As you probably know, I see a lot of animals from my patio. Quite often, they’re even on my patio. Deer, squirrels, groundhogs, turkeys– you name it. It’s a wildlife superhighway out there. But sometimes the wildlife overlaps the parts of my life that aren’t so wild.
As president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Speakers Association, I invited the Board of Directors to my house for the annual retreat. Lately, many word-conscious types are calling them “advances,” perhaps to dispel negative associations. But I decided not to confuse the issue.
Running from 10:00 am to mid-afternoon, the meeting started on the patio while it was still cool enough to be comfortable. I had my laptop set up for a connection with our “guest speaker,” as she was billed on the agenda. Last year during his retreat, our past president, Jeff Tobe, arranged for a conference call with incoming national president Phillip van Hooser on his iPhone. That was a great way to kick things off and set the mood.
In a burst of uncharacteristically geeky one-upmanship, I asked Kristin Arnold, this year’s national president, to connect to us via Skype, so we could have video as well as audio. Also uncharacteristically, the call actually worked. Quite often, when I attempt such feats of technological derring-do, something goes horribly awry. Not this time; we had a fine chat. Kristin could see most of us (I think I was out of frame) and we could see and hear her. We talked about items such as National’s relationship to our chapter and various other topics.
The only minor hitch was an avian interruption. A crow was cawing up in the trees as Kristin was talking. She stopped and said, “Is that a bird or something?” Apparently, my audio signal was actually too clear. Hell, we were lucky the blue jays weren’t congregating. We would have had to move inside. We did that anyway after we said goodbye to Kristin because it was lunchtime and it was getting August hot and humid out there.
It’s not that I’m a total novice at using Skype. I’ve had such video calls with friends in California and North Carolina, with fair success. The quality of the video is sometimes sketchy for varying technical reasons, such as camera quality or the battery dying (which happened to my friend in NC). But to me, it’s that old saw about comparing a new technology to a dog dancing on its hind legs: It’s not that we’re expecting him to do it well; we’re amazed that he can do it at all.
Inside during the second half of the meeting, there was another wildlife break as we all looked out at a black squirrel trying to open one of the feed bins on the patio. Some of my guests had never seen a squirrel that color.
I’m going to suggest to Karen, my president-elect, that she try to outdo me next year and shoot for a holographic projection. The technology? That’ll be her problem.
I know a crow she can use for practice.
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