Saturday, October 01, 2016

Geeks go to Google: Part 2 - Top Contributor Meetup and Google Photos

by Chris Guld

When Google Photos first came out, I knew I wanted to become expert in it. I specialize in helping people manage their digital photos. I had been using, and teaching, Picasa (Google’s free photo management software)  for over 10 years – and I loved it. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people were using Picasa and loving it because I taught them. But, the writing was on the wall that change was inevitable. Picasa was built for the world of digital cameras and computers – it only used the web occasionally, just for sharing your best photos. The world of photos was migrating to smartphones and web, no computer necessary.

There are plenty of people today who take lots of photos with their phones and don’t even have a computer! Google understands this trend more than anyone. Google doesn’t just see the future, they invent it! So when they announced Google Photos as a brand new product, re-engineered from scratch, to handle all of today's digital photo needs – I wanted in! I immediately started using it in May 2015. Then I jumped in on the user help forums. I wanted to become expert in this product because I knew it was going to be good. I started reading everything I could find, and then answering people’s questions in the forum. It didn’t take long before the Google community manager for Photos noticed and invited me to join the Top Contributors program. Here is a 2 minute clip from our Button Show Episode 95 where we discuss how to get help on Google products. In this clip, I tell why I became a Top Contributor.

This is a volunteer program. People become Top Contributors because they have a passion for the product, and a passion for helping people learn. Google then gives us perks. The primary perk is recognition of our expert status. The next is open lines of communication to Google and our other product experts. I am on a team that includes people from the Philippines, Germany, Ghana, UK, and of course Mountain View, California – Google Headquarters.

Top Contributors Meetup

Every year Google recognizes it’s Top Contributors for all products and gives us the biggest perk – a trip to Google Headquarters in Mountain View, CA for a meetup. So this is what we were doing in California. Google paid for my flight  and 2 nights in a hotel. Jim and I decided to make a week of it, sandwiching the meetup between teaching at a computer club north of San Francisco, and visiting friends south of San Francisco. The main event, for me anyway, was the meetup. The first night was a reception right in the hotel, so Jim got to attend this part, and he’s glad he did! The first person to come up saying, “I know you!” was referring to Jim! It was Michael Daniels who, with Jim, was very active in the Google Hangouts help with Ronnie Bincer.
The only person there that I had ever met in person before was Brenna. She was our host on our first Google visit in 2009, now she is apparently in charge of this whole program. It was great to see her again.

The main event began the next day and I was thrilled to meet the community manager for the Google Photos Top Contributors, Ben. He's kind of our "handler," acting as liaison between us and the product development team. He communicates with us at least weekly ,and sets up a monthly video call with all of us. 

Google Photos wasn't the only product represented - there were Top Contributors for Google Hangouts, Google Voice, Google Blogger, Gmail, Calendar, Android, Nexus, Search, Maps, Youtube, and many more! We heard presentations from several "Googlers" - that's what you're called if you work for Google! And, I got to get definitive answers on some Blogger questions and Google Voice questions I had - yes, I am a geek!

They also facilitated several icebreaker activities, and of course meals. I think my favorite part was sitting with Googlers on the product development team for Google Photos - I had some questions of them, but they had even more questions for me! It was also wonderful to get to meet many of my team face-to-face. I not only have team members now, but also some new friends!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Geeks go to Google - Part 1 Golden Gate

Google invited Chris to attend a conference at their headquarters in Mountain View, CA (just south of SF)  on Sept 29-30. We would be flying from Florida, so we figured on making a trip out of it.
The Golden Gate Computer Society is a computer club just north of SF where we've presented seminars in the past; 2013 and 2014. So we contacted them and set up a Google Photos seminar and a Learn-by-Doing smartphone photography class this time. We had one free day in the San Francisco area first and boy did we luck out with the weather! We rented a car at the airport and drove straight to the waterfront. We walked to Pier 39, grabbed a bite to eat and hopped on a Harbor Cruise.

