Experimenting with a Sony ZV-1 while walking around Barrington

I’ve been experimenting with a Sony ZV-1. This is a compact yet very capable camera, and if I wanted to purchase something explicitly for vlogging, this might well be it. Assuming I wanted to spend 700 quid in the process, of course.

Yesterday, I took it with me while walking the dog, and was really quite impressed. In the process, I produced a video which talks too much about a particular bit of Cambridgeshire for those who are interested in cameras, and too much about cameras for those primarily interested in walks in Cambridgeshire.

I fear the overlapping set in this Venn diagram may be rather small, but it was for my own interest more than anyone else’s; I’ll just put it here just in case there should turn out to be anyone else in that small and exclusive club of South Cambs Vlogging Dog Walkers…

(Most of the audio is recorded using an Instamic)

First experiments with an Instamic

New toy! I bought an Instamic: a tiny voice recorder that I wanted to use in situations where conventional microphones might be difficult or a nuisance, especially when I’m recording with my GoPro Max, which has no facility to take an external mic input.

Here’s my quick first test on yesterday’s dog-walk, in case it’s of interest!

Look through the window!

Today’s very quick tip for improving your video calls.

This one’s pretty obvious, of course. You won’t need to be told this. But perhaps you’ll have a friend who does?

Quentin’s Zoom Webinar Checklist

What are Zoom Webinars?

Most of us are pretty familiar with standard Zoom calls by now, but if you’re asked to organise one with more than a couple of dozen participants, you may wish to make use of Zoom’s ‘Webinar mode‘, where you have a limited number of presenters (or ‘panelists’) and the majority of participants are just ‘attendees’. Attendees are able to watch, listen, and type questions, but are not normally visible or audible themselves, unless you promote them to be panelists too (which you can do on the fly).

Webinar mode is a paid add-on, but if you have a basic paid Zoom plan, you can add it on a monthly basis when you need it. It gives you some extra options like an Eventbrite-style registration system, polls, Q&A chat windows, post-call surveys, the ability to livestream to YouTube, etc. You can find out the details on Zoom’s site. Overall, while there are a few things I would like to change, it works really quite well.

But it is a bit different from a normal Zoom call, and having run a few of these now, ranging from tens to hundreds of attendees, I’ve come up with some tips and a checklist I run through beforehand, and I thought others might find them useful.

This may all look like a daunting amount of preparation, but it needn’t take too long, and going through it can remove a much more daunting amount of stress! If any of these steps does take a significant amount of time, then it’s certainly something you want to find out before, rather than during, your webinar!

Before we get to the checklist, though…

There are lots of general video-conferencing basic tips you can find out there on the web, of course. Things like:

  • Make sure your camera is around eye-level or higher. Laptop users, I’m looking at you! At your nostrils, to be precise. Get yourself a cardboard box.
  • Make sure there’s more light in front of you than there is behind you.
  • Use ethernet rather than wifi if you possibly can.
  • Use a decent microphone (which doesn’t pick-up your keyboard noise). Use earplugs, if your system is prone to echos or feedback.
  • Avoid distracting (or boring) backgrounds.
  • Don’t use virtual backgrounds or automatic blurring.
  • Mute yourself when your microphone isn’t needed.

I won’t go into any more of these because I assume we all know them by now, but make sure your panelists do, too. In fact, if there’s just one tip you should take away, it’s this:

Have at least one trial session!

The trial session should include you, any speakers, and one or two other helpers. You want everyone to know what it’s like to be a panelist, and what it’s like to be an attendee. Things you’ll want to find out:

  • Can attendees take part in the chat? If so, will that distract the speaker?
  • If, instead, you’re using the Q&A window, who sees what and when? Have one of your test attendees submit questions and answer them privately, publicly, or reject them. What do they see?
  • Suppose you want to allow an attendee to say something using audio, how do you do it?
  • How much of this will the speaker be able to see when they’re sharing their Powerpoint presentation?
  • If they have a video embedded in their presentation, will everyone hear its audio?

