Friday, May 25, 2012

Digital Media Certifcation

For those who just joined us here  - or who have been here from the first but forgot - I'm currently on a journey from an AV Project Manager role to an AV Project Engineer role. De facto, I'm almost exclusively doing PE work, but before I get to change the  title on my business card I need to collect all of AVI-SPL's official requirements. Along the way, I'm picking up the skills and knowledge to better be able to handle the work.

This week I finished another step - Crestron's three-day Digital Media Certified Engineer training class.This was sometimes interesting, sometimes humbling, and an excellent addition to my AV education.
Digital Media was introduced seven years ago (it doesn't seem like that long!) when digital video was still primarily associated with consumer applications. The idea was that you could take various video formats (S-Video, VGA, composite video, HDMI), convert them to a digital signal and send them over a single cable to your display. The original solution (which we now call "DM Copper" to distinguish from newer versions) included transmitters at source locations, switches, and receivers at the destination. All of these were connected with Crestron's proprietary Digital Media cable. This cable,  about the diameter of a garden hose, contains three individually jacketed cables - an 8 conductor UTP which looks just like a Cat5, an 8 conductor STP (this carries everything but audio and video) with a rigid spline down the center to separate the pairs (this carries audio and video), and a 4-conductor control cable for communication and power of the transmitters and receivers. Since then, they've added "DM 8G" which uses a single shielded twisted pair (regular Cat5e or 6 works), as well as multimode fiber solutions. It's an important technology to be comfortable with, as Crestron has recently sold their 50,000th DM switch, and shows no signs of slowing down.

What was the DMC-E class like? It's a combination of Creston's other two DM classes - DMC-D (Designer) and DMC-T (Technician). The goal was that, at the end of three days, I'd be able to lay out a DM system, put it together (including cable terminations), test and commission it. It was quite a bit to pack in to three days!

We started with the "D" part, reviewing the alphabet soup that goes with digital video - HDMI, HDCP, EDID, CEC, TMDS, and even a brief mention of SDI. It's all stuff that I mostly have by now, but did add a couple of details about, for example, exactly how CEC works and how we could use it in the unlikely case that we found a reason to do so. For those who don't know, CEC is an absurdly slow control protocol embedded in HDMI video. The idea is that any bit of equipment can trade control signals with any other. So, if you turn on your Sony Blu-ray player, it can automatically switch on your Panasonic TV and flip it to the right input. The problem is that many manufacturers don't want to make it too easy to use competitors' gear, so they use their own proprietary codes as part of the "extended" command set. In the commercial world, of course, we just turn these things off.

Day 1 ended with a fairly detailed review of the capabilities and limitations (most frustrating limitation - that DM systems only support USB 1.0, while many interactive touchscreens require USB 2.x. There seem to be no plans to improve upon this) available digital media hardware, some applications exercises, and a test. This was a fairly easy day for me, and relatively fun.
Day 2 covered the "T" part of the certification. This was, for me, the humbling part. In my project manager role, I'd become often handed a drawing set to a team of technicians and taken for granted that they'd fly through it, quickly and accurately terminating and connecting all manner of cables. While I can put together a standard or even shielded RJ45 connector if given enough time, the multi part DM connectors quite honestly gave me fits. I'd not wrap enough braid around the inner jacket and leave the cable loose. Or leave the conductors too long so the strain relief didn't grip the outer jacket. Or just plain wear out the little teeth inside the connector from having to open and close it too many times after putting one pair in backwards. I'm sure that if I did this kind of work every day I'd get better at it. I also know that after a half day of working on one connector, I discovered new respect for the people who do it everyday and can even manage more than one termination per hour. Frustration notwithstanding, I did manage to head home at the end of Day 2 leaving working DM Copper and 8G cables behind.

