At Home with Tech

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Tag: Webcams

Why Can’t People Remember my Name?

My name is not Lester Barrett. But lots of folks have incorrectly called me Lester across the years. Here’s how I handle this challenge.

I have two first names and two last names. My parents thought Barrett was a cool name, and my mother told me that she liked the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. So, Barrett is born, and my story begins.

I Like my Name
There are not that many Barrett’s out there. Not as a first name. Not that I’ve found. In fact, I think I can count the number on one hand. I’ve always thought that was great. Not having to share my name with countless others. It complements my identity as an only child. (But that’s another story for another day.)

Hi, my name is Barrett. How do spell that? That’s Barrett with two t’s.

Please Don’t Call me Barry
That’s usually as far as it goes with my first name. People get it. It’s easy to pronounce. Barrett sticks the landing pretty much every time as a functional name. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Sometimes people ask me if I have a nickname… like Barry. No.

I hate ‘Barry.’ That’s not my name. Please don’t call me that.

My name is Barrett. And with surname?
Barrett Lester

And when they hear my both names, that’s when many folks run into trouble.

Lester is not my First Name
That’s because Lester is a more common first name. And Barrett is a more common last name.

I would say that across my entire life to date, 50-55% of people I meet initially call me Lester, either verbally or via email. And after I correct them, another 20-30% make the mistake again or even repeatedly.

Just so you know, I’m not really that upset about all of this. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient. But I actually find it quite interesting.

Paying Attention to Complexity
Names in general can be a terribly complex category. Even the simplest of names can have any number of different spellings. You’ve really got to pay attention. (I am absolutely not immune to occasionally misspelling a name.)

When it comes to names, everyone should be on their toes. You can’t make any assumptions.

My Jedi Mind Trick
To be fair, yes, I know Lester sounds like a better first name. And that presumption seems to be locked into a number of brains I’ve encountered.

It’s locked in really tight, and I realized many years ago that I needed a solution that would effectively rewrite that flawed code in people’s brains. I had to rewire that Lester-first neuron pathway into a stronger Barrett synapse connection.

How did I do that? Trial and error.

I finally landed on a simple mental trick that works with the majority of my test subjects…

The correct order of my name is alphabetical.

  • The letter ‘B’ comes before the letter ‘L.’
  • It’s Barrett Lester.
  • That’s how you remember.
  • BAM!

After that, people get it right.

Use your Webcam
Anyone can make an innocent mistake when it comes to remembering a name. I think that’s even more likely if you’ve never met the person face to face or had voice contact.

Your connection may be as wafer thin as a cc on an email chain.

In today’s virtual work environments, there are often so many people we’re connected to who are almost total strangers.

That’s a problem. And it’s one that we all bear a responsibility to fix.

If you’re connected to someone as part of a personal or work community, then why not say hello and talk for a few minutes? If that person is half way across the world, then use your webcam.

A visual and audio connection can do wonders.

Really.

And that will help you to remember someone’s name.

What’s in a Name?
One last point on my name: There are a very few people who know me well who occasionally call me Lester with intention. It’s usually during a funny moment. And I like funny. Then that’s okay to call me by my last name. The intention to get it wrong is what makes it feel entirely right.

So let’s review.

Barrett Lester is my name. Please don’t call me Lester. Unless I know that you know that my name is Barrett. Then, you can call me Lester.

Am I clear?

I expect this entire blog post isn’t going to serve as my best Barrett Lester branding exercise, but if you use my Jedi mind trick that the letter ‘B’ comes first, you should be okay.

Thank you.

Why It may be Time to Upgrade your Webcam

If you still look like a shadow of your true self in Zoom meetings, you should consider using a more powerful camera.

It’s fair to say we’ll be needing our webcams, well… forever. If video conference meetings from home weren’t already part of our daily lives before the pandemic, well, now they certainly are. And no matter what the future holds, virtual meetings are here to stay.

We’ve had two years to figure out how to set up a decent Zoom shot. If you’re still not happy with it, the problem may be your computer’s mediocre webcam. If so, it’s time to upgrade and buy a dedicated external USB camera for your computer.

Can Another Camera You Own do the Job?
But before you start shopping for a new webcam, make sure you don’t already own another device that you can repurpose such as a camcorder or DSLR-style camera.

You just need to make sure that your higher-end camera can offer a ‘clean’ video output via a HDMI connector. Then you’ll need a HDMI to USB converter like the ‘Cam Link 4K’ to integrate the video feed into your computer.

My New Lumix GH5 II
Recently, I bought myself a Panasonic Lumix GH5 II
with a Panasonic 12-35 mm/f2.8 II lens.
(“Why Barrett, you shouldn’t have!”)

And of course, I immediately wanted to jack this Micro Four Thirds, mirrorless camera into my iMac to see what would happen.

