Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Slipping into Denver: Speaking to a User Group via iChat AV and Tiger

Last night, I was the guest speaker at a meeting of MacinTech, a Macintosh user group that serves the south Denver area. We had a great timeŚover a two-hour period, I talked about the new edition of my book and answered questions about iLife '05, Tiger, Photoshop CS2, and more. We gave away some prizes (always a fun user group tradition), including a copy of my book and a copy of iLife '05.

It sounds like a pretty common user group scene, but one thing made it quite uncommon: I wasn't there.

I was sitting some 1400 miles to the west, in my home office/studio in metropolitan Albion, California (population: 398). I was wearing my bedroom slippers.

I was using the new version of iChat AV running under Tiger. At the user group, they connected a miniDV camcorder to a PowerBook G4 running Tiger, then mounted the camera on a tripod and put it at the front of the room, facing the crowd. The PowerBook was connected to a video projector that put me up on a large screen. (I was worried that a blond track-and-field athlete might appear and hurl a sledgehammer at me, but fortunately, that didn't happen.)

At my house, I connected my iSight camera to a 15-foot FireWire cable and then attached the camera to a small tabletop tripod. This enabled me to move the camera around and give the user group a tour of my studioŚnot to mention our garden, the view outside my window, and Sophie, our silver standard poodle.

I'd been fretting about this virtual public appearance for a while. When I speak, it's all about the software: I want to show cool tips and tricks, not stand there and talk. Would the chat be awkward? Would the energy of being in front of a crowd be missing?

My fears were unfounded. No, I wasn't able to demonstrate any software, but I was able to talk about my favorite tips and the latest trends and take questions from the audience. We had to adjust to the momentary delay that often occurs during a videoconference, but that took only a few minutes, and then it was just like being there. When attendees raised their hands, I was able to call on them. (This was the first time I ever got a laugh by saying, "I see a hand up in the back.") At one point, I pointed the iSight at my Cinema Display to show my hopelessly cluttered desktop.

True broadband isn't available in my neighborhood; I'm saddled with a 128kbps ISDN connection that seemed fast in 1996 but seems increasingly sluggish now. Despite this, the image quality was remarkably good, thanks to the new H.264 codec used by iChat AV under Tiger.

It was a special night. All of us developed a renewed appreciation for the versatility and elegance of the Mac. All of us became all the more enthused about Tiger. I got to address a group without having to drive four hours to the airport and endure the romance of air travel. And I got to wear my slippers.

So, user groups of the world, hear this: I'm available. Want to conduct a fun experiment in guest speaking and get a tour of my studio in the process? Email me, and let's talk about chatting.

And many thanks to Rick, Dan, and everyone at MacinTech.