Apr 05 2019
Apr 05

It’s been a busy start to 2019. I’ve ticked a few boxes on the initiative, attended four camps (one of which I am lead organizer) and learned the intricacy of preparing international shipping documents. I personally captured 169 sessions this year, bringing the total to just shy of 1,500.

This is my first update to the (unofficial) Drupal Recording Initiative, which is outlined on Open Collective.

Training and mentorship

I’ve started asking camps ahead of time who from their team (volunteers or organizers) they can identify as willing and interested in learning the setup and helping me on-site. Setup is relatively easy, but it’s the hour-by-hour troubleshooting that keeps the capture rate high. For shipped kits, adding the video call to review the equipment and setup seemed like an easy win.

Expanded coverage

A few non-Drupal events have reached out:

  • via BADCamp, I was contacted by someone recording symposia for an HIV-related project at the University of California San Francisco

  • via TCDrupal, contacted by a person helping organize DevFestMN (this past February), which took place at the same venue as TCDrupal

We created the first equipment hub: the Drupal Swiss Association purchased four kits that I configured and shipped for Drupal Mountain Camp. Learning how to prepare the documentation for international shipping was not fun, but if I stick with DHL the next one should be easier.

Plus, I’ve started reaching out to camps not already on my list.

Improved documentation

No update here. I recorded the video call with Mountain Camp, but then immediately deleted it because there was no way it would have been useful. Off-the-cuff wasn’t the way to go. 

Higher recording success rate

Still stumped here. So far, this year is my best yet at 100% capture of four events. But things fell apart at Mountain Camp. And there was about a 90% capture rate at DevFestMN, though no sound on any of the screen records, meaning every video needed to be fixed in post (which is happening at the rate of about two videos per week).

Streamlined funding

Moving my accounting to Open Collective has been mostly successful. The increase in costs to each camp has been (in general) minimal and nearly all camps have been able to accommodate. I don’t like the fact that the budget shows a positive amount when expenses have been filed against the collective (for which I’ve filed a feature request). Currently, it looks like things are rosy in recording-land, but I’m actually running up my credit card balance booking travel for camps and awaiting reimbursement. While the prior GoFundMe campaign is still out there, it is nice having the reimbursements and (recurring!) donations in one place.

Overall organization

Not much to report, but I’m playing around with a github project to track events as issues

Content discoverability

While I continually get credited for Drupal.tv, I only offered input and a bunch of YouTube playlists to Ashraf Abed of Debug Academy. And it was his students that built it. Now that we have Drupal.tv, I mention it often and also import each camp playlist as part of my process.

Thanks!

Thanks to all my current Open Collective backers. If you value the recordings and the efforts I’m making towards expanding this effort beyond just what one person can do, please consider contributing.

See you at DrupalCon?

I will be participating in two BoFs at DrupalCon Seattle related to the recording initiative. On Wednesday afternoon at 5:30pm is the Open Collective BoF, to discuss how and why the Webform Module, SimplyTest.me, and the recording initiative are all using Open Collective. And then on Thursday morning at 9:45am, I will discuss the recording initiative for anyone who is interested. 

Jan 04 2019
Jan 04

When I’m recording an event, there are several recurring threads in conversation when chatting with attendees:

  • Thank you for all that you do | You’re welcome!
  • When will the videos be available? | By tomorrow
  • Where can I find the videos? | The camp YouTube channel
  • Have you thought about making money from this? | (hahahaha) Tell me more
  • We should build a site to host all the videos | I know right?!

Thoughts of that last one started way back at DrupalCon Austin, when we were hoping to get camp videos added to the DrupalCon YouTube channel. Since then, it has come up frequently as the momentum has been building. The fact that Drupal.tv now exists and has more than 3,500 videos is still hard to fathom.

Granted, at the time I added content discoverability as a goal to the (unofficial) Drupal Recording Initiative, I already knew that Ashraf Abed (@ashabed) and his Debug Academy (@DebugAcademy) students were working on a site. Pessimist that I am, I had seen prior attempts at a solution stall out, so I was reservedly optimistic. But as Ashraf kept sending me updates, the anticipation grew. At that time it was Drupal.tube, so when he let me know that he would be launching on New Years Day at Drupal.tv, I was blown away.

Prior to launch, Ashraf asked me for a list of playlists that I’ve recorded (which I happened to randomly have because Dwayne McDaniel (@McDwayne) asked me back in November if a list existed, and at the time it hadn’t, so I created it) and also invited me to load some playlists. I figured I’d upload a couple, but by the time I went to add one, they had already been uploaded. I knew that MidCamp’s YouTube also lists other camp channels, so I went there to upload one and test it out. It was so fast and easy that I ended up adding all of DrupalCamp Atlanta’s events (11), NERD Summit (3), and Bristol 2017 (1).

Rachel Lawson (@rachel_norfolk) mentioned on twitter that this should be added as a project on Drupal.org and I really support that idea. This will allow for documentation and credit, but also the issue queue so I’ll have a place to submit feature requests! 

