Better meetings

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Even though all my meetings these days are online meetings I found this article by Atlassian on better meetings useful and interesting.

Running effective meetings isn’t simply a matter of doing the obvious things like sharing the agenda and starting on time. While those things are important, they’re just table stakes. The real key to running a great meeting is organizing and running them with a human touch – not like some corporate management automaton.

They have a useful flow chart as well.

When it comes to meetings the article also says

Meetings should never be held for the sole purpose of sharing information – that’s what email, chat, and company intranets are for.

I have been reflecting on meetings at my place of work and how they could be better.

We have meetings, however rather than focus just on making meetings more effective, it helps to understand the purpose and objective of what needs to be done, and then understand if a meeting is the best way to achieve this.

We clarify and agree the objectives of what we are trying to achieve and then identify the best practice to achieve these. We make better use of asynchronous tools for communication and collaboration and use live synchronous tools to achieve objectives which may require a meeting. We should not ignore the social aspect of people coming together and that may be an aim which can be satisfied by meeting (either on Teams or in-person).

We may want to abandon the concept of the regular meeting and only meet when there is a business need or problem that needs to be resolved.

We may want to take time to inform each other via other platforms and channels and each will need to take responsibility to access those platforms.

Image by Ronald Carreño from Pixabay

If we are to have meetings then it is important to plan and prepare for that meeting. This isn’t just about having an agenda.

Any meeting should be planned to ensure that the following is in place:

  • Inform
  • What is being discussed
  • Why it is being discussed
  • What you hope to achieve
  • Anticipate information and people

What is the point of the meeting?

  • Do you need to have a meeting?
  • Keep the meetings on target
  • They are not about problem solving
  • Prepare ahead of time, not during the meeting
  • Meetings should be short
  • Don’t wait, if it says 9:30am, then start at 9:30am
  • Have rules about who speaks and when
  • Focus on the meeting, don’t do other stuff during the meeting

Catch-up meetings (stand up)

  • What did you do since the last meeting? 
    • Team members comment on whether or not their commitments from the previous meeting were met.
  • What will you do next? 
    • Team members explain what they’re working on today and will have done by the next meeting.
  • What issues do you have? 
    • Team members explain where they are running into trouble with certain aspects of the project, work, etc…

One important thing to note is that for the meetings to be effective, problems can’t be solved during the meetings. These issues may not affect the whole team. As a result, spending an excessive amount of time discussing these issues with everyone is not a productive use of team time. After the meeting, schedule a problem-solving session with the individuals who these effect. Such an approach will allow for targeted resolution.

Meetings should be followed up by some kind of list of actions with responsibilities and timeframes (SMART). There isn’t always a need for detailed minutes, but a clear list of actions should be shared and reviewed.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

I also liked this section from the Atlassian article on the differences between effective and efficient.

It’s important to distinguish between effective and efficient.

An efficient meeting starts promptly, stays on track due to good time management, includes as few people as possible, and achieves the stated objective. Job done, right? Wrong. Efficiency is a superficial quality. It says nothing about whether the right people were in the room for the right reasons, or whether the meeting generated any value for the business.

An effective meeting brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead. Not only that, but the result is then shared with others whose work may be affected.

Though a lot of these principles apply to both online and in-person meetings, the current situation which means we have to always default to the online meeting, means even more importantly that we need to do better meetings.

Could write more, but I have to go to a meeting!

From Pogo to Zip

So I was quite sad that my Polaroid Pogo printer finally died in May 2020 and no longer worked, despite some best efforts to fix it.

However at Christmas I got a replacement, the Polaroid Zip.

polaroid zip printer

I had bought my Pogo printer way back in 2009. This was a battery powered zero ink (Zink) printer which did 2” x 3” prints (which were also stickers). You generally sent the images to the printer by Bluetooth, but you could connect an USB stick or camera to the printer as well.

I had bought one after getting feedback from friends on the Twitter.

It cost me £50, though within a few months it had fallen in price to just £17.

I did use it for a while, but there were some core reasons why it never really clicked for me, partly the size of the prints, just 2” x 3” which was too small for most things. Couldn’t really see a practical use for such small prints, even if they were stickers. The other main reason was that the quality of the prints was quite poor in comparison to the HP photo printer I had at the time. So like many other devices after the novelty had rubbed off and the curiosity value had waned, it went into the cupboard.

When I started a new role in 2015, I dusted off the Pogo and started to use it much more.

Dusting off the Pogo

…after making notes in a my new work notebook (trying out visual note taking for project planning) that I realised I actually wanted to include a diagram in my notes. I could have attempted to draw the diagram, but I am not that good at drawing clear diagrams. Also in this case I wanted the actual diagram, not a drawn representation of the diagram. I then remembered the Pogo printer and I wondered…

I had to connect it to the power adapter and remember that the easiest way to do this was to send it the image file over Bluetooth. I was actually quite surprised and impressed that it worked.

