Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Perfect Videoconferencing Set Up

For the past year I've been looking for ways to improve my videoconferencing experience.  I bought a 24" iMac solely for this purpose. The camera is the highest quality output I've experienced so far - even better than the HD (high definition) from my Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000... and the iMac's graphic processing makes the picture better than anything else I've tried.

So it's a very good experience. I videoconference my mother in Britain, and  a couple of years back bought her a 20" iMac. We can now both videoconference from the opposite ends of the earth using Skype for Mac, with very little audio/visual lag, and no headset or external microphone. The picture is stunning 90% of the time, and very good for the rest.

This lack of hardware means that either of us can wander off around the room while still talking and it gets picked up perfectly.

It struck me that the perfect videoconferencing setup would be a extension of what we are doing now. It would be a large lifesize screen on the wall of the room, left permanently on, and would act as a window so that as each party came into the area and found the other there, they could strike up a natural conversation without appointment or set up bother.

Doing videoconferencing this way would go a long way to making the event less of a TV appearance - with all its formality and structure - and more of an interconnector of events. It would appear as if the two parties were actually in the same room on a conversational level.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How I Found A Checklist To Run My Online Business

My online business has a series of sequential, recurring and mostly daily to-do steps that it needs to accomplish, or die. Items like:

- process all manual orders
- write article for newsletter and publish
- put article on blog
- write weekly article for directories
- answer client support issues
- back up databases
- check auto backups
- check order links for sales page working

And so on, right to the end task: "Clear desk completely."

There's a lot of stuff to do, even though some steps might only take a minute or two. I have about 35 daily checklist items that must be done for my business to survive and thrive. And these steps have to be done religiously every day. When there's a lot going on you have to be on top of the stuff that matters, whether it's organizational or marketing. Most small businesses have the same requirement.

But a lot of business owners don't do enough. While I'm an enthusiast of Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour WorkWeek, the reality is that a substantial or growing business needs more than an hour a day to be continually successful. So the list of essential to-do's is a large part of the success operation.

I've had many headaches over the years trying to design and run a perfect checklist system. Seems so simple to do, but it's not. One of the problems was finding a way to separate the daily tasks from the weekly ones. I kept a paper diary for a while and wrote the tasks on Post-It notes, shifting them all to the next page as required. Very messy.

Then I used the checklist in an Outlook email message that I kept in a folder titled "-DAILY". The hyphen ensured that it stayed at the top of my folder list. As each day went past I would prefix the completed task with an 'x' if completed, or a '-' if not. At the end of the week I would wipe out all the x's and -'s and start again. But that was unwieldy and time consuming, and it was often hard to see where I was at any time of the week.

The commercial programs available weren't much better either. They were often clunky and unattractive in a DOS format kind of way, and didn't present the checklist as I thought it should be set out, or buried it in other less effective areas. None really had a common enough structure.

That's until I came across gtdagenda, a web based task management system.

It has a number of goal setting and task devices built around David Allen's cult of efficiency, "Getting Things Done" (the gtd part of the program), but that wasn't what attracted me. It was the checklist system, which has proven to be an exact match for my needs.

After years of trying other things, this program has finally fitted around what I need, almost intuitively. The layout and methodology is very good. If you're task-oriented as I am, this has got to be the best way to cover your dailies. And as you 'do the business' each day, you have the confidence of knowing that your butt is covered and nothing falls through the cracks. And being web based, you know it's not going to leave you high and dry when your PC crashes.

Best way is to take a look - it's self explanatory. There's a free option too, with a limited number of items (free) through to unlimited, starting from under $4/mth.

Since I started using Gtdagenda this last week, I've actually become more efficient and motivated. Using just a checklist system - I know, sounds crazy - but it works beautifully.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Yes, I know...

I'm on a post holiday right now! Nothing much happening at the moment.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


I love the convenience of my screens! My office is on the bottom of our 4 level home, and it's a 20 second climb to get to the lounge or front door. So I'm extending my reach through cameras and screens.

At the moment I have a screen open (using the first of 4 outdoor security cameras to come), showing the road outside my office. I have motion sensor fields so that when a car drives down the road it is recorded to my hard drive, and I can play it back anytime.

I used it yesterday to see whether a courier had come up the road to drop off an expected delivery at my front door. They had (at 13.19.05!) - so I went up to collect it - the SeeEye-2-Eye eye level viewing device I talked about a few posts back. More about that in a later post. The delivery I was hoping for was a dome camera for the front door which I will connect to my security screen. That came later in the afternoon and I'm testing it now.

