Friday, June 24, 2016

When Cheaper Isn't (a cautionary tale)

Gosh, it's been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely lonely time since I last posted anything here. A lot of things have changed for me and my little company, but one thing that has not changed one iota is our belief that using cheap materials will inevitably lead to poor results.

Save now, pay later!
Here's an example we just experienced with a client we hadn't heard from in years. About 5 years ago we installed a new projector and cabling for a house of worship a few towns over. In our business, no news is good news, so that we hadn't heard anything from these good people was not a worry. It means that we installed top shelf parts and that they were still chugging along happily. Like all projectors of yore, they eventually need to have their lamps replaced. The client made a budget minded decision to replace the lamp with an inexpensive aftermarket lamp from the web. A new lamp from a projector manufacturer can run in the $300-400 range - not chump change by any means. The after market lamp was purportedly only $50 (!). Now, most of us were raised under the mentality that if something seems too good to be true, that it probably is, right?

It gets better....
The client replaced the lamp with one of their cheap lamps and the projector ran as expected for about a year and then the lamp failed. The client then replaced it with a new lamp (same source) and the lamp blew out in a couple weeks. They then replaced it with another cheap-o internet special and the lamp basically blew immediately. They decided to call us in to assess the situation. The machine was full of glass shards from the exploding lamp so we need to bench the machine and clean it out and then I told them we would not use an unauthorized replacement lamp for any reason. The client agreed and we got a factory fresh lamp and installed it.

It didn't work.

We contacted the repair center and explained the situation. After the tech on the phone stopped groaning, he told me what was wrong with the machine. Because the cheap-o internet special lamps are not engineered to any specific standard, they are often mismatched to the projector they are supposedly a perfect match for. There are a number of things that can go wrong if the lamp is not correctly matched: the ignition wire to the lamp can fail and/or the ballast can go kaput. The ignition wire is self-explanatory and the ballast is like those found in fluorescent fixtures - it's the device that strikes the lamp in the machine and brings the light forth. In this case, the mismatched lamp had caused them both to fail.

And then it gets worse...
The ignition cable costs about $50 and the ballast is around $250 then on top of that is the service labor to do the work which is about $350. Add to that the cost of shipping the damaged machine to the service center, the cost of using a couple bargain lamps is going to cost the client in the range of $800 or so.

Total savings of cutting corners on a cheap lamp? -$1000 (includes the cost of the original cheap-o lamps and service labor). Totally worth it right? Now a new machine like this one would be in the $4k range so it is worth repairing but the client will be without their projector for about 3 weeks in the process so they are renting a machine for now which is an additional $300 bringing the total loss to $1300!!!

And the moral of the story is....
I think we've made the point here. Like most things in life, you get out of them what you put into them and my experience is there is no value in cutting corners and it often costs more to "save money" than it does to just bite the bullet and do it right the first time. That's the Norseman way.

Skål!
-gundy

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What's in a Name? -Or- How We Became Norseman.

I am often surprised how many folks out there have asked me, point blank: "Why Norseman?" or "How'd you come up with the name?" Here's the 411 on the naming of the crew (see what I did there?).

We come from the land of ice and snow!

My Great Grandfather was born in Kragero, Norway - a southern town on the coast of Norway. OK - I heard those groans from the people in the back that said "Aw jeez! Is this going to be a boring family tree discussion? 'Cause I'm going to look for cat videos on the webs!" Fear not intrepid web browser, for this is a  very brief history of my family.

Josef Frantz Oskar Gundersen came to America looking for work in the early 20th century, ending up in New York, working on the viaduct that would eventually supply the city of New York with fresh water. He eventually settled in Harvard, Mass, raised a family and built a lot of houses. His m.o. was: if it's worth doing, it's worth over doing. His idea of "good enough" would have given modern day tract housing developers kittens. If good enough meant using a 2x10 every 24" for joist spacing, he would use a 2 x 12 every 16". He ran the under-layment of floors (all tongue and groove planks back then) diagonally for extra strength and less chance of squeaking. And on and on it goes.

I come from a long line of over-builders, and I'm proud of it. That's where we got our slogan from: New World Technology, Old World Craftsmanship. I wanted to add an "e" to old - as in: olde world. Cool right? I was voted off the island by people with more sense.

