This is a section of random posts --- things I'm watching, doing or listening to. Things that are exciting or pissing me off. Products I'm reviewing or things I come across that strike me as cool or bizarre.
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|Posted on June 18, 2013 at 12:35 AM||comments (0)|
Lying in the vast, middle Promised Land between connected things that are obviously useful and things that are uselessly awful, are connected appliances. Yes. Appliances. That connect. To the Internet.
“Why?!” you say. “How?!” you ponder. Why and how, indeed...
Several years ago I visited Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Washington and toured their “Home of the Future.” (You’ll be happy to know that in the future, we drink practically around the clock and have all become oddly obsessed with Asian themed décor.) The HotF’s mandate is to look five to ten years into the future and predict the technology that will be affordable commonplace in the daily lives of normal people. (“Normal” being Microsoft speak for, “Those of you that didn’t cash in on Microsoft, Google, or Apple stock options and now live on piles of money like a pasha." )
During my visit – ironically about five years ago, meaning we’ve either not reached the future yet or my life is even pathetically less normal that I had hoped – Microsoft demonstrated some incredibly cool, “Holy crap!” kinds of things, some of which would actually be useful. And presumably not require a ctrl-alt-del button press!
For example, the HofF will know from your calendar and GPS and/or Bluetooth positioning of your phone when you would be coming home – and where you are in the home – and could prepare the home’s lighting, temperature and entertainment systems accordingly. Perhaps it will be sentient enough to read your Facebook timeline and a status update of, “Well, got fired today. So…that,” could prompt the house to order in some booze. But the cheap stuff. Cause, you know, fired.
Microsoft envisions a broad use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, predicting these little-bitty tags will become so inexpensive that they will ultimately be ubiquitous and used to tag everything. I mean, if you choose to believe that lunatic spoutings of a company named Microsoft. Like, what makes them think they can predict technology?! These tags coupled with “smart appliances” would result in a home that was hyper aware of your every move and everything in it. Imagine a mostly-less-evil HAL that constantly watched over you, trying to predict what you need and how you feel. Possibly like a clingy girlfriend but without any of the girlfriend stuff.
A sentient refrigerator would automatically inventory items as you placed them in, knowing not only what the item was but everything about it, such as when it expires or what it could be used for. Start pulling out eggs and flour and chocolate chips and the home would prompt you with a chocolate chip cookie recipe and tell the oven to pre-heat itself. (That’s right, oven. You listen up when ‘fridge is talkin’!) And, since we’re in the future, the recipe would be projected onto the counter from an overhead projector for you to read natch. You’d never misplace anything again, because the RFID would tell the home exactly where things like that mystery missing sock is. Of course, it probably wouldn’t tell you, cause where’s the fun in that?
But, that’s still in…the future. What about the today and the now?
|Posted on June 12, 2013 at 11:45 AM||comments (0)|
As an industry that prides itself on doing custom work, we like to promise the moon and stars. No wish or desire is too grand, no hope or dream too elaborate or unobtainable. “You want the lights to turn on, the thermostat to drop, the blinds to raise, and the music to start playing the Rocky theme at full volume every time you walk into this room? Yep, sounds totally reasonable to me!”
And the truth is, when the budget and timeline allow, there isn’t much that we can’t make happen. Just flip through the annual CEDIA Lifestyle awards book for some of the magic that your brother (and sister) installers have pulled off.
But there are other times where you might need to dial-back the customer’s – or even your own – expectations a bit so that they are more realistically aligned with what they are getting. For instance, after they sit through a demo in your six-figure theater and then say, “Wow! So my system will be just like this, right?” when their budget is a fraction of what just the chairs in your room cost.
More likely, expectations need to be tempered when you are taking over another project. What hopes and ideas are you stepping into that might not be true or even possible?
I had four real-world instances recently where managing expectations (or not in one case) were crucial…
Job Takeover #1
A customer came in and said he needed a new receiver. His was apparently blown and needed to be replaced. He had been working with another company that had come out, spec’d everything in, said they ordered the products, and even set an install date but then just…poof! Vanished. Wouldn’t take any more calls, wouldn’t return e-mails, just dropped off the face of the earth. Thanks for the new customer, buddy! So as the gentleman was describing his system and his expectations, he continually said, “And the other installer said…” and, “The other installer promised…” So after a few minutes of this where it was clear that some of these other promises were not accurate (like being able to use the receiver’s basic remote as a full system controller), I politely stopped him and said, “The other installer also said he would come back and finish your job. And he hasn’t. So let’s stop focusing on what the other guy told you it would do, and talk about what the system really will do. And what we need to install to make sure it does what you want it to.”
|Posted on June 5, 2013 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
Perusing the June 2013 issue of Residential Systems – the digital issue no less; you can read it here – I came across a column by Ira Friedman entitled “Targeting the Mega Rich: Why Ultra High Net Individuals are the Best Custom Integration Clients.”
Ira had some interesting points in his piece. For one, he defined Ultra High Net Individuals (UHNI) as households with over $30M in disposable income” saying they “represent your best potential clients.”
Ira also claimed, “The $1M client has all but vanished, and if you haven’t realigned your business to attract and service the $30M client, you’re probably not doing so well.”
As someone who’s company has been around since 1995 and doesn’t “attract and service the $30M client,” I took some exception to some of the things that Ira had to say. While I’m sure that UNHI are the perfect clientele for some companies, I’m not at all convinced that they are “the best custom integration clients” for everyone.
So, I figured I would offer a different take on this and assure those of you with companies like mine that you can continue and even thrive without targeting the UHNI clients. Here are seven reasons why you should think long and hard as to whether or not UNHI clients are right for your firm.
According to Ira, these mega-rich live primarily in California, metro New York, Florida and Texas. (Interestingly, coinciding almost exactly with what Prima Cinema told me where the majority of its systems are located.) So, if you live in one of those four areas, congratulations! You might have a shot at these big money clients. For the rest of us, we might stumble across one once a year if they decide to build a second (third, fourth...) home in the geographic area we cover. (And even then I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Well, I have a lot of this stuff in my main home. This is just a vacation house and when I come here I just want to relax and don’t care about any A/V or automation. Just a flat screen in the family room with a small surround system...")
Ira’s company – Bay Audio – sells speakers to custom installers all over the country, so it is much easier to have a reach that extends hundreds/thousands of miles beyond your base. For the remaining 99% of us, we realistically remain within a 100-mile radius of our home base.
One large difference between a typical homeowner and a UHNI is the depth of their pockets. And if something goes wrong – even through no fault of your own – these are the people that can literally sue you out of business. A legal team with nothing better to do than to tie you up in court while you pay your own legal representation $100s/hour will not only be out-of-pocket expense, but a huge drag on the focus of your company. Oh, and you also will have all of the outstanding money on the project until it comes to a resolution. I have personally seen a client tell another contractor – the pool installer – “I have a lot of money and time. I will take out a full page ad in the newspaper telling everyone how bad you are and then make it my goal to put you out of business!” Think it could never happen to you? Think again. I know of another high-profile southern California custom firm that was embroiled in a lengthy – and costly – legal battle when a customer claimed the speakers they installed used toxic materials that were making him sick. The UNHI often have eccentric, volatile Type-A personalities that might not always respond, um, rationally.
And no matter how great you might hit it off with the UNHI, the likelihood is that you will frequently find yourself in the position of not dealing with Mr. or Mrs. UHNI, but rather one of their assistants or staff. And I’ve been told that these intermediaries “are more than willing to have you fall on the sword if it means they don’t have to.”
|Posted on June 3, 2013 at 11:10 AM||comments (1)|
As much as I enjoy enjoy drinking, writing and talking about beer, I actually have no interest in trying to make any for myself. It’s kind of like sausage. Huge fan, don’t want to know or be involved in any part of how it is made. (I’m sure it’s a totally non-gross process that wouldn’t involve bits and scraps and snouts or anuses at all...)
My first encounter with home brewing was none too impressive. My friend, Travis, purchased something he called a “brew sack” that basically looked (from what I can remember) like a burlap bag that was filled with a variety of ingredients and activated by adding boiling water. You then stuck this sack away in a dark closet for some period of time. Travis was excited by the process of the epically cheap beer that he was going to make, but all I can recall was that sack periodically belching out foul smelling gasses, making going into that closet a running joke. And the resulting beer that we were so long-suffering waiting to enjoy was totally unimpressive.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to experience some truly delicious and inspired home brews. Notably I had the pleasure of sampling several excellent offerings from Derek “Beard” Dellinger (aka @BearFlavored on Twitter and found here on the Interweb) at CEDIA this past year. Derek’s beers had all the care, flavor and skill of any craft beer, with the added bonus of being able to discuss all of the brewing decisions with the very person that made them. And Derek has an encyclopedic knowledge of beer. Like, his site is basically a digital bible for home brewers.
Due to this, I have a totally new respect for home brewers, many of whom are quite accomplished and take the craft of brewing to passionate, deeply invested levels. So, when two home brewers offered to let me try their latest batch, I jumped at the chance.