Here are just a few: 

  • Include conference name with video title on lists (some have the name already, but would help with duplicate listings in search results)
  • Add the total number of videos to the header
  • Add the total number of events to the header
  • CTA / landing page / form for event organizers
  • Simpler importing of single videos for events that don’t have playlists

According to this post, the current roadmap includes:

  • Building out event landing pages
  • Tagging talks with topics and speakers
  • Faceted search
  • Video captions
  • Multilingual

If you run a Drupal event, check for your event in the list of curated playlists. If you don’t see yours listed, fill out the contact form to get your videos added. 

Oh right! And from now on, when people ask where they can find the videos, my answer will be Drupal.tv! The community now has an incredible resource. And it’s up to the community to keep that resource strong. 

Dec 12 2018
Dec 12

This is a guest blog by Kevin Thull (kthull).

Shout-out to Matt Westgate of Lullabot, who I met earlier this year at DrupalCorn Camp in Des Moines for casually referring to what I’ve been doing for the past five years as the “Drupal Recording Initiative.” It was yet another one of those moments when I realized that what I’ve been doing for the past five years is much bigger than just me.

Let’s recap

What began in 2013 as an effort to record sessions for camps in my local community became a passion project and a way for me to help a handful of other camps record their sessions. That was the extent of my “vision” for this project.

With the advent of Slack (specifically the Drupal Camp Organizer Slack) it became even easier for camp organizers to discover and request my services, and suddenly I was recording a dozen-plus camps per year. With more robust documentation and enough inventory to ship kits to camps that I can’t attend, I have nearly complete coverage of camps in North America.

Turning point

With this year’s milestones, funding, and recognition (and all the publicity that came with it), conversations at camps turned more toward “what’s next” and “how do you grow this” rather than “how and why.”

As I started to think along the lines of future-proofing, open-sourcing, and growth, I’ve made some steps in the right direction this past year (again with no goals or plan):

  • Tweaks to the kits and troubleshooting for more reliable recording
  • Docs moved from Google Drive to GitHub for discoverability and collaboration
  • A growing contributor list: basically anyone who has helped me in the trenches, expressed interest in doing so, recorded sessions with my equipment, or has their own set of equipment based on my setup.

The initiative

This is rough, and the point of this post is to get input from the community.

Purpose

Make the recording of Drupal and related talks at camps, summits, meetups (essentially anything outside of DrupalCon) easy, turn-key, affordable, and available.

Roadmap

The first five years evolved organically and overall successfully, but without a plan. Following are the goals for the next five years.

Training and mentorship

I’ve proven that I can do this and do it very well. My goal is to spend an increasing amount of time teaching and supporting others to repeat my success.

  • Improved camp support – I already offer support for a few camps, primarily via email and Slack before and during events; need to schedule more check-ins during events
  • Post event – Schedule post-event calls to debrief and discover gaps in documentation and training
  • Ongoing solicitation for contributors – Identify and somehow organize a group of people that can manage the recordings whether I’m on-site or not to continually spread the knowledge and coverage; the goal here is one new contact per event

Expanded coverage

While it sounds impressive to directly or indirectly record nearly all North American camps, it’s not enough. There are many more events than just camps, and there’s so much more to the world than North America.

  • Shipping kits – I’ve shipped to two events in 2018. The goal is to double that each successive year until there is sufficient global coverage of camps and larger events; smaller events like meetups would need to be covered by local equipment hubs, detailed below
  • Funding for equipment hubs – Navigating customs can prove tricky and equipment hubs within countries or regions would mitigate that risk; possible sources include crowdsourced funding or the Drupal Community Cultivation Grant (more info on this toward the end of the post)
  • Expanding beyond Drupal events – An early goal was to make a device-agnostic recording solution, so it only makes sense that it also should be content-agnostic; primary focus would be adjunct communities: WordPress, PHP, Symfony, Javascript, etc.

Improved documentation

Moving existing docs to GitHub was a step in the right direction. More visuals are needed.

  • Record a setup video
  • Record a troubleshooting video
  • Add more pics and diagrams
  • Create docs for speakers: what to bring, what to do, what not to do, how to optimize your laptop for presenting, etc.
  • Create docs for organizers: what is provided, what is needed from the venue or camp, what speakers need to know, what room monitors need to know, etc.

Higher recording success rate

In 2018, the capture rate based on my documentation and remote support was 80-85% versus 92-100% when I was on the scene. The goal here is to bridge that gap.

  • Better pre-event support and onboarding
  • Broader support for USB-c
  • Improved coverage for non-Mac audio issues
  • Better prep for volunteers and contributors for on-site coverage

Streamlined funding

This is an expensive endeavor, and I couldn’t do it without camp donations, and reimbursements for airfare and lodging. At the same time, incidental costs (food, entertainment, commuting, etc.) add up, and the current model limits me geographically.

  • Charge a flat fee of $1,000 per event (airfare and lodging typically runs $350-$750)
  • Roll surplus funds into new equipment and subsidized travel to events outside North America
  • Maintain existing crowdfunded campaign to cover personal costs (whether current GoFundMe or an alternate)
  • Potentially seek sponsorship or Drupal Community Cultivation Grant (again, see below)

Overall organization

This is definitely the squishiest part of the roadmap. Solo, this is easy to manage. But to grow, I need tools and I don’t know the best ones for this type of work.