On another dedicated 15" tv screen I'm watching one of my Roombas vacuuming our lounge 3 levels up. I have the sound on so I can hear when the job is done. The wireless camera - one of four around the house - shows the room with incredible detail. In this photo it's easy to see how I've turned over a corner of the rug for the Roomba to do underneath, but on other occasions I can also see if our cat lying under the coffee table has her eyes open or not.

So far I have 8 working screens in my office connected round the house, gradually building up a complete surveillance. It's a great life, this video life!

Monday, January 07, 2008

portable videoconferencing device

If you have a spare US$700, Creative will sell you a portable, wireless videoconferencing unit (picture from here):

This was first announced in December 2007 on the enGadget blog, and officially at CES 2008 last Saturday.

According to the enGadget website: "the portable video conferencing device promises that "you can join a board meeting in Geneva, a one-on-one in Africa, and your child's birthday party in California while you're stuck in the airport in Australia."

No launch date yet for the Creative inPerson Video Conferencing device.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

where is videoconferencing heading in the future?

The convenience of videoconferencing is not that hard to promote. The advantages - like those shown in this simple but cute ad, and many more like it - are pretty ho-hum by now:

Of course we know that videoconferencing replaces traveling and all its inconveniences. Yet we still do it. Yes, it's great to talk to someone from halfway round the world in an instant. But phone was the same 50 years ago.

So if it's all a little commonplace and predictable, what's the future of videoconferencing in 2008 and 5 years beyond?

I don’t think much will improve until a 'next big thing' like full color holography emerges. And hopefully not like this 1980's Star Wars version:

In the meantime I'm predicting we'll be making smaller increments of change:

- Video call quality will improve. That's a given. With all the emphasis presently put on videoconferencing as a foreign medium (not as easy to use as the phone, and 50% of the population so far not wanting it), there's not many places to go except stepping up the quality. Even so, improving quality will attract people like me, but the masses won't notice.

- The desktop will reign because it's convenient and cheap. Think how hard it is for the average person to set up a dedicated videoconferencing room with proper lighting and sound. Even though I'm a stickler for quality, I'm still very satisfied with my setup... natural window light, my Polycom Communicator for the best sound outside a head mic, and the Skype High Quality video. It will take a big quality jump to get an improvement on that.

- High definition will get better, but won't help much. Last year I went to a LifeSize demo in my city because I was curious to find out the advantages, if any, of true high definition. I wasn't that impressed. It turned out exactly as I expected. The 42" flat screen on the wall still contained a "tv announcer," and the conversation was a little disembodied as a result of a lack of high quality audio. That's the problem... HiDef videoconferencing today still looks like we're interacting with a better quality tv. The personal interaction is lost - a step removed from reality - which is the holy grail of videoconferencing.

Here's another LifeSize ad which tries to bridge this reality gap, and I think does it quite well:

- Interfaces will improve. I hope so. The Skype window, similar in design to SightSee, is very unattractive. Like Google and Amazon, it is in that state because it's simple. But simple is not always best because these interfaces are not intuitive and it's still hard to use. I hope they improve it somehow.

- Multitasking will get better. Split screens for video and data will become more important. Imagine talking with a relative and showing a photo of your family trip to them in another window. Or bringing up a website on the data window while you're talking about a product. It's done now, but not easily. This futuristic Apple ad on videoconferencing shows how well that integration (around 6:40) could be:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

simplification isn't easy

Why is everything about computing so complicated? Why can't the engineer geeks stay inside the box and out of the GUI designer's way?

Geeks talk in a strange language that takes years to acquire. I daren't mention words like download and upload to anyone new to computers - because those expressions just don't make sense to them.

Why don't we call it the more logical IN and OUT instead?


(And if you didn't know what the confusing acronym 'GUI' stands for, google it).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

skype video auto-answer

Skype's auto-answer is an ideal way to make the reply process easy for the receiving party. All they need to do is sit at their computer when it rings and wait for the video window to open.

To set Skype to auto-answer in video, use the Skype program menu:

Tick the box "Automatically answer incoming calls" and click "Save."

Your receiving party will still have to mouse-click the icon in the video picture to enlarge the live video if they want a bigger view.

I will be experimenting later with Macro Express to see if it will open a large window automatically.

nicholas negroponte's video vision

In his 1995 book "Being Digital," the then director of MIT's Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, talked about a telepresence project he was involved in (p121).

His idea was to project an exactly registered video of the subject onto the back of a translucent, life-size mask of their face. When the video ran, the impression of reality was impressive.

Could this be the future - or at least until holography catches up with videoconferencing?

Here's a quick graphic I whipped up to show how it works, with thanks to Rutgers for the animation faces:

Monday, December 31, 2007

new video conferencing technology

Here's a selection of videoconferencing ideas. I especially like the idea of the virtual dinner:

Links to this story:
Apple iChat:
Accenture's Virtual Dining: