Logitech Spotlight – initial thoughts

As you know by now, I do a fair bit of presenting and teaching. One of my primary tools is Powerpoint, and that necessitates a presentation clicker. I’ve been using a Logitech R400 for quite some time, and it does its job admirably. A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine showed me the new Logitech Spotlight presentation remote which boasts quite a few new functions (as well as a hefty price tag). We ordered one each a few days ago, and a couple of hours ago I got mine.

Here are my initial findings.

The box itself is very nice and thankfully simple to open. I’ve seen enough packaging that wants to cut your fingers off to have learned to appreciate the simple details. Included in the package is a USB to USB-C charging cable, a small leather-ish pouch and the remote itself.
The remote is very sleek, has an excellent feel to it and fits comfortably in my hand. It has three buttons that can easily be discerned by touch and with a nice, distinct tactile feedback when pushed. The receiver is cleverly hidden inside the remote, accessible via a small strap at the bottom.

Setup was a breeze on my windows machine – I downloaded and installed the Spotlight software, paired the remote to my machine via Bluetooth (negating the need for the receiver), charged the device for a minute(!) and off I went. One minute of charging is supposed to give you three hours of presenting – not something I’ve managed to test out, so I’ll buy that for now.

The charging cable is a short thing with a standard USB connector on one end and an USB-C connector in the other. Behind the receiver, hidden deep in the remote hides the charging port. The USB-C slides in without a hitch, but here is my first issue with this remote – to pull the cable out, one has to grab the cable itself and not the connector. I wonder how long this cable will survive day to day use.

Moving on to the actual use of the remote, I found the basic functionality (clicking forward and back) to work excellent. The forward button is much larger than the other two and my thumb easily rested on the button with no fear of accidentally pushing it. So far, I have seen nothing to warrant the $130 price tag, but that’s about to change.

The remote has haptic feedback in the form of vibration that can be set on a timer. It will vibrate five minutes before the end of your presentation as well as at the end of the presentation. The timer can be preset at 30 or 60 minutes, or you can set any time in minutes that you like. A very handy feature that I’d like to see expanded upon, but more on that later.

The most interesting (and the most hyped) function is the airmouse functionality. It can be set to one of three modes – highlight, magnify and circle. Each mode can be run with or without the pointer visible. The idea is that the presenter can point to the screen and highlight items or click a link. This is great in theory, but in my opinion there are a number of issues:

Every mode can be used with or without the pointer visible. With the pointer invisible, there is no way of clicking a link with the remote, just as one would expect. However, since one most often use two display outputs from the laptop while presenting (the slide on the larger display and presenter mode with notes, etc. on the laptop screen), this leads to issues with the pointer itself. When pushing the top button on the remote to bring up the highlighter, the pointer starts out on the presenter screen and must be dragged over to the presentation screen. Unfortunately, the pointer won’t hide either, but stays visible all the time on the presentation.
By turning off “show pointer”, this behavior changes completely and the remote doesn’t care that there are two outputs, and behaves as there is just one. A much better experience, but one without the ability to push any links or buttons.

Next, in order to use the highlighter, magnifier or circle, I have to press *and hold* the top button. This leads to me turning towards the screen (and thus AWAY from my audience) to see where I’m pointing. Then I have to turn back, all while keeping my hand steady so the highlight circle doesn’t move by mistake. I’d love for this feature to be slightly modified so that I could lock the highlighter/magnifier/circle at a specific place, talk freely and click again to move on.

Third, the software allows me to seamlessly switch between the highlighter, magnifier and the circle with a double-click on the top button. This works well enough, but unfortunately every change in mode results in visual artifacts and thus cannot be done covertly. Not so seamless in practice.

Moving beyond the pointer features, another useful feature is the ability to bind a long press of either the back or forward button to different functions. The ability to blank the screen is nice in and of itself, but Logitech has gone one step further – it doesn’t matter if you’re in Powerpoint or not – the screen gets blanked, period. This is very useful for among other things blanking a demonstration while talking. It also possible to bind a custom keyboard combination (including control-, alt- or shift combinations.)

