Brandt Krueger

Freelance Technical Meeting and Event Production, Education, Speaking, and Consulting. Geek Dad, Husband

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Cohost, #EventIcons - Where the icons of the event industry meet

Filtering by Category: Advice and Wisdom

The Road-Life Balance: Tips for the Traveling Pro​

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One of the best pieces of advice that’s ever been given to me is this:

“There is no work/life balance. There is only Life.”

In other words, life is not some giant scale or ledger whose accounts must be balanced. Instead, it’s a series of priorities. Sometimes those priorities may be family and friends, other times it may be your career. It all depends on what the priority is at that moment in your life. It’s a convenient (and in my opinion significantly less stressful) way of dealing with your personal and professional world, rather than constantly trying to find some kind of balance between the two.

I’ve come to realize, however, that there was some imbalance in my life. It wasn’t a work/life imbalance, but rather a road/life imbalance. Travel has always been a part of my job working in the meetings and events industry for the last 20 years, but these days I’m on the road at least once or twice a month. It’s not that uncommon in our industry, especially for those of us that do corporate or association meetings and events. That being said, there are plenty of road warriors across all disciplines that reach Platinum flight status by June.

And I hear the same things from almost all of them:

“Ugh, I always come away from these trips 10 pounds heavier.”

I know that’s the case for me. I’ve been tracking my weight almost daily over the last year and you can see a noticeable uptick whenever I went on the road. The longer I was on the road, the more weight I gained.

It’s more than just weight, though. I’d be exhausted, cranky, and basically useless for a period of time after I got back from a trip. The longer the trip, the longer the recovery.

The reasons for all of this are probably obvious to you, as they are to me. When we’re on the road, we act like different people than we do at home. We eat more, and we justify it because we’ve walked 35,000 steps around a convention center (or airports, or city center) all day. We drink more alcohol because of the “work hard, play hard” mentality that so many companies have. We get up stupid early and we go to bed stupid late to accommodate full schedules. Fitness center for a run? Bah! When am I going to get the chance when I’ve already got a 6am call scheduled?

Basically, with the exception of the actual work we do, we act a lot like we do when we’re on vacation. Eat lots, drink lots, sleep little, exercise little. The difference is, most people don’t go on vacation once or twice a month, and if they did, they’d probably gain weight too.

I became determined to find a solution. Some way to bring Road Me and Home Me in to closer alignment. Here’s a little of what I’ve found so far…

The Quest for Continuity

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Even before the weight tracking, I’d actually been playing around with the idea of road/life balance for years. It occurred to me one day while I was starting my day at home, that I had completely different morning routines when I was on the road versus when I was at home. How many times I’d hit snooze, when I’d get my first cup of coffee - even when, and how often, I’d brush my teeth! And so began the Quest for Continuity, my attempt to start being the same person, no matter where I was in the world.

It began, as I said, with my morning and evening routines. I started buying duplicates of all my toiletries, so that I didn’t actually have to remember to pack them. Everything is the same- same shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush- all of it, packed into TSA approved 3 oz containers so I can carry them on. Just doing that made me start to feel more at home on the road.

There were also things that I did on the road that I started to bring home: I realized that I was brushing my teeth more often on the road, and decided I liked my “road toothbrush” better than the one I had at home, so I bought another one. I realized on the road I’d have my first cup of hotel-room coffee before I hopped in the shower, and started doing the same at home.

Results: Because I use my own soaps, shampoos, and conditioners, I feel more refreshed and clean throughout the day. I also, err… smell more like myself, rather than some Orange Lily Ginger-Infused Jasmine bath bar with a vaguely European-sounding name that the hotel contracted to supply as its guest soap. By keeping it in my carry-on, I can wash up quickly on long-haul flights, arriving at home feeling slightly less road-funky. By changing when I drank that first cup of coffee, I emerge from the shower more awake than I used to. Super-glad we have that Keurig to get it going quickly!

Sleep

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I don’t trust hotel clock radios, and only use them as emergency backups. Usually I use my phone as an alarm, and have been using the same alarm app for years. For really early mornings, I’ll set a wakeup call as a backup. As part of looking at my morning routine, I realized I was hitting snooze a lot more on the clock radio at home than I was on the road. I started using my phone instead of the clock radio, using the same app I used on the road. I’ve set it with a hard limit of 2 snoozes, and it makes me do math problems before it will shut off. I hate it often, but it always gets me up.

I also make sure to pack the same kind of clothes I wear to bed at home when I’m on the road. It’s easy to say you’ll just sleep in whatever, but remember we’re going for continuity here. If you sleep in PJs, pack PJs. T-shirt and shorts? Pack ‘em.

And finally, check that thermostat. I usually sleep with the temp around 68, and I open the windows whenever it’s practical to do so. I hate that recycled hotel AC, and I avoid it as much as I can.

Results: The amount of time I have to allow myself to get ready in the morning is significantly reduced, because I know I can’t snooze more than 12 minutes. Often on the road I’ll start the coffee maker between the first and second snooze so it’s ready when I get up. I find I sleep more comfortably in my own cozy bed clothes and with the room at the right temperature, and this seems to help me get over that “can’t sleep well on the first night” that happens to a lot of us. By getting more sleep on the road, I find I’m not as wiped out when I get home, shortening the recovery time.

Food

Obviously this is a big one. Although it’s almost impossible to eat like I do at home when I’m on the road, I’ve been focusing on trying to do it as much as possible. Take breakfast for example: On the road I found myself eating giant breakfasts of eggs, toast, bacon, hashbrowns- whatever was being served for free or at the buffet. Most of us do not eat that way every day at home.

My standard fare is a very light breakfast and about 4 or 5 (small- not Venti) cups of coffee before noon, which is about 500 calories less than a typical hotel breakfast. I’ve started bringing a small insulated cooler about the size of a lunch bag in my backpack, filled with turkey snack sticks and string cheese. I find a couple of these plus a cup of coffee is usually enough to get me going in the morning, and if I get snacky, I can always grab another one as needed for a little burst of protein and fat. They’re fast and easy, and you can eat them on the run. If you’re vegetarian, dried nuts and fruit would probably make a nice substitute, and doesn’t require a cooler sack. By snacking throughout the morning, I find I’m not as starving by noon which helps with the next pitfall, lunch.

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Especially when we’re working hard, our lunches tend to be fast food, flat meat on giant buns, or more hotel banquet food. Not much we can do about that, but I’ve found that by snacking in the morning, I’m not ravenous by the time it’s lunch, which at least keeps me from wolfing down a ton of bad food. We also often justify this with “Who knows when I’m going to get around to dinner?” This is also avoided by keeping a supply of snacks in your bag, so you don’t feel obligated to eat until you’re stuffed.

Dinner? So far I’ve just been leaving that be. I’ve tried to make a little bit smarter choices, but when you’re all going out for the Best Pizza in New York, I’m not going to say no. Plus in my line of work, dinner is frequently the only time you get to experience a little life “outside the ballroom”.

Results: The last two trips I’ve been on I have maintained my weight, give or take a couple pounds- at least within the ranges of normal fluctuation. I’ve also felt like I had more energy in the mornings, not as obligated to over-eat on lunches, and even been popular with team members and clients for sharing my snacks! I felt less guilty about having a larger meal at dinner, and get to enjoy the nightlife a little more.

Exercise

Since I’ve been shooting for continuity, I’ve been trying to find an exercise regime that works both at home and on the road. I enjoy walking/running on the treadmill, but frequently don’t have time to take an hour a day on the road to do so. Plus, I’m not much of a morning person, so I’m not getting up at 4am to work out before a 6am crew call.