We also got to try our hands at a fiber terminations, which was half safety lesson and half actual work. Fiber safety is pretty simple; it's made of glass. You don't want to eat glass, you don't want glass in your eyes, and you don't want glass splinters. So wear goggles, don't eat where you're working on fiber, and if you break a piece off clean it up and throw it away. Putting the connector on a fiber-optic cable is a step-by-step process that feels as if it should be happening in a laboratory. Mark it with the measuring card, strip the outer jacket, strip the inner jacket, wipe clean, cleave with the cleaving tool, realize that you forgot to put the little boot over the cable, swear at yourself while you try to carefully slide it past the now naked fiber without breaking it, slip the end into the connector, screw it together.

Day 3 was the putting it together and testing day - back to my comfort zone. We hooked up all those cables we made to a DM switcher, transmitters, receivers, controller, and a couple of monitors and then got to play with it. I must confess that it did take some of the sting out of the ours toiling over connectors to get to hook them up and see them work.  The theory is fine, but there really is nothing to compare with actually logging into a system and seeing just what you can make it do to confirm that you actually have learned something.
At the end of the day we took a test, showed the instructor that we got our system to work, and got our official certificates. And that is our technology post for this week. Tune in next week for the penultimate installment of the blog-hopping "Riley's Story" .

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ink, Pixels, and Roses

This weekend was a digital vacation for me. No email, no social media, no blogging, not even any writing!


Because I had the pleasure of spending the weekend away, with my lovely bride Karine, at a Bed and Breakfast in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on the occasion of our tenth wedding anniversary.

May 19, 2012

 We stayed in a neat little bed and breakfast, did a farmhouse tour, checked out the wonderful quilts and other local crafts, snacked on ice-cream produced at a local dairy farm/creamery (this was some of the richest ice cream I've ever eaten), and mostly just enjoyed the adventure of exploring the country roads running  between farms. Our lovely kids were dropped off with family, leaving the time for just the two of us.

May 19, 2002
More things have changed in the past decade then can fit here, but if the past years lead to nothing more than a trip home from a relaxing and romantic week off, with two patient children back in the car and another set of happy memories in our minds ... well, it's been a good ten years.

To my love, Happy Anniversary.

To the rest of you, later this week we return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Blog Hop time! Riley's Story - Part the Third

Time to shake off the pixels and dig back into the virtual ink-bottle for some collaborative writing. I'm a couple of days late on this one; life was too busy to do a credible job with it last week, and this past weekend was a "digital vacation" for me.

Now, let's rejoin our hero Riley, and see what Fate has in store for him.

"Riley's Story, Part Three. The Hands of Fate"

At least the job was interesting in my mind. I'd once read a book about spycraft, and this felt exactly what like that. Not  the James Bond car chase and gunfight kind of spycraft. Not even the Jack Ryan NSA analyst genius behind the action kind of spycraft. No, this was the invisible kind. A puzzle made up of a million tiny random acts, painting some big picture seen only by Fate.

Like my first assignment on that very first day, when he'd spoken my name and that damn lie about Caleb. I was still leaning towards the door, wishing I'd left before he nailed me into the room like some kind of taxidermied butterfly with his cheap "I know your name" parlor trick. Was it a trick? Knowing our names was one thing, but that other stuff he said... well, I  just wasn't quite ready yet for some secrets to be out. So I stayed. Besides, it would be an adventure. He turned back to his notebook - one of those marble composition things they make you buy for first grade - and ripped out a page. The tearing paper sounded like thunder in the small office, and it felt shocking. If this was Fate's own notebook, should it be torn?

The paper was just ordinary, torn a bit unevenly with the corner missing. It was filled with numbers and letters written in a spidery, cramped hand,  what looked like astrological symbols and, in the middle, a few recognizable words,

"Bob Linton. 3PM, Hicksville Station, east end of platform. Brown sportcoat, black loafers. Say hello."

I looked from the paper to the strange man - I still wasn't ready to call him Fate - and back again, "Is this some kind of joke? Say "hello"? What kind of job is this?"

He turned back to his notebook, started scribbling something as he answered. It's the same way a teacher will kind of sort of answer your questions while starting to grade papers or something. The message was clear: he was done with me. "You're my assistant. Some people need a nudge. Just a tiny one. Maybe hearing his name when he isn't expecting it will change his mind about something he was going to do today." He looked up at me for just a moment. "It changed your mind, didn't it?" He broke eye contact, looked back down at his papers. I stared at the slightly uneven part in his sandy hair as he talked to the desk, not to me. "And Riley, this is the last time you get an explanation." he glanced up, his lips curled into the barest hint of a smile. "You'll have to put yourself in my hands."

