Camp Record Beta Test Three: MidCamp 2015

After my #epicfail that was BADCamp, to say that I was entering MidCamp with trepidation would be the understatement of the year. Two full days of sessions and a 1-and-1 track record was weighing heavily upon my soul. Add to the mix that I was coming directly off of a 5-day con my company runs, and responsible for MidCamp venue and catering logistics. Oh right, and I ran out of time to make instructions and train anyone else on setup, which only added to my on-site burden.

Testing is good.

After BADCamp, I added a powered 4-port USB hub to the kits, as well as an accessory pack for the H2N voice recorder, mainly for the powered A/C adapter and remote. All total, these two items bring the current cost of the kit to about $425.

In addition, at one of our venue walk-throughs, I was able to actually test the kits with the projectors UIC would be using. The units in two of the rooms had an unexplainable random few-second blackout of the screens, but the records were good and the rest of the rooms checked out.

Success.

After the mad scramble setting up three breakout rooms and the main stage leading up to the opening keynote, I can't begin to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach after I pulled the USB stick after stopping the keynote recording. I can’t begin to describe the elation I felt after seeing a full record, complete with audio.

We hit a few snags with presenters not starting their records (fixable) and older PCs not connecting (possibly fixable), and a couple sessions that didn’t have audio (hello redundancy from the voice recorder). Aside from that, froboy and I were able to trim and upload all the successful records during the Sunday sprint.

A huge shout out also goes to jason.bell for helping me on-site with setups and capture. He helped me during Fox Valley’s camp, so I deputized him as soon as I saw him Friday morning.

Learnings.

With the addition of the powered USB hub, we no longer need to steal any ports from the presenter laptop. For all of the first day, we were unnecessarily hooking up the hub’s USB cable to the presenter laptop. Doing this caused a restart of the record kit. We did lose a session to a presenter laptop going to sleep, and I have to wonder whether we would have still captured it if the hub hadn’t been attached.

The VGA to HDMI dongle is too unreliable to be part of the kit. When used, either there was no connection, or it would cycle between on and off. Most, if not all, machines that didn’t have mini display port or direct HMDI out had full display port. I will be testing a display port to HDMI dongle for a more reliable option.

Redundant audio is essential. The default record format for the voice recorders is a WAV file. These are best quality, but enormous, which is why I failed at capturing most of BADCamp’s audio (RTFM, right?). By changing the settings to 192kbs MP3, two days of session audio barely made a dent in the 2GB cards that are included with the recorders. Thankfully, this saved three session records: two with no audio at all (still a mystery) and one with blown out audio.

Trimming and combining in YouTube is a thing. Kudos again to froboy for pointing me to YouTube’s editing capabilities. A couple sessions had split records (also a mystery), which we then stitched together after upload, and several sessions needed some pre- or post-record trimming. This can all be done in YouTube instead of using a video editor and re-encoding. Granted, YouTube takes what seems like forever to process, but it works and once you do the editing, you can forget about it.

There is a known issue with mini display port to HDMI where a green tint is added to the output. Setting the external PVR to 720p generally fixed this. There were a couple times where it didn’t, but switching either between direct HDMI or mini display port to HDMI seemed to resolve most of the issues. Sorry for the few presenters that opted for funky colors before we learned this during the camp. The recording is always fine, but the on-site experience is borked.

Finally, we need to tell presenters to adjust their energy saver settings. I take this for granted, because the con my company runs is for marketing people who present frequently, and this is basically just assumed to be set correctly. We are a more casual bunch and don’t fret when the laptop sleeps or the screen saver comes up during a presentation. Just move the cursor and roll with it. But that can kill a record...even with the Drupal Association kits. I do plan to test this, now that I’ve learned we don’t need any power at all from the presenter laptop, but it’s still an easy fix with documentation.

Next steps.

Documentation. I need to make simple instructions sheets to include with the kits. Overall, they are really easy to use and connect, but it’s completely unfamiliar territory. With foolproof instructions, presenters can be at ease and room monitors can be tasked with assisting without fear.

Packaging. With the mad dash to set these up — combined with hourly hookups — these were a hot mess on the podium. I’ll be working to tighten these up so they look less intimidating and take up less space. No idea what this entails yet, so I’ll gladly accept ideas.

Testing. As mentioned, I will test regular display port to HDMI, as well as various sleep states while recording.

Shipping. Because these kits are so light weight, part of the plan is to be able to share them with regional camps. There was a lot of interest from other organizers in these kits during the camp. Someone from Twin Cities even offered to purchase a kit to add to the mix, as long as they could borrow the others. A Pelican box with adjustable inserts would be just the ticket.

Sponsors. If you are willing to help finance this project, please contact me at kthull@bluedropshop.com. While Fox Valley Camp owns three kits and MidCamp owns one, wouldn’t it be great to have your branding on these as they make their way around the camp circuit? The equipment costs have (mostly) been reimbursed, but I’ve devoted a lot of time to testing and documenting the process, and will be spending more time with the next steps listed above.