So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night

As many of you may know, in December I took a position with Wainhouse Research as a researcher. With this position comes a host of responsibilities and that means maintaining this blog isn't going to be possible. So let this be my send off.

So what happened?

I've had to explain it in person a few dozen times, but here it is for the typed version. Working with Array turned out to be a full time contract position for several years so I let the bulk of my other contract work go as a result. When my time with them came to a close I ended up back out chasing new clients. Something that was fun in my mid 30's became difficult and depressing in my late 40's. I began looking for full time work in earnest during the summer of 2018 as I grew increasingly tired of finding clients, working for them then being forced to chase payment through hoops of excuses.

My first and easiest avenue was finding a local "cad job", utilizing my experience in either mechanical, civil or architectural design (who ever would bite first). For most of the jobs I looked at, I was overqualified for except in education. Many jobs wanted limited actual practical experience but required a bachelor's degree. These were not even engineering or manager jobs, but cad designer positions. I was flat turned down many times: Too much experience or didn't meet the education requirement. My guess is that some of that may have been assumed salary requirements for someone of my experience or just plain ageism, knowing that 20 year olds are easier to push around than someone almost 50. It's the first time in my life that I've actually felt my age, or worse, older. Typically, I think of myself as no older than mid-30s for some reason but job shopping made me feel much older than my actual age.

Since luck wasn't going my way locally, I started branching out. I reach out to several video conferencing vendors offering myself as a camera/product designer. I have this little quirk of a skill that few have and that's the ability to manipulate a GeoSemiconductor warp chip differently than how most people are doing it. Knowing that most cameras for video conferencing have geometric image correction to limit fisheye, I thought I would be a shoe-in somewhere. The trouble was that I didn't live on either the east or the west coast. Video conference camera designer jobs in Cincinnati are non-existent (I already had the only one). It's always seemed odd when companies make a large marketing effort about working from home with their products who do not actually want that themselves. Thinking that you require on-site employees to create tools to enhance remote working seems counter intuitive. Think of the marketing potential to be had if your remote workforce created remote working products and solutions.

Early in my search I reached out to Wainhouse. It wasn't right at the time. On a whim in November, I reached back out. Turns out that it was the right thing at the right time and off we went.

The future

At Wainhouse my role is to research and evaluate anything relating to Unified Communication and Collaboration. No, I will not be the "next" anybody as outsiders have already begun pegging me to be. I am the first me. At the end of the day, my writing/reviewing style is my own. I just hope it's good enough. I will though commit to anyone reading that my content will never be fluff and won't be skewed in any way based on who is paying the bills. I've been consistent on this for years now and that won't change. Rest assured that content with my name attached to it will be based on the experience of and with the product/solution and will not be made to sound overly kind or mean based on anything other than my own hands on testing.

I can't thoroughly express how excited I am for this opportunity. I spent years testing, evaluating and writing about products on my own time and now it's become my job. I couldn't be happier.

In closing, I would like to thank the readers of this blog and the owners of other blogs that I've written for along the way. I appreciate you all. Thanks. I will keep this blog open as some of the content should stay relevant for a while.

Back to it.

Hellard Design drafting services

Hellard Design offers commercial real estate drafting services at a reasonable rate.

For the agent:

  • Interior site surveys - we'll measure the space completely, draw it up in AutoCad and turn it over to you in PDF format. This can be just the floor plan or we can add in electrical/data and a reflected ceiling plan
  • Presentation drawings - we can create attractive floor plans for use as your marketing materials.
  • Space planning - see how the interior floor plan of your commercial space will look like after construction before your contractor does any actual work.

For the builder and developer:

  • Master planning - want a quick study of how many lots or units you can fit on any given site? We can do that. We can created phased plans for any size property. We have master planning experience from sites ranging from a half acre to a thousand.
  • Feasibility studies on building additions. See how the addition will look without the cost or obligation of hiring an architect or contractor.

