Virtual Backgrounds Online Can Be Cheesy, Professional & Fun
After I wrote the post Effective Green Screen Gear You Can Buy Inexpensively, many people asked me about where I get my virtual backgrounds for usage in Zoom so I’ve added links below.
I thought I’d toss up a few screenshots of me using a few of the backgrounds I’ve downloaded. While the first one in the upper left of the image above is a composite one I created in Photoshop from two others, all the rest were downloaded from free sites like these:
But it’s not just Zoom that offers virtual background capability. Many other virtual meeting software offerings are scrambling to offer virtual background capability since people love the feature. Here are links to a few popular offerings with direct links to their virtual background help pages:
Surprisingly Google Meet or Hangouts does not offer virtual backgrounds (yet).
Hopefully it will ship before my next scheduled webinar, but the $295 Blackmagic ATEM Mini will help me go to the next level. This device will enable me to input up to four HDMI inputs (like all of my good cameras) as well as HDMI out from my laptop, iPad or iPhone.
One of the best features of this device is that it will also enable me to input virtual backgrounds directly in to the switcher. So, for example, when I switch from my laptop presentation to my live camera feed on me, its output is as a “webcam” so will show me over the virtual background of my choice. In addition, every app that accepts a webcam will see me overlayed on a virtual background.
If you’re interested in the ATEM Mini (or the ‘Pro’ version) you might want to check out a few of these videos on YouTube.
BUT IT’S NOT JUST VIRTUAL BACKGROUNDS…
Don’t look or sound like you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet for the very first time when you’re in a meeting! Even if it is your first time, practice with someone beforehand and, at the very least, LOOK AT YOURSELF so you can come across well online.
These tips are the best ones I’ve found yet on YouTube, and thought you might enjoy it:
Good luck and stay safe.
Why I bought an iPhone 11 Pro Max Instead of a Camera
Admittedly I’m a technology snob. I’ve always purchased relatively good DSLR cameras, high end computers and devices, excellent microphones and sound editing gear, and have tried to find the sweet-spot of best quality vs. price.
When it comes to cameras, however, I’m always torn about taking a bag with the camera, two lenses, and a tripod with me to shoot photos. It’s too much bother and fuss, even though the images I can capture are outstanding!
A few years ago we went, as a family, to Italy. I wanted to enjoy the trip and knew that it would be hot and I would not want to carry a big bag with lenses, or even a single, big DSLR camera with one “walking around lens,” an 18-200mm one that would cover what I’d likely need on our trip.
Instead I purchased the best small travel camera on the market at the time (and arguably still the best travel camera as Sony just released version 7), the Sony RX100 M2. While the “reach” of this camera’s lense was not what I wanted, the photo quality was unbelievably good and I got some good photos on the trip.
So with upcoming trips in 2020 — and no desire to carry my big Nikon on any of them — I decided to purchase the Sony RX100 M7 which now does have a better lense, microphone input and other great features. I even had it in my Amazon cart with all of its accessories and the cart total was close to $2,200.
THE IPHONE 11 PRO MAX
Then I watched the Apple September 2019 keynote where the new iPhone 11 series was introduced and I made my decision: I would preorder the iPhone 11 Pro Max with 512GB of storage and NOT buy the Sony RX100M7.
Wait just a dang second Borsch … what!?!
For quite some time I’ve been watching the acceleration of computational photography and have realized we are at (or very close to) the tipping point where smartphones will supplant every kind of photo capture device except for truly high-end, professional cameras.
In fact, check out this paper and the video on this page about 3D rendering and creating a “Ken Burns effect” from *a single image* as it shows what’s possible computationally with photography.
One could argue we are already there, what with camera company sales down trending dramatically, according to a brilliant tech analyst and writer Om Malik. Om wrote this post about the down trending of camera sales and included this graph:
One of Om’s reasons for this decline is the acceleration in smartphone sales and the “good enough” quality of images shot on these devices. While I recoil at the thought of millions of muddy, not sharp, bad color photos being shot by hundreds of millions of us around the world, this is the future of photography whether we “prosumers” or “pros” want it or not.
Having heard this (possibly apocryphal) response by a professional photographer to a novice who had asked, “What’s the best camera I should buy?” and the pro’s response was, “The one you have with you” have made me realize how many times I’ve been somewhere when a great photo opportunity has presented itself.
Yes, this is a glib response to a legitimate question, but one thing is clear: If you don’t have your camera with you, you are unable to take any kind of photo and almost all of us have our smartphones with us all the time. I know I do.
So when I saw the computational photography capability of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max, I knew that I’d have to buy it and not buy the Sony RX100 M7.
By the way, I still often go out with my sole intention of taking photographs and schlep all of my gear with me. But now that I have tripods and a gimbal for my iPhone (and have had them for some time), now that I will be able to take better quality photographs I’ll use these accessories even more.
