locally and backup to the LAN at the end of each workday. Although this means adding an extra few minutes to my schedule, I can be confident of not losing nine hours!

2. If you work via a network, you can also expect big problems if you shut down your computer without closing NVivo properly.
Just in case the thought of losing your entire day's work won't persuade you, how about not being able to work on your file for the rest of the day?! When adding external speakers, I switched my Mac off by mistake. DOH! I was then unable to open the file off the network as I kept getting a message that it was "already in use". I then tried everything I could to circumvent this problem, to no avail (I was blocked from copying the file to another location as it's "in-use"; logging out of the LAN software; re-mapping the drive... even the old restart everything fail-safe failed.) So, the moral of the story is not to work off the network; if your computer's power shuts down unexpectedly, you may find it impossible to work on the same project file that day...

3. Set all automated tasks to run outside your NVivo sessions.
As an NVivo user on Mac, I must run NVivo 9 on Windows 7 above Parallels over MacOSX. And if the computer processing resources available to any one of these fails, NVivo sputters and does not work optimally. To limit this danger, I take these preventative measures:
  1. I ensure that all the computers' backups and software updates (PC and Mac) either run outside my work hours or must be manually activated.
  2. I do not run more than three software packages simultaneously.
  3. I run NVivo in full screen (not Coherence) mode in Parallels almost all the time, so there's no temptation to run several Mac and PC applications simultaneously.
Not only does this ensure optimal performance of NVivo on my local setup, it also prevents interference with NVivo's ability to save project files, which is a very good thing!

4. Save a new version of your file each day.
It's a good practice to change your filename for each day. In my case, I simply change the daily date I type in the filename; i.e. "17 Mar 2012 ICT Access and Use UCT". I then backup the file to the relevant project month folder on the network. This ensures that I have the a backup record and can easily show the progress on the work I'm paid by the hour to do. It is also useful when working with other people on the same project file; for example, being a fallback just in case certain attributes are not imported.

5. Don't be afraid to import many, large video files as internal source.
If you want full coding functionality, you should always import files as internal sources, not as externals. Originally, I thought that importing a file as internal source automatically meant that the video was saved into the NVivo file itself. So, I thought I must limit myself to only importing the most interesting videos as internal source. However, through experimentation, I soon learnt that one could use the 62-bit version to import files much larger than NVivo 9's guidelines stated AND many of them (see the screengrab below), without the project file's size growing substantially.
Screengrab of ICT Access and Use video interview imports (17 March 2012)
The NVivo file above is just 170 MB in size; you don't have to take my word for it, see below.


As long as the location of the source video remains the same, there are no issues. Now, since the maximum file size of an NVivo project is reportedly 2 GB, I can add many, many more video interviews as internal source. So, with a nod to QSR International's Australian pedigree, it's a happy case of "No worries, mate!"

So, those are the most important tips I have learnt and if you have other ones to share, feel free to submit them via the comments box below, thanks.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Create a comprehensive arts portfolio online via multiple presences.

Written for Visual Arts students interested in digitising and publishing a comprehensive record of their artworks online and for the educators helping them.

The good news is that your Visual Arts educator has helped you to develop a showcase electronic learning portfolio (e-portfolio): in my research project, its two educators chose Carbonmade, because it met these criteria. The service suits the pedagogical aims in South African Visual Arts well, where a portfolio of 35 images is often more than sufficient to cover the learner's body of work for an end-of-year (matric) exhibition, as well as tertiary education applications.

The bad news is that the teachers' online portfolio choice seemed to learners to limit them to publishing 35 images online, thereby preventing the publication of their complete oeuvre! In response, an educator highlighted that learners are not limited to using Carbonmade and should consider creating presences with other services to publish the remainder of their artworks. Students could then create reciprocal links between these services to make them easy for Carbonmade's viewers to find; this is a common practice in the profiles of artists with featured portfoliosTo help you identify a service you might want to use, I have listed the four commonly linked types, below:

1. An addition to the Social Network presence you already use 
(Popular examples: Facebook Pages and Google+)

The impressionist painter, Valérie Pirlot, provides links to many sites, which include online presences; her blogFlickr account and a Facebook page, galleries; the Saatchi and Victoria Art, and an academy; the Royal West of England Academy.


The value of featuring all these links is that viewers can select specific aspects of her work that they are interested in viewing. It is also testifies to her professional status and the galleries and academy she associates with.

As a learner, you may already have a Facebook account and creating a Facebook page where you upload your artworks should have the benefits of being very convenient, whilst making it easy to share with your Facebook friends.

Valérie Pirlot's Facebook Page (8 March 2012)
Google account holders users should consider using Google+. If your digitized artworks are well-labelled, this may have the benefit of producing better ranked search engine results on the world's most popular search engine, relative to other services.

Leodor Selenier's Google+ page (8 March 2012)

2. A Photo Sharing Presence
(Popular examples: Flickr, Picasa)

There are many photo sharing sites listed on Wikipedia and in Valérie's example, she chose Flickr. To learners, the benefit of choosing this service, or similar, includes:
  1. There is a relatively high limit on the number of images that can be uploaded each month;
  2. It includes a social networking component making it easy to share photos, comments and notes plus join groups you are interested in;
  3. You could also upload videos;
  4. It is compatible with many mobile phone applications, so easy to share to when using your phone's camera.
3. A Blog Presence
(Popular examples: Blogger and WordPress)
Marek Tarnawski's concise Carbonmade profile (8 March 2012)

Science fiction concept artist, Marek Tarnawski, provides a link to his blog http://farvus-craft.blogspot.com. His blog was created with Blogger, but you could consider using WordPress or other popular blogging software.

The benefit of choosing to blog for you could include:
  1. There is no limit on the number of images that can be uploaded;
  2. You could also upload other media (such as videos);
  3. You can provide descriptions of your working process;
  4. Viewers can choose to subscribe to your blog;
  5. You can create reciprocal links with other blogs via a blogroll.
The biggest challenge of using a blog is the importance of writing well and being able to prioritise the time to publish content to it regularly. Before choosing to blog, please read the 1stwebdesigner article "Questions to consider before becoming a blogger". It can help you decide whether blogging is the right medium for you!

4. Another Online Portfolio Service Presence
(Popular examples: behance.net, cghub.com)

Carbonmade is just one of many other online portfolio software services focussed on enabling creatives to publish their online portfolios. Each service provides a distinct combination of affordances to cater for the type of creatives they serve; so it's important to define what you may need before selecting one.

For example, CGHub promotes itself as "an online community where computer graphics artists share their latest work, tips, and tools, network with friends, search jobs, and more." So, if you want to improve your computer graphics skills, this may be useful to join. However, if you want to interact with creative professionals outside of computer graphics illustration and want the best visibility of your online portfolio, you should consider using behance.net.

Nook's Carbonmade About page features a button that links to his portfolio on the Behance Network (14 March 2012)
I hope that this overview was useful for you. If there is a type of service I have missed, please mention it in the comment box below. Or if you have any other guidance, please do share. Thanks!

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