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Gillmor Gang: Home Stretch

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On this edition of the Gillmor Gang, the live recording session was briefly interrupted by a rolling upgrade from Zoom. We’ve been using Zoom to virtualize what we’ve been doing for years with a combination of video switching hardware (Newtek’s TriCaster), a bunch of Mac Minis hosting Skype, an audio mixing board, and a backchannel pushing the switched Program Out to the members of the group. At first, we partnered with Leo Laporte on his fledgling video network. Subsequently, I copied Leo’s early studio setup to make the transition to streaming.

At that point, streaming was an emergent model. No Netflix, no Facebook Live, certainly no transition from RSS and podcasting to what we see now as Streaming From Home is adopted. Not just by the technocrati but mainstream cable networks, the remnants of broadcast television, and commercial streaming networks like Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney +, and even Apple TV +. Cable news uses a version of our studio model to bring together roundtables where even the hosts are using Zoom’s background replacement feature or the like to simulate their usual broadcast locations. The 4 or 5 second delay over TCP/IP gives away the tech, but just as with the smaller delay we’ve gotten used to with the translation from landline to satellite and now to cell service, we accommodate this seeming lack of attention being paid.

There are limitations with this new virtualized studio, but with a great deal of tweaking, the relative ease of onboarding Zoom offers, and the ubiquity of use that the pandemic has mandated, a new experience has emerged with recording the show. It’s more relaxed, a subtle hybrid of a “show” and a conversation among friends. As I’ve mentioned before, we use a multi-streaming service called Restream to do just that with the edited Zoom feed to broadcast the live session on Facebook Live, Twitter/Periscope, and via an embedded YouTube window, to our newsletter feed on Telegram. After postproduction, we release an edited, sweetened, titled version on TechCrunch.

From the beginning of the Gang, back in 2004 when it was an audio production only, we leveraged an early social network called FriendFeed, to engage listeners in a realtime chat. FriendFeed was essentially a blend of Facebook and Twitter, so much so that Facebook ultimately acquired the startup and made co-founder Bret Taylor CTO. Those playing along at home might recognize Bret now as President and COO of Salesforce, where he went after his next startup, Quip, was acquired. The FriendFeed backchannel lasted for a few years, opensourced at the time but eventually shut down by Facebook.

To explain the magic of the backchannel, I refer you to a book by an old friend, Harvey Brooks, bass player and right-place-right time musician who recorded with a dazzling set of greats from Miles Davis to the seminal first stop on his journey, Bob Dylan. In an age without liner notes, he’s a living example of the magic of producing the right notes at the moment of creation in the studio. With Dylan, that moment came in the recording of Dylan’s first fully electric record, Highway 61 Revisited. He’d just recorded the single Like A Rolling Stone when Harvey was recommended by his friend Al Kooper, who had famously sat down in front of an organ he’d never played before and survived Dylan’s recording process.

Dylan would run down a song with the musicians a couple of times and then begin recording. The players would glean the structure of the song by watching the artist’s hands; Harvey quickly made notes of the chords in the first couple of run throughs. Then it was off to the races with tape rolling. Often that first take would be the keeper. To break it down further, my analogy would be that this was Dylan’s version of the backchannel, where each player’s intuitive feel would be communicated not just to Dylan but to the other musicians, who often were strangers to each other as well.

In recording the Gang, the trick if you will is to capture that moment between the first time you hear something to the time where other takes don’t improve on that spark of creation. A later take may be more studied and practiced, but it may lose that magic of the spark. In the case of the conversation, it’s not quite an improvisation, but what takes it somewhere else is the backchannel, where we all live and communicate between sessions. It’s not quite a newsletter, where the goal (or at least my goal) is to provide stepping stones between rocks in the stream and not the pebbles that form the rush of news and attitude that overwhelms us.