My search has focused on exercises that can be done in short durations. There’s been a lot of research that shows that short workouts of high intensity can be just as beneficial as longer workouts, so that helps with not having to get up as early. I’ve also been looking at workouts that can be done inside a hotel room, so I can save even more time by not having to trek down to the hotel fitness center. There’s occasionally time on a job where the morning is booked, but I might have an hour to spare in the afternoon. Not enough time to get to the room, change, head to the fitness center, run, get back, shower, change and get back to the ballroom, but if there were something shorter… maybe…

I’ve settled on trying two sets of workouts, both very similar:

Five exercises you can do in your hotel room in 15 minutes - USA Today
http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/roadwarriorvoices/2015/02/23/get-a-full-workout-in-your-hotel-room-with-these-bodyweight-exercises/83837354

and,

The Scientific Seven Minute Workout - New York Times
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout/

Be warned, the 7 minute workout will have you huffing and puffing if you’re in the least bit out of shape, and it does require a sturdy chair for a partner. It’s a timed workout of 30 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of cool down, then into the next exercise, and it absolutely kicked my buttinski the first few times I’ve done it. I like it though, because it’s time-based, instead based of the number of reps. As I get in better shape, I’ll naturally be able to do more reps of each exercise. For now, I just try as hard as I can to fill the allotted time with as many reps as I can. They’ve even built a nice web app for mobile phones, accessible from the link above, which sets the timers for you and has audio prompts for each period. Once you’ve mastered the basics, they even have an advanced version.

Results: Jury is still out on this one, but I’m definitely getting into better shape. I think exercise and the above changes in diet are definitely contributing to my not gaining weight on the road. The last couple of road trips have involved heavy socializing, though, so my alcohol intake has been a bit higher than on normal work trips. Which brings me to…

Alcohol

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I hate to add this one, but I have to. Fact: I drink a lot more when I’m on the road. It definitely seems like a great deal of the people in my industry have that “Work hard/Play hard” mentality, so there’s always someone who’s up for a nightcap no matter how long the day’s activities are.

But, as a guy in my 40s, I’ve had to come to the horrible realization that many men in their 40s come to: drinking makes me gain weight. As a result, on the home front, I’ve almost entirely stopped drinking any alcoholic beverages during the week, and then try to moderate my intake on the weekends. I can still whoop it up when I need to, but week to week, my consumption is way down. This, combined with more regular exercise and healthier eating, has been the biggest contributing factor for my actually losing weight at home.

On the road, however, this has proven incredibly difficult to bring into alignment, mainly due to the pressures of “let’s go out for one” after a long day/night. Or the bottle (or bottles) of wine delivered by the hotel to the show office. Or the nicely chilled Heineken waiting in the mini-bar after a long, sweaty day of setting up an event. Man, it’s hard to resist.

Many people will also drink to help them sleep, especially on that first night in a hotel. Counterintuitively, there’s been plenty of studies that drinking can actually disrupt your sleep patterns, making you get less quality sleep, and (again as a guy in his 40s) getting up frequently through the night to go to the bathroom.

Results: TBD. Much like dinners, I’m trying to make slightly better decisions, maybe swap out a couple of drinks for a water or two, but for the most part I’ve been allowing myself some leeway. If adding in exercise and my other techniques aren’t getting the job done, though, I’m going to have to start watching the booze intake on the road, too.

Conclusions

Finding a balance between your road life and your home life may be as simple as trying to find as much continuity as possible between the two. Be sure to look in all directions for ways to improve both versions of your life. Can’t find the time to FaceTime the kids? Why not record them a video when you do have a break, and have whoever’s at home with them show it to them at bedtime? Having trouble finding time to exercise? Find a shorter workout! What things do you differently that might be causing you problems on the road? What could you do better at home? The more continuity you have, the less traveling feels like something out of the ordinary, and the more it just feels like… life.

The One Question Survey: What Would It Be for Your Event?

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If you could boil down your post-event survey down to one question, what would it be?

 

Recently I needed to call customer service for Delta Airlines regarding a possible change to my itinerary. Normally I’d use the web interface or mobile app for these types of things, but in this case apparently what I was trying to do somehow violated Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics, so digital methods were just not cooperating. I was forced to *GASP* use the telephone and talk to a real, live person.

The service representative was extremely pleasant, worked through several multi-city flight scenarios, trying each in turn to see how much they cost, including change fees, routing through various hubs, and other tricks of the trade. She was patient and creative as we tried out each possibility in the system. Wow, what a rare and wonderful customer service experience!

As she concluded the call, an automated voice asked me if I wanted to participate in a one question survey. I’m not normally good for completing ratings or surveys unless they’re only a couple of questions, and have abandoned more than my fair share of surveys once they’ve gone past the first page. But one question? I could handle that. Especially since my experience had been so great. I wanted to make sure my service rep was rewarded, and I was intrigued- what kind of information could you glean about my 20 minute call from one question?

The question was simple, brilliant, and not at all what I expected. It went something like this: “When thinking of the representative that just helped you, how likely would you be to hire them as a customer service representative?” I was presented with a 1-5 scale, I punched in the highest score, and that was it. Thank you, and goodbye.

Obviously, I was impressed with the power of that one question. Impressed enough to immediately jot it down as something I’d have to write about later. It got me thinking about the post-event surveys we deal with on a regular basis. As I mentioned a moment ago, I don’t have much tolerance for lengthy surveys, especially those where every response is marked “Required Field.” Unfortunately, far too often we see exactly that kind of survey as a follow up to our events.

How many people started your post-event survey, then abandoned it once they realized what they were getting into? How much of a representative sample are you really getting when only 5% of your attendees fill out your survey completely? There seems to be a hesitancy on the part of survey creators to have too few questions, as if important insights can’t be gleaned from a short survey, and that only pages and pages of required fields can get you the information you need.

But… what if… all you needed was just one question?

“Would you attend this event next year?” seems too simple, and doesn’t tell you much about anything. “Would you recommend this event to a friend?” Maybe, a little closer. But what about something like this: “If you were spend your own money, and not your organization’s, would you attend this event next year?” Getting closer. There are definitely events that I would only attend if the costs were being covered by someone else. There are others that I likely would pay my own money to attend.

So what would your event’s one question survey be? Leave a comment and let me know!

Achievement Unlocked - Made it on TWiT

Well, there's one to check off the bucket list. Last week I had the opportunity to be on the TWiT (This Week in Tech) network as part of the "Call for Help" section of their show The New ScreenSavers.

Left: Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ  Right: Leo Laporte  Center: A strangely orange and typically shiny me

The show was prerecorded in advance of the US Thanksgiving holiday and released on November 28th, 2015. On this episode, host Leo Laporte was joined by Father Robert Ballecer, SJ, a specialist in enterprise technology, and a Jesuit priest. How's that for a combo for ya?

I originally reached out to the network during my recent unsuccessful bid to get elected to the Richfield School Board, hoping to get their insights on technology in our schools. While I had a strong suspicion they'd be in favor of Chromebooks over iPads or Windows laptops, I was curious to get their take, as well as their thoughts on lower income families who might not have access to the Internet at home.

Why it was a big bleeping deal for me...

Being on the show was a complete fanboy experience for me, and I was incredibly nervous. You see, there's a direct connection between my discovering The Screen Savers (hosted by Leo Laporte, and featuring the original "Call for Help" segment) on the short-lived cable television network TechTV circa 2002, and my life today. At the time, the programming was just interesting to me- geeks talking about geek stuff, a little bit of hacking, and a lot of basic computer repair. Stuff that's proven extremely valuable to me in my life as a technology guy ever since. Not long after I discovered the network, it began to disintegrate. There just wasn't enough mainstream demand for such focused, geeky content.

Fast forward about 5 years or so: I'm married and have a beautiful daughter. One day while surfing the net I discover that Leo's been making a new show called This Week in Tech- but it wasn't on TV, it was something called a "podcast", and you could download it and listen (or watch it) through iTunes. My world opened up in a way I wouldn't have thought possible

Being a new parent, there wasn't a lot of time to sit around watching TV, much less reading a book. Through podcasting, I could keep up on all the technology news I could handle, all the while bouncing a baby, mowing the lawn, shoveling the walk, doing the dishes... Through the podcast world I learned of Audible, and started listening to audiobooks. I don't think I'd read more than a couple books for leisure in the previous 10 years, now I was devouring them at a rate of one a month. We had another daughter, and I began blogging about my experiences as a GeekDad. Some of the articles still survive at the very beginning of this blog.

Listening to podcasts, I discovered Twitter. Within weeks of being on Twitter I started to meet event industry folks that remain my friends to this day. I started going to conferences and meetups, and eventually started speaking publicly. From there I began recording classes at the Event Leadership Institute, which in turn led me to doing more public speaking at conferences, as well as my all day intensive classes on technical production. I met even more meeting and event people, and the next thing I knew I was a co-hosting a podcast myself. Lindsey Rosenthal, Tahira Endean, and I produced a year of weekly industry podcasts called The Event Alley Show. When that came to a halt, I was approached by BizBash to host a new podcast, GatherGeeks.

