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Going Beyond GIFS

I’ve got a riddle for you: What’s a photo, a video, and a slideshow all at once? If you don’t know, maybe you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the images around you.

A GIF, in its most common form, is a moving picture embedded on a website. It’s a short, simple clip from a video, or animation, which plays over and over. For an example, here’s a personal favorite:
That’s Nick Offerman, dancing his heart out as Ron Swanson from the television show Parks & Recreation. As you can probably tell, GIFS aren’t really meant for high definition video, but they’re becoming more useful beyond clips of cats and fictional libertarians. Today’s online media is dominated by short content, and as GIFs become easier to make, their prevalence on the web will only increase.
 
GIFs aren’t new, they’ve been around since the late 80’s when they were still known as Graphics Interchange Format, but they’re enjoying a major resurgence. GIF was just named the Oxford American Dictionary 2012 word of the year. There was even a collection of high art GIFS called Moving the Still, which was hosted on Tumblr and at Miami Art Week. Many blogs on Tumblr get a lot of their content through sharing GIFs. GIF Hound, for example, posts the most easily digestible clips from the news each day in GIF form, like this image of the space shuttle Enterprise being transported over New York City.
 
An animated GIF can be made by editing a video in Photoshop or its open source counterpart GIMP. Unfortunately, the relative difficulty of creating a GIF can be a hurdle for an inexperienced filmmaker, especially when you consider that these videos are inherently concise tidbits, not Oscar winning shorts. However, that is all starting to change. Mobile applications like Vine, Cinemagram, and GifBoom are making short, looping clips accessible even to technophobes.
 
Vines, videos made in the Vine application, are the video counterpart to a tweet. Like tweets, vines are short; six seconds instead of 140 characters, they’re timely, only appearing on others’ news feeds as long as a tweet would, and they don’t take much work to create. iPhone users can download the Vine app and start uploading videos immediately. When you hold your thumb down on the screen your camera will start rolling, when you take it off, it stops. You can use your six seconds to make a montage, stop motion animation, or just record a short video message.
 
Other applications have been around for a while, but aren’t getting the same press as Twitter’s video prodigy. Cinemagram, for example, offers a more complex set of features than Vine, but is less integrated with Twitter for obvious reasons. Cinemagram allows users to loop videos in reverse, creating a more seamless effect, and decide what sections of a video move and what sections stay still, creating some pretty remarkable visuals. You can also import video from a more professional camera and turn it into a Cine. Vines have the added benefit of sound over Cines, but people viewing your vine will have to click to hear it. Additionally, the choppy editing of most vines makes the audio all but inconsequential.
 
Unfortunately, both of these applications are currently only available for the iPhone. It’s likely that Android functionality is in their future, but for now, Android devotees will have to wait, or explore other options. One such alternative is GifBoom, which can share short movies and montages across social media very much like Cinemagram, but doesn’t offer its more artistic features. If you don't have a large following on Twitter already, you should look at Cinemagram and GifBoom more closely for their Facebook and blog friendly nature alone. However, posting a few vines can be a good way to draw people to your Twitter by using the hastag #vine.
 

How can nonprofits use gifs, vines, and cines? It’s a little too early to say. I for one believe that experimenting with these formats, especially given their ease of creation, is something every organization should try at least once. If you can get a message across to someone that wouldn’t read a block of text, or wouldn’t click play on an embedded video, you’ve already made progress. Here’s an example of a Vine that was recently tweeted by Welsh cancer charity Tenovus. Do you think your organization could benefit from a similar campaign?

Nonprofit Film School Primer: Or, The Idealware School of Video for Nonprofits That Don’t Video Good (Part 2)

Our own Research Analyst, Kyle Andrei, wrote this post for NTEN, and it originally appeared over on NTEN.org. Want to learn more about video editing? Click to our free article, A Few Good Tools for Video Editing.

 

Part Two: Improving Audio and Content

You don’t need to have a film school degree to make low-budget videos that don’t look low-budget. If you follow the basic principles of video production, and know how and when to use certain equipment, you can avoid such common mistakes as shaky video, poor lighting, inaudible audio, and boring scenes that make videos look amateurish and cut through the crowd of bad cat videos.

In the first post, we looked at how to compose and light your videos.  This time we look at how to improve the audio—and, more importantly, the content.

