Web Conferencing Week


WcW001: Web Conferencing Week

Web Conferencing Week

Trying something different here at Left-Handed Complement — back to my roots, or at least my original intentions for this space, to regularly explore my professional existence. I have previously written about what I do, and my very recent, quite futile aspirations toward management, but it’s been sporadic at best. Not my intention when I started.

This is an attempt to apply some discipline — maybe most work weeks haven’t recently seemed very interesting to me (although the one just completed was altogether not routine), but I believe that what I do is quite unusual in any corporation, small or large, so I’ll explore those unusualities (have I just coined a MUDGE-ism?) in this space, I hope every week or more often.

And, for you completists out there, clicking the “Web Conferencing” tag cloud on the sidebar will catch you up.

The tent-poles for many weeks are the large scale conferences (or even small, but critical ones) for which I provide consultative, or substantive services. This week was busier in that respect than many lately.

For one thing, I assisted a high level HR manager as he ran a focus group with a group of administrative assistants for one of HCA’s (remember, Heart of Corporate America, not it’s real name) most hidebound and traditional divisions, its corporate attorneys. In the year 2007, I must admit it was jarring to hear more than one of these women (and they were all women) refer to themselves as secretaries. Is it any wonder they had a lot to complain about?

My role: to make the HR manager’s slides available to the several administrative assistants connecting from outside the navel of the known universe (the heart of the Heart, as it were), including one humorous (or perhaps I simply mean good humored) person in Europe for whom the meeting started after 5pmCET (Central European Time, did you know?), and for her didn’t finish until about 7pm.

This meeting was both easier, and more complex for me than usual. Easier because there were few enough remote participants, and the slide content was simple enough, that the PowerPoint slide deck could simply be “Screen Shared,” so that those in the meeting room and those connecting remotely watched exactly the same presentation at the same time.

Complex, because I had arrived at the conference center first (always my goal) and found the room dark, furnished correctly but otherwise unprepared electrically and electronically. The electronic podium had been pushed out of the way to accommodate a meeting that I had worked a day and a half earlier, never replaced in position and thus was totally inert.

I dug up an A/V tech, who found a bunch of thick cables in the floor, and (I hoped) matching ones curled up in the podium that needed to be connected, a job that took this stranger (and I thought by this time I knew most of the guys) about 20 minutes. There had to be 30 colored wires with metal connectors for each end among the cabled groups; glad he wasn’t color blind!

I offered the manager the opportunity to sit at a table closer to his group, so as a result I stood by the podium to advance the presentation slides at his command, which I must admit got a little old after 90 minutes (actually, between arriving early, and the meeting starting about 25 minutes late due to the above mentioned technical snafu I was standing for well over two hours, not my favorite way to spend a late morning, especially a late morning under-snacked and under-hydrated). Such is show business.

But the wonderful news, as I related the high points to my manager later that day, was that the technical issues were A/V ones, not web conferencing ones. Whew! Our system has been behaving itself of late, and I don’t take that for granted, working as I do out there among my customers.

My colleagues on the team are, by training and by inclination, telephone support types. Let’s face it, most IT professionals take up the career because they are introverts who are more comfortable relating to hardware and software than the people who consume their work product.

The thought of encountering a real live client having trouble with our technology makes them sick to their stomach, and I’m not really exaggerating — they’ve told me so countless times. So the fact that I go out there so frequently putting my own ego, as well as my team’s reputation on the line, in person, confounds them.

It’s what I do.

But as always, it was fascinating to pay attention to the content of the meeting. This little job of mine provides a very unusual opportunity to be a fly on the wall for some most interesting sessions, and as touched on above this was one of those.

I guess HCA’s corporate law department is stuck in some 1950’s time warp, as distinct from “public” law firms which I have to feel are somewhat more up to date (one person recently arrived from one reported that for the work she and most her colleagues do at HCA, a public firm would describe and compensate them as paralegals, not secretaries).

The attorneys like it this way, I’m sure (more than one of the women described their bosses (male and female) as “needy,” for example working in longhand [on legal pads, I’m sure] and claiming not to know even the basics of their computers), but I don’t understand how the assistants can stand it.

By the way, the IT building I work in must have close to 600 employees; maybe eight of them are administrative assistants, and I’m sure that the bean counters think that this number is twice as large as necessary. We are hardly needy — we do for ourselves.

What I wanted to say to this group of put-upon legal division employees (and of course I didn’t since flies on the wall don’t say a word, ever) was, be thankful you work for whom you do; any other department and there would be half or fewer of you!

And that’s just one of the several meetings and or events this week, and I find that reflecting on it has spent my Friday evening energy, but we’ll renew this effort later this weekend, I promise.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW002: Web Conferencing Week – On location

In our first venture in this direction, WcW001, I described the week just past as filled with unusualities (coined in this space tyvm; if I use it 500 more times, think that it gets added to anyone’s dictionary?), and described one. Here’s another.

Only a few times in the five years I have been plying my trade at the HCA, have I been asked to conduct business outside the friendly confines of the navel of the known universe, our dual expansive campuses and its outlying but nearby satellite sites.

But, Wednesday afternoon I received voicemail from one of my most frequent clients, the sales training functionary for one of our most important product families, asking that I assist Friday at an all-day session emanating from a hotel near the airport.

Sent off a memo to the contact that had been specified, detailing the logistical arrangements that I would require (broadband access, a phone connection for the web conference’s accompanying telephone conference call, a second phone line and phone for monitoring purposes, sufficient power connections, table/chair near the audio technician, etc), received a quick response including the name and contact information for the event handler at the hotel. A quick call to this person confirmed that all would be as required, and her smooth and professional demeanor actually filled me with confidence that it indeed it would.

So, Friday, instead of trundling out to the navel, etc., trundled instead to the vicinity of the airport, to a very nice and upscale hotel, the likes of which grunts such as yours truly work at, but surely can’t afford to stay at.

After the usual flurry of activity around finding the venue, and locating the key contacts among people with whom one has spoken but never before seen (and no one wears red carnations to identify themselves any more — why is that?), located the hotel employee audio technician who was handling the event and, after at my request he arranged the switching out of his equipment table for something large enough for the both of us, began setting up.

The main problem in the morning during the run-up to the start of the broadcast sessions was the speed of the internet connection I was furnished. It seemed that everyone in the hotel was competing for the same not-so-broadband connection, and I found this to be somewhat crippling as I dealt with last minute changes to the presentation.

And, by the way, wireless was not an option. Not only did my laptop not detect wireless access in the room (although others PCs did, so that was a limitation of my equipment), but it is my hard experience that, for a very network-centric application such as a web conference, the flaky nature of most wireless connections is toxic.

As with most web conferencing applications, Lotus Sametime uses two major modes to display information to those connecting to it: screen sharing and its whiteboard. Screen sharing is the simplest mode: whatever the person sharing is doing on her desktop shows up within the screen sharing window in the instance of all participants’ internet browser connected to the meeting.

The meeting room whiteboard is not as simple to use; it requires prior setup to load (or, in Sametime nomenclature, attach) whatever presentation files to be shown. The value add for this setup requirement is that most presentations transmit throughout the network much more efficiently, since the information to be transmitted is cached on the server (i.e., while the current slide is shown, the next one is being loaded into memory, and the previous one remains available).

However, on the dead slow connection I experienced mid-morning at the hotel, the revised version of the presentation file I received could not load into the meeting — the process timed out. This was frustrating.

I persisted, and eventually, late in the morning, and perilously close to the noon start time of the first of the two events taking place in that room, the revision finally got loaded (I’m thinking that the contention for bandwidth on the hotel’s connection eased closer to lunchtime), and I was finally good to go. We connected the audio tech’s phone (running the interface from the room’s sound system so that all those using microphones would be heard on the phone) to the telephone conference operator, and at the proper time the event began.

Meanwhile, in this large conference room, an earlier event not requiring my participation had begun, and I had a chance to observe the participants from the tech table at the front side of the room. Well more than 100 young (everybody in corporate life is younger than yours truly these days!), attractive field sales people were in the midst of a several days long training conference. This day’s meetings were devoted to product knowledge.

Our field sales people have to know well a great deal of technical data, as well as all of the nuts and bolts of technical selling (a topic I’m certain was handled, or reinforced at least, on other days of this conference).

For most applications of web conferencing, usage is quite straightforward. The leader of the meeting connects to the Sametime server, connects his laptop PC to a projector, and uses the screen sharing mode to simultaneously project his presentation in the meeting room while making it available to remote attendees. In smaller meetings, whatever overhead is added for the web conference is minor, and whatever distraction that the electronic meeting may cause usually is minor.

However, for large meetings, that overhead and potential distraction is not acceptable. Early in my web conference facilitation experience I learned that for these types of large-scale events the best approach is to split the function of running the web conference away from the in-room presentation function.

And this is what we did for the meetings in the hotel conference center. This way, there was no spillover from the electronic conference into the meeting room itself; so had there been technical problems, or even communication from the remote participants relevant to the web conference, it would have been invisible to those in the room, and especially to the speakers, whose demonstrated technical expertise might not have extended to the web conferencing arena and whom in any event would not have welcomed such interruptions.

So, the idea is that two copies of the presentation are required: one, for the laptop PC connected to the projector in the conference room. The other, for the PC connected to and leading (“moderating” in Sametime nomenclature) the web conference.

After the energetic activities of preparation described above (and there’s always something in large meetings) things in the first, 50-minute session went quite smoothly, as did most of the second one until the last 90 minutes or so of that four-hour(!) presentation.

The last 90 minutes? Well, the second speaker neglected to mention the existence of, much less share his umpteenth and latest presentation revision with me. Turned out he had about 85 slides; I had only 67. Ouch. So I vamped as best I could (at one point I used my text annotation tool to announce that there were some new slides showing that were unavailable to the web conference).

Well, afterwards, my contact in field sales training consoled me by saying, “how many people do you think were actually paying attention in that last hour?”

And separately, the speaker apologized to me (after all, even those present in the room did not have those slides in their printed handouts) by saying, “they usually only allot me two hours.” Sigh.

But, in the larger context of the day this was minor (the organizers certainly reported so) although that could have been 5 o’clock Friday of a hugely busy week manifesting itself. But, if my customers are happy, so am I (especially if the issue in question was totally outside my ability to rectify).