I used it for another five years before it finally died on me.

I did think about buying a replacement there and then but in the end it was put off as I had other things to do and spend money on.

So I was well pleased this Christmas to get a replacement, the Polaroid Zip.

Polaroid Instant Print for the Digital Age 

For the first time ever, you can now enjoy all the power and fun of Polaroid instant print cameras without the need for the actual camera. This brand new standalone mobile printer is designed to print vibrant, colorful photos from a variety of sources. It features its own rechargeable polymer battery. After just 1.5 hours of charging time, it is ready to print 25 sheets before needing another charge.

ZINK Zero Ink Paper: No Ink. No Hassles. 

Forget messy ink cartridges and ribbons. This mobile printer prints your photos onto ZINK photo paper, which, when subjected to heat from the printer, activates unique color-forming molecules embedded in the paper’s layers. The resulting prints measure 2×3”, feature deep, vibrant colors, are completely smudge-proof, and sport a peel-back sticky paper for even more fun.

iOS & Android. Bluetooth & NFC. And more. 

Sending your photos to the mobile printer is super easy. Simply connect your iOS or Android smartphones, tablets and other devices over Bluetooth or NFC, and print wirelessly from anywhere within range.

The Zip has a huge advantage over the Pogo in that I can print (using an App) direct from my phone. With the Pogo I was only able to print by sending files to the Pogo from the laptop via Bluetooth. You couldn’t send photos from the iPhone to the Pogo via Bluetooth (and the Zip App didn’t work with the Pogo).

The Zip App works well on iOS and I can see a fair few use cases as I photograph stuff to then print and stick into my notebook.

On my Mac I send images to the printer via Bluetooth, which is quite seamless.

One challenge is the size, 2×3” is small, and many years ago I did have a small HP printer that did 4×6” prints, but alas the printhead on that died! I think something similar may be on my Christmas list for next year.

Buy the Polaroid Zip at Amazon.

Tech Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts 2020

In 2020 I wrote 43 blog posts, compared to 2019 when I wrote just 18. In 2019 none of the top ten posts were written in 2019. This time eight of the posts were published in 2020.

Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash

Number ten was from January 2020 when I wrote about the issues I had with my iPhone 6s Plus and Three.

Where’s my 4G gone?

Since upgrading the OS this has now sorted itself.

In ninth place was an old blog post from 2011 when I was scanning in QR Codes.

Wagamama QR Code

The eighth most popular blog post on the blog was from December 2020, Ten Great Christmas Zoom and Teams Backgrounds. Using the excellent image sites, UNsplash and Pixabay, I put together ten festive images that could be used as backgrounds for Zoom and Teams meetings.

Ten Great Christmas Zoom and Teams Backgrounds

In May my Pogo Printer died and I wrote about this and this was the post at number seven in the top ten, dropping five places from number two last year. This was one of two posts that were in last year’s top ten,

No more Pogo

The sixth most popular blog post was when I fixed a problem I was having with IIFTTT, Instagram and Twitter.

IFTTT Instagram Twitter problem fixed

In at number five on my top ten was some thoughts on working from home which I posted just before the March Covid-19 lockdown. I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this.

Some thoughts on working from home

Of course the lockdown was a totally different experience to what I was use to. No chance to pop out for coffee or off to the office when I didn’t want to work from home.

Having used the BBC backgrounds for a while and having some photographs when I visited The Harry Potter Studio Tour I decided to share some of the more suitable photos as backgrounds for Zoom and Teams and this was the fourth most popular post on the blog.

Harry Potter Teams and Zoom Backgrounds

In third place was a post on how the amazing BBC Archive had posted a series of images of empty BBC Television sets across the years to be used as Zoom or Teams backgrounds.


I used these quite frequently in my Zoom meetings.

BBC Zoom and Teams Backgrounds

The second most popular blog post in 2020 was Using iPad as separate whiteboard in Teams. This was a post in response to a tweet on the Twitter.

This inspired me to give it a go and see if I could get it to work and as a result documented the process.

Using iPad as separate whiteboard in Teams

Despite new posts and more traffic, the most popular post on the blog was my post about QR codes on chocolate bars,  Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling was published in 2015 and was one of many posts I published on the use of QR codes back then.

Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling

Overall the blog became a lot more popular with December 2020 the busiest month in the life of the blog.

Ten Great Christmas Zoom and Teams Backgrounds

Time to get into the festive spirit in the last full week at work with these festive background for Zoom or Teams.

Right click the images to download the images.

