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Product Review

HelpXPlain – Product Review

HelpXPlain is a tool for making “videos” with step by step explanations, and screencasts. They are not really videos – it uses Javascript and images to make something that looks like a video, but is much smaller and more fluid.

If perhaps you used something like Instant Demo (which hasn't been updated for a while), you have seen this before. The big detail is that this kind of program used Flash for output, which is a big no-no right now, as it is not on by default and will be retired completely by the end of the year.

I actually used the program the first day after the release (and bought it shortly after) but I didn't post a review as I hadn't done a full video with it.

Now I have – just a page that only had a description of a process – How to Print a ZIP file .

So, what is nice about HelpXPlain vs Instant Demo? First, the HTML/JS output, and second, it is mostly easier to edit your screencasts in. They are mostly a bunch of slides, which you can easily remove or duplicate.

Of course, I am not great at this – there are some awkward pauses in my screencast – but I think it took me about an hour, while working on the script and learning the program, which I think is just fine.

Size and responsiveness are pretty great for me. Adding the screencast is a bit harder than a YouTube video, but the simpler way is just a few lines of HTML and uploading a few files (it adds to 4.6 MB, 28 files).

One very nice thing is that you can also add the screencast to Help files. HelpXPlain is made by the same company as Help+Manual, which I really like, and have used for years. While most software now consider Help files outdated, I still like them (and you can post them online, anyway – they have search and everything). It also supports translation (as separate projects), with paid AI translation support. I didn't try that, though.

Overall, I really like it, specially considering how new it is. Very much worth considering for your screencast or support videos.

PS: They don't have an affiliate program (that I know of), so I don't get anything from this review.

HelpXPlain Screenshot

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Book Review

The Only Skill that Matters – Book Review

The Only Skill that Matters, by Jonathan Levi, is a book that covers a number of techniques for learning.

Personally there was very little I learned from the book – but I had already watched his course on the subject, plus others, and I just read UltraLearning , which covers several parts of the subject.

That said, I think the book would be very adequate for those new to the subjects of memorization, speed reading and how to learn. Plus, it is quite short, and reasonably priced.

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Article

Fake news game adds resistance to misinformation

Quite interesting. Some researchers created a game where you make a fake news organization, and thus learn the techniques they use. After playing, people are more likely to spot fake news.

That can help against the epidemic of fake news, that is now everywhere in the world and really harming everything, from democracy to health.

View the full Study

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Site Reviews

PluralSight – Review

I just realized that I apparently never posted about PluralSight, even though I reviewed a bunch of courses I took there.

PluralSight has a lot of courses in many areas. This includes development, game development, art, devops and more. They also have smart systems that will evaluate you and suggest courses in a specific area, such as C#, Java, etc.

One area that is constantly mentioned on Reddit and other places is their .Net courses. These cover many minor topics that is hard to see elsewhere, and usually their coverage will be more to the point than a book – so that you know what you need to work with a technology.

The professional plan is US$499 per year. There are usually sales throughout the year, and I usually renew then. You can also get a free trial, and Visual Studio subscription get you some free time.

Their iOS app is pretty good. They have Android and Windows (with off-line course downloads) but I haven't used them yet.

Many courses also have closed captions, and you can change video speed, although for me that works poorly and changes itself often.

Overall, very much worth it for the specialized courses, specially for .Net developers. For others, Safari Books might be interesting because of the book AND video coverage.

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Course Review

XAML Layout In Depth: Course Review

XAML Layout In Depth, by Thomas Claudius Huber is another interesting PluralSight course. It covers Layout in XAML (both WPF and WinRT/UWP).

It mostly covers a tiny fraction of WPF 4.5 Unleashed, but as it has been a couple of years since I read that, the refresher was useful.

The MVVM examples are also interesting, and I liked the use of FluidMoveBehavior – it not only looks much nicer than the regular view, it is also easier to see what happened.

Overall, nice and not too long (about 5 hours).

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Book Review

The Healthy Programmer – Book Review

The Healthy Programmer, by Joel Kutner, is an interesting book that covers health issues as they relate to programmers.

It covers topics such as diet, exercising, preventing back pain, eye strain and more.

I didn't get a chance to apply much of the book, but it seems sound and aligns from what I've learned from medical professionals or elsewhere.

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Course Review

TPL Async – Course Review

I just finished the TPL Async course on Pluralsight. It covers some ways on using the Task Parallel Library on .Net 4.5 to get responsive software.

Overall, pretty interesting. I had learned some of it on books such as Essential C# 6.0, but unfortunately I never got around to using it so had forgotten much of it.

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Product Review

DevExpress MVVM WPF Framework

I have recently started using DevExpress' MVVM WPF Framework.

I really like it. The amount of code you get to skip vs regular MVVM is huge. For example (I use the POCO ViewModel based system), to add a command just add a public method. Need it be on/off based on some conditions? Just add a bool method with Can*CommandName* to your class.

Behind the scenes it generates a new class with everything it needs.

This applies to many other things, including a bunch of services that are very easy to use including, including reporting, file and folder dialogs, wizards, navigation and much more.

It is also free (without support), or included with support on their WPF components (which are pretty nice too).

There are a couple of videos that show some of the basics and the nice advantages:

Please note that so far I have not used other WPF MVVM frameworks other than plain MVVM, so I can't compare them to DevExpress.

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Book Review

Effective C# – Third Edition – Book Review

I've just finished Effective C#, by Bill Wagner.

There is an interesting mix of tips. Some you should already know if you learned C# from a good book, others are more obscure and very interesting.

Either way, well worth reading. My version was from Safari, as usual.

Categories
Course Review

Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book (2018 release) – Book Review

I have been using Photoshop on and off for many years, but I wouldn't in any way say that I was proficient on it.

So since this course/book is included on Safari, I thought I'd try it out.

It was pretty interesting. It is based on many exercises, where you start with a base file they provide, and keep doing what they you to till you get to a end result.

This is actually somewhat entertaining, and I learned quite a bit I didn't know. Exercises are easy to follow (I had a couple of instances where things just didn't work – in some cases looking online solved it).

You will not get out of this course/book being a master in Photoshop, but you will probably learn quite a bit. You would probably want to do the exercises – I doubt reading them will have anywhere near the same effect.

One thing I did not like is that mostly shortcuts were not mentioned. There is a table at the end of the book (also for the tools), but that won't get you into the habit of using them.

There is also a site you can sign on (Peachpit) which has not only the files to download, but a web version of the course, with video and quizzes. It was nice enough, but felt unnecessary for the first chapters, and was offline a couple of times I tried to use it, so I stuck to the Safari version.

Overall, I felt the book was useful and even entertaining. Most chapters are supposed to take an hour, but it usually took me around 40 minutes each, so it was around 10 hours for the whole thing.