Brandt Krueger

TECHNICAL PRODUCER, EDUCATOR, SPEAKER, AND CONSULTANT FOR THE MEETING AND EVENTS INDUSTRY. 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 Tag: Hardware

How to Fix a Loose Charging Port on a Nexus 6 (and probably a lot of phones)

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I love my Nexus 6, but since day one the charging port has always felt like most USB cables didn't go all the way in. As it approached the 2 year old mark, this condition had gotten steadily worse to the point that any and all cables would simply fall out given a stiff breeze.

I searched and searched online, but as often happens if you don't create the exact right set of search terms, I came up pretty empty. A lot of articles blamed "non-OEM" cables, others said they sent theirs back to Google for a replacement.

Even though it was way out of warranty, I did contact Google. They had no answers, suggesting I contact Motorola for hardware support. I was disappointed, but it triggered an idea- I started searching for articles about loose connections on Motorola phones, and not specifically the Nexus 6. Now things started coming up, and with a little digging I found this post on XDA Developers: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1856180

In it, user telmosousa describes how using a toothpick, you can clean out the port on your phone. The toothpicks I had were even still too large, so I literally had to whittle one down to get into the port and... sure enough, a disgusting amount of lint and other crud scraped right out. My charging port is back to its like-new "not quite looking all the way plugged in but nonetheless fully functional" condition!

Whenever I find a "how to" that took me forever to find, I do try and post it here for others!

Hope this helps some people out!

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:

335623-tonystark

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 Teleprompters- What are they, and when should you use them?

It is no secret that being a good communicator is key to success in business. We value those who have the ability to communicate well, and that often includes public speaking. One proven tool to aid in the delivery of a speech or presentation is the teleprompter. However, knowing when and how to use one may be just as instrumental in earning that standing ovation.

History of the Teleprompter Simply put, a teleprompter is a device that “prompts” the person speaking with a visual text of a speech or script. This allows the reader to read the text word for word, ensuring a consistent and accurate speech, while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.

In the 1950s, Fred Barton, Jr. came up with the idea of a teleprompter as an actor. He later helped found the TelePrompTer Corporation, which built the first devices. Although in some countries it may be referred to as an AutoCue (a UK brand name), the TelePrompTer name has become the generic term for these devices in most of the world.

The earliest teleprompter was nothing more than a scroll of paper with a script printed on it that was then run over a mechanical device operated by a hidden technician. It wasn’t long before the initial version was improved upon by becoming automated and mounted on a television camera. These improvements, though better than cue cards and a standalone prompter, were not enough because the speaker was still looking slightly off camera. Thus came the next, and most important improvement: reflective glass.

Instead of being mounted facing the speaker, the prompter was mounted below the camera and facing up, or mounted above the camera and facing down, with the text reflected off a piece of glass directly in front of the camera lens.  The placement and construction of this glass prevented it from being seen by the camera and allowed the speaker to look directly into the camera while reading.

The computer revolution in the 1980s brought many advances. Scrolling paper rolls were replaced with monitors and computer-generated text as early as 1982, but were still in use as late as 1992. The advancement of technology has also enabled teleprompters to become lighter and thinner, straying away from old bulky ray tube monitors to ultra-slim flat screen monitors. Voice recognition software has also played a part. For example, high-end news organizations are testing teleprompters with the ability to be voice activated, ensuring that the prompter is always going the right speed for the speaker.

Today’s Types of Teleprompters The three main modern types of teleprompters are camera mounted, presidential, and floor or stand mounted.

  • The camera mounted teleprompter, as we’ve already discussed, works with text being bounced off special glass placed in front of the lens. This type of prompter is used mainly for pre-recorded videos for speakers, guests, or top-level management. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights and need to be coordinated with the AV provider to make sure that the right type is used and matches the camera.
  • The presidential teleprompter works basically in the same manner as the camera mounted monitor, except the mirrored glass is mounted at the end of a thin pole instead of on a camera. However, just like the on-camera models, the speaker is able to look directly at the audience through the glass as if it were not there. This is great for a live event. They are almost always used in pairs - one to the left and one to the right of center - encouraging the speaker to change focus and look at the entire audience.
  • The floor/stand teleprompter can be placed at an angle on the floor, mounted on a stand, or hung from rigging points in the back of the room. When using them by themselves, floor mounted prompters can be just as good as presidential prompters but it can cause the speaker to look down more or make them appear as if they are only talking to the first two rows of attendees.

