When I wrote this piece in November of 2017 for AVNation.tv I was hoping it would not become evergreen. I have updated it to September 2020.
Bradford September 20, 2020

Note: I am not an attorney and this does not qualify as legal advice. I share these examples based on what I have learned from training I have taken.

I try to keep my blogs fairly light and as positive as possible. This post is not going to be that. I didn’t think it would need to be repeated. This post is about harassment, specifically sexual harassment. It has gotten more news coverage in the States in October of 2017 as a result of the New York Times’ investigation of Harvey Weinstein. Harassment needs to stop in all industries and locations. This problem is a global problem. It is not limited to just one industry. I have seen it first hand in the AV Industry. I am disappointed to say I saw it in 2020. Yes, racism and prejudice is a bigger issue. There are people much more eloquent than me authoring ideas and suggestions. I will wait until I find my word.

My belief is that we all have a responsibility of addressing this issue. My opinion is, “If you see harassment happening in the workplace and don’t take action, you are complicit.”

I have multiple times. If needed I will do it again It takes courage. It is scary. That is secondary to the importance of taking action and making sure people know it is not okay. It may even help the victim feel better as they will know they are not alone and have support. It is not your responsibility to solve the issue. Everyone being safe is the key item.

Whether intentional or not, no one has the right to make others feel attacked or harassed in the workplace. A person can cause harm unintentionally but it is still harm. During this pandemic, commenting that someone gained weight while staying home can be considered harassment. It can also be classified as harassment if someone else gets uncomfortable it even if not directed at them. Asking someone’s religion or sexual orientation can also be harassment if it makes the person uncomfortable. Yes, it is about knowing the situation. It is not draconian, but I understand if it feels like it. A few years back a coworker’s daughter had a baby. I saw him in the hallway and said, “Hi Grandpa” which he took as congratulations. I knew him, I knew the husband of his daughter. It was an appropriate term of congratulations in that situation. If I had used Grandpa as an insult about his age, that would have been an issue. It is situational awareness.

In the workplace you don’t have to intervene directly. You can reach out to Human Resources or see if your employer has a “hotline” for issues. If they are not helpful, the next place would be the Labor Board or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States. Do not worry about damaging someone’s job performance, status, or reputation. They are the one acting that way, not you or the victim. You can provide support with small acts, for example not leaving the victim alone with the harasser.

“If you see harassment happening in the workplace and don’t take action, you are complicit.”

Bradford Benn

Think about how being harassed might damage the victim’s job status or chance of advancement. I wonder how many people have left a job, or an industry, as a result of being uncomfortable. Management harassing people can have an impact on the company’s reputation. Taking action typically will not. Cards Against Humanity failed to act when a rape accusation against Max Temkin in August of 2014 and the brand did suffer. It was not addressed by the company and continued to fester until June of 2020 Mr. Temkin was ousted for sexual harassment. It has continued to impact their reputation and revenue. Compare that to Charlie Rose being fired the day credible accusations were lodged. It quickly went away as the public was seeing the company acting quickly and sternly.

Reporting details and facts does not mean harassment has taken place. Reporting an incident simply means you are concerned about another human, not a bad thing. A key action is to make contemporaneous notes. A fancy way of saying write things down as soon as possible or even as it happens. Document as many details as you can and think are appropriate. Be factual and as objective as possible. I have gone so far as to draw a table and indicate where people were seated. Documenting the incident when it happens will make sure details are not forgotten

I am not belittling what people of color or women go through. I am amazed and disgusted at the amount of issues that happen to minorities and women. It is important to be aware harassment happens in all sorts of situations, whether it be gender, sexual preferences, religion, politics, skin color, eye color, weight, vocabulary … etc.

These ideas do not just apply to the work place but to the world in general. It is much scarier when out and about. The first thing to consider is safety before getting involved. The idea of documenting things still applies, just in case things escalate. @itsmaeril has put together a guide about “What to do if you are witnessing Islamaphobic Harrasment. – A bystander’s guide to help the person who’s being targeted.” This guide applies in all situations not just Islamaphobia. Swing by her site to take a look. I have included a lower resolution version below.

During the start of working from home in March of 2020, issues were still happening. One salesman placed a photo of a buxom women in an audio sales presentation with a double entendre about racks as slang and as audio equipment. He show the presentation on a webcast while being recorded. He not only made himself look bad, he made the company look bad. (I know people at the company, the presentation was not reviewed or approved by the company.) The fact that the salesman thought it would be good to put that slide in shows that he did not think about others. He downplayed the importance of women in the AV industry. Yes, it might have been unintentional, but it still impacted his company and his reputation.

Why do I care so much about this issue?

  1. It sucks to be harassed.
  2. I don’t like that I worry about possible issues with asking a coworker for their phone number or e-mail address so we can stay in touch after we stop working together
  3. It sucks to be harassed.

Why should you care?

  1. It sucks to be harassed.
  2. Harassment hurts people
  3. Harassment leads to less collaboration, everywhere.
  4. It sucks to be harassed.

None of this is easy. I will not say that there won’t be reactions to your actions. I have seen changes in my “social circles”. I look at it as I don’t want to be friends with people who harass others. I don’t regret my actions at all.

I am still saddened that this conversation still needs to occur.

Remember, one is protected against retaliation from their employer by law (in the United States) as long as the complaint is submitted in good faith.
Please be nice to all, make the world a little better. If you need an ally, just ask; there are many of us around.
Thank you,

A poster to show how to be an ally.

This piece was originally published at AVNation.tv September 7, 2017. I have updated it to reflect my personal opinions.
Bradford September 18, 2020

During the week of August 25, 2017 Dreamhost, a hosting company, was under a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. The attack resulted in basically everything AVNation.tv and my domains not working. In total I had about 45 domains and subdomains that were non functioning. I was also in China on a business trip.

The reasons for this attack has not been formally announced nor has anyone taken responsibility for the attack. There are two likely causes. Dreamhost had been in the news for two stories during that week; the first was telling the US Department of Justice that it would not supply IP addresses of who visited a site. The second reason was that “The Daily Stormer” used the automated registration process to start a new site, “Punished Stormer” after being denied hosting by other companies. For those that are not familiar, these sites are aimed toward spreading hate speech.

I indicated these reasons to AVNation and that I did not plan on changing hosting or DNS (Domain Name Server) services. There were practical reasons, but more importantly I support the decisions that Dreamhost made. I explained to AVNation that if the business risk was too high I would start changing once I got back to the United States. I would not be changing my personal hosting as I believe the issues causing the problems are important. Yes, there was no debate within AVNation that it was the right thing to do.

The first reason I decided that three years ago was a federal judge signed a search warrant against DreamHost. The Department of Justice (DoJ) was looking for information sought by federal prosecutors investigating the disturbances that occurred in Washington, D.C. during President Trump’s inauguration. The DoJ wanted the IP address of anyone who had visited the website http://www.disruptj20.org/. If you looked at the website the government wanted to know. I liken the situation to looking at the cover of a book or magazine, not peruse or purchase, the government wanted to know that you looked at it. Librarians for years have been fighting this issue, http://www.ala.org/aboutala/offices/oif. The government knowing what you are reading is not appropriate in my opinion. Dreamhost’s account of the situation can be found here https://www.dreamhost.com/blog/we-fight-for-the-users/ as well as EFF https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/08/j20-investigation-doj-overreaches-again-and-gets-taken-court-again.

The Daily Stormer being denied service by Dreamhost and others is not a 1st Amendment issue. The government did not make a law banning the Daily Stormer; multiple hosting companies, GoDaddy, Cloudflare, and Google to name a few, did not want to host them. The Daily Stormer had quietly registered the new domain, Punished Stormer, using an online signup form. IOnce Dreamhost became aware of the domain they terminated the website. “Unfortunately, determined internet vigilantes weren’t willing to wait for us to take that action,” DreamHost said in a statement to Ars Technica. “They instead launched a DDoS attack against all of DreamHost. We were ultimately able to declaw that attack, but the end result was that most of our customers experienced intermittent connectivity issues to their sites today.”

I believe that The Daily Stormer has the right to free speech as well. The government is not censoring them. The companies refusing to host or support a website under their terms of service is mostly legal. [Yes, discrimination is not legal.] If it becomes Hate Speech and inciting violence it is no longer free speech. [Yes, also a slippery slope.]

I am supporting my beliefs even if it means an occasional problem, not all financial decisions are made solely by dollars.

September 20, 2020

This post was originally written in May 2017 and posted at AVNation.tv. I am reposting this piece as I believe it is extremely important. It is more of an issue with the COVID pandemic and the amount of children learning at home.
Bradford – September 17, 2020

Many of you know, I am a proponent of online privacy. Recently I received an article about the implications of Educational Technology (EDTech) and the use of it and how it impacts privacy. While I don’t have children, I believe that their education is important. Part of that education is learning about privacy, what is appropriate for online, and that surveillance is not standard.

Much of this information is sourced from the report “EFF Releases Spying on Students Ed Tech Report” by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I found various things interesting, a child enrolled in Google Apps for Education (GAFE) much of the privacy decisions are taken away from the parent and given to the school system through the GAFE administrator. Under the agreement, Google makes with the school system many of the decisions are made for the student by the education department without checking with the parent. Some will say I am a cranky old person with this next phrase, “When I was in school, we needed a permission slip for a field trip. Now the school is deciding the online presence of their students – without any permission.”

The school system can create a Google account with personally identifiable information for a minor without the parental consent. If the parent (or guardian) asks for the information to be deleted, it is the decision of the school administrator whether or not it will be honored. Yes, the parents don’t get to chose. There are hundreds of pieces of education software or services in use. There are multiple terms of service and privacy to review for these services; I do not want to think about how long it would take to read these agreements. Some of these services are owned by Google and will share information with GAFE. Once again the majority of these services can be configured by the school system, not the parents.

The EFF has collected case studies to help illustrate the concerns and challenges. You can find them here https://www.eff.org/issues/student-privacy.

Right about now you are asking why I am talking about this topic. Many students are learning from home.. There are various software and technologies being used. Not many will think about how the privacy of students is considered. Asking a question such as, “Does this require signing up for an account?” or “Can one plug a USB storage device in or use a local network connection?” These simple questions can assist in the evaluation of the solutions.

Just as one would ask about security for a corporation or a government project, one should think about it for education and their home network. More often that it should occur, the technology provider is helping to educate the schools to understand the complex issues of using newer technology. Are you ready to ask questions?

Think about how you would feel if your child is being watched by Google without your permission. Not just teenagers, children just starting school.

Hat tip to EFF for their open source student privacy logo

A version of this post was orignally published on AVNation.tv

The Pandemic of COVID-19 is changing the world, forever. There are the horrible things More importantly there are opportunities for good. As Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers … because if you look for the helpers you will know there is hope. I have posted in multiple places, “Be the helper when you can. Be the helped when you need. You can do both at the same time.” Yes, there are financial impacts of what is occurring. That is important and I hope that everyone can manage. I have seen some companies do unexpected things at this time, such as paying people during shutdowns for social distancing. There are changes in telecommuting policies that people are learning to adjust to. This massive change in communications is where I and many of my frieds, have the chance to be Helpers. We can help people communicate.

Be the helper when you can. Be the helped when you need. You can do both at the same time.

Bradford Benn

 I have experience setting up and hosting large online meetings or simple small online meetings. I know the pitfalls and processes of many of the online tools available for meetings. I expect people will make mistakes, and I know which mistakes are common. In case you are curious, it is knowing how to switch which camera is active on devices with front and back cameras.

To many of “us”, the AV professionals or nerds, solving this problem is relatively easy. Now picture someone who typically doesn’t participate in online meetings, much less from their house. There are people waiting for you to speak and your rear camera is showing your Lego Minifigures and the mess in your office. That situation makes most people nervous and stressed. I helped walk the person through the process quickly via phone call without being asked. I saw that someone needed help, I became the helper.  That is what we can do. We can help people communicate and feel comfortable doing it, feel confident.

We can start thinking about how this is happening at work. Think about how much stress there is for people, no one wants to look inept at something in front of their coworkers. Explaining what each button on the software/hardware does not always help people understand. Instead ask what they are trying to do, help them learn to do that, not explain everything. Being able to speak to someone in their language, vernacular, and idioms is a huge plus. Someone on what of the meetings I was having online today said, “Why can’t this be like FaceTime?” They want to be able to click the contact and then start the call from the contact. I explained how to do that with the system they were using, it was simply a user interface problem. Once they got to a view they understood, they were off and running.

Do not discount this story as another operator error issue. It was an operator had never used the product that way before situation. Remember driving a car for the first time? Probably similar feelings.

Also do not discount the importance of this knowledge is for people. They now can communicate with people outside of their house or quarantine area. It allows them to try to get some contact with others, even if it is just chatting. It takes one more piece of stress out of this stressful situation.

There is the chance that helper turns into hero. These same people may be trying to use telemedicine for the first time soon. People being comfortable using video conferencing technology will have a major impact on telemedicine success rate. That can have some heroic effects.

“We can be heroes, just for one day.” – David Bowie

This post was published on AVNation.tv on January 25, 2018. Bradford is a Director of AVNation Media LLC.

During and after CES the topic of diversity in the electronics industry has been discussed. I think that this is an important topic to talk about. It is something that all of us can facilitate and participate in . It does not have to be big grandiose actions, although they are encouraged. It is just as important to do small day to day things. These topics do not go away after the trade show does. We, all of us, need to be aware of them everyday. We need to make small incremental steps constantly. There are all sorts of platitudes I can put here. I want to put two simple ones here:

During and after CES the topic of diversity in the electronics industry has been discussed. I think that this is an important topic to talk about. It is something that all of us can facilitate and participate in . It does not have to be big grandiose actions, although they are encouraged. It is just as important to do small day to day things. These topics do not go away after the trade show does. We, all of us, need to be aware of them everyday. We need to make small incremental steps constantly. There are all sorts of platitudes I can put here. I want to put two simple ones here:

  1. Always try to make the world a better place.
  2. Change never comes if you are happy with the status quo.

With that in mind, I have a request for all presenters in the AV industry. This applies to Integrated Systems Europe, InfoComm Worldwide shows, Avixa classes, manufacturer training, mini trade shows… etc. Any place there is a presenter and a question and answer session. Answer one question from a woman, then one question from a man, then one from a woman… repeat as necessary. It could just as easily be, one caucasian, one person of color. Basically make efforts to help the underrepresented get represented.

I cannot take credit for this idea, Cory Doctorow stated it during an interview with Edward Snowden at the New York Public Library. You can view or listen to the event on the New York Public Library’s website.

The reason I like this idea is that it is simple. It is something an individual can do independently. It would be great if organizations made it a formal process. Don’t wait for that. Do it now, start now. Do it in meetings at your office. Do it when having webinars.

Here is my simple request, for those presenting at ISE2018, just implement it. Don’t wait for anyone to do something formal, start making the world a better place on your own.

The opinions expressed here are Bradford’s and AVNation’s. He does not speak for his employer.

Originally posted at AVNation.tv on January 11, 2018

As many of you know, I was laid off from Harman Professional on December 21, 2017. This column is about what I have been doing since then. If you are looking for a post talking bad about Harman or spouting all sorts of venom, keep looking. This article is not the article you are looking for. I also am not going to be using this as my personal blog talking about playing in the snow and going to the movies … etc. This article is about what I have been doing within AVNation.

As some of you know, Tim takes an annual vacation during the Holiday Season. This year, he made a mistake. He left me in charge, and in fact deputized me to make improvements in our processes; all processes. We have cobbled together over the past six and a half years AVNation’s processes and data management on an ad hoc basis. As we needed things we added them. Sometimes without thinking toward the future. (That is the polite way of saying they didn’t ask me.) As a result various pieces of data are stored on different services or someone’s hard drive. In addition there were things besides Sugar Plum Fairies in Tim’s head. He had agreements, show topics, projects, blogs, and thoughts of the Bears. I put on my digital janitor outfit and went about the organizing and cleaning.

I am confident we are not the only entity that needed to do this process, every company should go through this process on a regular basis. It frees companies from the quagmire from the phrase of, “We have always done it this way.” Instead it allows people to ask, “Why do we do it this way?” I know from experience there are times new software is implemented so that it acts just like the old software, whether it is a best practice or not.

The first question I asked myself, was “Self, what makes doing AVNation stuff hard?” I came up with a list. Some of these might also be an issue in your organization. The list was longer then I thought it would be. I also included comments from Tim as we were evaluating our software contracts.

  1. Stuff is all over the place!
    1. Slack
    2. Trello
    3. Google Drive
    4. Dropbox
    5. Amazon S3
    6. Email Threads
    7. Google Hangouts
    8. Google Chats
    9. Zoom Meetings
    10. People’s personal computers
    11. Internal wiki
  2. Scheduling meetings
  3. Helping people with their email
  4. Collaboration tools
  5. Managing shared tasks
  6. Project Planning
  7. Where source files are located
  8. Who are the active underwriters
  9. Finding scopes of work for each underwriter
  10. Locating logos for each underwriter
  11. Poll topics & schedule
  12. What is the editorial calendar
  13. Documenting the process of…
    1. titling podcast episodes
    2. posting an episode
    3. getting reimbursed for money I have spent
  14. Making the other team members aware of website stuff
  15. Letting other people tell me about website issues
  16. Tim’s List
    1. Email Lists for newsletters
    2. Management Tool for newsletter subscriptions
    3. Landing pages for links in newsletters or for other special events
    4. Customer Relationship Manager for the Sales/Underwriting portion of the business
    5. Intergration with e-mail – nice to have
    6. Tracking lists – nice to have
    7. Tracking Deals – nice to have

I am pretty sure that evaluating other companies, most people would come up with very similar lists. I know that we are not the only ones trying to figure out these issues. These issues are not unique. So I did what every person does, I went to the Googles. Actually I use Duck Duck Go, the reason is simple: “Our privacy policy is simple: we don’t collect or share any of your personal information.” I started searching for “collaboration software”, “file sharing”, “revision control”, “group scheduling”, and “Shared Tasks Lists”.

There were lots of solutions available via open source. Some of these looked promising, some were not worth the time it took to download them. Having used various tools in my career I kept comparing everything to Microsoft Exchange for many of the features; email, contacts, calendaring, task management, shared calendars, shared tasks, shared contacts. I went in search of a hosted Exchange solution. One that we can afford, which is where Software as a Service is helpful.

Previously I had used Rackspace e-mail for my personal mail. I was happy with it. The reason I stopped, Apple broke it. TApple did an iOS update and e-mail longer was a push. I know their support is excellent. I also know it would solve group scheduling issues as part of the service. I also knew that they offered hosted Microsoft Exchange. Off to Rackspace to order up Exchange. Then came the surprise of the day, SaaS came through again. For the same price as hosted Microsoft Exchange, one could subscribe to hosted Office 365, including Exchange and SharePoint 365, you can see it here.

I reviewed my list comparing it to the applications within Office 365.