The assignments were all like that, more or less. Packages delivered at odd hours or simply left on a bench in the park.  "Accidentally" bumping into someone on their way off of a bus and apologizing to them by name.  Knock over someone's trashcan. Ride my bike across their lawn, tearing up the grass a bit. Dropping off a letter or spilling water on one,  dissolving words of love or sorrow or anger into a blur of ink and pulp. Whenever I had a letter to destroy, I'd always hope it was words of anger. It must have been. How could it be Fate to erase words of true love?

The trip to Fate's office grew familiar, but each little job added to the mystery. How did he know where so many people would be, what they'd need to see? What, really, were these little nudges accomplishing? Even the pay was weird. He'd give me an envelope containing eighty-seven dollars and forty-one cents cash every other week; one twenty dollar bill, one ten, one five, a single, all the way down to one penny. There was even one of those dollar coins in there. I saved the fifties and spent the rest, except the dollar coins. Those seemed special enough that I tucked them into a drawer along with his notes. Yes, I kept every note. Eventually I'd be glad I did.

Fate never mentioned a deadline, or even a rush, but it just felt wrong to keep Fate waiting. So I'd push, standing on the pedals, sucking the kind of dry sharp air that cuts up the inside of your throat and makes you want to puke It was worth hurrying. This is, after all, Fate.  Finally, I'd lean my bike against the wall of the office complex, force myself to walk not run to his door, willing my heart to slow down just enough for him to not see me sweating. "It's just a job", I'd tell myself. "He's just your boss. Not even that cute."

It never worked.

Today's assignment started like any other. The paper this time was from a spiral notebook, cheap and wide-ruled. He didn't look up, didn't acknowledge that anything about this one was different. I read the note twice before folding it twice and slipping it into my pocket, not realizing how the arrangement - and my life - was about to change.


Nicole will pick this one up from where I left it. I have definite ideas to some of the unanswered questions (including the one Carrie asked about whether Riley is a boy or a girl) and gave some hints leaning in the direction I see, and am quite curious to see where my two collaborators take it.

Next time I get a turn I'll write it more quickly; this was, again, a special week.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hello Project Management Academy. Fare-well Project Management!

This past week I've been away from the office (and home, and the blog) for AVI-SPL's in-house "Project Management Academy". Along with Tech 2 Academy, Tech 3 Academy, and Sales Academy it's a part of our training and  consistent standards to our team. It is also a requirement for my new position as a Project Engineer. So, ironically, I had to take Project Management Academy to leave my current position in Project Management!

Project Management, as defined by the Project Management Institute, is the application of knowledge, tools, and skills towards the completion of a project (which in turn is described as a temporary endeavor to provide a unique product or service. Ongoing or recurring work is, generally speaking, not a project). AV project management generally involves the design, installation, and testing of integrated audio-video systems.
What happens in a week of AV project management training? It starts with a brief technical review, including information about not only AV wiring connectors and standards, but also touching on construction, reading architectural drawings, and types of hardware. After two days of that (plus a test!) we moved on to project management principles. Most of these (ie managing the classic "triple constraint" of quality-cost-schedule) were somewhat familiar to me, but it was valuable to put it in a standardized framework which we can all use together.

A page of notes on structural things
Some of the best parts of the class were tangential to the formal instruction. Not only did meeting my  peers give me a good feeling of the commonality of our work together - we share many of the same struggles, feel the same excitement at overcoming a technical challenge,  and all love technology - but in reminding us what a genuinely broad and deep talent base AVI-SPL has. No matter what challenge a lesson would bring to mind, be it a technical issue, relationship with a tough subcontractor, or a resource issue, There was always someone in the group who had not only met that challenge but found a solution. Someone, for example, mentioned a serious vibration issue with a projector. We had more than one engineer who knew that the right solution, as shown my notes, would be a spring-isolation system uniquely engineered for the given size and weight of the projector. Do I know enough to perform the calculations to create this kind of solution? No, but I do know what it looks like and, better yet, who to ask for help if the problem comes up for me. The week was filled with delightful surprises like that, and reminders that if we need anything from a set of 3D Revit drawings to audio programming to network engineering to structural design of a rigging system,  we not only have people for that, but we very often have experts. It was one of those "proud to be part of the team" moments.