I've often said that my biggest professional regret was not getting involved in the industry earlier. Basically I lived in my own little company bubble for 15 years. When I started to get out and meet all the fantastic meeting and event people from all over the world, my universe began to change. I went from liking what I do, to loving what I do, and I started my own company.

And if I hadn't stumbled upon Leo Laporte, The Screen Savers, and TWiT, none of that would have happened.


Links:

The New Screen Savers Episode 30

GatherGeeks- A Podcast by BizBash

The Event Alley Show

Interactive Polling: Reading the Minds of Your Audience

Audience feedback is one of the most important ways you can improve you meetings and events.  Comment cards or surveys can help guide you when it comes to crafting your next event, but why not take advantage of the group while you have them and get real-time feedback?   When you’re looking for a rough idea of how an audience is feeling, just having a show of hands might be sufficient.  When it comes time for an exact vote count, or if you just want to add a splash of technology to your meeting, you may want to consider many of the great interactive polling options available.

Interactive polling technology goes by many names and comes in many packages.  The most common of the options is still, by far, the wireless keypad.  These are handheld devices with a number keypad on them and perhaps an LED display to let the voter know their vote has been counted.

Different people refer to these keypads in different ways.  Here’s just a few of them:

  • APT (Audience Polling Technology)
  • ART (Audience Response Technology)
  • Voting Keypads
  • Reply System (A brand name of voting keypad)
  • Audience Clickers
  • Voting Doohickies (I have a client that won’t call them anything else)

There are scores of different makes and models of these keypad devices, but they all pretty much run the same way.  The presenter will ask a question and usually display a slide with the answer options.  An example might be “Which of our products do you think has the highest profit margin?  1) Wrenches, 2) Hammers, or 3) Screwdrivers.”  Sometimes this slide is displayed via specially designed software.  In other systems the options might be embedded in a PowerPoint deck.

Note: Many of the dedicated software systems for APT haven’t been updated in a long time, so they can look a little dated.  However, with a few modern exceptions, I haven’t found embedding the polling in PowerPoint to be very stable, and can cause crashes.  I’ll take a little dated and stable over pretty and likely to blow up, any day.

Once the question has been posed, the audience members take their keypads and enter in the number that corresponds to their answer.  If the keypad has a display, the number they entered will display to indicate that their vote has been registered.  The keypads operate on a closed wireless network, and send their signals to a base station located backstage or at the tech table.  This base station is hooked up to a laptop where the data is crunched and the results can be displayed- again via dedicated software or embedded in PowerPoint.

The speaker is now able to address the results in real time.  If the audience chose screwdrivers as being the most profitable, but in actuality hammers are, it can serve as an educational moment for both the speaker and the audience.  It’s not difficult to imagine that this kind of real time information can be extremely valuable to C and D level executive wanting to know if their corporate messaging and education are actually sinking in with the rank and file.

The biggest advantage to this type of interactive polling is that is is a closed network, compared to some of the options we’re about to look at.  It should come as no surprise then that these types of hardware solutions are popular with financial and medical groups, where security and confidentiality are extremely important.  We recently provided polling keypads for a group that was so secure that the techs had to leave the room during deliberations, and only allowed back in to run the equipment during the “Is the motion adopted? Yes or No” phase.

Many of the handheld solutions have been around a while, and as such can look a little dated in the era of smartphones.  There are a few high end models, however, that offer their users a whole new level of interactivity.  These new models feature full  QWERTY keyboards, color display screens, and even built in microphone and wireless audio support.  If the voting needs to be tracked, attendees can insert a special encoded badge into the keypad, identifying them.  To return to anonymous polling, they simply need to remove the badge.  This kind of tracking allows this hardware to do more than just polling and relaying audience questions.  It allows them to manage other portions of your event, such as silent auction bidding.

While they can be quite a bit more expensive when compared to the old standby keypads, they can replace many other expensive systems at an event, such as wireless translation headsets, and audience QnA microphones.  When used to their full potential they can be worth every penny and provide a rich, fully interactive experience.

Just as conference and trade show brochures are being phased out in favor of mobile phone applications, so to are the old polling keypads.  With the majority of meeting and conference goers walking around with a wireless supercomputer in their pocket, more and more planners are exploring the world of mobile and web-based polling technology.  There are many services out there, and they’re all a little different, so it’s extremely important to know your audience and know at what level of interaction they’re mostly likely to participate.  Some Internet-based services even allow users to vote through multiple options, increasing the response rate dramatically.  These options include voting via text message, a mobile web site, or even via Twitter.

Many mobile event apps are building in the ability to push polling to their users in an attempt to be the “One App to Rule Them All”.  Others use stand alone polling apps, and still others use mobile web pages.  Whichever route you go, be sure to take into account how that data will be gathered and displayed.  Almost all of these services are going to require internet access of some kind in order for the attendees to send their responses, so there either needs to be quality cellular data services or WiFi available.  This is where text message polling can come in handy, as the cellular connectivity level for sending texts is much lower than data.  In other words, you can send a text message with “only one bar” of signal much easier than you can access a mobile web page on the data network.

Much like the keypad network, the responses are sent to a central location, only instead of a wireless base station, the responses are sent to a server provided by the service.  Results can then be accessed via the web, so once again you’ll need to make sure whatever machine needs to display the results has a solid internet connection in order to retrieve the data.

Note: Be sure to get an idea of what the results display will look like, too.  Many of the mobile apps that have built in polling don’t have an effective way of displaying that data live in the room, and are designed more to replace comment cards than to be truly interactive polling.  Even in full screen mode they might have scrollbars, links, and logos  (other than yours) on the results page.

These services are growing in popularity exponentially with our customers.  We find that once they dip their toes in the interactive polling pool, they become addicted (in a good way) to that instant feedback.  Everything from educational quizzes and game shows, to voting on what to name their internal network, customers are finding more and more creative uses for live interactive polling.

On Why You Should Consider Skipping the “Augmented Reality” and Just Buy More Bacon

By any other name...

This post was originally going to be titled On Why Your App is NOT Augmented Reality.  I was all set to go on an epic rant about how several high profile event apps were being touted as “augmented reality”, when in fact they weren't AR at all.  They were just ordinary apps, pretending to be augmented reality, as part of the seemingly never-ending feature war that the mobile conference and meeting app market has become.

But... after discussing the topic with some other industry folks (thanks @kristicasey!), that’s not entirely fair.  I’m still not 100% convinced the examples I’m about to give are AR, but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that they’re a tiny fraction, of a small percentage, of the potential for the AR apps of the future.

The definition of augmented reality:

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So what is an augmented reality app?  Before I can even think about accusing someone of not being AR when they say they are, I should probably define that, eh?

I define an augmented reality app as something that displays a live view of the world (i.e. “reality”) and then takes information, graphics, animation, sound, or other data and adds it as a layer over or alongside that reality (i.e. “augments it”).  So the definition of an Augmented Reality App, is any app that - wait for it - augments reality.  Weird.

Surprisingly, if you look around the web that’s pretty close to the definition everywhere, much like looking up the word “recursion” on Google (Did you mean: recursion).

The first key part of that definition is the word “live”.  If I take your picture with my cell phone and then use an app to draw on squiggly hair and Snidely Whiplash mustache, I can’t think of anyone other than an argumentative philosopher that would say that app is somehow an augmented reality app.  It would, however, be hilarious.

The second key part of the definition is “layer over”, as in- you see (or hear, or smell) reality, but information about that reality is also being given to you by whatever device or app you’re using.

Like what?

My perfect example of what an augmented reality app could be: Imagine you’re at a trade show and want to get to a specific vendor.  You hold up your phone (or look through your Google Glass) and you see what you see in real life- booths, displays, people, carpet (double padded... oooooh...)  However, when you input the name of a vendor you want to find, a large arrow appears in the image, hovering over where you want to go.  On the carpet below you appears a line with arrows on it, showing you the quickest way to the booth.  Along the way, you see the names of each vendor hovering over their booth, with a button to favorite or remind you to look at later.  You don’t bump into anyone, because you’re seeing all this through your device, layered over reality.  As you approach your destination, the arrow gets larger and larger, until you’re standing right under it, in all it’s 3D glory!  This kind of AR is called “geotagged” as it’s information based on specific locations in your environment.