In addition to the actual teleprompter itself, there are some other components that are also essential -- the software and the remote control. Both camera mounted and presidential prompters require images to be reflected off of a piece of glass, which then requires that the original text be reversed.  All professional prompter software should have this feature. Teleprompters also require a way in which to stop, start, and manipulate the speed of text.

When should/shouldn’t you use a Teleprompter? Using teleprompters, such as a presidential monitor, infers professionalism and makes a speaker look more “presidential.” In general, prompters make the speaker look better as they allow them to connect with the audience, whether live or prerecorded, through eye contact, and studies have shown that eye contact can be a major factor in whether or not we trust someone.

The average person (not a trained actor, or someone with a photographic memory) has a difficult time memorizing large chunks of text. This is why many speakers use PowerPoint or notecards to keep them on-track. However, these methods can be cumbersome and make the presenter feel the need to add graphics or slides when they may not be relevant or useful. Teleprompters are also used when a speaker needs to convey a lot of detail or technical specifications.

Just as knowing when to use a teleprompter is important, knowing when NOT to use one is just as essential. The budget of an event can play a very big part in the use of a teleprompter, because you not only have to pay for the equipment but you have to pay for the person to operate it. Cost is not the only factor when considering a teleprompter; the environment is just as important. If the room and audience are small, the use of a teleprompter might be awkward. Imagine being in a small breakout session and having the speaker behind a pair of presidential monitors.

Preparing Speakers for a Teleprompter Picking the right equipment is only half the battle when it comes to delivering a good speech. The speaker and the speech itself have to be a finely tuned machine. Options include hiring a speechwriter, which is surprisingly inexpensive, and they can work with the speaker to hone a message and to use language comfortable for the speaker. It is very important to write as one speaks, because if the language isn’t familiar, it often sounds stiff and awkward.

Not only does the speech have to be well written, the speaker delivering it has to also be well trained. The speaker should rehearse in the space before the event and allow plenty of time with the prompter itself. Even the most experienced speaker can find a prompter a little unsettling for the first time. Otherwise, a prompter will likely hurt the presentation, rather than help it.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that the speaker knows they are in control, not the teleprompter. It’s the operator’s job to make sure the speaker has the words they need, when they need them, not the job of the speaker to try and “keep up” with the prompter.

Conclusion In conclusion, knowing your audience, your prompter equipment, and your speech will ultimately reward you with a successful presentation. It is wise when budgeting to accommodate for not only the equipment itself, but for the operator and a possible script writer as well. Also, make sure that plenty of time is allowed for rehearsal and practice. Practicing with the equipment and with the operator can help make or break a perfect prompter presentation.

Originally published at metroConnections.com

Enable On-Screen Android Navigation Buttons on the Galaxy S3 (Requires Root)

On Screen Navigation on S3

***UPDATE*** If you're using the latest builds of CyanogenMod, you don't need to do this! Just go to Settings, Buttons, and check the "Enable on-screen nav bar" box. Et voila!

OK, this is one that's fun to try.  You'll either:

  1. Love it -or-
  2. Hate it

I know it might seem redundant with the hardware softkeys on the the Galaxy S3, but I really like this mod and it's one of the first things I do after flashing a new rom.  The S3 has plenty of screen real estate to handle it, and I find it a much faster way of navigating around the phone, with faster access to app switching and Google Now.  Also, frequently while trying to reach down to the "Back" hardware button with my left hand, the phone feels like it's going to shoot out of my hand like a bar of soap.

To enable the on-screen navigation buttons:

Use a file explorer (like Root Explorer) to navigate to

/system/build.prop

and open the file with a text editor.  Add the line

qemu.hw.mainkeys=0

at the end of the file.  Save and close.  Reboot.  Done

That's it!

Be advised, there a are a few apps that don't behave well with the keys, such as the camera.  For some reason (probably because it's a stock app) instead of resizing, it partially covers up some of the controls.  Still completely usable though.

For extra credit, you might try one of these other mods...