Was it a positive takeaway to know that when I finish my last couple of projects I'll be running the post-mortem meeting with the same form everyone else is using, or to know exactly what to expect from an engineering perspective when I'm called  on to participate in a project kickoff meeting for another PM?
Absolutely. I took this class because it was a requirement, but at the end I felt that it was a week very well spent. It was, as our instructor said, "more fun than fighting a wildcat in a phone booth".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

May I? Day 5 - The Girl who Loved Film

My usual process is to write during my commute, post when I get to a wifi hotspot. This means that weekends are ironically the least likely time for me to post, as I like to have the day with my family and need to have it with chores.

This one I'm writing on an airplane, en route to Dallas for some training. More on that later this week. For now, we'll pick up the next daily-ish writing exercise, another of the "May I?" photoprompts from over at G+. This is a core conceit that I very much like; it might be one of the daily flashes which grows into something more. Yesterday's writing accomplishment - sending "The Witch of Suburbia" out in search of a home - grew directly from a flash piece I wrote from one of these. Very little of my original prose remained, and I moved it from third-person to second-person, but it kept the idea and some of the tone of the original.  I'm not yet sure where this one will go if I carry it forward, but it might be fun to see.

"The Girl Who Loved Film"

On her first date with Zach, Jane brought an old, battered film camera. She wished she'd been born decades earlier, when photographs were something one took with a camera. Carefully and mindfully, followed by a patient wait for negatives, slides, prints. She'd set it at the table, gently touched it as she sipped her drink.
"Nobody even uses a camera anymore. They use phones or even iPads. And they don't take photograps. They take pictures."
Zach looked from the camera up to her eyes, his gaze lingering for just a half-beat  "What's the difference?"
"A photograph is a thing, an artifact, a unique work of art. The alchemy of the darkroom, double exposures, the enlarger lit or a heartbeat too long. It's magic in a way that a digital photo is not."
He grunted an assent through a mouthful of eggroll, discretely checking that his cameraphone was safely hidden in his pants pocket. If he knew one thing, he knew that if you wanted to get anywhere, you needed to humor your date. Besides, the craziest ones were often the kinkiest.
He'd later learn that she wasn't especially kinky, but was an agreeable lover with a soft, pleasant body. Her one quirk was, predictably, her damn cameras. She watched him undress through the viewfinder of an old SLR, playfully snapped shots of him with a refurbished polaroid, even photographed herself nude in the mirror, barely concious of his body pressed behind her, his hardness against her soft curves, one arm reaching across her body to cup a breast. He was barely aware of the camera. She smelled faintly of chemicals. Always.
At last she lead him, still naked, to her darkroom.  She gave him a moment to memorize the locations of shallow pans of developer and fixer, sealed cannisters of film, the remaining arcane tools of the photographer's trade. She turned off the lights, cloaking them in deeper darkness than he could remember; no illuminated clock, no streetlight spilling in through a window, no nightlight, nothing. Now she moved behind him, fingertips tracing his flank down to his hip, erect nipples scraping erotically against his back. She whispered, "don't you love this? Isn't it so much more real than digital?"
He whispered back a breathy yes, whether to the question or her touch unclear. To speak outloud seemed wrong, almost blasphemous. In the darkness, he became hyperaware of her touch, disconnected from any other awareness. As she wrapped a hand around him he closes his eyes, enveloping darkness in darkness. As the tension grew in him, she whisered,
"some say that the darkroon is a place of magic, of alchemy. That a true photographer can catch your very soul."
Her words came from impossibly far away, her touch impossibly near. The sounds of flesh against flesh, her hand squeezing tighter, moving faster, then at the moment of release a brightflash of white hot light, from nowhere, burning into the back of eyes and his brain and then fading
to nothing.
Hours later, Jane returned to her darkroom. Alone, she examined the latest soul-print pinned it to the wall with the rest of her collection.
Prompt image, linked here, is NSFW.

