19 Oct

Getting the hang of hanging out (part 1)

Living in New Zealand, far, far away from the rest of the world (except maybe Australia), means that I’m doing a lot of online conference presentations, demonstrations, and meetings. I’ve become well-versed in a multitude of online meeting and conferencing software and know what works on Linux and what doesn’t.

The latter always give me a fright as I have to start up my VM and hope for the best that it will not die on me unexpectedly. Usually, closing Thunderbird and any browsers helps free some resources in order to let Windows start up. I can only dream of a world in which every conferencing software also runs on Linux.

Lately, some providers have gotten better and make use of WebRTC technology, which only requires a browser but no fancy additional software or flash. Only when I want to do screensharing do I need to install a plugin, which is done quickly.

So for meetings of fewer than 10 people, I’m usually set and can propose a nice solution like Jitsi, which works well. In the past, my go-to option was Firefox Hello for simple meetings, but that was taken off the market.

But what to do when there may be more than 10 people wanting to attend a session? Then it gets tough very quickly. So I have been trialling Google Hangouts on Air recently after I’ve seen David Bell use them successfully. It looked easy enough, but boy, was I in for a surprise.

Finding the dashboard

At some point, my YouTube account was switched to a “Creator Studio” one and so I can do live events. Google Hangouts on Air are now YouTube Live Events and need to be scheduled in YouTube.

There is no link from the YouTube homepage to the dashboard for uploading or managing content. I’d have thought that by clicking on “My channel” that I’d get somewhere, but far from it. There is nothing in the navigation.

The best choice is to click the “Video Manager” to get to a subpage of the creator area. Or, as I just found out, click your profile icon and then click the “Creator Studio” button.

Finding the creator dashboard

Getting to the creator dashboard either via the “Video Manager” on your channel or via the button under your profile picture.

Scheduling an event

Setting up an event is pretty straight forward as it’s like filling in the information for a video upload just with the added fields for event times.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found yet where I can change the placeholder for the video that is shown in the preview of the event on social media. It seems to set it to my channel’s banner image rather than allowing me to upload an event-specific image.

So once you have your event, you are good to go and can send people the link to it. The links that you get are only for the stream. They do not allow your viewers to actually join your hangout and communicate with you in there and that’s where it gets a bit bizarre and what prompted me to write this blog post so I can refer back to it in the future.

Different links for different hangouts

There is the hangout link and the YouTube event link

Streaming vs. Hangout

There are actually two components to the YouTube Live event (formerly known as Google Hangout on Air):

  1. The Hangout from which the presenter streams;
  2. The YouTube video stream that people watch.

In order to get into the Hangout, you click the “Start Hangout on Air” button on your YouTube events page. That takes you into a Google Hangout with the added buttons for the live event. You are supposed to see how many people joined in, but the count may be a bit off at times.

In that Google Hangout, you have all the usual functionality available of chats, screensharing, effects etc. You can also invite other people to join you in there. That will allow them to use the microphone. The interesting thing is that you can simply invite them via the regular Hangout invite. You can’t give them the link to the stream as they would not find the actual hangout. And if you only give people the link to the Hangout but not the stream, nobody will be in the stream.

Finding the relevant links in the hangout

You can also get the two different links from the hangout. Just make sure you get the correct one.

The YouTube video stream page only shows the content of the Hangout that is displayed in the video area, but not the chat. The live event has its separate chat that you can’t see in the Hangout! In order to see any comments your viewers make, you need to have the streaming page open and read the comments there.

In a way, it’s nice to keep the Hangout chat private because if you have other people join you in there as co-presenters, you can use that space to chat to each other without other viewers seeing what you type. However, it’s pretty inconvenient as you have to remember to check the other chat. Dealing with separate windows during a presentation can be daunting. It would be nicer to see the online chat also in the hangout window.

Today I even just fired up another computer and had the stream show there, which taught me another thing.

Having the stream on another computer also showed me how slow the connection was. The live event was at least 5 seconds behind if not more. That is something to consider when taking questions.

The stream was also very grainy. I was on a fast connection, but the default speed was on the lowest setting nevertheless. Fortunately, once I increased the resolution on the finished video, the video did get better. I don’t know if you could increase the setting during the stream.

Last but not least, I couldn’t present in full-screen mode as the window wouldn’t be recognized. I’ll have to try again and see if it works if I screenshare my entire desktop as it would be nicer not to show the browser toolbars.

Not sharing of links

When you are not the owner of the stream, you cannot post URLs. I’m pretty sure that is to prevent trolls misusing public YouTube events to post links. However, it’s pretty inconvenient for the rest who want to hold meetings and webinars and share content. You can’t post a single link. Only I as organizer could post links. Unfortunately, I found that out only after the event as I was logged in under a different account.

Being used to many other web conferencing software, I’ve come to like the backchannel and the possibility to post additional material, which are in many cases links, so people can simply click on them. This was impossible in the YouTube live event as I was only a regular user. And even had I logged in with my creator account, which I’ll certainly do during the next session on Friday, nobody else would have been able to post a link. That is very limiting. I wish it were possible to determine whether links were allowed or not.

Editing the stream

Once the event was over today, I went back to the video, but couldn’t find any editing tools. I started being discouraged as I had hoped to simply trim the front and the back a bit from non-essential chatter and then just keep the rest of the video online rather than trimming my local recording that I had done on top of the online recording, encoding that and uploading it. Before I could get sadder, I had to do some other work, and once I came back to the recording, I suddenly had all my regular editing tools available and rejoiced. Apparently, it takes a bit until all functionality is at your disposal.

So I trimmed the video, which was not easy, but I managed. And then it did its encoding online. After some time, the shortened recording was available and I didn’t have to send out a new link to the video. 🙂

Summing up

What does that mean for the next live event with YouTube events?

