Author Archives: Hal

Which Marketing Campaign Works Best?

A new customer called yesterday to inquire about transferring her videos. And when the conversation turned to how she found me, she said she saw my newspaper ad. I had not advertised in the paper in about three months. Then she said she also found me online. This kind of answer is becoming more common. A new customer often mentions two or more of my marketing campaigns. In the last couple weeks, customers have said they saw my car ad , a discussion in a local Facebook group, referral from another customer, reviews on my Google my business map listing, and yard signs.

While I receive lots of jobs from just a single marketing campaign, it seems like many people act only after they’ve seen a couple of my ads. All of these campaigns work, some better than others. But you must keep at it and always record the data. None of these ad venues cost very much. The newspaper ads probably cost the most and it brought in a lot of new customers. But to answer the question Which Marketing Campaign Works?, the answer is all of them work. Most people just don’t follow though.

My brochure mailed to every household in a wealthy community was expensive, but brought in sales worth more than twice as much as the cost. My inexpensive business cards have brought in their share of sales too.

If you are just starting a business or trying to revitalize it, you just have to be marketing. It’s more important to start than it is to have a perfect plan. As General Eisenhower said several times “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”


Car Ad Brings Surprising Results

Car Ad

After a lengthy delay due to the virus, the sign company finally finished my car advertisement. I was ambivalent about this for a long time. But there’s no turning back now. So first thing I did was to park the car at a busy intersection I had long hoped to try. It was just there for about three hours and I got two phone calls! One of them is for transferring 75 videotapes. I’ve had a number of other calls in the week I’ve started advertising this way. They don’t happen if I leave the car at home. I have to take the car to strategic places and park it for a while.

When we were taking this photo of the car and me, a young woman approached and asked me about transfer costs. Later I was parked at the liquor store (purely for research) and a man asked me about the sign. At first I didn’t know what he meant. He called the next day and I am now doing his videos.

The bottom line: In the few days I have had my new moveable billboard, this has been a very successful marketing campaign. It’s already made a profit.

If you are thinking about doing this kind of marketing there are some considerations. I need to always be a courteous and safe driver and not look like a slob when I’m driving around. Also, this would not be a good vehicle for robbing banks. The letters are fairly permanent. The sign company said the letters can be removed with a heat gun, but that they wouldn’t do that. So if I need to sell the car, I’d have some work to remove the sign and there’s no guarantee that it might NOT hurt the finish.

As I drive around doing errands I sometimes think I should see if people are reading my ad, but this is the wrong approach. It is best to park the car in strategic places where it can be seen by many.

I am still wearing a mask and keeping six feet from customers. I no longer invite them inside my home, but meet them at the curb or go to their homes and use a plastic box to give and receive media and payments. We are all yearning to go back to movies, restaurants and friends homes, but it looks like this virus is going to be with us for a while. Sadly, even the Newport Jazz Festival cancelled this summer. But I’m grateful that I can keep my business going even though sales have declined somewhat.

Hummingbird Drone

Hummingbird Drone Films Monarch Butterflies

Hummingbird Drone

A video from the PBS Show “Nature”, shows a very clever drone which looks like a Hummingbird. This is how it can get so close to the Monarch Butterfly swarm. The butterflies do not see a Hummingbird as a threat. The Hummingbird Drone is designed so moving parts are shielded. This keeps the butterflies safe. They can fly around and even land on the drone without harm.

Half a billion butterflies are gathered together and sleeping until it gets warm enough for them to fly. And when the temperature rises to 50 degrees F, they fly away.

Matt Keennon and the team at AeroVironment built a drone that beats its wing like a bird. Unlike any other drone the Nano Hummingbird is very quiet and extremely maneuverable. They fly forward, backward, sideways, left, right, and rotate at the same time. There are only two moving parts the two wings.

A live hummingbird flaps its wing forward at an angle to generate the upward thrust required to hover. 80 times a second. Tough for a mechanical aircraft to do, but the Hummingbird Drone can do about 30 flaps a second and is quite maneuverable.

The Hummingbird Drone weighs only 19 grams which is less than a double A battery. With its video camera and ability to fly close to the ground, it is almost like a spy. But it has a very short range and very short endurance.