Improving audio quality

It can be easy to forget about audio when thinking about video, but improving the sound quality will also improve the overall quality of your video. (Audio is, after all, the “A” in A/V). There are a few ways to do this.

Microphones

First, and most important, is the microphone you use to record. You’re probably currently using the one built into your camera, which is fine for certain situations. If you’re shooting close to your subject in a quiet, indoor setting, it will work OK. But when you’re shooting in a different location or at a greater distance from your subject, the limitations of a built-in microphone become apparent. For example, built-in mics—especially in smaller and cheaper cameras—only work acceptably if the camera and the person talking are no further apart than about four feet. Think of it in terms of conversation; if you’re close enough to have a conversation at normal volume, you’re probably close enough to record audio. If you have to shout across the room, it’s time for an external microphone.

Most consumer cameras have an 1/8-inch “audio in” jack the same size as most headphone jacks, while more expensive cameras may have an XLR jack that looks like a large circle with room for three prongs. If you’re not sure what type of microphone to buy, ask for help at the store. If your camera doesn’t have an audio in, you’ll need a separate way to record sound. Digital audio recorders are readily available, and very affordable. Or, if you’re shooting inside the office or have a laptop handy, you could record the audio on your computer.

There are many different types of microphones, and each type records sound in different ways. For the most part, you don’t need to concern yourself with this. Decide whether you want a handheld mic or one that clips to your shirt, and find one you can afford. Expect to spend between $50 and $100.

Background Noise

In a perfect setting, you’d be able to eliminate all outside noise—sneezes, coughs, passing traffic, creaky floorboards, and downstairs neighbors. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and nonprofits don’t typically have access to a soundstage. People sneezing and coughing will ruin your shot (unless your video is about cold and flu season or hygiene); there’s not a lot you can do about that, but there are a few ways to control background noise. The simplest method, in theory, is to just avoid the noise. If your office is near a busy street where cars frequently honk their horns, try shooting your video as far away from the street side as possible. At the very least, avoid shooting near the windows. If you can’t find a quiet spot in your office, stay late one night or come in on a Saturday to shoot the video. But all of this is easier said than done.

External microphones can also help reduce background noise, because microphones “hear” best the sounds that are loudest or closest—if you are using the mic in the camera on the other side of the room, it’s more likely to pick up distracting noises than one positioned closer to your subject. It’s also important to consider the setting. Different locations bring different problems. If you’re shooting outside, for example, you’ll have to deal with traffic and ambient noise as well as the wind. There’s a reason that TV news reporters have microphones that look like giant lollipops—they’re covered with foam “wind screens” that prevent the wind from blowing directly into the mic.

It’s worth noting that the right background noise can actually help reinforce the story your video is trying to tell. Just like watching a televised basketball game wouldn’t be the same without the roar of the crowd, a video showing an office at work needs some office sounds in the background, or it feels weird and fake. The trick is to make sure the background noise doesn’t distract from or overpower what you’re trying to say.

Soundtracks

As a side note, consider the music that will play over the intro and outro of your video, or any background soundtracks. Make sure you have permission to use the songs you choose. Copyright-infringement is against the law, and, if your video is going on the internet—for example, on YouTube—it can and will be taken down. Two solutions to this problem are to either create your own music, or to find and use copyright-free songs.

You also want to make sure the music you select is appropriate for the story your video is trying to tell. If you’re telling a serious story, don’t use upbeat or silly music, and vice versa. Music has a very powerful emotional effect on an audience—make sure the emotion you’re getting is the one you want. (See my blog post on choosing music http://www.idealware.org/blog/its-not-just-what-you-say-how-you-say-it.)

Improving content quality

No matter how well-made your video is, it’s worthless if your audience doesn’t want to watch it. Here are a few things you should consider to make sure your story is compelling enough to compete with stupid pet videos.

How long should my video be?

When I took my first video class in college, I asked this same question to my instructor. His answer? "As long as it has to be and not a second more" (emphasis added). Your video isn't a freshman English paper—you're not trying to stretch it out to make it to 1,500 words. Trim out everything that doesn't need to be in there, and you'll have a tight, well-paced video that people will keep watching.

Keep things interesting

It’s easy to fall into the trap of showing a single person talking for five minutes about your organization’s story. While your message may be compelling to viewers, your video isn’t. Try changing things up instead of showing the same scene. If your story is about how your school made use of a grant, cut to a clip of a teacher in the classroom, or of students using the computers you bought with that grant. Don’t tell me; show me. This is a video, not a bookshow the things you accomplished instead of describing them. Organizations like the ASPCA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu_JqNdp2As) have been using this principle to great effect for years, and now, you can too.

