Episode 7. Overcoming Mediocrity with David Paskin

Today we are joined by Rabbi David Paskin, aka Torah Tech Guy, “helping people use great tech to share and create great Torah”. Together we begin to answer a simple question: “How do we create digital experiences that aren’t terrible and boring?”

Origin story

Rabbi David considers himself a “Jewish futurist” asking “what’s coming in the future?” He has a history making music on his “Rebcast” (“Rabbi Webcast”) and shooting music videos. When pandemic hit, he merged that with the Jewish community who were doing “a terrible job of creating online content, engaging classes and engaging services.”

Solutions?

“I’m fairly confident that I’ve caused more problems than I’ve solved! What I’ve tried to do is highlight some problems and offer some possible solutions. I don’t think the way I’ve solved a problem will necessarily work for other people”

David Paskin

Working with community leaders, David asks “Can we do better? What are some of the tools that I’ve used that have helped me do better. Let’s work together to figure out what works for you”.

Before pandemic he hadn’t paid attention to quality – audio clarity, gain level, etc…. He didn’t know about bokeh. He was inspired by Zoom‘s terrible faux-bokeh to learn how it could be done better. In his own workflow has been able to produce good audio and video quality.

But, more philosophically speaking, he asked the question “how do we create digital experiences that aren’t terrible and boring?”

Boring online conferences

“When we used to go to conferences we came for the corridors. We didn’t go for the keynotes. But the pandemic meant we could only have the keynotes, we realised how terrible those presentations really were.”

David Paskin

How can we engage people in digital space?

Ivanka ends up having to pour all her energy into these peripheral experiences when talking online. One of the first things she noticed was that David was smiling when he came on the call.

Energy

When you’re in a physical space – a big physical sanctuary with lots of people – there’s a natural energy that exists from the human beings sitting in those seats. In a digital space you don’t have that natural energy – we are literally all alone. How do we bring energy to these experiences?

“It’s like being an actor.” When you’re acting you always have to overdo whatever it is. Same with makeup – you have to over-accentuate. In digital we have to bring more energy.

Standing up

For David, a standing desk is paramount. David clamps everything to the desk or teaches always standing up because there is an energy that comes from standing up.

You can tell the people who are standing from the people who are sitting – it gives people presence.

Eye contact

The eyes are the window to the soul, so eye contact is important.

We don’t want to look at a lens, we want to look at a face. In order to look at your face I can’t look at the camera. People have workarounds like teleprompters.

So that you know that I know that you care.

Michael has a DSLR to the side of the camera and has to make a concerted effort to stare into the lens instead of looking at people’s faces. You could use Duet to put it on an iPad and put it on a teleprompter. If you’re making content you can’t be looking to the side and checking and producing as we go.

Also Michael’s standing desk stopped working.

Creating water cooler moments

Different apps arose at the start of the pandemic like wonder.me or spatial.chat. They’re cute, unique, fun and creative, but they also have problems. But if they don’t play well on mobile, they’re not great.

Wonder.me

In Wonder.me you can move yourself around a physical space unlike in Zoom where you’re dumped in a random box.

wonder.me – you can drag your avatar around the space
When you get close, you enter a circle with them and you can start video chatting

People can have a private chat in the back or at a “table”. But it’s no good for iPads.

Twine

Twine is a Zoom app that gives you a graphical breakout room with different tables, pair people up etc…

There are different ways to create these spontaneous interactions.

Zoom Test Kitchen

Zoom Test Kitchen is a weekly Zoom call where participants discuss the latest and greatest Zoom features and plugins.

You can join the call about Twine on the 8th April 2022, or find the video on that channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/zoomtestkitchen

Comfort with tools

People have to get familiar with digital tools and it’s hard to be immediately confident, especially when it’s people you don’t know.

Hybrid events can be different – Ivanka didn’t mind being chucked into a breakout room but it was also very limited time so you had an escape route. But serendipitous meetings are tricky to set up.

Being brave

After Hours is a 24 hour zoom call that you can jump in but it’s scary. Michael found himself writing about being brave and told himself to stop writing, go and make a cup of coffee, have a think and turn on camera. It’s intense talking to a stranger in this way.

“I live stream all day long and put everything out in public but this intimate situation is difficult – you don’t know what people think of you and who knows who.”

Michael

Providing parameters to that space makes it more explicit what the “rules are” and makes you less dependent on “reading the room”.

