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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Tech Support All-Star: Lutron's David Bishop

Posted on July 14, 2011 at 2:58 PM

Now, a lot of times we in the press corps will try and soothe your tender feelings and rub cooling balm and salves on your raw and easily riled nerves and emotions with bland and gentle reassuring words and phrases like, “Even though I’m a journalist, I don’t get or expect extra special treatment and attention from manufacturers” or “I couldn’t believe the amazing service I got, even though they thought I was just a regular customer!”

Ha, says I! Poppycock! Rubbish! Balderdash! Lies, unmitigated nonsense and claptrap the lot of it!

The truth is, as an audio/video journalist I *totally* expect better service when calling a manufacturer. (Obviously this goes without saying when calling a PR person. They had damn-well better already know who I am. In fact, I like them to throw in a little somethin-somethin like, “Hey, John! Glad you called. Loved the latest blog! Loved it! So funny! You’re the best! So, what can I possibly do to make your day any better?") Of course they want to treat me better. My words shape nations and influence millions! (Well, at least the 100 or so of you that I know read my literary drivel.)

And when blindly-calling a company’s 800 number for help, I don’t say, “Hi, this is John Sciacca with Sound + Vision and Residential Systems magazine…” when introducing myself for nothing. That little warm-up-the-crowd greeter-preamble is designed to give them a bit of a tip-off; to let the person on the other end know that this is the time, that this is the moment, that this is THE CALL that they have been training their whole careers to handle. It’s grab your tech knowledge Go Bag and get to supporting. That they are dealing with a member of the press corps who is totally not afraid to hang-up and start writing...something.  

Examples of exemplary, the-kinds-of-service-you-don’t-get things that have happened for me in the past? Oh, how about a company president calling me. On Sunday. From the golf course. Yeah, happened. Or tech support people calling me within minutes of an e-mail -- after midnight! -- to work out a problem. Or a product that is discovered broken on Friday afternoon so that a brand new one arrives on Saturday morning. Yeah. That’s how I do. That's how I roll.

But even with all of that, there comes times when someone goes BEYOND. And that – or rather WHO -- is what I want to talk about today. Now, in the past I have already talked about Lutron’s stellar tech support, and how they won my award for best tech support. They are literally there 24 hours a day 7 days a week. (I can only assume that means on Leap Day as well; someone will have to call them on Feb 29 to confirm...)

But just because they are there on the other end of the phone doesn’t mean they are going to be able to instantly solve your problem. Sometimes, the problem is more delicate, more tricky, more less-solvable. Back in May I had a bit of a router situation. The situation was, it just suddenly up and died. I replaced it with a new one (a whole hilarious, entertaining and educational story in itself; go ahead and read, I’ll wait for you. The phone just started ringing; I’ll grab it and give you a moment...)

Part of the blowback of router-gate 2011 was that my WiFi system stopped communicating with my Lutron RadioRA2 lighting system. This meant that I could not control my lights with my iPad2 using Lutron’s Home Control+ app. Now this might not sound like a major catastrophe to you – “Oh, poor, John! Has to get up and turn his lights on and off like a normal person! Boo-hoo!” – but I assure you that it is. Because once you’ve lived with automated lighting – and, dammit, I keep telling you that I’m not a normal person! – you learn to rely on it like some kind of Jetson’s must-have tech, like Roast Beef and gravy in a pill. And, sure, while I didn’t have to actually PAY the $19.99 for this app, I still wanted to get my total money’s worth and get it to work. I don’t want to get up off my couch like a caveman every time I want to change my lights. I want to swipe over to “Movie” and have them all dim down automatically. And when Lauryn yells from her room, “SOMEONE NEEDS TO COME TURN MY FAN BACK ON!” because the motion sensor sensed no motion and turned it off, you think I want to put down my scotch and walk all the way to her room and do it like I’m responding to the Queen’s every whim? Because I don't. (And if there is an app for, "SOMEONE NEEDS TO BRING ME SOME WATER! THIRRRRRR-STEEEEE!" I would be willing to pay top dollar.)

So I called Lutron. And after several e-mails back and forth they determined that my program file had somehow become corrupted. Sure, you could say it's easy for a hardware company to blame it on software, but I think that my processor had just finally caught a glimpse of the candlelight and butter-churning ways of my other light switches and my mercury-filled thermostat and decided that it was going to trade in its fancy, enchanted ways for the simpler life. This, of course, would not do.  So Lutron engineers totally rebuilt my program, e-mailed me the fix and let me have at it.

