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Category: Technology

You’re Doing Video Wrong

When a pandemic hits society and forces everyone to retreat into their homes, video technology has transformed from a novelty to a necessity. For the last two months, people are relying on video conferencing, broadcasting, and live-streaming to replace their face-to-face interaction.

In my 20+ year career working in the technology sector, spending the majority of it working in global remote teams, I’ve spent countless hours in teleconferences (and video conferences) and tried many different technologies and methods to collaborate. Watching those around me try to grapple with the same problems at a larger scale has me offering some suggestions about how to approach video in your daily life.

Your video conference likely unnecessary

There’s a dirty secret about video conferencing, especially for work meetings: 95% of them are unnecessary, usually creating more problems than they solve.

I get that many are trying to fill the void left by abruptly ending face-to-face interaction, and video can help, but only to a very short extent. When sitting around a table in a conference room, you’re not looking at everyone in the face simultaneously, yet that’s the experience that a gallery-view video meeting. This backfires on concentration efforts, where participants become far more concerned with their own appearance, surroundings, and demeanor, rather than focusing on the content of the meeting. This is especially true for larger meetings.

Unless it’s critical that you get non-verbal feedback to your meeting content, keep the camera switched off. While the risk exists that there may be more multi-tasking (which is a fancy term for “not listening”), it’s part of the reality of remote meetings. You’ll also be grateful that meeting attendees can manage their distractions on mute, especially if you have parents with their kids at home. As a presenter, you do get a sense that you’re yelling into an empty cavern without much feedback, but it will feel better over time.

The other important consideration for video is bandwidth usage. With many working from home right now, household bandwidth usage has grown significantly. Your video conference may be clogging the internet pipes in your own house, as well as in your community. Especially if you’re challenged for bandwidth, you may be better off just keeping that camera turned off when you can.

Use a headset if possible

If you’re going to be home for the foreseeable future, invest in a USB headset if you can, or if you’re doing a lot of one-way video lectures, a decent USB mic would do as well.

Having a headset will not only make the audio better on your end (blocking out background noise), but it also improves your listening experience as well. When I was on teleconferences in a crowded office I bought this gaming headset that completely covered my ears, eliminating the background noise.

You might get some comments about looking goofy on video, but your coworkers will secretly thank you for the decent audio, and may even be secretly jealous.

If you’re a musician and looking to do live-streaming, the best thing you could do to stand out has decent audio, especially if you’re going to be playing something louder than an acoustic guitar. If you happen to already have a Shure SM-58 (or another vocal mic), investing in an audio interface would take the inputs from your microphones and port them to your computer, giving a superior audio experience.

Lights and your camera

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of sunlight and windows where you work, be mindful of where they’re positioned in relation to you and your camera. Avoid having the windows and sunlight to your back, as the lights are going to wash you out. Ideally, you want the light source to be behind the camera, or lighting you from off to the side so that your face can be the brightest object on the screen. It may be necessary to turn off your background lights as well.

There are the fancy LED rings and studio lights (which are in short supply right now), but the reality is that even a desk lamp placed correctly would be sufficient for most people.

Streaming vs Hosting – it’s not either/or

I’ve seen a lot of people doing live streams on Facebook, from musicians to fitness classes, to public institutions. Facebook does make it easy to Livestream, especially if you’re using a mobile device, and it also rewards you by prominently showcasing your video in everyone’s feed. As nice a job Facebook is about live streaming, it’s awful about rebroadcasting and archiving your video. If you have a fitness class, for example, their interface makes it pretty hard to find the video, burying it deep in your page.

Facebook is also the most draconian about copyright claims. If you are playing music in the background of your video, YouTube will try to identify copyright holders and get them compensated. Worst case, you won’t be able to monetize your own video. With Facebook, however, that same music will get your video taken down, as they aren’t equipped to compensate copyright holders.

The fix is easy: if you Livestream on Facebook, great – but be sure to download the video and upload it to your YouTube channel as well. I would condition people to also go over to YouTube as well. YouTube will reward you (socially and maybe even monetarily) far more than YouTube will, plus you have a place you can refer people to outside of Facebook. If you’re doing something where you’re trying to build an audience, use an email list service like Mailchimp to correspond with them.


Ultimately it’s important to remember that each situation is different and it is easy to go overboard depending on what you’re looking to do. If you’re looking to dip into live streaming or giving long-form video lectures, your level of investment may be more than someone who is just doing a weekly video checkpoint for school. While streaming video is an incredible tool, it’s also most effective when used sparingly.

Do you have any video tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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5 Podcast Episodes That Blew My Mind

Happy start to your summer! If you’re like us, you’re likely venturing out on the road these next few months, you may be looking for ways to pass the time in the car. If you’re a podcast listener (and if you’re not, you really need to be!), I wanted to some standalone episodes that absolutely blew my mind and made me reconsider that subject, spawning some great conversations afterward.