Friday, May 4, 2012

May I? Day 4

I'm editting today, but wanted to give something quick and different here. A few lines of iambic pentameter referencing the story of Candaules and Gyges from Herodatus's histories.

In darkness on her throne beneath the earth
the dead and nameless queen did read her tale.
The king - her mate who'd shown her as his prize
betrayed her naked form to unfit; eyes
and slain in turn be he who'd seen her form.
And now she sits there naked on the throne
and reads the in the tale she's further stripped.
The writer of events has named the killer and the king
but left her name buried in the sands of time.

The first thing that strikes me about the Histories is that it isn't history the way we know it today; it is much more narrative, much less focused on root causes and historical context and more on individuals and their stories. Candaules, for example, was so intent on proving to his advisor Gyges that his wife was the most beautiful woman in the world that he contrived to let the man see her naked. The digital camera was a few thousand years from being invented, so this involved hiding in her bedroom, getting caught, and having the embarrassed woman convince him to murder her husband to get even with her. It's the kind of story, with broad characters leading to some lesson, that would not feel out of place in a religious text.

Interestingly,while she does instigate her husband's murder, the wife is never given a name and vanishes from the narrative after marrying Gyges. That was the prompt for today's exercize.
Today's image prompt is courtesty of bo_frannson onFlickr under a Create Commons non-commercial license.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May !? Day 3 - Games in the Park

Some people are writing long, substantive works using one prompt for each day's installment. Kary Gaul, for example, has what looks like it's going to be an erotic story involving BDSM. If that's the kind of thing you like go check it out. I prefer to find short, punchy vignettes; usually the first thoughts the images bring to mind.

Here's another flash. I may someday finish the sonnet, I may not. I'm not certain that it was really on its way to saying anything.

Picnic Day
Amy always found the best hats. Today was no exception, a cute little woven black number, tight to her head, a halo of embroidered flowers. casually resplendent in polka dots a summer skirt and, even here in the park, heels. Ian watched from across the lawn as she joked, flirted, volleyed a plasteic shuttlecock about with a vintage wooden racket. Ian was always at the edge of the lawn, alone save the notebook. If he loved the Dandys and Flappers Summertime picnic, it was only for the promise that she might be there. For him it was mainy about trying not to get his good clothes too dirty.

He pulled a notebook from his back pocket.

He wrote.
A castoff racket from forgotten years
picnic games of old have left it stained with grass
of breeds and strains not seen since decades passed.
Relic of lawn-bound warriors from days of yore.

So the badminton racket was old. It had history like... her hat. The vintage polka-dot blouse.

Like his suit did not.

Now she was done with the game, had set the racket aside and sat on a low bench. She caught him looking, looked back, smiled.

Ian closed his notebook, tucked it into a back pocket as he crossed the distance with long, quick strides. His starched collar dug into his neck, a vampire bite. He leaned next to her, whispered into her ear, "I have a secret."
She gigglesmiled, pulled bare legs onto the bench, her skirt riding up. Ian slipped his arm around her shoulder, leaned in close, wished he could see just how much of those smooth white legs she was carelessly displaying.
"I wrote you a poem."
He hoped that by the time she asked to see it, it would be the truth.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May I? Day 2. Summer

May I? enters Day 2 with another vignette, in the first person this time.

"A Taste of Summers Past"

Twelve popsicles. Three grape, Three orange, three lime and, best of all, three cherry.

The yellow box wasn't as I remembered it, but the picture took me decades back in time, to bare feed on grass, a baseball game on the radio, sprinklers to run through and, of course, cherry popsicles. My mother scolding me for refusing the grape and the orange, the lemon. They only came as an assortment and, didn't I know there were kids starving in Africa? Hot, dry Africa where they'd die for a popsicle? She was unimpressed with my willingness to send the grape ones.

