Presenting Remotely

While I am an experienced video-conferencer and a reasonably experienced presenter, presenting to a remote audience is still something I am learning how to do. Having just given a talk this morning, I did want to share some things that are working well for me at the moment.

The Tools

Today I presented from my Mac Mini, and so used a separate webcam. The important thing here is that it was placed above my eye-line and not below. This is a lot more flattering of a view (i.e., not up your nose). If you are presenting from your laptop, raise it so that you get a similar angle.

I only have a single screen, so in presentation mode, I would lose my presenter view. Personally, I heavily rely on the presenter’s view. So I used my iPad with Duet to have a second screen. I use keynote primarily. I’ve noticed that Google Slides doesn’t work well with this setup.

You see my headset mic. Obviously, for a presentation to a group, you want the highest quality audio, an inexpensive headset mic works well. I prefer this over the iPhone style headphones (corded or cordless). The sound is better. If you use a wireless mic, make sure it is fully charged before you begin. At some point, I may switch to a podcaster desk mic, as the headset isn’t that flattering.

What is missing here is a good light. I have a big window to my left and a smaller one in front of me, so I get some natural light. However, most of my lighting does come from ceiling lights, which is not the most flattering on video. I ordered a you-tuber-style ring-light, but it is taking a very long time to arrive. I’ll need to find the optimal place for that light so that it isn’t casting weird shadows on my face.

Presentation Style

If you see me speak in person, you will know that I have a tendency to walk around on the stage and use my hands.

When presenting from a desk, I “bring in” my movements a bit so that they don’t go beyond the video frame. I watch myself out of the corner of my eye to know the edges as I am talking.

I have sometimes used a standing desk configuration to be a bit more natural. Still, given the constraints of standing in one place when speaking versus sitting, I think I prefer sitting.

You need to be more effusive, more visible when presenting with slides through a video conferencing system. You will be seen in a small video window in the corner, so you want to be more than a “talking head.”

The Environment

Before I talk, I will usually check what the background behind me looks like using zoom or Photobooth on the mac. That gives me an idea of what is visible behind me when I am talking. I generally try to clean up, so that there isn’t a mess for people to focus on. I will sometimes add a few small things of visual interest in the background, though. I think that is more humanizing and also gives some easter eggs for the audience.

Be careful when previewing what you think the audience will be able to see in your environment. On multiple occasions, I have cleaned up to the edges of what I saw as the video frame. Only to find that zoom had been showing me a cropped view of what everyone else could see. Quite embarrassing to watch a recording and see a pile of stuff on your floor that you didn’t realize other people could see.

Substance Over Style

In the end, everything above is about polish, not content. If you have something novel, something interesting, to say, that is the most critical thing. If you have a limited time to prepare, focus on making sure that what you present will be useful and informative to your audience. Rehearse your talk so that you feel comfortable presenting it and can smoother over any hiccups with technology or literal hiccups.

If your content is right and you are comfortable presenting it, your audience will remember it as a good talk. Then you can focus on cleaning up that pile of t-shirts in the corner of your room or make sure that you don’t look like a vampire because of the lighting.

If you are upping your remote presentation game, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments.

Can’t get a government website to validate you? Here is possibly why.

I’ve had multiple problems with multiple State of Washington or Government websites in the last year. Strange, inscrutable errors when trying to validate my identity, with no clear solutions.

Trying to get my updated social security info? It’s right there on the website. Except that the website won’t let me log in. I get a weird error. So, I have to go to the office to wait in line and talk to a person.

Trying to sign up on the state health care exchange? The dreaded: “Due to No Security Question Answer available. null” error. That error is well documented on the internet. The solution suggested every time? Upload all your documents to the website. That answer is wrong. In both cases, the government was trying to contact a credit bureau to get your personal information to test you on your knowledge about yourself.

I figured this out too late for the social security office, but figured it out for the health care exchange.

I froze my credit. You should too. It is a good (not perfect) guard against identity theft.

However, that frozen credit prevents anyone from trying to use your credit history information to validate your identity. This isn’t a great way to validate identity anyway since a lot of that information is available publicly.

The only solutions are to deal with their support teams (the front line folks never know about this and so you need to explain it to them), go to an office and wait in line to show them a physical ID, or temporarily unfreeze your credit.

Luckily, the credit bureau sites let you easily unfreeze your credit temporarily. However, that is a very poor security solution, since it is a blanket unfreezing. That is bad if you are doing it to apply for a new credit card. It is even worse if you are using it for ID Validation on some random website. In the case of the government sites, I couldn’t tell which credit bureau they were using, so I had to unfreeze all of them. Really bad.

We need better identity validation solutions that work securely over the internet for government to use. Luckily, I’m now in a position to help.

