Scott Hanselman

You're tired because your lizard brain knows that Zoom meetings aren't natural

June 25, '20 Comments [13] Posted in Musings
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Remote work isn't normal. It's great when it's not quarantine work, to be clear. I've worked remotely with success for over 13 years and written about it extensively. I'm pro-remote work. But.

Doing zoom calls all day can be super productive but they are also physically and emotionally exhausting. One of the reasons that isn't helping you is that a zoom meeting isn't a natural human state - it's a simulation of one and your body knows the truth.

I'm using "Zoom" the brand here as a pervasive generic verb like folks use Kleenex for tissue or Google for any websearch. I zoom with Teams and google with Bing, for example. You get the idea.

So what do I mean when I say "remote work isn't normal?" Why such a declarative statement? Because I'd propose that our lizard brains know that we're talking to ourselves, alone in a room.

"The brain stem, the cerebellum, and the basal ganglia – commonly known as “the lizard brain” because it’s the part we inherited from our reptilian predecessors – are responsible for fight or flight responses, fear, suspicion, and anxiety. The lizard brain kept our ancestors safe when a panther pounced from a limb just overhead. In an ironic twist, these most ancient parts of the brain are making it difficult for us to think rationally at a time when rational thought is key to our survival." - Courier Journal

Your body knows the people aren't there. Their electricity isn't in the room with you. They are flat. All their voices come from one point in space, not from all over the room. There is no sense of space. Even worse if you have headphones. They are 3 inch tall tiny talking heads while their voices are 1 inch from your ears. There's a strange detached intimacy where you're both closely connected to the group virtually while utterly disengaged physically.

Teams and Zoom calls aren't natural

A Brady Bunch grid of faces is not what the brain expects when you're having a meeting, so we're constantly fighting against the cognitive dissonance, the background process load, the psychic weight, that we ARE in the same room talking with our co-workers.

Your conscious brain says you're having a chat in a room with a dozen of your co-workers but the unconscious brain says you're not. It's small but I'd propose it's there. Doing this for hours and hours can give you the same kind of unease that you get from flying in a plane. You get off the plane and you're exhausted from sitting. Sure there's humidity and oxygen issues but there's also the "you know you're moving but parts of your brain disagrees" cognitive load that can't be ignored.

Remote video group calls are an amazing enabling technology but it's also enabling to acknowledge that they can be draining. That simple acknowledgement - huh, that's a thing! - is itself empowering. If you name it you can claim it. It's not just you!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Importance of Nesting when Remote Working and Quarantine Working

June 11, '20 Comments [9] Posted in Musings
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"08.30.10" by colemama is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.We've all learned the hard way that Quarantine work is not Remote work. It doesn't feel the same because it's not the same. It's a hard time right now and tension is high.

"People are overwhelmed, afraid, and stressed. There's a background pressure - a psychic weight or stress - that is different in these times. This isn't a problem you can fix with a new webcam or a podcasting mic."

I really believe that self-care is important and one should be as deliberate as one can in how they live.

One day we were working in the office and the next day we were home indefinitely. Some in spare bedrooms, most in our kitchens, laundry rooms, garages and front porches.

What does "nesting" mean?

Nesting is not just what a bird does to prepare their space for the coming family, it's also what we can do as humans to make a space for ourselves to be successful. It's the deliberate practice of setting up your work area so that you can be successful and fulfilled.

Your space doesn't need to be fancy. Nesting isn't blinging your space or making it look expensive - nesting is making it YOURS.

  • Can you sit and work comfortably? Is your space ergonomic as it can be?
    • Is your monitor or laptop angled in a way that doesn't cause eyestrain or neck strain?
  • Do the things around you feed your spirit? Toys? Gadgets? Family pics? Post-It Notes?
    • Be intentional. Don't just let your space happen. What is calming for you? What's productive? Do you like a nice whiteboard?
    • Perhaps a fresh notebook can de-stress you? Your office can be a Zen garden. Does clutter calm? Fill it with fun. Do you like open space? Clear your desk.
  • What's your lighting situation?
    • Do you have natural light or a window nearby? Maybe you should.

