HomeGeek Culture... Geek Love, Geek Files, Mind Numbing Magazine, all kinds of geeky stuff!The Webstore! Get some cool stuff, and support your fave comic creators!e-Cards!The ForumsThe Joy of Tech! ...your quick fix of comic fun!After Y2K!webcam!

Get your Joy!

Propeller beanies!


Tubes Rock!
Tubes Rock t-shirts!

Jaguar Propeller beanies!

Think Wild!It's time to Think Wild!

Virtual Book Signings: Part 2

Virtual, Lite
Ok, let's go over a few of the ways we set up virtual events, starting with the simplest. Say you have an event you'd like to share with people who can't make it... it can be anything: a wedding, a graduation, a book signing, ... your cat sleeping. The easiest way to do that is by using a passive one-way system like a webcam.

Using a simple camera and some software, you can broadcast a constantly updating image to a website, where the folks that cannot make it to your real life event can watch. Sound boring? Maybe, but it can also be extremely effective and powerful way to share your moment.

For instance, a few summers ago we lived on the oceanfront, and our webcam pointed out over the beach to the Pacific Ocean view. The local neighborhood soon discovered our webcam, and would use it to communicate with their friends and family in far off corners of the world. Having previously sent their friends the URL to our webcam, and arranged a time in advance, they would then walk on the beach in front of our house and wave to their family. It was a little unnerving having people wave at our house all the time, but it was also fascinating in a social experiment kind of way, especially since these folks had figured out a way to piggyback their personal communications on our signal. We also discovered that area fishermen and windsurfers were using our webcam to check up on the local sea conditions, which are legendary for changing dramatically in a short time. (We eventually moved, and took our webcam with us, leaving many sad virtual faces out there on that beach.)

Add text messaging to that simple webcam set-up, and the experience becomes even more powerful. The porn industry has known for years how compelling this can be, now you can put that technology to work in kinder, gentler, less naked ways. Your friends can view your event on a webpage, and at the same time, communicate with you via IRC or by instant messaging.

This is how we started out with virtual events (no, not in the porn industry!). Our webcam would broadcast images of our signings, while we chatted with fans in our IRC channel. We set up a table as if we were at a real book signing, with the camera positioned where fans would be standing if they were in front of our table ready to get their book signed.

waiting for snaggy
Is Snaggy still signing that book??!!

We use a pad of paper to keep viewers informed of whose book we are signing, and to directly address folks we know are not currently on IRC. Screenshots are saved and later posted up on the web for those who couldn't make it to the virtual event.

signing Adam's bookWhile Nitrozac signs a book for Adam Engst, Snaggy utilizes Advanced Note Pad Technology™ to transmit a tidbit of his own.

After signing, we hold up the book so that the inscription can seen. (In case you didn't know, Timbits are a Canadian delicacy.

The great thing about the webcam broadcast is its ubiquity. The feed can be made available to anyone with an Internet connection, and your event can be as private or as public as you desire. It can be viewable by one person, or with a bit of publicity, seen by thousands of people in different locations all around the world. We won't go into detail about how to set up a webcam, as that information is readily available on the web, but if you haven't set one up yet, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised how easy it is.

Virtual, Deluxe
When Apple announced its iSight camera and iChatAV, we recognized that we now had an opportunity to enhance our virtual appearances by delivering high-quality two-way audio and video without the legendary hassles normally associated with video-conferences.

Of course there is a big catch here, you can't go it alone. You will require the services of a “Scottie” on the other side: a ready, willing and knowledgeable geek who will be on-site to round up the necessary equipment and handle the set-up. Your geek will also be there during the event to receive the stream and handle any problems that might occur, as well as act as the host for the event.

All this may sound daunting, but as long as you have a high-speed connection to the Internet, setting up an iSight and running iChatAV for your event should be a no-brainer. Of course, even the simpilest system can run into glitches that will threaten the entire show, so to illustrate, we'll share our experiences with you from a recent virtual book signing.

Snaggy’s Law: The more important an event is, the greater the likelihood of technical difficulties.

At our Emerging Technologies Conference appearance last February, we had the extreme pleasure of working with Bill Takacs, Product Manager for the event. Previous to the conference, we had been discussing the set-up at ETech, and eventually convinced ourselves that we had all the technical wrinkles ironed out. Famous last words.

Almost immediately into the event, we recognized that we'd need external speakers to boost the sound at the conference end of things. Bill was running the ETech side from an iBook, and the built-in speakers just didn't have sufficient volume, especially in the crowded area where the signing was taking place. Luckily, being the resourceful geek he is, Bill was able to quickly round up some external speakers and we were good to go... or so we hoped.

Our signings were scheduled to be held during the breaks between the conference’s sessions. We had access to the broadband at the conference, and during the sessions, things were looking and sounding great. However, we discovered that during the breaks, as conference participants emerged from the sessions, they immediately went online to check their emails and download the world’s biggest files. It was like a school of starving piranhas feasting on a hapless jungle newbie. Available bandwidth was rapidly consumed, and our video stream was stripped of its flesh!

