Christian Heilmann

Posts Tagged ‘conferences’

Recording talks on a shoestring – a session at encampment 2011 in London

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Today I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at Encampment London and held a quick impromptu session on “recording talks on a shoestring”. There weren’t any slides but – to prove my point – I recorded the audio of my presentation and published it on the web:

Here are the main things I talked about:

  • You can easily record audio with the in-built microphone of computers these days using Audacity. As it does not need installing, this could even be run from a memory stick
  • VLC does not only play almost anything on this planet, but it can also record the screen as a video (screencast here). This is incredibly handy when you have speakers who don’t have slides but actually jump around in different programs for live demos
  • Once you recorded your audio or video you need to convert it to web formats and host them somewhere. You can either do that inside the tools (Audacity allows for ogg and mp3 saving) but you would still need to upload them somehere. As I am releasing my talks as creative commons I normally use for hosting and converting.
    • If you recorded your video you can use MPEGStreamclip to simply chop off the start and end and Miro video converter to convert it to WebM
    • Audio files I normally tend to convert in iTunes as I can tag them there and add cover art (as I am listening to them on my iPod)
    • Once uploaded, will give you the video as MPEG4, OGV and animated GIF (demo here). Audio gets converted to OGG (like this talk)
  • If you want to have your videos converted and hosted without the publicity or licensing of I normally tend to use which converts your videos on the fly to lots and lots of formats and provides you with a short link to send the right video format to the right device when you call it. It is an incredible service
  • The next step would be to allow for subtitling and captioning. This is incredibly useful to allow people to jump to the part of the talk they are really interested in and give search engines a chance to find your content. Captioning and subtitling is expensive. If you see however how cool it is at TED (for example at the excellent Roger Ebert – remaking my voice) you can see the benefits. To do this on the cheap there is Universal Subtitles, a JavaScript that adds a subtitle interface and a subtitling and translation interface to all the videos in a document. Universal Subtitles is based on the Popcorn.js library. Some people already use this one to allow for transcripts to be linked with the audio as you can see in this demo of the minnesota public radio. If you don’t want to do all that by hand there is also the Butter App project
  • One last thing I mentioned was Screenr, a free tool where you log in with Twitter and you get a screencasting app that allows you to record 5 minutes of your screen and actions and converts and hosts the final video for you. You can also save the MP4 or send it to YouTube.

This was just a quick introduction as to what you can use that is free to provide simple recordings of your event. Nothing of that replaces a professional recording, but it also doesn’t replace a few thousand pounds in your pocket with air.

What I didn’t mention was that Keynote and Quicktime both have presentation and screen recording facilities. But as they are not free, I skipped that.

A different approach to conference Q&A – Interviews

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

A few weeks ago was Highland Fling, a conference in Scotland organised and run by a very enthusiastic person, Alan White. I spoke twice at that event in the past and one thing I loved most about it was how it handled the Q&A of the audience.

The issues with Q&A

After-talk Q&A is always a pain to get right. There are a few issues that keep cropping up:

  • People are too afraid to ask a “probably stupid” question in front of the rest of the audience (funnily enough a lot of times this is the question a lot of others have but are as afraid to ask)
  • People asking questions use the opportunity to profile themselves or their company/product instead of asking a valid question (thus wasting everybody’s time)
  • Speakers and/or the audience can’t hear or understand the question (and speakers need to repeat it so it gets recorded/is heard by everybody thus using up even more time)
  • Speakers can’t see the audience properly (lights in their eyes) which means some half-hearted requests don’t get recognised
  • The people asking questions are asked to wait for the microphone to be comprehensible to everybody which takes up time (and not everybody knows how to handle a mic)
  • Interesting questions at the beginning of the talk get forgotten halfway through
  • Speakers get stuck answering one question or deviate rather than answering swiftly and getting more questions in

The Highland Fling way

The Fling does it differently: instead of having an open Q&A session after the talk the conference has a moderator who not only introduces the speakers but also does a 20 minute interview with them after the talk. Conference participants can tweet questions to the interviewer during the talk. This works around most of the issues mentioned earlier.