It's been a long time since I'd run through sprinklers, but it is summer and the popsicle box caught my eye on my way to the frozen dinners. Back home, stripped to my undershirt in the sticky summer air, I hold each white-plastic wrapped shaft to the light, peering through for the telltale red shadow. Ah, this one. Peel it open, the faint crinklink of plastic barely audible over the window fan's rattling. I bite the end off between front teeth, and am punished with a sharp lance of pain deep into my gums. Damn. That never used too happen. I need the dentist. Badly.

The flavor isn't as I remember. Cloyingly sweet, with barely a hint of actual cherries. Too sweet.  I find that I can't bare the taste. Sticky melting popsicle drips onto my fingers. I rub the half-bitten popsicle around my lips, under my tongue, savoring the stickycoldwetchill against the hot summer air. That feels good, if I at least keep it off of my teeth. A bit trickes down my chin, my neck, bloodstaining my shirt as I flip on the radio, hunting for the baseball game.

As the stickyred dries onto my face, a hint of sunset across my five-oclock shadow, I rifle thorugh the rest of the box. Eleven popsicles. I carefully set the two remaining cherry into the freezer and toss the rest into the trash.
xaphanz on Flickr via an Attribution-NonCommercial
Creative Commons license

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May I? Day One

For May I'll be blogging a daily writing excersize, along with some others from the Google+ social network.  Springtime is the season for rebirth and for love, so the prompts might tend toward the sensual side; on this blog I'll keep things as tame as you've grown accustom to. These will all be written pretty much in the space of a single, one-way commute on the train, which will give some immediacy and raw energy.

So, without further ado,

Day 1:  Forbidden Bite

It's late when you walk into the bar, but not full-late. That inbetween hour.The investment bankers are halfway home, the warmth of the night's second martini spreading warmth through their bellies and the hipsters still lurk in theirsecret hipster nests, not yet emerging for their nightime diet of cheap beer and expensive tequila. Your feet hurts, your back hurts. Your soul hurts.You need a drink.
This place is  cool, dark.  You can barely make her out at the bar. A figure barely visible to eyes still soaked in blood-orange dregs of late summer sunlight. Step closer, miss a downward step, feel a tightening in your gut as her gravity yanks you downward and in.
she's perched on the barstool, shoulders back, head balanced atop a long neck, blond hair swept back with the kind of wild abandon it takes hours to achieve. Her skin, her body, her posture are all young and vibrant but when her eyes meet yours they are deep and violet an so very old from far away you hear the bartender, deep violet eyes, dark red lips the sound of icecubes rattling in a shaker like tiny white teeth so sharp.
 Image from riezu on DeviantArt ( )
under a (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

You shake your head as you reach for the drink, already built, unasked for. It glows amber in the halflight, a dark red cherry resting at the bottom of the glass, its stem languidly draped against the side. A if from far away, you let her reach for your glass, watch darkred painted fingernails penetrate the liquid surface, pinch the cherry by its stem lift it toward those dark-stained lips. You don't know her, don't trust her, but don't stop her. The smell the raw alcohol, watch as lips and tiny teeth part to take an impossibly sharp impossibly precise bite,  a gibbous halfmoon of cherry left behind dangling from still attached stem. With a whisky-scented amber splash the mutilated fruit drops back into the glass.

Your eyes leave hers as you fish it out, take the cherry to your lips. The flesh is jagged where she bit, soft and warm against your tongue. It spills drops effortlessly from the stem onto your tongue. You cast the stem aside, sip the drink. Cold on your lips, thick and silky in your mouth, pleasantly burning down your throat, hot in your gut and through your veins. Warmth fills you, to your legs and arms and the back of your neck and into your brain and your eyes and tongue warm now from the inside and outside. She looks different now. Sharper, even as the rest of the world loses focus. You sip again, lean against the wood of the bar. Your eyes close.

Warmth, now from the outside. Grass beneath your bare limbs, an orange yellow sky above, the knowledge of dreamsand myth in your head. You ate half the cherry, and so you will spend half your time here, outside of your world.

A tension in your stomach, moisture burning in your eyes. Not for the sometime loss of home,  but for the other half you were not offered.