Having used the remote for a few hours I’m positive but not blown away. It’s an excellent presentation remote with a huge potential, but I’d like to see a lot of refinements rather quickly for it to justify its hefty price tag. The good thing is that I believe that most of my issues can be fixed by updating the software and/or firmware of the remote. The ball is firmly in Logitech’s court.

Pros:

  • Excellent design and build quality.
  • Amazing battery capacity.
  • Unique functions (highlighter/magnifier, keyboard bindings, haptic timer) that can be truly great if refined a bit.
  • The ability to blank the screen regardless of using Powerpoint or not.

Cons:

  • On my machine (Dell XPS13 2016) I experienced several Bluetooth disconnects during the three hours I used the remote. Granted, this might be due to my machine misbehaving. The included adapter did not exhibit this behavior.
  •  No way to lock the highlighter or magnifier.
  • No ability to send keyboard macros
  • Visual artifacts when changing pointer mode
  • Difficult behavior with the pointer visible and using Powerpoint presenter mode

Poorly designed charging cable

Ideas for improvement:

  • The ability to turn on or off the pointer like the ability to change pointer mode.
  • Ability to run keyboard macros and not just a single keystroke.
  • The ability to lock the pointer in magnified/highlighted mode.
  • Remove the visual artifacts when changing pointer mode.

This is what I found from a few hours of use. In a week, I’ll be teaching a course and I’ll be back with an update to this blog post after that.

The last post of the year

On January the 7th I celebrate my 10th anniversary at Atea. I came to be a consultant after 6 years working internal IT at the local university, and let’s just say consulting was a bit of a… change in pace. At the university I was responsible for everything that was spelled Oracle or SQL Server (and quite a lot of server/SAN/Windows and UNIX/Linux stuff as well), handling everything from day-to-day with backups, performance tuning and troubleshooting, to architecture, design and implementation of new systems and solutions.

Anyone who’s ever spent some time at a university can attest to the place being somewhat of a “gated community” when it comes to how things work, and while I had a lot of responsibility, in many respects way more than I ever could have had out in the industry at that level of proficiency, it was still the university.

Then I became a consultant, thinking how hard can it be? Answer: very. I suddenly was thrust into situations where I didn’t have all the answers due to the fact that I hadn’t designed and built the platform I was working on at any given time. I constantly felt like being a fraud (hello imposter syndrome!) and was just waiting for someone to expose me and throw me to the curb. I went into overdrive and have thus spent the last 10 years cramming an enormous amount of knowledge into my tiny brain.

I spend a lot of my free(?) time testing, experimenting, reading and toying with tech in general and data related stuff in particular. I’ve made my phone and my computer extensions of myself, always having them within easy reach. In many ways it is easier to use my computer or my phone than to just ask someone. My body was at home but my brain was off doing things related to work.

I’ve spent a large part of my life running just to keep up and having a feeling of inadequacy if I didn’t learn everything in sight. I want to be able to take on the likes of Bob Ward, Reza Rad, Adam Saxton or Brent Ozar AT THEIR GAME – without having neither the experience, resources or clients they do. They’re only human and hence it is doable (the jury’s still out if Bob IS human, but that’s another story) I probably could be as good as any of the aforementioned gentlemen – if I decided to focus on one specific thing and spent the next 15 years doing exactly that.

To stay on top of my workload I have to spend hours and hours outside work just to keep up. “Have to” is not entirely correct as everything I do is done by my own free will.
I talk to a lot of people, read a gazillion blogs and in general interact way more with people on the internet than I do with people physically around me. Don’t get me wrong – I find this to be both fascinating and fun, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. The best thing I know is to go to a conference and meet my #SQLFamily.

But something has been nagging me. Right at the corner of my awareness, the feeling that “something” is not quite right in my life. The other day I came across a youtube clip from an interview with a guy that laid out the problems with the millenials (people born 1984 and later). Even though I’m not technically a millenial, one thing he said resonated with me – he said that a lot of people are addicted to technology and social media in a way that resembles alcohol.

