Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

Apologies to the Queen of Soul for the post title, but the question is a valid one today, albeit for different reasons than Aretha anticipated. And the answer seems to be…pretty much everyone.

One of the few beneficiaries of the COVID lockdowns is the maker of the videoconferencing software, Zoom. I guess it’s been around for a while, but I had never heard of it until the pandemic hit. But I’ve now participated in two Zoom meetings in three days, and I have to say that I’m fairly impressed.

On Wednesday evening, MLB and I joined about twenty others in a virtual Bible study using Zoom. Then, at noon yesterday I “met” via Zoom with several other members of our Sunday School class to discuss how that Bible study might be improved. (There are some logistical challenges to trying to have an online discussion with that many people. We came to the conclusion that you can’t replicate an in-person gathering regardless of how good the software is. Compromises must be made.)

Zoom is a lot like Apple’s FaceTime. As I told someone yesterday, Zoom is not quite as user-friendly but the learning curve is not steep. The big advantage of Zoom, in my experience, is that it seems to make better use of limited bandwidth than FaceTime. 

With our slow internet, we often experience freezes, dropped or degraded video or audio, and even dropped calls with FaceTime. I’ve encountered none of these problems with Zoom. Granted, I haven’t used it that much, but the experience thus far has been exceptional.

During our Wednesday meeting, we noticed that the scene behind one of the couples switched from the interior of their home to a beautiful sunset over the lake. MLB asked if I thought they had moved out onto their deck and I responded that it couldn’t be because their deck faces east. As it turns out, you can change the background of your image in a Zoom meeting, assuming you have the right software/hardware combination (I don’t). That’s a pretty cool feature, especially if you live in a really boring environment.

One other thing you should have if you want a different background is a green or blue screen…you know, like they use in the movies to create stuff that really isn’t there (like a pleasing personality for Harrison Ford). While Hollywood’s technology is sufficiently advanced to allow chromakeying on any color, green works best for people appearing on TV and video. The reason is pretty simple: people aren’t green. (Sorry, Kermit.) Chromakeying on green lets the software remove that color, leaving the people in the foreground intact, so you can replace the background with the image of your choice. Just don’t wear a green shirt or green eye shadow, or be, you know, Kermit.

If you want to try this, you could paint a wall of your house green…but a more elegant solution (i.e. one that is less likely to lead to a lawsuit and/or a messy divorce) is just to order a green screen from somebody like Amazon.com.

So, it got me to thinking (Ed. — Uh oh.) If I could change the background for our Zoom meetings, what would I choose? Well, I came up with a few possible alternatives.

Me and my good buddies, the Three Stooges
Me and my good LOTRs buddies
Me and my good buddies, Tom and Wilson
Me on another planet
Me and my good buddies, Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote
Me and my good Titanic buddies

The possibilities are limited only by one’s availability of spare time, which nowadays seems to be approaching infinity.