Hello My Name Is…Beer – Pliny the Elder Recipe
7.0% ABV, IBU Unknown
This beer was brewed by my very own brother, Adam, and his friend, Jessie. This is (I believe) Adam’s first go with home brewing, though Jessie has been at it for quite some time and has invested quite a bit of money in his brewing rig. I’ve also sampled several of Jessie’s beers in the past, and I’ll say, I found them damn tasty. In fact, when Jessie shows up at a party with a growler of his beer, it goes quick. This was a Pliny the Elder recipe, with an extra hopping added near the end because, um, more hops…? If you’re going to try to knock off a recipe, might as well be the Elder, amIright? (Though, adding to the recipe is a bit like taking a perfect Mozart sonata and adding some extra sonata-ness to it.) Pours a nice rich golden amber that I believe is a shade darker than the actual Elder with a nice rich two fingers of off-white, slight-khaki-tinted head that sticks around and around. I remember the head on the Elder being whiter and not as long lasting. Beer has a beautiful, jewel-quality clarity that you can read through and there is a ton of visible carbonation in the form of millions of bubbles ascending to their sudsy heaven. Smell is sweet, almost caramel-malt sweet, and the nose reminds me of the Simcoe Double IPA. First sip…well…if I’m rating this as an Elder clone, I would have to say that it misses the mark. It doesn’t have the Elder’s wonderfully clean, fresh pine-hop and pine-sweet notes. But, as a beer rated in its own right, it has some nice notes. It get the initial tingle on the tip of my tongue and then is has a mid-sweet center flavor and then a rich, hop-filled bitter finish that has a nice linger. It’s clearly an IPA, but tastes a bit more like a 1.5 rather than an Imperial. As it opens in the glass a bit, I am getting a bit of a honey-malt flavor. And even at the very last swallow, I’ve got a near finger of head still hanging around and some thick foam coating the side of the glass. Second pour produced a volcanic amount of head; producing three fingers that again hang around for a long time. This beer certainly wants for no carbonation. Very similar tastes here to the last sips, with that kind of caramel-honey-malty-hop flavor being the dominant note. The bitter linger is definitely abated as well, as the beer seems to have lost of a bit of its punch and slam after being opened for a while. In conclusion, I guess I’d say as an Elder clone, it comes up short. As a home brewed IPA, very drinkable.
Bamford Brewing Co’s – Citroe IPA
6.3% ABV, IBU Unknown
Trey Astbury (@TreyTweeting on Twitter) works PR in the A/V industry and also loves beer. So it was clear that our paths were destined to cross. I also like to think that I helped goad Trey into seeking out and finding some of the elusive Pliny the Younger which he reviewed here. So Trey mentioned that he was just about to start bottling his latest batch and I suggested he send me some. Cause, you know, free beer. So one day this showed up on my front porch:
If you are going to send me -- or anyone else -- beer through the mail, this is an excellent lesson in packing 101. You want the beer to arrive safe and happy. And bubble wrapping and styrofoaming the interior of the shipping container as if you are shipping a vial of plutonium is the way to roll here. Also, like a total Boss, Trey also included some snacks with the beer:
After letting the beer settle and recover from any bottle shock from its cross country journey for a couple of days in my fridge, I was ready to take Trey’s beer for a pour. Pours a very nice, rich deep golden amber color with a little haze and a ton of visible carbonation. Beer has a nice near-two-fingers of creamy off-white head that is nice and densely packed. , Leaves a thick coating of froth on the sides of the glass. Nose is redolent with sweetness of hops and caramel malt. It has a nice, almost Bit ‘O Honey candy bar aroma with the hops and malts working. The aroma again brings forward synesthesia memories of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe. (Clearly that beer has Incepted me.) First sip and the beer lands with some nice sparkle on the mid-tongue, a light flash of sweet and hoppy flavor, and then a caramel-malt finish with a bit of bitter on the linger. Taste is leaning towards the light side with nice flavors but nothing beating you over the head. It seems like the kind of beer you could hang with for a lengthy day of afternoon drinking. Say, a whole football Sunday where you don’t want to get filled up or overwhelm your taste buds with a searing repeated assault of IBUs. As it is opening up in the glass, I’m getting a little more flavor on the finish, which gives the beer a better action. Since Trey included a couple of bags of salted peanuts with the beer, I decided to break them out for the second pour. I’m not sure if they were a pairing recommendation, but, hey…beer and peanuts. How could it ever go wrong? (Though, peanuts and a Belgian sounds like it would be a weird, unholy combination, but I digress...) Second pour produces another two-fingers of dense head that is like a light-tan topped cappuccino. Again a nice initial mouth engagement, a bit of the hop flavor and then a nice finish rich with caramel and malt notes. The salty peanuts are a nice balance to the beer and fill in the dip in the beer’s flavor profile at the point between swallow and finish.
What these two homebrews have demonstrated is that making a quality, interesting, enjoyable ale at home is within reach of those willing to take the time and care to do it right.
|Posted on May 29, 2013 at 5:10 PM||comments (0)|
Dana and I had the pleasure of seeing Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers play with very special guest Edie Brickell this past Monday night (May 27) at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Don’t feel bad if you weren’t aware that Steve Martin is an accomplished banjo player (banjoist?), as that would just make you like 99% of the rest of the free world. (Apparently he is huge in North Korea. Kim Jung Un is a freak for some bluegrass, and loves singing along to a quality murder ballad . . .) While wasting his time and talents on acting, writing and comedy, Steve has also managed to squeeze in some pickin’ and grinnin’ for the past 50 years, and it’s clear that the banjo is a real passion of his. If you recall, the banjo was part of Steve’s early stand-up comedy.
He also performed a lovely version of “Tonight You Belong to Me” on the banjo with Bernadette Peters in The Jerk.
Like many of you, my first real brush with bluegrass music — defined by Wiki as “a form of American roots music, and a sub-genre of country music. Bluegrass was inspired by the music of Appalachia. It has mixed roots in Scottish, Irish and English traditional music, and also later influenced by the music of African-Americans through incorporation of jazz elements” — was in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The music is free and easy, earthy and light, and often tells a story in the song. (Imagine Kenny Rogers' “The Gambler” or “Coward of the County” with more banjo and fiddle and less three-pack-a-day-cigarette voice . . .)
To be honest, while I enjoyed much of the music in O Brother, and am a big Steve Martin fan ("The Diarrhea Gardens of El Camino Real" anyone...?), I would have gone to see Martin and the Rangers if they had been beating oil drums with hammers accompanied by the soothing staccato of an air-raid klaxon when I found out that Edie Brickell was playing with them.
I love Edie Brickell. Like I italics, bold, underline, all caps LOVE Edie Brickell. Her Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars is one of my Top 10 albums. I also have Ghost of a Dog (particularly love, “He Said” and "Me By the Sea"), Picture Perfect Morning, Volcano (ditto “What Would You Do?" ) and Stranger Things. So I was not -- NOT -- going to miss a chance to see her perform live.
Prior to the show, I downloaded Martin and Brickell’s new album, Love Has Come For You, and gave it multiple listens, and I have to say that I really enjoy many of the songs.
The album is pretty short at sub 40 minutes but it is easy to listen to, and is so refreshing compared with the overly engineered and synthesized pop music flooding airwaves today. And not a drop of autotune to be found on any track! The bluegrass music seems a perfect fit for Brickell’s airy, ethereal, floaty/dreamy voice and lyrical quality, and it would be easy to see many of these tracks as part of her early work with the New Bohemians. (And that’s high praise.)
So while I knew the 13 tracks on the album, I didn’t really know what to expect at the show. And while I hoped that Edie would perform some/any of her own material, that didn’t happen. Also, if you are expecting any King Tut or “I’m a wild and crazy guy!” schtick, you’ll be disappointed. Even so, it was a great concert, and was evident that terrific performers shine regardless of the genre.
The show opened with Martin and the Rangers walking out to no fanfare. We were seated near the center in Orchestra Row H about 30 feet back, but Steve was wearing a virtually iPhone-photo-proof white suit that horribly overexposed in the stage lighting, which made taking a good picture almost impossible.
Steve kept up a steady bit of comedy patter before each song, talking easily about his love for banjo and bluegrass, how he met the Steep Canyon Rangers (“I don’t consider them so much as my band as I am their celebrity" ) and random observations: “I understand that an invitation to see me in concert playing banjo is a little out of context. A bit like finding out that Jerry Seinfeld is doing a show. Playing bassoon.”
Steve is an easy showman, and his wry, insightful, straight delivery kept the audience laughing throughout the two-and-a-half-hour show. He started off the night saying, “They say it’s impossible to come to a bluegrass show and not have a good time. So let’s show ’em how it’s done guys!”
|Posted on May 28, 2013 at 3:40 PM||comments (0)|
A month ago, I wrote a post called “The Death of the Dedicated Theater Room” that listed all the reasons why a theater in a multi-use space such as a living room or family room makes so much more sense than going with a dedicated room. Multi-use spaces are generally more welcoming and comfortable, don’t require an exodus from one location to the next to watch a movie, and—most importantly—every home has one. (For simplicity’s sake, going forward I’m just going to call any multi-use space a living room.)
Before I begin debunking all of the reasons why you think you can’t put a great theater in your living room, I want to start by saying that if you have the means, budget, space, and desire for a dedicated media room in your home, go for it. This is definitely not a knock on building a dedicated room, and in many circumstances, a dedicated space can deliver an amazing experience.
With that said, here’s why I think you’re wrong when you say you can’t put a good theater in a living room.
1) “A living room lets in far too much light to be a good theater.”
Granted, one of the benefits of a dedicated room is that it often has a single door and no windows, which makes it easy to make the room completely dark. But there is a lot that can be done to make a living room acceptably dark for movie watching. In my room, I have Lutron automated shading on the windows. At the touch of a button, the shades all lower to darken the room. This alone makes the room quite dim during the day and dark at night for movie watching. With the right window treatments, you could make your living room as dark as needed.
Additionally, new screen technologies—like Stewart’s FireHawk, Draper’s High Performance XS850e, and Screen Innovations Black Diamond—do an amazing job of rejecting ambient light, producing an amazing cinematic experience in a fully lit room. I have installed a couple of Black Diamond Screens—the screen surface is literally black instead of the traditional white—and the picture quality with the lights fully up is unbelievable. Equally important, it looks even better when the lights are down!
|Posted on May 28, 2013 at 2:20 PM||comments (0)|
I’ll admit that watching reality TV is one of my vices. (Though, after coming clean about listening to Taylor Swift, I feel like I’ve pretty much thrown the medicine cabinet door wide open and invited you all to have a good long look.)