You need more than just two of you to try this kind of thing out.

You’ll also want to check all of the basic things listed in the previous section for each speaker, of course, and consider whether anything is likely to change. Are they in the same venue, on the same network, using the same machine, and will the lighting be different at the time of the actual webinar?

However, don’t hold your trial session just before the event! You may need to tell your keynote speaker that they’ll need to find a different location because they’re just a silhouette. Or they must borrow a different microphone. Or plug in an external keyboard. Or lock their children in the basement.

We were preparing for one lecture where the trial session was great. Our speaker normally worked from her conservatory/garden room, the lighting was good, and the acoustics were better than expected; everything was ready to go. And then, a couple of days beforehand, I looked at the weather forecast and realised that we were in for a major heatwave on that day! The conservatory was not going to be the right venue after all, and she had to do significant moving of furniture, lighting and equipment (followed, of course, by another trial session to check the new setup).

If your speakers are going to be sharing their screen, test that out in advance with every speaker. A couple of days ago, in a trial session, two of my panelists discovered that they hadn’t done Zoom screen-sharing on their Macs before. They needed to go into System Preferences and grant Zoom the appropriate permissions, then restart the app. You don’t want them to discover this just after you’ve introduced them to the audience.

One last point on trial sessions: when you set up a Zoom webinar, you’ll be asked if you want to enable a ‘Practice session’. This is also useful, but it is slightly different: Practice sessions allow panelists, and panelists only, to connect and check things out and chat just before the meeting starts. All the other attendees just get told that the meeting will begin soon, until you, the host, click the magic ‘Broadcast’ button, and the stage curtain rises.

So yes, you probably want to do a ‘practice session’ too, but think of it as ‘waiting in the wings’, rather than the dress rehearsal. It isn’t the right time for experimenting with what attendees can or can’t see or do, nor is it the time for discovering potential issues that may take longer to fix. That’s why I picked a different name for a ‘trial session’ above: don’t rely just on the practice session unless you and all the presenters have done this together on a regular basis. Set up a separate webinar for your trial, and make sure you use the same settings for the real event. Make sure, too, that your panelists are quite clear about which meeting link is which!

A couple of other tips…

We’ve also learned:

  • Giving the talk, running the meeting, and collating questions are three jobs and ideally need three people.
  • You will get lots of last-minute requests for the meeting link, no matter how many times you’ve sent it out beforehand. Have it to hand at all times. Perhaps create a TinyURL link to it in case you have to text it to someone at short notice.
  • Consider disaster scenarios. What happens if your speaker’s machine or network connection dies just before, or during, the event? For our big important event (a) she had two machines – we tested both of them in advance – and (b) somebody else had a copy of her slides, and we arranged that the speaker could call in by phone to provide the audio if all else failed!
  • Make yourself a checklist. The following might just be some useful starting points.

OK, now is it time for the checklist?

Some of these involve Zoom settings that you can set up beforehand, others can be changed on the fly or during the meeting. In the case of the former, you may need to use the Zoom web interface to make the change; you can’t do everything through the app.

In advance, or at the start while people are taking their seats:

  • Are you recording this? Have you notified everyone? Will you make it available afterwards?
  • Do you want attendees to be able to use the chat? Turn it off if not.
  • Do you want attendees to be able to use/see the Q&A window? Set appropriately.
  • Have you enabled screen-sharing for participants? That’s an option on the host’s screen-sharing menu.

Tell the panel:

  • Turn off your phone. If you still have a landline, take it off the hook.
  • Turn off notifications on your desktop and quit all other apps.
  • Make sure your family and dog know you’re not to be disturbed.
  • Have you made contingency plans so you aren’t distracted if your doorbell rings?

