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: Mac

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...

Botch Your (Mountain) Lion Install? This Might Help...

[Edited 08/01/12- Confirmed this works with Mountain Lion as well!]

Couldn't wait for the $69 USB key and tried to do a clean install of Mac OSX Lion yourself?

Did you wait with bated breath for your new Liony Goodness to reboot, only to be hit with:

"There was a problem installing Mac OS X. Try reinstalling".

AIGH! Even reformatting and repartioning does nothing to stop it, and an infinite loop of pain begins.

Have no fear, "austingaijin" on the Apple Support Forums was kind enough answer his own question!

Correct Answer by austingaijin on Jul 24, 2011 7:13 PM
Here's the crucial bit. I got myself into this boat. After wiping my entire drive,
I wondered "HOW can it possibly be finding any remnants of Lion?" The answer is PRAM.
You need to reset your PRAM.
Follow this article:
http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1379
After doing this, and restarting, I got a different error and a window displaying
a log containing details of the failed installation.
It doesn't matter. Just select a new startup disk, or do the "hold the Option key during boot"
trick to select your USB install image, and when you restart, you'll get the normal "clean installer" options.
Brett

Thanks a million, Brett.  It worked for me, and I didn't even get the second errors you mentioned. It just fired right up with the install options again!

**Edit**  Just in case the link dies or you don't feel like clicking through, here's the short: you need to reset what's called PRAM, and it's done by restarting your Mac and holding Command-Option-P-R, yes that's a four key combination!  I have had to do this a couple times now, and I let it cycle through a couple of times.  Works like a champ.  Please read the linked KB article for full details!

On Why Apple Better Watch Its Ass.

I want an iPad 2.  I don't need an iPad 2, but I want one.  I'm not even sure I can tell you why, other than I was kinda sorta thinking about maybe getting a tablet this year.  Then I watched the keynote announcement of iPad 2, and if it wasn't for the March 11th launch date, all you would have seen in my office was a swiveling chair and some cartoon *PIONG* lines indicating my rapid departure for Best Buy.  Maybe a couple of dollar bills floating gently to the floor for comedic effect. And I don't think I'm alone.  To say that Apple has hit it out of the park with iOS is an understatement.  According to the iPad 2 keynote, Apple has sold 100 million iPhones and 15 million iPads, which I'd like to remind you came out LAST YEAR.  Whatever the "secret sauce" is to the iOS ecosystem, Apple's definitely got a hit on their hands- which is precisely why they need to start watching their ass.

Why?  History, baby.  History.  Not that long ago, in our own very galaxy, another come-from-behind player had emerged victorious and was dominating the market.  Windows, in relatively short order, had become THE operating system for mainstream Earth.  And shortly thereafter, things started to get ugly.  Licensing disputes, and claims of anti-trust violations started to circle.  Independent browser companies felt that packaging Internet Explorer with Windows unfairly pushed them out of the market.  And it's difficult to say they were wrong- Does anybody remember that you used to have to pay for the higher end Internet browsers?  It was over a decade and hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars in fines and legal bills later before the dust started to clear.

So what's this have to do with Apple?  Simple.  They're teetering on the edge.  Steve Jobs proudly proclaimed that the iPad had outsold in one year all the other tablets ever sold, so it's safe to say they're the dominant player in that market.  I love Android, but I just don't see the Android tablets as being anything but second fiddle to the iPad 2 anytime soon.  As for the iPhone, depending on what report you read, approximately 50% of all smart phones are iPhones.  That's pretty damn good too.  Finally, how many people to you know that have an MP3 player other than an iPod?  Not bloody many.

"Big deal," you say.  "So what if they're successful?"  It's not their success that the problem.  It's the scrutiny that comes with success, and Apple's begun to throw their weight around a lot lately.  Already we are hearing grumblings from developers and partners regarding Apple's cut of the proceeds when it comes to subscription services.  Apple forces subscriptions to sell for the same price outside the App Store as they do inside.  Combine that with their strict application regulations, and you start to see some cause for concern in the ability for the "little guys" to compete fairly in the market.

The strongest possibility for a source of an unexpected ass-munching comes from something that most people have seen as merely an inconvenience: the fact that all roads travel through iTunes.  Apple needs to change this.  Fast.