  • Contacts – What is the best way to manage the growing list of contributors, as well as give recognition?
  • Scheduling – There should be an event calendar with ways to sign up as a recording volunteer
  • Accounting – There should be an open way to manage the funds
  • Outreach – What is the best way to publicly and continually reach out for new contributors, and to grow the base of recorded events?
  • Inventory – We need a managed inventory of equipment, who controls them, whether they are available or on loan, their condition, etc.
  • Options:

    1. Drupal.org community project
    2. GitHub project board
    3. Slack channel (they already exist in Drupal Slack and the Organizer Slack)
    4. Public meetings
    5. Other / All of the above

Content discoverability

I am not the only person recording sessions, but I am definitely the loudest and most prolific. But my tweets and siloed camp YouTube channels are not optimal for the greater community to find content. I don’t have the bandwidth to do this personally, but would contribute.

  • We absolutely need a Drupal equivalent to Wordpress.tv (several solutions are in the works, but that also has been the state of things for years)
  • Aggregate content from all events, including DrupalCon
  • Include curation and content authors to annotate various versions of the same talk, or even unpublish older or largely repetitive versions
  • Add tagging for searchability
  • Add captioning for accessibility
  • Promote local events as well as the Drupal project

Wrapping it up

I’m continually thanked and reminded of how important what I’m doing is for the community. At the same time, it’s hard for me because it feels pretty routine and relatively easy (aside from the unknowns that come with each venue setup, and the hourly hustle to connect presenters and confirm recordings). Yet recorded content is also how I first learned Drupal and it’s the very reason I began this effort.

So the next stage of this unexpected, unplanned success is to create a structure to prevent my own burnout and prevent this initiative from hitting a plateau. If you want to participate, hit me up on Drupal.org, Twitter, or send me an email.

Lastly, for those who don’t know, the Drupal Community Cultivation Grant exists for things like this. I am very grateful for the Drupal Association offering me a grant to support this program, though I hadn't yet applied (I should have and you should too).

Nov 19 2018
Nov 19

Wow. What a year. I traveled to 15 camps this year for session recording (well, that includes MidCamp, which I also organize). In addition, I shipped equipment to Pacific Northwest Drupal Summit and Baltimore Drupal Camp. And finally, I provided direct support to DrupalCamp Ottawa, which chose to purchase equipment rather than chance customs delays. 

Oh, and let’s not forget the highlight of it all: receiving the Aaron Winborn award at DrupalCon in recognition of my contribution.

Since I am occasionally asked where people can find the videos I record, below is a recap of this year’s activity, with links to all the camp playlists.

Sessions recorded by me*: 559

Sessions recorded with equipment I shipped: 45

2018 capture rate: 96.12%


*That brings me to the asterisk from above. The phrase “captured by me” has new meaning this year as I have started recruiting assistance at some camps. Specifically GovCon and BADCamp, because they both are more than one person can rightly handle, and having said that, I honestly have no idea how I soloed both events in the past. Special shout out to Gergely Csonka of Cheppers, Lee Walker and Bo Shipley of Drupal Camp Chattanooga, and fellow MidCamp organizer Avi Schwab for helping me out. 

I have started compiling a list of folks that have either expressed interest in the equipment I use or directly helping me. My goal for 2019 is to transition into more of a mentoring role so we can record even more camps, and more importantly, camps overseas. Because if you look at the above list, I have fairly extensive coverage of North American events, but nowhere else. If you want to help, shoot me an email at [email protected].

Grand total of Drupal talks captured to date: 1,279


Finally, if you want to check out my equipment list or instructions, head over to GitHub. And if you wish to support my efforts, chip in at Open Collective.

Thanks for an amazing year! See you soon.

Aug 29 2018
Aug 29

So many times, I see sites with a responsive grid of logos that only rely on width as the limiter. When doing so, square or vertical logos appear disproportionately large compared to their horizontal counterparts. 

Exhibit A (BADCamp 2018’s sponsor footer) 
Square logos appear much larger than their horizontal neighbors

The fix took me a long time to find, but I have it in my toolkit and use it on all my projects. But after seeing yet another camp site with crazy logo sizing, I realized sharing this snippet was long overdue (as well as a pull request to the BADCamp repo).

The parent element (usually the <a> tag) needs this code:

display: block;
width: 100%;
position: relative;
height: 0;
padding: 56.25% 0 0 0; // this assumes a 16:9 aspect ratio
overflow: hidden;

And the child image needs this code:

position: absolute;
display: block;
max-width: 100%;
max-height: 100%;
width: auto;
height: auto;
left: 0;
right: 0;
top: 0;
bottom: 0;
margin: auto;

Or if you are a fan of SASS mixins, you can get fancy and just include this on the logo’s parent element and input whichever ratio you like:

// set aspect ratio of a field
@mixin aspect-ratio($width, $height) {
  display: block;
  width: 100%;
  position: relative;
  height: 0;
  padding: ($height / $width) * 100% 0 0 0;
  overflow: hidden;
  > img {
    position: absolute;
    display: block;
    max-width: 100%;
    max-height: 100%;
    width: auto;
    height: auto;
    left: 0;
    right: 0;
    top: 0;
    bottom: 0;
    margin: auto;
  }
}

In the case of the BADCamp sponsor footer, we now get this:
A mix of square and horizontal logos locked at 16:9 aspect ratio

Enjoy!