My particular brand of reality fetish has nothing to do with singing or dancing, morbid obesity, rednecks or trailer parks, dating shows or contest where genital obliteration is a very real/hoped for possibility. No. The shows that I am drawn to are on-going contests where “normal” people are thrown into abnormal conditions and then forced to deal with one another.
After watching the premier of a new show last week, I realized that there were actually a lot of really practical management lessons that could be learned from watching these shows. Many of them dealing with interpersonal skills that many of us employ every day without even realizing it.
(This idea might also have been partially Incepted from this very entertaining blog post at CEDIA’s site, “Lessons from Mad Men: How to Keep the ‘Peggy Olsons’ on Your Team” by Erin Couch.)
In this series contestants compete in various business themed challenges trying to avoid the weekly, “You’re fired!” from Donald Trump. There is always one player selected as Project Manager that oversees each project and ultimately gets the credit for success or highest risk of being fired for failure.
However you feel about Trump, he is successful from a business standpoint. He’s also very astute on centering in on the specific area of weakness about a given task or player. But beyond The Donald’s commentary – which lately just seems to be a steady self-aggrandizing “I am the greatest” patter – watching The Apprentice shows how to delegate the talents of different team members, allowing each one to use their abilities to maximize the success of the project. No matter how good you are, you can’t be everywhere at once, and you are going to have to rely on a solid team to help you succeed.
|Posted on May 24, 2013 at 1:35 PM||comments (0)|
Bringing you up to speed…
So, my custom installation company – Custom Theater and Audio – landed the biggest job in our 18 year history, both in physical size of the home (21,500 square feet under roof on one floor sitting on 4 acres of property just back from the ocean) and in financial scope of the job. I decided to chronicle the project over the next several months, the decisions I made in system design, the proposal process, the prewire, trim out and installation.
A month ago I posted Part 1 of this saga where I discussed The Spec Out. If you missed that, I went over my thought process on coming up with the proposal for this job; how I tackled the size of the job and figured out the best way to handle audio/video distribution and control as well as my choices on selecting the system components.
Once I had determined the essential design and layout of the system – which was greatly simplified and solved a lot of install and integration issues by deciding to go with localized “mini systems” in each of the living suites instead of trying to do everything from a centralized rack – I was able to start work on the proposal which ultimately came in at 18 pages not including the Lutron Homeworks proposal which we prepared separately. (More on this in part three...)
One of the questions that I received from my first post was, “Only 16 zones of whole house audio in a 25k house?” Actually, as big as the home is – and it is 21.5k not 25k – there really aren’t a lot of rooms; the rooms are just massive. For instance, the family room and kitchen alone are like 150% bigger than my entire house. Also, by breaking up the five bedrooms – bedroom suites and bathrooms – and family room and theater into their own systems – complete with surround sound – that removed potentially 12 zones from the house audio distribution. So, the owners will have no shortage of customized listening options per area.
Before presenting my proposal, I wanted to “wow” the builders and basically set them up to be blown away by my quote before they even saw it. Honestly, I was pretty confident about my chances of landing this job – in fact my business partner, Allen, kept hitting me with the Star Wars quote, “Your overconfidence is your weakness!” – and in my mind it was more a question of, “How good will the system be?” rather than “Will we or won’t we get this job?”
|Posted on May 24, 2013 at 12:05 AM||comments (0)|
You’ve finally sacked-up and decided to take that next step into the home theater Big Boy club; you’ve made the decision to abandon that weak-sauce, girly-man flat panel display and go with a strong-like-bull front projector! First things first...bring it in. We gotta hug this bitch out. Congratulations! For today, you are a man!
So, now that you’ve made this momentous decision you’re probably all, “What the hell? How do I turn this madness into a reality?!”
I got you, bro. (I mean, I’m assuming you’re a dude. But if you’re actually a girl…how you doin’? Let’s hug this out again..) Since I’ve installed dozens of projectors, I’m gonna hold your hand and walk you through the velvet ropes and lead you down the plushy carpeting all the way to the nice seats in front of the big screen of home theater Nirvana.
Here’s everything you need to know about installing your new front projector!
Whole articles have been written on selecting the screen to use with your projector so I’m not going to go into that here. (If you need a primer on selecting a screen, here’s a good article from my friend, Geoff Morrison, posted on CNET.) Suffice it to say, I’m going to assume that you’ve made the decision on the screen material, gain, aspect ratio, mounting type (fixed or roll-down) and all the other stuff. (For what it’s worth, I have a Draper Access MultiView Series V M1300 motorized screen in dual aspect ratio in my theater. It is 92-inches when 16x9 and 115-inches in 2.35:1. For more on aspect ratios, read my post “Geometry, Aspect Ratios, and Why You Should Love Those Black Bars On Your TV.")
The only thing we’re interested here is the screen size. And by size I mean the width. Not girth. Because the width is going to determine the throw distance and installation location of the projector. For the sake of math simplicity, let’s just assume that you are going to use a screen that has a 100-inch width. (Which would be 115-inches diagonal and 56-inches high for a 16x9 screen for those keeping score at home.)
Please continue reading this how to at Digital Trends. Every click means a new tree planted in the rain forest!*
* No actual trees will be planted. At least to my knowledge. Feel free to take it upon yourself to click AND plant.
|Posted on May 21, 2013 at 10:05 AM||comments (0)|
I had the unique, two-hours-only-a-parent-could-love, pleasure of attending my daughter’s ballet recital this past weekend. And if you’ve never had the opportunity, I can assure you that watching dozens of 4-12 year old girls dancing ballet and tap to covers of Michael Jackson hits is every bit as fun as it sounds. (Did I mention that there was no intermission? Or bar? And that it was two hours?)
Here's a picture of Lauryn-donna, ballat-er.
So, on the car ride home, I’m listening to the local Top 40 radio station and Taylor Swift’s latest hit, “22,” comes on. And as damaging as it will be to my man-cred, I’ll admit that I enjoy many of Ms. Swift’s songs, and “22” has a peppy-catchy hook. (And, she sure is purty to look at.) So, I find myself singing along to “22” but changing the lyrics to “42” better reflecting my age and more weathered/cynical outlook on life. It had inspired lines like:
“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 42
Everything will be OK, after a drink or two
You don’t know about me, but I’m sure that Google do
I know it won’t be alright, if I keep drinking like when I was 22…”
But after finishing, it seemed Swifty’s song spoke to me more as an anthem for custom installers than it did as a commentary on life over 40. Industry stuff that rhymed with “22” kept popping into my head, and the only way to exorcise those demons was to type them out. After about 15 minutes I had what seemed like a pretty catchy little song for the industry.
So, I’m hoping you’ll indulge me in this slightly off-topic blog post. (Resi Systems Editor in Chief says it’s my funeral…I hope you’ll help me prove him wrong.) If nothing else, maybe it will make listening to “22” a little more bearable when it comes on the radio. (If you’ve never heard the song, this will be a lot funnier in some context and give you the flow of the lines. So, here’s a link to Swift’s video. Even if you hate the upbeat, poppy tune, like I said, she’s still awful purty to look at…)
I shared my parody with custom install’s very own Jay-Z, Phillip “HiPhi” Cordell, The AV Professional, who felt it was “pretty darn strong.” And uber-integrator , Rich Fregosa, said it had shades of Yankovic; high praise indeed. So, I got that going for me. Which is nice.
So, with all respect to Ms. Swift, here is the custom install parody of “22.” Heart-shaped glasses and hipster hats totally optional…
|Posted on May 20, 2013 at 6:50 PM||comments (0)|
“See the TURTLE of enormous girth!
On his shell he holds the earth.
His thought is slow but always kind;
He holds us all within his mind.
On his back all vows are made;
He sees the truth but may’nt aid.
He loves the land and love the sea,
And even love a child like me.”
Stephen King, “The Turtle.”
I’ve been a fan of Terrapin Beer ever since I discovered that they are located in Athens, Georgia. Athens is the home to some great bands including the B-52’s and one of my very favorites, REM. In fact, we took a trip several hours out of our way just to visit Athens so I could have a meal at Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods, home to the slogan, “Automatic for the people.”
(Dammit that I didn’t know about Terrapin Beer then! Though now we have a great excuse to plan another trip to Athens to check out the town and tour the brewery.)
Also, they have some of the best label art out there, taking their turtle themed name and really having fun with it. (And, you cannot be a Stephen King fan without feeling some love for the Turtle; he who existed since the beginning of time and vomited forth the universe...)
So, when I stumbled on these three Turtles, I knew it was Ka that I try them…
Terrapin Beer - So Fresh and So Green, Green
Hop Varieties: Fresh “Wet” hops flown in overnight from the Yakima Valley in Washington State! The hops varietal changes each year."
6.6% ABV, "IBUs: Fresh Hops Huge!
$8.49 22-ounce bomber
Description: “This is a beer that celebrates the hop! You can’t get fresher or greener than this. Made with freshly picked, whole leaf, ‘wet hops’ these off-the-vine beauties will encourage you to DRINK FRESH, DRINK LOCAL, and DRINK NOW!”