LED screens

Large LED Screens Replace Green Screens

LED screens

Instead of green ccreens some movie studios are using giant LED screens to create backgrounds. These 4K LED video screens can make it seem like the actors are in the rainforest, a space station or a desert. These virtual sets have recently been used in films like Netflix’s “The Irishman” and Disney’s “Mandalorian” TV series.

Advantages Over Green Screen

LED screens have a significant advantage in that these virtual movie sets can be created and tweaked from engineers working from home. The actors and camera crews are still waiting out the Covid 19 lockdowns, but the engineers and directors can create the amazing sets we’ve come to expect in big movies. And it happens much quicker than green screens because the lighting of green screens takes time. The LEDs often provide most of all of the light required for the scene which is a major time saver. And with LED backgrounds the shots are mostly captured in camera rather than in a more involved post-production process.

The LED virtual sets surround the actors with light from the images on the screens so this light bathes the faces, clothing, even the chrome on motorcycles which makes it more realistic compared to similar results achieved with green screens. Unlike green screens, the scenes of LED sets are reflected in the eyeballs of the actors. The actors do not have to imagine what is on the green screen. They see the actual images on the LED screens. This makes acting much easier. Actors can now react in real time to the environment they see around them rather than imagining what the green screen might look like.

In Disney’s “Mandalorian” TV series, Disney used a 21-foot-tall by 75-foot-wide LED stage from its visual-effects unit, Industrial Light & Magic. The set looks like a box with one side open. Think of it as a modern version of rear projection. The LED screens create a virtual studio.

Camera Moves in 3D Space

A key point of a virtual studio is that the real camera can move in 3D space, while the image of the virtual camera is being rendered in real-time from the same perspective. So this virtual scene has to adapt at any time to the camera settings such as zoom, pan, angle, traveling, etc. This is what differentiates a virtual studio from the traditional chromakey which uses a green or blue screen. Chromakey needs to be edited after the shoot. A virtual studio using LED screens does not need any post production because it is in real-time. However a 3-D graphic artist and 3D computer graphics software are needed to create the virtual background, and any graphics that appear in front.

Caption: Star Wars: The Mandalorian uses LED screens for “virtual sets.”


Indie Movie Theaters Survival In Covid

indie movie theaters

By DanielPenfield – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The movie house business is in dire straights due to the Covid pandemic. Movie theaters have long been fighting fierce competition with razor thin margin. Those indie movie theaters that specialize in smaller independent and foreign films have an even tougher fight for survival. But this niche business of art houses may have found a way to beat their big box counterparts. These indie movie theaters also called art houses, independent theaters or micro cinemas typically screen low-budget, foreign language, documentary and experimental films.

Digital Strategy

One small theater found a winning strategy. The Avalon theater’s programming director, Andrew Mencher found a way for his movie clientele to watch a movie through a digital link on the Avalon’s website. Avalon split the ticket sales 50/50 with Oscilloscope, the film’s distributor. They sold 1,100 virtual tickets over the film’s five-week run. These ticket sales were mostly to the 10,000 people on the theater’s mailing list. See Video and Film Distributors.

The movie was a small independent film called “Saint Frances” which rates 98% among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. It had played in the physical theater just for one day before the virus closed the theater. Then Mencher came up with his idea of selling digital links to the movie that viewers could watch from their homes. Those ticket sales of 1,100 over 5 weeks is nothing to a big theater, but to a small indie theater they are the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

Other theaters are following suit. One theater also started selling large tubs of popcorn curbside. As much as we all mourn that great thing – the movie date in dark large screen theater with overpriced popcorn which is the most profitable part of running a movie theater business. According to one movie chain ticket sales are just barely profitable. Without the overpriced concession, most theaters would not make it.

A theater that sells a movie ticket for $9 only gets about $2.70 and from that they have to pay labor and building expenses. The distributor gets about $6.30 of the ticket price. If theaters raised ticket prices they could reduce popcorn price, but they would lose too many customers. It’s a lot cheaper to watch a movie at home.