May 14 2016
May 14

It has been nearly a year since I’ve updated the status of my camp recording kits. Since DCSTL15, two other camps took me up on my proposal to sponsor my travel and hotel in exchange for me recording and posting their sessions: TCDrupal and BADCamp. And, of course, as a MidCamp organizer, that counts too. And with each of those camps, I’ve iterated and learned from invaluable successes and failures.

First off, here is a link to the current kit.

With everything, each kit is still under $450. In addition, zip ties to hold the VGA to HDMI dongle tight and some gaffers tape to secure everything to the podium are needed.

Recap

At Twin Cities, I learned that, while I try, I cannot reasonably start and stop every recording in every room, especially at camps with five concurrent sessions spread over multiple floors and buildings. The amount of volunteer participation at TCDrupal is incredibly impressive. I had loads of help at my disposal, but only a few moments to outline how the kits work, so I spent a lot of time troubleshooting from room to room.

BADCamp is another camp that sprawls over a campus and is a bit looser on the room monitor support. So this time, I came armed with printed instructions at each podium for hooking up to the kit. I added some basic troubleshooting and my phone number. I missed about half the session starts, but speakers were mostly able to follow the instructions and run things without me. That was a huge win. Unfortunately, remembering to also start/stop the audio record was hit or miss.

By the time MidCamp rolled around, I simplified the instructions further and also set the backup audio record to just run all day, removing the failure point of missed audio. The big red button is easy and enticing. The little button on the audio recorder remote...not so much. MidCamp, with two days of four concurrent sessions was my first 100% captured camp since St. Louis.

Pain Points

There are four recurring issues with this setup:

  • VGA-only laptops
  • Recurring audio problems
  • File segmenting
  • Random projector problems

Hopefully, the time of laptops that only have VGA out is coming to an end. I've tried several different VGA-to-HDMI converters with basically no luck. And to spend hundreds of dollars or more for a fool-proof converter when modern laptops have better video output is a hard pill to swallow. I don't foresee this being a long-term problem.

The audio issues are baffling. In some cases, no audio at all is recorded with the screen capture, while other times it is sped up and choppy, hence the importance of the backup audio files from the voice recorder. But this means post-processing time which delays uploads. I intend to contact Hauppauge support, but honestly don't expect to get very far as I am using their device as it was not intended. Lastly, the capture device has a touch panel for adjusting gain and muting the audio. It is a little too easy to accidentally mute the audio.

Minor annoyance: occasionally, the recordings will split into two or more files, meaning I have to stitch them together in post.

At MidCamp for the past two years (both held at different locations on UIC campus), some of the projectors would intermittently go dark during presentations. While this has no impact on the recording, it is extremely unsettling for the presenter and annoying for the attendees. I recall this happening in some cases at Twin Cities, but not at BADCamp. So this one currently has me stumped with no good plan of resolution at this time.

Next Steps

For obvious reasons, I can't record all the sessions at all the camps. And already I have firm plans to record Twin Cities in June, St. Louis in September, and BADCamp in October. Talking to folks at Drupalcon, I also now have soft commitments with Drupal GovCon in July and Drupal Camp New Jersey in January. And other camps have reached out, but I have conflicts.

I managed to pack up a complete kit into a 10" Pelican case. This means that if I can start training some proxies and write up some detailed instructions and troubleshooting, then this solution can scale. Maybe folks won’t have experience with the post-production, but I can help with that remotely, if needed. The beauty of these kits is that with timely starts and stops and good audio, the MP4 file on the thumb drive can be uploaded as soon as it is collected.

The good news is that the more camps I can record, the more data I can collect and the more I can refine the process to make it scalable.

Stay tuned!

Jun 21 2015
Jun 21

Following a successful MidCamp and with some new ideas how to improve the kit, I was eager to hit the road for more testing. Problem is, I'm a freelancer with a limited budget, and getting to camps comes out of my own pocket. On a lark, I tweeted the following:

Planning a #drupalcamp and need your sessions recorded? Sponsor me & I will record your sessions. Ping me! #drupal /cc @drupalstl @tcdrupal

— Kevin Thull (@kevinjthull) April 8, 2015

To my delight, both Twin Cities and St. Louis camps took me up on my offer. Of course, the stakes are even higher now, because it's no longer my own money on the line.

But I'm also feeling more confident about this solution and improve on the process with each camp. Connecting to non-HDMI-capable laptops remains the biggest challenge overall. I've added in a couple (full) DisplayPort to HDMI converters and even successfully tested a new VGA to HDMI converter that got my ancient Sony VAIO to display on my home flatscreen:

The new VGA to HDMI converter shows promise. My ancient Sony Vaio WinXP laptop just connected! #drupalcamp pic.twitter.com/PXb0kBvsCl

— Kevin Thull (@kevinjthull) June 16, 2015

And at DrupalCamp STL I finally got the 100% success rate that I've been shooting for! Three sessions needed fixing in post, but overall, this camp went very smoothly. A huge bonus was the fact that the two rooms were next to each other, minimizing the distance to cover when trying to coordinate laptop hookups and verify timely starts and stops of the records.