Could I have anticipated a new version of the presentation? Of course, there almost always is. Could, under the constraints of time (just about 10 minutes from the end of the first meeting to the start of the second) and a suspect broadband connection (remember it took about 90 minutes elapsed time to upload the smaller revision to the first presentation) I have actually accomplished the successful update in time? Perhaps not. Sigh.

While it doesn’t really apply totally to this context, since the speaker was guilty with an excuse (had to fill a lot more time than usual — and by the way, his extended topics were interesting, to this amateur scientist, and relevant). Often, though, the last-minute tweaks that cause this practitioner of meetings so much gut-churning distress are mostly gilding the lily. So, it gives me the opportunity to roll out:


But, overall, a good and an interesting day. Can I apply the science I was exposed to during five-plus hours of presentations to my job, or my everyday life? Absolutely not. Was it interesting, in the context of learning for learning’s sake? Absolutely. Forty-eight hours later as I write this, can I remember any of it? Please don’t ask me that!

All told, an interesting end to a more unusual than usual week in the world of web conferencing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW003: Sometimes, it’s all about teaching

As filled with unusualities as was last week, this past week… was not.

The main theme was teaching. We wrote about this facet of my career quite extensively in mm018 and I don’t feel compelled to rehash here. It’s a significant portion of my responsibilities here at HCA (Heart of Corporate America remember, not its real name).

And, like all things everywhere, it either dies or changes. I vote for change.

For more than a year, we’ve been attempting to turn over some of the basic courses to an expert in our division’s training department. To that end I’ve provided annotated course material, one on one instruction, the opportunity to practice. I am this good teacher, right?

It’s been a bust. Last year the explanation was that the designated person didn’t start that year with this goal in her list of goals, and thus was unable to devote the time and attention required to mastering the material.

This year began with this turnover on this person’s the goals list, but after a kick-off meeting in February, and prompt transmission of updated curriculum to answer some concerns, the person has simply not responded to my queries for nearly three months.

I’ve been teaching this material for so long I suppose I have underestimated its challenges. You simultaneously are teaching a collaboration tool while smoothly utilizing that tool to deliver the lessons. And in order to teach effectively, you are attempting to interact with your students using a very limited sensory array, just their voices and whatever of the conference’s tools they are able to begin to understand.

Pretty demanding, upon reflection, and I believe totally overwhelming for the training department’s MIA “expert.”

So, Plan B. Our vendor has a partnership with an organization in the UK that has produced some workmanlike Computer Based Training (CBT) modules that I’ve persuaded our department to purchase on an enterprise basis. These don’t provide the HCA-specific content that so richly fills my curriculum, but as our IT division’s underlying software philosophy is to customize purchased applications as little as possible, the generic CBT should be quite sufficient, at least for the basics.

The idea always was to remove some of the repetitive burden of teaching the “level 100” coursework (originally to a live instructor), leaving the advanced curriculum, as well as individualized instruction for higher level personnel to yours truly.

So, this week: mostly teaching. The scheduled three classes, two of them with that 3:00pm start time (to accommodate West Coast participants, a few of whom, I’m thankful to note, were present) that is supremely wearing on me, as this type of teaching seems to demand an energy level more difficult to tap 7½ hours into my business day.

The week’s one conference facilitation gig (my other public responsibility — and hey, it’s July!) turned out also to be about teaching, although that was not the intention of that meeting’s leader, nor mine.

Arrived at the designated conference room a few minutes earlier than the routine 30-minute lead time called for, to find a dark room, arranged poorly to accommodate my gear, and without a built in projector for the expected live audience, or a speakerphone for the conference.

Then the leader arrived, simultaneously with the caterer with a snack array (odd for an 11:00am meeting), which mystified that leader, who by the way arrived without a portable projector.

Her assistant apparently had misconstrued the purpose and intent of the meeting, which it turned out could have been much more conveniently conducted from the leader’s office, since there was no expected audience in the room; the presentation was meant to be transmitted solely to a conference room at a facility in Massachusetts.

Okay, so I walked down to the nearby Audio-Visual crew office, to request that a technician deliver and install a speakerphone (which had not been ordered by that assistant), and we determined that as it was just the presenter and me that we could forego a projector, and simply sit together at one of the 12 tables in the room and work off of my laptop.

So, with much conversation about the assistant’s misinterpretation of the leader’s instructions, which concluded with my promise to forward said person (a former student, who apparently assumed that she understood web conferencing because she took my course; well in her defense the two of us had lots of popcorn and canned soda available!) a document we created a couple of years ago and which is posted on our website titled “Successful Sametime Conferences,” a checklist which calls out key requirements like projectors and speakerphones.

But as we waited for the 11:00am conference start, the discussion turned to what she does: Corporate Learning and Development, and her group’s increasing need to respond to the globalization of our employer. It is a small measure of the silos permeating HCA that she had no idea of what I do (the teaching part I mean) or how I deliver it. And we’re both part of same broad corporate organization.

Meanwhile, we sat on the phone, and in the web conference, patiently awaiting our Massachusetts audience to join us. 11:00am goes by, 11:05, 11:10, nada.

She gets up and uses the house phone outside the room to contact a different assistant, who phoned back shortly thereafter to report that the HR manager at the other end who had requested the presentation, and had called more than once to confirm that it was on the schedule, had suddenly that morning decided that her team had higher priorities that day and had unilaterally canceled the session, apparently without notifying anyone outside of Massachusetts. Ouch.

And, while my direct customer is not the subject of this next Life Lesson, her customers certainly qualify:


So, a lot of furor for nothing. But, a good outcome, selfishly for me, and perhaps for her organization, since I was told that I will be asked to an upcoming meeting of the Learning and Development management team to discuss my globe-spanning technology (and perhaps more?).

What on earth took them so long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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mudge’s musings

So, a good day, professionally. And I knew it by 10:00am.

mm002: Web Conferencing

That’s my thing, collaboration via the web. In this day of the public Web 2.0 this sounds routine, and pretty much a given, but not necessarily in a corporate environment. Here we’re protected by firewalls with fierce bulldogs of security types to maintain and defend them. And most of all, we corporate types are often hemmed in by our “we do it this way because we always do it this way” leg irons.

I support web conferencing for my employer, and have done so pretty much full time for nearly five years, filling a need, and a niche no one really knew existed. I teach our technology (on-line of course), participate on the technical team that supports the tool, and facilitate key meetings. Today’s meeting wasn’t key per se, but it was important to the people who organized it and thus to me.

An attorney came into headquarters from Germany to discuss arcane, but important, legal issues for a small group of our corporate attorneys here. We supported the meeting via web conferencing, which in our hybrid world means a conventional telephone conference augmented with a web conference loaded up with the speaker’s presentation. I sat at the rear of the room, having spent a little while earlier in the morning taking in the speaker’s presentation in email and converting it to a format enabling efficient transmission on line.

While the presenter advanced the presentation slides on his laptop connected to the meeting room’s projector, I mirrored his actions in the web conference, enabling the remote attendees to see what the people in the meeting room could see. Nothing that wasn’t ordinary. Except the participant list. This little meeting, one of dozens running at the same time in our organization, had a very small list of on-line participants. From Ohio, California, Canada, and Southeast Asia, where the meeting began at 2100 hrs, 9:00pm! Call me naïve, but I continue to be impressed that I’m able to assist our global enterprise to be global.

And it made my day. How very un-mudge of me!


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mm010: Day in the life

MUDGE’s Musings

Started the day at a satellite facility, here at HCA (how many times do I need to tell you this: Heart of Corporate America, not the name of the real company for whom I work!). Always an adventure, and about 15 minutes further than the standard morning commute.

It’s easier to park there than in previous years (I even once worked for several months on this campus), since many operations have apparently been sold off or closed. Stark evidence of this: the wreckers have leveled a bunch of buildings. My contact here tells me that this gets them off of the tax rolls. Imagine the taxes. Our own property taxes were reassessed for this year, and are up a mere 81%. Maybe tearing down our place would help.

So, arriving somewhat early I stop in the cafeteria to grab the day’s first DMD and check my Blackberry for activity. Ouch — two urgent notes from a longtime client finding errors on the server and absolutely certain it’s something she’s done wrong. No, as it turns out, the server that supports our conferencing system has gone down, as a newly appearing notice advises me. I get on the phone to let my party know that it’s not her, it’s us (is this all really like dating?). Now I’m worried about the meeting I’m there to support, due to start soon.

I get to the conference room at which I’m expected, and wait for my principal, who eventually arrives, sets up and connects his PC to our server, which is actually working (whew!) by the time he’s ready for it. The room is an awkward mix: high tech intentions (built in projector and speaker phone) and low tech workarounds due to indifferent maintenance, typical of a satellite site in my experience. So, my client is never sure the phone is going to work (it is controlled like a TV via remote to an infrared port mounted high in the audio/visual closet), and is so certain that the projector won’t work that he brings his own portable. They couldn’t fix the ceiling-mounted original, but they were good enough to provide him an under floor path for the cable that connects the podium with the table that supports the portable projector. Odd.

I’m present for the second time at one of these regular meetings because there have been web conference based issues in the past that my client is working hard to resolve. The connection is to one of our sites in the UK, where they’ve had consistent connection issues. In fact, at a test session last week, the UK manager in question admitted that other technology from that site seems to experience connection issues — perhaps not the site entirely, but certainly the conference room used regularly for these staff sessions.

So, I had my trepidations anyway, before the server issue at the beginning of the day was known (turns out that this was the 2nd of three such failures over the past 24 hours — ugh!). The conference room filled to overflowing, the people from the UK, less that manager who happened to be returning home from a visit to HQ, joined on the phone and the meeting began.

About 20 minutes into a typically arcane not to say stultifying briefing, as I stood in the back, the UK contingent admitted that they were having trouble with my technology, because they didn’t have a projector. I said (out loud I’m afraid) “I can help with the web conference, but I can’t help with a projector problem from here,” ascertained that indeed there was no other connection to the meeting, turned around and left to drive to my office, to prepare for a practice session scheduled later that hour.

I’m not happy about my abrupt departure, but it feels so futile at times like this. Tough enough to get the technology to work consistently, even five years in, only to be stopped because the minions overseas, without their manager to provide for them, didn’t have a projector with which to view the conference.

It gets better. No, I mean it, not ironically.

Conducted a couple of practice sessions for people with immediate meeting needs and unable to attend in a timely manner (or ignorant of) the advanced on-line class I teach for the technology I support. Spending about 30 minutes with each was typically rewarding — can’t beat one to one training. These days my regular classes can have between eight and 28 attendees, with the larger number assuring dilution of whatever telephonic charisma I might possess to an infinitesimal level. But, my feedback is still pretty good notwithstanding.