99% Invisible – #346 – Palaces for the People

Those who know me (or read some of my previous posts) know that I feel strongly about libraries, so much so that I sometimes wonder whether I’m on an island of obscurity. Imagine my joy when one of my favorite podcasts did an entire episode on the importance of libraries, in the broader context of communities now needing to invest in social infrastructure, the same way we invest in municipal infrastructure. “Palaces for the People” does a great job articulating the evolving needs and services of our libraries, giving people access to resources they otherwise may not have.

Episode Link

Bonus 99% Invisible Episode: #318 Fire and Rain. Now that we’re unfortunately entering into fire season, this episode does a great job explaining the lessons many haven’t learned when designing and rebuilding their communities.

Switched on Pop – #112 – Country at the Crossroads

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Switched On Pop is a relatively new discovery for me, and you don’t have to be a musician to appreciate the way they deep-dive into the facets of the music and the song-writing process. This episode dives into the controversy surrounding Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and its removal from the Billboard Country Chart. They breakdown the basic aspects of modern country music and whether the song fits into those traits. It’s a really fascinating listen, especially if you’re a modern country music fan. If anything, it’ll give you a deeper appreciation for this more recent hit.

Episode Link

Twenty Thousand Herts – #62 – The Booj

Warning: Listening to this episode will forever ruin movie trailers for you. The “Booj” refers to the sub-woofer bass pitch change that you hear during modern movie trailers. This podcast covers the evolution of the movie trailer, especially into this decade, and the way they all use the same formula (especially in the sound design) to entice you to see the movie.They walk through the construction of a mock movie trailer using that formula. After listening to this podcast, I challenge you not to actively listen for the “booj” in the next trailer you see.

Episode Link

Disect – S2E6 – Power by Kanye West

2019-06-02 21_15_05-S2E6 – Power by Kanye West by Dissect • A podcast on Anchor

Whether or not you dig rap music, listening to this podcast will further your appreciation of rap. You don’t have to like Kanye to appreciate the intricacies of his music, and the decisions he made in the composition of the song. “Power” was already one of my favorite Kanye songs, as it’s perfect for running. This hour-long podcast examines everything from the sampling and the production elements to the backstory of all of the references made, line by line within the song. It should be noted that the song itself uses explicit language, and the podcast includes explicit references as well (so don’t listen to this one while you have kids in the car).

Episode Link

Revisionist History – S1E5 – Food Fight

This episode is a few years old, but has only become more relevant in the wake of the recent College Admissions scandal. “Food Fight” references the contrast between dining halls in Bowdoin College in Maine and Vassar College in upstate New York, illustrating how colleges are building extravagant amenities to entice students to attend, but decreasing the affordability of college to many. This really launched me into a lot of contemplation about college affordability and the place of higher education in our society.

Bonus: Check out the sequel, My Little Hundred Million.

Episode Link


These are but five standalone episodes, but I would be happy to provide more suggestions of a few ongoing series or seasons – just drop me a line! I’m also on the lookout for any other mind-blowing podcasts, please drop a comment if you have one!

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How to fix Twitter

Over the last 15 years, my affinity for social networks have come and gone, but Twitter has remained largely constant and for the most part, beneficial.  That said, Twitter has some serious wounds that they have yet to address after all of this time.  Twitter does have a tendency to get toxic in its discourse and does seem to often devolve to trolling and harassment.  While Twitter has paid lip service on fixing the issue, boasting about their improved capabilities in reporting and responding to abuse, it doesn’t seem like Twitter has the wherewithal to take the issue head-on.

Twitter’s problem: the blue checkmark

I remember when Twitter started to gain traction beyond the tech community, and you would start to see actual bonafide celebrities gain a massive amount of Twitter followers. Given the skepticism of the platform and its stage of growth, it made perfect sense for Twitter to institute a “verified” certification to help followers distinguish between a real person from a fake or parody account.  However, that blue checkmark has morphed into a validity tracker, a sign of whether someone has “made it” in the zeitgeist of popular culture.

By being secretive about how and which Twitter users get verified, Twitter has enabled the checkmark to become a status symbol, and a clear way of distinguishing who Twitter deems an influencer on their platform. This has resulted in the public developing a belief that verification is a defacto Twitter endorsement of that user on their platform. You see this play out when a celebrity or influencer causes controversy, which is met with an outcry that their verification status should be taken away.

Twitter needs to get back to the basics and impose the original intention of its blue check mark – that the Twitter user is in fact who they claim to be. This is the root of how to fix Twitter.