  1. Stuff is all over the place! – OneDrive, 1TB per user
  2. Scheduling meetings – Exchange calendering
  3. Helping people with their email – emailhelp.rackspace.com
  4. Collaboration tools – SharePoint, Planner, ToDo, Skype for Business,
  5. Managing shared tasks – SharePoint and Exchange
  6. Project Planning – SharePoint templates and sub apps
  7. Where source files are located – All in OneDrive can manage in SharePoint
  8. Who are the active underwriters – SharePoint
  9. Finding scopes of work for each underwriter – OneNote or SharePoint
  10. Locating logos for each underwriter – OneDrive
  11. Poll topics & schedule OneNote or Sharepoint Page
  12. What is the editorial calendar – Exchange or SharePoint
  13. Documenting the process of… – SharePoint, OneNote
  14. Making the other team members aware of website stuff – SharePoint, Yammer, Exchange
  15. Letting other people tell me about website issues – SharePoint, Yammer, Exchange
  16. Tim’s List
    1. Email Lists for newsletters – Excel, Word, and Outlook
    2. Management Tool for newsletter subscriptions – Excel
    3. Landing pages for links in newsletters or for other special events – WordPress already being used
    4. Customer Relationship Manager – SharePoint, Exchange, OneDrive
    5. Intergration with e-mail – Microsoft Flow
    6. Tracking lists – SharePoint or Exchange
    7. Tracking Deals – SharePoint

Yup, Microsoft had done their research and figured out what most businesses need. They had lots of ways to work built in, as well they had recommended practices that made things work easily. They also added solutions for when they didn’t have the proper solution. Microsoft includes Microsoft Flow, an easy to use automation tool. That was where it really shines. Automation that includes connections to other services that we use. For example, the e-mail list solution using Microsoft Office is not as powerful as MailChimp, we can create a link between our Microsoft data and MailChimp easily. The same for SurveyMonkey, Twitter WordPress, our main website engine. It also has allowed Tim to customize his workflow process to meet his needs; I do not have to make any changes to my workflow or the base solution.

Through this review I found out lots of things. I found cost savings, almost US$10K. The vast majority of this cost from ending our subscription to our CRM and Social Media Management service. The service is powerful, too powerful and does not actually meet AVNation’s needs. It would not have been realized if I hadn’t sat down to review our needs, our process, and our software to see if they all still align. Ours did not. I was able to come up with a solution that simplified our day to day operations (one location for information) and saves us money. Spending the time to review how we are working is something we can all probably benefit from. Both on a personal and professional level.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to document the changes so that the rest of the AVNation.tv knows what I have done. The great thing is that I know exactly where to put it now.

Originally posted on AVNation.tv on August 3, 2017.

Revision control is a very important thing. All to often we forget about keeping track of our electronic files and which one is the most current. If not the most recent one, the one that should be running in the system. I believe that we have all seen filenames like this:

  • Final Version – Tim’s Great Website
  • Really the Final Version – Tim’s Great Website
  • Tim’s Great Website – The Final Version
  • It is the Final Countdown to Tim’s Great Website
  • Final Final Version – Tim’s Great Website
  • FINAL FINAL VERSION REV A – Tim’s Great Website
  • Use this File – Tim’s Great Website
  • This file is Tim’s Great Website Really Promise It is Done

You likely chuckled at some of those file names. We have all probably done something like this. Especially when there are multiple people working on a project, which version is the most current? If the files are being emailed does the time date stamp stay the same, especially crossing time zones. There is the issue of people working concurrently on the same file.

Many of us have heard about Huddle Spaces, I suggest using Huddle Storage. There are actually solutions for managing file versions and allowing everyone access. The system used by most software engineers is a version control or revision control system. Some people also call the central location where everything is kept a Repository or Depot. They are checking things in and out of the Depot. Basically when someone checks out the file, they are the only one who can edit it; when it is checked back in everyone is able to edit the file again. Some software will also automatically determine differences between revisions.

There are software packages designed specifically for this task ranging from Subversion to Perforce to Github to open source software Git. These might be overkill for some uses. Leading a project that required multiple people having access to the current revision of a file, I experienced the benefits of version control. (I also learned new colorful metaphors as adjectives for Perforce.) The consistent name of the file meant no one had to worry about opening the wrong file.

There are also some other solutions for file control that might not be as apparent. Dropbox does a reasonable job of keeping previous versions for 30 days. It also does an acceptable job of informing users if there are file conflicts. Microsoft SharePoint allows one to check in and check out files as well as updating the version numbers and rolling back files.