These days Trumpstock is everywhere, not to be avoided but necessary to be survived. Then there are the glimmers of tech, like the media story about Disney’s reorganization around streaming. The ripple effects of surviving the pandemic’s direct hit on Disney’s park revenue and the need to shift investment to Disney + content production are a major signal of where winners are going to emerge in the entertainment industry’s move to a direct relationship with consumers. The backchannel is a powerful tool for giving us direct access to the underlying information required to make strategic decisions about where and how we live as we recover.

Sometimes the winging-it approach bears fruit; sometimes it crashes and burns as elements of this loosely-coupled cloud mashup unexpectedly shift. In this case, our carefully constructed production flow broke down just as we went live. It took some time and a restart to regroup, and a post show debugging to figure out what had changed in a Zoom autoupdate. This is the process. It’s not perfect, but it works when it works. When it doesn’t, it gets better. Join us on the backchannel.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, October 9, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

For more, subscribe to the Gillmor Gang Newsletter and join the backchannel here on Telegram.

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook … and here’s our sister show G3 on Facebook.

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How to Take Screenshots on Your Smart TV

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We’re all accustomed to taking screenshots on our Android phones, Apple devices, and computers, but you can also take screenshots on your smart TV or streaming device. It’s just more complicated, and it depends what you’re taking a screenshot of in the first place.

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These devices can prevent you from screenshotting movies and TV shows you’re watching, thanks to high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP). However, it never hurts to try. And there may even come a time where you need to upload a screenshot of your device’s interface—if you’re troubleshooting, for example.

On the plus side, you can take screenshots without the use of paid apps across Android TV, Roku, Apple TV, the Nvidia Shield, and Amazon’s Fire TV. Here’s how:

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Taking screenshots on the Apple TV

Apple TV lets you take screenshots of the Apple TV’s interface remotely on Mac, but the Apple TV’s copyright protection is some of the strictest out there, so you won’t be grabbing frames of stuff you’re watching on DRM-friendly apps.

  1. Connect your Apple TV and your Mac to the same network.
  2. Open QuickTime Player on your Mac.
  3. Go to “File” > “New Movie Recording.”
  4. In the live-feed window that appears, select your Apple TV from the drop down menu.
  5. A four digit code should appear on your Apple TV screen. Input that code into QuickTime on your Mac to connect the two devices.
  6. Once you can see your Apple TV interface in QuickTime, press Shift + Cmd + 5 to bring up the screenshot toolbar. Click “Capture” to take a screenshot.

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Taking screenshots on an Android TV

If your Android TV device has a dedicated remote controller app available, check around for a screenshot button. This is the easiest way to take a screenshot on your TV. However, not all Android TVs offer such apps, and only a few include a screenshot function. In those cases, you’ll need a third-party Android TV remote app that lets you take screenshots, such as CetusPlay.

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  1. Install CetusPlay from the Google Play Store on your Android TV and your Android phone.
  2. Make sure both devices are connected to the same wifi network.
  3. Next, enable USB debugging on your Android TV. Go to Settings > About and select “Build” seven times in a row until you see the message “Developer mode has been activated.”
  4. Go back to Settings. Go to Developer options > USB Debugging, and enable “USB Debugging.”
  5. Open CetusPlay on your Android device.
  6. Tap the three-bar icon, then select “Screen Capture” to take a screenshot of your Android TV.

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Taking screenshots on the Nvidia Shield

The Nvidia shield is the only device on this list that actually lets you take a screenshot natively—no third-party apps or external hardware necessary.

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  1. Open the Nvidia shield’s Settings app.
  2. Go to “Device Preferences” > “System” > “Nvidia Share.”
  3. Turn Nvidia share on. You can now take screenshots.
  4. Hold the Home button on the Nvidia Shield remote or the remote controller app to open the share menu.
  5. Select “Screenshot.”
  6. Select “Save to Photos.”

Taking screenshots on a Roku TV/device

Roku users can grab screenshots using the web browser of a PC connected to the same network as the streaming device.

