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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Low & Slow BBQ at Home - Pt. 1

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Just before the 4th of July weekend I heard Dr. BBQ (Ray Lampe) being interviewed on a podcast. He mentioned he had just finished a video tutorial series for the folks at Crafsty, who offer online video tutorial classes. The class was called Low and Slow BBQ at Home and it was being offered at a reduced introductory price. The timing was perfect, because with the upcoming 4th of July weekend I was in the mood for all things BBQ. I have watched the classes several times now and this blog will discuss both the class itself and the Craftsy experience in general. The first part will cover the Craftsy user experience. I use their iPad app, but it can be used on any PC or an iPhone. Skip to LOW & SLOW BBQ AT HOME - PT. 2 for specifics on the class itself.

BACKGROUND:
Craftsy is an online community of people with interests in arts & crafts. The services offers online classes both paid and free which are streamed to your PC or can be viewed using a mobile App for iPhones and iPads. One thing that sets Craftsy apart from other video tutorial sites is the class you buy are said to be yours for life. Instead of paying a monthly membership fee which gives you access to the video tutorial for a long as you maintain your membership, with Craftsy you buy the classes themselves. Typically you would stream the classes to view them, thus saving disk space on your device. But you are also able to download the classes onto your PC or iOS device and use them in an offline mode. This gives you use of the material when you are away from an internet connection and you will be able to retain usage of the class material over time. The classes are available on a wide variety of topics including many on cooking. The courses I have viewed or previewed all share very high production values. I don’t require fancy sets and nice lighting to learn material, but the high production value points to an attention to detail that carries through into other aspects of the classes.

SOCIAL & INTERACTIVE:
I will share a built in bias I have before discussing the next topic. I am NOT a social media fan. I will never be a member of Facebook or Twitter or any of the other social media sites and I am just not a fan. I choose to spend my time in other ways. Having said that, I realize these Craftsy classes have some social media type tie-ins that would be a plus for many folks.

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You are able to post questions and comments and interact with the instructor of the class using the “Discussions” portion of the classroom interface. The usefulness of this depends to some degree on the responsiveness of the instructor. In the case of Dr. BBQ, he seems to stay on top of the questions and provides timely and often detailed responses to the questions. Other people taking the class can comment too.

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A second way to interact is by posting photos of your creations in “Projects” portion of the interface. You can also write reviews of the class to share with others. As I mentioned, I am not a fan of all this interactivity, but I realize it is fun and useful for most people. For me it is out of the way and not in my face all of the time. So as long as it doesn’t impact my use of the classes I have zero complaints.

iPAD MOBILE APP:
Craftsy can be used on a PC and has mobile apps for iOS for the iPhone and iPad. I couldn’t find references to apps for other mobile OS’s besides iOS. I downloaded and use the mobile App for the iPad most of the time. For me it is the best viewing experience since I can bring it with me anywhere in the house and outside. Using the Offline mode I can bring it with me when I travel too. You are also able to use the feature Apple calls AirPlay to stream the picture to an Apple TV hooked up to your full-sized HDTV set. The lessons I have are all in HD and they look stunning on the iPad Air with it’s retina display or my 46” (118 cm) HDTV. The first time you use Craftsy you are prompted to create a user name and password for yourself. You can also add an avatar image and give your location if you wish. You are also presented with some introductory material intended to help you get started. You can choose to watch this material now, later or not at all.

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After this first time, when you launch the App you are taken to a screen called “My Craftsy”. There is a sidebar which contains emails sent to you from Craftsy, usually informing you of a sale or some Craftsy site related news. The main part of the “My Craftsy” screen has 3 tabs going across the top. The first tab called “Enrolled is the list of classes you have “enrolled in”. These are either paid classes or free classes you haves added to your shopping cart and checked out with. The middle tab: “Recommended” is for classes Craftsy recommends for you based on the classes you have signed up for. The third tab: “Wishlist” can be used to add classes you are interested in, but don’t plan to buy now.

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There are buttons or links at the four outer corners. Starting at the top left, there is a button consisting of 3 thick horizontal lines. This opens up a sidebar with quick links to material on the Craftsy website. Clicking on a link accesses the link, collapses the side bar and brings you to a full screen view of the website. The top right corner has a magnifying glass icon for search. This searches for Craftsy classes matching your search terms. The results are displayed in a sidebar that opens up on the left side of the screen. The lower right corner features a button called “Offline”. It brings up a download manager where you can download one or more of the lessons in your classes. The download manager also shows you how this download will affect the free storage on the device you are using. You can pause, resume, cancel and delete downloads from here as well. The button found on the lower left at the bottom of the sidebar allows you to “Edit (your) Profile”.