Food for thought…
Effective Green Screen Gear You Can Buy Inexpensively
A screenshot of me, in front of my green screen, layered over a background image
Wanted to show-off a bit with some new gear. I’ve been doing a bunch of tech-coaching for a guy I know and helping him with his website and, along with other client connections, I’ve increasingly been on webinars, online meetings, and Skype group calls. I was sick and tired of my crappy looking video, so I bought a green screen, some lights, and after a lot of goofing around to figure stuff out, it’s all up-and-running and working flawlessly.
For effective green screen video one needs good lighting and, most importantly, a high resolution camera. Unfortunately webcams don’t work (even though so many people insist they do), green-fringing is startling obvious when I’m superimposed over some image or video, so I invested a bunch of time in figuring out how to use my Nikon D500 DSLR as a very expensive webcam!
Here is my set up:
- Nikon D500 DSLR set in Live View with tweaked settings so it doesn’t automatically shut off after 10 minutes! With my lens, this is a $4,000 camera. If you do not have a good resolution camera, then a good mirrorless or DSLR model will set you back $1,000 – $3,000 or so.
- UPDATE: Here is a good 2020 post with some options on cameras that can be less expensive: The 6 Best Video Cameras for Green Screen (Chroma Key) in 2020
- LED Lighting kit = $300 (at Amazon) These LEDs are very flexible. They are bi-color variable with a temperature range of 2300K – 6800K so it is easy to warm up or cool down the color temperature of the light. It also has a brightness range of 10~100%. Pretty dang good for cheap lights!
- Soft boxes for those lights = $80 (at Amazon) I had to have diffusing for these lights as they were just a bit harsh when maxed out in brightness.
- Elgato Green Screen = $160 (at Amazon) Though I’d like one a bit wider, this is the most perfect product of its type I’ve seen yet.
- Blue Raspberry microphone = $220 I own this one since it also works with iPhone and iPad.
Though I already had the camera and microphone, for just under $600 I added good quality green screen video capability. (NOTE: In the photos below you’ll notice a RODE microphone on top of my Nikon D500. I only use that when recording video in to the camera’s storage, usually for remote set ups).
So if you are a vlogger, do numerous webinars or online meetings, or just want to record videos for YouTube, then this gear can help you get going!
Facebook’s HUGE Gaping Security Hole
To say I was stunned to discover StalkScan today is an understatement. It’s value proposition is simple: enter the profile link of someone on Facebook….anyone…..and have instant access to all of their private data!
That’s right, everything like photos, videos, posts, friends, political parties, everything. I suggest you immediately do these two:
- Send a tweet to @facebook and to CEO Mark Zuckerberg @finkd and let them know what you think
- Fill out this form when you’re logged in to Facebook and complain.
While I am well aware that privacy and security online is an illusion, Facebook has has a history of doing a horseshit job protecting us. Let them know that you think so too.
Once you put in someone’s profile URL, you have instant access to all of these choices!
You Are Dead. So Now What Happens With Your Digital Life?
There is no easy way to say this but here goes: You are going to die and so am I. It is not a matter of if we will die, but rather when.
Now that fact is out of the way and on the table, what is going to happen with your digital life when you’re gone?
Really good article today in the New York Times about this exact topic: Is Your Digital Life Ready for Your Death?
You’ve probably thought about what will happen to your finances, your possessions and maybe even your real estate when you die. But what about your Facebook account? Or your hard-drive backups?
ACTIONS TO TAKE
The NYTimes article gives several practical actions to take and they’re easy to do: Read More
Takei Tours YouTube Space LA
George Takei’s YouTube show, Takei’s Take, tours YouTube Space LA (there are also London, Tokyo and New York locations currently). If you haven’t yet heard about this space, and what they’re trying to accomplish, this is a perfect overview in 4 minutes (and always enjoyable due to George’s take on things and his delightfully positive attitude and outlook)!
We Are All Connected: My DNA Journey
“A variant of the gene KLOTHO (KL) is known for its anti-aging effects in people fortunate enough to carry one copy. Now researchers find that it also has benefits when it comes to brain function. The variant appears to lend beneficial cognitive effects by increasing overall levels of klotho in the bloodstream and brain.” Also, Klotho (KL) is generally considered to be a tumor suppressor gene in breast and pancreatic cancers.
Turns out I have the variant. I would never had known that had I not been able to login to 23andMe and discover that I had it. Cool, heh?
Three years or so ago National Geographic produced a fascinating show called The Human Family Tree as part of its Genographic Project. If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, but it was the first show like this I’d watched that told real stories about the amazing connectedness of humans. It also had surprises in it that obviously changed the worldview of some of its partcipants!
That show was a big deal to me since it was the first spark of my internal fire to learn more about DNA and my own family tree.
After this show I became very intrigued by the work going on at 23andMe. At the time, the ‘swab’ kit (for sending in your DNA) cost $499 so I decided against it at the moment. In the fall of 2011 they dropped the price to $99 so I signed up.