Except, well, it didn’t fix the problem iPad could connect one time to the system, I could control lights for a bit, and then no more connect-ey. I could reboot the processor, connect one time, then no can connect-ey. Maddening I tells ya! So I reached out to Lutron’s PR gal, Melissa Andresko. Melissa is a get it done, understands the unique needs of Sciacca and even tries to walk that tightrope line of accommodating the volatile insanity of Darryl Wilkinson's demands. (This is from a message from Darryl to Melissa: “Please don’t let [John] know about our Sciacca+1 deal, in which whenever he orders an item from Lutron, I am immediately shipped that item plus one more.” Melissa humors Darryl by telling him that he always gets the best attention and that his white plastic wall-plates are really specially hand-crafted from a rare blend of ceramics, platinum and white gold. Darryl is easily flattered and amused by shiny things.)

I tell Melissa that my system keeps failing and says to contact whoever installed/programmed the system, but since that's me, I don't know what more to do. So while Melissa is e-mailing me that she is going to have a tech  call me, a tech calls me. That tech? David Bishop, whom I shall refer to as DB or perhaps even D-to-the-Bizay going forward. No, probably just DB.

So DB sends me a host of instructions; reboot this, reconnect to that, extract this log file, extract the iPad log files. He then follows up with calls and e-mails almost every day. “Did that work?" "Did you try what we talked about?" "What happened?” Each time, it’s a no go. The system, she just no want to connect to my iPad.

I’m picturing that DB is experiencing a level of internal corporate pressure to succeed on this like never before. This is high-level, Big League Ball-type pressure. I picture Melissa, all like 100 pounds of her, standing over DB, her red hair flaming around her face as she presses one of her like 6-inch high heels into his neck and saying, “I don’t want to see you leave this desk until you fix Mr. Sciacca’s problem, you got it? This isn’t some know-nothing Wilkinson issue where he just wants us to send him another box full of dimmers screwless plates for his horse barn sex-swing rooms! This is SCIACCA! That means I don’t want to see you in the coffee room or coming out of the bathroom stall. You got it! You’re now off the clock when John says you’re off the clock! Why are you still talking to me? You could be working on his problem. Go!”

Followed by a direct and personal memo from Mr. Joel Spira himself. “John is a very nice young man! (Actually a direct quote from Mr. Spira following my interview of him where I was supposed to just encapsulate his lifetime achievements for the CEDIA Lifetime Awards thing. You can read that actual story here.) And if you don’t fix his problems, I’ll see to it that every time you touch a light switch, you’ll get a shock that will make you wish you were living in the pre-electric period. Now, why are we still talking here?! Back to work, man!”

So inspired to be all that we can be (probalby much more by his personal sense of solving my issue than from any actual neck-stepping from Melissa; though she DOES have high heels that would make for excellent motivational aids!) DB goes out and gets MY router. He updates it to run my version of router firmware. And then installs a processor with my program. Gets an iPad and recreates my system in the Lutron factory. And...

It works totoally fine. Confounded, but not deterred, DB has an “the only easy day was yesterday” BUD/S kind of stick-to-it-ness that says, “It might not be working now, but I will leave NO system behind! We’re gonna get you back home, soldier! Now, grab your weapon and...GET... BACK... IN...THE FIGHT!” (OK, he might actually be really soft-spoken and patient and never once imply that I wasn’t following his instructions correctly or that maybe I’m just not cut out for lighting control or that I’m really just bored and enjoy that fact that we're daily e-mailing back and forth as we each change our text color each time. Perhaps the “DB, check here if you like me...” box was stretching the bounds of normal tech-support protocol. We’ll likely never know.)

Alas, my system is still not working. So I say, “D-to-the-Bizay (no, I was right; that just seems forced), when are we going to just punt and say, ‘Hey! I think John has a broken processor? Let’s install a new one and see what happens?!’ We’ve tried everything else except a new processor. That's the variable in the system that we might just be fighting a broken piece of hardware. Can we just try that?”

Pow! Overnight delivery of new processor. Install, upload and...same damn problem! DAMN! I wanted a giant "Told ya so!" to all of those other people who had said, "Look, it's NOT your processor!" but unless I received two baddies, things are looking like the problem lies elsewhere. DB is intrigued. He’s like Holmes on a case. His pipe is and tweed trenchcoat are out, and his opium is solving problems! This is no mere Moriarty mis-wired 4-way switch, but some newer, even more nefarious and dubious super-villain to be tracked down.

“I think,” DB postulates, careful to use simple terms that even a non-Lutron engineer such as myself can follow, “it might be your router. There is something in there that isn’t letting the Lutron commands through. Can you try a different router?”