This felt a bit like a mental smack in the face. I’ve been pestering my wife to use her phone more, use more chat apps so I can reach her, sync her email and calendars, etc (she flat out refuses). And I think I did that for the wrong reasons. I realized she’s doing it right and I’m doing it wrong. I spend a lot of time looking at my phone, fiddling with my phone, looking up (irrelevant) stuff on the internet and chatting with other people. In short – I was doing everything but being here, in the present.

This year has been a tumultous one for me and my wife. We’ve lost two cats, our dearest friends of almost 15 years. We’ve had our ups and downs, dealing with medical issues and misfortunes. However, we’ve also decided to get two new cats (goodbye sleep!) and make some serious changes in our lives for next year.

Thus we come to the conclusion and the point I want to make in this blog post.

Starting with my 11th year at Atea I will strive to be bored again. I will make sure it becomes a year where I have the time to read a science fiction novel, where I can just take long walks or just stare into a wall. The phone will be lying somewhere in the apartment so it can be reached if I need to make a call or if someone texts me. I’m going to break my dependence on always knowing what people are doing and I will be spending way more time being here, in the present.

I will spend more time teaching and presenting in 2017 than I’ve ever done and I will be spending more time helping colleagues develop their skills. Next year will be more about helping others, but not by working myself into the wall due to constantly being plugged in to the rest of the universe. I will not be trying to emulate Bob, Reza, Adam or Brent. That’s simply not for me at this stage of my life. I have an enormous respect and appreciation for everything they do, and while I’m envious of them having the drive they do, I’ve come to realize it’s not for me.

My blog probably won’t be seeing monthly updates (when has it ever?) but I have a small project in the works that might suit me better.
Next year, I will be helping others by helping myself. That way everybody wins.

Have a great New Year’s eve, and I’ll catch you on the flipside.

T-SQL Tuesday – body language

This is my contribution to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, this time hosted by Andy Yun.

I was sitting calmly in a session at PASS Summit 2016 listening with only one ear. I was using only one ear as I was busy contemplating the many ways the speaker’s presentation skills could be improved. Teaching and presentation skills go hand in hand, but there are several examples of speakers having one but not the other – the result is predictably somewhat lacking. The more events I attend I can conclude that presenters generally know their technical content VERY well (most often to a downright scary degree) but many can improve on both their presentation design and their presentation skills.

Despite being an introvert guy I love the thought of sharing and teaching. At a party I’m an awkward wallflower, but put me on stage and I become another person.

When it comes to presentation design I subscribe to the “keep it clean” design philosophy. This could be a blog post in itself, but I’d much rather point the reader to Boris Hristov’s site as he is not only very skilled at presentation design but also a former SQL Server MVP. He has managed to come at presentation design from a technical viewpoint that I applaud.

My contribution to this T-SQL Tuesday will thus be concentrated to a few tips on body language as it relates to presentation technique. Let me dive right in.

There is a saying that is applicable on many things: “fake it ’til you make it”, and it can be equally applied here. It doesn’t matter if you feel confident on stage or with your material as long as you look like you are. It becomes somewhat of a loop – if you look confident you will feel confident, and if you feel confident you will look confident. Lather, rinse and repeat. This is how the brain works – it does not have the capacity to discern between external and internal stimuli. This fact that is one of the cornerstones in many forms of cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Posture

Be proud and straighten your back (I *know* how hard this is as I’m a sloucher myself).  Chin up, pull in the stomach, keep your feet parallel to each other.

Use your own body to point with. If possible, skip the laser pointer that every self-respecting nerd is equipped with. By pointing to the screen with your hand, you become message, not the presentation shown on the screen.

Speaking of open body language, keep yourself turned towards the audience. Nobody wants to listen to a presenter talk to the screen or to a nearby wall. Your audience is there to listen to you, so the least you can do is to actually speak to them.