Stop for a second. Perhaps while reading this blog post. Look around and ask yourself - why is this space like this? How did it get this way and do I feel good here. What can you do? Maybe it's just straightening up. Perhaps literally just turning another direction to adjust light.

This is the start of a process to make your space you own. You can't control your quarantine situation but you can be intentional about your nest.

What have YOU done to make your space your own? How are you nesting?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Quarantine work is not Remote work

April 16, '20 Comments [24] Posted in Musings | Remote Work
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Empty streets by clindhartsen used under CCIt's hard. Now, to be clear, if you're working at all in these times, you're very fortunate. I am very fortunate to have a job that lets me work from home. Many of my coworkers, friends, and colleagues have been thrown into remote work - some in a frantic "get your laptop and you're now working from home" moment.

I have written a lot about Remote Work and done a number of podcasts on the topic. I've been working from my home now, full time, for 13 years. It's fair to say that I am an experienced Remote Worker if not an expert.

If you're new to Remote Work and you're feeling some kind of way, I want to say this as an expert in remote working - This thing we are doing now isn't remote work.

Quarantine work !== Remote work

Know that and absorb that and know that you're OK and this thing you're feeling - wow, Remote Works SUCKS! - is normal. You're not alone.

Just look at the replies to this tweet:

People are overwhelmed, afraid, and stressed. There's a background pressure - a psychic weight or stress - that is different in these times. This isn't a problem you can fix with a new webcam or a podcasting mic.

Working from home feels freeing and empowering. Working while quarantined is a luxurious prison.

I've got two kids at home suddenly, one who's had their last year before high school cut short and now we struggle as a couple to work our jobs AND educate the kids in an attempt to create some sense of normalcy and continuity. I applaud the single parents and folks trying to work outside the home AND take care of little ones in these times.

We also feel the guilt of working from home at all. We appreciate the front line workers (my wife is a nurse, my brother a firefighter) who don't have this luxury. The garbagemen and women, the grocery store stockers, truck drivers, food processors, and farmers. We do our best to be thankful for their work while still getting our own jobs done.

What's the point of this post? To remind you, the new remote worker, that this isn't normal. This isn't really representative of remote work. Hang in there, things will hopefully go back to some kind of normal and if we're lucky, perhaps you and I will be able to try out remote working and feel ok about it.

Here's some more resources. Be safe.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The 2020 Guide to Creating Quality Technical Screencasts, Presentations, and Remote Meetings

April 14, '20 Comments [9] Posted in Musings
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Being effective when presenting remotelyI've had a lot of people ask me to write up a guide to creating great technical screencasts. This is an update to my 2011 post on the same topic.

What are you doing? STOP and reassert your assumptions

Hang on. You're doing a screencast or sharing your screen in some way for a meeting, presentation, or YouTube. What does that mean and why did I suggest you stop.

This isn't a stage presentation or even a talk in a conference room. Screencasts and remote meetings have an intimacy to them. You're in someone's ear, in their headphones, you're 18 inches from their face. Consider how you want to be seen, how you want to be heard, and what is on your screen.

Try to apply a level of intentionality and deliberate practice. I'm not saying to micromanage, but I am saying don't just "share your screen." Put your empathy hat on and consider your audience and how it'll look and feel for them.

Initial setup and tools

You can use any number of tools for screen capture. They are largely the same. My preferred tool is Camtasia. Other valid tools are CamStudio (a free and open source tool) and Expression Encoder Screen Capture. You can also use OBS to record your screen and webcam.

When you're using Skype/Zoom/Teams to record live, you're already set as those tools will share for you as well as record.

Windows Look and Feel

At the risk of sounding uptight, how you setup Windows and your environment is the difference between a professional and an amateurish screencast. It's shocking how many folks will start recording a screencast without changing a thing, then wonder why their 1600x1200 screencast looks bad on YouTube at 360p or low bandwidth on a phone. If you find yourself doing screencasts a lot, considering making a custom user (maybe named Screencast?) on your machine with these settings already applied. That way you can login as Screencast and your settings will stick.