Twin Cities is next week, with a much more challenging schedule: five concurrent sessions across two buildings and multiple floors. My Fitbit will likely hit a new high. That, and I need to finally get down to some documentation and podium signage. It's time to share the knowledge I've gained and get more hands and minds involved.

And now for the learnings from DCSTL:

  • swapping thumb drives throughout the day means recordings can be posted during camp
  • well-timed presenter starts/stops means no trimming, which means more recordings can be posted during camp
  • one room had screen flicker and setting the PVR resolution to 1080 helped (typically, the resolution needs to come down to 720 for this, as well as fixing color shifts)
  • having extra SD cards means bad audio can be fixed during down times, which means more recordings can be posted during camp
  • power strips at the podium shouldn't be assumed, and the powered USB hub and voice recorder both have short plugs
  • never plug the powered usb into the laptop, because that can kill your record if resolution changes or the laptop goes to sleep
  • taping down individual components means less cord chaos throughout the day
  • access to ethernet port with a reasonably large pipe going up will get videos posted faster
Mar 28 2015
Mar 28

After my #epicfail that was BADCamp, to say that I was entering MidCamp with trepidation would be the understatement of the year. Two full days of sessions and a 1-and-1 track record was weighing heavily upon my soul. Add to the mix that I was coming directly off of a 5-day con my company runs, and responsible for MidCamp venue and catering logistics. Oh right, and I ran out of time to make instructions and train anyone else on setup, which only added to my on-site burden.

Testing is good.

After BADCamp, I added a powered 4-port USB hub to the kits, as well as an accessory pack for the H2N voice recorder, mainly for the powered A/C adapter and remote. All total, these two items bring the current cost of the kit to about $425.

In addition, at one of our venue walk-throughs, I was able to actually test the kits with the projectors UIC would be using. The units in two of the rooms had an unexplainable random few-second blackout of the screens, but the records were good and the rest of the rooms checked out.

Success.

After the mad scramble setting up three breakout rooms and the main stage leading up to the opening keynote, I can't begin to describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach after I pulled the USB stick after stopping the keynote recording. I can’t begin to describe the elation I felt after seeing a full record, complete with audio.

We hit a few snags with presenters not starting their records (fixable) and older PCs not connecting (possibly fixable), and a couple sessions that didn’t have audio (hello redundancy from the voice recorder). Aside from that, froboy and I were able to trim and upload all the successful records during the Sunday sprint.

A huge shout out also goes to jason.bell for helping me on-site with setups and capture. He helped me during Fox Valley’s camp, so I deputized him as soon as I saw him Friday morning.

Learnings.

With the addition of the powered USB hub, we no longer need to steal any ports from the presenter laptop. For all of the first day, we were unnecessarily hooking up the hub’s USB cable to the presenter laptop. Doing this caused a restart of the record kit. We did lose a session to a presenter laptop going to sleep, and I have to wonder whether we would have still captured it if the hub hadn’t been attached.

The VGA to HDMI dongle is too unreliable to be part of the kit. When used, either there was no connection, or it would cycle between on and off. Most, if not all, machines that didn’t have mini display port or direct HMDI out had full display port. I will be testing a display port to HDMI dongle for a more reliable option.

Redundant audio is essential. The default record format for the voice recorders is a WAV file. These are best quality, but enormous, which is why I failed at capturing most of BADCamp’s audio (RTFM, right?). By changing the settings to 192kbs MP3, two days of session audio barely made a dent in the 2GB cards that are included with the recorders. Thankfully, this saved three session records: two with no audio at all (still a mystery) and one with blown out audio.

Trimming and combining in YouTube is a thing. Kudos again to froboy for pointing me to YouTube’s editing capabilities. A couple sessions had split records (also a mystery), which we then stitched together after upload, and several sessions needed some pre- or post-record trimming. This can all be done in YouTube instead of using a video editor and re-encoding. Granted, YouTube takes what seems like forever to process, but it works and once you do the editing, you can forget about it.

There is a known issue with mini display port to HDMI where a green tint is added to the output. Setting the external PVR to 720p generally fixed this. There were a couple times where it didn’t, but switching either between direct HDMI or mini display port to HDMI seemed to resolve most of the issues. Sorry for the few presenters that opted for funky colors before we learned this during the camp. The recording is always fine, but the on-site experience is borked.

Finally, we need to tell presenters to adjust their energy saver settings. I take this for granted, because the con my company runs is for marketing people who present frequently, and this is basically just assumed to be set correctly. We are a more casual bunch and don’t fret when the laptop sleeps or the screen saver comes up during a presentation. Just move the cursor and roll with it. But that can kill a record...even with the Drupal Association kits. I do plan to test this, now that I’ve learned we don’t need any power at all from the presenter laptop, but it’s still an easy fix with documentation.

Next steps.

Documentation. I need to make simple instructions sheets to include with the kits. Overall, they are really easy to use and connect, but it’s completely unfamiliar territory. With foolproof instructions, presenters can be at ease and room monitors can be tasked with assisting without fear.