The above solutions require a connection to a network. Many job sites don’t have connectivity. That does not mean files can’t be managed effectively. There is a simple nomenclature system that can provide a solution. When creating a new file include a time/date suffix. The format of the time date is key to making the system function. The time/date stamp is year followed by month then day then 24 hour time. One needs to include all the leading zeros. For instance I am writing this sentence at 170803 2205. The exact text format and spacing is up to the individual, consistent formatting is required.

Using this format allows for sorting the file name providing the ability to know the chronological order. Each time I decide to make a revision, I save with a new suffix. If I need to roll back it is easy to know the sequence. This approach addresses the issue of file time stamps changing when transferring or emailing files. It is possible to branch into different approaches simply by using multiple directories or using a branch ID.

Well it is 17–08-03_22-12, I think I like this revision and will post it.
Actually I had to make some edits after proofreading, you are reading version 17 08 03 22 25.
Well actually 1708032251
Now if you will excuse me, I have to check content versions…

This piece was originally posted on AVnation.tv in July of 2017.

A frequent topic for me is reacting to challenges. The reason for discussing these topics is that from my experience, things going wrong is what impacts projects and people the most. These issues cause extra costs and possibly impact project deadlines. Obviously, problems will happen, the key concept is to understand the cost of a problem. While some things are intangible, such as opportunity cost, the perception of the company, and customer satisfaction. There are costs that are measurable, the cost of the employees time, the cost of travel, expedited shipping fees for replacements, and the overhead costs for these tasks.

At times not all of these costs are considered when evaluating solutions. Several years ago I was traveling for a project when my laptop had a hard drive failure. I thought about the cost that this failure could be under different circumstances. There were multiple solutions I evaluated:

  • Take the laptop to a service center to have the laptop fixed
  • Replace the hard drive and reinstall the operating system and all of the applications
  • Have a laptop shipped from the office
  • Purchase a computer

Which one would you pick?

I decided to purchase a low-cost computer, The reason was considering the other costs involved an extra day in the field costs more than a computer. There would not be a delay waiting for the laptop to be serviced or be shipped from the office. There would not be the time taken to install the operating system.

The calculation to come up with that solution was looking at all the impacted items. I started thinking about travel costs, I would need an additional hotel night (US$150). There would be additional costs of meals (US$40). The charge of an extra day of the rental car (US$40). The dollar amount to change the flights (US$150 service fee & ~$125 fare difference). The one that was hard to quantify, the cost to the relationship with the customer. The other key one, my time away from home. The cost was over US$500 from the travel impact alone. Of course, these numbers vary quite a bit. I purchased a computer with Windows installed and the level of processing power needed for under US$500. for the curious, it was an Intel Next Unit of Computing or NUC. The other item I thought about is that buying a NUC meant that I would have a spare computer after the project instead of spending the same amount of money for travel.

I now travel with a second computer the vast majority of the time. It could be the NUC or my personal laptop.

The cost of US$500 for a one-day solution of buying a new computer was the most practical option. It would not appear at first glance to be that way. It could be another scenario such as purchasing a product at a local store instead of going back to the shop to get the same product. The cost of time and mileage might be more than the difference in price between paying the retail price instead of the dealer price. Truly understanding the complete cost of a solution may change the solution that is chosen.

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you be aware of the true costs. Now if you will excuse me, I need to backup work I did today while traveling…


Originally posted at AVNation.tv on June 8, 2017

Note: This column in no way, shape, or form, provides legal advice or counsel; neither implied or otherwise. It is highly encouraged and recommended that you consult an attorney or legal authority for advice.

The topic of who owns the code used to control a system has been covered quite often by various people and in various circumstances. The question is basically this, “If someone configures a computing system using various commands, who owns the sequence of commands?” Yes, I phrased it that obliquely on purpose. Part of these discussions are based on the idea that computer code can be considered the same as other text, books, magazines, plays … etc and as such can be protected by copyright. At the same time that approach to code means that it can be considered a work for hire and owned by the person commissioning the work. The opinion of code being equal to text was put forth August 30, 1983 under the case of “Apple Computer, Inc. v. Franklin Computer Corp.” This illustrates just how long this debate has gone on. This topic has been discussed on AVNation™ multiple times, Controlling the Code for instance, the Association of Software Professionals has posted an opinion, Mark Coxon has opinions, and many others as well.