Server went down again mid-afternoon, and I’ve become concerned because my biggest client (in number and size of meetings), supporting our most important commercial product, has two meetings tomorrow. I’ve made arrangements to handle things on the backup server, but that’s a communication issue as much as a technological one (how to get the new URL to people in a timely, yet graceful [i.e., without impacting or delaying delivery of the critical training content] fashion). Is that last sentence convoluted enough? I’m reading (hearing actually) Melville for the first time since a high school senior, and now I understand where my propensity for chapter long sentences comes from!

So, those clients just called me — hard at work editing tomorrow’s presentation they missed my reply to late yesterday’s memo regarding the video they want to include. I have reservations that they’re going to like it they way they’ve presented it to me, so I’ll stay late today so we can run a test to show it to them.

I really do love my customers, even (especially, since they keep me in string cheese!) the clueless ones.


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mm018: Surprise!

MUDGE’s Musings

Surprising myself, I am a teacher.

Not under-qualified, apparently, but under-credentialed certainly, I spend a good portion of my working week teaching adult fellow employees how to use the software tool our team supports.

Because of the under-credentialed thing (I am a 20?? graduate of Hard Knox U), I never really thought of myself as teaching material. Indeed, when I came up onto the scene, there was something, forgive me all the teachers in my life, including my supremely patient spouse, something declassé about the “profession” of teaching. It certainly didn’t seem to pay a lot, and that derisive slogan (“them that can’t, teach”) must have colored my opinion early on.

Silly me. No, unless one is tenured at some golden suburban secondary school or first rank university, teaching is still a depressingly under-compensated career. And kids today! I have nothing but awe for those who daily (except for three blessed months during the summer, you fiends!) face today’s MTV’d, video-gamed, reading-free children.

But, I teach adults in a corporate setting. And, better yet, I teach them remotely, via web conference, which provides some excellent insulation: I can’t witness them dozing off, doodling, or (I hope they’ve muted their phone so I can’t hear them) answering email. And by my benighted standards, the pay is acceptable, the benefits better than expected, and I’m not at risk from receiving angry phone calls from parents of misunderstood students.

The dozing off thing comes to mind because yesterday morning I engaged in one of my rare personal appearances. One glance at the blurry photo adorning this page (blurry for public safety reasons) will convince you of the truth of my oft stated slogan: I’ve always been told that I have a great face for radio. But there I was, presenting my technology to the last group in the local area of my employer apparently unaware of it, and I watched a woman deal with my presence and presentation through closed eyes. I was envious.

But, my classes, two to three a week, are conducted via web conference. For the uninitiated, a web conference consists of a telephone conference that accompanies visual material presented from a web site. This visual material can be static, like a presentation, or dynamic, like a demonstration of a live application, but it does not include video of the speaker or participants.

The web conference as teaching medium is a blessing and a challenge. A blessing for some of the reasons noted above (the dozing, the doodling, the email). But a challenge because I am stripped down to my essentials, my voice and how I deliver it. That’s where the radio comment rings so true, since what I have become is not so much a teacher but a radio actor, a genre that seemingly only Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion keeps alive today. I need to engage people by projecting my knowledge and enthusiasm across the wire, for one to two hours at a time, solo.

No wonder I’m worn out at the end of the day. Today was that kind of day. My two-hour advanced topics class, begun at 3pm Central time to accommodate the occasional participant from the West Coast, of whom there was one representative today, I am happy to report. Because a 3pm start of this arduous exercise is tough enough, without the disappointment of realizing that I’ve accommodated no one. It’s like the 8am classes I teach several times a month, designed to enable attendance during the work day for the occasional Western Europe student; I am disappointed to have to work so hard, undercaffeinated, without the payoff of a UK or Netherlands or German participant.

But, the end of day classes are the toughest for me. Not the material, I’ve got that locked down solid. It’s that corporate advantage again: do the same thing enough times and be appreciated for it. But just the fatigue that comes from performing, emoting really, with unknown or insufficient feedback. Most of those radio programs that people are nostalgic for, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, and the like, and today’s Prairie Home, were/are performed in a studio with an audience of some kind, because actors require feedback. I get some, sometimes, and people are usually more than kind when they fill out our end of session survey. But, it’s a large emotional expenditure with little payoff, short of knowing that the biweekly direct deposit can still be depended upon.

And that’s enough. So, I teach, as I say, surprising myself several times a week. After nearly five years, that’s a happy outcome.

It’s it for now.


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mm043: Rip van Mudge awakes!

MUDGE’S Musings

This blog, having just become active less than 60 days ago, is the symptom of a quickening of interest in life, in the world and its politics, in my career. especially, that is most unexpected, even unlikely, at my (corporate reference only!) advanced age.

Don’t misread me, I’ve always been ferociously interested in my career, especially the part where the electronic deposit to my bank occurs like clockwork every second Thursday. And especially the global collaboration part, in my position as evangelist for our enterprise’s web conferencing tool, a role I’ve played to rave reviews for more than four years.

But, the career development part here in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, remember, not it’s real name!) I’ve left dormant.

One, because I’ve been there and done that. At times in my life I’ve carried the big titles like corporate controller and vice president operations, often in lieu of deserved remuneration. But they were more than titles, and I have frequently had occasion to exercise my management muscles as well as my (earned at Hard Knox U, class of 20??) finance competencies.

Second, because, I’m not sure I need the bigger aggravation that comes with the bigger bucks.

Third, because as I might have mentioned and that I really need to make clear, I really, really love what I do, and I’m pretty good at it as a result. Why move out of a comfort zone?

You might well ask what bee stung my dozing nose (how did R.v.W. wake up anyway?) and caused me to think these previously unthinkable thoughts? A year ago the program manager for the technologies I support became our people manager also, a well deserved promotion for her. I’ve always found her highly competent yet easy to work with, and the role expansion went quite smoothly. She (like most everybody else I work with) is some years younger than I, so for that as well as all the other expected reasons it came as quite a shock to her team earlier this year when she announced her imminent retirement.

She’s served the HCA for an order of magnitude longer than have I, and despite her relatively young age and good health (of course, from their point of view just because of those things!), she and her husband are taking the very good money and running far away from corporate and metropolitan life.

Well they finally got around to posting her job this past week, and damned if I don’t think that I’m highly qualified to fill the position. Yeah, the management money (not quite high enough for the super bonus status that department directors receive, but I figure it’s got to represent an increase) would be welcomed, but more to the point I think that I’ve lately figured out that I also once again have the stomach for the management aggravation.

So, come morning, I’m going for it. Have been working today polishing up my résumé (something I had rather hoped not to have to do quite so soon! Go figure…) and a suitable cover letter.

And I’m back in harness in the most important job all of us have ever done professionally — applying for a new job.

This will be no tip-in folks:

  • Issue: I’m not your likely candidate as I’m an “individual role player” rather than an experienced (at HCA) manager. Response: I do have extensive operations, people and financial management experience. There is a world outside the HCA, and I’ve had some success managing there.
  • Issue: As a person probably eight years older than the retiring(!) incumbent I’m going to face (at least I would expect to face, even if employment law forces them into inference rather than overt speech) questions about my anticipated plans in that direction. Response: Way back in mm001 I discussed my retirement story. Place me in this position and they’ve got me for at least 15 more years — i.e., as long as they can stand me!
    • Issue: Finally, what I do in my chosen field, supporting global web conferencing by teaching it (over 3,200 satisfied customers and counting, thank you very much) and facilitating mission critical meetings, is unique to the enterprise (if not the world!) and there is no likely person nearby with the passion, skills and talent, moreover the interest to backfill my position, whereas experienced managers are a dime a dozen here at the corporate HQ of HCA. Response: I’ve worked with this team for over four years, with the underlying technology for five. I well know: the technology; our technical experts (and have their respect I believe) who are my teammates; our enterprise colleagues and our vendor with which entities we must interact closely; and finally our customers (because of my role and how I perform it no one knows them better). And I’m a training specialist — put someone in place to replace me and just watch how fast I get her up to speed. That I have done before here.

So, for all of the above issues I consider this a long shot indeed. But it appears that, despite my own expectations, I’m ready for new challenges, even if the likely increased compensation is itself compensated by increased pummeling that comes with the management role. But, newly awakened as I am, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


Quote of the Day:
Men achieve a certain greatness unawares, when working to another aim.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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mm061: Back from vacation…

MUDGE’S Musings

First day back at work after several days of vacation — not bad, but a comedown from the blogstorm of the past few days, as the first opportunity to write at all, or read for that matter, has come after 8:00pm, seldom MUDGE’S sharpest hours.

Those of you seeking to read more about Michael Bloomberg here will be disappointed, since on that subject I know very little more than I did yesterday. I’ll even control myself and not put his name in today’s tags. Such restraint! I’ve struck some kind of nerve, since those posts have exceeded interest in everything else I’ve had to say by an order of magnitude.

Your interest is my interest. More on Bloomberg will follow. But not tonight.

Several posts ago I wrote about my spiritual renaissance, one manifestation of which are these electrons you peruse, and another that I determined to apply for my retiring manager’s open position. Did so just before leaving for that stay-at-home vacation last week.

No word on the application as yet, although my intuition is that the manager and the department head are content to let HR do the dirty work. You’ll remember HR: don’t call me, we’ll call you. One of the known candidates was in town today lunching with the incumbent; appears that the fix may already be in.

I don’t really mind rejection; I get white hot when not taken seriously.

Well I still love my job — remember? Tsar of Web Conferencing! I’m sure that long term I’ll be a happier camper than counselor. Still…

BTW, thanks for the kind response to mm060 from kindred spirit ClapSo. The word for my lovely, extraordinarily patient wife is not saint, a concept foreign to our heritage, but rather, valorous.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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mm067: By the way, I do earn a living!

MUDGE’S Musings

I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!

Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.

My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.

Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.

I had been part of a vigorous corporate information technology department of 155 people, getting real work done, largely supporting a marketing organization that had just launched a blockbuster product. Our “partners” swept in shortly after the “merger,” and told us there were jobs for each and every one. 1,000 miles away. Five of us took them up on their kind offer; the rest of us took a severance package.