Slides from my talk on Distributed Teams

Compare the Market was nice enough to invite me to speak at their tech managers’ off-site about distributed teams. This talk reflects my own experience leading distributed teams.

I was presenting to them over video. Their meeting included people in two different offices and also folks dialing in from home. Ironically, in the middle of my talk, I got disconnected from the video conference. Because I was sharing my slides full-screen and had my speaker notes on my second monitor, I didn’t notice. So I spoke to myself for about 15 minutes before I realized what happened and dialed back into the meeting. It was a bit mortifying, but the folks in the UK were extremely nice about it. I can’t think of a better example though of the challenges around working with teams who have to communicate over electronic means constantly, so it was a good illustration of the issues I raised. 🙂


The release of the first Intonarumori album in a few years gave me a good excuse to redo the website and bring it into the modern internet age.

The release of the first Intonarumori album in a few years gave me a good excuse to redo the website and bring it into the modern internet age.

The old site (still available here) had served me well and the design mostly was still working, but since the updates had been infrequent and minor, it seemed like a big redesign would also be a good way to signal that the site (and band) had not been abandoned, just quiet for a while.

The old site:
Old Intonarumori Site


The old site was also using a lot of stale HTML tricks (yes tables for layout!). I did do some prototypical responsive design though (resize the window on the old site and watch how the title area resizes smoothly). The site itself also was really bad on mobile devices, and even was using a lot of (horrors!) Flash for audio playback. It had been in place for eight years though, replacing the second design which was from the mid-to-late 90s.

I also thought that the information design was pretty lacking, superfluous information and overly complicated navigation for a musical artist site, ie: way too many pages.

I decided that I was going to try and do it right this time. CSS-based, responsive design, a reasonable layout, retina and mobile ready. I also wanted to follow a true process where I would spend some time sketching and wire-framing before I started in.

I didn’t want to go overly fancy though with unnecessary javascript or dynamic pages, since the site itself should not change too significantly once it is deployed (the last one was in place for eight years).

I spent a bunch of time sketching ideas for layouts and looking at other artist sites to get a better feel for what others had done. Musicians sites are fairly staid I found. Usually relatively minor affairs with a small number of pages and mostly links out to other sites with the content. I didn’t want to make into a big destination site, but I wanted to make sure that it had enough information for a curious visitor to get a feeling for the project and it’s output.

Once I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do, I got into coding the first page. I started in with Dreamweaver CS6. I have been using Dreamweaver since it was a Macromedia product, almost since it was released. My earlier sites had been done completely in notepad and e-macs, but I loved being able to do WYSIWYG HTML and having a built-in FTP server. Dreamweaver also has really good CSS. I had been finding its’ limitations though on some projects over the last few years. Especially on sites like and parts of where I was mixing PHP elements in. Dreamweaver started to be more of a hinderance than a help there.

I decided that I didn’t want to use Dreamweaver’s built-in support for responsive design. Not that it wouldn’t have made things much easier, but I wanted to really understand how to do it right myself before I started using tools. Also, I had just had to rip out a lot of old Dreamweaver template crap from one of my old sites and I didn’t want to get stuck into anything Dreamweaver-specific.

I did want to use JQuery, so I could learn it better. So, I did use that and I also spent some time looking at different responsive design libraries. They were all a lot more than I needed, so I decided to do stuff myself. Again, a goal was to really wanted to understand responsive design better.

As I got into using more Javascript for messing around with the DOM, Dreamweaver immediately became useless for viewing the content. The split view, which I had really loved, was basically worthless. Dreamweaver became a pretty-good text editor with pretty-bad FTP support added in. (aside: the FTP support in Dreamweaver seems to have been stuck in maintenance mode for the last several releases, which would have been fine if it actually worked well, but it never has). I found myself editing code in dreamweaver and then having to FTP it to my server to test. Dreamweaver used to let you preview in a browser locally, but either that got removed or just moved to where I couldn’t find it. This process became unworkable to me. I decided that it was time to move on to a different process.

I have been using TextWrangler for a bunch of different code editing projects, so I decided to try it out for this. I came up with a new process where I edited the code in TextWrangler, previewed by reloading the page in Chrome, and then pushed it to the server to check on other devices by using SFTP in a terminal window. While this might have seemed like taking a big step backwards, it actually worked ok. At least as well as Dreamweaver, if not a bit better. The lack of code completion was starting to bug me though, and having to type FTP commands constantly was also getting annoying. So, I decided to look into better tools now that I knew I had to drop Dreamweaver.

My first change was buying a copy of Transmit 4. I have to say that I love this app! Being able to mount the webserver as a virtual drive and edit the files directly was awesome as I was messing with the media queries in the CSS and modifying the layout for mobile. It was also amazingly faster and more reliable than Dreamweaver or shell FTP.