Better editing

Editing can be your salvation when it comes to creating a great video, but it can also be your downfall. Take the time to get to know the editing software you’ll be using. You can find how-to guides and videos online, but you should also get some hands-on experience playing around to see what it is capable of.

Once you’ve done that, though, you need to stop playing around. Yes, that “star wipe” special effect looks really cool when you’re first trying things out, but once it’s in your video, it looks cheesy. The special effects included with your software are never, ever going to look as good as the ones you see in the movies; all they do is draw attention to themselves—and away from your story. Let your content speak for itself. Only edit what has to be edited. Cut out any unnecessary footage, add a title or credits, and leave it at that.

Here’s a list of the features and transitions that you can safely use without fear of making your video look more amateurish instead of less.

  • Fade. Use this sparingly when you have to transition between two scenes.
  • Fade-to-black. Use this once at the very end of your video.
  • Titles. Once at the beginning, once at the end, and once per person to introduce them.

Remember, you don’t want to show off all the neat things your software can do. Instead, you want to use a light, subtle touch, and keep things simple so that your story will shine through and speak for itself.

Conclusion

As with any skill, creating and editing video takes time and experience. The more you practice this skill, the easier it will get—and the better you’ll be. Take the time to learn your equipment and software, if you can. Find opportunities to practice, either for your organization or in your spare time. If you find that you’ve awakened your inner Spielberg or John Ford, you may have found yourself a new hobby. You’re not alone, either. There’s a wealth of resources and communities online that can teach you new tips and tricks or answer your questions.

Further Reading

 

Nonprofit Film School Primer: Or, The Idealware School of Video for Nonprofits That Don’t Video Good (Part 1)

Our own Research Analyst, Kyle Andrei, wrote this post for NTEN, and it originally appeared over on NTEN.org. Want to learn more about video editing? Click to our free article, A Few Good Tools for Video Editing.

As a species, we watch a lot of videos on our computers. Heck, being able to share short videos—a disproportionate number involving cats—helped make the internet so popular. You may even have been watching one just a few minutes ago. The rise of YouTube and other video sharing sites has made it possible for anyone to upload and share their own videos, and many nonprofits have jumped on board the video bandwagon without paying much thought to cost, equipment, or the experience needed to make videos worth watching.

Because we’re so saturated with movies, videos, and television, we know what looks good and what doesn’t. You don’t need to have a film school degree to make low-budget videos that don’t look low-budget. If you follow the basic principles of video production, and know how and when to use certain equipment, you can avoid such common mistakes as shaky video, poor lighting, inaudible audio, and boring scenes that make videos look amateurish and cut through the crowd of bad cat videos.

Over two posts, we’ll look at simple fixes to these common issues.

Part One: Improving Video Quality

Tripods

The single easiest and cheapest way to improve a video is to use a tripod. Skilled camera operators can successfully shoot good-looking video without a tripod, but they have years of experience, special equipment (like Steadicams), and the physical stamina to carry a large camera for a substantial length of time. You don’t. A tripod will make your video steadier and spare your audience from headaches and motion-sickness.

Is there a time and place for shaky footage? Sure. Sometimes you have to shoot video at unexpected times, when you're not prepared for it—at a political rally, for example. In “breaking news” situations, shaky footage can bring your audience into the energy and emotion of a scene, and help lend them legitimacy over a highly-produced video. Some of the most powerful videos have been shot simply with smartphones.

Lighting

Your video is worthless if people can't see it. Shadows make subjects difficult to see. The basic principle to learn here is "three-point lighting." Basically, you have three sources of light: two from the front, called the key light and fill light, and one from the back, called the back light. The key light, your primary source of light, should go on your subject’s most visible side (if they’re looking to the left, the right side of their face gets the key light). The fill light gets the other side of the face, and the back light gets the back of their head.

You don't really need complicated lighting for a simple video, but each additional light you use will improve the overall appearance. If you have the time or want to get artistic, play around with the angle of the lights—this can alter or improve the mood of your video.