Disable the softkeys: Navigate to

/system/usr/keylayout/sec_touchkey.kl

and open the file with a text editor. You will a giant list of key numbers and what they do.  Try to find these...

key 172    HOME key 158    BACK key 139    MENU

Add a # before any key you don't wan't to use anymore.  Save and reboot.

Thanks to jastonas over on XDA for the post!

Prevent the "HOME" key from waking your phone up: Personally, I like to keep the softkeys engaged.  I do still use them from time to time, such as when you can't find the freaking "MENU" key on a poorly designed app.  But, in a completely made up statistic, I have found that accidental pocket-engagement of the "HOME" key is responsible for 80% of battery loss.

Navigate to

system/usr/keylayout/sec_keys.kl

and open the file with a text editor. You will see this...

key 115    VOLUME_UP           WAKE key 114    VOLUME_DOWN     WAKE key 172    HOME                     WAKE key 116    POWER                   WAKE

Just delete the word "WAKE" from the "HOME" key (or more if you like, but be careful you still need a way to wake your phone!!!).  Save and reboot.

Thanks to Eric over on Galaxy S3 Forums for the post!

That's all there is to it!  So now that the S4 is coming out, is anyone getting antsy to trade in their S3?  Personally over a year in I'm still happy as a clam...

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?

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...

On Recording Meetings - Avoid Post Event Trauma and Save Money by Asking a Few Questions

An image of a DV-HDV DeckI'm noticing a trend in the meetings industry:Easily 5 out of the last 6 shows I've worked on have requested the recorded video of their meeting.

While that's not all that unusual in and of itself, what's different is that they're requesting it almost immediately after the program, and are wanting it in a digital format so that they can edit it and get it up on either their internal or external websites.

What does this mean for meeting planners?  You might think, "Nothing" or "No big deal" or even "Duh."  With the proliferation of high bandwidth internet connections, smart phones, and the ubiquitous YouTube videos (and their ease of creation), clients are naturally expecting to be able to get bits and pieces of their event onto the Internet in short order.

What it does is add one more conversation that needs to happen before the event, and preferably before the equipment budget is finalized.  There are many different "levels" of recording a show, varying from "goes in a box somewhere" to "going to be sold as a Blu-Ray DVD", and that level not only has a direct impact on the equipment needed for the meeting, but also can affect the out of pocket expenses of the client before, during, and after the show.  Put simply? Planning ahead can save everyone involved headaches and money- most of which are caused by having the wrong level of record, or one that doesn't meet the clients expectations even if they aren't sure what those expectations are themselves.

Here's the low down on the various types of meeting and event records:

Level 0: "No recording." Frankly, this rarely if ever happens when there's a camera in play, but it never hurts to ask your AV provider if recording is included in the price.

Level 1: "Goes in a box somewhere." For this level we usually see one of two types of record strategies.  First, there is the on-camera record.  Only the video taken by the camera is put on the tape.  On slightly older cameras these are usually DVCAM tapes, and on newer "pro-sumer" HD models the video is recorded on what's called HDV tapes.  The cost increase from level one is the cost of tapes, which aren't cheap. Almost $35 per 184 minute tape.

The second option is a "program feed" record.  A separate record deck is inserted into the video rig, and whatever's being sent to the screen is recorded.  Be careful- there's a terminology trap here. Some AV vendors (and myself, before being bitten in the rear one too many times) use the terms "Line Cut" and "Program Feed" interchangeably, however... "Line Cut" is a term derived from Television production, and refers to a particular edit that just contains camera angle switches.  A "Program Feed" should include anything that's being shown on the screen.  Make sure you know which you're getting!  Most vendors are capable of doing this kind of record, but you have to ask for it.  The cost goes up by not only the price of the tapes, but also the cost of the deck.

When the show is over, your AV vendor gives you or your clients the tapes, and they go in a box somewhere.

Level 2: "There's a chance we might use it someday," or "We might want to at least watch it." Basically you're looking at the same as above, but you need to keep a couple things in mind.  If you just hand your clients the tapes, they probably can't watch them.  Most people don't have a DVCAM or HDV (or BETACAM, which still rears its ugly head from time to time) deck lying around the office.  Your AV vendor or production company obviously does, as you just used one on your event.  See if they'll include a basic video transfer to DVD so that at least you can give the client those, which should be watchable on any consumer DVD player or computer.  If they can't, there's usually at least one company in every major city that specializes in media format changes- VHS->DVD for example.  They can usually do this for a moderate fee.  For our part, metroConnections usually includes this transfer of the program feed to DVD in the price of production.