Packaging. With the mad dash to set these up — combined with hourly hookups — these were a hot mess on the podium. I’ll be working to tighten these up so they look less intimidating and take up less space. No idea what this entails yet, so I’ll gladly accept ideas.

Testing. As mentioned, I will test regular display port to HDMI, as well as various sleep states while recording.

Shipping. Because these kits are so light weight, part of the plan is to be able to share them with regional camps. There was a lot of interest from other organizers in these kits during the camp. Someone from Twin Cities even offered to purchase a kit to add to the mix, as long as they could borrow the others. A Pelican box with adjustable inserts would be just the ticket.

Sponsors. If you are willing to help finance this project, please contact me at [email protected]. While Fox Valley Camp owns three kits and MidCamp owns one, wouldn’t it be great to have your branding on these as they make their way around the camp circuit? The equipment costs have (mostly) been reimbursed, but I’ve devoted a lot of time to testing and documenting the process, and will be spending more time with the next steps listed above.

Nov 14 2014
Nov 14

When I learned BADCamp wasn't going to be recording sessions, I jumped at the chance to field-test the camp record kits I'm working on. After all, I was confident I fixed the audio equation and was going to start talks with the Drupal Association about next steps.

The current recipe for the kit is a Hauppage HD Rocket PVR for the screen capture and the Zoom H2N voice recorder as the microphone. Add to that a handful of dongles and converters to cover HDMI in/out for the PVR, and you're good to go.

Walking in to BADCamp, I was feeling great. I'm a big advocate for session records and I would be covering three rooms. Pretty cool, right? 

Wrong.

Throughout day one of sessions, a couple laptops had connection issues and had to bypass recordings, but overall things appeared to be going smoothly. It wasn't until the end of the day when copying files off the thumb drives that I noticed many recordings were 0k mp4 files, primarily from the main room. This was the most disconcerting, because every indication was that things were working.

On this, I have a couple ideas, but no solid understanding of why the files didn't write. That was the easiest room in terms of handshake between PVR and projector, plus there was a dedicated A/V crew that was helping hook up laptops.

When we tested at Fox Valley's camp, the laptop was typically disconnected by the time I made it to the rooms to swap out equipment. I suspect that disconnecting the device before hitting the stop button and waiting long enough for the files to write may kill the save. This one will be easy to test.

Projectors were also an issue. In the main space, none were HD and all were different flavors of Sony. Some hooked up just fine, while others squeezed the output. The Saturday-only keynote room was loving it. 

And then there were presenter laptop issues. There were a few older VGA-only laptops. One refused to work with the VGA to HDMI converted, while one worked for about 15 minutes before failing off and on, mid-presentation. One of the A/V techs suggested that maybe there is not enough USB power on the laptops to handle both the PVR and the converter, so a powered USB hub may be in order. Most Macbooks were fine, but a handful gave output with a very green tint to it.

No surprise, HDMI in/out is proving to be more of a hurdle than originally anticipated. In addition to HDMI in, the PVR also has an option to accept component video. It's likely that converting VGA out from a laptop to component video in to the PVR will be a safer bet. So the question becomes whether I can convert the HDMI out of the PVR to VGA for the projectors.   

All in all, this was an enormous fail. That said, this was the absolute best time for it to happen. My goal is to build a system that can handle the majority of the random that a camp will throw at it. 

I'm looking forward to testing the next iteration.

Nov 02 2014
Nov 02

In my initial test of a new session recording kit, some records were lost due to lack of audio. Also, the test setup used powered lav mics, which don't fly too well with multiple presenters. 

As a follow up, I tested the Zoom H2N digital voice recorder because it just so happens to have a line out jack. So the question was whether that line out would be compatible with the HD PVR for audio. I'm happy to report that it is!

This is fantastic news for many reasons: 

  • Co-presenters or panels: Standing several feet away from the unit for the test resulted in great sound quality
  • No microphone cords: Speakers are free to roam, if that is their style
  • Redundancy: If the voice recorder is powered and hooked up correctly, the PVR will spit out a finished MP4, but should that audio fail for any reason, there will be a backup record on an SD card

At $160, the recorder definitely costs more than the original lav mic tested at DrupalCamp Fox Valley. With the suggested accessories (A/C power, tripod, wired remote, case, 32 MB SD Card, audio cable) the audio component comes up to about $225. This brings the total kit cost to just approximately $425 per room, which should accept a full day of recording and accommodate most laptops.

I'll be attending BADCamp and plan to bring the full kit with me, if anyone wants to check it out. Hell, if I get the chance, I will try to test it in the wild. Next steps are testing dongles for various portable devices, as well as contacting the Drupal Association to see what is needed to make these available for camps.

Huzzah!

Oct 06 2014
Oct 06

Let’s face facts: I am not a coder. With a lot of caffeine, much googling and more time than is reasonable, I *can* code my way out of a paper bag, but that’s about it.

So it is highly unlikely you will ever see my username tied to a module or on a list of contributors. Sure, I create the occasional new issue on a module’s issue queue or provided feedback for a patch I needed, which in itself is a form of contributing. But messing around with core? Funny. Me writing a patch? Nope. Sprinting? I only run when being chased.