Another example: You point your device at a conference brochure, and a beautiful animated version of the conference logo on the page appears and dazzles you.  You open the booklet to the speaker bios page.  Each one of the photos now has a highlight box around it.  You select a speaker and their photo comes to life, and the speaker gives you, in their own words, a 30 second description of their session.  Again you can tag the speaker as a session you’d like to learn more on, and move on to the next.  This kind of AR is known as “marker based”, as its animations and information is keyed off certain markers contained in the printed brochure, showing your device where to layer over the data.

Now, for those who don’t happen to have these magical devices, you can still wander the trade show floor with a paper map, trying to find booth 702 in Aisle G, or you can just look at the speaker bios and the two sentence descriptions of the sessions in the conference brochure.  Those who have downloaded the app and have the right hardware?  They will experience an immersive world of extra content, all subtly branded and sponsored.

Where it falls apart

A book is not augmented reality.  A book is something that takes you out of reality.  It can be very informative, even about your current surroundings or situation, but it exists outside of that situation, and would still exist if you were in a completely different place, doing completely different things.  A map is not augmented reality.  You have to look at the map, interpret it, then look up and try and apply that information to the world.

Likewise, a traditional conference app is not augmented reality.  You open it, you read it, it informs your decisions, and you apply it to reality.  While you’re looking at it, though, you are almost completely disconnected from reality.

So what about the apps that spawned this article?  One, from a high end hotel chain, claims to make them the “First North American Luxury Hotel Brand to Feature Augmented Realty” in its ads.  The other is from a music festival sponsored by a large U.S. (but no longer American owned) beer brewery.  In both cases you had to open a pre-downloaded app, the app would engage the camera in the device, and then you point it at some printed materials.  Once the app recognized the materials, the page “came to life” in the display with a colorful, approximately 3 second animation.

Aaaaaaaaand done.  That was the end, as far as I’m concerned, of the augmented reality portion of the evening.  After that three second animation layered over the printed page, you were taken to a menu, in the case of the music festival.  The hotel? A full screen video with a couple of buttons, one of which would let you skip the content.  From that point on, the apps looked and behaved just like any other event or conference app, with links to schedules, bios, bands, special offers, and other normal old “exclusive” content.

augmented-reality-ikea-appWell, who’s fault is that?

So are these apps “Augmented Reality Apps”?  I would say no.  Three seconds of AR does not make it an augmented reality app.  But look closely at the hotel’s claim- they “Feature Augmented Reality”.  It’s not an augmented reality app, it’s an app that features augmented reality.  Likewise with the festival app.  Despite the headlines for the articles written about it “bringing augmented reality to events”, the actual app makers themselves hold no such illusions:

“When you hold your phone up to an image or product, it takes just seconds to get that experience on your phone," <redacted> said. "Once you get that experience, that’s when people really start engaging, whether playing a game or doing polling or whatever”

So the idea is to hook them with a few seconds of something interesting, then get them to do something else- play a game, polling, whatever.  Fair enough.

So are these apps using AR?  Technically, yes.  Are they using AR for anything other than just a quick, flashy gimmick?  No.  What you’re looking at through the display is almost irrelevant- it’s just a cute animation based on the printed material that triggered it.  The difference between that and scanning a QR code is minimal, at best.

The future's so bright, I gotta eat bacon

Think I’m being too harsh? Do yourself a favor and watch this demonstration:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NKT6eUGJDE&w=560&h=315]

That video is from 2007.  TWO THOUSAND FREAKING SEVEN.  Think about that.  That’s a full three years before the iPad.  Here we are six years later, and the computing power in our mobile devices is bordering on the obscene.  My earlier two examples might have seemed a little far fetched, but are they really?  After watching that video, I can't help but feel that we've only scratched the surface of what's possible.  I know there's people out there right now, pushing the the technology to the limit, and what's coming around the corner is going to blow your freakin' mind.

In the meantime,  you’re telling me that the best we can do is a three second animation over your conference brochure cover or print ad?  C’mon, son.  I want my giant floating arrows and talking speaker pages.

So if that's it- that’s all you’re going to do with AR, you should save yourself the money and buy all your attendees an extra slice of bacon for breakfast.  They’ll be happier for it.  For the money the hotel chain spent on the app, plus the giveaways and discounts the app provided, they could have become the "First Luxury Hotel Brand to Feature Complimentary WiFi.  Because You Deserve It."  The copy would have written itself...

On Being Nice to Airport, Airline, and Hotel Employees

Buh Bye

Ok, so much of what I’m about to say may seem obvious, but I can personally vouch for the fact that most of what highly paid motivational and inspirational keynote speakers say is, after you’ve heard it, pretty obvious stuff.  I’ve sometimes considered becoming a motivational speaker myself, with my “hook” being that I’ve heard hundreds of them and can boil most of it all down to about 10 salient points- but that, dear friends, is a story for another day. THIS story is about how I went from hating traveling to enjoying it, and it all started on a whim.

For a very long time, I really despised traveling.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the destinations, but I hated the journey.  I was blessed that my parents wanted their kids to be exposed to other cultures, peoples, and places, and we traveled a fair amount both inside the US and even a couple times abroad.  So now in my adult life, I really do love being in other cities all over the world, soaking up the surroundings, seeing how very different we all can be, and how very much alike we all are.

But the getting there... oh, man...

To start, there was the ear pain.  Every time I flew, my ears would properly “pop” and pressure-equalize on the way up, but not on the way down.  This would cause excruciating pain in my ears during decent, not unlike having your eardrum being squeezed by a vice made of ice needles.  The pain would usually subside once on the ground, but one or both of my ears would remain clogged with fluid for anywhere from 1 to 3 days.  After many years of trying every remedy people could think of - chewing gum, drinking water, pressure points, ritual sacrifice - I finally learned from my Dad, who had the same problem but to a much lesser degree, to use a special kind of silicon earplugs that cover the whole ear-hole.  That’s a technical term, of course.

This worked like magic, but I had to wear them for the entire ascent and descent.  It also had the secondary benefit of blocking out the other ear-holes on the flight that talked too much.  A happy ending to at least that part of the story, but the number of years that I just suffered through the pain far outweighed the ones where I knew that particular solution.

Setting my medical issues aside, everything about airports and airline personnel just rubbed me the wrong way, and it seemed as though every travel experience was worse then the last.  There was the time I was stranded in O’Hare overnight and slept on a bench (which I later turned into an unpublished short story called The Moving Walkway is About to End), or the time that I was stranded in the Bahamas with no money and a taxi voucher that no taxi driver would take.

Even in the years before 9-11, I always seemed to have issues with security.  When my parents would swing through town, I would meet them at the airport for dinner, and if I even had a scrap of a gum wrapper in my pocket it would set off the metal detector.  After 9-11?  Forget about it.  I was a constant subject of bag searches, pat downs, and explosive testing, mainly due to the large amount of electronics I have to bring along for the typical meeting production gig.  Or perhaps I had a 3.25 oz tub of hair gel that just needed to be confiscated by the Federal Government.

At the ticket counter and in the air, I found the airline employees unhelpful, inflexible, and sometimes downright mean.  During the times I was stranded, I was never offered a hotel voucher, bonus miles, or indeed (other than the useless taxi voucher) any compensation at all.  After having been drinking alcohol legally in the UK for a full semester abroad at age 20, I was carded and not served on the flight back, due to “US Federal Law”.  When I explained that there was no federal law regarding the legal drinking age in the US, I was told, “Then it’s Northwest Airlines Law.”  No drinky-drinky for me.  I settled back into my middle seat and scowled.

It definitely felt like every airport ticket counter person, every security guard, and every flight attendant in the world was out to make my travel life as miserable as they could.  To add insult to injury, I was traveling more and more for work, pretty much insuring a future filled with increased pain and suffering.

And then one day, I’d had enough.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was tired of feeling like a victim, tired of feeling helpless.  It was time to do something radical.  I decided to fight back in the only way I could.

I would kill them with kindness.

And so, on this utter whim, I decided one travel day to be just as unbelievably, doughnut-sprinkly sweet as I could, to every person I interacted with:

  • Long line at the baggage drop off?  *Big Smile* “Wow, you guys are really swamped today.  Hope you get to take a break soon!”
  • Bag check at security?  *Big Smile* “Sure, no problem!  I always get checked because of all the electronics gear I have to bring.  What’s that?  Oh that’s a wireless presenter mouse- pretty cool, huh?”
  • Getting an ever-shrinking bag of peanuts?  *Big Smile* “Thank you very much!”

