At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.

Category: video

Be Careful what You Say Around your Tech

When your voice-activated tech misbehaves, the problem may be caused by something you said. Here’s a fix to consider.

I’ve just put my old GoPro to work as a webcam, tethered to my PC laptop that I’m using for my job. Wearing my MacGyver hat, I easily connected the GoPro to my computer with an Elgato Cam Link 4K video converter. This adapter can transform many cameras with a HDMI output into a simple USB webcam.

I prefer my GoPro’s shot to my laptop’s built-in webcam, because the GoPro offers a wider-angle view. That framing gives me more room to use my body language when I talk to colleagues on Zoom. And I’ve found that can help me better connect with people I’ve never met in person.

But there was a problem.

Who’s Controlling your GoPro?
A couple days into its new mission as a webcam, my GoPro inexplicably began glitching out. One day it magically kicked into video mode and began recording my conversation. The next morning, it snapped a burst of pictures during a Zoom meeting. Its little blinking red light was the dead giveaway that there was a gremlin in the system.

Or was there?

I put on my diagnostic lab coat to see if there might be a GoPro setting that was causing the problem. I first upgraded the GoPro’s operating system and then poked around the menu. I eventually came to the voice control option. It was set to ‘on.’

Hmmm….

Is your GoPro Simply Following Orders?
“GoPro, take a photo!”

That’s the fun phrase my eleven-year-old son and I love to blurt out when taking GoPro selfie shots during weekend hikes with friends.

Yes… my GoPro can be voice activated. And it has been reliably obedient for selfie shots during our weekend hiking adventures.

So why wouldn’t its audio parlor trick also be in play during its weekday duties? Of course my GoPro was listening to me during my Zoom meetings! I must have said something that resembled, “GoPro start recording,” or “GoPro shoot burst.”

After my big ‘aha,’ I simply deactivated my GoPro’s voice-control mode, and thankfully, my GoPro started behaving again.

Problem solved.

But my reestablished tech Zen was short lived.

What Did You Say?
Uncovering my mistake brought up a larger question. How much of my tech is always listening to me, and how often is it misinterpreting my words and reacting in ways that it shouldn’t?

My Alexa-enabled Sonos speaker in my home office occasionally interrupts me when I’m on the phone or doing a Zoom meeting, because it thinks it heard me summon it. I usually shrug it off and shake my head, both slightly amused and a tad irritated.

Even Siri on my Apple Watch has awkwardly tried to jump into my conversations.

User Error
I’m not exactly sure what to make of all this, except to accept that voice-activated tech can sometimes react in ways we don’t want. Its skills may be imperfect. But then again, so are humans. That combination can easily lead to unexpected and imperfect results.

As more components of our smart homes begin to possess voice control, it will become increasingly important not to forget what we’ve set up to listen to our lives. (And I’m not talking about the whole privacy question. We’ll leave that topic for another day.)

Sure, it’s cool to control your surroundings with your voice. That said, I hope you talk clearly and remember the right command phrases. It would be a shame if your future tech misinterprets your intent and ruins your day… or worse.

But don’t worry. It’s probably just ‘user error.’

Time for an upgrade?

The Secret to a Successful Remote Work Experience

Here’s my #1 insight as an employee who never physically met a colleague during the pandemic.

I just left a great job where I worked with a lot of talented people. I always felt connected to those colleagues. We talked regularly, explored the creative process in real time and produced strong video storytelling together.

But I never met any of them in person. Not once.
(Well, I actually did meet one in the New York City office during my interview process right before the world shut down.)

That, of course, was due to the pandemic and some coincidental timing during this chapter in the journey of my career.

Connectivity Denied
I came on board a few weeks into the pandemic.

Like many employees during the forced separation of our Covid-19 experience, my colleagues and I worked from home and relied on the magic of technology to stay tethered.

In many ways, it was remarkably straightforward. Email and instant messaging have been in place for years as the main way to communicate in the corporate environment. So that translates perfectly into any work-from-home scenario.

Using the phone can certainly keep you connected, but the art of the phone call has been on the decline. Many people prefer not to use voice comms when tapping down their thoughts and using an emoji or two will do just fine.

But, of course, I experienced no in-person group meetings in corporate conference rooms. No one-on-ones in the same space. No water-cooler chats.

All of that in-person connection opportunity. The ton of visual communication cues. The raw physical experience. It never existed.

Initiating a video conference meeting (like Zoom, Teams or Webex) was really the only tech tool available to replace the massive gap.

The Power of Video Conferencing
It’s not like remote work and video conferencing from home never existed before. But often, there was an in-person meet-and-greet along the way.

But remote employees hired after March 2020 have been part of this unscheduled social experiment of extreme work isolation over these past fifteen months.

I was one too.

Regular webcam meetings were absolutely essential to building and maintaining my work relationships. And I’m not just talking about group video conference meetings that I hosted or attended. It’s often the impromptu chat that can make all the difference. And I believe that one-on-one conversations are most effective when you can see the other person on your computer screen.

A couple former colleagues liked to poke fun at me for my insistence at always having my webcam turned on during our meetings and impromptu conversations. That’s fine. That’s what I needed to do.