According to d.o then, I am not a contributor. 

The outward problem with this is that the language around contributing back to Drupal is code-centric. The current system places emphasis on how many commits you have and how many projects you maintain. But there is hope for those of you who, like me, won't be contributing back code anytime soon. 

I am a co-organizer for the Fox Valley Drupal Meetup Group in the western suburbs of Chicago. We held our first camp in 2013 and I was part of the team that helped pull it off, and we recently wrapped our 2014 camp.

When the idea of the inaugural MidCamp was getting kicked around, I offered up my logistics help for that as well. And I'm on deck as the logistics lead for 2015.

Through my non-Drupal day job, I have extensive print experience and do a fair amount of video production work tied to the annual conference we host. So I was all over session records for all three camps, and I'm working on a rebooted session recording kit that the Drupal Association is very interested in learning more about. 

My print skills have been tapped by the core mentor team, mostly because I was hanging around a bunch of them at Drupalcon Austin and they needed materials printed for the mentored sprints at Drupalcon Amsterdam. 

Hell, I even got roped into catering the extended sprints at Austin mainly because I am passionate about food, especially when it comes from something with four wheels and an engine.

My point: there are many opportunities to give back to the community and the project as a whole in real life. It took me a while before I realized that yes, I am a contributor. Just not in a way that is currently measured. But that's not why I do it. I am forever indebted to all the heavy code lifters that I depend on for my work. It just feels good to be able to give back.

So while it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see any kind of percentage powered by kthull on a Drupal site, I’ll continue to lend my time and talents where I can. You should too.

Oct 03 2014
Oct 03

This is a continuation of the discussion started here: http://bit.ly/DrupalAVKits

The session record kits we tested at DrupalCamp Fox Valley 2014 show a lot of promise for easy-to-use, affordable recording stations. There are some issues that need to be worked out and some additional testing to be done before we can approach the Drupal Association to consider making them available for camps.

While most sessions were recorded flawlessly, we ran into a few issues:

  • One presenter laptop (MacBook Air) never successfully made a connection, but luckily we were able to capture a QuickTime screen record
  • There is no indicator of the audio levels, and three sessions were lost due to no audio
  • The record is stopped if the presenter laptop goes to sleep, so we lost a session due to that
  • The touch audio panel is visually misleading to presenters, and very touch sensitive
  • There is only one audio input, so to record multiple presenters, we need to test a small mixer to accept multiple inputs and output one audio channel to the recorder
  • The projector must be able to take a 1920x1080 signal
  • The VGA to HDMI adapter didn’t hold a tight connection to the VGA cord for the projector, so we scored some tip ties from the venue AV department. This was inconvenient when we had to switch out the cords
  • The audio was a bit too quiet, so we should have used the +20db boost for the records
  • There is a detectable clicking on some of the audio records, though can’t say why
  • Additional dongles need to be purchased and tested to capture from various tablets for presenters that come in without a laptop

Next Steps

Before this can be ready for prime time, the audio issue definitely needs to be overcome. I’m hoping to find a digital audio recorder that can feed audio out, which would then pipe into the recording device. This would give direct feedback via the audio recorder as well as a backup audio channel. If we had this, we could have saved three session records, since the video capture was perfect. 

The mics proved to be the weakest link. Three sessions were lost because of no audio channel. Hard to say why, but it’s possible that the on/off switch was inadvertently switched off after initial setup, or the unit was muted (seems less likely). It would be worth testing if a portable audio recorder can feed audio in to the record device. That would also overcome the issue of multiple presenters.

Also, with better communication with the presenters, after we hook up the kit, they can be in charge of the start/stop of the record, since that big red “easy” button can’t get any simpler. Maybe a simple printed sheet listing the various indicators on the device. This would eliminate the need to trim and re-process in post.

Ultimately, with predictable/boosted audio and no need of trimming, session videos could be uploaded directly from the thumb drives.

Bonus points if there is a converter out there to take the 1080 signal out of the recorder and downsample it for older projectors.

The Beta Kit

Record Device - $140
Hauppauge HD PVR
http://www.amazon.com/Hauppauge-Rocket-Portable-Recorder-Systems/dp/B00…

This device provides a pass-through record of the presenters laptop directly onto a USB thumb drive. The movie format is an H.264 1920 x 1080 AAC 30 FPS MP4 video. 

The unit takes HMDI or component video (with a provided adapter cable) in and provides HDMI out. For audio, there is a 3.5mm microphone jack. To start and stop the record, you basically push the big red button. The audio touch panel lets you mute/unmute the microphone, increase the volume and add 20db boost. 