Image by bluartpapelaria from Pixabay
Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash
Photo by Todd Diemer on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash
Image by Vincent Ciro from Pixabay
Image by Yevhen Buzuk from Pixabay
Image by Reijo Telaranta from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Using iPad as separate whiteboard in Zoom

So you want to use your iPad a whiteboard in a Zoom meeting? Well this is one way in which you can do this easily. You will need an iPad (obviously), a whiteboard or drawing app and it helps to have another device (main computer) to interact with the meeting as well as using the iPad to draw from.

This post came about after people found my other post Using iPad as separate whiteboard in Teams useful.

That post came about after seeing this tweet on the Twitter from Charles Knight.

It got me thinking about whether this was possible, but also how you would do it. So I quickly tried it out and it worked fine. So I wrote it up as a blog post. 

I have also been using a similar process with Zoom meetings, so have now written this one up as well.

If you are joining a Zoom meeting from the iPad you can can screenshare direct from the iPad, once you are screen sharing on the iPad, you can’t see the chat or other members on the Zoom call.

One solution is to join the meeting from both your main computer and your iPad at the same time.

As well as screen sharing you can also share other content or video from your iPad as well.

So on the main computer start or join a Zoom call.

Note the Meeting ID (and the password).

Start Zoom on the iPad and click Join a meeting.

Then enter  the correct Meeting ID (and the password).

Ensure that the microphone is muted (or don’t join Audio).

In the top right hand corner of the Zoom App select Share Content.

You can use the built in Whiteboard for Zoom however this is quite limited in what it can do.

So select Screen.

The select Start Broadcast.

Others on the Zoom call will be able to see your iPad screen.

On the iPad swipe up to access the main screen. This is the view of that from the Zoom call. All participants in the meeting will be able to see what you are doing on your iPad, so it can be useful to turn on Do Not Disturb model to turn off all notifications.

You can then share content from any app on your device, though some video applications don’t share the video content.

One thing you can do is to use the iPad as a meeting whiteboard. So start your favourite drawing or whiteboard app, I like using Paper by 53.

I can use an Apple Pencil to draw and write and this will be shared with my colleagues in my Team meeting.

To stop broadcasting switch to the Zoom App by either bringing back the iPad home screen and tapping the Zoom App icon or through the app switcher.

You will then see this screen. Tap Stop Share to stop sharing your iPad screen with the Zoom call.

Once you stop sharing you will be faced with this dialogue. Either choice will result in you returning to Zoom.

If someone else in the meeting (say a host) stops you from screen sharing then If you tap OK you will remain in the application you are sharing. If you tap Go to application you will be returned to Zoom.

More Harry Potter Teams and Zoom Backgrounds

The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. At the end of November 2019 we made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow. I took a fair few photographs and have posted them to my other blog.

Some of my photographs I thought might make excellent Teams and Zoom backgrounds, so I posted them to the blog and they have proved quite popular.

So here are some more.

Right click the images to download the images for your personal use only.

Okay, let’s test the speed…

I’ve had my FTTP connection for over a month now, and I am chuffed with the reliability as well as the speed.

However though some of my devices directly connected to the router by cable can benefit from the 1Gb speed, most of the devices in my house are constrained by the speed of the wifi.

I did buy a TP-Link Archer T3U AC1300 mini wireless adapter for my iMac which is too far away to be cabled to the router.

This though was no faster than the built in Airport card, however I could use it on my MacBook which had a slower card and I have managed to achieve speeds in excess of 400Mbps, but not quite the 800Mbps I was hoping for.

My MacBook does not have an ethernet port so I have been unable to test a wired speed for the fibre connection. I bought an USB Network Adapter Syncwire USB 3.0 to RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet.

I did look for a Thunderbolt 2 to Ethernet adapter which I had used before with my MacBook but they were a lot more expensive.

It was plug and play (which I like and wasn’t the case with the TP-Link adapter) and connected my MacBook to the router via cable and tested the speed.

I was very impressed to get in excess of 800Mb/s via the wired connection.

I never thought I would see the day when my home internet access was constrained by the speed of my wireless network, how things change.

Britbox and BT

I have had BT Broadband for just under a month now. Got an e-mail from BT saying I could have six months free of Britbox.

Actually I got a similar e-mail a few days ago, but when I clicked the link it said that I couldn’t get the offer as it wasn’t available to me.

I had considered subscribing to the service before, but didn’t want to pay for another service for things I might not watch. However all the classic episodes of Doctor Who was quite tempting. So it was a bit of a no-brainer to say yes to BT.

It was disappointing that the link hadn’t worked the first time, so when I got the second e-mail I didn’t think it was going to work, but it did. It was a seamless sign up process and then easy to download the app on the iPad and the Apple TV.

There is a good selection of content on the service, and I think we will get some benefit from the service. Will I renew in six months time? I think that depends on what content we’ve watched and whether they refresh the content over the next few months.