Level 3: "We're definitely going to use it at some point." Either of the previous two options will work for some clients.  Hopefully you've handed them the tapes along with a DVD copy.  They can watch the DVD, decide what they like, hand the tapes over to a video editing company and have their footage professionally edited and put together.  If the client knows this is going to happen, though, you might throw one more option at them- the combination of both the "on camera" record (also sometimes known as ISO) as well as the program feed.  This is especially helpful when PowerPoints or other PC/Mac-based presentations are involved.  The client can provide the video editors both sets of tapes, and the editor can use the program feed as a reference to add the PowerPoints back into the final edit.  By having the ISOs as well as the original PowerPoint materials, the editor can precisely edit when the speaker is on the screen and when the slide is- something that doesn't always come out perfectly with the on-site switching that gets sent to the program feed.

Level 4: "We're definitely going to use it next week." One of the biggest problems with the above scenarios are that they're all tape-based.  That means that when it comes time to get that information off the tape, it has to happen in real time- just like all those VHS tapes you have in your basement somewhere.  If your conference was three days long, eight hours a day, guess how long it will take just to get the footage into an editable form? Yup. Ouch.  This is probably the biggest "gotcha" point." Video houses are probably going to charge you or your client wicked rush charges to turn around that much footage in a short amount of time, or simply won't have time to do it.  If your client knows they're going to use the footage, try and get a reasonable understanding of when they intend to do so, and set their expectations accordingly.

Another option is to use a hard drive recorder.  This is basically the same as the tape decks of old, but records the video directly to either an internal or external hard drive.  These are definitely going to be more expensive than DVCAM or HDV decks, but you can turn around the footage much faster.  Usually they write to a format that can be edited almost right away in Final Cut.

If you get the right cameras, you can record them on hard drives there as well.   Then you're able to get the benefits mentioned in "Level 3".  Again it's more expensive on the front end, but theoretically you or the client is saving money on rush charges and editing time.  If you don't have ISO records, the editor has to guess where the PPT slides go, and this usually involves watching the program from start to finish.  If you have both the program feeds and the ISOs, you can skim around and look for the changes.

It's important to note that all of the options above involve some kind of specialty equipment at some point in the process before the client gets the footage in their hands.  DVCAM Tapes require tape decks that can read DVCAM tapes, HDV decks the same, and even when recording to hard disk, chances are you're going to need a Mac (most of the formats I've seen are QuickTime variations that don't play nice with Windows).

There's a bunch of levels in between the ones I've laid out here, but these are the most common ones I've run into.  I mentioned the "Going to be put out on Blu-Ray" level- if that's the case, you need to have a very serious talk about expectations, because in most cases that's going to involve an entirely separate record crew from the normal production crew, essentially doubling your costs.

Hopefully though, this is enough to get the conversation started, and enough to give you an informed viewpoint in that conversation.  Ultimately you should be able to guide your client into the right fit for what they want balanced with what they can afford to pay.

Top Five Watches the GeekDad in Chief Should be Wearing

by Brandt Krueger, Geek Dad since 2007 Obama w Superman_02Much has been made about the geektitude of our current president, from his use (and correct pronunciation) of Superman lore, to his insistance on keeping his BlackBerry, to his ability to properly give the vulcan hand sign of "Live Long and Prosper."  So when I found out that there was a website where a mere mortal like myself could buy the President's watch, I had to check it out.  Needless to say, I was a looking for something a little more geeky than what I found.jorg-gray-watch-debut-2

I don't know, I guess I figured the GeekDad in Chief would have something like an original Casio CA53W.

ca53w

You know, for tackling those pesky budgets and figuring out how to pay for universal healthcare without raising taxes.

Don't get me wrong, the watch he wears is a nice watch and all.  It has all your standard geeky dials and dates, but I can't help but feel like he might be neglecting an important presidential accessory.  And so I present to you,

The Top Five Watches the GeekDad in Chief should be Wearing:

5.  LED Binary Watch

Basic, and self explanatory to even low-level geeks.  Baffling to the non-geek.