So there I was, with a lengthy résumé, but not much current IT experience, but what was current was useful: Documentum, a complex but growing document management system, and Lotus Notes, the collaboration environment beloved of many large corporations for its rock-solid email system as well as its rapid database development feature.

The Documentum piece got me a 4-month consulting gig at HCA, doomed to frustration as the hiring manager, whose vision had created the opening I filled, cheerfully moved onward and upward (and to another campus) about a week after I reported for duty.

After a two-month interval, I was interviewed for a business analyst position by another team in the same division, and what got me the consulting gig, six months long but renewed several times, was tucked away on page two of the position description: experience with telephone and video conferencing.

I had that experience. Our Documentum team at my previous employer had outposts in several cities in the US and Europe, and, while I didn’t create the bi-weekly telephone conferences (and the occasional video conference) that the head of the corporate team had established, I did a great deal of the heavy lifting there: I published the invitations, agendas, prompt minutes; and led most of the meetings with a relaxed and welcoming style that created esprit de corps among people who had never met. We weathered the Y2K circus with ease, thanks to the cooperation and collaborative successes engendered in those bi-weekly (in 1999, weekly) sessions.

Yes, I could talk the talk about conferencing. And almost immediately after I started, additional to the conventional Lotus Notes business analysis work I had been assigned, I was asked to go see the division’s key contact for a web conferencing pilot then underway, using Lotus’ product called Sametime. The manager in question said, “thanks for coming over. Have a seat at my desk. Here is hard copy of the presentation. We’re about to demonstrate the tool in a web conference. Why don’t you lead it?”

With that sudden immersion, I never looked back. Indeed, I have led countless demonstrations since (with a good deal more assurance than that first, sweaty session). I have taught over 3,000 students the tool, all using the technology to teach the technology, in order to provide tactile, experiential learning, key for adult learners. I have surveys from 130 of the most recent of those classes, going back nearly 18 months, and my composite score is 4+ on a 1-5 scale. I facilitate key meetings, remotely from my desk as well as on location in offices and conference rooms on-site and offsite. And yes, both my corporate email signature, and my business card contain the title, “Mr. Sametime.”

My passion for collaboration created a niche for me in HCA, and by the way, has led to significant cost savings. Using IBM Lotus methodology for an analysis earlier this year, I made a believable case for $5 million in travel avoided last year; a number I think is conservative. HCA has over 60,000 employees in 130 nations around the world. Imagine not having to fly 16 regional managers from Latin America to Miami for training just as effectively delivered and received in one’s office! Just eliminating cross-campus and cross-county travel to meetings large and small in and around Corporate HQ must provide hundreds of hours of productivity savings daily.

Finally, I try to keep my passion pure, as it were. Yesterday, I was asked to participate in a bi-weekly telephone conference with a group of field-based high powered advance-degree technical managers, as there were questions about the web conferencing tool they were concerned about. The upshot? I cheerfully directed them to a third-party outside resource. Yes, a more expensive solution than my in-house one. But in their field application, the outside resource is, I believe, the more effective answer. As I told them, just because I have a (most wonderful) hammer, not every client’s problem is a nail.

Finally, I did apply for my soon to retire manager’s position, as I previously reported I would. And, as is their wont, HR never communicated one word to me beyond the automated receipt of the on-line application (don’t you dare call us — we’ll call you).

I’m not management material at HCA, that is obvious, and of course I’m disappointed, but as I said previously, I do love what I do, and where I do it. Some would ask: why on earth would you screw that up by moving into bean-counting-obsessed management?

Why, indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW004: Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works


Web Conferencing Week

I do web conferencing. But you might be surprised that videoconferencing is often what my web conference supplements — right there in the conference room.

Videoconferences predate web conferences by many years; although the state of the art is still as primitive as it is, one reluctantly admits, for web conferencing.

It’s all about the bandwidth.

Let’s take a look at this recent story from Computerworld, regarding what appears to be a pricey, but better, mousetrap for the videoconference process.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works


Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

It’s still not cheap, but telepresence technology takes videoconferencing a giant step forward. And did we mention that it’s really cool?

John Dickinson

July 31, 2007 (Computerworld) — If necessity really were the mother of invention, enterprises and small businesses would by now have highly functional, standardized videoconferencing and collaboration technology at their disposal. Instead, travel across the continent and around the world remains the dominant collaboration paradigm, despite the ever-increasing pressure of time-consuming security requirements and budget-killing airfare and hotel prices.

Back in the 1960s, the old AT&T Co.’s Western Electric Group demonstrated its Picturephone to a doubting world, and the world has remained doubtful ever since. That’s because videoconferencing systems developed since then have remained expensive and unpredictable, gadgets that usually delivered small, fuzzy, herky-jerky video images, often uncoordinated with people’s voices because of communications latency and unreliability.

When the Internet came along, there was hope that Web conferencing might fill the void, even though it lacks the collaborative impact of video images, relying solely on shared documents, especially presentations. Web conferencing has not been very satisfactory, requiring reserved bandwidth, separate telephone hookups for sound and notoriously troublesome desktop technologies.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Telepresence: Finally, videoconferencing that works

I ashamedly plead guilty to all of the above limitations of web conferencing. We don’t use reserved bandwidth in our instance, and we’ve finally gotten some priority (called Quality of Service) over competing internal traffic, but bandwidth, the potential sound quality issues of the accompanying telephone conference that still is required for our web conferences due to flaky VOIP (a subject of a future rant, I’m sure) — all of this adds up to a lot of compromise.

Telepresence technology is proposed as a spendy answer to the limits of the primitive state of current videoconferencing, and may well obviate the need for my specialty, web conferencing.

Telepresence configurations can use as few as one HDTV screen or as many as 16. Screens are positioned to be at eye level when local conferees are seated, and the images on the side-by-side screens are “stitched” together so that viewers feel they’re looking at one very wide screen. Speakers are positioned so that the sound appears to emanate from the mouth of the person at the remote site who is talking, not from the center of the table or some random location elsewhere in the room.


Okay so the illustration, provided by one of the vendors, is somewhat idealized, but HOW COOL IS THAT?!

It costs how much?
Telepresence is an expensive technology, and only enterprise customers with large travel budgets can afford it. Once installed, telepresence systems are essentially free to operate, but it’s the installation that’ll get you.

A single-screen Cisco TelePresence system can be installed for $79,000 and a three-screen system for $299,000 per room, according to David Hsieh, Cisco’s director of marketing management. You have to multiply that by the number of rooms planned for the telepresence network.

Teliris VirtuaLive system costs are similar, with a single-screen room costing $60,000 and a four-screen room coming in at $250,000. Those costs include access to the Teliris dedicated network.


It’s expensive, but large enterprises, such as the one that employs yours truly has significant travel budgets, important outposts all over the globe, and the numbers just might work.

“Think of it as a nice substitute for a corporate jet,” says IDC analyst Nora Freedman. That comment is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Forrester’s Dewing thinks it is realistic. “Figure that at Cisco, they’ve cut their corporate travel budget by 6% by using their own TelePresence systems internally,” says Dewing, who is familiar with Cisco’s internal usage pattern. “I don’t know the exact number, but that’s a pretty big hit.”

The factor that remains the greatest limiter to success with this otherwise ferociously attractive technology, is as with web conferencing I’ve learned the hard way these past five years, the state of the network.

The network is key
Networking has always been the Achilles’ heel of traditional videoconferencing, and it’s still a concern with telepresence. If the video isn’t smooth and perfectly coordinated with the audio in real time, the whole system devolves to being just like traditional videoconferencing. That’s important, says Ferguson. “With traditional videoconferencing, you can only sit there for about an hour. But with telepresence technology, a two- or three-hour meeting is quite reasonable,” he says.

As a result, one vendor runs their systems on a proprietary network, increasing the opportunity for a successful connection, but obviously representing an increment over using existing corporate network facilities.

Here’s how it hits conventional web conferencing:

[Teliris’] Telepresence Gateway can also communicate with traditional videoconference technologies, such as those offered by Polycom, and Web conferencing technologies such as WebEx and Microsoft’s LiveMeeting. Teleris also offers WebConnect, a Web-based telepresence product that enables a conference participant who is unable to be at a VirtuaLive-equipped site to join a conference. As Dewing points out, you don’t need expensive telepresence for applications like telecommuting, but linking traditional systems into telepresence systems can give those applications a boost.

I’m certainly aching to learn how soon our vendor, IBM/Lotus will provide a communications interface to this awesome tool for its Sametime web conferencing tool.

Because, no one has mentioned it to me (crawling around in the trenches as I do), but I’m certain one or more of those fancy installations is either planned, or already installed somewhere in the enterprise I call home.

And, let me explain why web conferencing tools even belong in the conversation about videoconferencing.

You still need to see the presentation, and a web conference provides a very elegant solution. At some of our organization’s highest level meetings, with video going out to several important sites, I’m sitting near the audio and video techs in the room sending out the slides via web conference, because they’re much easier to read in a medium optimized for presentations. The standard procedure is to use one of the screens in the receiving videoconference rooms for the web conference feed.

Notice the illustrations above: people — big beautiful high definition people — but not documents. That’s the job of web conferencing, and I want in on that telepresence action. Soon!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW005: Four-Hundred-Thirty-One!


Web Conferencing Week

Once again, real life events overtake sketchy plans. Isn’t life like that, though? (Now I’ll need to find the quotation about life being the thing that happens while you’re planning your life.)

Got lots of interesting clipjoints to share; got a professional conference in Boston to write up (for my boss, as well as for faithful reader).

But this is too good to pass by.

I do web conferencing. You’ve more than figured that out. As a grunt in a corporate IT department that supports various collaboration technologies for a global enterprise, technologies whose common bond is its vendor, IBM, I am the informal “manager” of the customer experience for our web conferencing and instant messaging tools, IBM Lotus Sametime.

As I’ve explained, in this role I teach the use of our tools eight to 10 times per month, having developed the courseware, and delivering the classes using the web conferencing tool. One learns while using it.

Another hat worn is that of electronic meeting facilitator. As in those only semi-irritating BASF advertisements, I don’t run the meetings, I provide the technological expertise so the meetings run better. And that’s the role I was playing today, when the routine suddenly became extraordinary.

Our diversified enterprise has a tentpole product, and much of the work I’ve done over the past three years has been in support of that product’s US field sales training organization.

Today’s meeting was not another in the regular series, but rather was put together rapidly over the past few days as a new strategic initiative needed to be launched right now!