Oh, one more thing with regards to posture: ignore everything you read about “power posing”. It doesn’t work.

  • Using your hands

Take your hand out of your pocket. Right now. You want your body language to be as open and inviting as physically possible.

Use your hands in a relevant fashion. There are many ways I can describe presenters I’ve seen: full rabbit, fork lift, preacher or double fists are rather graphical examples. There are so many ways of holding your hands and the absolute majority of them won’t help your cause at all.

If you’re not using your hands, just let them hang at your sides. That’s it; don’t do anything else. They should not distract the audience and should just hang neutrally at your sides, ready to be come into play when needed.
When you do use them, use functional gestures and make sure they are distinct. Examples of functional gestures include pointing at an attendee with your hand (never your finger!), drawing something in the air or counting on your fingers.

  • Useful eyes

The eyes are extremely powerful instruments for captivating your audience. They also tend to be underused. Sweep your gaze over the audience, making sure to look at all of them- don’t ignore for instance the folks in the back-left corner. From time to time, make sure to look at specific attendees. It can feel scary to meet the eyes of a gazillion people in the audience that you’ve never met or talked to, but there is a trick – don’t. Focus your eyes on the bridge of their nose. You don’t meet their eyes and will not risk losing yourself in them, but the audience won’t know the difference. Try it!

In conclusion

Most presenters know their technical stuff but most presenters could benefit from improving their presentation technique. I realized there at the Summit that I could help, and so the idea for this blog post was born.

The only way to get better at presenting is practice. The best way of becoming aware of your body language is to record yourself presenting. By reviewing yourself with a critical eye you can find and correct whatever flaws you find. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else for a second opinion. Andy is more than happy to help new speakers out, as am I. Don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help in any way. Good luck!

PASS Summit and the #SQLFamily

PASS Summit 2016 was a week ago, and I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to put my thoughts into words. I’ve read many excellent blog posts about the conference and I wholly agree with them all, but I wanted to articulate my feelings in a blog post of my own.

PASS Summit 2016 was my third Summit on paper, but was more like my first in reality. The previous two times, I went to the sessions, spent time on the exhibition floor, ate my lunch with other attendees and then I went back to my hotel to read up, do research, work or just watch TV.

The Summit lends itself to this kind of activity very well, as the sessions and speakers are generally excellent, there is fun stuff to be had, done and seen on the exhibition floor and the other attendees are very friendly. It has consistently been one of the best conferences I’ve been to, and I’ve been to quite a few by now.

But this year was to be something different. This summer I held a presentation at SQL Saturday #536 in Gothenburg and there I had the pleasure of meeting a Norwegian MVP by the name of Cathrine Wilhelmsen. Not only was she firmly established in the PASS community, but she thrives on bringing new people in and helping others grow their network. We kept in contact and she promised to introduce me to other members of the PASS community and I went to Seattle with an open mind.

I had just picked up my badge when Cathrine happened. She grabbed hold of me and proceeded to physically haul me around the hall and introduce me to a multitude of people, several of whom I recognize from the community and whose blogs I frequently read. I must have looked like a deer i headlights, much to the delight of Cathrine. Among the people I was introduced to was the guy I went on to spend the week with – Adam Saxton (of Guy in a Cube fame). We hit it off immediately and hung out almost every night. He in turn introduced me to more people than I can remember, and for this I will be forever thankful to them both.

It proceeded to become the best conference week in my professional career. Let that sink in for a moment. The people I met and my growing network was the best thing that could have happened. I keep going on about that I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years and while that is all good and dandy, it also means that *I’ve* been doing this. Singular. The magic happens when there’s more than one person, when ideas get exchanged and networks grow. The discussions I’ve had with amazing people over the week, over karaoke, drinks, food, pool or just hanging out at the conference center has done more to boost my career to the next level than a lot of the technical work I’ve done the last couple of years. Technical stuff is extremely important, but it is only part of the equation – the other parts are a willingness to share, wide-ranging contacts and a network of like-minded people.