I’m all about drinking fresh and hops, so this seemed like a clear winner. Plus, the hop featured on the label was my beloved Citra. Obviously this was gonna be my first to sample. Pours a rich, deep golden, orange-amber with just a little, half finger of mostly cloud-white head that quickly reduces to a scrim of froth atop the glass. Body is clear with lots of micro bubble carbonation. Smell is big with malty, sticky sweet honey and some orange citrus. First sip and...not blown away. Flavors are kind of laid back and a little subdued. Does "fresh" mean picked before totally ready and ripe? Like one of those extra “fresh” white strawberries or a really “fresh” green blackberry…? There's a decent bit of sparkle on the tongue when the beer lands, and then an almost lemony-wheat-zest flavor and a really crisp, clean finish. There's not a lot of linger on the flavor on my first two sips. On the plus side, I'm not getting that malty-honey flavor that really isn't my favorite. Impressions on the first glass are that this drinks a bit more like a Hefeweizen and is short on hop flavors, fresh or otherwise. We'll see what the second pour has to offer... (Second pour) Sadly, flavors seem more subdued. The finish is still nice and crisp and clean, but there is not a ton of flavor and little real hop notes. In fact it reminds me a bit if the Sierra Nevada Homegrown Estate Ale which was just too light and laid back for my pref. Don't get me wrong; the flavors are enjoyable, they are just a little hazy and off in the distance. As a fresh laid back easy drinking summer beer, Fresh Hop might be the ticket. As a sit down and contemplate life kind of brew, maybe not so much.
Terrapin Beer – Oaked Big Hoppy Monster
Hop Varieties: Bravo, Centennial, Cascade, Ammarillo, Simcoe
9.1% ABV, 75 IBU
Description: “The original Monster better than ever…. Oaked Big Hoppy Monster Imperial Red Ale pours a luscious garnet color. Expect this brew to lead with big American-style hop aroma, quickly complemented by a monstrous malt backbone rounded with rich oaky notes and hints of vanilla. A bit of alcohol warmth and a multitude of malty goodness, with just a snarl of hop bitterness, awaits at the finish. This enormous beer will go down smooth… but watch out; this Monster bites!”
Obviously, the natural comparison to a beer with “with Oak” in the title is to Stone Brewing Co.’s “Arrogant Bastard with Oak.” My complaint with Stone’s offering was that if you are going to put “with Oak” in your title, then you’d better damn well put some serious oak flavors up on the score board. I felt like it was more arrogant bastard and less with oak. Since “with oak” is my favorite element of wines and bourbons, I’m not gonna downplay the rich, woody oak-filled flavors I’m hoping for in this brew. I want it to taste like some too a splintery old wooden stave, swirled it around in the wort for a bit and then slapped me straight in the mouth with it. Pour a brown, muddy, river water color that is kind of like a dirty iced tea. Not golden, not yellow, not black or dark brown or cola brown, but a brackish brown color. It produced just the tiniest froth of head that quickly vanished to just a thin ring of bubbles surrounding the circumference of the glass. The nose is spicy with sweet hoppyness, but there is also clear woody aromas standing out as well. First sip, and I get a nice tingle on mid tongue, then really a big wood flash, followed with a nice, hop-filled bitter finish. A good linger that feels like I’ve sucked some beer that has been trapped in a stave of wood lining a beer keg. Woodlicious! The definite note here is wood; it’s big and oaky and creamy and works well with the hoppy notes. This is what a beer with “with oak” in the title should taste like; big and fully and definitely and unquestionably with oak. Which actually does a nice job of balancing out the spice of the hop with creamy woodiness. At the last, the Oaked Monster is still sweet and smooth and packed with woody goodness. Solid!
Terrapin Beer – Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout
Hop Varieites: Nugget, Willamette
6% ABV, 30 IBU
Description: “The Terrapin 'Moo-Hoo' Chocolate Milk Stout proudly uses cocoa nibs and shells from Olive and Sinclair Chocolate Company to give this beer its great taste! An appetizing cold weather treat this sweet stout is rich creamy and uniquely satisfying. Beer and Chocolate together they truly make one of life’s great indulgences.”
I will confess, I have never actually had a Yoohoo. I was always more a Hershey’s or Ovaltine kind of guy. But the thought of a creamy, milky chocolate stout sounded potentially delicious. So here we are. Pours a deep, dark, oily black with a rich, khaki head that produces a thick two fingers worth. So much for thinking it will be milky, Yoohoo colored. Head is thick and foamy and slowly reduces down to a nice creamy, khaki layer on top of the beer. In the light there is the slightest tinge of red, but the beer is impossible to see into. Smell is rich of milk chocolate, with nice burnt cocoa-coffee ground notes as well. First sip and a bit of a tingle on the sides of my tongue, with a creamy, sweet very milk-chocolate flavor. There is actually not as much carbonation as I would like, with the beer seeming a little flat on the first sip. The flavor is definitely milk-chocolate, and it has a nice balance of sweet and creamy. The finish has a bit of porter-like bitter, but the lack of carbonation really makes the beer taste a little flat which is kind of a bummer. Near the end of the glass, maybe I’ve just come to terms with the lack of carbonation, or maybe head has reinfused itself, or maybe my heart has just softened, but the beer seems to have a richer, creamier flavor that is making me miss the carbonation less. While I can’t compare it directly to a Yoo-Hoo, as far as Moo-Hoo goes, it’s a nice take on a glass of chocolate milk. With malt and hops. And alcohol. So obviously much better.
|Posted on May 13, 2013 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
Da Mayor: Doctor...
Mookie: C'mon, what. What?
Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
Mookie: That's it?
Da Mayor: That's it.
Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee
A while ago I made the decision to hire someone to do basic mow-and-blow maintenance on my lawn. I made this decision much like many of our custom installation customers hire us; they needed a service – like connecting their system, or wall-mounting a TV or troubleshooting a problem – that they either couldn’t or didn’t want to do themselves.
My gardener – Mr. R – comes every two weeks and he cuts the grass, edges around the driveway and blows down the clippings. Could I do this myself? Sure. But after analyzing how much time it took to do all of this – maintaining the mower, getting the gas, cutting the lawn, cleaning the equipment and putting it away, bagging the grass and then cleaning up afterwards – I decided that my time was more valuable than what I pay Mr. R to do the job for me.
However, Mr. R has a bad habit of driving over sprinkler heads and breaking them. He’s done it FIVE times so far. Then he has the even worse habit of not telling me about it. So instead of dealing with it straight away, at some point I randomly discover that one of the sprinklers has been obliterated and that is has been hemorrhaging water for who-knows-how-many-days.
When I discover this, well, I get pretty pissed off. I no longer think about the great job he did cutting the grass or the time that he is saving me. I am rage-focused to seeing only that damn broken sprinkler and wonder why he didn’t have the courtesy to tell me about it, or, better yet, to take the initiative to repair the problem himself and saving me the time and expense.
Instead I have to spend part of my time digging up sprinkler lines, cutting out the broken parts, driving to Lowe’s to get replacements and then repairing the system and putting the lawn back together.
Do you think this is likely to make me want to recommend Mr. R to others?
Over the years, I have made my share of mistakes on jobsites. I slipped off of a rafter in an attic and fell into a client’s kitchen. (Every bit as awesomely graceful as you are imagining.) I’ve had drills that have “walked” on me and torn up other trades wiring. I’ve “missed” drilling up from a crawl space and came up through a client’s floor. I’ve moved furniture that has scratched up a customer’s hardwood flooring. I’ve dropped a soldering iron onto carpeting. I’ve…well, you get the idea. (Hey, fifteen years is a long time to accumulate some screw-ups...)
Mistakes happen, but if you make one, own up to it. And if it is in your power, rectify it.
In short, do the right thing.
Now, doing the right thing can come in different forms. Click here to continue reading three ways you should always do the right thing...
|Posted on May 10, 2013 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
I’ve mentioned my Definitive Technology rep, Woody, before. He is the one where we shared a Gay Chamsake at our local sushi bar, and then I think he *may* have proposed to me with a delicate selection of pastel colored sakes on another occasion…
Regardless, Woody comes to town a couple of times a year to show us new Def Tech product, go over any upcoming specials, and see if we need anything from him to support our business, blah-blah. Then we go out and grab some dinner. It’s a great opportunity to hang out and chat informally and get to know each other beyond the typical, “Hey, Woody! I need another Mythos SoloCinema XTR!” and “OK! I’ll ship it right out!”
Because we’re both in the tech business and intimately associated with Definitive Technology – a company that was basically founded on the principles of making home theaters more awesome-er – talk naturally gravitates to movies. And it turns out that Woody is into some gnarly-ass stuff when it comes to movies.
Now, I have a list of my 10 Worst Movies Ever, and I thought that some of the stuff I’d seen – specifically Leolo and Man Bites Dog – was pretty gnarly. Like, physical making me ill, asking myself why, dear God, didn’t I get up and leave the theater, gnarly.
But no. Oh, no, no, no, no… NO! Compared to the movies that Woody watches – nay, ENJOYS! – these movies are like a Disney/Pixar offering.
Now, before you begin, even though I have toned down a couple of bits, some of this is still NSF-anywhere. It will haunt you. It will scar you. It will leave you questioning your faith in humanity. It will leave you crying out, “WHY?!?!” So, you’ve been warned…
If you happen to make it to the bottom of the list and think you can one-up Woody – or even recommend a title for his next film fest – feel free to share in the comments. And know that I’ll never let you pick a movie for me to watch. Ever.
Normally I’d pull movie poster art for titles, but, honestly, I was just too scared what I might find if I Googled any of these movies. My comments to lighten the mood as needed in [italics]. Take it away, Woody...
During my college years, we often sought out the craziest, most over-the-top films we could find. Often these fell into the “Mondo” category of gruesome, faux documentaries which were quite a fad in the 1970s. The most recent example that younger readers would be aware of is the Faces of Death series, which were admitted to be a faked series of vignettes designed to disturb and offend. The movies that interested me more were the truly boundary-pushing films of Europe that made their way into our video stores. One of these “Video Nasties” that went too far for my taste was Necromantik, a truly boring German film that has the occasional scene of nausea-inducing cadaver sex. I have a strong stomach for this sort of thing, but I actually gagged!