Ordinarily two meetings are presented with identical content and presenters: one at 9am or so for the central and eastern time zones; the other at 4pm or so for the western half of the country. Demographics have caused the morning meetings to routinely be quite large for our technology, often in excess of 150 connections and sometimes 200 or more. The afternoon sessions are about one-third the size of the morning ones.

Now, put this in the perspective of the technology and our experience. First, the technology: Last week at our vendor sponsored conference, several of the technical experts supporting Sametime (including the wizard who helped write the original code before Lotus bought it) confirmed that one server is designed to handle 1,000 concurrent users, with no more than 200 in any one meeting.

Now, our experience: In a typical month with several thousand scheduled meetings, more than 20 separately connected participants (and of course, some connections may represent entire conference rooms of people, but we’re talking physical connections) in a meeting is good sized, and meetings of more than 100 connections occur only two or three times per month if that, one of them no doubt being that month’s tentpole field sales morning events.

The largest meeting I’ve ever seen, and without false modesty I can say with some degree of certainty that if I haven’t seen it directly, or consulted with clients about it, it probably didn’t happen, was a division’s “all hands” meeting a couple of years ago in which I noted 296 (global!) connections at the peak, a meeting which I ran and which as a result went smoothly.

Why the emphasis on the number of connections? Web conferencing is a particularly network sensitive application, and in our current version of the software, the responsiveness of the conference rests in great measure on the number of connections, and the quality of the network through which the connections are made.

So, today’s meeting, where in order to cover all the bases (much behind the scenes work with management required to launch this complex new initiative) someone decided that the meeting should not be duplicated, but rather the entire organization should gather at noon, to get everything started without time zone delay.

Frankly, I hadn’t paid much attention to the ramifications, but as the troops gathered in the small conference room from where we originated the “broadcast,” and the field started logging in, I began to be a bit excited, concerned but excited. 100 was passed; 200 went by; 300 and the concern started to overwhelm the excitement.

By the time the sales vice president kicked off the meeting a few minutes past noon, nearly 400 people were connected. Remember network sensitivity? These were field sales people connecting via broadband from home offices, or managers in small local offices connected to the enterprise network through a secured enterprise VPN (jargon alert: Virtual Private Network).

Then, as I was quietly marveling over the still growing size of the meeting, the dire message suddenly flashed on my screen (and of course on the big screen in the conference room to which my laptop was connected): Disconnected. With the vice president seated and emoting right next to me.

[I’ve indicated before that my technologist colleagues wouldn’t have my job for any compensation, due to this up front and personal exposure when things (inevitably) go wrong.]

As I routinely do in small less equipped conference rooms, I had set up a powered mini-Ethernet hub for the benefit of others in the room; I keep this mainly for my own use, when I have one connection and two computers. Today I had one computer, but going in I wasn’t certain if one of the sales organization functionaries in the room was also going to need a connection to our meeting, and two or three others had connected to the hub.

Anyway, this less than year old piece of plastic clothed electronics chose that precise moment to crap out. Remember Murphy’s law?


Of course my first thought was that the meeting itself had been clobbered, that the server, which had experienced its first serious failure in over four months just the previous work day (during a class I was teaching that was truncated as one unhappy result), had died under the load.

No, it was the mini-hub; the meeting on the server itself, still growing, was fine, although without yours truly connected it wasn’t going anywhere, since one of the little details that can tip a meeting into the success column is that such a large meeting is locked for all but its Moderator. In other words, in a Moderated meeting, no one but the authenticated moderator can push any of the buttons to move the presentation slides. (For completists out there, the other choice is Collaboration, in which all connectors can push all of the buttons — a total no-no for a meeting larger than five.)

But at least the meeting was running. While the Veep vamped for a few moments, I pulled the network cable out of the back of the now worthless hub, plugged it directly into my laptop, performed the three-finger salute on Internet Explorer to kill it so I could restart a new instance (fortunately I didn’t have to reboot, a much lengthier process on my elderly laptop), and in a couple of tense minutes (it’s tough not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain when I’m sitting right at the conference table NEXT TO THE VP and everything going on on my PC is projected for all to see!) we were back in business. Whew.

From there it was nearly anticlimactic. In the end, I spotted 431 simultaneous connections at the peak, an absolutely stunning performance, 135 more than the previous record. Once my connection was restored, the meeting went smooth as glass, again because of network issues not always a given regardless of the number of connections. Amazing, and wonderful.

Now there are wonderful commercial alternatives out there, even for our internal people whose requirements don’t always fit the hammer I wield. But for this meeting alone, the capability of using our in house tool allowed my clients to save at least $2,500; in a billion dollar enterprise a drop in the bucket of course, but I’m a shareholder too.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW006: Quiet before the storm


Web Conferencing Week

Late summer doldrums here at the Heart of Corporate America (HCA, not my employer’s real name).

One might hope that the lull in formal activities would provide some time for reflection, and so in fact it has.

As I’ve explained before (here and here and here, for example), as do most people in corporate surroundings, I wear a multitude of hats:

  • member of the IT technical team supporting collaborative tools (email, instant messaging, web conferencing);
  • teacher of our instant messaging and web conferencing tools to our internal business clients (more than 3,500 served in five years, thank you very much!);
  • “manager of the end-user experience” as defined by our vendor’s on-site support manager — while not in the direct flow of help desk activities (at least not yet), the canniest of my 3,500 students, and their underlings and bosses, know me well enough to contact me if they have issues, and since no one on the team, or in the support arena in general has anywhere the amount of experience with our tools as have I (over six hundred classes, all conducted using web conferences, plus countless mission-critical meetings facilitated throughout the enterprise), the answer to my correspondents’ questions is probably at the ready.

As teacher, I’m always running 8-10 classes per month, although during the summer average attendance is way down.

As end-user experience manager (an honorific provided by a suck-up vendor: remember, grunt that MUDGE is, he’s manager of no one) the phone just isn’t ringing very often, as people wrap up their summers before Labor Day provides the symbolic halt to all things sunscreen.

As member of the technical team, decisions are pending and work is progressing.

HCA uses for its instant messaging and web conferencing requirements IBM Lotus Sametime.

HCA has long been a Lotus shop: Its Lotus Notes product has long been handling enterprise email and its rapid application environment supports thousands of database applications and has done so here for more than 15 years. So the choice of Sametime was not a surprise in that light.

And, indeed, Sametime is a common choice for collaboration among large corporations, seeking the rock-solid enterprise grade solution similar and related to the rock-solid technology that so well supports the earlier applications: email and databases.

The best web conferencing and instant messaging choice today?

An excellent question that is not yet on the table.

Like many issues in corporate technology, the problems faced are multi-dimensional: hardware, software, the quantity of personnel applied to the task (fortunately, personnel quality is not an issue, among the talented administrators and architects that I am fortunate to work among).

Instant messaging and web conferencing at HCA exists not as the result of an organized deployment campaign, but rather more like viral marketing. It grew out of a pilot (when I joined the company, about 5½ years ago in a related but not directly connected IT position, there were nominally 800 accounts).

And the pilot became an “extended pilot” which gradually became a production system, without ever really becoming a true, bullet proof enterprise-grade product, at least as implemented here at HCA.

Insufficient servers (both in capability and in numbers), and insufficient personnel (as above, just the numbers are insufficient — the people are champions [and they won’t read this, so trust me, I’m not sucking up!]) to keep order in an operation that has grown to more than 26,000 accounts.

This number represents less than half of the available client base, because no one knows how to handle the establishment of the necessary 30,000 new accounts efficiently, much less want to confront the reality of insufficient hardware and personnel to handle the existing organically grown client base.

And, finally, the software. HCA upgraded (quite tardily) to Sametime version 6.5 about 21 months ago, and our team has been working on upgrading to the current standard version 7.5 for nearly that long (remember the tardy part).

HCA never never never never wants to be the early adopter of anyone’s hardware or software. The 100th adopter, maybe, so we delay, by time-honored policy, both IT and fiscal, until (hopefully most of) the bugs are out.

But we really need to move on this upgrade (the 2005 upgrade from long-used version 3.1 to version 6.5 was a marketing nomenclature upgrade — to the end users it looks and acts as if it’s version 3.2!), and the delay has not been HCA’s sole doing. And version 7.5 has many new and attractive and desirable features; it would be a true upgrade.

But we’re not there yet.

And therein lies an interesting story.

But this long story will need to be continued next time, because…

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW007: About that storm…


Web Conferencing Week

Previous post in this series, hopefully (I suppose) titled “Quiet before the storm,” we commented that it had been a considerably quiet summer.

MUDGE is here to announce that, despite the 75° temperatures as this is written at 8:15pm, summer is over.

We spent the entire day today “on location” covering three large scale meetings for three different internal clients.

Alas, MUDGE is employed by a company with not only global aspirations, but a substantial global footprint.

Today’s first meeting, client: our manufacturing division, was scheduled to accommodate third-shift workers coming off shift and first shift workers grabbing a meeting before clocking in, and of course many, many employees in Europe.

In Western Europe, the meeting began at 1:00pmCET.

In the U.S. Central time zone, tech call for this 6:00am meeting was 4:30am.

There oughta be a law.

But, there ain’t.

So we rolled out of bed at 3:10am.

It’s a wonder I wasn’t decapitated shaving.

But I got there. Good thing the sedan knows the way.

Meeting went fine; there were about 40 people in the room and about 25 connected on line.

Grabbed some breakfast (fortunately, this meeting, due to be repeated two more times throughout the day [although not on line] was actually located in half of a large company cafeteria), took down my equipment (two laptops, mini network hub, cables, telephone headset with transformer for monitoring the conference audio, etc.), and literally took it all downstairs to deploy absolutely all of it again in another conference room, where a significant department of our legal division was about to begin a marathon annual meeting.

This meeting had no global aspirations, as it was important enough that the global players had all flown in for the occasion, but one or two U.S. based individuals could not get away, and at the last minute (for my calendar, a request received two business days ahead is last minute) I was asked to provide service.

So let’s talk about what I do in such a meeting with all of that equipment.

A web conference is a lovely thing to behold, when it’s sitting on a desk in front of you.

Not so great if it’s projected onto a very large screen in a large conference room.

So we split the difference.

The presentation (usually the ubiquitous PowerPoint) is run completely independent of any network involvement off of a PC connected to the conference room projector. This delivers what we call the “Steven Spielberg experience” (you know, dark room, bright screen, maybe popcorn — and they were delivering popcorn to the second meeting as I was leaving!) for the local audience.

