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Tag: FaceTime

Video chat’s next major feature: physical positioning of participants (“mingle at a party” options) to allow a huge chat to be split into manageable groups!

Background:

With the 2020 COVID plague, work-related video chats have become increasingly full of a large number of participants (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Video chat software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Duo, Skype, and more) typically only allows participants to appear in a randomly-ordered grid. All participants are part of the same (single) discussion: there is no easy way to have a “side discussion” and then rejoin the main conversation.

The issue:

Video chats have a problem that in-person office work does not: there is no convenient way for participants of an unreasonably-large video chat group to split off into subgroups.

Instead, every discussion must take place in a SINGLE mega-discussion with all participants, or people need to leave the mega-discussion and start their own exclusive video chat groups. People often get around this by having side discussions over text, but that’s not really a great solution either.

Proposal:

In a physical workspace, it’s easy to have a small discussion: simply PHYSICALLY relocate the individuals in the conversation to an empty lunchroom table or meeting room.

To improve video chat, we simply implement the same feature: instead of each video participant just being a randomly-placed square in a grid, now each participant can also specify their location on a virtual floor plan (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Left: the old-fashioned style of video chat. Right: the updated video chat, where you can only hear and see participants who are in close physical proximity. In this case, the chat has split into groups A, B, and C (shown here from the perspective of a person in Group B). Everyone in Group B has a normal video chat, but can only faintly hear low-audio-volume chats going on in groups A and C.

Importantly, it’s still possible to see and hear people who are somewhat nearby on the floor plan, but at a very low volume. So you can know that a conversation is going on, and join in if necessary, but it won’t drown out your primary discussion.

Previous Examples:

Some video games implement a system like this (“proximity audio”), in which you can hear voice chat only from nearby players. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been a feature in any office-focused collaboration software.

PROS: This seems like it should actually exist! Maybe it hasn’t been developed before due to the lack of compelling business case for having large numbers of people on video calls.

CONS: Might lead to a tyrannically oppressive workplace in which work-from-home employees are mandated to always be available on video chat and present on a virtual floor plan.

Never be concerned whether or not your household electronics are spying on you! This new repurposing of the “ON AIR” sign will save you from fretting!

Background:

It seems that nearly every electronic device with a camera or microphone is now Internet-enabled and can wirelessly send video and audio to the world.

The issue:

Due to the preponderance of electronic hardware in a modern household, it can be difficult which (if any) device is spying on you at that exact moment (Figure 1).

This is a relatively new phenomenon, since it used to be the case that:

  1. Cameras were relatively large
  2. Non-CIA recording devices generally needed to be physically wired to a power source and network cable.

Fig. 1: One of these devices is currently streaming video from the user’s house—but which one? Video-enabled devices sometimes have a recording light (but not always: e.g. phones, tablets), but checking these lights is still annoying and time-consuming. And audio recording generally has no indication whatsoever!

Proposal:

The classic solution to the “are we recording right now?” question is a lit-up “ON AIR” sign [see examples] that can light up whenever a TV station is broadcasting.

This same concept can be applied to modern devices: a person would buy a new piece of “ON AIR” hardware (this would essentially just be a WiFi-enabled screen). This ON AIR sign would connect to the household WiFi network light up any time it detected video being sent out to the Internet.

Detecting that streaming is happening could occur in two ways:

1) Network traffic analysis can generally identify data as “this is a stream of video / audio.” This is a solution that would probably work in most cases.

2) Each video/audio-enabled device can talk to the ON AIR sign over WiFi and notify it that streaming is occurring. This would be on the “honor system”: well-behaved software would periodically report that it was streaming. One benefit of this opt-in method is that streaming devices could send additional metadata: e.g., instead of just “ON AIR (Some computer is sending video),” the user would see “ON AIR (Joe’s PowerBook G4, streaming video over RealPlayer for 4:34)”.


Fig. 2: Thanks to this lit-up “ON AIR” sign, the user knows that there is some device recording them, and exactly which device is responsible (in this case, the “smart television”).

Of course, neither of these methods is a 100% guarantee of detecting live video being streamed: for example, a phone that was using its cellular data to stream would not be detected.

Conclusion:

This could probably be a legitimate product!

PROS: Would be a good value-add option for a router manufacturer. “This router will light up if it detects outgoing video/audio!”

CONS: Might cause the user to become extremely paranoid upon realizing that their watch, tablet, computer, phone, external monitor, fitness tracker, headphones, and dozens of other devices could all be surreptitiously spying at any time.

Don’t get on another video chat until you’ve fixed your crazy mountain-dweller hair with this incredible “green screen wig” lifehack!

Background:

When on a meeting with video chat, people generally like to look at least vaguely professional / presentable, even if they just rolled out of bed 5 minutes before the meeting.

The issue:

There are two main problems in video chat for people who want to project a corporate-approved professional image:

  1. The background should look non-disastrous.
  2. The person taking the call should not look like they have been living in a cave for weeks (Figure 1).

Several videoconferencing applications have solved problem #1 by adding a “virtual green screen” feature, which can automatically transform the user’s messy room into an expensive-looking modern mansion interior (e.g. the house from the movie Parasite).

1-hair-disaster

Fig. 1: This videoconferencing individual may be harshly judged for their unkempt appearance. If only there was a technical solution to this (besides using a comb)!

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can use the exact same green screen technology to allow the user to fix up their hair situation.

The implementation is simple: the user wears a cut-out green screen “hat” (Figure 2) that allows the computer to superimpose a flowing mane of magnificent hair behind them. Hair problem: solved!