For the building owner/tenant:

  • Allow us to space plan a remodel or addition. Our flexibility allows us to work closely with you to create floor plans and layouts with a quick turnaround. Our rate assures that you won't spend thousands of dollars on a project that may not end up getting built.

Contact Bryan Hellard for more details

Cameras at Infocomm

Let’s look at the video conferencing camera announcements from Infocomm 2018.

My Experience with Recruiters

Just like the fact that there are good freelancers and bad freelancers the same goes for recruiters. These stories of two bad experiences I've had this year are an effort to help freelancers and people looking for work be aware of things that can happen.

Routinely I apply for positions stating up front that I'm a contractor unless it's a position that I really want. It's worked out quite well for companies who can't find the right person but need immediate design help. Every now and again I've applied for the actual position and if the job is everything the posting makes it out to be I would consider employment [1]. Most of the time the position becomes much better suited for contract work anyway so it's a win-win. However, many jobs postings out there are not done by the company looking to hire, they can be posted by recruiters with the consent of the company or in these two cases done without their consent. With that, let's start with case one.

Proposed VC chat feature

Below is a proposed feature for software based video chatting, created within the span of a shower on the morning of May 10th, 2018.

The Problem:

Rowan Exits Cisco (for Five9) from Dave Michels on Vimeo.

I'm not picking on these guys specifically, it's just the latest of years and years worth of videos of this type.

For a video chat that's intended to be recorded and put on YouTube, etc., voice switching is inappropriate. The constant cuts between participants is annoying and distracting. At the very least we should activate the side by side view for these videos. But could things be better?

The Solution:

Using open source software, we can read faces and scale them to a relative size. Then, the participants can be cropped and placed side by side. The background (based on the facial recognition) can be either slightly blurred, colored similarly or have an image placed behind it (these are already happening with both camera and software chat solutions). A rough light balance/contrast can be applied as well. The goal here is make the people appear in the same room as closely as possible without looking gimmicky.

This process can be duplicated for 3-4 participants. Eventually, you'll run out of horizontal video real estate with too many participants and be forced into the Hollywood Squares experience.

This entire process can be integrated into a vendor's video chat product. Call it "Interview Mode" with one button push to activate everything. It can also be used for training videos where the educators are in different locations with purposes of recording the chat for later use. Lastly, the above solution can use in 3 or more party video chats. Person A can see B and C, B can see A and C and C can see A and B with the feeling that the other two are in the same location.

This will bring an end to those videos chats that have inappropriate voice switching that are still hampered by the switch latency.

If this does not currently exist within anyone's particular product and someone wants to develop it, feel free to use any or all of what I've posted. I just want better products that we all can use.

Dedicated to doing my best to bring quasi immersive solutions to low end video chatting.

Your written agreement

Written (and then signed) agreements are not just a good thing to have, it's an absolute necessity when it comes to working with clients. You need to get everything agreed to before starting work or else you can find yourself in a bind on down the road. Here a few tips of things that I like to include on my agreements. Please note that this is absolutely note an exhaustive or complete list!

1. Services to be performed. This is simply spelling out what you will be doing so both sides have a clear idea of what is going on.

2. Term of the agreement. The start of the term is typically when both parties sign and you have a signed copy, though it could be later but never earlier! If the project has a due date, use that as the end of the term. If you're going to be working long term, set an end date anyway. It could be six months or a year out. This benefits you because at the end of the term you can renegotiate your rate if you're doing good work (you are doing good work, right?). Let's say for example that you're working for company A at $50/hr, then start working for company B for $75 a month down the road. With an end date to the agreement, you can either negotiate company A up to a level closer to B's or simply walk away and give more hours to B at their higher rate..

3. Rate. I typically (99% of the time of the past 14 years) bill by the hour and note that I bill in 15 minute increments on the agreement.