More about Office Hours and After Hours.

“One of the ironic experiences that we’re all having is that while we have found ourselves more distant physically, we’ve found ourselves in more intimate experiences with each other. We’re in each other’s homes and that’s weird.” says David.

“I’m seeing into your personal space and you’re seeing me in my personal space. It’s not like seeing you far away on a stage. You can look up my nostrils if you want – that’s how close we are”.

David Paskin

“There’s something really beautiful and scary and really wonderful about the irony of this space.”

We can find connections through these intimate situations even if somebody is initially reluctant to turn on their camera. Sometimes serendipity is a child interrupting a Zoom call.

Never using Share Screen

David never uses Zoom’s “Share Screen” feature because it puts your face too far out of the way.. There is nothing anything more important than your face. A connection will not be made because of a slide deck.

David uses Ecamm with Keynote to create to overlay presented content onto his video feed.

Keynote overlay via Ecamm to allow eye contact to be maintained while showing “slides”
Using a telestrator to sketch on top of the camera feed

Shoot (Michael’s camera app) lets you draw like this on your iPad!

Another Shoot Tip: You can AirPlay to an Apple TV and have that connected to an HDMI input.

Behind the scenes

“It’s not all that complicated” insists David…

Rabbi David’s rig

Gear list

  • Mac Studio with 3 screens attached – main screen, teleprompter and Zoom second monitor
  • MacBook Pro with a second monitor. MacBook pro connected to CamLink through Atem Mini into Mac Studio
  • Atem Mini
  • iPad, iPhone
  • Plus 3 Stream Decks
  • Here is a full, detailed list!

To run the overlay the MacBook pro runs Keynote with a green background rgb(0,177,64).

Keynote is running full screen and the output is coming into the Atem to Ecamm, overlaid on top of video, chroma keyed.

Telestrator

  • Launch telestrator app with green background
  • Use Ecamm to key in the iPad as an overlay

The downside to this approach is that you can’t see the active video – you have to guess where you’re drawing. Alex Lindsay uses a Wacom tablet with a video out that lets him see his face when he’s talking, with an Atem Mini Extreme feeding back into tablet. He also recommends Shoot!

Live video in Keynote

Keynote has a feature where you can feed in Live Video. You can add “Live Video” and place your content on top of yourself, but you can also magic move your camera!

Center Cam was a Kickstarter to let you put your camera in the middle of your screen.

How do people react to these production standards and do they try it themselves?

Generally speaking people are wowed just with the quality of the camera image. The other stuff is pretty much fancy add-ons. But the camera image, and eye contact, is paramount.

But… not many people try it. “My goal is not to get everybody doing what I’m doing” “I want to stand out a bit”.

“I’m incredibly lucky because I’m in a controlled environment – I’m not dealing with other people interrupting. Everything is ready but many other people are working in corporate environment or community environments where they don’t have as much control.

David Paskin

Michael is in a room that nobody ever comes in but has to ride his mute button because of the noise outside. If people are likely to interfere it’s a big impediment.

Hierarchy of importance

  • Connectivity (are you using ethernet?)
  • Audio – a good mic and sound treatment
  • Lighting – a poor camera can be helped with good lighting
  • Camera
  • Background

Is it going okay?

“I think that we have all given in to mediocrity to a certain extent. I think a lot of people have accepted that this needs to be a mediocre experience. And that’s a real shame. Because it doesn’t. It’s not a heavy lift. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars.”

David Paskin

“Two years ago every synagogue spent thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars in order to be able to stream. And it was such a mistake, because you don’t need to spend all this money! You need to be smart, you need to be thoughtful – okay spending a little money will be helpful – but that’s not the endgame. We spent a lot of money we didn’t need to . We didn’t try to do it better. We didn’t say “look at the way we can now reach people, the content we can create, the ways we can inspire people.”

“I can’t tell you how many meetings and classes that I’ve been on that are just unbearable and I don’t understand why people don’t spend a little bit of time to present somethig that is more kind to my eyes and ears, more engaging to my mind and hard and more inspiring to my soul. That’s my mission in life – level up!”

“People get obsessed with the things that are lost but there are so many things that you gain through these new interactions that weren’t possible any other way.”

Michael

Find Rabbi David

Torah Tech Guy has lots of resources for anybody from the Jewish community or beyond.

You can hop on a call with David any time you like.

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