When I got laid off from my last "workin' for the man" job, I discovered that one door closing really does open new ones - in my case, a new business and a new journey with me at the helm. Having worked for many, many employers over the years, I learned a thing or two about cutting corners, under staffing jobs, making questionable decisions and most importantly, how to disenfranchise your clients. I made a pronouncement to take those lessons and do the exact opposite. My motto is: "If you do the best work you can and treat people with respect, the money will follow." My company was therefore built on an engineering model and not a sales model. That is why we have no quotas or other devices that eventually drive people to make poor decisions. Do your best and the money will follow.

Hammer of the Gods, Will Drive Our Ships to New Lands....

So as a proud American of Scandanavian heritage, I chose Norseman Audio-Video Systems as my company name, as a herald and as a statement. While it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, it is an example of how we work - honest and up front. And that's why we have a funny little hammer as a logo. Thor's hammer, or Mjølner ,is a symbol of strength, fertility and a talisman for good fortune. 'Nuff said!

All Due Respect to Page and Plant...

So, That's it. That's the story. Nothing too mystical, just a solemn nod to my "Grandpa" Gundersen's work ethic and a pledge to bring my heritage to bear on everything we do.

Always.

OK, cue the music!

Tusen Takk!
(Thanks!)
-gundy

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wrap it up! I'll take it...and keep it! For good!

They say the Devil is in the details. I'm obsessed with details. Some details seem insignificant to some folks- like taking care of your cables. It doesn't matter what kind of cable or where you are using them - if you take care of your cables, they will, in turn, take care of you.

The Story:
I was reminded of this today because an old client of mine called me in to troubleshoot a "buzzing" in their sound system when they used their microphone. I made the 30 minute trip to their dining facility and we set the system up just the way they use it. As is often the case, when they turned on the microphone, all was well. Well, not completely. Upon closer inspection, every time the cable was handled in any way, we could hear crackling and popping from the speakers.

I knew what the problem was instantly.

I had another clue as well. When the client pulled the cable out of the case where they stored the mic. in, it was wrapped up tight in the shape of a dog bone and then the remaining cable tightly wrapped around the center of the bundle. I visibly winced and told them this was bad for the cable.

Uh Oh!
There was no question in my mind. (cue the sinister music) This was a cable gone bad.

To be fair - this cable had no choice. I had seen the signs before. This cable had been forced into a pretzel one too many times and it had finally retaliated. I took the connector apart and one of the wires inside had been broken. The rest of the cable was also in tough shape with many bumps protruding from under the outer jacket showing signs of damaged conductors inside from years of improper handling. This little oversight ended up costing them a pretty penny, not to mention the down time.

Minimum what?
With any kind of cable, there are industry guidelines on minimum bend radii. Thinner cables tend to more flexible and thus have a tighter radius and thicker ones less so. Here's a brief description from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bend_radius

Tell us why Mr. Wizard!
When coiling up a cable, whether it be a mic. cable or an extension cord, it's important to keep in mind that despite their seeming flexibility, all cables are made up of metal - copper to be exact -and all types of metals experience metal fatigue when bent back and forth repeatedly. So when you take that pain-in-the-tookus extension cord and wrap it tightly around your elbow and then tie it in a knot, you're drastically reducing its overall lifespan. The best illustration of this is to take a piece of metal and bend it back and forth until it snaps. Now imagine a bunch of thin strands of copper taking that kind of abuse. Copper is soft and flexible, but put to the test, it is also very easy to break.

Bones are for dogs.
I see this in field installations a lot too. I have seen many failures of expensive signal cable where the only recourse is to replace the cable. The classic "lazy installer" move is to "dog-bone" the extra cable. They do this by taking the extra, wrapping it up and then putting a tie wrap in the middle so that the result looks like a dog bone. This inevitably leads to the crushing of the internal parts of the cable as well as putting kinks in the wraps. In the case of coaxial video wire, the crushing and kinking of the cable changes the properties of the cable which causes a very poor image quality or even a total loss of signal. I teach all of my technicians how to carefully maintain a proper minimum radius when dressing cables on projectors and also in equipment racks to ensure proper signal flow. I also teach them how to properly coil staging cables so that they last longer. I have mic. cables that I have had for 15 or more years that still work like they were new.