The web conference, with all of its exposed plumbing (participant list, chat area, hand raising buttons and all) is run in parallel at the back of the room, and is thus invisible to those physically present, who might after all have tomatoes to throw if displeased with the experience.

In larger setups, such as the manufacturing meeting, the presentation is also controlled by an a/v technician at the rear table, which can be a crowded place: audio technician with his microphone receivers, amps, mixers and telephone equipment; a/v tech controlling the slides, with two PCs (need a backup after all) connected to the projection system; often a representative of the speaker to supervise, especially if the presenter is, as was true at this early morning meeting, a corporate VP; and yours truly with two more PCs, the mini hub, cabling for both, etc.

Quite a scene.

The legal division meeting had an audio tech (lots of microphones in the room — our attorneys value every single word they utter) but the meeting was run from a PC at the podium, so my two PCs occupied the space next to the audio tech, a respected friend, without other interlopers.

Seemed a lot of effort though, for just two remote participants.

Just as well, since when we left that meeting SIX HOURS LATER it was still going on. Yeah, there were some breaks, and they did provide a snack and a cold cut lunch, so it wasn’t onerous.

And, one or two of the speakers (attorneys all) were almost entertaining.


Had to leave early, as a previous commitment to my own IT division’s VP’s meeting took highest priority. Took down the PCs, the mini hubs, cables, etc. Packed it all away, trundled out to the car to drive to the north end of campus.

The third meeting of the day began a mere nine hours after the first one officially began.

For the third time today the complete setup was deployed. Dual PCs, hub, cabling — you’ve got the drill.

This one was a low budget affair. No audio tech after it began, just an ordinary Polycom speakerphone at the podium, and a portable projector in the middle of the room (a satellite cafeteria as it happened, very convenient for vital pre-meeting hydration and snacking) substituting for the built in equipment of the earlier meetings.

But it also went well, with more than 70 people connected, primarily in the U.S., as expected for a 3:00pmCT start. The previous Friday morning’s version of the same meeting in the same locale had accommodated one of the larger groups, with nearly 300 remote participants, including a bunch from overseas.

So I guess I’ve been leading a charmed life, with four critical meetings across two business days proceeding without incident.

Meanwhile, our server environment has experienced nothing but incidents. Our almost-but-not-quite-productionized past is overtaking us.

But whatever shrapnel thrown up by server failures missed me, and considering the visibility of the meetings, for that I am most grateful.

So, approximately 12 hours after arriving, and for the third time, we packed up laptops, mini network hubs, cables, extension cords etc., and dragged our bags out to the parking lot to head home.

Sometimes it can storm while it’s 80° and sunny.

But, a good day-and-a half, all things considered.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW008: Death by PowerPoint


Web Conferencing Week

Befitting MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, we encounter more PowerPoint presentations than anybody should ever inflict on any one person.

As a principal dialog of the language of business-speak, PowerPoint is ubiquitous in corporate America, not excepting the HCA where MUDGE plies his trade.

Ubiquitous, adjective, being present everywhere at once

Ubiquitous does not mean preferable in every circumstance, of course, but don’t tell that to the minions.

During the course of browsing a couple of days ago, found this short video.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Don McMillan is a very funny man.

Nothing else to say, except: eschew PowerPoint!

Eschew, verb, Avoid and stay away from deliberately; stay clear of

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW009: A marathon for the Tsar


Web Conferencing Week

Despite MUDGE‘s status as Tsar of All the Electronic Meetings, sometimes he has to work his royal butt off.

Today was such a day. Let’s take a look at the after-action report provided to his team:

The executive VP of HR (reports directly to the CEO of HCA [Heart of Corporate America, MUDGE‘s employer and thus not its real name]) conducted the third of his global all HR staff videoconferences (the first two were Ireland, October 2006, and Argentina last March) from Singapore.

These ambitious meetings included videoconference feeds to major sites, and Sametime web conferences for sites where video was unavailable, and even for those sites where video was available outside the largest venues, Sametime furnished the presentations, which were never placed on camera.

The first of two sessions, the live one, was conducted from conference space in Singapore by the VP HR and some regional colleagues, and began at 4:00pm local time. Tech call was 3:00pm, which translated to 2:00am this morning for your Sametime moderator.

Since the video feed didn’t have slides to cue from, and we were in our home office, we arranged with the event producer to have her on the phone cuing us with a signal for the next slide. We had been furnished a now obsolete script, which apparently had been much modified since last Friday when she emailed it to us just before stepping onto a plane to wing her and the crew 22 hours to Singapore.

We were simultaneously monitoring the audio conference, to be sure that the Sametime audience could hear the speakers and this extra step proved important, as the telephone conference people needed to be told to use the feed from the video conferencing bridge (somewhere in the U.S., I believe); getting this straight delayed the beginning of the conference by a few minutes.

So we spent the meeting with one headset (connected to my home land line) listening to the speakers from half a world away in the audio conference, and my Blackberry’s Bluetooth headset in the other ear getting next slide cues from the producer, and later, relaying some questions received from the remote audience via Sametime’s Public Chat to the representative of HR Public Affairs who was coordinating in Singapore and who read out the questions to the speakers.

The only disappointment to an otherwise successful meeting (and it was completely successful as far as the client is concerned) was due to the heavily graphic-intensive nature of the latter part of the presentation, which consisted of about 34 high resolution picture postcards of Singapore, as a backdrop to an interview between an HR executive and a local client. Because of those graphics, and the fact that the connections were in Europe and especially many sites in Asia, response to Next Page signals was delayed by up to two minutes, instead of the 23 seconds allocated. Because these were generic photographs, not much was missed when so many slides needed to be skipped due to the delays.

Among the 38 Sametime connections were participants in the UK, Taiwan, the Philippines, a couple of sites in Japan, Egypt, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Seoul, our home county, Norway, Ireland, Madrid, Hungary, Bangkok, India, Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Some of these were large videoconference and ordinary non-video conference rooms with many participants, watching the video and/or the slides via our web conferencing feed.

There was serious talk earlier this year (I even had an itinerary sent me by Corporate Travel) of sending me with the crew to Singapore, as it was believed that the technical challenges required a Sametime expert on site. I admit that I was intrigued by the possibility of seeing an exotic locale on HR’s dime, but also was affronted: Sametime is a tool meant to reduce travel expenses — what kind of example would be set if they sent the Tsar himself across 13 time zones and put him up for five, five-star hotel nights for two 1-1/4 hour meetings?

The fact that cooler heads prevailed, and kept me in the U.S. turned out for the best, as the first communication from the event producer at about 2amCDT (yes, 2am — a very groggy Tsar indeed took her call) was to let me know that she could not get a consistent Internet connection from the meeting room, and was never able to connect to Sametime from there. Imagine the frustration if the person tasked with moderating the Sametime meeting couldn’t get a connection!

The 10amCDT meeting, for which your correspondent was in place for a technical check by 7:30am, was a rebroadcast of the earlier meeting for the U.S., Canada and Latin America. It was also a complex meeting, as it consisted of the recorded videoconference that had ended less than 6 hours earlier packaged and sent electronically to the video conference bridge, for forwarding, plus a live video feed from the meeting center in Singapore for questions from that second meeting.

The recorded and live video was received in AP6D Cafeteria, and several other sites in the U.S. (California and Ohio) and again Sametime provided the slides for the video (outside the main venue) and for people connecting from their desks or conference rooms without video. the video conference bridge also fed the Sametime audio conference.

Although this meeting was technically complex, again with the event producer (now the shoe was on the other foot, with this second meeting beginning at 11pm in Singapore) cuing the slides for the main venue to a graphics technician, and yours truly controlling Sametime to follow those visual cues, it all went quite smoothly, and the heavily graphic slides had no difficulty advancing on time, apparently due to the more robust network connections in the Western Hemisphere.

Great credit goes to the very able technical people on site here: Larry the enterprise videoconference expert; Steve , working the presentations; and especially the highly competent and extraordinarily calm (in the face of today’s countless last minute bombshells) audio technician, Eric. Thanks guys!

There were 79 connections to this second meeting, from Colombia, Mexico City, Venezuela, several sites in California, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Peru, Ecuador, Massachusetts, Quebec and Ontario in Canada, and New Jersey, among others.

Fascinating what’s happening to the heart of corporate America. It’s globalizing with a speed that might cause whiplash. Look at the above lists of meeting participation for both sessions.

Indeed, saw a quote in Business Week at lunch today (sorry, too tired to root it out guys) where the CEO of Intel wondered whether his company could really be called an American one any more. Wow!

The really good news: this meeting wouldn’t have worked at all without Sametime providing the presentation slides, which it did for every video conference room except the originator in Singapore (for the first meeting) and the local meeting venue (for the second). And the presentation, with its heavy graphics, wouldn’t have been successful without using the Sametime Whiteboard, although for the earlier Asia/Europe meeting I believe that network connectivity in Asian sites limited performance.

A wise developer from IBM Lotus, Sametime’s vendor, once characterized his product as the world’s best network sniffer. In other words, if there’s even one narrow bandwidth connection in one’s meeting, Sametime will react in an attention-getting fashion, as it waits (and waits and waits) for handshake signals from each node in the call, as it sends out its graphic content.

But, all in all, the day’s two high profile meetings (sort of career limiting to disappoint the top executive in HR!) went well; the web conferencing infrastructure, so ably maintained by MUDGE‘s overtaxed coworkers, behaved itself. Sigh of relief!

Later the same day (this day! It will be shortly before 9pm when this gets posted, on this day that began for MUDGE with a cell phone alarm beeping at 1:40am) we spent considerable time writing the above report to the team, and then met a commitment to teach a 90-minute class on web conferencing.

The class had been scheduled several months in advance, in the expectation that the Singapore adventure would occur next week; a corporate bigwig changed his mind — what a shock! — but I didn’t feel I could reschedule a class that people had been registered for for many weeks.

The class, one of three taught this week (average is 8-10 per month) was conducted for five students (via a web conference, of course) two of whom were connecting from home offices in Washington state and Florida. Ah, the power of collaborative tools!

A marathon for the Tsar, indeed. But even a curmudgeon can earn himself a smile, if not other royal trappings, for jobs well done.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW010: Telepresence update


Web Conferencing Week

MUDGE’S Musings

Telepresence. An attractive concept for the Bentley and brie set, I guess. But, intriguing all the same (how the other .05% lives, an entire publishing industry has grown up around our fascination with how the [inordinately? unworthy?] rich spend their money and time).