Sure, using a higher-end camera with a serious lens as a basic webcam is way overkill, but it works just fine. And the look is beautiful. In fact, it’s ridiculous.

The webcam on my iMac is perfectly adequate, but when I changed over to my GH5 II, the visual difference was dramatic.

Don’t Buy More than You Need
Now, I’m not saying you should run out and spend ten times the cost of a typical webcam to upgrade your Zoom look.

But if you’ve already got a more powerful camera that can also be used as a webcam, then why not? (Previously, I had been repurposing my old GoPro as a webcam via my Cam Link 4K.)

Your Desk will get Messy
Now here comes the big disclaimer…

Yes, integrating a ‘real’ camera into your desktop computer or laptop will creating an amazing image, but functionally, the process is not elegant. You’ve got to put a tripod on your desk and position it right next to your computer screen, so you’re not looking too far off camera when you take a peek at the other folks in your Zoom window.

Then, you’ve got the HDMI and power cables coiling in front of your screen to contend with. It’s a mess. (You start to feel like a battery person trapped in “The Matrix,” even though the cables aren’t actually coming out of your body.)

Even attaching a tiny new webcam to your laptop involves an extra cable and a webcam mount, and it takes a couple more steps every time you prepare for a video conference. Plus, you’ve got to adjust your webcam and test your shot to make sure you’re framed correctly.

That’s takes work… sometimes a lot of work. One might say it’s an absurd effort. And for what?

Nothing beats the ease of simply clicking on ‘join’ and letting your integrated webcam do its job. Whatever your viewers see, they see. If you’re only partially in the shot, that’s better than nothing, right?

What’s so bad with that approach? (And if you really feel that way, please continue taking your blue pills. Your next Zoom meeting in the Matrix is in ten minutes!)

Can You See Me Now?
Frankensteining any camera into your computer is a bit messy… sometimes very messy. But the good news is it’s not really that complicated.

Do you still make an effort to put on a nice shirt for your Zoom meetings, and have you spent more than a few minutes trying to adjust the lighting on your face? Are you still unsatisfied with your shot?

If so, then you’re a prime candidate to consider upgrading your webcam. (And if you’re already in the market for a nice camera to handle your photography and video projects, you can free two birds with one key, like I did.)

I expect you will not be disappointed with your decision to improve your Zoom look. It’s actually a great New Year’s resolution, and one that you’ll continue reaping benefits from throughout the entire year!

How to Permanently Elevate your Laptop to Create a Better Zoom Shot

Do you suffer from ‘ceiling shot syndrome’ when using your laptop for video conference meetings? This solution will fix the problem.

If you’re Zooming all day from your laptop on your desk, your computer’s little webcam is probably looking up at you during your video conference meetings. That’s not good, because it’s an unflattering shot. The telltale sign of your up-angle live stream is when your viewers can see your ceiling behind your head instead of a wall.

I like to refer to that unfortunate webcam positioning as ‘ceiling shot syndrome.’

One way to fix the problem is to pile some books under your laptop to help elevate your webcam. Then, it will be able to point at you more horizontally. But that unstable solution is hardly a permanent fix.

It may be time to create a consistent and steady platform for your laptop’s webcam to see you at eye level.

Levitate your Laptop with a Desk Stand
Of course, a standing desk can do the trick. But if your laptop is stuck on a standard desktop, you need another way to bring your laptop up a foot or so.

The solution is to add an adjustable-height laptop desk stand to your home office equation.

It’s important to find a stand that will reposition your laptop’s webcam high enough to meet your face. So, get a ruler and measure from your desk’s surface up.

In my own research, I found three choices that provide more height than most stands out there:

The Right Design
All three have a similar Z-frame design with a relatively compact base, a tilt-forward surface and an expandable mid-section. I like this design, because it gives you flexibility on how high you can position your laptop. And it doesn’t make a massive footprint on your desk.

Plus, it’s nice that they all can fold up for portability and storage.

They all have received really good reviews. So how do you choose? Well, I simply went with the lowest price.

It’s the Nulaxy.

Click.

Say Goodbye to Ceiling Shot Syndrome
Over the past fifteen months, I’ve been using an old printer stand that I’ve had for years. Its sturdy but clunky design appears inspired by 1940s technology. The bigger problem was that it was only able to elevate my laptop a mere six inches.

So, my printer stand was never quite able to succeed in its new mission. And though it gave my laptop some height, I still suffered from ceiling shot syndrome. (Yes, I admit it.)

My Nulaxy will be a big improvement, as the stand will more than double my laptop’s elevation.

It’s always important to be able to look at someone eye to eye… and on a level plane. With the right stand for your laptop, it’s much easier to do that during your Zoom meetings.

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