Days like that on San Francisco Bay are simply unheard of! We were so lucky.

Then we headed north, over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. We found a motel, and got our rest. The seminar was the following evening, so we still had a day to be tourist. We discovered - because of Facebook - that our RVing friends Rusty and Tony, were at home in Sausalito. We love visiting them on their deluxe houseboat! The last time we saw them, they had just bought their RV and hadn't started traveling yet - now they had a couple years under their belts and we had a lot of stories to swap. It was great to catch up! You can see more pics of their place from the last time we were here in 2003.

 Then came the seminar and the class with Golden Gate Computer Society:

Then we headed south. We still had one more night before the Google event started and my friend, Arynne recommended taking the coastal route and staying at the Montara Lighthouse Hostel. What?!?! There's a place to stay right on the ocean by San Francisco for less than $300/night?? Oh Yea! We paid $86 for a private room. It wasn't much bigger than the bed, but it had a window overlooking the cliffs and the surf!

I think I stayed in some Hostels in my college days, but I never considered them these days! Yes, they still exist! The delightful young woman at the front desk said they were all over the world, and they all offer private rooms now, not just the dormitories I remember from my younger days. She got my wheels turning, think this might be a good way to visit Australia! And, while we enjoyed our capuccino in the common dining area, we met a fun woman with a drone - she asked Jim's help to get it working. And we learned about the Hostels where she stayed in Northern California that she said were even nicer than this!

Montara Lighthouse is just north of Half Moon Bay. If you've ever visited, you know that their claim to fame is Pumpkins! We're here at the perfect time!

And then we met my old California friends Arynne, and Lanz for lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company. It's a tough life, but someone's got to do it!

All right. Next up Google.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Home in Fort Lauderdale

After our summer tour of about 4,000 miles, we are back in Florida, and back in our townhouse in Fort Lauderdale. We learned that our Air Conditioning had died while we were gone. That's OK, it's not hot here ...........
We called whoever we could find and paid whatever they asked to get that fixed ASAP!

We did Episode 94 of our Live "What Does This Button Do" Show in Air conditioned comfort, with blazing fiber-optic Internet, a big desk, and all our technology in one room where it can be set up and stay! Ahhhh.
Hmm, am I sounding like I'm getting tired of being on the road? Maybe a little. But leave me home for more that a few weeks and I'll sound tired of that too! I love them both!
We didn't have much time at home because we were scheduled to fly to California for Chris to attend the Google Top Contributor's conference (yes, waaay cool.) We had a lot of work to catch up on ... Chris wanted to get the first edition of her Google Photos book done before going to Google, but when we woke up Monday morning to a flat calm, perfect for kayak diving, day - we had no choice. We had to go.

And, of course, we had to visit Chris' mom. She may not know who we are, but she likes anyone who will take her for ice cream!

And, HEY! I did get the book done. It's not ready for prime time yet - but it's ready to give out to some folks at Google and get their feedback.

This is our view on our morning walk just about a mile around a circle by our townhouse. You gotta agree, this ain't a bad place to be!

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Live Broadcast from Walmart Parking Lot Studios!

We were scheduled to present a Google Photos seminar to the Quad Cities Computer Society in Moline, Illinois on Monday night.


imageWe were in our RV in New Jersey, and Monday was a travel day for us. We left the Jersey shore and headed south to go home to Florida. We planned to spend the night at an Elk’s Lodge in New Castle, Delaware after a stop near Atlantic City to visit with Jim’s Aunt Julie.

If you don’t know, many Elks lodges offer parking for their RVing members. We became Elks members during an Escapees RV Rally in Gillette, WY and, using our Allstays App to find them, we have stayed at many of them all over the country! We arrived at the Elks Lodge about 4:30 – perfect! We needed to go live on the web about 7:30 to present our seminar using Youtube Live Streaming services. We’ve stayed at this Elks Lodge before and really liked it. They have a nice big parking lot and one electric hookup for an RV. We were the only RV there.


