Monday, October 15, 2012

Random Cat is Random

So I'm at a lecture hall where several Makers are giving presentations.  That is to say; these are people who make a living/reputation by being tech savvy, by learning to use the tools of their choice, by being flexible and clever in solving problems.

First a word of background.  There are multiple video standards in the world, and even more peculiar video cable alternatives, especially in the every-changing Mac world.  If there is a common standard protocol, it is component video -- followed by VGA.  Practically every video projector and other conference display system will speak these standards.   Whatever the flavor-of-the-month connector Apple has decided to put on their latest laptop is NOT a common standard.

And you don't have to spend any time at all on the presentation circuit to figure this out.   Well before you have ever learned how to create a nice slide show, you will have realized the importance of bringing the correct adapter to connector YOUR hardware to the standards of the outside world.

Out of some two-dozen people involved in these presentations, exactly one had the foresight to bring his own adapter.  Another had one on him (but I can't say for certain it was foresight).  Which he loaned to the following groups, which didn't always have compatible laptops to that adapter anyways, so they borrowed a laptop from a third presenter and then struggled to transfer their presentations.

Points for clever for the group that used YouTube as an impromptu cloud server, and streamed their own video back off YouTube during their presentation.

I've gotten used to this at the rental hall I do most of my work in now, but I didn't expect to see this sort of not-planning-ahead from Makers.

On the same day, a renter is in with an ambitious music/dance show at my regular hall.  Now, we've had renters before who talk up the sound guy they bring.  And said sound guy then takes one look at our rather modest board and says "Um...the one I usually use is a bit smaller...."

But not this one.  This guy knew boards.  There were a couple peculiarities of our routing that I had to answer questions on, but even then the questions were precise and intelligent and he understood the answer before I could even finish speaking.  And his sound check was wonderful.  I felt so good, having someone who so really, really knew what he was doing -- as well as being so calm and professional and friendly -- using "my" board.  

It was like loaning your skateboard to Tony Hawk.  It was just that nice to see it getting used by someone who could really get the most out of it.  (And that isn't me!)

And maybe there's some insight here about  DIYers versus professionals.  But I don't think so.  Both of these are more like outliers.  As I said...I'm used to seeing Makers being very creative about working around limited resources, and I'm used to seeing renters at our theater be, well, less capable.

If there is a take-home, it is that no matter what you are doing, whether crafting a costume for your own pleasure, or spending thousands of dollars putting on a performance, it is smart to plan ahead.  Anticipate problems.  Try to understand the environment you will be going into.  Expect difficulties and have a Plan B.

Okay; maybe, maybe, the presenters are used to operating in a corporate world where there are always AV people on hand with adapters, internet connections, spare power supplies (also a surprise how many renters I've seen with show-critical software on their laptop and nothing but the battery in it to get it to show time.  And no back-up copy or even a measly thumb drive to get the data out in case of a problem).

Except I don't quite believe it is ever that smooth.  Even if you assume financial levels where everyone automatically has whatever Apple is selling this very month, therefor all the hardware and software are automatically compatible with everyone else's -- well, that isn't the environment they just walked into.  They knew it was a school.  They knew it was a budget situation.

Me, I'd bring my own projector.  Even if the building had promised one, I'd have my own tested system.  Because accidents happen.  If it is mission-critical, a back-up is cheaper than refunded tickets.

Oh, and just to confuse whatever attempted parallel might be here -- the board op was a Maker.  In fact, he'd run sound at Burning Man.  And, boy, is that a bunch of budget improvisation...!

In other random news, I'm heading into tech but I'm already over the show.  Several of the design team are already over the show.  It will be decent, but we're basically ready to stop having brilliant ideas that change everything (and cause the throwing away of tens of hours of completed work) and just go ahead and nail it down and ship it out.

I also glued most of the parts inside the CBR kit and did a test fit.  The existing circuit board actually fits.  Unfortunately that's a naked Arduino board without space for the proper high-voltage drivers.  So I'm probably going to set that board aside and solder up something completely new.

And unfortunately -- I am far from immune to failures of foresight! -- I didn't think to order something like an ATtiny2313.  Which means there isn't room on a single perma-proto for the Supertex high-voltage shift register and any CPU I currently have in stock (and, once again, this isn't something you can buy at Radio Shack).

So I either need a bigger boat...err, circuit board...or two circuit boards, or wait another week and order more components.  None of those options are attractive.

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