From a trade publication titled Collaboration Loop: Collaborative Technologies in the Enterprise, comes a useful update to this topic covered in WcW004 some time ago.


October 12, 2007
By Melanie Turek

ImageI recently got an update on Cisco’s telepresence initiative, and some of the facts are interesting. Clearly, there’s plenty of value in telepresence. At Frost & Sullivan, we expect the market to grow from $27.6 million to $610.5 million between 2006-2011, with a compound annual growth rate (GAGR) of 55.6%.

Not surprisingly, then, Cisco says telepresence is one of the fastest-selling products in the company’s history—Cisco has 50 new customers since introducing its telepresence systems 11months ago, and “huge” quarter-over-quarter growth, according to David Hsieh, Cisco’s CMO for Emerging Technologies. The company won’t report the number of sites per customer, but Hsieh says that most customers deploy two to five units initially, and that at least five customers initially deployed 10 units or more. Large customers are not hesitating to buy the product, he says, but the cost of bandwidth does determine deployments (and may explain why the majority of customers are US-based). “Seed, adopt, expand” is the typical deployment model.

I just must reprint (from Cisco by way of Computerworld, as printed in the original post) one of the illustrations, sadly lacking in this story, because of the all too true cliché that a picture is worth 22,473 (of MUDGE‘s) words.


Who wouldn’t want to participate in such a conference? No travel time. No jet lag!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Collaboration Loop – Telepresence Case Studies: Real-World Applications (And, Is It Right for You?)

Wildly costly, now, but immensely, seductively attractive, if one can make those numbers work.

For the largest of companies, as the Wachovia example quoted, the numbers are not daunting.

Finally, look at the quoted anecdotal example of travel reduction:

On a personal note, UC VP and GM Rick McConnell says he’s cut his own travel by almost 40% thanks to the company’s telepresence solutions—going from 200,000 miles in 2006 to around 120,000 this year. He hopes to get that down “way below 100K” in 2008. (Which begs the question, is Cisco now competing with United Airlines et. al.? Hmmm…)

So, let me get this straight. I have two options. I can take the limo to the airport, fight through security even with my premium status, wait in the airline’s private lounge while my flight is delayed for the fourth time this month, etc. etc. etc.

Or, I can walk down the hall, engage my customer or colleagues two or twelve time zones away from the comfort of the new telepresence conference room, and be home to catch my daughter’s soccer championship that evening.

A paradigm changing technology, indeed!

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW011: A week in the (professional) life


Web Conferencing Week

All right, it’s been a lot more than a week since the last of this series appeared. Actually, about 26 weeks. Ouch!

It’s been a time.

Began this post with the aim of sharing what’s been a roller-coaster of a week. So, we’ll try that, but read on beyond the quotidian carryings on to see what’s really underlying the lengthy delay between what I had hoped would become a more predictably episodic series.

Wearing all of my hats this week.

Teaching. I teach web conferencing to my fellow employees; ran some numbers the other day. 650 classes of one to two hours duration; more than 3,900 participants collectively in 5-1/2 years. This is harder than it sounds (you scoff: one to two hours!). All of these classes are conducted on line via the web conferencing product that I’m endeavoring to teach, together with a telephone conference call to provide the audio.

Rather like the radio, in that you are performing for people whom you cannot see, and whose only impression of you is what they hear, and the static slides they see on their computer screen. Takes a great deal of emotive energy.

I’m pretty good. My feedback surveys say so. This week, I’ve taught two regular classes, and two more special one-hour rather more free-form sessions directed at participants in our pilot of the new, much improved version of our product that we’re endeavoring to roll out to full production in less than three months. This is a heavier load than usual, due to the pilot, and there still is one more pilot session scheduled for tomorrow morning as I write this, together with three more early next week, along with the two regularly scheduled ones.

Technical consultant. While our web conferencing tool, IBM Lotus Sametime, sametime

is self service (“even your manager can do it!” … if she takes my training), there are many occasions where a meeting has requirements that an amateur, no matter how many advanced degrees s/he possesses needs specialist assistance to put a meeting “on the air.” That’s where I come in. In fact, so frequently and (usually) competently do I perform this service that I’m known as “Mr. Sametime” among those in the know. I even added it to my business card. So there was a lot of that going on this week, as is often the situation.

Frequently it means I’m dispatched to large conference rooms trailing not one but two laptop computers (the better to have a backup); a tricky experience these days as I’m still stomping around in my “fracture walker” boot, attempting to heal a recalcitrant Achilles tendon that’s torn.

Had one fascinating meeting this week. A new VP in HR was speaking to his newly combined team: more than 100 in the conference room and 40 more connecting via web conference. Other numbers in this series have talked of the technical details of such a broadcast.

This one was routine, except that the speaker, a person fairly new to HCA, was as effective a speaker as these tired ears have encountered here. And by the way, while we’re throwing out numbers, I’ve heard a lot of speakers. During the four years I have been offering my talents in this role, I have logged more than 700 meetings, with more than 19,000 remotely connected participants.

I’ve heard lots of speakers, on a myriad of topics, very often numbingly technical, sometimes usefully relatable.

Our speaker on Monday was one of those. HR. I’m human (some might wonder). So I could relate, and this man was simply outstanding.

One measure. From my station at the back of the room, mirroring the presentation slides for the remote attendees as they were shown on the projection screen for the in-person audience, I watched three people, seated on purpose in the last row (like church, someone observed, the seats in these events tend to fill in from the back forward), gabbing and making faces (“I’ve heard this all before”) as our speaker began. By the end, more than a spell-binding hour later, they were very carefully taking notes and generally paying close attention.

I wrote him afterward, and told him, based on what he’d said, and how he’d so eloquently expressed his philosophy, I’d work for him in a heartbeat. That’s how impressed this jaded curmudgeon was.

His assistant was also a refreshing change from so many I’ve dealt with. As I wrote to her boss: she was “organized, informed and accomplished… attentive to all the details that spell the difference between a smooth running event, and one that could have stumbled awkwardly. She knew what she didn’t know, and took the necessary steps to fill the gaps.”

I quote the above not because I’m so enamored of my writing (though of course I am, I don’t have to tell that to faithful reader!), but it serves as a contrast to an experience I had today.

The assistant I worked with today operates with confidence. She knows what she doesn’t know, and she knows who to call to have it taken care of. I’ve worked for her on various meetings for several years; she’s taken my classes. She’s learned very little, unfortunately.

Let’s assume that the assistant to the VP I worked with and this second person are around the same age, probably early to mid 30s. Let’s assume that they both have 10 years experience. For the assistant to the VP, no question: 10 fruitful years experience. For the second person, sorry to say, one year of experience repeated 10 times.

Project team. As a member of the team (the “non-technical,” “user experience manager” member) I have been asked to spearhead the preparation and launch of a homegrown extension of the web conferencing product that was designed by a couple of our star developers/architects to add necessary enhancements to our client’s overall experience.

This is unaccustomed territory, but, then again, perhaps not. Responsibility without real authority is pretty much the story of a 42 year career.

So, I’ve been busier than usual, as our stars circle back to me between meeting and teaching gigs, to verify scenarios and have me test the latest iteration.

And, as the person responsible for the team’s instant messaging / web conferencing informational website, I’m working with the developers who will be porting that to a more modern intranet site. Meant logging some hours in Visio. Never my favorite endeavor, I was quite rusty, but the rather odd output (my systems analyst days were a long, long time ago) has apparently been taken seriously. Go figure.

Also, I’ll be presenting our technology at an internal global IT event next month, and I’ve been working on those slides, which I needed to complete before we’re off on vacation (in a week!). It will be a change for the guy who has a great face for radio. An audience in the room? Who can throw tomatoes? Not a problem.

Sound like a busy week?

Yes, but that’s not what’s really going on…

Typical corporate turbulence. Things don’t seem broken, but they need to be fixed regardless. How else to justify those expensive consultants, after all.

Got so bad, the senior director of the department, whom at one singular time for a couple of years I had actually directly reported to, tearfully announced her resignation. No, she insisted publicly, it’s not because of the looming reorganization; the stresses of the job are impacting her health. Uh huh.

This is rather a disappointment, actually, her leaving. The Heart of Corporate America has 70,000 employees globally, and about four of them understood exactly what I do and where I fit in the magnificently complex, extravagantly bureaucratic beehive.

One, an early fan, amazingly, was the CIO, one of the corporation’s top ranking women. In my early days in the department, while still a contractor, I worked a number of her meetings. She was quite sharp (and not just because she appreciated my abilities). But, she had put in her 25 years, built a nice retirement package and thus retired several years ago, at a remarkably youthful age.

Another, the divisional vice president of our sector of corporate IT, was also cognizant of the quirky usefulness of yr (justifiably) humble svt. She logged her 30th year, the stock market was up; and retired a couple of years ago. Her replacement has taken those two years of disengagement to figure things out; I firmly believe that he’s the reason my department head has chosen this juncture to escape.

The third, a program manager with responsibilities toward our web conferencing product area, among many very large ones, a tremendously competent person who worked closely with me even before I joined the department, put in her 29 years, and happily retired last summer.

And now, our department head leaves forlornly, leaving yours truly surrounded effectively by strangers.

Typical corporate turbulence. And a stark illustration of corporate success. All these talented people have been around for so long, obviously long since having figured out how to weather the regular cycles of bureaucrats fixing what needn’t be fixed, because how else do they justify their staff positions. And MUDGE’s golden four all worked the system for all it’s worth, and have taken the money, all while still in their 50s, and run. I’m envious, I guess.

And your correspondent, having kicked around through thin and thinner, finally experiencing what amounts to the most successful years of his career, feels once again that he’s teetering on the brink, once again fiddling on the roof, with nary a centime to fall back on.

Everybody knows me. Nobody understands what I do.

Hardly a recipe for corporate longevity.

It was ever thus. I come from a very, very long line of rooftop musicians.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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WcW012: A rare public appearance

Web Conferencing Week

Once again, this occasional series has failed in its nominal attempt to appear on any kind of regular basis. Not so much a lack of enthusiasm as simply a lack of news.

I’ve been working with the team that is preparing to roll out the latest and greatest version of our software, IBM Lotus Sametime, testing, preparing the teaching curriculum, and generally filling the gaps in a very extensive task list. The effort has been lengthy, not least because of its magnitude, especially when measured against the minute size of the team. Really, there are just two people in the enterprise with full time responsibilities for the Sametime collaboration tools; thankfully the other is a tremendously gifted, spirited and hard-working technical architect who works out of his home office in Colorado.

Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel has resolved itself: it’s NOT an oncoming train, and we believe we’re mere weeks away from D-Day.

It’s been a time.

Meanwhile, I’ve suspended my classes in preparation for an entirely new approach to the educational process; after more than 650 of them in the past 5-1/2 years, for nearly 4,000 students, management has decided to turn over training responsibilities to our division’s Learning & Development group. I have mixed feelings about this, as I’ve grown rather fond of the process of teaching (NOT fond enough to follow the curriculum to that particular group!); 650 one-to-two-hour classes is probably more than enough for a while.

You may recall that this teaching is all conducted on-line, using Sametime web conference technology, together with a telephone conference call. Such remote teaching has its own challenges; there is much reduced feedback available, since there are no faces nor body language to read.

But, this has worked for me, since, as anyone can tell from the likeness published at the top of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, I’ve a great face for radio. So, a form of radio such teaching is. And, without a live audience (the great old radio series seem to have had live audiences), without that rich feedback, it’s quite hard work.

Not for everybody. Ask the person from aforesaid learning & development group who failed to master the material and the challenge two years running (the second year, she barely even tried).

So, I’ve suspended my classes, mainly because as we get so close to releasing the updated tools, I feel it’s unethical to be training people on the ones that are going away so soon.

But there are exceptions to all positions.

Which is how I found myself this afternoon, in a hotel conference room delivering a streamlined version of my introduction to web conferencing class to a live audience of twenty-five newly hired field specialists, undergoing several days of intense immersion into their new responsibilities. As field workers, such collaboration tools as those I champion are even more important than they are to we home office types.

And, although I always push back when asked to teach in person, these folks would all be using their newly issued corporate laptop PCs, and that mitigated my usual dislike of such live instruction. In my experience, for my class, standing in front of a room of people showing them a presentation is just a demonstration, not a training class. This promised to be a training class. And, the sponsor who invited me assured me that these new workers would get plenty of use of the tools in the next few weeks, making it more worthwhile for them, and for yr (justifiably) humble svt to teach them.

So, there I was, standing in front of a mostly interested audience (pointing out, as I expressed it to them, that I was the only thing standing between them and the golf course, or the nearby watering hole), working with them interactively on their PCs and mine.

I’m pretty good at this.

And it was refreshing to work with real people for a change, rather than the disembodied voices and occasional electronically raised hands and group chat queries that are my usual feedback.

Of course, it was just as grueling, if not more so, than the same course conducted remotely, just in different ways. My damaged ankle, yet to heal completely, hidden away under dress slacks rather than protected in hard plastic and velcro, complained, and still is complaining hours later, with some vigor at the indignity of its owner standing on it for two hours with only 20% of the support provided by said pneumatic boot. Not a slow transition out of the boot at all. Sorry, Achilles.

But, even in total wellness, teaching for a living is hard work. Thankfully, long since passed are any concerns about speaking in public. Don’t know when that actually happened, really, but it comes mainly from knowing the material cold. And my audience seemed to get it, and that’s the best feedback of all.

So, another interesting and new experience. Always good that, six-plus years in, there are interesting and new experiences still available in this roller-coaster ride called web conferencing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times


WcW013: Telepresence hits the mainstream

Web Conferencing Week

Telepresence is the most exciting luxury class concept since the Learjet.

Telepresence is the advanced version of videoconferencing first exposed in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© last 01-August-2007 in WcW004, and then updated in WcW010 24-October-2007.

It’s videoconferences gone ultra high definition, and it just made its way out of the trade press ghetto, into the mainstream in today’s New York Times.

As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual

By STEVE LOHR | Published: July 22, 2008

Jill Smart, an Accenture executive, was skeptical the first time she stepped into her firm’s new videoconferencing room in Chicago for a meeting with a group of colleagues in London. But the videoconferencing technology, known as telepresence, delivered an experience so lifelike, Ms. Smart recalled, that “10 minutes into it, you forget you are not in the room with them.”

Accenture, a technology consulting firm, has installed 13 of the videoconferencing rooms at its offices around the world and plans to have an additional 22 operating before the end of the year.

Accenture figures its consultants used virtual meetings to avoid 240 international trips and 120 domestic flights in May alone, for an annual saving of millions of dollars and countless hours of wearying travel for its workers.

As travel costs rise and airlines cut service, companies large and small are rethinking the face-to-face meeting — and business travel as well. At the same time, the technology has matured to the point where it is often practical, affordable and more productive to move digital bits instead of bodies.

These telepresence studios are not cheap (as much as $350,000 at each end!) compared to the standard issue videoconference suite; just as that first Learjet wasn’t as cheap as a first class airline ticket, until the green eyeshade folks got a look at the productivity gains and the outright savings.

My niche of the corporate IT world is web conferencing: a telephone conference enhanced with a live on-line display of presentation materials and shared PC desktops. There is no doubt that allowing participants to attend meetings from their desks, as opposed to driving or flying or even walking down the corridor is a time, productivity and money saver. It’s hard not to see how $millions can be saved, even at low resolution, or, for thousands of our meetings a month, without live video at all.

And in this age of high fuel prices, which make travel of any kind even more expensive, and air travel (unless you rate that Learjet!) confiscatory AND unpleasant, instead of merely costly and inconvenient, such virtual meetings, especially for excruciatingly high paid executive suite denizens, are an idea whose time is finally ripe.

Corporate training and education is a field many companies are moving online, in part to trim travel costs. Darryl Draper, the national manager of customer service training for Subaru of America, used to travel four days a week, nine months of the year, presenting educational programs at dealers nationwide. Today, Ms. Draper rarely travels and nearly all of her training is done online.

Previously, Ms. Draper estimated, in six months she would reach about 220 people at a cost of $300 a person. She said she now reaches 2,500 people every six months at a cost of 75 cents a person.

The basic web conferencing technology supported by the team I work with has shown a steady ascending slope of growth, reflecting its benefits, for the nearly six years I have been working with it.

As Travel Costs Rise, More Meetings Go Virtual – NYTimes.com

As I’ve written previously, our on-line technology often accompanies high level videoconferences, since videoconferences, at least in the low definition world I inhabit, are better at managerial faces than typefaces. So we show the slides on a separate screen via web conference, adjacent to the screen that shows a table full of people looking at a screen that shows a table full of people.

The few illustrations I’ve seen of those telepresence suites show people so clearly, but never show presentations or documents, although the Times story mentions image magnification. So I’m thinking that there’s still room for my technology even in the new, exalted world of sharper than high definition conferencing.

My employer spends its capital carefully, and thus far I’m not aware of any such installation here at the Heart of Corporate America. But, in the age of $140++/bbl oil, and a product that, if used regularly, can pay for itself in a year or less, such an investment can’t help but be attractive, even to the manhole cover spenders.

But, now that it’s been exposed in mass media, I’m thinking that sooner than not, I’ll be called in to coordinate a web conference to accompany a session where the video is so sharp we’ll be able to see our European colleague’s glittering blue eyes.

“Get me makeup!”

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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© Ron Chapple Studios | Dreamstime.com

Web Conferencing Week

So, if this were really a weekly feature, we’d be on number 052 or something, and this is only number 14. Thus, why not two in a row?

The poor sap fallen asleep over his laptop in front of his desktop PC in the illustration doesn’t resemble yr (justifiably) humble svt in the slightest, but it’s what I’ll look like in a few hours.

No, I won’t suddenly get 35 years younger, grow back a lot of very dark hair and become vaguely Asian.

But, I’m working very late tonight, and very early in the morning. Sigh.

As I’ve often noted in this space, I support the enterprise web conferencing application from an end-user perspective. A vendor once described me most flatteringly as the manager of the end user experience for my technology.

So, in addition to working with the other, more technical, members of the team (server administrators and system architects); developing curriculum and reference materials; teaching nearly 4,000 fellow employees in the past six years to use web conferences  by attending my training web conferences; besides all that, I’m the guy who gets the call when users have critical conferences that require my professional expertise.

Got the call a few weeks ago: we’re doing an important meeting three times, because the sun never sets on our global enterprise: once for the Asia-Pacific region, once for Europe and once for the Western Hemisphere. 8amCEST, 1pmCEST, 6pmCEST. We’ve had trouble with the web conferencing tool in the past, please help.

I endeavor to honor requests like this. But, of course, I’m sitting in the U.S. Central time zone.

8amCEST (Central European Summer Time) in, yes, central Europe, the origin of the meetings, translates to 1amCDT (U.S. Central Daylight Time).

1pmCEST is 6amCDT.

6pmCEST will be the only reasonably convenient (to this U.S. based employee) session, 11amCDT.

Tonight, or rather, early tomorrow morning, is the night.

So, and this is after a typical workday that began at 7:20am this morning in our Northern Illinois office, shortly I’ll set up my laptop, verify a good VPN connection to the network, test the server and then wait it out until 1am, a little more than three hours away as I write this. Got my cell phone (loud) alarm set for 12:45am just in case the above photo is destiny.

Then, after the first session, I’ll head to bed for my beauty sleep (never worked before, but there’s always hope), dreaming peacefully for the long, quiet hours until the alarm goes off at its usual 5:10am (maybe three hours if I’m fortunate).

Hopping out of bed, I’ll have time to shower and dress and be ready for the 6am session; thence to the office for the odd team meeting and the 11am session. And in the U.S. afternoon, I’ll be assisting another group with their four-hour session, this time in person, in a large conference space.

And can I take the next day off, in compensation? No such good fortune, as I have a commitment to assist yet another team with their critical meeting, again, in person.

What is ironic about all this is I am a champion night owl. Lots of nights, admittedly weekend nights, where the opportunity, if not the reality, exists for sleeping in, I’ll still be reasonably wide awake at midnight, 1am, and later. Tonight though, I HAVE to be awake at 1am. Not nearly any fun at all!

I am not complaining about all this, because I really love my job (in these parlous times EVERYBODY who has a job MUST love it!); no, really I do.

But, where else can I vent, except to you, faithful reader.

So, thanks for providing me the opportunity to pull aside the curtain, when most people pay no attention. After all, I haven’t had to support a conference in the middle of the night since last October. A couple of times a year is no big deal.


It’s it for now. Thanks,



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