Let's wrap it up then....
So take care of your cables, and they'll take care of you. Wrap them up nicely, and they'll last a long, long time. It'll save you from down time and ultimately, save you money.

Gundy out.

For further reading:
http://www.iewc.com/content.aspx?id=130
This guy does a pretty good demo on how to coil a mic. cable:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yPcJD7RVuY


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Size Isn't Everything....or is it?


Size isn't everything...........I have once again spent a fair amount of time with somebody who is looking at buying a new flat screen TV. This client is in the process of renovating his new home. One of his goals is to have a nice home entertainment system including a flat panel TV and new speakers. He told me he was strongly considering a 60" LCD. He also told me that the couch (primary viewing area) would be about 14' away from the screen. According to AV industry best practices, this TV is either too large, or the couch is too close. Since he's not going to be knocking walls down to make the viewing distance work, then he should really consider a smaller TV (gasp!)

Here's the math folks: For full motion video/ entertainment content it is recommended that the closest seating position to a screen be about 1.5x the height of the screen followed by up to 6x the height for the furthest viewing position. By my calculations, he should be buying a 50" to 53" TV. If he were primarily viewing text and other detail oriented images (like CAD drawings, etc) that are static, the numbers change to a 4x height for furthest viewer.

So what, right? Hey, I'm an equipment reseller and you would think that selling a bigger TV means a bigger profit right? Maybe. Here's my take on it: get in the car with your significant other and go to your nearest cinema (if there is one!), pick the latest blockbuster action flick and go immediately to the front row and park yourself there with the silly 3D glasses on and an overpriced bucket of popcorn. After the show, tell me how you feel. Here's my prediction: you will be more tired than normal and possibly nauseous from sitting too close to the screen. Watching full motion video on a very large screen is exhausting! This is an extreme example and having a TV that's 6-10" too big for your room isn't going to give you the same effect, but it's similar.

Here's something else to keep in mind when buying that dream TV- viewing height. After sitting in the front row for an exciting film, your neck will be sore from looking up at an awkward angle and you may have whiplash from trying to see the whole thing all at once. If you mount your new TV over your fireplace mantle (very common!!) you will be looking up at that sucker until your physical therapist tells you it's not your mattress, it's your TV silly. The TV should be mounted in a fashion that you can sit in your favorite chair and look straight ahead at the center of the screen. That puts the center of your TV at home at about 32-40" or so. Go ahead - go look at your current TV's location. Maybe it's not your pillow's fault after all.............

So size does matter. I go out of my way to counsel my clients on sensible purchases even at the expense of my profit margins. Really. Ask any of my clients. Now go shop wisely!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good.

I've been in the pro-A/V business for a long time now. I've seen the death of the 3-gun CRT projector (yay!), the demise of VHS (hallelujah!) and the advent of DVD (OK, I guess) and the almost amusing battle between Blu-ray and hi-def DVD (long live Sony?). I was also witness to the birth of interactive technology.

The first interactive technology that has become almost as ubiquitous as Kleenex brand facial tissue was the "SmartBoard. The SmartBoard is as trademarked brand name of the one of the original interactive whiteboards made by Smart Technologies. I say ubiquitous because I have for years had clients call on me to provide them with a SmartBoard. What they really wanted was an interactive whiteboard. This technology is still quite prevalent, but it has been joined by fully interactive projectors (no fancy screen/ whiteboard required) and fully interactive flat panel displays that require no screen at all. All of these forms of interactive technology require a computer to actually do the heavy lifting, except in a few cases with the newer interactive LCD displays that have a built in PC thus becoming a stand alone solution.

All of these devices allow the user to directly interact with their presentation whatever that may be. What they won't do is make compelling the presentation itself. Over the years I've seen displays that simply roll PowerPoint slides for what many call the "death by PowerPoint" type presentation. These are far from compelling and oh-so easy to ignore. Definitely a "fail" in the presentation dept. I have seen folks take this approach with the newer interactive displays which allows a user to touch the screen to get the slides to advance faster or as bookmarks to a place within the presentation. Now we can control the speed with which the PowerPoint bores us to death.