Most of the movies we hung out and watched at small parties were genre films, and mostly horror. This is where I discovered classics like Basket case, Evil Dead 2, ReAnimator, and Toxic Avenger. These movies were gory, fun, and full of humor. Gruesome horror is much more fun when you get as many laughs as screams. But sometimes, we’d rent a film that wasn’t much fun at all. Sometimes we would come across a movie that was well-made, but extremely disturbing. These films are not for the weak-of-heart and are for people who have gotten bored with the kind of horror movies that show up in the local Cineplex. If you want horror that will stay with you long after the closing credits, check out some of my suggestions below.
Irreversible chronicles as events over the course of one traumatic night in Paris unfold in reverse-chronological order. [Kind of like a more horrible version of the brilliant Memento, I gather…] The beautiful Alex is brutally raped and beaten by a stranger in the underpass. Her boyfriend and ex-lover take matters into their own hands by hiring two criminals to help them find the rapist so that they can exact revenge. The infamous 10 minute rape scene will leave you feeling violated for watching it. [Ten. Minute. Rape. Scene. And they say Meryl Streep passed…] The brutality only increases as details are revealed from earlier in time. Irreversible is truly a brilliant film that features major French stars and top notch story-telling.
Taxidermia is another foreign film that has top quality special effects, production values and acting. It also features more vomiting than I’ve ever seen in a film. [And, seriously, isn’t “more vomiting” pretty much what *every* film is missing?!] This movie is truly bizarre and full of unforgettable images of gore, sex, and modern art. I’m sure this film is defended as being a brilliant political allegory, but I took it in as simply a hallucinatory tale of three generations of men, including an obese speed eater [good…], an embalmer of gigantic cats [better…], and a man who shoots fire out of his penis [Winner!]. It grossed a whopping $342 its opening weekend when released in the US.
Imprint is a segment of the Showtime series “Masters of Horror”. This episode was deemed too disturbing for Showtime to broadcast and was only released on home video. Directed by Takashi Miike, a director who has made enough movies in the cinema extreme genre that I could write a Top 10 article on him alone, Imprint tackles the taboo subject of abortion. The intensity includes scenes of aborted fetuses being tossed into the river like garbage by an abortionist, torture by binding, and whipping leading to urination, all before a climax involving mutations and disfigurement. [I got nothin’ here…] Miikie has made some truly out-there films like Visitir Q, Fudoh, and Ichi the Killer but also some well-regarded period films like 13 Assassins as well.
Last House on the Left has a pair of teenage girls headed to a rock concert for one's birthday. While trying to score marijuana in the city, the girls are kidnapped by a gang of psychotic criminals. [It's a cautionary tale as old as time...] This film features some truly depraved torture of the teenage girls before the convicts get their comeuppance at the hands of the girl’s parents. [So, it's an inspirational, feel good, root for the parents and family values film?] Directed by Wes Craven of Nightmare on Elm Street fame, this film is roughly shot and edited and has the appearance of a snuff film with a plot. Released in 1972, this movie still has the ability to clear the room with its tone of misogyny and nastiness.
Guinea Pig-Devil’s Experiment is the first in a 6-part series of notorious experimental films from Japan. Part One revolves around a group of men who kidnap and graphically torture a young woman in as many ways as possible, as part of an experiment on the human body's threshold of pain. The different forms of pain consist of hitting, kicking, clawing, unconsciousness, sound, skin, burn, worms, guts, and a needle. [And the fun part is, there are still FIVE more parts to go! Make sure you have that popcorn bowl filled! It's better to absorb the vomiting.] There is not much of a plot and the follow-up film, Flowers of Blood, is similar in style and features a samurai slowly dismembering a young woman in excruciating detail. Both of these films have been mistaken for true snuff films and the creators were repeatedly interviewed by the Japanese police and eventually summoned to court to prove that the special effects were indeed not real. This is the closest thing I’ve seen to a true snuff film. Why anyone would watch this film is beyond me. I’d suggest watching the making of Guinea Pig to add some distance to the proceedings if you want to see the gory bits. [Because if there is anything better than watching a gruesome, shock-film, it's watching the making of doc of said film!]
AntiChrist tells the story of a couple who, after the death of their child, retreat to a cabin in the woods where the man experiences strange visions and the woman manifests increasingly violent sexual behavior. Scenes include a penis smashed by a wooden log and then [manually pleasured] until it [has a happy ending with] blood. You also get an extreme close-up on a rusty pair of scissors cutting off a [lady’s special bits]. This all follows the opening sequence which could be one of the most jarring uses of slow motion in any film. [I’m guessing this is nothing like Bullet-Time from The Matrix...] The scene of a dying fox that cannibalizes himself has become an internet meme. [Like Grumpy Cat...?] Not a good first date film.
Cannibal Holocaust is a classic Italian horror film that jump-started the “city folk devoured by jungle cannibals” genre to brief popularity. [Seriously, though, with a title like Cannibal Holocaust, you should know what to expect going in. Just sayin’...] This film is as offensive for its brutality as for its convoluted morality. The plot involves a New York University professor that returns from a rescue mission to the Amazon rainforest with the footage shot by a lost team of documentarians who were making a film about the area's local cannibal tribes. While shooting, the documentarians had spiced-up their film by burning the natives alive and raping and mutilating a young girl before the natives exacted their revenge. [Because just regular cannibalism is never spicy enough!] This film was banned and censored due to the real animal killings and the belief that the actors were actually killed during filming. This film has been very influential and is the precursor to the modern “found footage” films so popular today.
Human Centipede 2 is the movie people thought the first one would be. The concept behind the original Human Centipede was enough to have people horrified before ever watching it. The original was an average film about a mad doctor surgically connecting three people ass-to-mouth to create a human centipede. Surprisingly, it is not particularly gory or disturbing, and it actually feels kind of predictable and formulaic. The second film has the shocks and gruesomeness the first did not. Shot in grainy black and white, with a lead actor who is disturbing in just his appearance, Human Centipede 2 leaves nothing to the imagination. [The phrase “ass-to-mouth” and “nothing to the imagination” are chilling in their possibilities.] The balding, overweight protagonist appears to be a non-actor whose very appearance makes every scene uncomfortable. He is a copy cat, obsessed with the first Human Centipede film and attempts to recreate the human centipede from the first film without medical knowledge or equipment. This film feels dirty and slimy from the first frame and concludes with an actual centipede inserted in the protagonist’s anus. [Huzzah!] This film is the one you dare your friends to watch and is readily available on Netflix streaming.
A Serbian Film features a plot based around a truly reprehensible subject: murder as filmed entertainment. An aging porn star agrees to participate in an "art film" in order to make a clean break from the business, only to discover that he has been drafted into making a pedophilia- and necrophilia- themed snuff film. This is a horror film in the truest sense. Horrifying images and concepts too gruesome to even describe are shown in gruesome detail. Far from being a low-budget exploitation film for gorehounds only, A Serbian Film is very well acted, shot, and scored. Sometimes a low-budget look can increase the creepy factor, but here the production actually lends some credibility to the proceedings. The end of the film will leave you brutalized, but if the average horror film leaves you cold, this is one you won’t forget. [That is if you aren’t already feeling brutalized and cold.] This film was actually banned in many countries and is hard to find in its full, unedited version. An R-rated version could be just as horrifying, but the unedited version is as depraved a film as I have seen. This one streams on YouTube if you sign in as over 18.
Salo-120 Days of Sodom is an Italian Film where four fascist libertines round up nine teenage boys and girls and subject them to 120 days of physical, mental, and sexual torture. [119 Days of Sodom was deemed not enough Sodom, and surprisingly, 121 Days just felt like one day too many.] Teenaged actors are forced to perform depraved acts that include segments called the “Circle of Blood” and the “Circle of Sh--”. Salo is surprisingly well-acted and directed with high production values, but I found this film too punishing to watch. I stopped it a few times in trying to even finish it. Therefore it holds my number one spot. I’m not sure what happens in the “Circle of Sh--” as I never got that far. Netflix will rent you a lovely Criterion Edition DVD if you are so inclined. [According to Criterion: “The notorious final film from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom has been called nauseating, shocking, depraved, pornographic . . . It’s also a masterpiece.” And if you’re going to watch, you’re surely going to want to catch it all in a stunning high-definition digital restored version!]
|Posted on May 9, 2013 at 12:20 AM||comments (0)|
The world’s largest technology distributor, Ingram Micro Inc., owners of CE distribution powerhouses AVAD and DBL Distributing, hosted a vendor expo for resellers this past week in Scottsdale, Arizona, at the absolutely beautiful Fairmont Scottsdale Princess resort, a AAA 5-Diamond rated property. (You can read all about this uh-MAY-zing hotel and my mountain nature trail fitness hike/death march with OmniMount's Betsey Banker here...)
The theme of this year’s expo was “Plugged in to CE” and during the kick-off keynote, Ingram’s VP/GM Tom Bamrick remarked the event was “a collaboration and partnership to increase business and relationships.”
Also on hand were some heavy-hitting representatives from CEA, including CEO, Gary Shapiro, and Senior Research Analyst, Chris Ely, who both shared interesting insights into the future of this CE industry including Top Planned CE purchases for 2013. (Spoiler: it’s headphones.)
The expo drew 450 attendees and featured more than 135 different vendors including Samsung, OmniMount/Ergotron, Monster, Atlantic Technology, Sanus, Sherwood, and Microsoft, allowing west coast integrators that didn’t attend CEDIA an opportunity to check out some of the latest technologies and meet with vendor representatives to discuss business opportunities.
Gary Shapiro introduced the event by saying, “Our only mission is to grow the industry,” and he spoke for over an hour on the state of the CE industry and took audience Q and A. (I asked him about PRIMA Cinema and what he thought the future of day-and-date streaming might be, but unfortunately he wasn’t familiar with PRIMA.)