Resolution and Aspect

First, decide on your aspect ratio. Your laptop may have a ratio of width to height that is 3:2 or 4:3 but MOST people have a 16:9 Widescreen system? A VERY safe resolution in 2020 is 1280x720 (also known as 720p). That means that you'll be visible on everything from a low-end Android, any tablet, up to a desktop.

That said, statistics show that many folks now have 1920x1080 (1080p) capable systems. But again, consider your audience. If I was presenting to a rural school district, I'd use 720 or a lower resolution. It will be smoother and use less bandwidth and you'll never have issue with things being too small. If I was presenting in a professional environment I'd use 1080p. I don't present at 4k, especially if the audience is overseas from where I am. You're pushing millions of pixels that aren't needed, slowing your message and adding no additional value.

On Windows, consider your scale factor. At 1080p, 125% DPI is reasonable. At 720p (or 1366x768, using 100% scaling is reasonable).

Background Wallpaper and Icons

Choose a standard looking background photo. I prefer to use one from http://unsplash.com or the defaults that come with Windows 10 or your Mac. Avoid complex backgrounds as they don't compress well during encoding. Avoid using pictures of your kids or family unless it feeds your spirit and you don't mind mixing the professional and personal. Again - be intentional. I am neither for nor against - just be conscious and decide. Don't just accept the defaults.

Hide your desktop icons. Right click your desktop and hit View | Show Desktop Items. Also consider whether we need to see your desktop at all. If it doesn’t add value, don’t show it on the screencast.

Fonts

Try to use standard fonts and themes. While your preferred font and colors/themes offer personality, they can be distracting. Consider the message you want to present.

If you're using Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code, remember that your audience likely hasn't changed their defaults, and if you show them something fancy, they'll be thinking about how they get that fancy widget rather than your content. In Visual Studio proper, go to Tools | Options | Environment | Fonts and Colors and click "Use Defaults."

In all your text editors, consider change your fonts to Consolas Size 15. It may seem counter-intuitive to have such large fonts but in fact this will make your code viewable even on an iPhone or Tablet. 

Remember, most video sites, including YouTube, restrict the embedded video player size to a maximum of around 560p height, unless you go full-screen or use a pop-out. Use the font size recommended here, and use Camtasia’s zoom and highlight features during editing to call out key bits of code.

Don’t highlight code in the editor by selecting it with the mouse UNLESS you've deliberately change the selection background color. Defaults are typically hard to read editor selections in video. Instead, zoom and highlight in post production, or use ZoomIt and practice zooming and emphasizing on screen elements.

Browser Setup

Unless your screencast is about using different browsers, pick a browser and stick to it. Hide your toolbars, clear your cache, history, and your autocomplete history. You'd be surprised how many inappropriate sites and autocomplete suggestions are published on the web forever and not noticed until it's too late. Don't view pr0n on your screencast machine. Be aware.

Toolbars

Your browser shouldn't show any, and this is a good time to uninstall or hide whatever coupon-offering nonsense or McAffee pixel waster that you've stopped being able to see after all these years. Remember, default is the word of the day. Disable any Browser Extensions that aren't adding value.

If you are using Visual Studio or an IDE (Eclipse, Photoshop, etc) be aware of your toolbars. If you have made extensive customizations to your toolbars and you use them in the screencast, you are doing a great disservice to your audience. Put things to the default. If you use hotkeys, tell the audience, and use them for a reason.

Toast

You've got mail! Yay. Yes, but not during your screencast. Turn off Outlook Gmail, GChat, Twitter, Messenger, Skype, and anything else that can "pop toast" during your screencast.

Clock and Notifications

Go to Start on Windows 10, and search for System Icons and turn off the Clock temporarily. Why? You can't easily edit a screencast if there's a convenient time code in the corner that jumps around during your edits. Also, no one needs to know you're doing your work at 3am.

Clean out your taskbar and notification area. Anything that visually distracts, or just hide the taskbar.