Fortunately for us, iChatAV does a remarkable job maintaining a connection despite bandwidth woes, and after a few re-connections, we were able to continue our signing, and despite their otherworldly pixelated appearance, we were able to distinguish the most important feature of our fans, their smiles.

Tom and Bill
Nitrozac and Snaggy make First Contact with Creatures from the Low Bandwidth Dimension!

Tips for Net-Setters
Here are a few things you can do to make the most out of your iChatAV virtual event.

  • Quit any extraneous programs you may have running. Your search for extraterrestial life or the exact value of Pi can probably be put on hold for an hour or so. Both will be waiting for you after the conference, but for now, let your computer focus on processing video and sound.
  • For hints on setting up your camera and backgrounds, check out our Looking Great on iChatAV article. There's no point in holding an event if people are going to cringe at the iSight of you. Your set-up is important, but so too is the position of the screen and camera on the remote end. Ideally you'd like the monitor raised high enough that the viewer doesn't have to bend down to peer at you, but if that can't be helped, just try to imagine you are a little Sea-Monkey being stared at by curious humans.
  • Making the iChat window as large as possible or full screen adds to the illusion that you are actually there, and that your fans are actually in front of you... especially if your imagination is also configured to be as large as possible.
  • You may want to temporarily block your Buddy List during important conferences. The last thing you want in the middle of a career make-or-break interview is to be suddenly distracted by something like this...

Annoying friend

  • If you are signing books, but don't have a tablet device that lets you sign a digital file, you can always sign a piece of paper, then scan it into your computer (at a high resolution so it will print out nicely), then send it off to your fan via email.
  • If you're running out of bandwidth, or can't connect due to the lack thereof, try turning down your throughput. In iChatAV, go to the Preference/Video panel, and lower your bandwidth limit. If you still cannot connect, try switching to an Audio-only chat.
  • Keep a text window open so you can keep in touch with "the other side" if the bandwidth fails.

Of course you're always going to run into problems like power outages, equipment failures, geekosphere malfunctions, and other random acts of technology. To help avoid the Stress of Tech, we recommend that before the event, you thoroughly check all of your equipment, perform a test-run or two, and perhaps even make a small offering to whichever geek gods or daemons you currently believe in.

Virtually everyone's doing it.
Nothing beats the experience of face-to-face interaction with friends and family, co-workers, or fans. However, in the event you can't meet in person, meeting virtually is truly the next best thing. The beauty of the virtual event is that it can give you more time, energy and resources to do what you really want to do. For us, that is spending more of our time creating new works, and less time, energy, and resources promoting things that we've already created. It's one of those glorious have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too ideas that we think you'll be seeing more and more people utilize.

For instance, at a recent Florida Film Festival screening, an iChat video conference was held during the intermission, in which music video director Brett Simon interacted with the audience from his computer in Los Angeles. And fans of Dr. Phil (What are you thinking!) will no doubt have noticed he uses iSight and iChatAV to connect with his "Dr. Phil Families" in order to serve out his brand of therapy directly from his home to theirs. Another area where we think iChatAV is going to be very popular will be for teaching, from personal tutoring, to remotely teaching an entire class of students.

So whether you're sharing the hallmarks of your life, promoting your business, or just trying to see what that person you fell in love with over IM really looks like, we encourage you to give a virtual event a try... at least it won't take you a few days to get over the Net-lag!

If you have a unique way that you use iChat or other telecommunications, let us know in the comments below!

Beam us up Scottie!

Additional Resources:

We held a Virtual Book Signing on Saturday, May 22nd at MacCenter in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We beamed down there via iChatAV at various times throughout the afternoon as part of their Meet and Geek event. Check out the pictures from that fun day!

You Sexy Thing!: How to look good on iChatAV: Just about everyone looks great behind a cursor, but the days of communicating online exclusively with text are numbered. So, we offer our brand of advice on how to look great on iChat AV, in spite of your iSight. With tips on proper lighting, camera angles, and the ultimate Geek Makeover, this is essential reading for the iSight challenged.... after all, laughter is the best tech support!

David Pogue captures that iChatAV magic in When Technology Is Heartwarming.

Apple iChatAV
Apple has released iChat version 2.1. The new release adds support for video conferencing via AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 for Windows, but limited to those using Windows XP. Pssst... hey Apple, we'd love to see support for group AV chats in a future version!

Adventures in broadband video
Keith Shaw looks at some of the latest AV gear and software.

WebCam Software for Mac:
Our favorite webcam apps for the Mac are EvoCam and Oculus. Both are easy to configure, with lots of great features, and both are available for you to try out in trial modes.

Back to Part 1

Back to JoyStuff!

T-shirts, beanies, and more!
Jaguar Genius!
Cool Shirts!
Jaguar Propeller beanies!
Get Happy!
Shirts and more!
Tubes Rock!
Tubes Rock t-shirts!

The Joy of Tech™

Geek Culture®
All rights reserved.
Contact Geek Culture®