Tag Archives: bamboo

Tools for Virtual Meetings

I get asked a lot about the tools I use to graphically record virtual meetings. ‘Virtual meetings’ in this case means web conferencing sessions, where people are connected from all over the place using computers and some kind of software like WebEx, Connect, GoToMeeting, LiveMeeting, Elluminate, and so forth. The web conferencing software has to either support screen sharing or have a really, really good whiteboard feature. A previous post talks a little bit about my setup, but here’s a little more about why I choose the tools that I do. As always, YMMV.

The Short Answer

Mostly, I use the Wacom Cintiq tablet with WebEx meetings. The Cintiq is an LCD tablet that works like a second monitor you can write on with a special pen or stylus. I use Sketchbook Pro as the software, because it’s very responsive and it has all the basic features I need for digital graphic recording. I attach the Cintiq to my laptop, set up the monitors so they are not mirrored, log in to WebEx, and share the Cintiq screen.

The Longer Answer: Hardware

Wacom Cintiq Tablet (or similar)

Pros: Very easy to write on; best option for web conferencing.

Cons: Expensive; not very portable; can be tricky to hook up and calibrate.

Cintiq

The 21UX. Oooh. Aaaah. Photo by David Roessli. Creative Commons.

The Cintiq comes in two sizes (12WX and 21UX). Currently, I use the 12WX, but I’m trying to get hold of a 21UX. With the 12WX, once all my palettes, brushes, colors, and so on are open, a lot of the canvas is covered. What I do to get around this is set up the Cintiq as a second monitor (instead of mirroring my displays) and I put all the palettes on my regular computer monitor, and just put the canvas on the Cintiq. Then I share the Cintiq (you can choose which monitor you’ll share). I have more canvas space to write on, and the palettes aren’t in the way and distracting the watchers.

The downside is that I have to put down the stylus, pick up the mouse, and mouse over to the other monitor when I want to change brushes or colors. This takes a little practice, but it’s not too bad once you get used to it. The 21UX has enough screen real estate that I could put the palettes right on that screen and not have a problem. Unfortunately, the 21UX is very hard to obtain because it’s always out of stock.

Wacom Bamboo Tablet (or similar)

Pros: Not very expensive; portable; very easy to connect to the computer.

Cons: Difficult to do detail work; you write in one place and watch it happen somewhere else.

Wacom Bamboo One

The Wacom Bamboo. Sleek, isn’t it? Photo by JeanbaptisteM. Creative Commons.

The Cintiq is my first preference. It’s expensive, though. There’s a cheaper alternative, which is a tablet that doesn’t have an LCD display, like the Wacom Bamboo (you can get the smallest one for $99). This tablet is much more portable and much more affordable, and also easier to hook up (just one cable as opposed to several).

The downside is that it’s much more difficult to do graphic recording using this kind of tablet. The surface is very slippery, making the pen hard to control — though you can work around this by placing a sheet of paper over the tablet — but the really difficult part is that you’re drawing in one place (the tablet) while you look in another (the computer screen). Even after a lot of practice, I still find it frustrating to try to record with it in real time. I think it’s because I like to do a lot of detail work, and it’s really not good for that.

Apple iPad (or similar)

Pros: Really really portable; easy to record on; lots of low-cost options for drawing tools.

Cons: Can’t really be used in web conference settings. Yet.

Me, graphic recording on the iPad. Photo by Alan Levine. Creative Commons.

The other question I get quite often is whether the iPad can be used for graphic recording in web conferences. The answer is mostly no, with a tiny little bit of yes. Obviously, you can do graphic recording on the iPad, and I do a lot of it and I love it. However, you can’t really use it for web-based virtual meetings, because there is no way (no reliable way, that is) to broadcast what you’re doing on the iPad to the people in the meeting. The web conferencing iPad apps that exist don’t let you draw on the whiteboard or share your screen (none that I know of allow this, anyway), and you can’t use the iPad to control your computer like you can with the Cintiq.

Well, this is not strictly 100% true, and that’s where the tiny bit of yes comes in. There are a couple of apps for the iPad that sort of let you either broadcast what you’re drawing (Air Sketch) or use the iPad like a tablet/monitor (Air Display), but they are not fast enough or reliable enough to support real-time meetings yet.

I’m still using my first-generation iPad, by the way. Works great.

Software

I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for digital graphic recording on the computer. It’s got the basic set of tools I need (layers, customizable brushes, color palettes), it’s relatively inexpensive, and it’s responsive enough to make real-time graphic recording possible.

On the iPad, I still use either Sketchbook Pro or Brushes, although there are a number of other apps that work equally well. The trick is to pick one that feels right and practice with it until the tools are second nature.