I believe that there are additional items to be considered. The courts have ruled that the user interface and operation is not protected under copyright. This case took place in 1996 between Lotus Development Corp.and Borland International, Inc. about porting macros between competing software packages, this required using the same menu structures. The fact that one may copy the operation of an interface is an important item as well. The design and look of software interfaces can be protected, but not the actual operation. This case law means that one cannot copyright the process of pressing play, but can copyright the look of the play button itself. A minor but important distinction, one can copyright the appearance.

These topics get more interesting with the proliferation of open source code and code sharing. Various manufacturers use Microsoft and Linux products as part of a basis for their software. Then there is also code covered under the GNU General Public License that also requires companies to make available the code that they used and modified to the general public.

There are also usage rights to consider as part of this discussion. If one programs a control system for a single conference room or classroom, does the end user have the right to redeploy that code multiple times into other hardware?  One of the common approaches is to license the software, specifically outlining how the software may be used. There are others that feel the software is a work for hire, as such the person paying can use it however they want. It is a tangled web of questions and opinions.

I can continue to go on about all the different items to consider, but I am confident that there will never be a solution that works for all situations. Even within AVNation we disagree over how to handle code ownership and licensing.

There is one solution that I can recommend without hesitation. Define and document the ownership and usage rights for the software as part of the scope of work and pricing negotiations. If it isn’t documented before any questions occur it is much more difficult to evaluate and understand.

Thanks for reading, I am off to go read some End User License Agreements. Oh look Bose, Crestron, Harman, TiVo, Microsoft, Apple … ad infinitum all use code that is open source. I wonder how that impacts this discussion.

Recently Tim Albright, of AVNation, and I were debating about the grammar of a sentence. Yes, that is what we do when looking at the website and looking for challenges that can be improved. While I might be cranky quite often, I do not want to berate and attack people with incomplete data. I took the sentence in question and ran it through the Grammarly service. It is one of the highest rated online grammar checking sites. Sure enough, Grammarly indicated that the phrasing of the sentence was correct. The sentence in question is, “Fall of 2015 Josh Srago, Kirsten Nelson, and I was attending the national sales meeting for AVI Systems, an integrator headquartered in Minneapolis.” Grammarly indicated the word ‘was is correct, both of us thought it should be ‘were’. Changing the sentence to, “During the fall of 2015 Josh Srago, Kirsten Nelson, and I were attending the national sales meeting of AVI Systems, an integrator headquartered in Minneapolis.” changed the results. The word ‘were’ is now correct.

How does this story relate to audio, video, lighting, or control? The point of this parable is that software is very fallible. To trust software without checking the validity or sensibility of a result can often be a problem. Many of us have heard tales of GPS based computer directions gone wrong, the same thing can happen in almost any piece of software.

Many AV technicians use software packages designed for making room measurements. These are great tools to help with compensating for room acoustics and speaker performance. I have seen and heard people watch the screen of the software while measuring the room response. They then adjust the digital signal processor to compensate, using all the filter points to get the line looking like they want. It looks like it sounds great.
Then comes the listening.

The results are not very pleasing. But the software says it is right, so it must be. All of the available 256 filters were used. Does it sound good? That can be subjective but we all know that things can sound good or bad. There is the answer that one must consider the variable of where the measurements are being taken. To overly simplify, the phrasing of the overall sentence is the same as the location of a test microphone.

To me it comes down to something Steve Greenblatt and Brock McGinnis have been discussing on Twitter, experience. The software will not always give the desired result. Every so often one should step away from behind the software and listen in the run. Do not be afraid to trust your ears, eyes, and brain to verify what the software is indicating. Now if you will excuse me, my time measuring software says it is time for playoff hockey. Based on the position of the sun, I find that it is showing a reasonable time value.