2-hair-green-screen-example

Fig. 2: The head-attached green screen could be secured in place by a hairband, or it could be glued to the front of a pair of headphones.

PROS: Should save millions of hours per year in hair maintenance for videoconferencers.

CONS: May promote a new standard of unrealistically majestic hair.

Solve your conference call woes with this one insane tip! Never lean your head weirdly in front of a laptop camera again. FINALLY.

The issue:

During a conference call, it can be difficult to position multiple people in such a way that everyone is actually in-frame.

Usually, either:

  1. Only one person fits into the frame, or:
  2. Everyone is extremely far from the camera, so 95% of the screen area is taken up by a conference table.

Figure 1 illustrates this common scenario.

conference-call-1-without-prism.png

Fig. 1: When multiple people are sharing a laptop during a conference call, usually the video looks like the example on right, where only one person is actually fully visible.

Proposal:

An inexpensive prism can fix this problem once and for all (Figure 2). A prism can be placed directly in front of the camera to split the image into multiple horizontally-spaced parts.

Now everyone can participate in the conference call without needing to move the camera around!

conference-call-2-with-prism

Fig. 2: The prism attachment makes it easy to fit everyone into frame. The prism could attach to the camera by means of either a magnetic clip or some sort of suction cup (probably the best solution for laptop screens).

PROS: Encourages conference call participation by people other than whoever happens to be directly in front of the camera.

CONS: Might result in an unflattering “fun house mirror” effect in the final image. (Although this could be fixed in software, or by a more complicated prism setup.)

Travel almost for FREE with this one weird tip! One insane way to reduce your spending on airline tickets now.

The issue:

Travel to exotic locales can be expensive, inconvenient, and perhaps even dangerous or impossible.

Proposal:

Using the same technology that companies like Google use to get street view images (now available in 40-lb backpack format as well: https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&sa=1&q=google+street+view+camera ), we can set up a scenario where you can conduct tourism by proxy using a VR headset.

This would work as follows:

  • You submit a request online, like “I’d like to see the pyramids of Giza.”
  • Someone who is already in the vicinity accepts your request. You pay them and they put on a panoramic street view camera.
  • You then call them up and perform the VR equivalent of a Skype / FaceTime / Hangouts call.
  • The tour guide will either walk around on their own, or perhaps take requests from the remote viewer.

proxy_guy

Fig. 1: This fashionable individual in a VR headset is standing comfortably at home while getting a VR tour of Egyptian pyramids, which is directed by the person in Figure 2.

desert

Fig. 2: This “VR tour guide” is carrying the cameras and microphones so that the individual in Figure 1 can get an immersive real-time VR tour of the pyramids.

scuba_water

Fig. 3: In addition to enabling extremely lazy travelers, VR tours could be used to experience otherwise difficult or impossible environments.

Eco-friendly final point:

This technology would also reduce the amount of energy expended on travel (particularly via airplane), which both saves fuel and also reduces the number of greenhouse gasses generated.

PROS: Saves time, money, and the environment.

CONS: Might negatively impact revenue at certain difficult-to-access tourist destinations like Machu Picchu.

Save hours on any teleconferenced meeting with this one weird tip that will drive you to the brink of gibbering insanity!

Background & The Issue In Question:

Teleconferencing can be a useful tool. However, it can also make it easy to schedule endless meetings where 90% of the participants have nothing to do.

Unfortunately, it is often the case where these additional participants are obligated to be on the call for various reasons.

Proposal: Proxy meeting attendees

The basic idea is to hire a person to pretend to be you during the conference.

Obviously, there is a problem here, in that the proxy will not sound the same as you (unless you happen to sound exactly like a robot).

But it can still be arranged so that no one is the wiser. First, the theoretically-intended teleconference attendee must record a series of audio clips of them saying common things. For example:

  • “This is YOUR_NAME, I’m on the call.” Note: do not actually say the literal word “YOUR_NAME” or the gig will be up.
  • “I agree.”
  • “Great idea, boss.”
  • “Fantastic idea, boss.”
  • “That’s the best idea I’ve heard in a while, boss.”
  • “Ok.”
  • “Uh-huh.”
  • “Yep.”
  • “Yup.”
  • “Yeap.”
  • “Yerp.”
  • “Yarp.”

This set of audio clips is then hooked up to a soundboard (a keyboard—probably a virtual one—where each keypress plays a specific audio clip), which the proxy can use to respond to questions on your behalf. See Figure 1.

tele-buttons-great

Fig 1: Generally, most responses can be short and agreeable. The soundboard sample above contains only four of the possible dozens of things that the meeting attendance proxy can say.

There is one serious problem: it is unlikely, but the person who is being represented by the proxy may be asked a difficult question that the proxy has no way to reply to.

To solve this situation, we will add a “panic button” to the soundboard. This button will play a prerecorded message indicating that there is an emergency situation requiring disconnection from the conference call.

The proxy will then notify the actual attendee (who is presumably on standby for just such a situation). Then the actual attendee can call right back in and answer the question correctly.

tele-buttons-question

Fig 2: If there’s some question that your teleconference-proxy can’t field, the proxy will press the panic button (labeled with a “?”) to disconnect with a pre-recorded socially-appropriate message (“Oh, I’m losing my connection.” “Dang, a crocodile is chewing on my leg.” etc…).

Conclusion:

This is a great idea that will improve the lives of both the office workers in question and the call-center employees who will work as proxies.

PROS: This proposal could save over a billion hours of meeting time every year, allowing office workers to view over 100 billion additional cat videos per year, and possibly contributing to the GDP due to the increased ad revenue on those cat videos.

CONS: Results not guaranteed. May result in job loss.