4. Payment terms. As a contractor/freelancer, you won't be on payroll so add in something about your expectation of payment. Do not expect that you will get paid on time if you give the client a 15 day lead time. Usually, 30 days is a good amount of time to expect payment. You can always add a note of a discount for prompt payment. Sometimes that will spur a payment, but not always. Your invoices should also show expected payment terms.

5. What is and is not billable. Will you be providing items to the client that costs you money, like custom printing, postage, etc? Be sure to spell these things out. If you don't anticipate these costs, spell that out too so you make the expectation very clear. Typically, items are charged either in Time and Materials or Cost Plus 10%. It's up to you which works better depending on the client expectation. Other things to make note of is travel time, electronic communication and phone calls. Personally, I don't charge for phone calls unless they exceed 15 minutes in length. I don't charge for emails/texting/other electronic communication either. I only charge for travel if it's going to a specific site other than the office I will be working from, like a job site for an inspection for example. Some clients have me travel by air to customer locations and that is another matter entirely. Regardless, I cover that in the agreement as well.

6. Status as an independent contractor. Include verbiage that the client will not withhold any taxes on your behalf and that you will be responsible for paying all the applicable taxes.

I also like to add a note about confidentiality and intellectual property assignment. These don't necessarily benefit me, but I like to think that they help the client and gives them an assurance that I won't be talking about them after the project is over or stealing their ideas.

Nothing in the blog should be taken as legal advice.

Tips for freelance cad drafters

So you've decided to start freelancing in AutoCad and you landed your first job. Congratulations! Getting the job was most likely difficult, but now you have to do the work. Many times, the client will want you to work at their office, either because of software reasons, collaboration reasons or they just don't trust you yet. Here are some tips to help out when working from a client's office.

1. Dress professionally.  Ask about any dress codes beforehand and dress to that level or up. If you don't know ahead of time, shoot for at bare minimum "business casual" meaning a button up shirt, nice pants (no jeans!) and nice shoes.

2. Act professionally. You're not there to get in the daily bull sessions about what was on television last night. You are there getting paid good money to get work done, not to be friends with everyone.

3. Do not complain and keep a positive attitude. Employees tend to bitch and moan about working conditions, hours, pay, etc. Don't fall into that trap.

4. Don't just be there for the hours. Be there to get a job done. If you take too much time to get the work done, you won't be asked back.

Show up, shut up, work hard, go home.

You are there as a professional to help the client get a project completed, and most likely it's on a deadline. If you don't act professional you won't get asked back the next time they need help.

What Polycom Needs

This blog may as well be titled "What all companies need", but Polycom is significantly lacking this in the genre I work in so I'll direct this toward them.

They need a Cheer Leader, with emphasis on Leader.

Zoom has Eric Yuan. Cisco has Rowan Trollope. Craig Malloy, Lifesize. Scott Wharton (or we could/should put Simon Dudley) for Logitech. When you think of these companies (in Cisco's case it's when you think about their collaboration group, likewise for the conferencing division of Logitech) these people immediately come to mind. They are excellent cheerleaders for their brand/product line. Polycom has lacked this in the social media era. It doesn't need to be the person at the top but someone needs to "own" the product line/brand both internally and publicly. Sure, there may be someone internally that owns product development. By looking at their product line and how dissimilar and disjointed they appear against each other I'm not so sure.

Look at Cisco's endpoint line. Like them or not they've started to share the same feel over time with their industrial design. Now compare Polycom's Voxbox to the Pano to the Trio. Based on the industrial design of each of these it's obvious that no one person oversaw their development.

Ownership comes in many forms. It's driving the product line, it's being the person who gives the keynote about a new product, it's even the person who does demo videos for YouTube. Ownership means being the person accountable for the products, their design and its performance. A sidebar to that - the product/brand owner doesn't have to do all the demo videos or speeches. They can simply be the preface of a YouTube video or they can introduce the actual speaker at trade show. In any event, it still puts them in front of the crowd.

