The Idiot’s Guide to Bearable Computing

The Idiot’s Guide to Bearable Computing

Bearable ComputingFacetime. Skype. Google Hangouts. WebRTC. Telepresence. Teleconference. Whatevs.

Real-time video communication is – literally – in our faces at every turn.

Well then – why is so much of it so horrifically terrible to participate in?

You know what I’m talking about.

You schedule an interview with a prospective employee, who dials in from a crowded Starbucks (check). You connect with an important and hard-to-get guest lecturer, who has the camera pointed at the top of his head the entire lecture (check). You can’t hear other participants because of the horrible echo coming from one of the dialed in members in the call (check). You sit for an hour in front of an unmoderated webinar, wishing you could get that hour of your life back (check, check, check).

It doesn’t have to be this bad. Truly.

In fact, I have a little side career mission to promote what I call Bearable Computing (see what I did there?) – a mission to promote responsible technology use, that isn’t distracting, idiotic, or simply indigestible.

Let’s start with first principles, regarding videoconferencing.

  • Before you schedule a webinar or videoconference, be 100% certain you have something important and interesting to share or say. If you don’t have an agenda, a moderator, or a topic, you should bail. Now.
  • You should NEVER participate in a video call without headphones. Ever.  Echo cancellation has gotten tons better over the years, but is still imperfect. Please. Think of the children. Wear headphones.
  • You should try your utmost to connect via a wired, rather than a wireless, internet connection. Why? Because if I’m fixated on your pixelated and broken signal trying to come across whatever bogus hotspot you’re leaching down at your favorite watering hole, I’m NOT concentrating on the content of the conversation. Iffy wifi / bandwidth is the death of most video calls. Get a wire.
  • Buy a good microphone. The difference between good sound and great sound is the difference between lightning and lightning bug (with apologies to Mark Twain). Do it.
  • Use the best camera you can afford. Built in cameras, even for Macs, are OK in a pinch… but if you can splurge for a really good camera, it’ll change your videoconferencing life. And while I’m talking cameras, if you DO use your built in laptop’s camera, at least raise the camera to be at your eye level. Looking up your nose for an hour is not where it’s at. At. All. Take the time to frame your video. For the love of Pete.
  • Have good lighting. You’re going to the trouble to do a video call. What good is a video call, if no one can see you? Corollary: DON’T sit with a huge window at your back – silhouettes really aren’t that interesting…  unless you’re going for some “All the President’s Men” effect. Then, by all means. Otherwise – no. No. No.
  • Avoid dead air. Dead air is death to an otherwise interesting video call. In a hangout, sometimes it’s unavoidable. In a presentation? Inexcusable. The best way to solve this is to have a designated meeting convener who acts as the moderator for EVERY video call. Every. One. Always.

A few final notes: at our school, we record about 1TB plus worth of video in our media center each year. We see a lot of video. Some good. Some double-plus ungood. The common theme of bad video? It’s unwatchable. Bad lighting. Terrible framing. Horrible sound. Bad content. The same is true of unbearable teleconferencing: bad content, horrible framing, terrible video quality, spotty sound.

In short, before you sit down to participate in a video call, ask yourself: would / could I watch this video call, again, without being bored to tears? Is what I’m presenting watchable, in the least?

By using the right tools, and finding a good internet connection in a quiet distraction-free spot, you’ll greatly improve your chances of having a truly positive video experience.

We don’t all have to be consummate media professionals in order to effectively communicate via video.

But neither do we have to phone it in (Really. I’m stopping now).




Liberal Arts College Expands Horizons with LifeSize

Liberal Arts College Expands Horizons with LifeSize

For more than 130 years, Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas has been providing students with an intensive, well-rounded education, and US News and World Reports has consistently rated them as one of the best “up-and-coming” Liberal Arts Colleges in the country.  The university is constantly looking for ways to improve the learning experience of its 1,400 students, and functions as an educational laboratory, finding ways to combine classroom education with hands-on participation.  That’s why new Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer David J. Hinson decided to add video conferencing solutions to the school’s academic arsenal.

Apple’s Next Disruption: Teleconferencing?

Apple’s Next Disruption: Teleconferencing?

FaceTimeOne of the slew of announcements made last week at WWDC was the brief mention that Apple’s FaceTime product would start working over cellular networks (and not simply be restricted to calls over WiFi).

FaceTime is a gorgeous video chat client (I’ve got a face made for radio, and sometimes the video quality has too much fidelity, but that’s a different post for a different day), and supports SIP in some form, albeit not a form that allows it to interoperate with other SIP compliant teleconferencing solutions.

But what if Apple decided to allow FaceTime to connect, via SIP, to outside systems? All of a sudden, the “conversation” becomes very interesting. Most room based Teleconferencing solutions from Cisco, Tandberg, and Polycom support SIP. Open FaceTime’s SIP implementation up a smidge, and suddenly every iOS device is now a teleconferencing client.

Fully implement h.323 within FaceTime, and now you REALLY have some disruption on your hands.

There are a number of quality software offerings in the h.323 space that would be immediately impacted if Apple decided to open up FaceTime, most notably Radvision’s Scopia, LifeSize’s ClearSea, and Polycom’s RealPresence clients.

Teleconferencing is one of those technologies that most people recognizes the promise in, but implementation is impeded by the high cost of ownership and the daunting task of navigating complex vendor channel relationships, rather than dealing directly with the teleconferencing vendor of choice.

But what if – at least from the client side – the endpoint can be consumerized? Then it’s a whole new ballgame.

Blue Jeans NetworkCompanies like are already disrupting the Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) portion of the teleconferencing sector with its Saas (Software as a Service) model. A move by Apple to consumerize h.323 clients would irrecoverably change the teleconferencing game, for the better I think – unless you’re a h.323 client vendor.

All of this is pure speculation on my part.

But as I see it, with a few small moves, Apple can once again leverage an army of consumer devices to totally transform an entire business segment.