Wednesday, July 04, 2012

presented from cloud

I was the designated presenter for The Sky This Month. To the members of the RASC Toronto Centre at the Ontario Science Centre, in the Telus room, I delivered my talk and provided my usual handout.

Did a couple of things differently this time. The handout I printed at the home office on the hp laser. In colour. I think people enjoyed that. The shading I use in the calendar makes it easier to follow, I hope.

The big thing, the big deal, though, was that I ran the presentation itself from the cloud. And it worked great.

This was a long time coming...

Back in middle of 2010, I started seriously considering that the RASC Toronto Centre council could use the cloud for document management. In particular, the presentation file used for announcements at meeting nights.

I began to look closely at the free online drive space services, like SkyDrive. But I was also interested in applications that were online and permitted sharing. I tried the PowerPoint Web App: it sucked. I started playing with Google Docs. At first blush, it seemed quite mature. I built a sample announcement presentation. I sent a note to Ralph in November 2010 pitching it again: cooperative editing, by the stakeholders, a common shared file, accessible in the cloud, anywhere, anytime, no more massive attachments, last-minute revisions allowed, no worries if one forgot a USB key, etc. He did not show much interest. 

Charles did though. Often we talk about new and different technologies. Closet geek. And often he'd bring up Open Office. I had to keep reminding him that while that might save the Centre money in that we wouldn't have to buy software for our own computers, it didn't solve the problem of multiple authors needing to work on a common file.

In the meantime, the RASC meeting team continued to email ping pong the huge PowerPoint file around in front of every meeting. Finally, in the middle of 2011, I had had enough and asked to be removed from the loop, unless there was a technical issue.

Then in January/February of this year, I had some spare cycles and started to prepare a TSTM presentation in Google Docs. Immediately, a list of questions begin to form: was there a master slide or equivalent way of changing content on all slides, could one hide slides, were there not transitions between slides, and so on. There were many features missing or not yet available.

What was rather strange, in my research, was that some of these things seemed possible. But when I looked for commands in my menus, or for buttons, I couldn't do what was being recommended. And then slowly, progressively, I came across notes and instructions that stated one needed a Google Apps account, as opposed to Google Docs. That the online applications on the Apps side of things were more powerful. Google Apps was business-grade, Docs was consumer, it seemed. I initiated processes to get an Apps account and rebuilt my March presentation in stand-alone software.

Finally, in June, I steeled myself. I wanted to conduct a full test. So started hammering away at it. Again, it lacks some important features but I was able to prepare a presentation with graphics to my satisfaction. All the while it autosaved. I built the file mostly at home, however, a couple of days before, while at a client site, I did a few edits. I didn't need to "transport" the file. I just logged into Google.

For contingency planning, before leaving for the OSC, I took a "backup copy" of the presentation. I used the Export function to a PDF file. It was impressive. Very high fidelity. So if the internet pooched, I had a very good fall-back.

When I arrived at the OSC, out of habit, I took out my netbook. But then I realised I didn't need it! I packed it up. It was "the backup machine." I logged into Google Apps and ran the presentation from the cloud on the OSC computer. That was pretty cool. No USB sticks. It ran smoothly, looked pretty good, there were no technical issues, and it seemed to work fast. I was pretty happy.

It worked for me, a demanding consumer; it would definitely work for the RASC meeting crew.

Experiment successful.


A couple of people, including Charles, caught it. Watchful eyes noticed the "pale" icons inside the presentation screen space were different than what they had seen before.

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