That’s where the SQL Family comes into play, and the whole reason I needed some time to put my thoughts in order. At Ignite in Atlanta I had the idea to have silicone wristbands with the text #SQLFamily made up to give to people in the community. I got a good deal for 200 bands, and kind of expected to give out some 30 or so. This turned out to be the single best idea I’ve had in years – they took off on Twitter like crazy, and people from near and far sought me out to get one. I met even more amazing people this way and the reaction of everyone who saw the band was the same: “I love my #SQLFamily! Where can I get a band like that?” At the end of the conference I had less than 80 left.

wristband

The SQL Family is unlike anything I’ve seen – a collection of like-minded individuals who live and breathe the Microsoft data stack, ranging from wide-eyed newbies to hardened veterans such as Kalen Delaney or Bob Ward. Everyone is invited to come play, and everybody takes care of everyone else. This community is the reason I think PASS Summit 2016 was the best conference of my career, and this community is the reason I strive to share my knowledge through teaching, blogging and presenting. Together we are strong and together we can grow exponentially. Come join us!

SQLHangout #38

We just concluded SQLHangouts #38 where Cathrine and I talked about career transitions from hardcore DBA stuff to slightly fluffier PowerBI / cloud stuff. I want to thank Cathrine for having me. It’s on youtube (and there it will stay, probably for all eternity) so head on over to take a look. I might have said that I’ll be more active on the blog, so I better be lest Cathrine come at me with a pitchfork. Beware of Norwegians with pitchforks!

SQLHangout #38

SQLHangout #38 and Microsoft TechDays

My life is … hectic, to say the least. I just finished a talk at Atea IT-arena in Karlstad last week, as well as a 60-minute recap of Micrsoft Ignite in Atlanta that I held yesterday for 40 people at AddSkills in Linköping. The crowd was very attentive and lots of good questions were raised. Hopefully even more Swedes will go to Ignite next year! I’m preparing for speaking at the Atea IT-arena i Norrköping in late November as well as teaching two courses in December: 10986 (Upgrading your administration skills to SQL Server 2016) and 10989A (Analyzing data with Power BI). Full speed ahead!

At 1800 CET On Monday the 17th of October I have the pleasure to join MVP Cathrine Wilhelmsen for a chat about career transitions in IT. I’ve spent close to 20 years deep under the hood of database systems and only recently crawled up and decided to tackle something new – data visualization and the cloud. Or is it really new? That’s what we’ll cover on Monday, so be sure to tune in and don’t hesitate to tweet us if you have any questions!

SQLHangout #38 live stream

In November it’s time for Microsoft TechDays in Stockholm. I’m happy to say that I’ve received a speaking slot where I will be talking about Azure SQL Database – the cloud awakens. Or, as attendees will find out – what REALLY happened on the Death Star and what led to the downfall of the Empire. Few people know the inner workings of these events, and even fewer realized that it has a lot to do with IT…

SQL Database: the Cloud Awakens

 

SQL Saturday #536

I had a fairly short vacation this year in anticipation for a trip to Japan next year, but the time running up to said vacation was … hectic to say the least. Some time during this hectic workload I had the brilliant idea to send in a few abstracts for SQL Saturdays around the world. One fine day this summer I got a phone call from fellow Sweden Mikael Wedham, organizer of SQL Saturday #536 in Gothenburg.

In short: I’ll be presenting “Unicorn safari – alleviating consolidation pains with SQL Server 2016” in two weeks time. The title does not entirely reflect the content, though, but I’m hoping my audience will forgive me. It’s an intermediate level talk, not necessarily because of the technical content but the fact that a lot of business factors are involved.

SQL Saturdays are the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread, and what’s even better is that they’re free. Now is the time to go to Gothenburg and SQL Saturday!

Presentation skills – do you have them?

A large part of my work as a consultant is giving presentations and teaching stuff. I’ve been doing presenting and teaching since 2000 and I feel fairly good at it. When I started out I was young and inexperienced, something I compensated for with a huge ego instead. Needless to say, I had … mixed results. Thankfully I’m a quick learner and dialed back the ego and increased the use of my ears to a level where I consistently managed to get both my points across and get good scores.