When the meeting starts, tell the attendees:

  • Whether you’re recording the meeting, whether the video will be available, and where.
  • Whether you’re using Zoom’s ‘Raise Hand’ feature.
  • How you’re handling Q&A. “Don’t worry if your question isn’t acknowledged in the Q&A window, or is even marked as ‘dismissed’ – we will have read it!” For one big lecture, we had dozens of questions, and two of us were gathering them into a separate shared Google doc, prioritising and reordering them as the talk was happening, so that we had a sensible list of the best ones by the time the lecture was over.
  • What should participants do if something suddenly goes badly wrong? “If we haven’t reconnected on the original link within 10 minutes, we’ll reschedule the remainder of the session and send you an email with the details.” You don’t want hundreds of people wondering whether they should be sitting there waiting. It’s highly unlikely this will be needed, but it’s the equivalent of telling people where the fire exits are. It’s highly unlikely you’ll need the fire exits either, but if you do, you’ll be glad you told them!

During the webinar:

  • You may want to ‘Spotlight’ a speaker’s video. Normally, Zoom will show the video stream of the current speaker. (Viewers can override this at their end by ‘pinning’ a certain view.) If your webinar is a panel session, you want this auto-switching. If it’s a single speaker, then you should also be fine, because everybody else will be muted, so it won’t switch anyway. However, ‘spotlighting’ the speaker’s video is a good safety measure to stop unexpected switches when somebody’s dog barks in the background after you forgot to mute them!

  • If, at the conclusion, you have questions or discussions involving other panelists, you probably want to switch off spotlighting at that point, so that the other speakers are visible again, and questions don’t come as disembodied voices from the ether.

And finally:

  • Think about how you are going to finish the meeting professionally. Consider the final words you want to be ringing in hundreds of people’s ears as they depart. You don’t want them to be, “Thank God that’s over! Now I need a drink.” Beware the still-live microphones and cameras — yours and the other panelists’ — until you click ‘End’ and you know the meeting is truly over for everybody. Then you can go and get a drink. You’ll have deserved it.

Right, there are many more things I could cover, but I hope that highlights a few things that you might want to consider, especially if you haven’t done this webinar thing before! Have fun, and I hope it goes well!

Sign of the times?

This project at UCLA is such an intriguing idea. And using today’s hardware and software, not too hard to implement.

Round robin

Our friendly neighbour has been back…

He turns out to be particularly partial to small pieces of raisin.

If you ever want to invite a robin round to tea, I can guarantee that raisins will be a welcome accompaniment.

How to confuse foreigners

Small village. One straight road. Two names.

We Brits seem to think this is normal. This is partly why I got confused trying to find a restaurant the first time I went to California, but for the opposite reason.

I was on the right street, at about the right number… but I was in the wrong city.

Man, pixelated

I’ve always found that the lower the resolution, the better my self-portraits look.

Taken at Brook Leys, Eddington, Cambridge.

Two-one, two-one, two-one, two-one…

The people of Liverpool are celebrating, after their football team beat Manchester City yesterday and so reached the top of the Premier League, for the first time in thirty years.

Now, it might surprise regular readers, and those who know me now, to discover that I used to be a Liverpool supporter!

The little town of Ware, where I grew up, wasn’t close to any major football-playing city. I think Tottenham Hotspurs probably counted as our most local team, but it seemed impossibly far away, and there was no particular reason to go to Tottenham. There never is, as far as I can gather.

So in the playgrounds of my youth, the kids claimed allegiance to a wide range of different teams, and I realised that I was going to have to come up with an answer to the regular question, “Who do you support?”. Pointing out that they meant “Whom” clearly wasn’t achieving the desired results. But I was an observant child, and it was immediately apparent that if you responded to that question with the name of a losing team, it resulted in jeers and humiliation. Why would anybody want that? In the 70s, Liverpool seemed to be winning everything, so I decided I was a Liverpool supporter, and life was better, though I was still stumped when they asked, “Who’s your favourite player?”. I don’t think I could name any of them.