Shapiro is bullish on UHD, thinking that it will be “the next big thing.” I asked him if he thought that it would just be another 3D, a technology basically foist upon the public, but he felt that 3D was always destined for difficulty citing multiple factors such as people not wanting to wear glasses, a portion of the population not being able to see the 3D effect and others that feel ill effects from the technology. Whatever your thoughts on UHD or 4K, it is coming, so be ready for it…
Probably not surprising to anyone, 3D led the list of “Least Prevalent CE Products” with only a 9% household penetration. (And the majority of those likely people that purchased a set that just happened to have 3D as a feature.) Showing incredibly room for growth in the category is the 11% soundbar penetration. With HDTV having a 74% market penetration, it is clear that this soundbars is a growth category that can fuel a lot of sales. For more on how to sell high-end soundbars, read this post, coincidentally written by yours truly.
Every attendee was given a copy of Shapiro’s book, “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses,” and Gary and took a few moments to chat with each person and personalize copies. In mine he wrote, “To John, Thank you for shifting from golf to CE! Be a Ninja Innovator!! Gary.” Dear CE, Thank you for saving me from golf! I love you much more!! John.
A new twist to the expo this year was a “Speed Dating” session where you were given 12 minutes with a manufacturer that you did business with or were interested in learning more about. The speed dating session took place before the expo started, and was a really nice chance to spend some uninterrupted, quiet time asking questions and getting to know more about the vendor and their products.
One of the coolest things I saw at the expo was from garage door manufacturer, Chamberlain. Yes. A garage door manufacturer. Why garage door companies can’t provide a discreet up/down command has boggled my mind for years. This would enable easy integration with a variety of systems to easily know the status of the door. Instead, I can’t tell you how many times have I had to get up and check to see if the door is closed to appease my wife?! Usually when I’m in bed. At like midnight. It’s my personal hell. But with this ingenious device and free app, you can now check the status of your garage door from the civilized, scotch drinking recesses of your couch/bed and close the door! Or do it from the comfort of anywhere in the world! And, oh sweet serendipity that I happen to have a Chamberlain garage door opener. And that they gave me the “Internet Connectivity Kit” to control my door! Installation took minutes and the system is working terrifically. This is a great add-on sales opportunity to give some real-world automation to anyone at an incredibly affordable (sub $100) price! It’s such a cool product, I’m actually planning a full review, so stay tuned…
If you didn’t make it to CES then you haven’t laid eyes on the full might and awesomeness of 8 million glorious pixels (3840 x 2160) courtesy of Samsung’s new flaghip 9000 series UN85S9AF. The picture looked uh-MAY-zing showing native 4K material that was so realistic you wanted to leap into the screen and start frolicking about. It also sits on a “Timeless” (their words) stand/frame which is like an art easel. Includes all the smart features you could ever want, including an ultra-fast quad core processor. But it will cost you. Dearly. Those wanting to go with 85-inches of UHD awesome will need to shell out just under $40,000. Yep. Forty. Thousand. Dollars. Ka-boom! (drops mic)
|Posted on May 7, 2013 at 3:10 PM||comments (1)|
Last week, I attended a vendor expo in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted by Ingram Micro. Our awesome rep, Brian Whittington, solidly hooks this brother up with an invite to the event each year, and I dutifully repay the favor by attending and sending as much business his way as I can.
In the past, the expo has been held at The Talking Stick Resort on an actual Indian reservation. As nice as the that Stick was when it was Talking, the hotel this time was even more awesome-er-er. This year they put us up at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a AAA 5-Diamond rated property that was just #Winning.
After just four days, I can assure you that the Fairmont Princess is truly how the other half live. And, let me further assure you, they do have it better. Their skin has a healthy glow. They laugh a little louder and a little longer. They lounge by beautiful blue waters while young ladies bring trays of drinks and bento boxes full of delights. At that’s how those that are hanging at the Fairmont roll. (Though, after spending several hours by the pool, I have to say that they aren’t necessarily the beautiful people...)
Here’s a view of the front of the resort at night.
Doesn’t it just say, “Please, pull your exotic Italian sports car around and let our man relieve you of all your luggage while he hands you a delicious chilled tea from our lobby to cool your delicate palate! The stress of travel must have weighed on you…complimentary chair massage while you prepare for check-in?” They have this sweet deal called the Fairmont President’s Club. It is free to join and in exchange for being willing to receive a once/monthly e-mail the Fairmont will grant yuo free WiFi privileges all over the property during your stay. Also, when I was checking in, the girl at the front desk saw my elite Presidential Club member status-ness and said, “I’m going to give you the room with my favorite view on the property.” I, of course, accepted in a manner benefitting a Presidential Club member. Before I get to the view, here are the obligatory shots of the room…
Tech-wise the room was a solid B. There was a 46-inch Sharp TV and a clock radio thing that had an iPod dock. Unfortunately, with my new iPhone5 and lightning connector, it didn’t work for me. There was a well-stocked mini-bar with *just* enough room to slide in a leftovers-filled Styrofoam container Tetris-style. There was a Keurig single-serve coffee brewing system which was nice; way better than the drip-brew systems you usually have to suffer with.
Here’s the bathroom…
A pretty rockin’ bathroom with a big shower and rain-fall shower head. Did I feel a little guilty with my twice-a-day, lengthy stand there and just let the water rain down on you for like 10-plus minute showers? In a totally desert, “Dear God! Where will our next drop of water come from?! Please! Just…a…single…life-giving…DROP!” Meh.To be fair, I did hang my towel back up to keep them from having to wash it. So I figure that makes me and Arizona water even-steven.
So, here is the glorious view that I had to suffer through looking out of my room’s balcony.
Just sitting up there enjoying the warm dessert air and the cool AC breezes from my room, creating a perfect tropical climate as I sat on my balcony tapping away on my laptop, sipping a glass of wine and overlooking one of the five pools and the #4 tee at the TPC Stadium Golf Course. It’s the kind of hang-out you can picture Hemmingway enjoying; sipping on a Sazerac, starring off into the grassy, desert-ey distance, occasionally looking down to see if there is any new talent in the pool, and steadily banging out his next great work. I wrote a blog on theater design mistakes. So, pretty much tomayto/tomahto. Though, in the mornings these birds would fly up into the palm tree and then either try and kill each other or mate-to-death right outside my room. It was a little disconcerting. Not quite like a peacock screaming -- which, if you've ever heard, is a sound you'll know to haunt your dreams for eternity -- but not like the gentle, restless lapping of water against rocks.
Here’s a view from the pool looking back.
I did spend some sweet time by this pool. The funny thing about Arizona weather is that while it is hot-hot – like 101 while I was there – it is a dry heat. Sure, in the summer, when the weather is cresting a buck twenty-three it is dry like the way crawling into your oven would be dry. But at “only” 100, it really isn’t too bad. And you hardly sweat. Once a single pour even contemplates producing a droplet of body moisture, the sun *immediately* whisks it away to never land. But, just sitting by the pool, you can literally feel your skin baking, and can just lie there and watch any exposed bits of flesh turning red. It’s like your own time-lapsed nature documentary.
Also, if you don’t like this pool, there are several other you can visit. Including this tower of awesome:
Yeah. That’s right. A double waterslide tower. I think this was pretty much meant for kids – especially since I was literally twice as tall as the “You must be this tall to ride” sign – but no matter. There were no kids rockin’ the tower, so I took a couple of rides in Lauryn’s honor. Should you find yourself in a waterslide race at the Princess, the right slide seems to be faster, and I highly recommend a serious back arching technique where only your shoulders and heels are touching the slide. #ProTip
I should mention one unseen danger lurking in the pool area. (And I don't mean walking barefoot even like two steps on the liquid magma hot concrete surrounding the pool.) There were these large umbrellas, and I'm lying there, shielded from the intense solar radiation bombardment by scant millimeters of cloth umbrella when a small scirocco (the hot desert wind, not the Volkswagen) wanders through and upends an umbrella across from me, narrowly avoiding smashing this couple that was lounging. The woman cries out in panic as she is suddenly covered in the unwelcome embrace of a groping umbrella. The pool man runs over and replaces the rogue 'brella, and the couple gets in the water to soothe their jangled nerves. Like five minutes goes by and the umbrella goes flying over again, totally heart-piercing the lounger right where the lady had been lying! It was kind of horrifyingly awesome. From then I kept a wary eye out for another episode of When Umbrellas Attack.
The grounds of the property are also awesome. Instead of a cramped, hallway of room upon rooms feel, it is a sprawling open wonderland with paths the take you around the golf course (from #3 tee to #4 green). I stumbled on this area which was something out of a Universal Studios’ Wild West show.
It had these buildings labeled “Jail” and “Undertaker” and “Bank” and “Saloon.” There was a stage where it looked like they would perform shows and a rodeo kind of area. I truly have no idea what this space was, and as I wandered around going through all the buildings, it was totally void of people and totally felt like an abandoned ghost town.
This is a shot of the courtyard that I took just because I loved the symmetry of the composition. I know. I’m an artiste.
There are lots of cool places to just hang out around the property. You can just grab a comfy seat and plop down and nap or drink or read or just stare off into the distance and softly mumble to yourself like you’ve got it all figured out. Also, if you get cold when the temps dip into the chilly-90s at night, don’t worry! The Princess staff lights a bunch of stuff on fire!
The Plaza Bar is in the middle of the courtyard and has multiple TVs and enough giant JBL speakers to ensure that if you get bored of talking to the people around you, you can just say, “Sorry, dude! Can’t hear you!” And then kind of shrug your shoulders and point to your ears and the speakers. The bar also stocks 30 year Macallan which is a pretty sweet attribute in a bar, and probably what garnered the Princess its 5th Diamond from AAA.
One of the venders at the expo was Ergotron/OmniMount, and they happen to employ one of the most awesome PR-gals in the industry – technically “Communications Manager” – in the form of Betsey Banker. (And I’m totally not just saying that because she has sent me some mounts and enjoys the amazing hop freshness of Stone’s EnjoyBy IPA. My review of said deliciousness here.) Omni’s HQ is like 30 minutes away from the Princess and Betsey was able to steal away from work for a wee-bit and show me around the area.
