Post-COVID normal - Shopping Edition
Hardware Setup for Online Meetings, Classes, and Webinars
|My personal setup for online meetings, classes, and webinars. Copyright Albert Causo 2020.|
Everything is moving to online these days including classes and meetings. I actually appreciate this as it saves time and money. Don't get me wrong though, I know the value of face to face meetings. But most of the time, online meetings should suffice.
- Computer or laptop
- Doing online meetings from a mobile phone is not advisable, especially since people on mobile tend to be moving around in a noisy environment.
- Ensure that you have a good connection! Mobile internet using your phone may not provide the best connectivity unless you use the wifi mode.
- At home, ensure that your computer has a good wifi connection. Consider plugging your computer/laptop to your router using an ethernet cable or invest in an extender or mesh. It doesn't matter if you have gigabit service from your telco if your computer has a spotty connection to your router.
- Most laptops have cameras. Just make sure they are clean and angled properly. You may want to put a post-it on it when not in use for extra security.
- Webcams are enough. No need to use high-resolution or professional cameras. In fact, a high-resolution camera can choke a low-bandwidth internet connection. Plus, you would not want all those facial blemishes appearing prominently on the screen.
- Laptops have a built-in mic and speaker. Use them especially if they are of good quality.
- Invest in a good mic/speaker. If possible consider ones with noise-cancelling feature. Wireless (mostly Bluetooth) headsets are good if you need to move around during your meetings. It's very helpful for long meetings although battery life can limit the duration of use.
- For comfort, consider over-the-ear instead of on-ear or in-ear headsets. Over-the-ear covers your whole ear and is very comfortable. On-ear is cheaper but it rests on your ear while in-ear is the small ones you insert in your ears. It looks good and very futuristic but can be uncomfortable with long use like the on-ear.
- Bluetooth headphones, even the noise-cancelling ones, tend to have 2 issues which create a grating experience to the other parties --
- Their mics are sensitive and tend to pick the smallest annoying sound like the whirring and whooshing of an electric fan. Turn off these sources of sound when using this kind of headset/mic. Do not stir a glass of juice with lots of ice or coffee in a metal mug using a metal spoon as the high-pitched banging gets amplified over the mic.
- When Bluetooth connection is not proper, the spotty connection between your computer/phone and the headset creates a lot of static noise. Reset your phone/computer and its connection to your headset. If it is still there, consider using a wired connection instead.
- I have a wired headset, the one that comes with mobile phones, as a back up in case my wireless headset does not work for some reason. It is not ideal but sound connectivity is a priority over convenience.
- If you are in a noisy room, consider putting your mic in mute at all times except when you need to speak. Your meeting mates will thank you for being considerate.
- If your laptop or monitor is close enough to your face, you may not need this. However, your camera will be all chin and nose (or forehead and eyes) if you are too close to your camera.
- But consider putting a light source in front of you, preferably beside or behind the camera position. A desk lamp or a study lamp directed at your face is usually enough. Ring lamps are okay but they tend to be expensive and it could block your view of your computer monitor.
- If you need your whole body to be shown on-screen (sometimes needed for online classes or webinars), consider turning on the ceiling light and adding a few lamps around the room to increase the ambient light and illuminate your whole body. Again, it might be best to put the lamp in front of you behind the camera for optimum lighting.
- Two notes on lighting --
- Consider using warm lamps instead of fluorescent or white lights as you will appear ashen on screen. A warm lamp (similar to a light bulb) gives you a nice glowing tone on-screen.
- Do not direct or point the light source at your face or you will appear with a bright spot on-screen. It is best to have diffused lighting, which is why I recommend a desk lamp, which usually has a skirt that diffuses the light. A ring lamp scatters the light in a radial manner so you do not get a very bright nose.
- This is entirely optional but would help a lot. It is usually an extra monitor connected to your computer or laptop via HDMI or VGA cable,
- This screen helps you to see your meeting mates or students on another monitor while your computer's main screen has the call app with controls and your camera view. Shared presentations can also be shown on the extra screen,
- If needed, you can use a big TV or even a projector, if you need to see all of your 45 students all at once.
