Laptop recommendations? Check with your school

Back in June I wrote this same article. You can read it here. Basically it was in response to an article written by Monica Chen of The Verge. The article “recommends” the best laptop for students at all levels by students.

Well, they just republished the article again and I thought I’d just remind parents and students out there to use these articles as a jumping off point. A place to start your research not as a definitive source.

Remember that all of these sites are powered off of ad revenue. All of them, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these recommendations were actually paid for. For example, no way I would recommend an iPad Air for a high school student where I live. I know that all the surrounding high schools are either Google Workspace schools or Office 365 schools. There are much better options at that price point for those students than an iPad. An advertisement that looks like an actual article is a native ad and it may be what is happening here.

Again, check with your school. They will have recommendations and can help you narrow down your search much better than a tech journalist or a blogger like myself đŸ™‚

Bose VideoBar VB1 – Review

Image from Bose’s website – that is not my arm

We have a pretty nice conference room at my school and it gets a lot of use too. It has a great 80″ display, nice tables with power built into them and comfortable chairs. We also have integrated speakers in the ceiling, lots of natural light and easy connections to the display. There is one thing that it has always been missing and that is a good video conference option.

We have tried to bring in a VOIP phone but unless you were sitting right next to it, you couldn’t hear the person. We tried hooking up a smartphone to the speakers with an adapter, but that required someone to sit at the front and they would always have difficulty hearing people in the back of the room or if a group of people were talking it was difficult to hear any of them clearly, then we tried hooking up a computer and run a Zoom meeting. The problem was the camera was not a wide angle camera and so it only captured 65% of the room which usually means we sit a bit far from the camera or we reposition the tables. Then the microphone on the laptop was difficult to hear, even if there were only 8-10 feet away especially if they turned their head away from the mic.

We reached out to some vendors and one recommended we try out the Bose Videobar VB1 (that’s quite the name I know). We had a demo unit for two weeks and it worked very well.

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Google Drive – Make a template

It is back to school time! I thought I would start this school year with a pretty simple tutorial on how to create a template that you can reuse over and over again. If you have ever used Google Classroom then there is a type of version of this already there. When you make an assignment and attach a Google Doc, Sheet or Slideshow then you have the option to make a copy for each student. That way the original stays untouched and each student will have their own copy to play with!

Well in Google Drive you can make a template that you can use over and over again without the original getting sullied. Be aware though that the template will be accessible by the whole organization. If you cannot do this from your school account, you should reach out to your IT team and reference these instructions so they can turn this on for you.

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Streaming events #2 – Update

We have the goods!

We have done some quick testing and this looks pretty promising. Right now my family and I are moving into a new house so I’m a little strapped for time between that, work and posting to IT Babble. So instead of a long detailed post (that is coming) I’ll give some quick thoughts and recommendations.

ATEM Mini Pro

This thing is awesome! When you hook it up to a monitor you get to see all the cameras (up to 4) and switching between them is super easy and literally just a press of a button. Setting up our live stream test (we tested Facebook Live and YouTube) was crazy easy. We did have to plug the ATEM Mini Pro into our network via an ethernet cable. Once we did that we used the software on the computer to configure the live stream.

If this is set up and you are using the same service over and over, then you do not need a computer connected to the ATEM Mini. You simply hit the On Air button and then from your computer turn on the the live stream and that is it!

One concern that we found was that an HDMI input stopped working for a little while. We tested it one day and the HDMI 2 input just didn’t work. We plugged the camera into the other inputs and it all worked fine. It was just HDMI 2. The next day it worked fine with no issues. Not sure what happened. It wasn’t the camera or the cable it just stopped

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Google Tables (Beta) – An introduction

Most people are not too familiar with Google Tables. It is a database that lets you keep records on tables and then lets you make associations from data on one table to another table. Here are some real world examples of what Google Tables can do for you or your school.

  • Keep inventory of all your devices
  • Create a ticketing system so people at your school could request IT (or any) help
  • Organize a convention – You could organize all the speakers and who will be attending their workshops and also organize all the attendees and have all their schedules at the tips of your fingers

In fact Google has a number of templates that you can use right away. They have those mentioned above but also booking rooms/shared spaces, project management, creating a directory, new employee onboarding and more.

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Streaming events – An ongoing experiment

Photo by CoWomen on Pexels.com

This is going to be an ongoing series. Here I am talking about what we currently do and are planning. In future posts I will talk about the testing of the equipment, the use of the equipment and finally changes that we’ve made.

Streaming school events (concerts, athletics, presentations) has always been a bit of mystery for me. In theory it is pretty simple. You need cameras that feed into a computer and that computer then encodes and feeds the video to a streaming service. In practice it is pretty complicated and there are lots of questions:

  • What cameras do I use?
  • Do I have to wire the cameras?
  • How do I manage multiple camera feeds?
  • Can I brand or add graphics?
  • How do I capture audio from the event?
  • How do I encode the video feed so it streams properly?
  • Does it have to be 4K?
  • What service do I use?
  • What programs do I use?