Powered Microphone - $32 
Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone  
http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATR-3350-Omnidirectional-Condenser…

HDMI to VGA (connects to projector) - $10
VicTsing 1080P HDMI Male to VGA Female Video Converter Adapter Cable For PC Laptop DVD HDTV PS3 XBOX 360 and other HDMI input
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00G9UWP94

VGA to HDMI (support non-HDMI PC laptops) - $25
IO Crest VGA to HDMI Convertor with Audio support (SY-ADA31025)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006FILNV6

Mini Display Port to HDMI (support non-HDMI Mac laptops) - $10
PNY A-DM-HD-W01 Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter
http://www.amazon.com/PNY-A-DM-HD-W01-Mini-DisplayPort-Adapter/dp/B007B…

Additional Untested Equipment

2-4 Presenters, if a standalone digital audio recorder does not work

4-channel mixer - 17.44
Nady MM-141 4-Channel Mini Mixer
http://www.amazon.com/Nady-MM-141-4-Channel-Mini-Mixer/dp/B0009X9H9I

1/8” to 1/4” - 2.3
Hosa GPM-103 3.5mm TRS to 1/4" TRS Adaptor
http://www.amazon.com/Hosa-GPM-103-3-5mm-TRS-Adaptor/dp/B000068O3T/

1/4” to 18” - 1.95
Hosa Cable GMP386 1/4 TS To 1/8 Inch Mini TRS Mono Adaptor
http://www.amazon.com/Hosa-Cable-GMP386-Inch-Adaptor/dp/B001CJ68KE

Various tablet support and alternate dongles

Cable Matters SuperSpeed USB 3.0/2.0 to HDMI/DVI Adapter for Windows and Mac up to 2048x1152/1920x1200 in Black - 47.99
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BPEV1XK

VicTsing Dock to HDMI AV Cable Adapter for iPhone 4 4S iPad 1 2 New iPad (1080P) - 11.99
http://www.amazon.com/VicTsing-Cable-Adapter-iPhone-1080P/dp/B00979QONC/

Lightning Digital AV Adapter - 43.37
http://www.amazon.com/Apple-MD826ZM-Lightning-Digital-Adapter/dp/B009WH…

EnjoyGadgets Thunderbolt to HDMI Video Adapter Cable, with Audio Support - 9.98
http://www.amazon.com/EnjoyGadgets-Thunderbolt-Video-Adapter-Support/dp…

Micro HDMI (Type D) to HDMI (Type A) Cable For Microsoft Surface - 5.99
http://www.amazon.com/Micro-Cable-Microsoft-Surface-Compatible/dp/B009X…

Skiva MHL Micro USB to male HDMI cable (6.5 feet) for Samsung Galaxy S3 (SIII LTE i9300 L710 i747 i535 T999), Samsung Note 2, Galaxy S2, Galaxy Note, HTC One X, LG Optimus HD and other MHL Devices (HD-X3) - 11.99
http://www.amazon.com/Skiva-Samsung-Galaxy-Optimus-Devices/dp/B00A9H30L…

LinkS Micro USB to HDMI MHL cable +Micro 5pin to 11pin adapter + 3 Feet Charging Cable in Black Kit-(Compatible with any MHL enable smartphones and tablets) (Adapter kit) - 12.99
http://www.amazon.com/LinkS-adapter-Charging-Compatible-smartphones/dp/…

Cable Matters Gold Plated DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter (Male to Female) with Audio in Black - 11.99
http://www.amazon.com/Cable-Matters-Plated-DisplayPort-Adapter/dp/B005H…

Samsung ET-H10FAUWESTA Micro USB to HDMI 1080P HDTV Adapter Cable for Samsung Galaxy S3/S4 and Note 2 - Retail Packaging - White - 28.91
http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-ET-H10FAUWESTA-Micro-Adapter-Galaxy/dp/B0…

USB A Male to Mini 5 pin (B5) Female Adapter - 2.97
http://www.amazon.com/USB-Male-Mini-Female-Adapter/dp/B001VLIL3K/

Various HDMI converters - 13.99
AFUNTA Hdmi Cable Adapters Kit (7 Adapters)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AA8MAUK

HDMI cable - 7.69
Twisted Veins 1.5ft High Speed HDMI 3 Pack
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FX6KO8Y

VGA to component video (would still need component video cables) - 7.24
StarTech.com 6-Inch HD15 to Component RCA Breakout Cable Adapter - M/F (HD15CPNTMF)
http://www.amazon.com/StarTech-com-6-Inch-Component-Breakout-Adapter/dp…

Personal Voice Recorder Option

Personal Voice Recorder with audio line out - $160
Zoom H2n Handy Recorder
http://www.amazon.com/Zoom-H2N-H2n-Handy-Recorder/dp/B005CQ2ZY6/

Zoom APH2n Accessory Pack for H2n Portable Recorder - $40
AC adapter, case, wired remote, tripod, and other goodies
http://www.amazon.com/Zoom-APH2n-Accessory-Portable-Recorder/dp/B005CQ3…

3.5mm audio cable - $9
FRiEQ® 3.5mm Male To Male Car and Home Stereo Cloth Jacketed Tangle-Free Auxiliary Audio Cable (4 Feet/1.2M)
http://www.amazon.com/Jacketed-Tangle-Free-Auxiliary-Samsung-Android/dp…

32MB SD Card - $17
SanDisk Ultra 32GB SDHC Class 10/UHS-1 Flash Memory Card Speed Up To 30MB/s
http://www.amazon.com/SanDisk-Frustration-Free-Packaging--SDSDU-032G-AF…

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