I had my own company in parallel with my normal job at the University and taught for a company called Learning Tree. This was back in the early 2000s when there was still some money to be made for teachers and training companies alike, but after a couple of years this started to go downhill so I decided to shut down my company and focus on my main line of work.

True to form, I couldn’t keep my hands out of teaching so I did a few guest lectures and some internal courses here and there. Fast forward to my present job at Atea, where I’ve been actively involved in giving presentations from day one. I do presentations on anything imaginable when it comes to IT infrastructure, both for internal use and for customers. We also have a couple of events ranging from 100 people to almost 2000 people where I regularly talk or do demos.

In the summer of 2014 I attended a CompTIA CTT+ (certified technical trainer) course as a prerequisite to attaining MCT (Microsoft Certified Trainer) status in order to be able to teach Microsoft courses. This was held in London by a superb teacher by the name of Simon Garlick (of reZound UK). I’ve been through technical trainer courses a few times before, but it was a great refresher aimed at getting the students through CTT+ certification, something that involves videotaping yourself giving a presentation and keeping track of a myriad of details the judges want to see. I passed both the video and written exam parts and finally achieved the coveted MCT title – 16 years after first hearing about it.

Then along came my good friend and colleague Simon. Not only is he exceptionally bright, but he has a knack of finding interesting tidbits that he likes to share with me. This time he had found a book by a guy called David Phillips called “How to avoid death by Powerpoint” and claimed it was very good. I scanned it, realized he is a proponent of black backgrounds (something I have never understood), and decided to see what this was all about.

After reading said book, I found myself unable to look at Powerpoint in quite the same way again. I then watched his TEDx talk and very much liked what I saw.

A few months later Simon came along again and reminded me that this David Phillips person apparently gave a course on presentation skills and had taught a previous colleague of ours. Said colleague was very impressed, and since that is a rare occurrence we decided to book ourselves on a course to see what this was all about.

And boy, am I happy we did.

Having stayed over at the mansion next door, we walked the couple of hundred meters to the venue – another mansion. Here David greeted us and told us he had worked hard on creating the ultimate learning environment – complete with birdsong and absolutely no creaking floors.

We launched straight into the course and David mesmerized us from the moment he opened his mouth. The two days went by in a flash, and without giving too much away I can honestly say that it was the two best training days I’ve ever attended. Me and Simon were pretty good when we came, but we were much, much better when we left. David managed to create an environment where eight people, most of whom had never met each other before, could present to and get feedback from each other as well as the instructor without any friction whatsoever. That is a feat in itself, but he went on to elevate all of us from our respective levels to a common standard that was higher than where I was when I came through the door.

We went through the neurological basis for learning, preparation, movement, body language and use of voice, to mention a few things. One aspect turned out to be key for me – preparation. I’ve been doing things more or less unplugged for 15 years – never again.

I can’t praise David highly enough, and I recommend anyone who is looking for a presentation skills course to look no further. The training is superb, the instructor is exceedingly good and the venue is outstanding. I can’t wait for the next level training.

Blog developments

Things are slowly getting back to normal after the sudden passing a few weeks ago. Sure, it was “only” a cat, but as me and my wife don’t have any kids (and have no intention of getting any either), the cats are our kids. Anyhow, I’ve updated the blog a bit to make it more useful to myself. I’m using Feedly on my iPad for RSS aggregation, and I had the bright idea the other day to do the same on the blog as I don’t always carry my iPad around. Said and done, and there is a new link at the top for the aggregation page. I’m always on the lookout for new blogs so if you have any suggestions, shoot me an e-mail or hit me up in Twitter.

I’m also in the process of revisiting and rewriting my best practice post for SQL Server 2008/2012/2014. Since this is always evolving I’ve decided to create a page specifically for it, and it will be appearing as soon as I’ve cleaned up and updated the code. Stay tuned!