Why are we doing this?
Because we can!
Or, at least we think we can. The system is called Google Plus Hangouts on Air. It is a free web-based video teleconferencing system. Like Skype, you can call someone on your computer and see and hear them on your computer thru the Internet. Unlike Skype, you can make the video teleconference public, giving anyone in the world a web address where they can watch. You can also include up to 10 callers as participants in the “Hangout.” Those participants can be anywhere in the world. In one of our earlier Hangouts: TechnoGeeks in England and Florida, we called our friend Phil May of TechnoRV who was in England at the time.
Google also owns Youtube and they use that technology to produce, record, and share the “Hangout.” As soon as the live broadcast is over, it is available as a Youtube video and we keep an archive list of all the episodes on a page on our website. If you want to learn more about how to deliver Hangouts On Air, we recommend Ronnie Bincer’s Hangout Mastery group. That’s how we’re learning!
So, the main reason we’re doing this is just “because.” We think this broadcasting technology is cool and we want to use it. We chose the “Learn how to use Smartphones and Tablets” topic because there is just so much to learn. We need the motivation of a weekly show to push us to keep up! Without the show, we do a live seminar to RV rallies or computer clubs once or twice a month, and we tend to get stale. As we tell people all the time, “If you want to really learn something … teach it!” We are learning new stuff every week because we need to teach it. We named it “What Does This Button Do?” in an effort to keep the tone light, fun, and easy. We are not experts … nobody is! We are teachers, and we want people to know that this is a place they can go to learn basics and fun features of their smartphones and tablets, not expert tips and tricks.
Since the title “What Does This Button Do?” does not specifically mention smartphones and tablets – it also allows us to change the topic once in a while. We may want to talk about GPS, or Photo sharing, or Movie-Making sometimes. Then again, those topics have smartphone/tablet components to them as well, so it’s not much of a stretch.
How’s it Going So Far?
Let’s just say that we’re learning a lot! Not only are we using a “bleeding edge” technology, but we’re pushing it to do things that are beyond the original intention. Most Hangouts you’ll see are simply talking heads. Each person is at their own computer, probably in different parts of the world and Google+ Hangouts connects them all. The Google+ Hangout system handles switching cameras so that whoever is talking is on the main screen and the others are in the “filmstrip” at the bottom. No technical direction needed. Each participant also has the option to show their screen for demonstration. And, as long as all participants are in different places and are using headsets, there is no issue of feedback.
We are doing it a bit different. Our Hangouts on Air have both Jim and Chris sitting in front of the main computer/camera. Jim is the producer/director running that main computer/camera. Chris also has her computer/camera that Jim can cut to, but both of us are talking into one microphone to avoid feedback. Therefore, all the switching is manually done by Jim. Last, but not least, we use a tablet and it’s rear-facing camera to focus on the device we are demonstrating. That tablet better have both its microphone and its speaker muted, or we’ll be inundated with feedback.
Episode 1: We were all set up to use the iPad as the camera to show the Android phones, that meant that Chris was logged into the hangout on two devices, a laptop and the iPad. First we needed to show the iPad! Jim attached a document camera to his computer and displayed the iPad thru that to his computer which was part of the hangout. The problem came when Chris got the iPad back, and it had dropped off the hangout – therefore she couldn’t use it to show the Android phones. Jim had to pinch hit and use the document camera for everything. He also had to ad lib while Chris still futzed with the iPad trying to get it back on the hangout. The document camera just didn’t work very well – it would not adjust lighting and focus quickly enough for the devices to show up well.
Lesson learned: we needed another tablet with a rear-camera lens so that the iPad didn’t have to do double-duty.
Episode 2: This one happened when Chris was in Florida and Jim was in Colorado. Since we weren’t sharing a microphone or camera, this went a little more smoothly. We had also bought another tablet – a 10.1 inch Samsung Note with a rear camera. Chris was still logged in to the hangout with 2 devices: her laptop and the Samsung tablet. This time it was the laptop that dropped off and couldn’t get back on.
Lesson learned: Only use one device per account.
Have I mentioned that doing a live broadcast is stressful? It sure is! We’ve had 30-40 people watching live while we’re trying to deliver useful content, manage all the different devices and broadcast technology. We can’t see the audience, so we try to keep one device focused on the hangout as the viewers are seeing it. That’s where they can type questions and comments, and we need to see them. There is another plugin called Comment Tracker that we haven’t mastered yet.
Episode 3: Based on everything we’ve learned so far, we settled on 3 devices and 3 accounts: Jim on his laptop, Chris on her laptop, and the Samsung tablet logged in with a 3d account – GeeksOnTour. So, a “Yours, Mine, and Ours” if you will. And the tablet’s sole purpose was to display the other devices. That worked pretty well, we just passed the tablet back and forth. What didn’t work this time was our sound. As I mentioned before, when we’re in the same place, we share one microphone and mute all others. We did a sound check just before going live, and all was well. Then we heard a bit of an echo from somewhere … Jim made one more adjustment to the microphone setup and the echo went away – we went live. Viewers were leaving comments left and right that they couldn’t hear us! But, we were concentrating on our presentation and didn’t see the comments until the 13 minute point! We were just talking away – people could see our lips moving, but they didn’t hear anything.
Lesson learned: Maybe we should separate and be at our own workstations even though we’re both in the same RV! Also, we need another person – representing our audience – that is inside the hangout with us. That person could tell us when things like sound is not working! They could also ask us to repeat something if it wasn’t clear, or ask a logical follow up question.
We were able to edit out the first 13 minutes on the recording so you don’t have to fast forward.
Will We Continue?
Yes. It’s difficult, and it’s really stressful, but it’s still fun. It’s a challenge! We like challenges. Each episode has seen something go wrong, yet we still got comments that it was valuable. So far, we’ve been able to brush ourselves off and get right back on that bucking horse, and we’re proud of that. We’re going to keep doing it, and keep getting better. This week we’ll try separating to our own offices in the RV, and just pass the Samsung tablet back and forth for the different demos. Feedback still may be an issue because we’re in close proximity.
The biggest challenge is a good Internet connection. So far, we’ve been in pretty good Verizon areas and turning our phones into hotspots have provided all the bandwidth needed. Jim turns his phone into a hotspot and connects his computer to that. Chris does the same with her phone. Luckily we both still have unlimited data plans! If one Verizon phone fails, we have a backup AT&T plan on the iPad that can also be used as a hotspot. I expect there may be times when the Internet connection is not good enough and we will have to scrub the show.
How to Watch
Here’s the link to Episode 4 which will be live on July 20. The best way to stay informed of the live shows is to be logged into your Google Account and to follow our Geeks on Tour google plus page. When you go to the page, you should see a red button called “Follow” click that and add us to a circle. That way, you will get a Google+ notification whenever we schedule a new episode. When you click on a show event, you will be able to RSVP. If you say “Yes” that you plan to watch, it will automatically be entered on to your Google calendar and you will get reminders.
Of course, you can always watch the recordings after the fact. The same Google+ page that displayed the show live, will have the show as a recorded event after the fact. And, our web page at www.GeeksOnTour.com/weeklyshow will have a complete archival listing. The Members Only version will also include show notes with time markers for the various topics covered. That way, if you are a Geeks on Tour member, you can read the show notes and get the basic information covered. You can also go directly to the time locations to see more info on the topics you want.