As soon as we pulled in to their parking lot we started checking our phones for Verizon signal. We have an unlimited data contract with Verizon and we find they usually have the best speeds of any service wherever we are. We turn our phones into hotspots, I connect my computer to my “Mrs. Geek” phone hotspot and Jim connects his computer to his “Mr. Geek” phone hotspot. To do a Youtube Live Streaming event you need a fast Internet connection and plenty of bandwidth. We can easily burn thru a couple of Gigabytes during an hour show.

As I mentioned, we’ve stayed at this Elks Lodge before- on our way north in July – and I remembered there being good Verizon Internet signal here. Unfortunately, I have discovered that trusting my memory is a bad idea! I was only seeing 1 bar of 4G on my phone, Jim was down to 3G on his! A speedtest by Ookla showed less than 1Mbps – not nearly enough! This won’t work. We turned around and headed out in search of better Verizon signal.

We found a Walmart not too far away (also using our Allstays app!) and saw 5 bars of 4G and 16Mbps of upload speed! That will do (upload is more important than download for broadcasting.)  Now to park and crank up the generator for electricity. Then to get the “studio” set up. We usually don’t put out the motorhome slides when we’re in a Walmart parking lot. It’s not good ‘etiquette’ to set up camp for an overnight parking lot stay. But there just isn’t enough room for everything with the slides in, so we compromised, parked in such a way that the one necessary slide was on the curb side and we put it out.

All looked good, and we connected with our audience with plenty of time to spare. Just as Jim was about to click the button to “Go Live” his phone’s hotspot crashed. No clue why. He quickly connected to the MrsGeek hotspot and we continued on! We demonstrated Google Photos for about 40 minutes then took questions from the audience. Somehow Chris’ microphone went missing early on, where DID our stage manager go?

Although we had a live audience in Moline, Illinois, anyone in the world could have tuned in because of the way Youtube works. For a worldwide broadcast from our RV in a Walmart parking lot – I think we did pretty good! Since Youtube automatically records, you can watch the presentation now if you’d like by clicking on the image below.


Here’s what Judi, the president of Quad Cities Computer Society wrote to us afterwards,

Chris, thanks to you and Jim.  As always you did a great job and we really, really appreciate your time and effort.

I am sorry I did not interrupt you once I suspected there was a microphone problem.  I thought at first it was a volume problem and turned up the speakers.  But we did hear through Jim's Mic and I think being able to listen to the recorded version will help catch anything that I missed.

Your presentation helped me a lot and the book is a great resource. I know now MY confusion was about the computer not syncing like the mobile devices and the book lets me read and re-read about the correct methods for deleting photos from each source.

You guys are the best--your dedication to teaching is remarkable and NEEDED by so many of us "older" adults.  I hope you continue for many more years.

Thanks Judi! Let’s do it again sometime!

Here’s a photo of our Walmart Parking Lot Broadcast Studio.


p.s. I’m writing this blog post from another Walmart parking lot! In North Carolina now.

Monday, September 12, 2016

LBI Family and Friends

We're always happy when our travels allow for an extended stay on LBI - Long Beach Island, New Jersey. This is where Jim lived during high school years. Most people would say he grew up here, but he says he never grew up!
This is our favorite parking spot in the whole country, and we had wonderful weather most every day for 2 weeks. The sunsets are unmatched!

And the Jersey tomatoes were plentiful.

No trip to the island is complete without a visit to Old Barney - Barnegat Lighthouse. This time we rode our bikes, about a 14 mile round trip, and got there with perfect timing to photograph the lighthouse with the sunset coming thru the light. Planning is everything!

We also had a treat in that the America - a replica of the Racing Yacht that gave the America's Cup it's name - was docked nearby. More photo ops!

Now here's a story that Jim needs to tell one day. For now, I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks.

But, there is some pretty cool video he took first!

On our last day on the island, Jim's high school class held an informal reunion.

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