Professional light kits can be expensive, and only make sense if you're planning on shooting a lot of videos. For a low-budget way to improve your lighting, open the blinds—a window can provide plenty of free sunlight. The sun provides a nice warm (reddish or orange as opposed to bluish) light, which is flattering to just about everything. Because you're at the mercy of the clouds, and the light could change in the middle of your scene, the window should therefore be a supplemental light source. For one that’s more consistent, use a simple desk or reading lamp—something small to fill in the shadows and go wherever you need it. I prefer the kind with a clip for that very reason.

If you're shooting a video outside, try to choose a nice sunny day, and use a reflector to provide fill light. You don't need to buy anything—just use something shiny, like aluminum foil over a sheet of cardboard, or one of those folding window shades for your car.

If you're using a window for light, or shooting outside, don't point the camera directly at the window, sun, or anything reflective to avoid distracting glare or lens flare.

Shot composition

If you've dabbled in video or photography before, you may have heard of "the rule of thirds." This principle is a guideline for knowing how to frame, or set up your shot. Imagine that the frame of your video is divided up like in the picture shown, into horizontal and vertical thirds. When setting up your shot, you want to align things along one of those lines: the horizon, eyes, people, etc. For example, if your subject is two people standing next to one another, try to align them with the vertical lines. It takes some practice, but eventually this rule of thumb will become second-nature.

Following the rule of thirds will help correct or avoid many common composition mistakes, like "head room." Just what it sounds like, head room is the space between the top of a person's head and the top of the frame. Too much headroom will make your subject look short, too little and they'll be missing the top of their head. If you keep your subject's eyes on the top line, however, you'll always have the right amount of headroom. Similarly, you want to pay attention to how much space is in front of or behind your subject (“lead room”). If the person on camera is looking to the right of the frame, and you line them up to the vertical line on the right, then you'll have very little space in front of their face, and a whole lot of empty space behind them. Your viewers will wonder what's going to happen there (A shadowy figure? A knife in the dark?), so it's best to give the extra space to the side where your subject is looking.

In part two, we take a look at improving the quality of your audio—and, more importantly, of your content.

AskIdealware: How Can I Afford To Experiment With Technology?

Nonprofits are told they need to innovate, but why spend the time and money on new technology (that might fail) when there's so much else to budget for?

Laura Quinn sits down to explain the safer, smart way to try new things at your organization. 

Launch Day for Idealware's Newest Product, On Demand Tactical Technical Planning

Technology should be helping your organization, not holding it back. But in our work with nonprofits, we too often see organizations struggling with technology that limits their abilities. Frequently, some simple planning can go a long way toward resolving problems and preventing future issues.
 
To help nonprofits navigate these waters, we’ve created On Demand Tactical Technology Planning.
 
Drawing upon our experience, we’ve developed Tactical Tech Planning to help you assess your organization’s technology infrastructure and address your current and future needs. Take the online training “on demand”—on your schedule, at your pace, and on the device of your choice. Use the associated workbook to help apply what you’re learning to your own organization. Upon completion of the course, you’ll have a fully realized tactical technology action plan to guide your nonprofit, solve your current technology issues, and better equip you to tackle future challenges.
 

 
Our on-demand training is the only one of its kind, and the latest addition to the extensive library of resources from Idealware. If you work at a small-to-medium nonprofit and have any questions about technology, Tactical Tech Planning can set you on the right path.
 
Idealware’s On Demand Tactical Technology Planning is made up of five units:
  • Getting Started
  • Infrastructure
  • Data
  • Online Communications
  • Action Plan
Each unit contains between three-and-eight modules on specific topics for a total of 26 modules. The modules are from eight-to-15 minutes in length and designed to be watched on demand. Course participants are given a workbook, and each module has a follow-up homework assignment to help you write your own organizational tactical technology plan.
 
Tactical Tech Planning features a tiered pricing structure for your organization, and thanks to the generous support of the Pierce Family Foundation, we are offering a $100 discount at each level through March 31, 2013 (discount reflected in prices below):
  • Fewer than 10 staff members: $175
  • 10 to 30 staff members: $275
  • 30 to 100 staff members: $375
  •  If your organization has more than 100 staff members, please contact us for pricing
The Idealware team is excited to launch this product, months in the making, and we believe you’ll find it invaluable.
 
Start your organization down the right path at tacticaltech.idealware.org.
 