  1. Click the “Creator Studio” button under my Google / YouTube profile to get to the editor dashboard easily.
  2. Invite people who should have audio privileges through the Hangout rather than giving them the YouTube Live link, which is displayed more prominently.
    • Co-presenters are invited via Hangout.
    • Viewers get the YouTube live link.
  3. Open the YouTube Live event with the event creator account in order to be able to post links in the chat on YouTube. Have both the Hangout and the YouTube Live event open so you can see the online chat of those who aren’t in the Hangout.
  4. Take into account that there is a delay until the content is shown on YouTube.
  5. Once finished, wait a bit until all editing features are available and then go into post-production.

Remembering all these things will put me into a better position for the next webinar, which is a repeat session of today’s and showcases the new features of Mahara 16.10.

Update: Learn some more about YouTube Live events from my second webinar.

18 Feb

Scary document morning

When it comes down to working with text documents collaboratively, I’m a happy user of the track changes and comment functionalities because they allow people working together on a document to easily communicate about the text and see each other’s changes.

Over the last few days, a colleague and I have been working on a long document in LibreOffice. The document contains a number of tables and we’ve been making extensive use of comments as well as tracking our changes in this 40+ pages document. Last night, I was working on the document and accepted changes to a table as well as deleted some comments while the changes were still being recorded. I worked away at the document saving frequently. I left the document open over night since I wanted to work on it some more this morning. All went well until I closed the document.

Before sharing it with my colleagues, I wanted to double-check something in the document, but could not open it. Instead, I was presented with the following error message: Read-Error. Format error discovered in the file in sub-document content.xml at 2,4879(row,col).

LibreOffice error message

LibreOffice error message

Before going into panic mode, I tried the obvious: Closing the document and trying to open it again: No luck. I then sent it to a colleague to check if he could open it: Still no luck. Since I don’t know XML well, I went in search of someone who might be able to provide help.

That’s when my luck turned around since the first person I asked for help (actually rather if he knew who might have some more knowledge) was Grant McLean. He offered to take a look and if he could find the cause quickly, fix it for me. We conducted a quick search that revealed that it might be a problem due to an attribute being used twice in the style definition. The instructions didn’t prove too helpful, but Grant whipped up something very quickly which I’m going to share here for others to use if they are in need and for me to refer back to if I ever come across the problem again.

The instructions are for a Linux-based environment, in my case Ubuntu 14.04.

  1. Open the LibreOffice ODT file in the Archive Manager.
  2. Drag the content.xml file out onto the desktop to extract it.
    At this stage, the xml file displays everything in one long line which is not really helpful for debugging. So Grant used a little Perl script to make the file more readable. Since we were only interested in parts of the file, this script was sufficient and put in some line breaks.
  3. The script finds every instance of “/>” in the document and replaces it with a line break before “/>”. That preserves the syntax of the document itself, but allows us to get at least some line breaks in there making the document more readable. In the terminal at the prompt, type the following:
    perl -i -p -e ‘s{/>}{\n/>}g’ content.xml
  4. If you don’t have XMLLint installed, you can get it via:
    sudo apt-get install libxml2-utils
  5. Run the XML file through XMLLint to check where the error is. Note down the line number:
    xmllint –noout content.xml
  6. Open the file in your favorite text editor where line numbering is turned on:
    vim content.xml
  7. Navigate to the line with the problem. In my case, we saw the “office:name” attribute twice for one content item. Once it was removed, I could open the document again and continue editing.

But that’s not where the story ends. That would have been too easy. 😉 Since we saw that the problem was close by to / in a table, we assumed that the problem might lie there. So I located the table and removed all formatting, saved the file and could not open it again. Next I deleted the table from the file that Grant had sent me, re-created it manually, but still no luck. After some more tries with Chris Cormack who could open the file and edit and save it, we updated my LibreOffice to the latest version hoping that the bug might have been fixed. No such luck. So I went back to Grant to get the above instructions from him on how to fix this issue as it seemed that I would not be able to erase the problem quickly, but would need work on the document and after each closing run through the procedure to open it again. For the sake of being able to continue working, I was willing to use that workaround and leave the document open as much as possible.

Grant explained the steps and we jotted them down. While we looked at the document, he also showed me a neat trick:

If you open the document in vim, navigate to an attribute and press Shift+*, you are taken to the next place in the document where the same attribute is used. That’s how we found that the issue was actually with the annotations / comments and not the tables. Somehow working with annotations (possibly in a table) and deleting them while the track changes functionality was turned on, caused a problem.

Now I could get rid of the issue entirely: I deleted all comments in the document, and I could open it correctly again without dabbling in XML.

We assume that this is a LibreOffice bug, and I am happy to report it. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to reproduce it in a small test document. It works fine there. I’ll probably need to create a longer document similar to the one that I’m working on and see if I can re-create the problem.

I’m thankful to Grant and Chris for their help, and also to LibreOffice whose files are actually archives and include an XML file that you can open in a simple editor and manipulate when you can’t open it in LibreOffice itself.

21 Mar

Compfight – Flickr – Creative Commons

Alec Couros had asked for mini lectures for his last EC&I 831 course in Winter 2009. I had almost forgotten to check out these micro lectures, but finally searched for them on the course site. There I came across Rodd Lucier‘s 8.5-minute video explaining how to use Compfight to search Flickr for Creative Commons licensed photos. This video is a great resource where you learn everything you need to know about the topic.

A couple of weeks ago I had introduced students of the first year in the BScE to Creative Commons photos and how they can find them on Flickr. Rodd’s video would have been a wonderful addition and also learning about Compfight. I posted them the video on our support web site.