Why does this matter?
If things seem disjointed, the public may as well assume it is disjointed. A single face, the brand owner, can make things appear smooth because it's always "that person" who you associate with the company. Internally, it's all about accountability. We know if the collaboration group at Cisco has major problems, everyone knows who is responsible at the end of the day. Ownership should drive product development and products shouldn't be designed "by committee".

Now it was just announced that Polycom was purchased by Plantronics. Plantronics board includes Bob Haggerty, former CEO and long time Polycom employee. Will that mean a change in things? I'm hopeful it will.

No Infocomm 2018

After a while of contemplation, I've decided to skip this years' Infocomm. It came down to several factors that I'll list below. I want to go, but at this point it doesn't make much sense. It would be more for fun than work. Fun doesn't make money.

Flight $300-400
Hotel $600+/-
Transportation fees $xx
Meals $xxx
Wine $xxx
Lectures: $xxx

The end result is $1,500+/- out of pocket while not producing any work output at the same time. A week at my rate that I would be missing out on is substantial when owning your own business. Sure, I get to "write it off", but it's still money going out.

Have I received that much in return as far as paid work goes just because of my attendance? That answer is an absolute no based on historical data. Since 80-90% of my work over the past 14 years has been though either existing clients or word of mouth, I can say with certainty that I've received no new clients at the show.

I've been to the show now six times over the years. Three times was for the company I worked for at the time and the other three have been on my dime. It's these three times on my funding that I gave the most reflection over. Mainly, I had to weigh any benefits of attending vs the cost. What are the benefits? Looking at the new stuff! Does looking at stuff make money? In this age, I can get as much knowledge about a product on line as I can by looking at it in person. Networking? Has networking helped me at Infocomm? I've probably had better luck through LinkedIn over any given week than the show.

I need no continuing education credits so that need isn't relevant.

About a week after the show is over, I'm heading to Ecuador and then the Galapagos Islands. That's another 1.5 weeks that I'll be out. I typically get sick on the way home from Vegas and I don't want to be down and out for vacation.

Fly with the wind
My work lately has been mostly architecture and not so much of the video conferencing stuff. The show doesn't affect my current set of projects. That's the way things go when you offer architecture, mechanical and civil design design services on top of video conferencing product design and general UC analysis work.

It's sad that I'll be missing out on all the action and maybe things will change in the next month or so (if someone has a specific need for me to go), but as of now, Infocomm is a no-go.

How to handle yourself in a lecture

Recently back from the Midwest Veterinary Conference, it occurred to me that something needed to be said about the participants of lectures. This goes across industry lines, subject matter and genre of lectures.

People attend lectures for three reasons:

  1. They want to learn something/have an interest in the subject
  2. They are forced to go by their employer
  3. The need continuing education credit
Unfortunately, some people can't help themselves and don't think about anyone other than them. Here are some actual events that occurred in the half dozen lectures I attended last week.
  • A guy in the front row right by the speaker was eating Cheez-its from the noisiest bag apparently ever produced. I swear the lavalier mic was picking up some of the cruching/bag noise.
  • Another guy who interrupted the speaker several times to correct her/give his opinion.
  • Many people asking questions specific to their situation. This in itself isn't bad, but when person doesn't accept the answer and ends up wasting 10 minutes of an hour lecture with follow up questions gets tiring
  • The person who asked 5 or 6 questions within the hour
  • The guy who kept blurting out questions when others held their hands up respectfully.
My lecture notes

I don't have a need for continuing education credits so I attend lectures to learn something. It gets frustrating when lecturers can't get through their material on tax policy (for example) because someone wants to complain about politics. 

The know it all person - don't be like them. It's my assumption that you're there for CE because you "obviously" know more than the lecturer, blurting out things like "That's not right" in the middle their talk. We get it, you're a superstar but I didn't pay to hear you talk. STFU

The free advice person - attending a lecture given by a CPA doesn't mean you need to continually pump them for free advice during their lecture regarding your specific situation.

The lecturers were very professional this weekend and I don't know how they do it. That sort of behavior would distract me to no end.