Interestingly, I ran across more than a few people who chose to never turn on their webcams. They existed to me only as disembodied voices. Some apologized for not being ‘camera ready.’

For those of you who have similar inclinations, I would say we’re all Zooming from home with limited conditions. No one lives in a professional TV studio with perfect lighting and an art-directed background.

Using a virtual background can help, but I gave up that imperfect trick months ago. I now prefer showing it like it is. My home office may appear a tad cluttered. So what? (Hey, I’m the parent of an eleven-year-old boy, and I’m the home IT guy. It’s my reality. It’s my authentic space.)

But if you feel that using a virtual background to mask ‘imperfections’ will help you to turn on your webcam, then I’d say it’s worth doing.

Can You See Me?
Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to see the people I work with. (Even projecting a photo icon helps.) Visual communication is so critical to build solid working relationships. And I think this is true for most of us.

For those people who I never got to see, I’m not here to judge their choice. I’m sure they have good reasons. (We were all struggling through a pandemic!)

That said, I must confess that I just couldn’t develop as strong a connection with those individuals as I wanted. Maybe that’s my own problem. But I do think we all need a little visual now and again to help make it real.

It Shouldn’t be a Secret
By now, I’m sure it won’t surprise you to read that my secret to a successful remote work experience…

…is to just turn on your webcam! The rest follows.

They say simply showing up is a key to success. If that’s true, then I think you’ve got to show up for your close up. It’s as easy as that.

This will apply beyond the pandemic. I’m sure video conferencing from home isn’t going away as the workplace shifts into a new post-pandemic norm.

And for those co-workers who don’t report to the same office, this best practice couldn’t be more relevant. (Lots of my former colleagues live in different cities.)

Day 1
And as I look forward, I take these important visual communication tech tips to the next chapter in my career.

I’ve got my webcam set, my lighting prepped and my audio triple checked.
(Yes, it’s important to be seen, but they’ve also got to hear you clearly!)

Testing. Testing. One… two… three.
Here we go!

My anticipation feels like the first day of school.

I love it.

The Struggle Between Good and Good Enough on Zoom

Showing up properly for your next meeting requires a different set of tools and attitude in this Zoom-centric reality. Here’s why it matters.

Over the past year, the Zoom revolution has put the spotlight on home video production to handle content creation for any number of needs including work, web and broadcast.

If you want to create a quality video feed using something less than professional video gear, it’s been demonstrated that you can do that. It takes some cash, though not a boatload of money, compared to what professional gear costs.

You may need to invest in:

  • A good webcam
  • A desktop tripod
  • Lighting that’s soft on your face
  • A decent microphone

Then, make sure you’ve got a real background that’s interesting, but not cluttered. (I’m less excited these days about virtual backgrounds.) And now you’re probably ready to create some decent looking video content.

No, it’s not going to be the same quality as what thousands of dollars of gear can do for you, but it’s not terrible either.

Unnecessary Effort?
But to generate a video and audio feed that’s good, you’ve also got to put in some effort. It’s not only about the gear you’re using. And there’s the rub.

It takes time to set it all up and maximize your shot.

It’s clearly a different level of commitment than opening your laptop and clicking on Zoom (or other video conference apps).

A simple click is still going to get a video and audio signal out to your viewers. And I bet a lot of people would say that’s good enough.

Good enough.

If good enough works for you, why spend money and unnecessary time to make it better?

The Allure of a One-Click Solution
I think that everyone should always try to look their best, both in person and in a virtual environment. Presenting yourself to your world is a life-long task. But I think when using Zoom, that can be a difficult sell.

Sure, if you’re hosting a webinar or doing a live shot for a media company, you probably understand that your video and audio feed should be the best possible.

But I imagine there are countless Zoom moments when people feel it’s not particularly important to do anything more than the bare minimum. Why not just open your laptop and simply click and start your video stream?

It’s good enough.

Why Deal with the Mess?
Whether using your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, technology has given us the ability to do the impossible. Generating a live video feed once took lots of people and expensive production gear to accomplish the same feat through a TV station’s full resources.

Professional video production often looks like a mad scientist’s lab with cables and power cords running askew and bright lights dangling from the ceiling.

You can also create a mess if you’re trying to improve your Zoom game at home when adding in your extra gear. Simple isn’t exactly the way to describe the experience.

On the other hand, simplicity, speed and dare I say… elegance is what comes to mind when you just lift up your laptop screen without any additional video prep, and you’re instantly ready to activate your next Zoom.

That’s hard to beat and a great reason for good enough.

Zoom is Now a Part of Life
In most Zoom situations, why should anyone feel the need to do more? (Heck, even activating your video feed is an step that so many opt out of.)

I like to say you’ve got to show up for your close up. But it’s really more about simply showing up.

This is your life. Like it or not, Zoom is now a necessary part of it.

We are a social species. To be most effective when communicating, people really need to see you. And a terrible representation of your image that barely looks like you isn’t enough. It can say you’re dialing it in. Or worse… You don’t care.

That’s why good enough isn’t good enough.

It’s Time to Shine
Face it. Your life is being televised now.

So put on your Zoom shirt. Set up your Zoom shot. And do your best to fully inhabit your little Zoom box.

Then reach out and connect.

Good.

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