Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dispatches from the underside of the iceberg

I'm back from too long a break from having posted here, with an update of where I've ended up in the AV field. I'm still in the commercial AV world, but have left not only AVI-SPL, but the entire world of systems integration. I've moved crosswise and upward to the consulting side of the business as an associate in the AV department of the very talented multidisciplinary consulting firm Shen, Milsom and Wilke. So what does that mean? It means no more time in the trenches trying to make things work, and no more creating detailed "shop drawings" with individually labelled wires. What it does mean is being in a place closer to the actual user, helping them figure out what their needs are and how we can translate those to an AV design.  Why do I feel misunderstood here? Let it suffice to say that last to weeks ago, when I was summoned to jury duty, I was the only one asked "what does that mean" after telling the judge what  did for a living.

So what do I do for a living? The easy answer is that I'm part of a team that sells expertise; we don't sell microphones or loudspeakers or touchpanels, but will tell you what kind of a touchpanel you need, and where you should put loudspeakers or microphones or projectors. We work with the people who do sell you those things, but our work is largely on the other side of the iceberg.

The metaphor should be obvious. An iceberg is a tiny sliver of frozen water bobbing above the surface. On it you might find a microphone, a touchpanel, a speaker, and a projection screen. In fact, you'd see every inch of an AV system you'll ever see. Seemingly in contradiction of the laws of physics, it floats above the surface of customer expectations. If you get too close without exercising a great deal of care, the bigger part - the part that lurks under the sea - will send you and your unsinkable ship to the bottom of the ocean. Just like an AV project. Having worked on bid-build projects from the contractor side, I've dealt mainly with the top of the iceberg; the last few months in a process that could take years.

My new desk. It's grown a second monitor since
this photo was taken.
Much of the bottom of the iceberg is made up of things I'd already known about; needs analysis with the eventual end user, the need for infrastructure like power and data and conduit, coordination of AV systems with lighting and millwork, ceilings and walls. It's the meetings in the design development phase, not only before there's construction, but before there are even floor plans.

It's lots of fun.

Office, Sweet office
I'm lucky to be part of a team at SMW with a terrific, open team-oriented culture. Everyone has their own projects, but everyone also has at least some idea of what everyone else is doing, and someone is always there to pitch in with help from a technical suggestion to the tedious detail work of re-numbering a drawing package to anything in between. 

Do I miss anything about the contractor side of the business? I do miss the hands-on scramble to make something work. The odds of  my having to grab tools, a laptop, a ladder, and an assortment of adapter cables and make something work are pretty slim these days. Some of my fondest memories in the AV field were having the "aha!" moment that comes from solving what looked like an insoluble problem. There are different problems and challenges, but part of me will miss the hands-on aspect. So, for old-times' sake, I'll close with a real-world puzzle.

Sources included a Mac Mini, Windows PC, and laptop interface. Destinations included a projector (Digital Projections dVision series) and interactive touch-monitor (Smart interactive pen display) and two rack-mounted test monitors. The windows PC displayed to all locations. The Mac Mini displayed on the projector, but not the touch-monitor.  If I swapped the touch- and rack-mount monitors, the problem followed the touch-monitor. If I bypassed the Crestron digital media switch at the heart of this system, the Mac would display perfectly on any of the displays. If I swapped the Mac and PC, the roblem followed the Mac. It was ONLY through the system going to the projector plus touch-monitor that there'd be a problem. I ended up calling Crestron who told me all that I needed to know to fix it. AV people out there: what did Crestron tell me to do? It seems obvious now, but took roughly forever onsite to figure out.

Reading the above again, perhaps I shouldn't miss the "hands on" bit that much after all.

Tonight I'll be meeting some of my friends in the industry for the Women in AV Holiday gathering and "tweet-up" -- look for updates soon.

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