At the end of the trip, I realized that I felt less tired, less put-upon, less grumpy.  So on my next trip, I continued to be just as nice as I possibly could to everyone I met:

  • At the gate- *Big Smile* “Hi how are you doing?  Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Want me to grab you a coffee or something?  You sure?  Ok, well I was wondering if there were any aisle seats available since it looks like I’m in a middle seat.  Oh, great, thanks!” (this was before it was so easy to see and change seats online)
  • On-plane flight attendant safety briefing? I watched every second carefully with a *Big Smile*.  I learned later that this is a big peeve of flight attendants all over the world- “At least pretend  like you’re listening, won’t you?  You think you’re tired of hearing it?”
Keep in mind the nearest exit may be behind you...

OK, so I said this would seem obvious, didn’t I?  But you can probably guess what started to happen.  People started being nicer to me, and I started feeling... happier.

It felt like I was getting more aisle seats (again before the ease of online seat-change) and exit rows.  Once I achieved medallion status as a frequent flyer, it felt like I was getting upgraded more often than my traveling companions.  A couple times I bought a drink and had it upgraded to a double at no extra charge.  “Here, have a couple of bags of peanuts.  You want some cookies, too?”

A friendly TSA agent informed me as we chatted while he looked through my bag that one of the biggest reasons bags get pulled aside is when they look like a mess of jumbled cables and wires on the X-ray, and if you take the time to coil and pack them neatly they’re able to more easily see what everything is.  And yes, I said friendly TSA agent.  I would not have guessed such a thing existed previously.  Guess what- they do.  A lot of them.

Turned out he was right.  I started very carefully coiling my cables and arranging the electronics gear neatly in my carry-on bag.  The number of times it got searched went from almost every time to maybe one out of every twenty.  Possibly even less, it happens so infrequently that it’s hard to remember.  But when it does, I remember to smile and not get upset about it.

Just one week after I got it, I left my brand new iPad on the floor of the plane, next to my seat.  Instead of it going into the black hole that expensive electronics left on airplanes go, I was called by Delta on my way home from the airport and told it was being kept safely (literally in a safe) for me in their office.  To this day I am convinced this is because I was nice to the flight attendant sitting in the jump seat facing me.  We chatted and I asked her where a safe place to put my iPad was, since I didn’t have a seat pocket in front of me.  It was she who recommended putting it next to the seat against the wall of the plane (an unusual place, and likely why I forgot it), and I’m sure it was she that took the time to get my name from the manifest to get it back to me.

Another TSA moment- I realized I still had my Leatherman multi-tool on my belt as I stood in the security line, almost at the front.  I looked around and saw a TSA agent standing nearby.  I put on a *Big Smile* and waved to him with a questioning look.  He came over and I apologized profusely for being so dumb as to forget to put my trusty belt tool in my checked luggage.  Rather than just confiscating it on the spot, he pointed out that a nearby money exchange kiosk was now offering “mail home” services for small items at a reasonable rate.  I thanked him profusely, left the line, and mailed it home for $10.  Much cheaper than a replacement!

I returned to the security checkpoint and got in line, happy to have saved my trusty Leatherman from certain doom, and fully prepared to go through the whole line again.  I saw the agent and gave him a “thumbs up” sign to let him know it had worked.  To my shock and surprise, he waived me over to him and let me into the First Class and Über Status line, which had only about 5 people in it.  Wow.  I mean... just... wow...

Things were working so well, I started applying this bizarre concept (being nice to people) to the good folks who worked for the hotels I was staying at.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I started getting better service and nicer rooms- higher floors, beautiful views.  I even got comped for no apparent reason to the “Executive Level” at a beautiful resort in California, with a private lobby and a fully stocked and staffed complimentary lobby bar that served breakfast and appetizers most of the day.

You see, faithful obvious truth-seekers, these people in the airline and hotel industry have to deal with hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands of people a day.  Most of them don’t stand out- they’re just anonymous faces marching by.  Which leaves only two types of people that do stand out: Those that are kind, pleasant, and brighten your day, and... assholes.  And I realized that I used to be one of the latter.

I mean really.  What flight attendant on an international flight with hundreds of passengers to take care of wants to be lectured by some smart-ass kid about the legal intricacies of state-based drinking age limits while over international waters?  C’mon, son...

Put simply, I hated traveling, so traveling hated me.  I started making the extra effort to be nice, and the whole experience was lifted up to not only tolerable, but down right enjoyable most of the time.

And there’s the key- it takes effort.  The kind of effort that most of us can’t spare as we move through our busy lives.  I’m not perfect at this, and believe me, if I could apply this sunshine and roses way of dealing with the world to the rest of my life 24-7, I would.  I have good days and bad days like everyone.  I have however chosen to try and make that extra effort in this particular area of my life, and it has paid back over and over.

Enjoy...

In fact, I believe it was a flight attendant who finally suggested the cure for my painful eardrum issues.  Sudafed.  That’s right, the decongestant.  Pseudoephedrine.  Take it about an hour before the flight and my ears pop and equalize perfectly normally.  No more earplugs.  I can actually wear headphones, or I can carry on a conversation, just like everyone else.  Though sometimes I do miss the quiet...

So there you have it.  The Great Secret of Enjoying Travel:  “Be nice to people.”  Wow.  Who’d have thought?  I know.  Crazy talk.

Studies have shown over and over again that even “fake smiling” can improve a person’s overall mood.  It also might just get you a bulkhead seat with extra legroom.  That can definitely improve your mood.  So sit back and enjoy the ride!

Galaxy SIII Owners: Make Google Voice Actions (and now Google Now) the Default Instead of S-Voice

*** UPDATE 12/20/12 *** While I'm still recommending Home2 Shortcut (easier on the eyes and more functionality), reports are coming in that Bluetooth Launcher will still work with 4.1.1.  Apparently you just need to select a different activity. Process is updated in the post, but I was unable to get it to work on either my or my wife's S3.

*** UPDATE 12/18/12 ***

Based on the comments and questions below, it appears that Blootooth Launcher does not work this way anymore with Android 4.1.1.  If someone figures out a way to make it work again, leave a comment and I'll update this page.

I now am recommending Home2 Shortcut for this getting direct access to Voice Search (which contains most of the original Voice Actions).

I found it over on XDA Developers and it can be found on the Play Store.  It allows you to set Home Double Press as well as other key combinations.  I found "Voice Search" under "Activities->Google", but YMMV.

****

Some of the more popular posts on this blog have had nothing to do with Event Technology per se, but rather have been tips and tricks that I myself found hard to find and decided to repost when I found the answer.

This is one of those posts!

I searched for a really long time to find a way to make Google Voice Actions, instead of  S-Voice, the default action when double pressing the Home key on my fancy new Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I just couldn't get S-Voice to do what I wanted it to do, and it was basically useless in the car.  Turns out there's a clever little workaround using a 3rd party app that isn't actually designed for that specific purpose!  The tip comes from Sorka over on Android Forums and is a great little workaround.  NO ROOT REQUIRED!!

Here's the trick:

  1. Download and Install "Bluetooth Launch" from the Google Play store.
  2. Open Bluetooth Launch and scroll down to "Voice Search". (*See update below*)
  3. Tap on it to expand it out, then select: "com.google.android.voicesearch.RecognitionActivity" (*Update* Some are reporting that on Android 4.1.1 you need to use this: "Google Search->com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox.VoiceSearchActivity"  I have been unable to verify)
  4. Exit by hitting the back key.
  5. Double click the home button.
  6. Select "Always complete using this activity"
  7. Select Bluetooth Launch.

You're Done!

Thanks again, Sorka, works like a charm, and there's a metric crapton of other options offered by Bluetooth Launcher.  Nice workaround!

Meanwhile everyone, how are you liking your S3?

On Value

This is the tale of two clients.  The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

The question: Which client got the better value for their money?