And by “show me around” I mean take me on a dessert mountain death climb in the very height of afternoon when the Arizona sun was a white-hot monster in the sky and weather was cresting 102. I believe the hill was called Everest or Kilimanjaro.
So we get to base camp and park and Betsey says she thinks this is a nice fitness climb that is good for getting the heart rate up and then starts motoring up this unsummitable peak. It’s like truly desert conditions. Like things are dying from heat and parched-ness all around us. Pebbles are sliding underfoot and cascading down the mountainside below. I might have started crying, but it was hard to tell since the sun stole any moisture the second it hit exposed air. And meanwhile Betsey is just troopering away. (And, in case any OmniMount or Ergotron people are reading, she was *totally* talking about your product lines, and vertical integration, and workplace ergonomics, and #JustStandOrg the entire way up! It was inspiring!)
She also tells me that she recently did like a 15 mile run with her dad, just got a new food dehydrator to make her own food for her overnight mega-hike trips, and does Bikram yoga. For fun. Bikram yoga, in case you’ve never heard of it, is this thing apparently developed by Saddam when he found out that the world frowned on gassing people. Instead, they make you do an hour of intense yoga in a totally closed room that is packed with HEATERS until the sweat chamber reaches like 100+ degrees and mega humidity. So, yeah. That. For fun!
So we’re going along for like 20 minutes or so, eerily not sweating before the very gates of Hell, but probably dying a little each second, when we get to this scenic waypoint:
If you look real close, you can see the teeny-tiny cars like 500 miles off in the distance. That’s where we parked. And I’m like totally trying to be a trooper, sucking it up in my blue, slip-on “thought I was going to be hanging by the pool” tennies, gulping down the water Betsey brought – and trying not to feel like a wuss because Betsey is hauling the water around like my personal blonde-and-uber-peppy Sherpa – and sucking in battling gasps of hot-oven air and hoping not to have a heat-stroke-vomit. (Which I’ve heard is pretty way uncool on a nature fitness hike.)
Taking in the scenic while I clutch on to the water bottle like life itself, staring pensively off into the distance, I manage, “So, umm, percentage-wise...where do you think we are right now? Like half?”
Betsey thinks for a moment. Takes a teeny, bird sip of water. Looks up, looks down, and then says, “Umm… 20? Maybe 25%?”
ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME?!? Ugh! You win this round, mountain! They should actually put Betsey’s picture on a T-Shirt that says “Climb like a girl.” I’d wear it. (Actually, I’m totally not even deserving to wear it. I’d aspire to getting to a point in my life where I *could* wear it.)
As we’re heading back down the mountain, a dusty cloud of shame raising at my every step, Betsey says, “I guess I just assumed that since you’re tall and thin, that you’d be athletic, like a runner or something…” Ouchey. But true. Clearly just standing at an OmniMount standing desk and occasionally walking around our flat neighborhood at a lumbering 20-minute-mile pace has not prepared me for a more adventurous lifestyle. That’s why I’ve asked Betsey and the Ergotron team to develop me a new variable incline, running desk. Sure, it will be tough to get work done, but by next year’s expo, I should be able to solidly hit 50% of the trail…
As nice as the property was, I came out to Scottsdale for the expo, and it was cool. (A full post with many’a picture is coming...) Also cool was getting to hang out with my DBL rep, Brian. After the show, we hung on my balcony, drank some beers, talked about music and sports. So, thanks, Brian! I appreciate all that you do for me and my company and hope we can hang at the Princess again next year! And thanks to you too, Betsey! I'm not sure that "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is totally applicable in this case. More like "whatever doesn't kill you probably won't kill you right away." Either way, it was fun and you're a heck of a sherpa!
|Posted on May 6, 2013 at 4:40 PM||comments (0)|
Last week, I attended a vendor expo in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted by the world’s largest technology distributor, Ingram Micro, Inc. The theme of the expo was “Plugged In to CE,” and along with the manufacturers and venders on hand, Ingram invited representatives from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), including CEO Gary Shapiro, and senior research analyst Chris Ely.
Both guest speakers shared some interesting insights into the future of the CE industry, including “Top Planned CE Purchases for 2013.” as well as the most and least prevalent CE products.
Shapiro said, “Our only mission is to grow the industry,” and he spoke for over an hour on the state of the CE industry and took audience questionsQ and A. (I asked him about PrimaRIMA Cinema and what he thought the future of streaming might be, but unfortunately he wasn’t familiar with PrimaRIMA specifically and didn’t have any real insights or opinions to share on the subject of day & -and-date streaming.)
However, Shapiro, it turned out, is very bullish on Ultra HD (UHD, previously known as 4K), thinking that it will be the industry’s “next big thing.”
After the evening’s events concluded, I found Shapiro at the bar, and over a nice New Belgium Ranger IPA, chatted with him informally about technology, including UHD. My feeling is thate UHD is destined to be the next “big thing” the same way that 3-D was; —another “advancement” and “feature” forced on the public by a TV industry that needs to create the next “must have” feature to compel people to buy a new televisionTV or face extinction from the low-priced, no- profit competition.
Shapiro agreed that 3-D was always destined for failure. Well, if not failure at least difficulty in gaining mass- market acceptance, as this chart of tech penetration proves:
After over three years at market—and now virtually a ubiquitous feature on any mid-line set—with only 9% penetration, the public has shown it hasthey have almost no interest in 3-D at home. And I would wager that many of those 9% purchased TVs that happened to be 3-D rather than seeking out—or actually using—the technology. Shapiro cited multiple problematic factors with 3-D, such as people not wanting to wear glasses, limited content availability, a portion of the population not being able to see the 3-D effect, and others feeling ill effects from the technology.
Obviously these issues won’t plague UHD, but I still question the public’s need—or desire—for greater resolution... Continue reading why I think 4K may not be necessary but why you'll probably own it whether you want it or not.
|Posted on May 4, 2013 at 11:20 AM||comments (1)|
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C Clarke
Home automation. Smart house. Advanced home control. If those words conjure images of lights mysteriously flashing on and off at random times or of fat piles of cash and sweaty technicians huddled over their laptops programming for weeks at a time, then you need to read on. The truth about home automation today is that technology, competition and innovation have all ravaged its high-priced visage, now putting into the range of virtually anyone. (If you’re reading this on a loaned computer at the library because you can’t afford your own computer or fancy Interwebs connection, then, I’m sorry. Automation is still too expensive for you. And instead of reading a tech site, might I recommend a help wanted or perhaps community college site instead?)
And unless you are Amish and out on your once-in-a-life-Rumspringa (and, if you ARE out on Rumspringa and you’ve decided to read this blog instead of snorting crank off the bellies of strippers and washing it down with bottles of Jack, then, bless you! You’ve made the wiser, albeit slightly less intense and memorable, choice!) then you already have some form of automation in your life.
Whether it is a garage door opener, an alarm clock, or a glorious pile of remote controls strewn pell-mell across your couch, you have some automation in your life. Even if it is just that raggedy, old-ass thermostat hanging on the wall; the one with the lethal ball of mercury that is just dying to one day shatter and burst free from its glass cocoon original Alien-style, leaping into any open orifice and slowly poisoning you, you’ve got some automation.
That’s the truth about automation; we all have it. We all live with it. We all use it every day. And even as tech-jaded as we have all become – carrying the entire world around in our pockets and then complaining bitterly on Twitter when the latest ep of Mad Men has too much buffering because we’re just out of a 4G hotspot – when you have multiple automation systems working together it is still pretty frickin’ magic.
And yet as much as we know about it and are surrounded by it, very few of you really have home automation. And if that’s because you think it’s expensive and can’t afford it then read on…
It’s true, in the past, automating a home was costly. Not quite Bill Gates or I hit the super-lotto costly, but kinda, “I vacation in the Hamptons, wear a Rolex and drive a Jag” costly. Systems by companies like Crestron and AMX could do almost anything you could imagine. Sense when you walk into a room and then automatically adjust the thermostat, fix the lights, kick on the stereo, fire up the hot tub and send a message to your “special friend” that you’re home and ready to party. All with literally no interaction from you short of lumbering past a sensor in meatspace. And if walking sounds like too much effort, you could do it from the comfort of anywhere in the world with a button press. It’s your dime thousands of dollars, you get to DJ the party.
But these systems relied on proprietary and expensive hardware and complex “How many weeks are you going to be in my house huddled in front of that laptop?!” programming to make work. (A true industry irony is that Crestron’s programming software is called “SMPL” and I can assure you that it is many, many things, but simple is not any of them.)
Further, with the introduction of the iPhone, iTouch and iPad (not to mention the many far lower priced Android based tablets), nearly everyone has some form of touchscreen already in their possession. No need to purchase the often outrageously expensive proprietary touchpanels offered by manufacturers, shaving many thousands of dollars off the price of admission. We also live in an increasingly app-based world with ubiquitous Wi-Fi, meaning that many of the things that previously could only be done by a trained professional with proprietary hardware and software are now totally DIY with just a few clicks.
When it comes to a fully automated home, there are subsystems – HVAC, lighting, security, A/V, irrigation, shading, etc. – that are all tied together by a central controller. These devices are frequently not from the same manufacturer. For instance, you might have a thermostat from Aprilaire and a lighting system by Lutron and a GE security panel, which all are content to do their own thing and run their own world. However they are also monitored and controlled by a separate, main processor that quarterbacks the entire system. It is this processor that runs overwatch on everything and allows you to interact with multiple sub-systems with a single button press like, “Party,” “Dinner,” or “Sexy-Sexy Fun Time.”
