Category Archives: Gadgets

Experiments in VR with the Ricoh Theta S

I have started to mess about with the Ricoh Theta S, which allows me to take 360 degree/VR pictures and movies. The camera is a great size and shape, not that much larger than a chocolate bar.

Tiny Planet Chicago

My first experiments with it were hand-held, and because of this my hand looks enormous in the resulting images. Using a selfie stick tripod fixed that issue, and the shutter can be controlled remotely from the iPhone app. The Smatree SmaPole was the best tripod option I found. It works primarily as a selfie stick, but has a small tripod base that turns the  pole into a self-standing base.

Recording Movies

Basic test of recording

Testing movie recording with a fully charged (but empty) camera resulted with a 2.98 GB MP4 file (leaving it to record until the device switched off automatically). Transferring this to my Macbook Air was a little fiddly, as the only way for the Theta S to show up as an external drive was to press and hold the WiFi and shutter button on the camera while plugging in to the Mac. Took about six minutes for the file to transfer.

Movie Properties

The file was 25 minutes and 1 second in duration.


Ricoh provides a basic viewer (RICOH THETA) for the Mac, through which you drag and drop the spherical images to see them on your computer desktop. Viewing static images is almost instantaneous, but dragging the movie initiates a longer conversion to an equirectangular MP4 version.  This took about 40 minutes for the 25-minute recording.

Equirectangular video

Transferring the movie using the iPhone app took a while (with the warning not to exit the app during transfer). I actually gave up here, as after an hour I had only transferred about 25% of the 25-minute file.

Theta Recording Options

With a power source attached to the Ricoh Theta S, I have the potential to record up to 45 minutes and 37 seconds of video with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. Bumping that resolution down to 1280 x 720 I have a potential recording time of 2 hours and 13 minutes. Testing now to see how long that takes to import, and whether the loss of resolution is acceptable.

Manfrotto tripod thread adapters

There is a slight design miscue with the placement of the tripod mount hole on the Theta S and the USB terminal. To record for longer than 25 minutes I need external power, but the connecting a tripod blocks the USB terminal. Ricoh is aware of this, and sells the TE-1 extension adapter (for $19…..). However, a couple of Manfrotto Tripod Thread Adapters fixes that issue.


Classroom Video Capture After OS X El Capitan


For several years now, I have recorded every class that I have taught and the majority of the presentations I have given. I had a process that worked for me, efficient and low cost. I shared my process with others.

However, upgrading to OS X El Capitan placed a little bump in the road. My typical process was as follows:

After upgrading, the Ecamm BT-1 Bluetooth webcam would not work at all. This handy little device is no longer supported by Ecamm, so my options were to give it up or roll back the OS to Yosemite. I decided to give up on the Bluetooth webcam, which was a shame. Having a wireless webcam that recorded live greatly speeded up editing – there was no need to import media or struggle with synchronizing content. I have been on the search for a comparable wireless webcam, but there does not see to be anything on the market, and my attempts to MacGyver an alternative all failed.

Adding insult to injury, the Zoom H2 microphone input that I connected to ScreenFlow sounded truly awful after the El Capitan upgrade (with strange audio artifacts and reverb). Again, working with older equipment, so unsure if there was a patch that would help. Newer gear, or just using the onboard microphone on the MacBook Air would be the easiest option.

Creative Vado HD Pocket Video Cam

So I dug out the camera that I previously used to record in the classroom – the Creative Vado HD Pocket Video Cam. A great little device that used to work well for me. The cam could easily record a three-hour class (changing the battery at breaks), and had a decent microphone to pick up room audio (if my dedicated audio recording failed). Unfortunately the Vado records AVI files in an old and unsupported codec. Previously, Perian could be used to play the imported media files in ScreenFlow. However, Perian is no longer an option. Strangely enough, MPEG Streamclip could not convert the AVI recordings into something that Screenflow could use, but Epiphany’s Tube did the job. However, this just added additional delay (import media, convert media, import to Screenflow)  to what had been an efficient process. The Vado HD went back into the drawer of discarded technology, and I looked for something cheap and cheerful.

SJ4000 Wifi

The SJ4000 Wifi was selling insanely cheaply on Amazon, so I decided to give this a go. At the moment I am unsure if this is a genuine SJ4000, as the branding says “DBPOWER,” but this is an extremely affordable GoPro alternative.

The camera comes with a plethora of cases, stands, cables, and accessories. Best of all was a semi-open case that had a tripod screw top and bottom. Through the use of a male threaded screw adapter, I was able to place my Vado HD and  SJ4000 cameras on the same Gorrilapod. This way I could record with multiple cameras, using a tested option as a reliable backup.


First Failure – Too many snippets

My first test was a dismal failure, with the SJ4000 recording a sequence of very short clips. Changing a few settings on the menu fixed that. However, I did see that recordings were stopping about the 45-minute mark. To try and fix this, I bumped the resolution down to 720P (1280x 720 60fps) from 1080FHD (1920 x 1080). In a very basic test (recording myself typing at my desk) this seemed to improve things  – the recording would automatically split into two clips at the 01:06:50 mark. Generally I try and keep my classroom sessions no longer than an hour, so this should be OK. Recording at this stage is about 4GB in size, and works most reliably when copied over from the SJ4000 to my local drive.