-–

I’m not sure when I last actually watched a football match on TV. It certainly wasn’t in this current millennium; but I do vaguely remember seeing a couple of matches of the World Cup in the early 90s, when we were staying with friends who were enthusiasts. And it was an enjoyable experience, partly, perhaps, because I did feel some engagement: I had an opinion on whether England should beat Germany, when I would have had none about the relative merits of Aston Villa vs Manchester United.

I haven’t really had the time to watch any other sports since, I don’t think. (Except the Boat Race, of course – that goes without saying.) Still, all of this history is in some small way commemorated by the fact that I feel glad that the people of Liverpool have been celebrating, though I hope they maintained their social distances while doing so.

Thirty years is, after all, quite a long time to be ridiculed in the playground.


Update: John Naughton pointed me at Simon Kuper’s very readable piece on Why Football Matters. Recommended.

Social distancing in Norfolk

Yesterday, we took the day off and went to the North Norfolk coast. Maintaining social distancing wasn’t too hard. And Tilly got lots of exercise.

That old pipeline that runs out along across one of our favourite beaches has clearly seen some action in the past:

Rose said this looks like two friends embracing across a fence:

And at times, sections of the pipe emerge like a sea monster from the deep:

Here you might be walking on fresh samphire…

or crunching on cockle shells.

It was great to return to a place we’ve visited often and always enjoy.

(I posted a rather different photo from here on a previous visit.)


Now, you may well be asking, how did you manage this, when almost everything is closed? This particular beach is about an hour and three-quarters’ drive from Cambridge, and that poses some challenges when it comes to… ahem… the need for a comfort break.

Well, the answer is that we’re fortunate enough to have a small campervan.

We can’t use it for any overnight stays at present, but it does make a jolly good vehicle for day trips. It has a fridge, a table, a stove, fresh water…

And it also has a loo. Sort of. Even in a van this size. Now, we don’t often use the loo, because we usually stay on sites that have such facilities, and, well, frankly, a loo that you have to pull out of a cupboard before use isn’t that much of a ‘convenience’. Sometimes we leave it behind, because the cupboard space is more useful, and when we have used it in the past, it generally goes in a little loo tent we pitch beside the van.

Having said, that, these facilities have come a long way since the more primitive equivalents I remember from my youth. Ours is one of these, in case you’re interested, and it’s remarkably civilised. All the necessary seals are good, modern chemicals do a good job, it incorporates a loo roll holder and even, would you believe, an electric flush! There are some places I never expected to install AA batteries… but it works well. We probably wouldn’t have chosen quite such a luxurious one, but it came with the van.

Anyway, the point is that this does, pretty much single-handedly, enable day trips during lockdown. “Would you like to take the dog for a short walk, dear? I’m just going to draw the curtains…”


Anyway, back to the beaches. The Norfolk beaches we visit are never crowded, but the car parks can be, so we made sure we arrived early. By the time we departed, a couple of hours later, somebody was grateful for our space.

We had lunch in a different car park, at Blakeney. There was still plenty of space here.

We managed to get a takeaway coffee and cake from a favourite spot in Holt which does an awfully good job of both, and then headed for a rather different beach at Weybourne in the afternoon.

Here, you’re walking on pebbles, which is not quite so easy, but they’re beautiful none the less.

We always bring some of the more colourful pebbles or shells back from our seaside trips, and they end up decorating the bird-bath in the garden.

Talking of birds, there were lots of happy ones bobbing about.

And there are suitably picturesque scenes to be snapped even from the car park.

The standard way to get one of these boats over a pebbly beach into the sea, by the way, is to attach a small accessory.

It’s basically a big chunk of ferric oxide with a diesel engine.

Anyway, all in all, a very pleasant day, and, being aware of the hardship many others are going through at present, I was enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it in such a versatile vehicle with my two favourite companions.

Leaping Tilly 3

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that, as she approaches her 11th birthday, Tilly is still enjoying her favourite pastime.

She was doing much the same thing 9 years ago and 6 years ago. Different fields, different crops, but clearly intended for the same activity.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser