0atman's WFH Advice

April 9, 2020

To achieve remote bliss, you need two things: Good software and good hardware.

Good Software

Tl;dr: Just use Jitsi, it’s fantastic.

A lot of people know about ZoomEspecially those of us in the security industry , but it’s not my first choice because it isn’t web-based. You have to download a client. It’s not a disaster, they release clients for Windows, OSX, Linux, Android, and IOS - but what about Chromebooks, Raspberry Pi, or weird or old platforms? Outta luck buddy.

The web is the default interface, it’s crazy that in 2020 Zoom don’t have a native webapp. This could have been partially solved by an open-source client, but it’s closed.F-, see me after class.

Google Hangouts is fine, as is Discord, GoToMeeting, etc. Anything web-based. But Jitsi is my recommendation, for the following reasons:

  1. 1 Web-based (with mobile apps for convenience)
  2. 2 Peer-to-peerThis is great for privacy, but also might be why it’s the most high-quality video I’ve seen: No middleware servers.
  3. 3 No registration required
  4. 4 Open source, but backed by a commercial company8x8.com that provide a free server (Jitsi Meet) so you don’t have to set up your own
  5. 5 Supports every feature I’ve heard of, except for Zoom’s break-out rooms.
  6. 6 Even supports push-to-talk, a feature I’ve only seen on Discord before.

So, if you have a choice, use Jitsi.

Good Hardware

Tl;dr: Just use some comfy headphones.

I’m a music producernamtao.com! and remote-working evangelist, so you KNOW I have OPINIONS! Here are the things everyone can do to improve their voicechat experience:

  1. 1 Good Headphones
  2. 2 Good microphone
  3. 3 Good lighting
  4. 4 Good webcam

Good Headphones

Everyone must wear headphones.

Headphones are 90% of the deal. If you only do one thing in this list - PLEASE DO THIS! It’s not even about what you hear - it’s about not using speakers. Speakers are the BANE of voice communications. The problem is that videoconferencing software is CLEVER. Too clever.

Lets look at an example: This is Sam. Sam is not using headphones.Classic Sam.

When another person on Sam’s call (the bubble in blue, perhaps) is speaking, their voice is picked up by Sam’s microphone. The clever software detects this and mutes sams’s mic, otherwise it would transmit back the speaker’s voice to them, like an echo.

However, notice that Sam (in yellow) is speaking too. Tough luck Sam, the clever algorithm has muted your microphone.

The upshot is, if you don’t use headphones, you will be cutting out and won’t be able to participate. Everyone must wear headphones. I recommend comfortable over-the-ear cans that don’t squash your ears. You’ll be able to wear these all day. Get the cheapest you like - comfort is king, they’ll all be fine quality.

Once you’ve got headphones, you’re almost there, to be honest. The following tasks are small upgrades.

Good Microphone

Getting a microphone that isn’t in your laptop won’t increase quality much, but not being physically attached to your keyboard is a GREAT thing. What’s the closest thing to your laptop’s mic? It ain’t your mouth. Sound obeys the inverse square lawwikipedia:Inverse-square_law , and it’s a harsh mistress. Get a microphone that can be close to your mouth: A headset or mic on a stand is a great option.

Good lighting

The webcam you’re currently using is probably fine. What isn’t fine is how bad it looks. Webcams perform TERRIBLY in dimly-lit environments. Like your home. While I don’t recommend putting your monitor in front of a window, that would fix it. Try an LED light ring/grid, or some other diffuse light. If you want proof that your webcam is great quality, go outside during the day and make a call. The sun is very bright!

Good webcam

As mentioned, quality is not a problem with good lighting. But, positioning can be tricky if you’re using your laptop’s cam. A USB webcam can be positioned wherever you like. If using an external monitor, you can put it up there. The place to put it is as close to the videochat window you’ll have your friendsA real friend would send them this article, too. on. You’ll naturally look at their faces when speaking to them, and it’s nicest if they feel you’re looking at them too.

Further Reading

0atman's WFH Advice - April 9, 2020 - Tristram Oaten