4. Casio Telememo 150

Ok, so the calculator watch is still an option.  I was surprised to see that Casio was still pumping out these babies, updated for the new century.  And what does almost 30 years of calculator watch get you over the CA35?  Semi-permanent EEPROM memory of 150 "pages" consisting of 8 letters and twelve numerals per page.  Perfect for the POTUS to keep track of his schedule, and to be alerted he's got an important "MEETIN" to go to (see photo).

3.  Missile Command

When I ran across the title for this watch in my searches, I was really hoping it would look like this: Missile Command Watch

No such luck.  Apparently Atari didn't cash in on the Missile Command franchise in the watch department.  You gotta admit, though, that would have been pretty cool.  Still would.  Somebody get on that.

Anyway, even though it looks like this...

Chase Durer Missile Command Watch...this watch is still worth an honorable mention, and the President is, after all, the ultimate Missile Commander for our country.

2.  25th Aniversary G-Shock

25th Aniversary G-Shock

The G-Shock is the gold standard for geek watches.  Nobody's sure why, as most of its functionality is based on athletic pursuits (something geeks are not generally known for).  Nonetheless, the watch became so popular for so long, Casio released the 25th Anniversary edition in white and gold, perfect for those fancy White House dinner parties with foreign dignitaries.

1.  Nixie Tube Watch

Nixie Tube WatchA favorite of "The Woz", the Nixie Tube Watch is the perfect mix of geek chic and old school tech.  Nothing says "I represent change!" better than a ridiculously over-sized vacuum tube watch.   Press the button and the two digits flash the hours, minutes and seconds.  I love the fact that the inventor has a detailed history on his site of how he developed it from breadboard to production.  Click on the photo to check it out!

So snap to it, Mr. Prez, and embrace your inner geek!  I want to see one of those watches on your wrist before the August recess...

Happy GeekDaddy Day! BUG Labs tutorial for building your own web enabled baby monitor

by Brandt Krueger, Geek Dad since 2007 Happy Father's Day, Geek Dads!  It's your day, so why not spend it doing some hard core geeking?  I can currently think of no better example of GeedDaddyness than this tutorial from BUG Labs, which uses their modular device building system to help you create your own baby monitor.

The levels of geek cred on this project are many and varied.  Any project that contains these terms- "Open Source", "Linux-Based", "Web Enabled", and "Motion Sensing" -has got it goin' on!

Full feature on BUGLabs to come, but in the meantime be sure and poke around their site and see what else folks have built using the BUG.  There's some very cool stuff!  www.buglabs.net

Product Review: Playskool Busy Ball Popper

Leo, Post Ball Pop

by Brandt Krueger, Geek Dad since 2007If you swim in the right waters, the first thing that might come to mind when you hear the words "Ball Popper" might be Geek Guru, Leo Laporte.  In this instance, however I'd like to offer up my first official GeekDads product review:  The Playskool Busy Ball Popper!

41ZfihJ+DAL._SL160_

I must confess to being a bit skeptical about this one when we received it as a gift, but it's definitely won me over.  The design is pretty simple- press the giant red button (and who doesn't like giant red buttons?), and a fan is engaged that blows the plastic balls up through, and out of, the top.  The balls then roll around and down the channel back into the fan chamber to start their voyage anew.  It runs for about 15 seconds or so, all the while playing some fun, ball poppin' music (including, for some strange reason, "Rockin' Robin".  Must have been a cheap license).

I was concerned by a few things right off the bat- First off, it's noisy.  Between the fan and the music and the klacking of the balls down the tubes it's by far one of the loudest toys we have, not counting overly amplified toys (which usually can be turned down).  Secondly, right in the manual it says, "Sometimes the balls spill over for even more interactive, put-and-take play."  Sometimes, my sweet bananas.  Until the batteries start to wear down a little, it's pretty much a guarantee that all 5 balls are going in all directions except down the chute, so be prepared to have to go hunting under couches every now and then.  Finally, its a tube, and not unlike the toilet, our daughter has enjoyed playing the "What else fits down there?" game.