For DB, I can. At this point I am trading phone calls and e-mails with DB on a more regular basis than with any member of my family. So I try the new router and...same thing! Am I cursed to live a Lutron-iPad-less life? Not on DB’s watch! No, sir!

So even though a second router hasn’t worked – a router which DID work with the Lutron system before, I should add – DB is still convinced there is something hinky with my network. I send him screenshots of DOS prompts, which are every bit as exciting as they sound. Oddly I can PING the processor but I can’t Tel-Net to it. (That’s a total spoiler if you are an uber tech geek out there...) DB writes, “It does appear to be a network/router issue. Do you have a laptop with Wireshark and a hub you can insert at different points in the network to observe what is happening at that point?”

And, since I don’t know what a Wireshark and a hub is, I just error on the safe side and say, “Uh, no. I don’t think so.” So what does he do? He overnights me a Lutron laptop with Network detective software and an Ethernet hub. The laptop is all covered with labels and stickers and Bios warnings that say things like, "Property of Lutron!" "Lutron company use ONLY" and "Lutron will know if you play Minesweeper on this and will cast you down into Shawshank!" Then, instead of saying something all hurtful and Wilkinson-ey like, “Everyone thinks you’re gay!” or “Lutron told me that you’re too stupid to have lighting control,” DB makes me a simple little ASCII diagram of how to connect. And if you’ve never enjoyed some good old fashioned ASCII art, then, brother, you are missing out!






        /       \

Laptop      MR

So I make the extreme sacrifice of waking up at 8 one morning for an 8:30 tech-off with DB as we connect the laptop in the loop, and then run some tests. We boot and reboot the Lutron processor to see what the traffic looks like when we can and can’t connect. DB takes remote control over the laptop and clicks on this and that and then all of this Matrix-style IP addresses and traffic start flying by. DB records the traffic and now that he can actually “see” my system failing, is more intrigued than ever. Though he is a *little* slow on the draw when I say, “Now you finally believe me don’t you? You kind of thought I was making this all up...”

A couple of days pass by where I’m sure DB was relieved to be able to unload some of the pressure of this onto engineering as they went through my network traffic logs line by brutal line. Then an e-mail from DB.

“I looked through the Wireshark capture concentrating on the XML download with IE. I see many IP addresses in the capture. The difference between the session that worked and the one that failed is the Crestron system sent a packet to the main repeater just after the main repeater sent the login page. I would like you to run the same test again with the Crestron system disconnected from the switch. If that doesn't resolve the issue you could try disconnecting other devices and retesting.”

Easy enough to do. So I disconnect the Crestron Sonnex system I’m testing, reboot the processor and open up the iPad app and…it connected.

Well, of course it connected. It always does the first time. Minimized out, reopened and…it connected. Damn. Dare I get my hopes up? Dare I open that wall gate of my heart? No. Quench it. Right now. I won’t let you hurt me again, Lutron system. Minimize it, CLOSE the program, open it back up and….it connected. Oh, sweet baby Jesus! This feels like working! Close, open. Close, open. Power cycle the iPad. Open. Connected. Hark, the herald angels sing! Lights on, lights off. Fans on, fans off. Close. Open. Connected. Yes! Suckle at the nipple and drink the sweet, sweet light-control of victory!

Then with the system working sans Crestron I sheepishly remember...Crestron installed this review system two days after I replaced my router. Their programmer tied it into the Lutron processor. Telling the Crestron brain to pull the XML file from the Lutron processor so that I could control my Lutron from Crestron, all those trons getting in and mixing it up in iPad land. But obviously something in this traffic chain was clogging the works, the Lutron saw the jam and said, “Bail!" and "Clench!" With the Crestron gone, the lighting system is totally back to good!

So, thank you, David Bishop! Thank you for sticking with my problem! Thank you for every second with me being a second that someone from Lutron wasn't helping Darryl Wilkinson calculate if he had the largest free light/shading system within the 48 contiguous states. Thank you for not treating me like a techless heathen when I asked how to connect a hub. And now every time that I don’t have to get up from the couch to dim the movie lights, I shall think of you. And raise a glass of the brown -- or the clear -- and say, “To David Bishop! Lutron tech support extraordinaire! Huzzah! sir Huzzah!" in your honor. (Well, I promise to do that at least one time. Probably tonight.)

Categories: July 2011, Electronics

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Reply DW
10:20 AM on July 15, 2011 
Now I understand why 2 Lutron laptops and hubs showed up the other day...
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