Video conferences from Hell

Bad Video Conference - lab style

This lovely marketing picture contains:

  1. People not in the camera's field of view
  2. Over sized Logitech web cam
  3. No cables of any sort
  4. A five-way multipoint which means that everyone in the local room (those who actually make it into the FOV) are incredibly tiny to everyone else.

Bad Video Conferencing Returns

Oh my, where to start? Marketing photography at it again with this delightful photoshoot.

We all know cameras aren't necessary for video conferencing, or maybe thee fine people are watching a television show about people in a conference room. That's if for the Q&D of the day.

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.