All in all though, this has provided a lot of entertainment for our 22 month old over the last 6 months or so, and it's listed for 9+ months.  She has gotten tired of it, but as with most toys if we hide it for a couple of weeks and bring it out again, it's like new.  I'm also a fan of toys that you can discover new ways to enjoy them over time.  For instance, the "What else fits down there?" game has actually yielded some interesting results, including some plastic cookies that fit perfectly down the tube, are not only are light enough to be blown out by the fan, but also flip end over end down the channel to complete the cycle and be blown out again.  Also, try holding a bubble wand over the tube to create your own bubble machine!

So here's the verdict:

4 stars

Child Enjoymennt - Lots of giggles and a giant red button.

3 stars

Parental Enjoyment - Fun repurposing possibilities, noisy and a lot of ball chasing, but has a giant red button.

4 stars

Durability - Seems pretty solid, haven't had to change the batteries, but they are definitely getting weaker (which helps!)

Price- $24.95 at Amazon (Update- they changed the color to Pink)

Please comment if you agree/disagree or would like to add to this review.  This isn't all about me, folks... this is about us.  OH, and if you don't know who Leo Laporte is, you should.  But maybe that's a post for another time...

The Soothing Power of the Reggae CrackBerry

ReggaeCrackBerryChildren are like horses.  I'll explain later. I remember all too well our first child (now almost two) crying a shrill cry that was roughly equivalent to driving steel spikes into my head.  I'm only slightly exaggerating- I would literally get a splitting headache in under 3 minutes of crying.  Then, as if sent by heaven, I read "somewhere" that reggae beats were the near-perfect child soother.  I have looked in vain through all my child-rearing advice books (many of them with barely cracked spines), and have yet to discover where I actually found this pearl.

Obviously you have to check all the usual suspects... Hungry?  Chilly?  Poopy?  After that, though, it might just be unHappy Hour- that magic time when babies' brains need to reboot and go sleepy-sleepy.  Unfortunately this POST involves crying uncontrollably for an indeterminate amount of time.  Buckle up, Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye.

Then I discovered the aforementioned reggae technique, and put it to the test.  And you know what?  It worked, and if you do a little Googlin' you'll find scores of testimonials to the same effect.  Just put that reggae beat in your feet and sway back and forth to the groove- "Buffalo Soldier" put her right out every time.  My wife would marvel at how good I was at soothing the savage beast- "How come she never goes down that well for ME?"  I tried several times to explain that this, combined with what I call the "5 more minutes" technique, gave me a 90% success ratio of putting the baby down in a relatively short amount of time.  (Once she's made that last whimper, and the eyes have finally shut, wait a FULL 5 minutes using a clock before stopping whatever you're doing and trying to lay her down.  It's the longest five minutes of your life, but again it seems to work).

So now it's almost two years later and we have a new little girl, almost 4 weeks old.  For the first three weeks, she was the quietest, sweetest little babe you could ask for, but now she's started up with the needing to reboot almost every night (kinda like Windows ME).  Fortunately, I now have a BlackBerry Storm (sorry, not cool enough for an iPhone- jk, fanboys.  I'm writing this on a Mac- I'm just stuck with Verizon for the short term).  This means that I have been able to further refine the process into near GeekScience.  I have full MP3 playback ability and can actually play "Jammin" as I sway back and forth, and then can time out the full five minutes easily on the large, flip-face clock.   And when that gets boring, I can just pop open the Slacker Radio app and listen to a Buffalo Soldier-like radio station of smooth reggae grooviness.

So why are children like horses?  I firmly believe that this doesn't work just because of some magic in the metronome, but rather because of the overall soothing effect of reggae on you. It's often been said about horses that, "as soon as you think you're out of control, you are out of control."  Babies, like horses, can sense your emotional state.  When it comes time for unHappy Hour, the two of you can get locked into a feedback loop of ever-increasing unhappiness.  However, when you're listening to Bob Marley, it's very difficult to feel anything other than mellow, which in turn helps to mellow out your child.

Plus if your geekling is still small enough for a one-armed rock, you can check your FriendFeed on your CrackBerry, too :)

Family Project: Bend Time

What happens when you load three kids and three atomic clocks into a minivan and take a trip to Mt. Rainier?

Duh-  You can go on vacation without Mom and come back 22 nanoseconds older than she is (and be able to prove it).  That's just what Tom Van Baak did in 2005.  Check out the link for the full story:

http://www.leapsecond.com/great2005/tour/

Nice one, Tom!