Many indie movie theaters are nonprofit, so they can raise money through grants, donations and ­memberships. Ticket sales still make up 50 – 60 %of their total revenue, according to Alison Kozberg, managing director of the industry association Art House Convergence. This new twist of selling virtual tickets could change the entire movie industry and offers great promise for independent theaters.


Canon 70D Review

Canon Cams As Amazing Webcams


Are you disappointed with the quality of your webcam in Zoom meetings? Even if you pay attention to the lighting, background and composition, you webcam may look like a toy camera. There’s a new option that lets you make your camera a webcam thanks to the EOS Webcam Utility for Windows 10 which allows you to plug in any of the listed cameras with a USB cable. And then you can use your Canon camera as your PC’s webcam. This is Canon software is a Beta version. It should work for Zoom and all other major video conferencing software.

Make Your camera a WebCam

Make Your Camera A WebCam

Unfortunately this software is not available for Macs. But Mac users can use a capture card with other cameras.

Here’s Canon’s video on how to use EOS Webcam Utility

Canon Download Instructions

Here are Canon’s Download Instructions from EOS Webcam Utility Beta.

1. Select your model from the linked page. Once you arrive at the product support page follow these instructions.
2. Select the “Drivers & Downloads” tab
3. Select the “Software” tab
4. Select Windows 10 (x64), if not already detected, from the Operating System list.
5. Find “EOS Webcam Utility Beta” and click the “SELECT” button.
6. Click the download button to start downloading.

Make Your Camera a WebCam without a Canon Cam
If you have Windows 10, but do not have a Canon camera from the above list, you can probably use your camera with an HDMI capture card. Here’s an option from Amazon: Elgato Cam Link 4K.

Using an external camera may not be worth it for casual Zoom meetings. You’d need to have a tripod or camera mounting bracket and possibly a 110 volt power. But if you are using Zoom frequently, having a much improved live image of yourself could be very cool.

The Simpsons Quarantine Couch Gag

Simpsons Quarantine Couch Gag

The opening couch gags are an essential element of The Simpson’s 31-season TV show. This is the first couch gag to acknowledge we’re all spending more couch time that pre-corona virus. To escape their reality, all of the Simpson family members are wearing VR headsets while sitting on the couch.

Spoiler Alert

See the following link before you read any further. The Simpsons in quarantine couch gag.

Now that you’ve seen it, let’s consider it in more depth. Like all of us quarantined folk, they’re looking for more entertainment. VR headsets! And that’s how they come by all the cool adventures. Can you list all the adventures in that short scene? But the most important part of this couch gag is the visual style. This animation is quite different from the typical Simpson’s animation style. This isn’t that cozy warm cartoon style we’ve come to love in the show. These drawings are sharper and more abstract. The characters are idealized as VR tends to do. Not to mention the music – a very different Simpson beat.

This is one of the best Simpsons couch gags ever. The actual episode doesn’t have much to do with the current pandemic, but it does introduce a new character – Baby Hudson from Disney Plus. This new Simpsons episode aired on Sunday, April 19th, at 8PM ET on Fox.

The Gift of Family Video For A Quarantined Parent

Gift of Video For Quarantined

Mary is a very nice old lady who lives in a condo. She doesn’t drive much anymore. Several years ago she called me to transfer some of her VHS tapes to DVDs. I offered to pick them up and deliver. She was happy with the DVDs I made for her, but I did not hear from her again until yesterday.

A week ago I got a phone call from her son Ed in New Jersey. He said Mary is now in the assisted living facility here in Bristol. He cannot visit her due to the quarantine. He had videos on his phone of their young child. One of his older children edited Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” over the videos. A sweet gift for his mother. He really wanted her to see the videos, but she does not have a computer or smart phone. So he sent me the videos through a free web service I suggested. I did some rough editing and burned it all to a DVD.

Ed had ordered a DVD player with a screen. I received it two days later. I put the DVD in and made sure Mary would be able to run it. I wrote simple instructions with a photo of where the buttons are. Then after a couple phone calls I delivered the DVD player with the DVD already in it and took it to Franklin Court where I called to have someone come outside and pick it up from the special drop box outside.