Step 1: Enable any user to get a blue checkmark

Rather than reserve it for the elite amongst our population, verification should be accessible by anyone. In fact, Twitter should enable users to request verification by collecting a modest fee – say $10-15 – to cover the costs of validating a users identity. As a user who is vested in the platform, I would gladly pay that amount to prove the legitimacy of my accounts identity to the world. In many ways this could enable another revenue stream for the company.

Step 2: Change the platform to ignore mentions and replies by unverified users

Twitter could then alter their interface to toggle between showing mentions/replies/interactions from unverified users. They say that on the Internet, anonymity is a hell of a drug – then enable Twitter users, from celebs to muggles, to choose whether they want to remove anonymity from their engagement. People could even take it a step further and allow their Tweets only to be seen by verified users. There are benefits in Twitter providing access to anonymity (e.g. whistle-blowing, speaking out against an oppressive government), but those that are concerned about trolling and harassment can easily disengage from those that aren’t brave enough to attach their identity to their comments.

Step 3: Ban the disruptive users

I know, they already ban the trolls, especially when they cross the line. Many will turn around and create another account, but this time when they do it, they will permanently lose their access to verification. They will now be relegated to the cesspool of anonymity that can easily be turned off with a toggle of the switch.

I realize this won’t fix all of Twitter’s problems, but I do think it would go a long way of re-establishing credibility within the platform, promote civility among their users, but yet continue to enable the ability to converse, discuss and debate on this public platform.

Please, @jack and the rest of Twitter, democratize the blue checkmark. Oh, and stop being jerks to the app developers that got you where you are today.

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Why Google Chat won’t fix messaging

Exclusive: Chat is Google’s next big fix for Android’s messaging mess

The fact that they’re looking to fix Android’s messaging mess and not everyone’s messaging mess is why this will probably fail yet again.

Real-time messaging (be it SMS or real-time chat) is an absolute cluster, not for lack of innovation, for an inability to reconcile the needs of the users over each company’s own goals, resulting in some very draconian restrictions.

I’ve been using GChat/Hangouts for well over a decade, in daily conversations with my wife and family.  We have a basic set of needs:

  1. Enabled for real-time chat
  2. Ability to receive and respond to notifications across both desktop and mobile phone
  3. Group chat capability
  4. Ability to share pictures and other media
  5. Have a large user base and a lower barrier to entry for new users

Hangouts has been solid but also is neglected by Google.  Now their latest focus is to shift Hangouts for Enterprise use and deprecate it for consumers.  Supposedly they were steering everyone to using Allo, and I remember being very excited its pending release – and then it came and underwhelmed.  What made Allo fail out the gate was the fact that it was tied to your phone number and only one device, so you couldn’t use it from a tablet, let alone a desktop.  Over a year later Google came up with this jenky workaround to have your phone forward chat notifications to a desktop, but worked unreliably and required you to have the app open on your phone.  Given they hampered a key feature of Hangouts, it all but wrote it’s failed destiny and is why it hasn’t been adopted.

I don’t see much difference with Chat. From the article, it seems to be driven by whether carriers will pick up the protocol. That’s well and good to get Android the same features that iMessage enjoys on iPhones, but does little for anyone else on the desktop or using an iOS device. By limiting their goals, Google will once again doom themselves to failure.

I’ve looked a lot of other messaging tools, but each one has its own set of problems. iMessage is designed to promote the sale of Apple devices, which is why you won’t ever see a Windows or Android client (removing #2 and #5). Signal, Telegram, and WhatsApp are all great apps with a lot of functionality but don’t have a big userbase and it’s hard to compel people to switch (with the caveat that WhatsApp is big for my international friends).  Facebook Messanger comes closest in terms of offering all the features, but feels really slimy and intrusive to use – and yes, I know that Google reaps the same benefits from inputting my personal information, but you’ve seen a lot more callous coming from Facebook lately.  Skype has been pivoting more into the messaging space, but they’ve had a bad spam problem and I’m not convinced people’s Skype contacts reflects all of their everyday chat contacts. The only time I go to Skype is to make a video call.

If Hangouts vanished overnight, I think I’d reluctantly migrate most of my activity to FB Messager.  It’s frustrating that Google is one few companies that has the clout and wherewithol to tackle this problem, but they’re hampered by their own blinders.  Until then we’re just confined to the ticking clock of neglected consumer Hangouts.

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Why I’m not buying an iPhone X

After two years of iPhone ownership, I’ve awaited the September iPhone event with much anticipation, eager to see what Apple is going to deliver. I’ve been fortunate enough to get day-of-launch devices through my participation in the iPhone Upgrade program, satisfying my geeky indulgence of having the cutting-edge phone as soon as possible. However this year, with the launch of the iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8, a huge wrench got thrown into my plans. After watching too many “first reaction” videos and finally having the Reality Distortion Field effects ware off, I’ve decided to forgo the iPhone X and opted for the iPhone 8 Plus.  There are a few factors that weighed into my decision, while much ado has been made about the cost, it wasn’t really a factor in my decision.