It was fun to see the results but the key with 23andMe is that the participants have to answer survey questions…over-and-over-and-over again. I’m willing to do it since I benefit from other people doing the same, but it did become a daunting task after awhile. Still, I was able to see what others in my maternal/paternal haplogroups suffered from so I have at least an idea of what sorts of illnesses I’m prone to having.
I’ve also connected with 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins. One woman who is a 3rd cousin, for example, connected with me and she lives in California. I looked at her profile and, in a long list of surnames she was connected to, was the surname of my maternal grandmother’s parents! So my great grandfather’s family in Norway had a male who, um, ‘connected’ with a woman in her lineage and passed on that familial DNA. Cool. Read More
McKinsey: Social Media’s Productivity Payoff
If you have ever tried to convince a senior level executive in a company that investing in social media would have a payoff, then you know exactly how tough it is to answer the “So where is the ‘return’ on that investment?” question!
The McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm and ‘think tank’ of the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., has just released a new report entitled, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies. Like all other reports they’ve released of this nature, this one is free and is absolutely worth your time to read if you have any interest in this topic whatsoever.
The authors of this study, James Manyika, Michael Chui, and Hugo Sarrazin, also wrote this post at the Harvard Business Review touting their study and I really liked their first paragraph in that post since it about sums up the value of reading this report succinctly:
How’s this for counter-intuitive? Social technologies — the software and services that make it possible to show off your vacation pictures to all your Facebook friends and follow your favorite team tweet by tweet — are not just giant time sinks that keep your employees from getting their work done. On the contrary, they may become the most powerful tools yet developed to raise the productivity of high-skill knowledge workers — the kind of workers who help drive innovation and growth, and who are going to be in increasingly short supply.
How productive did they find social media use? For many of us the findings in this report simply confirm what we know intuitively about the power of social media and connecting with prospects, customers, colleagues and industry peers. But one of the reasons adoption of new technologies always lags we early adopters is because there isn’t mainstream, business-centric and authoritative voices confirming it for organizational leadership.
This study, while still making a few leaps here and there, will go a long way on motivating executives to fund and accelerate the use of these new technologies. Just look at this graph and the “20 – 25 percent” productivity increase and you know this will get A LOT of attention!
Social Apps, By Default, Are Hijacking Facebook
After noticing that my friends in Facebook were posting EVERY song they listened to, EVERY video they watched and EVERY link they decided to share I was just about ready to delete my account due to all the “noise” of these lifestream sorts of postings.
Increasingly social apps like Socialcam, Spotify, Google Play and most others have set, as a default if you connect your Facebook or Twitter accounts, to go ahead and auto-post EVERYTHING the app does to your Facebook news feed! The result is a steady stream of stuff I don’t care to read or to see from an accelerating number of friends and family who are starting to use these social apps.
This morning my sister commented under a rant I did within Facebook (imploring people to go in to app settings and to please disable auto-posting to Facebook) and she pointed out she was seeing EVERYTHING posted from my Socialcam app.
So I went in to Socialcam’s settings on Facebook and discovered that these were set by default:
- + Add your Facebook friends’ videos to your feed
- + Publish my Socialcam actions (Follow, Like and Comment) to Facebook
- + Publish videos I watch to Facebook.
Seriously? I kicked myself for not having taken more time when installing Socialcam — which I’d done some time ago but then deleted in favor of using another app called Klip but reinstalled it when so many of my friends started using it — and didn’t spend any time deciding what I’d allow the app to do and not do.
The bummer is that this sort of “auto connecting” to Facebook is “EVERYONE’s bad” and newbies (or the masses who, for the most part, are not tech-savvy or aware) will quickly make Facebook more of a cluttered and horrible user experience as these “social apps” are adopted by them in droves.
Though these default setups by social apps are undoubtedly making it easier for an app to go viral — it’s exactly what Instagram did and look at what happened to them — the result is that more and more people are becoming really agitated about this practice (like me) and will either have to go in to each app settings to find ways to turn the damn things off, or they’ll just delete the app…
…or slow their use of Facebook or delete their account altogether.
Zite’s Amazing Followup (& the App is Free)
One of my favorite iPad apps is called Zite. As a self-proclaimed news-n-information junkie, I’m always on the hunt for better and more powerful ways to stay on top of trends. In the past I’ve trolled my 300+ RSS feeds in Google Reader, but increasingly am using “aggregation” apps like Zite to do the heavy lifting for me. It’s a bonus that skimming/reading/trolling for news and information with an app like Zite is A LOT more enjoyable than in a simple news reader.
I was having challenges with one aspect of Zite though: for some reason articles I was saving to Instapaper for later (or offline) reading weren’t being saved. Since remembering where a piece of news or info came from is increasingly difficult in today’s “drinking from a firehose of information” world, this non-saving was a deal-killer for me with Zite.
Figuring that support for a free app like Zite would be either marginally or non-responsive to my concern, was I ever pleasantly surprised with what took place! Read More