I wanted a better editor though and I asked on Twitter to check with the zeitgeist. Of course my pals at Adobe put in plugs for Brackets:

I had known some of the Brackets guys and I liked that Adobe was doing this kind of open source project, so I grabbed a build. For an early build of a code editor, I thought that it was pretty good, but I found some of its quirks a bit frustrating. I was doing a lot of refactoring of layout code at this point and I was finding myself fighting the tool a lot. It was better than Text Wrangler and Dreamweaver, but it wasn’t really working for me. I decided that I need to keep looking. I did like the live update in the browser feature though, that is pretty cool.

Of course I was well aware of Sublime text, but I had never actually tried it. The videos on its site scared me a bit. It seemed way overly complicated for my needs, and the idea of having to use code and to hand-edit preferences files to use a text editor were not really appealing. I might as well have dug up my old .emacs files and started there again. I decided to give it a shot though given multiple recommendations from folks I trust.

While Sublime isn’t perfect, it is definitely the best one I’ve tried yet and seems to work. I’m using Sublime 2 now, but will probably check out Sublime 3 soon.

I also realized that rather than use my devices all the time to check out how the site worked on mobile I realized I could just use the iOS Simulator that comes with X-Code. That was a massive improvement to my workflow as well.

So new workflow is:

  1. Edit code in Sublime
  2. Test in Chrome locally for desktop
  3. Test in the iOS simulator for mobile
  4. Push to the web server using Transmit
  5. Double check on mobile devices
  6. Use a local version of git for version control

I didn’t mention GIT before, but I’ve been using it on all my sites for a while now. Especially the WordPress ones. In addition to being able to roll-back a site and try out some stuff worry-free, it is also great hacker repair. If any of my sites diverges from the local HEAD then I can figure out what files have been messed with. I haven’t used this to actually use remote repositories as ways to update a site, but I may eventually.

With my workflow in place and a few pages done, I pretty much had the process of building responsively going pretty well.

At first, I was trying to make the site smoothly re-lay itself out for different sizes dynamically. This was way too much work for too little gain as HTML does a pretty good job of that on desktop and it isn’t an issue on mobile. So, after wasting some time on that I switched to doing more with CSS Media Queries. This was fine, but I got way too narrowly-targeted there which meant a lot of work targeting different mobile platforms. Eventually, I switched to having a few basic layout for different widths, roughly one for phones and one for tablets and then one extra one for phones in landscape mode. This worked well on the devices I have, and it kept the effort to be reasonable, but I still need to test on friends devices to make sure.

Now the new site was pretty much done:

The new site
The new site

There are still some things I’m going to tweak and probably a few issues here and there, but overall I’m happy with it as a new starting point.

There were a couple other resources that I used that I want to give a shout out to. One was the icon set I got from G. Pritiranjan Das. For the photo page, I used the Camera Slideshow JQuery plugin. I also used Matt Kersley’s Responsive Design Testing tool and found it useful.

Development is more fun with kittens – three fun placeholder tools

Place Kitten gives you place holder images that make you wonder if you should bother ever replacing them, like:

Cupcake Ipsum generates much better Lorem Ipsum text that your run-of-the-mill tools, like:
Cupcake ipsum dolor sit amet. Toffee I love cake I love gummi bears cotton candy I love cookie. Wafer dragée lemon drops jelly-o jelly I love lollipop.
Fruitcake lollipop sweet roll muffin caramels. Cake I love macaroon biscuit candy canes dessert pie. Sweet apple pie lollipop jelly beans cheesecake gummies biscuit. Wypas I love croissant macaroon halvah.
Sweet roll tart toffee lemon drops candy canes soufflé bonbon. Ice cream tart cupcake I love icing tootsie roll jelly. Soufflé biscuit topping topping caramels pudding sugar plum cheesecake.
Halvah ice cream macaroon lollipop donut. Dessert gingerbread toffee gummies I love gingerbread applicake. Icing marshmallow cupcake.
Topping jelly beans fruitcake tootsie roll. Faworki soufflé chocolate cake. Dessert sesame snaps biscuit tiramisu cookie I love sesame snaps. is where got their idea, it is also useful, but not quite as fun

(via Chuck Rose)

[Update 2/29/12]
Adding also PLACESHEEN.COM, yow!

(via Bob Archer)

Having problems with the Adobe Connect add-in on OS X? Here is how to uninstall it.

I’m posting this here because it took me more than 20 minutes of googling to find the answer (and I’m an Adobe employee).

The Adobe Connect uses Flash and sometimes if you do an update to Flash on your system, Connect gets into a bad state. The way you’ll see this is that when the Add-in tries to launch it will get stuck with a small window that says “Loading Adobe Connect…” that never finishes.