I’m not sold on FaceID

Take away the Zapruder-Film-Level scrutiny that’s going on with the “Demo Fail”, I’m just not convinced that FaceID is going to deliver the benefit over the drawbacks for not having TouchID.  When phones started introducing fingerprint sensors, they were replacing PIN-unlocking – or for many users: nothing. Even if/when TouchID doesn’t work, it defaults back to the previous level of authentication. As other phones have tried face scanning, it seems that many still provide a fingerprint sensor, but Apple has gone all in with the face detection.

Let’s assume FaceID works at least as well as TouchID (and I’m not convinced that night-time phone unlocking is going to be reliable or pleasant), unlocking a phone with FaceID is going to require more attention and friction than TouchID.  Gone will be any opportunity to inconspicuously unlock your phone and triage a notification, you’re going to need to intentionally look at your bright screen to unlock your phone.  It’s also not clear to me how to differentiate between an intentional unlock request and an accidental unlock. Take Apple Pay, for instance: there have been a few times where I didn’t mean to get to the Apple Pay prompt and was glad I didn’t have my finger on the home screen. How long will it be before we see stories about people making accidental in-app or Apple Pay purchases?

Don’t get me wrong, FaceID looks cool – but it seems like a solution in search of a problem, and the fact that you don’t get a choice between TouchID and FaceID in the same phone is problematic.

iPhone 8 Plus still seems like a great phone

From what I can tell, aside from the OLED display, the biggest differentiator between the iPhone 8 Plus and the X are all the sensors associated with FaceID.  Given that I’m not interested in FaceID, that leaves me missing out on the Animoji- which I likely wouldn’t use much due to the fact that I’M A GROWN-ASS MAN!  Maybe there will eventually be a compelling app that will utilize all of those sensors effectively and give me FOMO next spring, but I’m willing to take that risk.

The iPhone 8 and X share the same processor, and the 8 Plus has the same dual cameras (although I’ve read that the X’s has slightly better low-light performance). It’s not clear if there’s a RAM differentiation, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be significant.  Of course, the Plus has the larger form-factor, but I’m not necessarily clamoring for a smaller phone. Apple did toss iPhone 8 users a bone and did offer wireless charging so there’s that.

No-Bezel OLED sounds great, but I don’t know what I’m missing

That screen sounds (and looks) great, but given the way I consume content on my phone (mostly through Podcasts, Social Media, Email and slight gaming), it doesn’t really feel like I’ll be missing out all that much.  It’d be one thing if I were watching a lot of 4k content on my phone, but that doesn’t appeal to me. I agree that Apple’s bezels make the phone look dated, but I’m not sure if the “notch” at the top and the absence of the home button was the right way to solve that problem.  I think both app-makers and users alike will be going through growing pains through the next year to figure out the new interface.

I’m not willing to wait until November (or even longer)

Make one thing clear: if Apple could have released the phone at some semblance of scale in September, they would.  There have been rumors for months that OLED production has delayed the iPhone X. Apple, who is not willing to set delivery expectations, to begin with (just ask AirPod fans), will likely not be able to meet up the pent-up demand for the iPhone X. When the X goes on PreSale on October 27, the question will be whether it’ll be a matter of seconds – not minutes – before it sells out. At that point, only a few lucky few X fans will actually get their phones on Nov 3. I’m willing to bet that there will be folks who intended to buy on the X on October 27 will be waiting into 2018 before they can get their coveted device.

This brings me back to the Apple Upgrade Plan.  Apple Upgrade enables users to trade in their phone if they’ve made 12 of the 24 payments on their current device.  They can elect to trade it in early but will be required to pay whatever amounts gets them to the equivalent of 12 payments.  I’m willing to bet that when the iPhone XI comes out in 2018, it’s not going to be November, but all the people who value having the latest in greatest will be paying at least 2 months worth of payments early as a luxury tax.  I don’t fault people who are willing and can afford that, but to me, it’s just not worth it, especially in light of all of the doubts I have about FaceID.

 

There was a time where I cared deeply about having the latest and greatest, where I loved being an early adopter and a beta tester. Maybe it’s part of me getting older and having kids, but that priority is now subject to elevated scrutiny. Given the level of unknowns here, I’m not willing to pay the extra $200 just to be an early-adopter of technology that I’m not very enthusiastic, to begin with.  If you get very excited about the iPhone X, more power to you, but I just wanted to point out that there are valid reasons (besides cost), to stick with the 8 and watch the bugs shake out until next September.

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