At the moment the new process works, but is not as efficient as working with the BT-1. I am contemplating seeing if the Mevo will be a solution for me.

Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder

And maybe I could take a look at the Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder.


Mobile Learning and Tweets for Keynote

Mobile Learning

I was in a Mobile Learning training session today (Out Of The Classroom And Into The World: Using Mobile Devices To Enhance Experiential Learning) care of MoLI. Along the way, I accumulated some resources that I will need to dig into later:

  • ARIS  – “an open-source tool for creating mobile learning games, stories, documentaries, place-based learning activities.” Apparently there is a bit of a learning curve, but this looks to be a fun tool for creating energizing mobile learning experiences.
  • Google Fusion Tables – Integrated into Google Docs, and a way of gathering and visualizing data tables.
  • Siftr – A service that maps social photography. At a very rough glance looks a little like a mashup of Google Maps and Instagram. Not particularly well documented, so will have to play with this one.
  • Slides Carnival – A repository of free presentation templates.
Tweets For Keynote

Tweets For Keynote

Part way through I was reminded that I had not used Tweets for Keynote for a while. What once was broken now looks to be fixed. I will have to try this again too…

Open-Sankoré, OpenBoard, and Uniboard



I have quietly been waiting for Open-Sankoré to update and support OS X Yosemite and/or El Capitan. OpenBoard (a fork of Open-Sankoré) works on OS X Yosemite and El Capitan, and looks pretty much identical.

Finding OpenBoard can be a little difficult, but can be downloaded here.

Interesting enough, Uniboard (the software that Open-Sankoré was based on) works in OS X El Capitan. The origin site to download it, however, does not:

Uniboard can be downloaded from

So, Uniboard and OpenBoard can both work on recent versions of OS X. My recommendation at the moment would be OpenBoard.

BT-1 Bluetooth Wireless Webcam No Longer Works (After OS X El Capitan‎ Upgrade)

Ecamm BT-1

Ecamm BT-1

I updated my MacBook Air to OS X El Capitan‎ (OS X 10.11) last week, and subsequently hit two issues.

The first issue was that Outlook would not work. This luckily has been fixed with an adapt from Microsoft.


The second issue is unlikely to be resolved. The Ecamm BT-1 Bluetooth Wireless Webcams that I use with ScreenFlow to record class presentations no longer work after the El Capitan upgrade. Ecamm discontinued the camera several years ago, so I don’t see any options beyond reverting to an earlier version of the OS. There don’t seem to be any viable alternatives yet. The Logitech Broadcaster Wi-Fi Webcam does not have an El Capitan driver, the HuddleCam Air HD is too expensive.


What To Pack When Teaching in China

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

I was in China recently (first time!) showing Chinese teachers how online learning is conducted in the U.S. Before leaving for China, I diligently checked on what to pack. I made some good decisions. I made some bad decisions. This post hopefully helps others about to make that long journey to a fascinating country.

My style of presenting and teaching is to use a MacBook Air, recording myself with a BT-1 Bluetooth camera (positioned towards the back of the room) and ScreenFlow.


I was in Beijing in June. Hot and humid. Definitely worth checking the weather before visiting. Chinese culture is not particularly bothered about formal attire, so no need to pack a business suite or dress shoes. For teaching in June, lightweight hot-weather clothing is the way to go:

  • Plenty of short-sleeve shirts
  • Semi-formal trousers (TravelSmith has a range designed for heat and humidity, or you can go Outlier)
  • Performance trousers (for visits to all the tourist sites)
  • One pair comfortable walking shoes. Go for something lightweight and breathable.
  • Underwear
  • Hat
  • Umbrella (keeps off both the rain and sun)
  • Packable rain-jacket


Chinese airport security is more restrictive than in the U.S., you may be able to bring something into China, but taking it back on the airplane may be more difficult. One of the most useful gadgets I had on the trip (HooToo TripMate Wireless N Portable Travel Router with 6000mAh Battery Charger) was confiscated as I was leaving Beijing Capital International Airport. The reason was that it had a battery that lacked “proper wording” (officially declared capacity). My understanding is you want to have less than 100 watt-hours, and for this to be clearly stated on the device.

Typical Chinese Electrical Outlet

Typical Chinese Electrical Outlet

Whilst teaching, I was in typical Chinese classroom. Projectors worked with either VGA or HDMI connections; so having adapters for both was a must (which is where the Cable Matters® Mini DisplayPort to HDMI/DVI/VGA Male to Female 3-in-1 Adapter comes in very useful). Internet speeds could be slower than what I was used to, and WiFi could be slower than a wired connection – this is where bringing my own router and Ethernet cable brought dividends.

Essential iPhone Apps

Explore Beijing Subway Map

Explore Beijing Subway Map

Explore Beijing Subway Map

Beijing’s Metro is fantastic (and rapidly expanding). New lines and stations are coming to service. This app helps you navigate, and has maps for each station

Express VPN

Express VPN

Express VPN

A VPN is required in China to access sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google.

Learn Chinese – Mandarin Phrasebook for Travel in China

Learn Chinese

Learn Chinese

English is not commonly spoken in China. A phrasebook is essential.