Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Get in the Car. Now.

If you really need to see somebody that badly, just go there.

This was not the intended message of the "How to conduct meetings via video teleconference" class I was in today, a class I've been enrolled in for the better part of a year. The panicmonger signed my former lead worker and me up for it. The idea was that we could use the most cutting-edge technology available to train our satellite offices on maintaining our database - a mainframe application that was implemented in 1995.

The software is gradually gaining in acceptance among older employees, which is kind of a pity, seeing as how it's been hopelessly obsolete for several years.

Nonetheless, the class was fairly instructive, once the teachers figured out how to get the equipment working. The first section of the course covered the multitude of reasons why you should conduct meetings via video teleconference. You don't have to travel anywhere, for one. And the face-to-face experience is just as real using our equipment as it is in person! Assuming that the person you're meeting with has a habit of breaking down into pixels without warning, and really enjoys doing the robot.

This isn't intended as a slam on video conferencing in general. A big part of the problem is that our equipment is (surprise!) a little bit out of date. The main camera, mounted on the back wall, comes with a tracking collar that the presenter can wear so that the camera can follow him as he walks around the room.

"Never use this," stressed the instructors repeatedly.

Why not? It sounds cool enough. But there are several good reasons (and I am not making these up, these are the actual reasons they gave):

1. You have to move very, very, very, very slowly, and not have long hair, or the camera won't be able to track you, and your conference might freeze up.
2. Your conference will freeze up after an hour or so anyway.
3. The tracking collar must be charged up before each use, but you have to watch it carefully while you are charging it, and remove it from the base as soon as the light comes on, because it doesn't shut itself off when the charge is complete and will be destroyed; and it can't be replaced because
4. the manufacturer no longer makes it, and although you can find a replacement on eBay,
5. eBay is not a state-contracted vendor.
6. Also, you'll probably forget and wear it to the bathroom.

Still, for the general purpose of a stationary, wall-mounted camera, it does fine, and the only difficulty we had was that our remote instructor couldn't demonstrate it properly because it broke when she tried to turn it on. "Hmm. Smells like smoke," she said, using the smaller, supplemental camera. "Here's the part you shouldn't touch!" She pointed to the power button.

The most entertaining part of any course is the universal frustration that students experience when dealing with unfamiliar equipment. Have you ever noticed how huffy people get? It never fails. "Here, hold down the 2 button for a little longe -" "I AM!!!!!!!!!"

And of course it always turns out they were doing it wrong.

Here are a few actual student questions from today's session.

"How slowly do you have to move to use the tracking collar? Would you show us?"

"Does the gray remote go with the gray monitor and the black remote go with the black monitor?"

"Which way do you turn the volume knob to make it louder?"

Me, I'm spending the rest of August on the road.

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At August 14, 2008 8:26 AM, Anonymous billy joe said...



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