Electronic Health Records and Small Nonprofits

This guest post was written for Idealware by Jennifer Amanda Jones, who has a Master's in Nonprofit Management and Leadership and more than a decade's experience with nonprofits including health, economic development, and educational 501(c)3s of all sizes. She currently consults to nonprofits, specializing in social media policies. For more information, visit http://jenniferamandajones.com.    

Many nonprofit health care organizations are scrambling to meet the Electronic Health Records (EHR) requirements established by the Obama Administration. In the process, they are spending large amounts of money and, by nature of the change, revamping core elements of their practice. Some smaller nonprofits, weary of high costs, are hoping their size will offer an exemption. No such luck.

It appears that any organization that wishes to receive or continue to receive federal funds for providing health care services must use EHR and, to add an additional layer of complexity, in order to receive full payments, they must demonstrate what is called "meaningful use."
 
While the exact description of what qualifies as meaningful use varies depending on the types of services provided, it is somewhat revealing to know  that for each meaningful use objective the government has outlined its definition, any related terms, offered an explanation of how to qualify for an exclusion and even explained how to calculate it. This means that before you transition to EHR, you know exactly how your organization will be expected to measure success.

 

Before you Transition

 

In addition to the hard costs of hardware, software, training, scanning hard copy records, and more, the transition can have unintended consequences. Providers may resist the conversion and quit. HIPAA privacy policies must be revisited; and, because of the digital breadcrumbs, breaches in privacy are more likely to be identified and attributable. Staffing needs shift from low-skilled file clerks to higher skilled Information Technology staff. 

Funding is one of the top concerns for nonprofits. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services offer an EHR Incentive Program that provides incentive payments to eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) as they make the digital transition. These payments can range from $44,000 for eligible professionals to more than $2,000,000 for eligible hospitals for Medicare and $63,750 and more than $2,000,000 respectively for Medicaid providers. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health also offers transition funding.

A second major concern is selecting software. The federal government has listed a number of certified programs which are required for those participating in the EHR Incentive Program. Take note. By virtue of the government’s endorsement, these programs will most likely also be the programs most utilized by other nonprofit health care providers.

Resources:

There are a number of resources available to nonprofits in this process. Here are a few which might be of particular interest.

If you are a nonprofit struggling to begin the daunting digital conversion, take comfort. We have watched many organizations transition and, while there are always bumps in the road, the process often yields a much higher quality of patient care and staff satisfaction. 

 

Revenge of the Nerds

My name is Tyler, and I'm a nerd--I'm also the new research intern at Idealware.

I didn’t always struggle with being a nerd. I was born with my hand on a keyboard, navigating the ins and outs of the World Wide Web when we were both young. I grew up with Netscape, and AOL, and chat rooms, cutting edge concepts that seem antiquated now. I knew every note of the song a dial-up modem sang. The internet was still a new and exciting place for adults; imagine my wonderment when I discovered the entire universe was at my little fingertips. My generation was given the chance to run wild with technology, and I loved every moment of it.

In high school, I resisted that urge to be a nerd. I eschewed video games for indie rock, and sci-fi for poetry. At lunch, I sat with the punks and the theatre girls, but never quite assimilated. I didn’t drink warm beer in the woods, I didn’t want to feel nostalgic for eras I never lived through, I just wanted to type stuff into Google.

Sure, I had friends who were nerds, and those nerds are still my friends today, but how could I bear to be seen at the same table as the guy with the fedora and the Magic cards? I didn’t know how my nerd upbringing was supposed to affect me.

When I first walked into Idealware, it struck me with a new feeling. It was so many of the things I love rolled into one: the smell from the tandoor oven in the Indian restaurant on the bottom floor of the building where Idealware Global Headquarters in housed, Jelly the office dog always willing and eager to be scratched behind the ear, and yes, nerds. The kinds of nerds that are smart, passionate, and nonjudgmental. Nerds who know technology shouldn’t be tossed aside in the name of tradition, that its praises should be shouted from the mountaintops. These are the nerds my father warned me would one day be my boss.

What am I doing for them now? For starters, typing a lot of stuff into Google. I couldn’t be happier to be here.

AskIdealware: When Would I Need an HR Management Tool?

 An HR management tool can help streamline all your HR processes, like hiring and payroll, but how do you know if you actually need one? Elizabeth Pope, Idealware's senior researcher, explains in this Ask Idealware video.

Want to learn more about HR management? See the Idealware article Keeping Track of Your People Power: HR and Technology in the Nonprofit World.