This same paradigm carries over into the classroom where the SmartBoard grew up in much the same way that the Apple computer grew up. What I've witnessed here is one of two main scenarios. Either the instructor embraces the technology fully and manipulates their lesson plans and materials to fit best utilize the technology, or they use it as a screen for their un-interactive slides. There is a third type of instructor that uses the SmartBoard as a place to tape up posters since they refuse to use the technology at all. We don't need to discuss those folks.

I have spoken to many educators over the years espousing the the virtues of the interactive whiteboard in the classroom, but I always preempt my comments with the caveat that the technology will not make your presentation any more compelling than it is now. In other words, your old style of teaching will not engage the students anymore than it did before just because touching the board advances your slides for you. It is crucial that the curriculum dictates to the technology, not the other way around. The technology is simply a tool to allow the presenter/ instructor to do more potentially. A forward thinking educator should be able to take their old lesson plan and change it so that it engages the students by enlivening it in much the same way a motion picture can enliven the text of a novel. An educator can immerse their students in the topic by not only interacting with the topic materials, but they can also get the students directly involved at the board.

Recently my company, Norseman Audio Video Systems, worked with the University of Mass. Amherst to design and install an interactive display in the lobby of their Fine Arts Center as a way to better spotlight upcoming events in a way that was not possible with their old printed posters. We provided and installed a 65" touch enabled LCD screen. We then worked closely with the staff to find a solution for the content. Many clients would have been satisfied creating a "moving poster", i.e. another PowerPoint type slide show. These folks understood at the get-go that this would not lead to more ticket sales. They found a presentation software package called Prezi that allows them to build much more compelling pages with interactivity built in. In the future, there is talk about working this system into their ticket purchasing back office to allow patrons an enhanced buying experience. An interactive win, I would say.

So, to wrap up- just because you can touch it, doesn't make it good in and of itself. The presentation source should dictate the technology as a kind of cart-horse thing. If your presentation material is compelling, then people will come and if it is rich content, then they will touch it and be absorbed into your message. So dream big and let the technology help you.

-Gundy
sept 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

No substitute for experience

We are often asked: "What sets you apart from your competition?". We usually answer with the well rehearsed answer: "We provide exemplary service and exceptional attention to detail." While we mean every word, it always feels a bit pat and somewhat hyperbolic.

Or is it?

Yesterday, we received a frantic phone call from a contract services provider that was servicing one of their national contracts - a large retail chain, in malls across the country. The guy who called me was in Florida and had never set foot on the job site. He hires freelancers and small local companies to fulfill his workload. He never sees the work "his" people perform.

He was calling us because the site his installers had just completed was not functioning at all and could we rush out there and save his bacon. The store has a grand opening coming up this weekend and didn't want to be embarrassed. 

The system consists of 4 commercial grade monitors butted together in a long digital sign in the window of this store It had been dark since the installation was "completed" a week ago(!).

We agreed and hit the road. It was a 2 hour drive to get there. After about 5 minutes of acquainting ourselves with the system, we were able to change the input on the monitors and set up the signage tiling so that one image would be stretched out over the 4 monitors.

This is not rocket science folks. It was clear to me that the "installers" didn't even turn the system on before leaving or they would have seen that the system wasn't set up correctly.

While on site, we also removed the packing tape from the sides of the monitors and tied up the power cables. We contacted the main office in the mid-west to verify that the system was functioning to their satisfaction and we made a few more tweaks to the settings until they were satisfied.

Then we turned our attention to another monitor in the store that had also been dark since it was installed. I'm embarrassed to report that the monitor was installed cock-eyed. Upon further inspection, also not centered and the mounting plates were not fastened tightly to the back of the monitor.

We fixed that too.

None of these items took a long time to complete, so I often wonder why installers frequently leave before their work is completed? Seems pretty basic to us. We told our contact in Florida that if one of our field techs turned out work like this, they would receive one reprimand and then be asked to leave if it happened again.

So, hyperbole in the end? We don't think so. 

Hire locally and hire carefully.

Norseman Audio Video Systems 

-Gundy out