If you look at the Microsoft troubles, they didn't come, for the most part, from other operating system developers- they came from the browser developers (which is why the European Union now requires a browser "selection" screen on all Windows installs to level the playing field- Sleipnir, anyone?).  If an attack is to come on Apple, it will come from the media sales and playback front.  Apple requires you to install iTunes to set up your iPod, iPhone, or iPad on both Mac OSX and Windows.  Having device software is nothing new, but why does all of this have to go through, what is, for all practical purposes, a media player?  The answer is both obvious and dangerous- it drives traffic to the iTunes store.

For most consumers, the path of least resistance is the way they go, so why would the averege consumer even consider using anything else like Winamp, or Windows Media Player when iTunes is right there?  And why would they consider using another MP3 or video store like Amazon or Emusic when iTunes is right there?  Hell, iTunes even opens when you plug your device in!

Why is this any diferent than the Microsoft anti trust suits?  Apple is using its dominance in a hardware market to push itself in a software market and a media sales market, and if they don't watch themselves, the next bite out of the apple logo isn't going to come from Microsoft or Android, it's going to come from the US Justice Department or the European Union.  Fortunately, though it's an easy fix and it's not too late.  All they need to do is offer a software utility that handles most of iOS to Desktop/Laptop functionality ("iManage" anyone?).  They can keep all the iTunes integration they want- it's their software, so it should be convenient to use, but there needs to be a separate utility that is the first point of contact for the consumer in order to make their new purchase functional.  They can "recommend" iTunes,  but it can't be the only way to get your media onto your device, and they have to make it easy for other stores like Amazon, and other media players like Window Media to send and retrieve media files from the devices.

I think if Apple makes those two concessions, it will go a long, long way towards keeping the anti-trust investigations at bay.   What do you think?

***Update 6/21/11
I'm curious to know what IOS 5 holds, and how the wireless sync will work.  It feels like they might be moving away from iTunes a little, so let's see what we see...

Inserting Special Characters- The Mac Equivalent of CharMap

*** UPDATE *** This functionality has been hit or miss removed in Lion. Sometimes it works, sometimes it actually opens the .app (literally) as though you had selected "Show Package Contents" from the context menu, and you find yourself staring into the soul of CharacterPalette.app instead of launching the app itself. You now get a "Item “charmap” is used by Mac OS X and can’t be opened" message box.

There's some good news, though.  It appears that as part of OSX Lion they've force-added "Special Characters..." to the Edit menu of every program.  At least all the programs I've used and remembered to check.  If that's not fast enough for you, any myriad of programs can create shortcuts to menu items, including the built in "Keyboard Shortcuts" portion of the Preferences.  Just remember to spell it out exactly, including the elipses- Special Characters...

*****

It's been many a year now since I started working almost exclusively with a Mac at the office, and there's very few things left that I haven't found equal or better ways of doing things compared to Windows.  There are still a few things lingering, though.

For example, I've yet to find a file/folder comparison application that even remotely stands up to Beyond Compare (I'm looking at you, ScooterSoft... let's get this done!).  Additionally, I've often found accessing the "Special Characters" of fonts to be quite tedious.  By special characters, I mean things like €,∞, ©, and ü that I don't use on a regular basis and aren't on my keyboard.  Most applications have shortcuts to the "Characters Palette" , the Mac equivalent of "Character Map" on Windows, but it's never in the same place or under the same menu.

The OSX Character Palette

On Windows, this is the same way, but years ago I learned that I could very quickly navigate to the Character Map by hitting Win-R and typing "charmap".  Until now, I hadn't found an easy shortcut on the Mac.  It requires just a little bit of setup, but then it's just as fast as its Windows counterpart:

1. Open a Finder window and navigate to Macintosh HD/System/Library/Input Methods/

2. Drag CharacterPalette.app to your Home folder (or wherever you'd like), but hold down the Option and Command buttons while you do.  This will create an "alias" (like a Windows shortcut) of that file.

3. Done!

4. (Optional) Rename the alias to something handy.  Because of my long-standing Windows habits, I named mine "charmap" :)

Unlike the CharacterPalette.app file, which is a system file, the alias will be "seen" by the Finder , or by Spotlight.  Now all you have to do to quick-access the palette is to hit Cmd-Space and start typing "characterpalette" and Spotlight will suggest it most likely before you've finished typing the full word.  Or, like me, you can type your renamed alias.  All I have to do is hit Cmd-Space and type "charmap", just like on Windows.

Hope this helps some folks out.  Leave comments if it does!