This year I was lucky enough to be the moderator/interviewer.

interviewing at highland flingOriginal photos by Drew McLellan

As you may know, I have a background in radio where I spent a lot of time interviewing people on the phone and live. It was a lot of fun going back to that and especially interesting to have a mixed group of speakers all with different specialist topics to chat about.

Judging from the Twitter feedback at the conference I must have done a good job, and it was great to see speakers be more relaxed when they sit on a sofa and know some questions will come rather than hoping there are some.

I think more conferences should adopt this idea.

Accessibility rumours, overflowing the stack, Fronteers, Web Directions East, Full Frontal and Cambridge Geek Day

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Yesterday I caused a stir in the German accessibility world by publicly announcing that I won’t speak at German accessibility conferences any more. This made a few Germans and others (sneakily using Google to translate the blog post) wonder if I will cease to do any accessibility activity (speaking, coding, teaching). I leave it to Mark Twain to answer that:

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

I will not stop doing accessibility work – I just will not speak at purely German accessibility events any longer.

With that out of the way, just a quick update on what I will be up to in the next few days in case my output flow will cease a bit.

  • Tomorrow I will speak at the first Stackoverflow Dev Day in London, England. Then I will be off to Cambridge on Friday for another one and the last European one in Amsterdam on Monday.
  • On Tuesday, there will be something like a geek dinner with Molly Holzschlag, PPK and me entitled Sex, Food and JavaScript (don’t ask).
  • On Thursday and Friday I will be at the Fronteers Conference and fly back to London to change to a plane to fly to Tokyo for Web Directions East where I will be a booth babe for the Yahoo Developer Network.
  • After that there’ll be Full Frontal and Cambridge Geek Day and then I will be very busy with explaining the Yahoo Application Platform to a lot of partners until Christmas.

Full plate, eh?

Chatting with ppk on mobile browser, standards support, testing, conferences and more

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Today PPK came to visit in our office in Covent Garden, London to talk to us about his research into mobile browsers and testing on
mobile devices.

PPK on mobile browsers by  you.

I took the chance to take him out to lunch afterwards and have a quick chat about his findings, what he thinks about the usage of libraries, what we can do to advocate web standards better and many other things we thought necessary to discuss. Some of the things were interesting to mull over, for example if it really makes sense to test browser performance by creating 5000 LI elements or using every JS library in a single document embedded in IFRAMES.

Here’s the half hour open interview for you to listen:


Alternatively go to the site to download the audio for your mp3 player

Sadly enough Audacity failed me and some of the interview got lost, but I thoroughly enjoyed chatting abot these topics and will continue doing these kind of quick interviews whenever someone comes over to talk.

People I’d like to see on stage more: Nicole Sullivan

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

This is a new series of posts I am starting, tying in with things I’ve been saying in presentations and at interviews lately: I think it is time we mixed the speaker circuit up a bit and hear from different people than the “rock stars” of web development.

In this series I will talk about people I very much enjoy following and had great experiences witnessing as presenters or colleagues. Hopefully it’ll inspire some conference organizers to consider them and you to have a lookout for them.

First up is Nicole Sullivan, which is the name of her real life mild-mannered self.

On the web she is known as Stubbornella and writes a lot about performance, image optimization, CSS maintenance and other things that are both highly technical and very related to the grey area of web development that is the blurry border between design and engineering.

nicole sullivan

Nicole is right now writing on a book about image optimisation together with Stoyan Stefanov one of her partners in battling those extra bytes clogging the web. Together they built Smushit, a ridiculously useful tool to optimize your images without changing their visual quality. She used to work in Yahoo in the exceptional performance team and was a large part of the research team that brought the best practices for images and CSS when it comes to performance.

Nicole gives presentations both in English and French and has a wonderfully pragmatic approach to her work. While a lot of performance presentations can be highly technical, academic or deal with edge cases, Nicole keeps her “down in the trenches web developer” hat firmly on that curly head of hers and gives advice you can use immediately and get a result for your sites. Want proof? Check out this video of her speaking at the internal Yahoo developer summit:

Nicole Sullivan: "Design Fast Websites" @ Yahoo! Video

I’ve seen Nicole several times, been with her at Paris Web and The Ajax Experience and can safely say it’ll be cool to have her share her wisdom with more people out there.