The way to fix this problem is to uninstall Adobe Connect. Unfortunately, Adobe doesn’t make it easy for you to do that. there is no uninstaller and no information on the Adobe web site. Here is where the add-in is installed

~/Library/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash Player/

Delete that directory and you have now uninstalled the add-in. Your connect sessions will now be hosted in your web browser until the next time you need add-in functionality, at which time you’ll be prompted to re-install it.

Hopefully this solves your problem and you found it faster than I did.

(tip of the hat to Aral Balkin who had to do this a few years ago too)

HPC on the (relative) cheap using public cloud providers

For the past several years, I’ve been working on leveraging high-performance computing techniques for high-throughput data intensive processing on desktop computers for stuff like image and video processing. Its been fun tracking what the multi-processing end of HPC has been doing, where the top 100 super-computer list has been very competitive and very active. Countries, IHVs and universities vie for who can generate more teraflops; spending millions and millions of dollars on the cooling plants alone for their dedicated data centers. These super computers exist to solve the BIG PROBLEMS of computing, and aren’t really useful beyond that.

At the same time, I’ve been following the public computing clouds like Amazon’s EC2, Google’s App Engine and Rack Space’s Public Cloud. These have been interesting for providing compute on the other end of the spectrum, occasional compute tasks, or higher average workloads with the occasional spike capability (like web apps). The public clouds are made up of thousands of servers and certainly rival or best the super computers in numbers of cores and raw compute power, but they exist for a different purpose.

This article in The Register really got me excited. Especially when I read this:

Stowe tells El Reg that during December last year, Cycle Computing set up increasingly large clusters on behalf of customers to start testing the limits. First, it did a 2,000-core cluster in early December, and then a 4,096-core cluster in late December. The 10,000-core cluster that Cycle Computing set up and ran for eight hours on behalf of Genentech would have ranked at 114 on the Top 500 computing list from last November (the most current ranking), so it was not exactly a toy even if the cluster was ephemeral.

The cost of running this world-class super computer?

Genentech loaded up its code and ran the job for eight hours at a total cost of $8,480, including EC2 compute and S3 storage capacity charges from Amazon and the fee for using the Cycle Computing tools as a service.

Real world HPC is now coming into price points where it is accessible to even small companies or research groups. This seems like a ripe opportunity for companies who can apply HPC-techniques to solve real problems for others, and for tools vendors who can make using these ephemeral clouds easier for companies who want to take advantage of them without having to build up high-end expertise in-house.

Unit Circle Magazine Archive re-launched

In 1993, I decided that I wanted to create a magazine. I don’t remember the exact reasons why. Zine culture was on the rise at the time and I was living in San Francisco, which was one of the epicenters, so it was definitely in the air. The first few issues were xeroxed and distributed around San Francisco, but were also posted at Postscript files on’s FTP site and word was spread on the early internet newsgroups and mailing lists. The first issues were put together by myself, Jane Underwood and Derek Chung.

I moved to Seattle in 1994 and continued to put out the zine. Now, Dan Appelquist (editor of early science fiction e-zine, Quanta) had hipped me to this amazing site created by Paul Southworth, was all about celebrating literature on-line. In the proto-internet days of 1994, getting a website up was no mean feat, and keeping it up at no cost to the people being hosted on it was frankly amazing. Issues 3-6 were printed on paper, but were also hosted on As one of the early culture e-zines it got some noteriety (including a write-up in the book “webworks: e-zines” by Martha Gill). Now that early HTML looks laughably primitive, but for the time I was quite proud of it. Issues 3-6 of the magazine were put together by myself, Derek Chung and Nita Daniel with some contributions by an occasional other writer as well.

After issue #6, I got very busy with Unit Circle Rekkids, and it also seemed like zines (both on-line and off-line) were just exploding. I realized that the tools were now in the hands of the artists that we’d covered and that the zine itself was no longer necessary. We left the site up so that the content was available, but it became a historic archive. I have to admit that I didn’t even check it out often any more to make sure that it was still up. The last content was added in 1996, I think, although some minor changes were made to the site afterwards based on requests from contributors.

Eventually, had run its course and the site itself stopped hosting its content. Unit Circle zine is still available from the internet archive, but I wanted to bring it back home and host it here as well so that it could live on as a time capsule. I have cleaned it up slightly (fixed up some of the links, scrubbed some of the e-mail addresses), but it is pretty much the same as it was when it was last updated.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to The Unit Circle Magazine, especially Derek, Nita and Jane, and I really want to thank Paul Southworth for creating an early home for culture on the internet. I also want to thank all the artists, authors and musicians who allowed us to showcase their work. I hope that all are successful and continuing to create. Finally, I want to thank everyone who ever read an issue, on-line or on paper.

The Unit Circle Magazine archive is now at