The show:  Both clients requested pricing for almost identical situations- a 500+ person sales conference, including AV, stage design, meeting room decor, graphics and PPT template design, special event design and decor for their awards banquet, and production support, including show caller, technical director, and production manager.  There would also be some post-meeting video editing of the footage.  Both bids were full scale meeting productions, but were based on some smaller work we’d done with each client, so this was a big inroad for us in each situation.  As such, very reasonable pricing was given out of the gate to help sweeten the deal, in order to get the larger portion of the total event expense.

Client A- The Negotiator.  Even given the initial generous pricing, the client negotiated the price even further down, until a lot of what we pitched was dropped down to at cost or below cost to get the business.  Many services were even thrown in for no-cost, including the post production editing, which is my time.  Hey, we all know this happens a lot, especially with new clients.  Once you get the business, you hope to recoup over the long-term relationship you build with the client.

They continued to question every single price in the process, citing non-realistic consumer level (think Home Depot) and internet pricing for room decor (which did not include labor, setup, delivery, etc). They changed one of their conference days from a half day to a full day, and seemed outraged that we’d charge more for labor for the AV crew.  They questioned the roughly 10% (a couple hundred bucks) in profit we sought to gain for arranging the hanging of several thousand square feet of ceiling treatments.  They tried to cut staff that we weren’t charging for anyway in hopes of further discounts.

On top of the negotiating, they also kept requesting more and more of the “free” services we were providing.  More graphics, more video, alternate edits, and “oh by the way”s galore.  We finally had to put our foot down and start line item-ing each and every addition, which inevitably meant more price negotiation on each and every item.

On site, and throughout the conference, there was even more of these add-ons, and truth be told I couldn’t help but feel like they thought they owned me for the run of the show.  We continued to line item every item, every request, and we only did what was asked of us and no more.

I also got the feeling they were looking for mistakes, cataloging every minor detail and filing it away, so that after the conference they could come back for more money off the bill.  We always strive for the perfect show, but in my 15 years in the business, I’ve only seen maybe one where absolutely nothing went wrong and this was no exception.  Additionally, a lot of equipment and crew redundancy was cut due to the budget concerns.  Unfortunately there are some clients that you can't help but feel that they count on trying to get money back at the end of a program,  by accumulating a list of things they're dissatisfied with and disputing the bill.  The entire conference run was one of stress and anxiety.

After the show I was tired, cranky, bitter, and feeling a little used.

Client B- Minnesota Nice.  Almost the polar opposite of Client A.  While budget conscious, there was never the feeling of constant nit-picking or chiseling.  They seemed to understand that things A) cost money, and B) we might make a profit on them.  Whenever things were added, they were always amenable to adding to the overall bill.  Above all else, they were always extremely polite, and very understanding of the time and effort that goes in to putting on a conference.  As their conference went on, I genuinely came to like the people involved- the conference committee, the executives, the attendees.  As a result, as I look back, I actually did a lot more for them than Client A.  All the little add-ons didn’t feel so bad, and I found myself wanting to help them make their conference better and better for their attendees.  They added a rush order to the post-production, and even after a week of travel I found myself wanting to work through the weekend to get it done for them so that they could get the conference materials into the hands of their folks in the field.

Due to hotel restrictions, we were forced to use the in-house AV, and unfortunately for our client, they really stunk up the house.  Tons of equipment and crew issues.  In the case of Client A, we might have been tempted to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Not our fault”, but instead we were right there in the fray, passionately advocating for our client, making sure they were dealt with fairly in the end.

Since the program, we’ve even provided some “at cost” services to help them out with the post production distribution. Why? Because they asked nicely.

After the show I was tired, but really looking forward to the next time we work with Client B.

My Take:  While we all agree that, in theory, all clients should receive the same treatment, I think we can also agree that that’s not human nature.  In the end, the two companies' bills, minus the differences between the two shows, were probably only a few thousand dollars different.  I’d be curious to know, if they knew each other, which client thought they got the best deal- the best value for their money.  My guess is that they both would think so.  In my heart of hearts, I’d have to say that at least when it came to my time, my effort, Client B got the most value for their money, and will continue to do so as long as we have the privilege to work with them.

I am not anti-negotiation.  Around the office I have the (occasionally derogatory) nickname “Consumer Brandt” because I detest bad customer service and have no trouble telling people when I believe they’re giving it to me.  I will not hesitate to ask for fees to be waived, prices matched, or things to be thrown in.  But there is a line, and it’s largely a matter of tact, manners, and polite civility to know when that line's been crossed.  There’s working the system, and there’s abusing the system...

As I move forward, I’m going to try and keep all this in mind as I work with our vendors.  I’d like to think to a certain extent that I do already, but it never hurts to try harder, right?

So what do you think?  Who got the better value?  Does it matter who the client is and who the vendor is?  Why?

WiFi Security Alert- "WiFi Protected Setup" Security Flaw

The Dlink DIR 601 Wireless Router: One of the millions of routers with WiFi Protected Setup This is a legitimate and serious security alert regarding WiFi access.  Apartment-dwellers, businesses in strip malls, hotels, and convention centers all should be advised.  Basically if your WiFi signal reaches to a point where someone could park for a while (less than 24 hours), you are likely vulnerable to having someone hack into your WiFi network, even if it is secured.  This could be, for example, an apartment next door, a lounge in your building, a nearby parking lot, or a car parked on the street if your signal reaches that far.

As usual, making things simple makes them less secure. There is a convenient "feature" of almost all WiFi access points built in the last few years that allows you to connect a device to your network (such as a Windows 7 computer, a cell phone, a printer, etc.) by pressing a button or clicking a dialog box and then entering a short 8 digit pin stamped on a label on the WiFi device.  This is known as "WiFi Protected Setup".

It turns out that the pin can be cracked and give a hacker access to your network in less than 24 hours (sometimes only a couple of hours) of brute force attacking because of a really stupid way that the password is sent/received between the two devices.  Once unencrypted access to your network is gained, the attacker can (at best) use your internet connection and (at worst) sit quietly and watch all of your internet traffic.

If you're comfortable configuring your wireless router, poke around in the settings and look for something called "WiFi protected setup".

THIS IS ENABLED BY DEFAULT.  If you uncheck this "feature" you should be protected from this type of attack until your manufacturer can push out an update.  Check your WiFi router's manufacturer's website frequently over the next couple months to look for an update for your device.

If you want to learn about this in great detail, I highly recommend this podcast, Security Now! with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte:

http://twit.tv/show/security-now/335

For more general info, just search for "wifi protected setup flaw" on your search engine of choice.

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you may know with WiFi access points in their home or office.

Enjoy Your $9.95 with a Side of Failing Business Model

Following in Bank of America's forward, but not backward, steps- TCF National Bank is dicking around with their checking fees. A mystery charge of $9.95 showed up on my statement this month. Apparently they sent me the notice in September on my statement, which I receive online. Yep, it was there, 3 pages deep after the canceled checks (four, by the time you get to the actual part where I could have figured out the changes). Basically, if I don't have a minimum of 15 transactions per month, they charge a fee of $9.95.

Seems like every month I find a new reason I can't wait to cease being your customer, TCF. I also know that I'm not alone in that desire. Complicated finances make it currently impossible for me to cut the cord completely, but for now my math is simple: I don't make 15 transactions per month on that account, so I'll be closing my checking account as soon as I can. I'm sure that works on somebody's spreadsheet, probably something to do with the cost of maintaining low activity accounts. Considering the massive amounts of automation in banking these days, I can't see how it would, though. Methinks it might have something more to do with another part of the balance sheet.

**** Edit **** I should add that after several phone calls and complaints (and being told that closing my checking account would significantly increase my costs on my other accounts), they mysteriously found a checking account between the couch cushions that did not have this minimum requirement.

On What Went Wrong at the End- More Reflections from ECTC11

The number one question that I've seen come out of Event Camp Twin Cites regarding the technical side of things is, "Dude, what happened at the end?" For those that did not see it, there was an almost comic meltdown of the Skype connections to the Pods.  A kind and well written summary from Mitchell Beer can be found Here.

Some of this is conjecture, as we had to tear down and vacate the venue in very short order, so further testing could not be done.  What follows is a rough compilation of the many things that contributed to not only the bizarre ending to ECTC11, but the Skype problems in general throughout the conference.

It has been asked, rightfully so, why didn't we test all of this before going live.  I can tell you that as far as we were concerned we did.  They tested the lines, they tested the calls to all the pods, we tested the inputs, we tested the outputs, we tested the video inputs, we tested the video outputs.  It's a valuable lesson in something we all know- that there's no such thing as too much testing, or taking those test too far.  Sometimes it's just not enough.