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  1. First, you need to enter developer mode on your Roku device. Using the Roku remote or remote controller app, tap the Home three times, the Up button two times, then Right, Left, Right.
  2. Select “Enable installer and restart” or “Disable installer and restart.” (whichever is listed first)
  3. After your Roku reboots, go to Settings > System > About.
  4. Write down the device’s IP address.
  5. Next, Open a browser window on your computer.
  6. Type in the Roku’s IP address.
  7. Enter your username and password to login.
  8. Once you’re logged in, click “Utilities.”
  9. Click on the “Screenshot” button and the screenshot image will appear on screen. Right-click the picture then select “save image” to download it to your PC.

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Taking screenshots on Amazon’s Fire TV

Amazon Fire TV screenshots must be taken with the help of an externally-connected PC with ADB platform tools installed.

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  1. On your Fire TV device, go to Settings > My Fire TV > About > Network. Jot down your device’s IP address.
  2. Go back to Settings, then go to select Developer Options > ADB Debugging, and enable ADB Debugging mode.
  3. On your PC, Download and install ADB tools. This guide should make it easy.
  4. Open the ADB folder on your computer. Shift + right-click on an empty space, then select “Open command window here.”
  5. In the command prompt window, run this command: adb connect "IP" (note: replace “IP” with your Fire Stick’s IP address we grabbed in steps 1 and 2).
  6. A connection prompt will pop up on your Fire TV’s screen. Accept to complete the connection.
  1. You can now take screenshots remotely from your PC using command prompt. Run adb shell screencap -p /sdcard/image.png to take a screenshot. Then run adb pull /sdcard/image.png to save the screenshot to your PC’s ADB folder.

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Amazon’s Fire tablets are getting new smart home controls

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Amazon is adding a new menu to select Fire tablets to control Alexa-compatible smart home gadgets, the company has announced. The Device Dashboard, which is rolling out starting today, can be accessed via a new Smart Home button on the left of the navigation bar.

Although Alexa-compatible smart home devices can already be controlled with spoken commands (including via Fire tablets), Amazon says the new interface is meant for when “touch might be more convenient than voice.” It opens up some fun possibilities, like mounting a cheap Amazon Fire tablet on a wall to use as a smart home controller.

The dashboard can be accessed from the smart home button on the navigation bar.
Image: Amazon

As you can see in the image above, the shortcut to access the smart home device dashboard is accessible from the navigation bar, and Amazon says you don’t have to close your current app to access its controls.

According to ZDNet, the update is limited to a selection of Amazon’s more recent tablets: the 2018 Amazon Fire HD 8, the 2019 Amazon Fire 7, the 2019 Amazon Fire HD 10, and the 2020 Amazon Fire HD 8.

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Amazon adds device dashboard in bid to make Fire tablets a smart home control center

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It’s been a busy few weeks for the smart home race. Amazon, Google and Apple have all announced new smart speakers aimed at — among other things — cementing their respective positions at the center of users’ connected households.

Adding onto the introduction of a whole bunch of new Echo devices, Amazon is also improving what its famously inexpensive Fire Tablets can do. Today the company will be rolling out a free software update to select slates that brings a smart home device dashboard. The system essentially serves as a one-stop shop for connected devices that work with Alexa.

It’s similar to the sorts of control centers Google and Apple offer with their respective Home apps, with access to things like smart lights, plugs, cameras, thermostats, you name it. Similar functionality can also be found on the Echo Show devices. Fire tablets offer a pretty cheap way in to that functionality (so, too, might Fire TVs, going forward). And, of course, Amazon has also made efforts to improve Alexa functionality on the devices, essentially letting them double as inexpensive smart displays.

Perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle, however, is the addition of smart home hub functionality on the new Echo. The fact was a bit under reported (Amazon, after all, started adding this functionality with previous Echo Plus models), but adding zigbee functionality for the $99 device should go a ways toward lowering that barrier of entry.

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