Two days later I received an email from Ed. His mother received the DVD player and loves the video. It was most gratifying, when Mary called me yesterday to say she loved the video and appreciated the instructions. What a nice feeling. I’m not patting myself on the back. Her son made this happen. I was just an enabler.

Others are not so lucky. My doctor in the local medical center told me on the phone about some of his older patients in hospitals who can also not be visited by their families due to the risk. Some may die alone without anyone close. I offered to call them on the phone to at least give them some human communication. He said many are too weak to talk on the phone.

Here’s someone who did something about it. He is Kaya Suner, 19, a local teenager who founded COVID Connectors with the Rhode Island Medical Society. COVID Connectors allows people to donate gently used iPads or iPhones to patients who don’t have their own devices. “They might not have the ability to FaceTime with their own phone, or they may not have a phone,” Suner said. “The iPads are mostly for those who are pretty severely ill, to kind of say goodbye,” Suner added. Could you do something like this in your community?

Zoom Party

Zoom Party

Last week I wrote about Zoom ( as an easier way to video chat with people. Unlike the other chat options, this one does not require software or registration for anyone except the one calling the meeting. Just send them an email and a time to meet. They click on the link and you are having a video chat. Two high school buddies and I had a hilarious two hour Zoom Party. I understand alcohol was present. Not sure about that, but it sure was funny. We laughed for most of the two hours.

Emboldened by that experiment I decided to offer it to my high school class. The reunion we had planned for a year had just been canceled because of the virus. So Zoom seemed like a perfect alternative. 17 people showed up at the appointed hour. And that was another great time. There was no alcohol this time. And some people had minor troubles with Zoom. This Zoom Party was only 40 minutes which is the maximum for more than 3 attendees unless you pay. I expected more people, but I later received many emails urging me to do this again. So I will. I urge you to also try Zoom. The only potential trouble I’ve read about is when it is a public Zoom open to anyone. All of my Zooms have been private so no trouble there.

You can run into some minor issues because there are so many kinds of devices these days. Not all have built in video cameras with audio. Different devices show somewhat different screens so it can be hard to help someone who has a different Zoom screen than you are seeing. For the non-technical, this can seem to be a challenge. But I’ve used Zoom with complete technophobes who told me they didn’t even know their device had a built in camera.

I’m certainly not an expert in using Zoom, but it is really so easy that if they have a laptop you could and should send a zoom invitation to your grandparents. Let the Zoom Party begin!

Business in the age of coronavirus

How I Run the Transfer Business in the Age of CoronaVirus

Business in the age of coronavirus

I recently sent emails to my transfer customers with the subject “Doorstep Pickups For Digitizing Now Available”. I offered to come to their home, and safely pick up their transfer media from their doorstep. This was to eliminate the person-to-person contact we have all been warned against. One customer offered to come to my place and leave the package of her photos and videos outside. I told her I’d leave a plastic container with a lid on the steps. I didn’t leave it out by the curb because I didn’t want any dogs lifting their legs. So I left it on the steps. We had previously agreed to talk on the phone after I saw her media to be transferred. I could ask her questions and quote a price. After she left the media, I put on disposable vinyl gloves, opened the box and brought the bags of tapes and pictures inside.

The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO)do not know exactly how long the virus can live on an inanimate object, but if this virus is like other corona viruses, they say the virus could last a few hours or days. One variable is the temperature. It dissipates more slowly in cold temperatures. So I brought the bag inside and put in a high shelf in my office. I will leave it there for a couple days. Then I went back outside, still wearing the gloves, and used Lysol to sanitize the plastic box. The WHO says the virus lives longer on plastic and steel. And much less on cardboard or paper. Then I brought the sanitized plastic box inside and disposed of the gloves. You have to be careful and thoughtful when removing infected gloves. It is not as easy as you might think.

This whole thing may sound crazy to you, but I am in the high risk population and take that very seriously. I also want to stay in business and keep myself and my customers safe. Another reason for my extreme caution is that we have no idea who has the virus at this point. Many people with no symptoms undoubtedly have the virus and could infect others like me.

I will wear another pair of gloves when I do the job. As long as I stay far away from people and sanitize the media, wash hands frequently and follow the guidelines, I believe it is possible to be safe and still do business in the age of CoronaVirus.