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Woodblock Webcam - it starts to get crazy ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:37 AM, June 7, 2011 [Permalink]

OK, I really don't know about this one, but ... let's press ahead ...

If you've followed this RoundTable recently, you will have read about the major improvements in the Woodblock Webcam - namely, the upgrade to full motion video (provided by the Ustream service). This has transformed the experience for the viewers from a kind of 'curiosity' - a simple snapshot of the workbench - to a very useful and practical tool. I'm already getting feedback from people overseas making prints who have 'learned by watching', so there is no question that this upgrade has been worthwhile.

The Webcam is of course inherently a one-way view. I broadcast. People watch (and listen). This morning though, a couple of overseas viewers and I made an experiment to see if we could take this thing to 'another level'.

The Ustream software does not allow for two-way communication, but we got around that by using the Skype internet telephony software. I created a special Skype account for my computer in the workshop, and passed this to my co-conspirators. One of them began by calling me (on a Skype audio call - not Skype video) while I was broadcasting as usual. I rigged it at my end so that the Skype audio came out through my wall-mounted room speakers, and thus became audible to webcam viewers, who could of course also hear my own voice as usual (the webcam audio is coming from an open microphone in front of me).

And suddenly there we were - the real-time conversation between myself and the viewer could be heard by all other viewers, as though he and I were present in the room together.

And it got better; part way along, another person was invited to the Skype conversation (Skype 'Conference'), and the three of us were able to talk together while I worked. I could answer their questions about the tools and the work right there in real time, and anybody else who may have been watching the webcam was able to listen along.

Tokyo, Tennessee and Boston ... in three-way conversation, watching and discussing while my chisels pushed their way through the wood ... and with anybody else on the planet able to watch/listen along.

This is so insane that I don't even know what to think about it really. The applications for 'education' are of course immediate and obvious. I'm already doing a 'Story A Week'; should I perhaps think about doing a 'One-Point Lesson a Week'? It could be at a pre-determined time, with an announced topic. I would make a basic presentation of the thing, followed by open conversation/discussion about it among the 'students'.

I think honestly though, that I had better hold off on such things, at least for a while. It's not like I don't have anything else keeping me busy just now!

But in any case, the facility is now there and operative, and very much needs experimentation and exploration. If you want to try participating in this, here's what to do:

  • Get Skype, and get it up and running on your computer. (The standard version is completely free, and there are versions for all modern machines.)
  • Access the Woodblock Webcam.
  • If there is a live stream in progress (look at the top right of the video stream for notification about this), you can try calling me.
  • First, turn the volume in your Ustream player down to the lowest level (off, if you can).
  • Call me on Skype. The workroom Skype ID is 'seseragi_studio'. (Note that this is different from my 'normal' Skype ID of woodblock100)
  • If everything works properly, our conversation will be 'live on air'. You will hear my voice (and the birds, and my hammer and chisel sounds) through Skype, while you watch the video on Ustream.
  • Other viewers will experience our conversation, the background sounds, and the video, all through Ustream; they need no Skype.

Please understand that this is all very much experimental and provisional. This morning, the three of us - to my astonishment - ended up chatting for nearly two hours while I worked. Look at how much time they wasted! I, on the other hand, was being productive!

There is also something else to mention; please understand that your call will - of course - not be private at all. At one point in our experimental conversation, one of the participants stepped away for a minute or two, and a moment later, a faint flushing sound from the background told us exactly why he had decided to take a break! And as I frequently record the Webcam sessions for later playback on the Ustream site, your conversation may of course be 'captured' that way ... You have been warned!

But I now realize that I am telling you about this at an inopportune time. I finished up the block set for Mystique #14 during this morning's session, and the Webcam will now be off for a couple of days while I do some deskwork and get the paper ready for printing.

But let's pin this down and make a date. I will schedule the test printing for Mystique #14 to begin at 9:00 AM Thursday (Tokyo time). That's 5:00 PM wednesday evening for US west coasters, and a bit later for people in the other part of the country (you can work it out.) Not convenient at all for Europeans, I'm afraid, but of course I am online in the evening (here) too most days, and for you, that is mid-day. We will all have plenty of opportunities for trying this ...

So let's play with this for a bit, and see if it will really be possible/practical, or will turn out to be just too much for me to handle while I work. There's only one way to find out!


Following comment posted by: John Becker on June 8, 2011 9:49 AM

Dave, it was a lot of fun being able to talk as you worked. Much better than typing a message and having you see it 30 seconds later, when you'd usually moved on to another topic. Real-time is where it's at.

For those contemplating joining in, it's critical that you turn the UStream volume all the way down. UStream introduces about a 3-second delay and will cause you to hear yourself out of sync, which is very confusing. Also, it's a good idea to use a headset... um... back in a sec...

(faint flushing sound)

...as I was saying, it's a good idea to use a headset, preferably one with a mute switch on the microphone.

Dave, I'll try to have Skype running when you start your Thursday morning session. If you have a problem adding callers, as you did yesterday, I can pick up that task.

Following comment posted by: Dave on June 8, 2011 12:36 PM

Thanks John! It was a hoot yesterday testing that thing.

I'm not really sure if I want to end up chatting all day to people about hockey and stuff, but I don't think that's the direction it will take.

I'm guessing that it might be like when people are visiting a place where craftsmen are working 'on display' (like in the 'demonstration corner' at an exhibition or something like that). Everybody is free to ask the guy questions about what he is doing: that's kind of the idea. Other people standing around watching also chime in, and a conversation - about the work - then develops.

If we all approach it in that frame, I think we'll be OK ...

Following comment posted by: Margaret on June 8, 2011 1:24 PM

This is really nifty! I look forward to chiming in sometime soon.

I also think that the idea about "one point lessons" is a good one. In general, it might be a good idea to have a message up on the webcam page saying, "Today's conversation is going to focus on X" where X = whatever you're planning to get done that day. Might help keep things from getting too distracting.

Following comment posted by: Tom Kristensen on June 8, 2011 1:56 PM

I'm not a skypist yet, and I know nothing about hockey, but I will try to drop by.

Following comment posted by: John Becker on June 9, 2011 7:37 AM

Tom, hockey probably won't come up - Dave (Canadian) and the other participant (Bostonian) had a little laugh about it, though Dave doesn't really follow the sport anymore.

Skype is really easy. It's a free download and easy to install and set up. All you need is a headset (with a mute switch on the microphone - see above). And just listening in requires neither Skype nor a headset. You'll hear the conversation going on as the audio part of the UStream feed.

Following comment posted by: Dave on June 9, 2011 7:53 AM

Actually John, a headset isn't a requirement; when I chat with my mother over in Vancouver a couple of times a week, she doesn't use one, nor do I have one in the workshop.

If your environment is noisy - calling from an office or something - having a good headset would certainly help audio quality, but if you are in your own room, the internal mic and speakers from the computer will probably do. (Skype itself seems to be able to cancel out the feedback/echo that sometimes happens when you put a speaker near a microphone ...)

Anyway, that's our experience ...

[Update (after the session of test printing with up to five people joining in ...): Having a headset does indeed seem to be a good idea. The internal Skype echo cancellation doesn't recognize 'echo' when it is many seconds delayed, as we are getting here in some cases. So two things to remember: absolutely turn off the audio in the Ustream window (the small speaker icon), and use a headset ...]

Following comment posted by: Annie B on June 14, 2011 12:15 AM

Brilliant! I look forward to dropping in on some future sessions.

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