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Remote Demos offer a Great Option for Club Demonstrationsby Dave Hulett
I became addicted to woodturning only four years ago, having spent 30 years selling computers for Compaq, DEC, and Hewlett Packard. The Central Arkansas Woodturners club (CAW) in Hot Springs, Arkansas and has been around since 1998 and has had a solid consistent membership. But we are a small club with about 50-70 members so our budget isn’t as big as a club in a major metro area. CAW’s history had been to bring in an outside turner once a year, usually in the fall for a two-day weekend workshop. We’ve had over the years many excellent presenters and teachers: Jimmy Clewes, David Ellsworth, Alan Lacer, Trent Bosch, Molly Winton and others. These workshops have been excellent and we draw people from surrounding areas who are not club members. However, at a cost of $1,500 to $2000, it uses up almost our entire annual budget.
I was first alerted to the possibility of live remote demos after a club member suggested I watch a video on the AAW site by Alan Zenreich, done at the AAW symposium in 2016. The session was really aimed at professional turners, discussing the advantages and basics on what was required to set up a presentation from their studio. I sought out more information through the AAW forum trying to find out who was actually doing these. I quickly connected with Alan and scheduled him as our first. Through Alan and some other responses from the AAW forum, I compiled a list of turners who are doing this. I started with Alan because he came from the computer industry and was clearly way ahead of the curve technically. We hosted his demo in September, 2017. It was very well received by our membership and I immediately began scheduling others. We have since hosted two more, Trent Bosch in December and Lyle Jamieson just last week. Our membership has universal praise for this method of instruction. Our plan is to replace the single workshop we used to do, with 5-7 live remotes per year--at only $200-$300 per demo. We try and schedule them a few months apart mixing it up with our usual demos done by club members.
Lyle Jamieson performed our live demo in February, see Photo 1.
We have two 55” monitors on the wall and I monitor the session from the center with a laptop and webcam, see Photo 2 and Photo 3.
So, what’s required for a club to host a live, remote demo?
- A computer: A laptop is fine. I have two laptops--one is Windows based, the other is a Chromebook. Either works fine. The club doesn’t have to purchase a laptop for this. Using a club member's laptop works fine, as the connection to the presenter is made through a web site. No software is loaded onto the laptop. However, I would recommend that it be something purchased within the last three years to ensure fast enough processor and graphics to enable live streaming.
- A fast internet connection, preferably wired: Our club meetings are at the local community college and use their wireless connection, which is very fast. There are a several steps I did to test the signal. The first is to do a speed test with any one of dozens of speed test web sites. I use www.speedtest.net, but any one will work. It will measure upload and download speeds. The download is the key one. If yours is below 10-15 mbps (megabytes per second) your chances of success diminish greatly. But regardless of what is measured, the second test is to connect to a video site (YouTube for example) and play a music video in full 1080hd resolution. It should play normally without any stuttering breakup or pausing. Let it play for at least a couple of minutes. Then open a second tab in your browser and start another video. If you can play both at the same time, your connection is probably fast enough.
- A web cam: Although most laptops have a camera and microphone built in, it’s advantageous to have a separate web cam with built in microphone. I use a Logitech bought from Amazon for about $60. It connects via USB and self-configures when you plug it in.
- A computer monitor, TV, or projector: The bigger the better, of course. Our club meets in the student center of the college which has two 55” monitors on the wall. We position 30 chairs in front of each monitor and the school has a distribution box in the wall that allows one cable to split to both monitors. You’ll connect with an HDMI cable directly from the computer.
- Speakers and or PA system: The sound quality in today’s flat panel TV/monitors leaves a lot to be desired. I would not recommend using them. When we start our demos, I make sure the volume on the monitor is reduced to zero. If your club has a PA system and it has an input for an auxiliary source, then you can output to your laptop directly. That’s what our club does. A single cable connects to the PA system which has outputs to two speakers. You can’t really see the speakers in the photo, but they are sitting on a chair below each monitor. The amplifier is in the center directly behind me. If you don’t have a PA system, then you can get a pair of powered speakers made to connect to a computer. But you’ll want to test it in your meeting room to insure the volume is loud and clear enough. The cost is from $80 - $150, depending on how big a room you are filling.
- Cables. You’ll need a cable to go from the laptop to the monitor/TV/projector; a second to go from the laptop headphone output to the PA or powered speaker; and third--a USB cable. And of course, speaker wire. $20-$40 will get you all you need.
So here’s what happens. In your pre-demo communication with the presenter, he or she will usually suggest a conferencing web site to use. There are many, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Cysco Webex, etc. We’ve used Zoom for all three of ours. If there is a fee, it’s paid by the presenter so there is no cost to the club. Go to the conferencing site, sign up, and create a user profile. At least for your first demo, the presenter will suggest doing a test connection a week or so prior to the meeting. Do your test in the same facility as your meeting, not at home. At the agreed upon time, the presenter will call you and give you a meeting ID. With the presenter still on the phone, you log into the conference web site and join a meeting by entering the meeting ID. You’ll see the presenter within 2-5 seconds. The audio can be tricky, but keep the presenter on the phone and he’ll be able to help you if there are issues. Once full audio and video are established, you’ll hang up the phone.
Particularly when hosting your first one, encourage the crowd to ask questions. They aren’t watching a YouTube video! The presenter wants interaction. When someone asks a question, I point the camera/mic towards them. Depending on the quality of the microphone, acoustics of the meeting place and proximity of the questioner to the microphone, you may have to repeat the question for him to hear. Many club members noted that even if you are watching a live person doing a turning demo, odds are you are watching the monitor anyway since a group can’t get close enough to the lathe. So, watching a live remote isn’t much different from watching a turner in the same room as you.
In summary, live, remote demos provide an effective means of learning new woodturning techniques. It can’t replace a live demo but it opens up options of hosting a turner whom you might never be able to see in person. At the moment I am disappointed to say that I have only discovered a handful of presenters offering this option. I am hoping this article will raise its visibility and spur more turners to offer it. However, we have already decided to ask Lyle and Trent to do a second one on different topics later this year. The turners that I have discovered are listed in the link below. If anyone else knows of others, please send me the information. We’d love to host them!