Audio and Voice

Use a decent microphone. I use a Samson C01U. You can also use a USB headset-style microphone but be aware that breathing and "cotton mouth" really shows up on these. Test it! Listen to yourself! Try moving the microphone above your nose so you aren't exhaling onto it directly. Use a pop filter to help eliminate 'plosives (p's and t's). You can get them cheap at a music store.

Be aware of your keyboard clicks. Some folks feel strongly about whether or not your keyboard can be heard during a screencast. Ultimately it's your choice, but you have to be aware of it first, then make a conscious decision. Don't just let whatever happens happen. Think about your keyboard sound, your typing style and your microphone, and listen to it a few times and see if you like how it comes together.

Avoid prolonged silence. There should be ebb and flow of "I'm saying this, I'm doing that" but not 10 seconds of "watch my mouse." Speak in an upbeat but authentic tone. Be real.

Also be calm and quiet. Remember you are a foot from them and you're their ear. It's a conversation with a friend, not a presentation to thousands (even if it is).

Don’t apologize or make excuses for mistakes – either work them in as something to learn from, or remove them completely.

If you are editing the presentation - If you make a mistake when speaking or demonstrating, clap your hands or cough loudly into the mic and wait a second before starting that portion over. When editing, the mistakes will show up as loud audio spikes, making it easy to find them.

Camtasia has decent automatic noise reduction. Use it. You’ll be surprised how much background noise your room has that you, but not your audience, will easily tune out.

If you must overdub a portion of the audio, sit in the same position you did while recording the original, and have the mic in the same spot. You want your voice to blend in seamlessly.

Preferred Video Output for Prerecords

Your screen capture tool should be produced at the highest reasonable quality as it will be compressed later when it's uploaded. Think of it like producing JPEGs. You can make a 5 megabyte JPG, but often a 500k one will do. You can make a 10 gig screen capture if you use uncompressed AVI encoding, but often a high bit rate MP4 will do.

The trick is to remember that your compressed screencast will be recompressed (copies of copies) when it is run through the encoding process.

Edit your screencast, if you do, in its recorded native resolution which hopefully is what you'll publish to as well. That means, record at 1080p, edit at 1080p, and publish at 1080p. Let YouTube or your final destination do the squishing to smaller resolutions.

Personally, I like to know what's going on in my production process so I always select things like "Custom production settings" in Camtasia rather than presets. Ultimately you'll need to try and find what works for you. Use an H.264 encoder with a high bitrate for the video and 44.1kHz/441000Hz 16 bit mono for the audio. Basically make a decently sized MP4 and it should work everywhere.

Do you have enough bandwidth?

In my opinion, if you are doing a live call with Video and Screensharing and you want it to be high definition, you'll need 4 Mbps upstream from your connection. You can check this at http://speedtest.net. If you have 5-6 Mbps you've got a little more headroom. However, if someone in the house decides to get on Netflix, you could have an issue. Know your bandwidth limitations ahead of time. If it's an important stream, can you dedicate your bandwidth to just your one machine? Check out QoS (quality of service) on your router, or better yet, take your kids' iPads away! ;)

Conclusion

Take some time. I put about an hour of work into a 15 min screencast. Your mileage may vary. Watch your video! Listen to it, and have your friends listen to it. Does it look smooth? Sound smooth? Is it viewable on a small device AND a big screen? Does it FEEL good?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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A series of new YouTube Videos - Please Subscribe

March 31, '20 Comments [4] Posted in Musings | Win10
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Hey friends, in this time of remoteness, I've been making a lot more YouTube videos and they're pretty decent, IMHO. I'd love it if you'd subscribe, share them, and encourage your friends and colleagues to subscribe as well. Head over to https://youtube.com/shanselman and click Subscribe and then the BELL.

Here's just a taste of the kinds of videos I'm making. My main focus is How-To videos.

Scott's YouTube has a lot of interesting content

I'm enjoying doing videos on topics like:

If you have ideas for videos I can make that could help you out, please let me know in the comments! And subscribe!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.