What else to automate for the logistics industry?
|Robot Picking for E-Commerce (© Hand Plus Robotics 2020)|
A recent DHL Insights & Innovation article has highlighted three use cases of robotics for the logistics supply chain:
1) Container unloading
2) Outdoor goods movement within a warehouse compound
3) Sorting - although perhaps robot arm manipulators may not be suitable for this kind of work due to the high throughput
I would like to add a few more to this list:
4) Item random packing (after picking and before shipping)
5) Box kitting
7) Tight item packing
Based on what I have witnessed in warehouses, packing lends itself to robotic automation because at this stage, items from an order basket are simply transferred to a poly mailer bag or carton box before shipping. At this stage waybill is verified by scanning the items before they are packed.
Box kitting is a more challenging form of packing since products are placed in tight configuration (usually in some sort of a mold) inside a box. This kind of robotic motion requires higher precision motion and even force control.
For e-commerce fulfillment centers reshelving is as tedious as picking. Reshelving is not simply replenishment of the shelves. In reshelving, items have to be placed properly on a shelf. While a picking robot may be suitable to be used for reshelving, the need for pre-picking tasks such as the opening of carton boxes could make this problem even more difficult than kitting.
And the most challenging problem of all -- tight item packing. When a group of items of varying shapes, sizes, and properties are to be packed tightly in a box or bag, ordered placing becomes paramount. Items cannot just be dropped into the box, they have to be laid down carefully, ensuring that the rest of the ordered would fit in and that the whole box is packed such that it will survive transport handling.
My company, Hand Plus Robotics, specializes in making picking easy for robots. If you'd like to see how we solve the use cases shared above, reach out to me at email@example.com.
XDBot: eXtreme Disinfection Robot
|XDBot being tested at NTU. Photo by NTU.|
How to use phone or tablet as travel camera: is it really a good substitute to point-and-shoot or DSLR?
However, considering how much additional gadgets I would have to lug around when I use those cameras (battery, charger, extra lenses, flash, etc), I thought it was not worth the hassle especially since I like traveling light.
I am not an aspiring photographer anyway (never had the illusion). I realized long time ago that I wanted to take photos, especially during travels, so that I could document and make it easier for me to tell stories. I also want proof of odd or interesting things I find. Making photos look good is not really my goal.
So what's my verdict? Yes, you can use a smartphone or tablet as travel camera. After all, the best camera is the one you have when you needed it. Here are some of the reasons why I said yes:
1) It's lightweight and easily available. Just pull it out of your pocket. That said, battery life might be an issue. So in my case, I used my iPad as my main camera since it has longer battery life, and used my iPhone as a back-up.
2) It's not so goofy using an iPhone to take photos. I thought I'd look stupid, but then again I didn't really care about what other people would say. And I don't really block other people when I take photos. Whether you are using a tablet or a DLSR, you are bound to block someone's lens if you stand between him and the object he is trying to shoot.
3) Smartphone and tablets are multitasking -- I was able to take photos, videos, panoramic shots, selfies (no tripod needed!), edit photos, and upload photos! Also, when internet is available, I can share photos in social media immediately.
4) You don't need a lot of accessories, making it easier to bring along! No extra chargers, no extra cables. The only issue is, if your phone has small storage capacity, then you have to transfer the photos from your phone to another media or online storage.
There are limitations, of course. But I think I can live with them:
1) Low quality -- some phones are good with night shots, some phones have better lenses. But all in all, I just try to adjust my expectations. In the situation where taking photo is not advisable, I take videos instead. The point is, I could still capture the moment, just not in still.
2) Battery anxiety - when I saw my iPad's battery drop to 20%, I started heading back to the hotel to recharge. Well, that's the reason I had my iPhone as a back-up in case I couldn't recharge my tablet in time.
3) Usage problems - dirty or cloudy lense, finger covering the lense, shaky hands, etc
4) It takes practice to get good selfie!
Anyway, here are some photos I took during my recent trip, using my iPad mini or iPhone:
Lastly, here are some tips I found online that might help you use your iPhone as a travel camera:
To sum it up, let me quote a statement from one of the articles above:
Using a phone camera freed-up my head. No settings to fuss over, no gear to shepherd. It became about seeing pictures, rather than creating pictures. When I saw good things, I got good pictures. When I didn’t, there was no technical wizardry to save the day. - Dean Holland