All of the following contributed and played off each other, and unfortunately it is the interplay that caused the most serious problems- most of which would not have shown up in anything other than full scale, live testing, with the actual participants in the actual rooms with the actual equipment.  And probably the correct alignment of Mercury thrown in just for good measure.   ECTC, in essence became the full size test.  At least it's an environment that's theoretically set up for that purpose...

So here it is, to the best of my ability:

1) The number of pods- Last year there were two pods.  In true Event Camp Twin Cities fashion, they pushed the envelope and tried to have 9.  Eventually that number reduced to 7.  Because of the number of pods, especially the original 9, it seemed impractical to have nine dedicated machines, and we decided to try the group calling feature of Skype and had 4 pods on one computer, and 3 on another.  So having so many pods is why we started combining them on machines, which leads to...

2) Combining Pods 1- Combining the pods created a lot of noise on each of the two Skype machines.  Instead of one person at a time, you now had bunches of people talking, waving, saying hi, and I think that Skype was clamping down on some feeds to "promote" others.  It's certainly the way it sounded in the headphones of the audio rig.  The wrong pods were being brought to the front of the mix.  It would make sense that Skype is geared towards what it's generally considered use is- chat between one or more individuals.  When individuals are chatting, we tend to wait our turn.  The noise from some pods seemed to be canceling other pods out, much like a Google Hangout tries to "decide" who's talking, and that can be overridden by someone typing to loudly.  To make matters worse, there was the problem in #4, but we'll get to that in a second.  All of this would be fixable if only we had the ability to somehow mute the audio of some of the pods when one was speaking, which leads us to...

3) Combining pods 2-  According to the Podmaster (as I desperately probed around for a solution to stop the madness), there was no way to mute individual pods on Skype.  I do not know this for sure, as I don't personally have the premium version of Skype with the multi-person chat.  What I do know is that the recent redesign of the interface for Skype is a bloody mess, and if there were controls to mute the audio, good luck finding them.  You're more likely to accidently bring up and call your Aunt Judy trying to figure out the right combination of hidden rollovers and hieroglyphs.

It should be noted at this point, that in a further attempt to salvage the segment, we hung up on all the pods and tried calling a couple of them one at a time.  When we knocked it down to a single call to Amsterdam, though, their audio feed was clearly being cut in and out by the noise limiter on Skype.   I am again not familiar enough with Skype to know if there's a setting that could have been changed on their end, but it was again very obvious when listening via headphones.  It may have been possible to overcome with some time, perhaps by having someone come closer to the mic on the computer and by having all other hush, but before we got to that point I was told we had Silicon Valley on the line on the other machine.  When we connected on a single call to Silicon Valley, Mike appeared to be on a headset, and it sounded awesome.  I plugged and unplugged the audio jacks on the Mac so I could talk to him- the drawback of routing the audio signal through the house was that we didn't have a good talkback method, and we were all set to go back to him.  Unfortunately, though, we just plain ran out of time.  We had a hard out at 2pm, Kurt was wrapping things up in the room, and the decision was made to scrap it.

4) Pod instructions/Combining Pods 3- (sensing a common thread?) Despite meticulous instructions, and without throwing anyone under the bus, it seemed like every time we went to a Skype machine, at least one of the three (or four) would have their audio turned up on the Sonic Foundry feed.  This contributed to the confusion, and exacerbated problems 2 and 3 because we couldn't mute them.  People still weren't listening to the right feed, and the delay ate us alive.  Furthermore, the audio in the room then contains the potted-up Skype audio, which contained the audio of the delayed webcast feed, which is now being sent back to the other pods.  Yeesh...

5) Panic.  I regret having to put this one in, but it's true.  When things go south, your mind is racing, and you try everything you can think of.  Sometimes, though, the moment passes and it just wasn't enough.  You don't think of a solution until the next day.  Or the next week.  It's like that great comeback for an insult that you don't think of until the jerk's walked away.

I can't imagine what it was like up there for Sam, and he kept his cool very well.  The best description I heard was that he was the straight guy in a comedy routine that he didn't know he was in.  My suggestion in perfect 20-20 hindsight, however, is that when the first one wasn't answering, we needed to just stop and wait to see how long it took them to respond.  Discover their delay and deal with it.   Some have suggested some kind of in-room clock or audio cue in dealing with delayed audiences, as continuing to speak (while a perfectly natural reaction) only adds to the confusion.

If an actual 30 seconds went by, which I know is an ETERNITY, then we'd know that something was wrong beyond them just being on the wrong feed.  As it was, it felt like Sam would move on in what seemed to me to be less than 20 seconds, and then we're suddenly being answered by the Pod he'd  just left.  He'd try and go back to that one, only to be answered by the one he'd just moved on to.

So that's what happened.  Feel free to pick it apart and tell me what I may have missed.  And if you know where it is, for the love of God please share where the mute button is in Skype.

Otherwise, my recommendations coming out of this are:

1) Reduce the number of Pods if at all possible to 4, and put them all on their own machines.  4 inputs is where the lowest levels of video switchers tend to hang around, so you can have a dedicated switch just for flipping between Pods for not a lot of money.  That switch then sends its signal to whatever your main video switcher is.  If you need to scale up, scale at that point and get a bigger Skype switcher, but I really feel like 1-1 machines might be imperative to making this all work.

2) Maybe to reduce noise, perhaps you give "voice" to the leaders of the pods and give them a headset?  Just spitballing... It might overcome the limitations of combining pods.

3) If the machines are separated, your audio feeds will need to be separated, so again your going to need more channels on your audio mixer, or a completely separate mixer for the Skype machines.  Either way, it gets you individual control over the audio feeds, and you can mute whoever's mixing margaritas in the background.

4) Did any of the pods notice they were being fed the main video feed instead of looking out the I-Sight cameras in the MacBooks?  What's your feedback on the video quality, other than any buffering or obvious Skype-related things?  I'm still experimenting, and if I figure it out I'll share.  We may try it again at Event Camp Europe.  Suffice it to say that it's remarkably low tech and inexpensive, and I think could be a really nice key to making this all work.

5) It should go without saying, but I will.  When it comes to trying new tech, try and emulate the final use scenario as closely as possible during testing.  We thought we had, but clearly there were factors at work that we didn't anticipate.  At least now you know to...

Goodbye to Peter J. Butler of Taurus Productions

Pete Memorial Program001“16 years ago, Pete taught me the proper way to coil a cable,” was how I started my memorial to Pete, whose service was today.  Unfortunately, that was also the way I ended it, as the words caught in my throat and I had to sit down.  I think most people thought I was just making a joke and moved on.  Those who sat near me I’m sure could see the tears well up in my eyes.

I wasn’t close to Pete, and I wouldn’t even really say we were friends.  More often than not, I was overheard poking fun at his fastidious nature, or the fact that at least one “F***ing Nightmare” was to be heard uttered from his mouth on almost every gig, usually about something insignificant.  Pete was a 60’s era sound guy working in a corporate AV world, and the two never really meshed.

Pete was a talker, as many at his memorial pointed out.  There would be days that you could hear him coming down the office row, telling the exact same story to each person.  By the time he’d get to me, I’d already heard the story 5 times, but… “Hey, got a minute?”  It was never just a minute.  More like 10.  I always tried to listen anyway, though sometimes I must confess to suddenly getting a phone call right before he came to my door.

So why would a memorial service for an incredible neatnik, vendor/sublettor, who complained on most gigs and talked (arguably) too much, make me choke up?  Because 15 years ago (I was off a year in my abbreviated eulogy), he taught me the proper way to coil a cable.  And here’s the rest of the story I couldn’t manage to tell:

Though he often complained about things on site, Pete was actually a really nice guy.  I remember thinking so in 1995 when I was working at Gopher Stage Lighting in Minneapolis.  I was 22, fresh out of college with a degree in technical theatre, and was happy to at least have a job that was remotely close to my major.  Pete would come in every couple of weeks or so with an equipment rental.  He’d hang around with us flunkies in the back, shoot the shit, smile, tell a story, crack a joke, and be on his way.