 

 

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Decisions, decisions: Bamboo vs Cintiq vs iPad

I just wrapped up a coaching session on digital facilitation techniques and best practices that started with an overview of some of the hardware choices available, how to hook them up, and how to decide which to use for different situations. To help myself (and my client) think about the big picture, I created this graphic that shows one poor laptop besieged by input devices:

Thesetup

The idea is to get a feel for how they all connect to the computer. Some examples of software that can be used are also there. Working from the middle out, we have the laptop itself. Above it are some software choices: Sketchbook Pro (SBP) or PowerPoint (PPT) for displaying templates like The Grove’s Digital Graphic Guides or custom ones you create yourself, and a web conferencing system (WebEx in this drawing) to connect with meeting participants. Then, around the laptop are three possible hardware/input device choices: The Wacom Cintiq LCD tablet, the Apple iPad, and the Wacom Bamboo tablet. As you can see, the iPad and the Cintiq have displays and can mirror what’s on the laptop, while the Bamboo does not.

Connecting To the Computer

These instructions assume that you have the hardware and you’ve followed the packaged instructions for installing the software drivers that come with them. Don’t try to use the tablet without the drivers. It will only make you unhappy.

The Bamboo is the easiest to connect: just plug in the USB cable and you’re good to go.

The Cintiq and the iPad are tied for second, depending on whether you have a greater fear of cables or of configuring software. The Cintiq comes with a “black box” that has one cable on one side that attaches to the tablet itself. On the other side of the box are 3 cables: one is the power cord, one is a USB cable that plugs into the computer, and the third is the DVI (digital video) cable that plugs into (most likely) an adapter and then into your computer, unless you’re using a computer that has a DVI out already. Your Macbook Pro doesn’t so you need one of those little dongle thingies (mini display port to DVI for the newer ones). If you’re not picky about how it looks you can get a cheaper, non-Apple one from Amazon. I have one of each and can’t tell the difference once they’re hooked up. Switch on the power on the tablet and you’re good to go. Don’t forget to calibrate it to the pen EVERY SINGLE TIME you turn it on, switch from mirroring to not mirroring your display, or hook it back up again. Bleh. You do this in preferences and it only takes a second, but still! Every time.

The iPad takes a little prep, but then it’s easy as long as you’ve got a wireless connection or a computer-to-computer network set up and the technology gods aren’t particularly pissed at you for any reason. What makes it work is a little app by Avatron Software called Air Dsiplay. Air Display turns your iPad into another monitor for your computer, as well as an input device. It’s so incredibly cool. Download the app on your iPad and follow the on-screen instructions (for Mac or Win) to install the desktop application and establish your iPad as connectable. Then, as long as the iPad and the computer are on the same wireless network (or ad hoc network, which means your computer creates a network that your iPad can connect to, but you won’t have Internet access while this is going on), the iPad can be selected in the Air Display drop down on the computer. Once you do that, the iPad becomes a second monitor. You’ll see your computer desktop and applications in miniature on the iPad, and you can control them with taps and swipes. No joke. It’s really freaky and really cool all at once.

When to Use Which?

Use the Cintiq if you possibly can. I realize that’s a little oversimplified, but I stand behind it. However, since sometimes you can’t:

The Bamboo is good for situations where you need to be portable. For instance, if you need to facilitate a virtual meeting while on a business trip, it’s much easier to pack and carry than the Cintiq and much more reliable than the network-dependent iPad. Drawbacks include the difficulty of writing legibly with it — you’ll have to practice a lot and get used to zooming and panning — and the awkwardness of writing on one surface while watching another.

The iPad is not yet good for web facilitation, despite the indisputable coolness of Air Display. I’m hoping that it’s going in that direction, though. Right now the tracking (the time between drawing a line and seeing it appear) is too slow, and I’ve had it not work on some wireless networks depending on how the network is configured. For now, I’m sticking to using the iPad for in-person digital recording only.

The Cintiq is the easiest to use (once it’s hooked up) but taking it on the road is a lot like traveling with an octopus: cables and stuff everywhere. Because you can look where you’re writing, you get much better fidelity for text and drawings. It works really well for visually facilitating web-based meetings.

If you really want to freak your computer out, and I don’t recommend this although I did try it myself, hook it up to the Cintiq, then hook that up to a projector (you’ll need a switcher to make this work). Once you have that set up, turn on Air Display and add your iPad as, technically, the fourth monitor (laptop screen, Cintiq, projector, and iPad). Then watch the poor computer cycle through them trying to get a fix on what on earth you want it to do, and at what resolution. It kind of makes your eyeballs hurt in sympathy. Poor thing.

Disclaimer: I do work for The Grove, but I’d have linked to the Digital Graphic Guides anyway because I think they’re fantastic for web-based facilitation.

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