What we do now

Right now, we have it super simple. We use a Mevo Plus camera. They have a newer version but here is what ours looks like.

Here is how you use it. You turn it on (it has a battery) and it connects to your smartphone via its Mevo app. Once they connect you control the camera with your smartphone. You can zoom in, out, and even pan all digitally. It can stream from your phone to YouTube, Ustream, Facebook and others live or you can record it to its micro SD card and then edit the footage later. The camera is a wide angle lens so it does a good job of covering a large area and the output can be up to 4K.

The quality is very good and while the camera we purchased was $400, outside of a tripod we did not need much more. We did buy some accessories, but we have figured to run audio from a soundboard or mixer into the Mevo for greatly improved sound. Overall, we have been very happy with our Mevo and will continue to use it.

There are some issues though. The Mevo is a single camera. There is no way to integrate it with other cameras. It is its own singular solution for streaming. You have one camera and that is it. It is simple and straightforward and that is the beauty of our Mevo, but as we look at covering athletic events, having more than one camera is desirable to cover more of the action. This has led to some good conversations and more importantly a plan.

The Plan

We are looking to stream with multiple cameras but as you add complexity to any solution, it usually requires more equipment, training and of course – money. We are looking for this equipment to be managed by middle school students (with appropriate teacher/administrator supervision – of course) so the solution has to be pretty easy. Easy to set up, use and tear down. All of this is important.

The first part is the BlackMagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ($499). This is going to be the brains of the operation.

This thing looks expensive but it offers a lot of flexibility and power when it comes to streaming. You can have 4 HDMI inputs, professional switching between the inputs as well. You can have two microphone line ins and if you hook it up to a monitor you can view all four inputs at once. Great for producing. Also, you can attach a hard drive to it to record if you don’t want to stream. There is also powerful software you can download and use to get even more power out of this thing. Best of all, it is pretty easy to use. I’ve watched a few demo videos about it and I think that middle school students could be up and running with this deck with some minimal practice and training. This video by Zebra Zone is particularly good. He shows the set up and goes through all of its features one at a time. Just great!

Now on to cameras. We don’t want super expensive prosumer cameras. We are looking to save a little money and through my research we are going with the Canon Vixia HF r800. Yeah that name just rolls right off the toungue there doesn’t it? Here it is from BH Photo.

Since it is going to be covering athletic events, it could get damaged so having a less expensive camera that does OK with motion is what is important. All of our events are going to be well lit (for the most part), so low light is not a factor. Another plus to this camera is that it comes with optical image stability. If we put it in the hands of someone or are doing a panning shot on a tripod it should look pretty smooth. The big thing it offers though is HDMI mini out. This means we can plug it into the ATEM Mini Pro! We are planning on purchasing two of these cameras.

Now here is the expensive part. We don’t want to be running HDMI cables all over the place, especially if student athletes are going to be walking or running in those areas. We want to do this wirelessly if possible and so an HDMI wireless transmitter/receiver set is in order. This starts expensive and can get really expensive. We decided on the Hollyland Mars 300.

This is for one camera! Right now we are going to stick with just one, even though we are starting with two cameras. We need to try it out even though it has great reviews. This boasts 300 feet wireless connectivity which is way more than we need, but to know that it can go that far is pretty impressive.

Broadcasting live!

Another piece I would like to add into this setup is the ability for people (ideally students) to announce the games. Rather than just have coaches and athletes talking to each other, it may be a nice touch, but how do you do this?

The ATEM Mini Pro does have two mic inputs and so we were thinking of just adding them that way. Perhaps purchasing some “cheap” broadcasting headsets. The problem with that is that many of them are only XLR and we need a 3.5mm input instead of XLR or 1/4″ inputs.

Another issue is the price. The cheaper headsets are starting at $50 and they quickly go up from there.

What’s next?

The equipment has been ordered. Once we set things up and try it out we try to find a workflow that works for us.

Zoom Podtrak P4 – The king is dead. Long live the king.

We sporadically create podcasts here at IT Babble and for the past six years, the device of choice has been the Zoom H6. A piece of technology that has never failed me (how often can you say that about any tech). I’ve used it as a USB microphone, to record voice overs for tutorial videos and of course for podcasts and as a mic in the field. It has been great and I have a deep appreciation and love for the H6. So why the sudden shift?

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Google Chrome – Tab groups

How did I not know about this?! If you’re like me, then you rarely have more than 10 tabs open at a time. However, not everyone is as . . . considerate to their computer as I am. I have seen colleagues of mine have anywhere from 30-50 tabs open and not feel shame!

I know each browser has there own way of managing lots of tabs and there are more than a few extensions out there that can help people as well. Since my school uses Google, it only makes sense for me to use Google Chrome, plus I like all the extensions they have to offer, but this feature is built right into the browser itself. No need to install anything else or create an account with a third party. Just open tabs up and group them!

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