A Hierarchy of Program Evaluation Metrics

We're diving into researching data-based decision making for a couple of projects, which includes metrics for program evaluation. Evaluation is a well trod field --a lot of people have said a lot of things about it... but I find a lot of it contradictory or not that helpful. I especially dislike the commonly used nomenclature of "outputs" and "outcomes." First, is it even possible to find two more confusingly similar words to represent two different concepts? Second, the terms aren't even used consistently and specifically-- there's a fair amount of overlap where one authority might call something (say, attendance at a workshop) a output when someone else would call that same thing an outcome.

The idea of outcomes has also been raised to such a degree (often by funders) that nonprofits often think that it's really important to get to outcomes as downstream in their work as humanly possible. If tracking the % who completed a course or who said it made a difference to them is good, then it's even better to gather and track the long term satisfaction. And if that's good, then we all should be shooting for the holy grail: measuring what impact our programs have on people's lives and community.

I disagree with this notion. It encourages nonprofits to try to fly before they can walk. They need to start by measuring the tactical things that are close at hand and get that down before moving to more complex measures. Even more, the idea that small nonprofits should be trying to measure impact writ large is insane to me -- trying to tease out the actual impact of one organization's actions, separating it from the impact of other actions and drivers, is work for professional researchers and, often, multi-million dollar studies. There's no way that any but a huge nonprofit is -- or should be-- staffed to conduct this kind of study. When we (or, ahem, funders) encourage small nonprofits to try to measure this stuff, most often it can only result in bad research.

Well, none of us can ignore what funders think is important, or the commonly used vocabulary for such an important concept... but I can, as I'm prone to do, try to create more order and structure around it. Here's my look at a hierarchy of nonprofit-focused program evaluation metrics, and how organizations can think about their priority.

What do you think? Would you agree? What have I missed?

Lost In a Sea of Tiles: My Windows 8 Journal

 According to Microsoft, it's revolutionary. Some tech bloggers are more critical, however. Much has been made of Windows 8, the tile-heavy replacement for Windows 7 - is it really the next big thing, or is it another Vista? Honestly, it's a little of both.

I didn't want a new operating system. I was perfectly happy with 7, but my old computer died, and I needed a replacement. And, I'd have to pay extra to get a new desktop without Windows 8, so down the rabbit hole I go.

Day One: Where is the start button? Where are all my programs? These tiles are pretty, but I don't want xBox Live on my desktop. Programs are called apps now? What do they think this is, a smartphone?

Day Two: Oh, you have to right click on the screen to see all your programs? I can just add anything as tiles? Wait, how do I shut down the computer?

It sort of went like that for most of the first week. I think this operating system will eventually make sense for most home pc users. If all you do on a computer is access the Internet, occassionally type up a Word document, and store or look at your pictures and video, you honestly will never have to leave the tiles of the "Metro" interface. But honestly, if that's all you're using the computer for, why do you need this big desktop, with all the operating system behind the tiles? Why aren't you using a tablet, or smartphone? 

Nonprofit staff and office workers, however, will likely never use the Metro interface. It's new , it's different, and it's certainly not designed for productivity. Instead, with your news feed, pictures, and Facebook all pinned to the screen, it's designed for distraction. There's literally no reason for you to upgrade all your existing work computers to Windows 8 at this point.

At this point, I'm already used to the new operating system, minus a few annoying little things that Microsoft made extra confusing, in the grand scheme of making everything easier. On the one hand, I have a nice one-stop shop for all the programs (I will NOT call Word an "app") that I use regularly. But, on the other, why do I have to sign out in order to shut down or restart the computer? Seriously. I'm fairly competent with computers, likely more than most people, but it's been a week, and the only ways I know to turn the computer off are to go to the lock screen, or hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete. 

Microsoft has a very clear and obvious goal with Windows 8, and that's to compete with Apple and Android, who have taken a big bite out of their customers, and dominate the mobile market. And I'm okay with that. It's good that they're evolving and innovating. Eventually, we'll all get used to it, but for now, we're all just going to keep looking for the Start button.

If you're thinking of switching to Windows 8 (or were forced into it like I was), Lifehacker put together a pretty useful article of shortcuts and navigation back when it went live in October, which you can find here: http://lifehacker.com/5955162/how-to-not-get-lost-in-windows-8-the-best-shortcuts-and-tricks .

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