When you click on a class in your class list you are taken to the video player window. This is laid out quite efficiently and has several nice features. Once again I am talking about the iPad App version. The PC version is similar from what I can see and the main difference is the controls are sometimes in different locations. On the iPad App the center of the title bar shows the class name, lesson name and number. The left side of the title bar has a link that takes you back to the “My Craftsy” screen that I just described above. On the right side of the title bar are two buttons. The first brings up a sheet where you can write a review for the class. The second brings down an illustrated menu with links to the various lessons and the sub-sections or chapters within those lesson. This gives you quick access to any part of the class you are viewing.

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Down the left side of the video player window is a vertical column of 4 stacked buttons. The first 3 display similar behavior. Clicking on the button initially opens the item as a sidebar. There are small left and right arrows in the top right corner. Clicking the right arrow expands the view so it is no longer a sidebar, but takes up the full screen. The left arrow collapses the sidebar and returns the video player to a full width view. Pushing the big button The top button, “Discussions” is for posting or viewing comments or questions. The second button, “Projects” is for viewing or posting pictures of the items in this lesson. They call these lessons projects, hence the name. The third button, “Notes” is for leaving notes for yourself. The bottom button, called “Materials” has downloadable versions of all the recipes in the class and also has a rather nice metric conversion chart. It is one of the nicer charts I have seen, because it isn’t general purpose. The conversions are specific to units you would use in cooking, such as teaspoons, tablespoons, measuring cups etc. I plan to print out a hard copy to keep in my kitchen.

The bottom of the window contains the controls for the video player. The Play button is on the left side and there is the typical time line slider used for video players. It has a slider to scrub through the time line for the video to go to a different spot in the time line. There is a count up display of the elapsed time you have been playing the video on the left and a countdown time showing the time remaining on the right. This is all pretty typical of video player interfaces. One little nice touch is the time line has little vertical dividing lines showing the locations of the various chapters on the time line. To the right of the time line is a button to skip forward to the next chapter in the time line. To the far right is a button with loudspeaker icon. When pressed it brings up a volume slider. There is a second row with four buttons just below and to the right side of the time line. The first allows you to increase or decrease the playback speed. The choices a Normal, then 1.5x or 2X in the faster direction and 0.5x or 0.25x in the slower direction. I have seen these controls before on Podcast Apps and many people swear by them. I tried the 1.5x and 2x setting and to my surprise the audio was quite comprehendible. The next button allows you to jump back 30 seconds and replay the last 30 seconds. If you keep it pressed down it will repeat this action until you press the button again. The next button is for Apple’s AirPlay feature where you can stream the material from this device to another AirPlay enabled device. It produces the typical AirPlay pop up showing all of the AirPlay enabled devices on your local network. I use this for streaming these videos to an Apple TV device connected to my HDTV. Lastly there is a button to take the picture full screen on your device and hide all of the interface elements. Tapping anywhere on the full screen brings up the playback controls including the button to take you back out of full screen mode.

CONCLUSION:
This is a very well designed iPad app. The app’s interface is tailored to the task at hand and the material, while also retaining a familiarity which makes it easy and intuitive to use. Based on the technical quality of this app and the production values of the videos, Craftsy seems to be very detail oriented. The videos I have watched or previewed are all in HD. The picture is stunning when viewed on the Retina Display of my iPad Air and my MacBook Pro Retina . It looks great streamed via AirPlay to my DTV too. The only video related issues I have had relate to the first 30 seconds of play. The picture is sometimes pixelated during the first 30 seconds of playback while the initial data is being streamed in. Once the amount of data on the device gets ahead of the video playback, the picture quality is excellent. Of course I have a 100MBs download speed with Comcast. If you have a slow connection you could always download the classes using the Offline button and store a copy locally. So far I am quite impressed with my experience with Craftsy. I recently downloaded some addition food related classes on Craftsy which were on sale. One was called 20 Essential Cooking Techniques, Another called Fire Up the Fish was about grilling fish. I also downloaded a Complete Knife Skills video which was a free course, albeit shorter course. The paid courses are 2-3 hours long, while the free knife skills class was 50 minutes long. No complaints there, that is a lot of useful information for free. Part 2 of this blog will discuss the online class I took: Low & Slow BBQ at Home.

  LOW & SLOW BBQ AT HOME - PT. 2

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