Friday, August 19, 2011

A nice moment and a tech tip

Today I did something I don't do often enough: I went to each of the rooms where I'm scheduled to teach and checked to see if I could get the technology to work with my computer.

Since it was a Friday afternoon and school hasn't started yet, no one was in the classrooms. They were cool and dark until I switched on the lights, and the rooms had those freshly waxed floors that are never as clean as they are at the beginning of the semester. There's also that feeling of mild outlawry in walking into an empty classroom and taking charge of it, knowing that if anyone challenged me I'd just tell them I was a professor and they'd go away.

This was a geektastic little tour, too, because I figured out how to get everything to work--the computer, the iPad, doc camera, projector, and even sound, which is sometimes a dicey proposition. I tried PowerPoint, web pages, Keynote, and Youtube, playing "Trouble in River City" from The Music Man in all three of the rooms and wandering to the back to see what students would see from various angles.

Here is the nice moment: as I was in the largest of the rooms (before playing the YouTube clips), students kept wandering in singly or in pairs. They'd walk around a bit, look at the desks, and then leave. Some of them talked to me a little: "Hi, are you a professor? I'm just checking out the room before classes start." It was good to see students doing that, and it reminded me that we were both doing the same thing, in a way--trying to get acclimated to the space a little before classes start.

Here is the tech tip, as passed along to me by the Apple geniuses: some time in the spring of 2010, a MacOS upgrade made all the power settings on the laptop default to California power-saving standards, which sounds all eco-worthy and green except that if you were projecting video of any sort, the video on the screen at the front of the room was so dark that students couldn't see it, even if the laptop was plugged in. The same automatic darkening occurred when students would present their work and embed a video clip. I knew something had happened and figured out that it was probably somebody's idea of a feature rather than a bug, but it was maddening because there was no cure for it.

The Apple genius told me that it was a common problem and that this is the way to fix it: go to the battery icon (Energy Saver Preferences), and change the settings from "Better Battery Life" to "Higher Performance" under "Power Adapter." You will have to restart and log in again (not just log in again), but that should fix the settings temporarily. The settings will revert to "Better Battery Life" even if the computer isn't running on battery, so you will have to repeat the process if you shut down the computer.

This fix seemed to work today, so let's hope that it works if I show video in class this year. The last time, students tried to watch a movie that looked like Godfather II seen through goggles filled with dark coffee, and even their young eyes couldn't make out the murky doings on the screen.


Bardiac said...

Smart! And it will make the technology issue so much less stressful during the actual classes!

Dr. Koshary said...

Clever, but what if my MacOS doesn't include this functionality? Presumably, this means that I'm working with an older version of Leopard (I bought my notebook before Lion was released), so that stuff just isn't there in my Energy Saver settings. Is there anything I can do to keep the screen from darkening slightly when I'm showing videos and stuff, while the computer is plugged in? (I always bring my power cord with me, and most podiums I've encountered have a plug to keep the computer charged up during presentations.)

I know: probably nothing. But I've always wondered.

Sisyphus said...

You can also go to "System Preferences" and "displays" and uncheck the box "automatically change brightness levels as the ambient light changes." That's how I've been dealing with going outside with the laptop. Although I certainly don't want to be outside now that I am back here!

undine said...

Bardiac, that's what I'm hoping for. (And I meant to leave a comment on your Bath post!)

Dr. Koshary--I'm not sure what to do with that, but the Apple geniuses could tell you. I do know that it's a big problem, apparently; I kept running into forums where everyone was complaining about this "feature." Maybe there is a deeper setting to change.

Sisyphus--I did try that at the urging of the Mac students yelling for me to do that when I was at the front of the class, but it only worked on the screen, not for the projector. The Apple genius said that the issue for this particular update was the amount of power being drawn by projecting to an external projector, although I also unchecked the "change brightness" feature just to be safe.