While button presses are nice – I mean, who doesn’t love pressing a good, quality button? – they also require, you know, effort. All that finger pushing. And, being near a button. But there are tons of ways to interface with an automation system that don’t involve you lifting a finger...
|Posted on May 3, 2013 at 9:20 AM||comments (0)|
As I wrote in Part One of this piece, I've been a custom installer for the past 15 years, and in that time I see people making the same home theater design mistakes over and over. And over.
And these are real-world systems costing between $10,000 to $50,000 where you can get an amazing home theater experience, but there are just some fundamental design issues that keep these systems from truly being all they can be. Fortunately, many of these issues are easily -- and cheaply -- fixed even after the installation.
In Part One (again, the link in case you missed it) I mentioned these five common design issues:
Trying to do too much in the space
Cramming in too many seats
Chintzing out on screen size
Not enough bass for the space
Poor color choice
Here are the other five mistakes I encounter most often...
6) Poor speaker placement
One of the things you should never greeat wrong in your theater is the speaker layout. First, it is absolutely critical to proper performance. Second, it isn’t rocket science. In fact, there are numerous accepted diagrams on proper speaker placement from Dolby, DTS, Audyssey, and THX, and while there might be minor disagreements on exactly where this surround speaker should go versus that one, the general rules are straight-forward and simple to follow. Here' is a chart featuring Dolby’s recommend 7.1-channel layout:
However, I can’t tell you how frequently I go into rooms that are just completely wrong. Center channels not centered on the screen. Surround channels ahead of the listening position. A lot of people have a real aversion to seeing any speakers, and feel they should be hidden away, which is just a ludicrous idea in a dedicated room.
First, if you’ve got a big-ass screen up on the wall, a few speakers aren’t going to somehow “ruin” the look of your room. Second, in many spaces with a large front wall, having some speakers around the screen can help to balance the wall and keep it from feeling empty. Finally, people are coming to this room to watch a movie, so they' are expecting there to be some supporting equipment to go along with it. Honestly, I don’t care much where you put the speakers as long as they' are in the correct location and not compromised in some way. If you don’t want to see them, they can go behind an acoustically transparent screen, which is how they do it at the commercial cinema.
A lot of times people will put the speakers in the ceiling to keep them from being visible. Now, I’m not totally averse to the surround channels being in the ceiling. For a lot of the effects that these speakers play – rain, wind, crowd noise, planes flying by — the sounds emanating from the ceiling are cohesive to what is happening on screen. But, I am against putting the front channels in the ceiling. A speaker is kind of like a flashlight but with sound, and if you point the sound straight down, you' are not going to hear it the way it was intended. This is going to greatly affect the dialogue intelligibility and make voices seem disjointed from the on-screen action. Now, several manufacturers do make front left/center/right speakers that are specifically designed for ceiling use, and if you absolutely have to go in the ceiling, this is the only acceptable way of doing it. Here is a pic of Definitive Technology's UIW RCS II. Not the angled baffle and the way the drivers would point towards the listening position even when installed in the ceiling:
So, again, if you have to go in the ceiling, this is the only acceptable way to do it. Even still, I’m not gonna love it.
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 2:15 PM||comments (0)|
Since 1998, my full-time day job has been that of custom installer, and a frequent part of that job has been working with people on the design and installation of their new home theater/media rooms. And saying that I’ve been involved in over a hundred theater installs wouldn’t be an exaggeration. I’ve also had the opportunity to go on many jobs where another “installer” did the system and the homeowner was unsatisfied with the results—a lot of sudden “experts” sprang up overnight during the spend-now/pay-later early-to-mid 2000s, companies that have since gone out of business—and wanted me to come in and try and resurrect the project.
Now, I’m talking about “real world” home theater systems here, not the uber-customized six- and seven-figure rooms Theo designs. When you go to that level of design, you should end up with a system that reflects nothing but professionalism down to the last screw and connector. Sure, Theo might find design nits to pick—wrong colors, too garish or too restrained—but these are rooms that generally don’t have major design flaws.
The systems I’m talking about are ones costing between $10,000 to $50,000 where you can still get an amazing theater experience, but without the custom-fabricated millwork or exotic fabrics covering the walls. In short, the kinds of systems most of you probably own. And during my years as an installer, I've routinely run across the same basic design problems that not only keep the system from being great but frequently keep it from even being good.
Here’s Part One of my list of the Top 10 mistakes I see “amateur” theater designers routinely make. Many of these are simple things that wouldn’t take a lot of money to fix after the fact—or to have just done right from the start. These are also tips you can incorporate into non-dedicated media rooms to make sure you're getting the maximum performance from your system.
1) Trying to do too much in the space
I can’t tell you how many rooms I go into—or how many plans I go over—where the media room is chopped up so there can be some other completely disparate activity happening behind it. Often this is some kind of gaming table, bar, or pool table—or even an exercise/workout area. I get it: The home has a finite amount of space, and dedicating an entire room for movie watching is a good chunk of it. But you either want a media room or you don’t, and once you start cramming other stuff in there with it, you've compromised the experience. And, seriously, a pool table takes up a huge amount of space all on its own. If you commit to the theater—and a well-designed system and room—you likely won’t miss having a pool table or elliptical machine sitting right behind you. Now, before you start getting totally indignant and telling me how this works perfectly in your room, I’ll admit that I have seen some really well-designed theaters that incorporate gaming areas. But usually these rooms are fairly massive in size to begin with—far bigger than the more typical 14 x 20-foot room.
Click here to read the other four mistakes from Part One at Theo's Roundtable. Also, be sure to share your "favorite" design mistakes in the comments section...
|Posted on April 30, 2013 at 11:15 AM||comments (0)|
Over the years, I’ve had my share of customers that used odd vernacular to describe things that I had to interpret what they were actually trying to say. One client called up complaining that his monitor wasn’t working. “Monitor?” I asked. “You mean the TV?” “No, not my TV, my monitor.” “Which TV are we talking about?” “My monitor! Not TV, Monitor!” We went back and forth for several minutes before I was able to figure out that by “monitor” he meant “remote control.” (I’m still not sure how that has any correlation, but, what can you do? This is also a customer who I drove 45 minutes up to his home to avert a “My TV isn’t working!” crisis that turned out to be the result of him not knowing he needed to plug his new TV into the electrical outlet. So, probably not the most intuitive guy I’ve ever worked with.)
But after enough client encounters where the same incorrect terminology is used over and over, I thought I would make all of your lives considerably easier by giving you a handy translation guide so you’ll be able to cut right to what people are really asking you for.
“I want an Intercom…”
Usually this means that they lived in an older home that had some kind of NuTone or M&S intercom system and they liked that they could use the radio in the main unit to play music around the house. Did they use the actual intercom part? Unlikely. What they’re really after is some kind of housewide audio system. The straightest way to the heart of this is a follow-up of, “Do you want to be able to listen to music all around the house, or do you actually want to be able to talk from one room to another and call people to dinner?”
“I want surround sound around the house…”
In its most literal definition, having speakers around your home would technically surround you with audio. But to custom installers “surround sound” means a very specific thing, involving processing, speaker placement, a video display, etc. But like the intercom request, this is just another way of a customer asking for housewide audio. A great follow-up is, “Surround sound usually means five speakers and a subwoofer and is mainly for watching TV and movies. Is that what you are looking for, or do you just want to have music around your house?”
“I need a splitter for my modem.”
It’s certainly getting better, but proper networking terminology still escapes many people. Responding to this with, “Oh, do you need a router or a switch?” will likely return the same 1,000 yard stare as if you’d just launched into a discussion of Euclidian geometry. You might be able to figure this out by asking if they already have anything connected to their modem, but chances are good they won’t know. Probably the safest bet to assume they just need a router, but be sure and tell them that they don’t want to have two routers installed and what they might really need is a switch.
“My TV isn’t working.” Note: Alternatively pronounced as, “That TV you sold me isn’t working!”
To the customer, any event where the TV isn’t showing the picture they are expecting is a case of, “My TV isn’t working.” Of course, there is a rainbow of “not working” possibilities. There is not working the TV is broken. There is not working the TV is on the input or some other setting. There is not working they messed something up. Then there is the 90% of the time not working where it is a case of the cable box locking up and needing to be rebooted… Of course, it’s your job to figure out which kind of not working you’re dealing with. My first question here is, “By not working, do you mean that it won’t even power on?” If it physically won’t power on, then you’ve got a variety of other potential problems. Usually though the answer is, “Oh, it’s on. It just says, ‘This channel cannot be displayed. Please contact (insert name of cable provider) for tech support.’” And, while there would be some real gratification in saying something smart like, “Oh, I’m so flattered. Your TV literally told you to call the cable company, and yet you chose to call me instead! That means so much to me!” the satisfaction is fleeting, I assure you.
“My system is broken.” Aka: “Nothing is working!” and also, “MY SYSTEM IS BROKEN!”
Barring some kind of catastrophic electrical event – say a direct hit from a lightning bolt that probably also burned their house to the ground or a rogue EMP that wipes out all of the microprocessors for miles around – the chances of everything going down at once are infinitesimal. Far more likely, there is a single component that is the root cause. (You did already rule out that it isn't the cable box acting up, right? In fact, even if the cable box IS working, why don't you just have them give it a quality pre-emptive reboot...?) Common culprits can be a surge protector that has been somehow turned off, keeping everything from powering on. An A/V receiver that isn’t on or that is on the wrong input can also give the appearance of everything being down. But, in my experience many of these crisis calls boil down to something with the remote control, and often that something is dead batteries…
“It has brand new batteries!” or “I just put in new batteries.”
I’m not sure what the aversion to, “Have you changed the batteries?” is but it is almost like you are accusing them of neglecting their kids or something. And when it comes to changing batteries people seem to live in Inception-time, like three layers down in dream world. What feels to like having just done something, often means they did it weeks or months ago. I usually try and ask them to just humor me and try putting in some freshies. It’s possible the other batteries were bad or, you know, really changed like three month ago.