After only about a year or so, things really began to come off the rails for me at Gopher.  I had been suspended for two weeks for doing what I thought was the right thing, but was against policy.  I was increasingly at odds with the manager, and was vocal about it.  After being asked if I thought I could basically keep quiet and be a yes man, I said no.  I was asked to leave.  I took one number from the rolodex.

I called Pete, not knowing if he even really knew who I was, and asked him for a job.  I just knew that he did sound and lights for “corporate parties”, and that sounded interesting.  I’ll never know if he needed the help or if he just felt sorry for me.  Within two weeks I was working on a gig, humping uplights and pushing crates and speakers from truck docks to hotel ballrooms.

And thus my introduction into the world of corporate event technology…

Pete paid well- A much higher hourly wage than what I was getting at Gopher, but with an unfortunate inconsistency.  The gigs were only maybe once a week, so I was really only making maybe $200-400 month.  Pete seemed to like me and my work so they were getting more frequent.  He was a neat-freak, though.  If you didn’t wrap a cable exactly right, you heard about it for weeks.  There was always a reason for it though, I have to say.  Always.  If you didn’t wrap the cord around the light fixture counter-clock wise three times… bad things would happen.  Two times was too loose, and the cord would slip loose and get caught on other things like cart wheels.  Four times was too tight, and exerted too much strain on the cord, eventually causing the strain relief to break and the cord to fray.  Counter clockwise because Pete was left handed.

And if you always wrap mic cables, power cables, and extension cords exactly the same way every time, they’ll never get all kinky and tangled and weird, as such cables are want to do.  Pete, above all else, taught me that taking an extra minute and a half to do things right will save you a seemingly near-infinite amount of time later being aggravated by tangled cords, stray duct tape, etc.

There are certain times in your life when you are at a crossroads, but it isn’t really you that decides which direction to take.  Without either of us knowing it, Pete made that decision for me.

After less than a year of working for Pete, I was finally allowed to do a gig on my own, and an out of town show at that.  3m was doing a corporate retreat in Wisconsin, and Pete had another, larger show in town.  He drove up with me, helped me get set up, then left me in charge for the night and to tear down and drive the truck back in the morning.  That night, after the gig, I went out to a crappy dive bar with some of the guys from the show- not 3m folk, mind you, but the guys that were putting on the interactive games that the retreat-goers were playing.  These guys turned out to be from a company called “metroConnections”.  That night, I was asked to interview for a full time position with them at their “Destination Management Company” that provided décor for corporate events.  Two days later I interviewed.  Three days after that I received a letter offering me a job.  And though Pete had been giving me more gigs, I had a mountain of credit card bills and would still barely make 10k that year. With no benefits.  I took the job.

The last almost 15 years have whirlwinded, and are a separate story unto themselves.  I settled down, cut my hair, bought a house, got married, and have two beautiful daughters, and I still work for metroConnections.

Pete worked for metro a LOT.  He was our primary provider of décor lighting and event sound for many, many years.  When we moved in to a larger warehouse, we brought Pete in to sublet space to help pay for it.  So even though I haven’t worked for Pete for almost 15 years, I’ve seen him almost every week, at least once a week, for almost all of those years – and occasionally feigning a phone call on those occasions.

And of course, as all of these stories go, I didn’t ever get the chance to really say, “Thank you.” I’m sure I did at the time, all those years ago, but I couldn’t have known then what I know now- which is that if it wasn’t for Pete, I have no idea where I’d be right now.  He quite literally answered the call, when I needed it the most.  And for that, I will always be grateful.

That, and knowing the proper way to coil a cable.

On Why Cold Calling Frequently Doesn't Work

Many discussions have centered around whether cold calling does or does not work.  I have gone on record that no matter what the source (I've been cold called by giants such as Best Buy and HP), it always feels a little, I don't know, desperate. That being said, I always try to be polite and open minded.  You never know when opportunity may come calling, and sometimes, just sometimes, it may be calling with the deal of the century.  I try to be honest about whether or not I may have a use for whatever product or service is being flogged, and this generally helps to prevent wasting the salesperson's (or my) time.

Recently I was cold called regarding outsourcing our IT department.  We're a lean company, and for many years I was our IT department.  When I could no longer handle it myself, we weighed the options of hiring a full time person or outsourcing.  We decided to outsource, and while it hasn't always been the smoothest ride, all in all it's saved more headaches than it's caused.

Maybe a month before I was called, we'd just re-upped with our current provider for another two years.  I politely explained this to the caller, but said that if he sent me some information on his company I'd be happy to check them out and keep them in mind when it came time to reconsider in about a year and a half.  Emails were exchanged and the conversation ended.

A couple of weeks later, I received the following email:

HI Brandt,
I spoke with you a couple weeks ago and sent an email about my company. I would very much like to come and show you how we are superior to (*current provider*) in a variety of ways. Please allow me 15 minutes to demonstrate what we do and how we can reduce your costs.
My job is to simply set appointments and based on our conversation I know that we are an ideal fit for your company. A couple years is too long to wait before comparing managed IT service. I promise you that are service is priced below all competitors, we offer unique perks that others do not.
Let me know when you would be available for me to stop in.

There were no attachments.

So, to be clear, I explained that I would not be evaluating new companies for at least a year and half and requested information about his company.  Instead, I received NO information and an immediate meeting request- the exact opposite.  I'm afraid my response was less than polite this time.

And so I respectfully submit the following thoughts and questions:

  • The question isn't whether or not cold calling works, but rather whether or not your "post call" strategy works.
  • What do you do when you hang up the phone?
  • Why did it take this person over a week to follow up?
  • Why did they ignore my timeline and push their own?
  • Why didn't they send the information the second they got off the phone with a polite "Thanks for your time" email, and then put a note in their calendar to call a year and a half from now?
  • Was I, as the potential customer, wrong to be annoyed or should I adopt a more "He's just doing his job" mentality?

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome below.

-Brandt

********* Update ************

Moments after posting this, the salesperson in question responded to my email.  For context, here was my (admittedly less than polite) initial response:

Hi (*Blah Blah Blah*),

While I understand you are just doing your job ("to simply set appointments"), I have a very low tolerance for companies and people that represent those companies that do not listen to their (in my case, potential) customers.
I explained to you why we won't be needing your services in the near future (we're under contract for the next two years) and asked you to just send me some information on your company.
Instead, you've sent me no information and requested an immediate meeting, which is the exact opposite of what I asked.
Had you done what I asked, I would have looked at your information, filed it, and (if warranted) seriously considered your company when we do start looking in a year and a half or so.
Instead, you've just annoyed a potential customer.  Your company may or may not come up when we get to that point. Please do not contact me in the meantime.
Thanks,
Brandt

Despite my "Please do not contact me in the meantime", here was his response:

Brandt,

I would guess the information that you would like is pricing, right. I do not have that, nor would I send an email with it. That would not benefit me or my company. It would only benefit your firm. Please understand that and the fact that I am only paid to set appointments so that we can provide pricing(far less expensive than your current vendor). I doubt that I have really annoyed you. See attachment and call us when you want an exceptional managed IT service.

Best, (*Blah Blah Blah*)

So many things wrong with that response...

Actually, no, Mr. Blah Blah Blah.  I was referring to maybe a fact sheet about what services your company provides, or perhaps a case study, or something.  The "attachment" mentioned was a PDF of some of the awards the company had won.

And if you hadn't "really" annoyed me before, you have now.

Don't Be too Proud of this Technological Terror You've Constructed

Just an observation, and a warning, to the Geek Dads of the world: Despite the good intentions of this site, there's something you need to know. No amount of technology, no amount of circuits, No amount of kilohertz, megahertz, or gigahertz, No amount of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, terabytes, or petabytes, No amount of GPUs, CPUs, DSPs, or PSPs, No amount of coding, transcoding, hypercoding, speedcoding, softcoding, noncoding, geocoding, geotagging, metatagging, mobile tagging, RFID tagging, or frag tagging, No amount of Macs, spacks, tracks, brute force attacks, or server racks, No amount of black boxes, set top boxes, grooveboxes, sandboxes, gameboxes, Game Boys, fanboys, bitboys, bitTorrents, YouTorrents, YouTubes, or intertubes...

...can make something magically appear faster than your cupped hands to catch your daughter's vomit before it gets all over her, her PJs, and her bed. Get yer hands out there and suck it up.

Technology FAIL