John Sciacca Writes...
Random Thoughts (Blog)
Random Thoughts (Blog)
Random Thoughts (Blog)
|Posted on March 8, 2011 at 5:33 PM|
I’ve been on a bit of a whirlwind training bender recently. First it was 3 days at Lutron followed *immediately* (as in get home at midnight, jump a plane the next morning) by 4 days at Runco. So, of course, the natural thing to do is to pit these two training regimes against one another, letting them battle it out to the inevitable death! Or at least until I semi-arbitrarily declare a winner.
So, Lutron, Runco...Ready...Set....FIGHT! Or in the words of Iron Chef, Allez cousine! or rather Allez bataille!
Now, the Lutron event was a traveling road show, so other training stops will vary. Lutron offers factory training in Pennsylvania and another city (I can’t remember and I’m in a plane and not going to pay $9.95 for Go-Go In-flight Internet to research it out...). So this battle will be: DC versus Portland.
Now, to be absolutely fair, I had a great time in DC and there is a lot to do. Visiting all of the Smithsonian museums and seeing the capital and White House and all of that is amazing. You can definitely kill several days at the museums and monuments and walking around hoping for a chance to spot a Presidential limo procession.
However, to my knowledge, Portland has never been called the murder capital of the US and that is a *strong* point in its favor. Also, being in near downtown Portland there was a TON to do. Art galleries, plays, tons of brew pubs, even more tons of restaurants, the (arguably) biggest bookstore in the world, a pro basketball team…the place was practically oozing hipster cool and culture. Plus, a FREE trolley car system for easily getting around.
When you factor that the weather sucked equally in both venues (it snowed on me in BOTH DC and Portland; go figure...) then I have to declare the winner of this round as: RUNCO
Lutron put me up in a Hampton Inn that was about 500 yards from the training complex which was nice. Especially since I had to walk those 500 yards each morning and night in the cold, oh-so-cold, DC February, trying to hunker a summer-weight Polo blazer around a skimpy button-down shirt. The Hampton also sports a nice little breakfast in the morning, the occasional cookie and apple sitting out at night and FREE Wi-Fi throughout.
But free Wi-Fis, you can only do so much and in the end, it just weren’t enough to touch the amenities of the Marriott Waterfront. First, Runco booked me on the highest floor of any other training guest. This, of course, feed into my fragile writer ego and assured me that they knew that I knew that THEY knew that I was imminently more important and special than any of the other class attendees! They also arranged for me to have concierge level access on the 15th floor where there was a daily full breakfast and nightly hors d’oeuvres (unless you were a complete and total Tool Bag like Asparaguy and thought that the concierge room snacks were meant to be your full dinner and that it was your personal den and you were the Pasha and all others were there merely to listen to your self-important puffery...) Also a great view of the Willamette river out of my window (though some minus points for a train that seemed to blow it’s horn NON-STOP as soon as you would lay your head on the pillow) and a morning shuttle pick-up UNDER cover.
Battle: IN-CLASS FOOD/SNACKS!
When you are sitting in a training class room ALL day, then you are gonna get hungry. And you’re gonna need a sugar/caffeine rush so you don’t get all low blood sugary and stand up and shout, “IF I SEE ONE MORE POWER POINT, I SWEAR TO GOD, I’M GONNA KILL SOMEONE!” That’s going to just be entirely unpleasant for the whole class. Runco supplied this:
A utilitarian grey tub filled with a collection of Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite. They had some coffee pots that seemed to run-out in a spectacularly regular manner and offered only a pump dispenser of CoffeeMate. Options were French, Italian and Decaf. The Italian was described by Dani, a Runco employee who sat directly behind me in class – much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of the instructors, as we discussed Survivor and Rec709 color space and the pathetic black level of her personal TV – and the lone female to represent ALL womankind in the Runco tech support department (call her up and ask her the access code to log-into projector service codes. She loves it! Also, be sure and preface any possible Survivor discussions with her with the phrase, “And I DO want to re-remind you – AGAIN! – that I have YET to watch the second episode. So let’s limit ALL discussions to the FIRST episode of the season.” And, yet, still somehow expect to hear, “so when so-and-so found the hidden immunity idol...” and then when she sees the dawning spoiler horror wash over your face, expect an immediate cover of, “Wha? Hidden immunity idol? Who’s talking about hidden immunity idols?"), as, “Whoa! That’ll put hair on your chest!” And, like nearly all women, I can assure you that Dani is not a girl whose appearance will be improved by rapid and sudden growth of chest hair. Lunch was a step up with trays sandwiches and chips one day, a pizza another and some Mexican food.
Lutron supplied this:
A glorious stainless steel French door refrigerator that opened up to a bounty of liquid goodness that would make even a well-sated man want to weep in appreciation. Gatorades, Starbucks Frappas, Red Bull plus all manner of juices and soda and water and...what in the name of all that is good and holy and sweet training goodness?! Is that...BEER?! In the training room?! You sir, you have humbled me with your bounty! Obviously Lutron wins here – in fact, they devastate my own refrigerator in terms of content – but I must continue. Next to the amazing fridge of unlimited benevolence was this:
The same Flavia coffee pod machine from US Air Lounges everywhere! While this machine makes merely an acceptable brew, it was clearly a stab at classing up the joint and delivering a quality brew experience one cup at a time. Awesome. And for lunch? Catered hot meals. A giant bowl of Caesar salad, lasagna, an Asian noodle dish, a chicken marsala, vegetables, real food for real people.
Winner with a CRUSHING defeat: LUTRON
You might think that after gorging myself all day on sandwiches and Gatorades that there wouldn’t possibly be room for more. But you’d be wrong! Battle: Dinner BEGINS!
And ENDS! Because there is no dinners for trainees at Lutron. You are on your own here. Only Runco provides communal dinners, letting trainers and trainees sit alongside each other eating and drinking and drinking and, well, you get the idea. (Tangent...The old Runco training – prior to their purchase by Planar and adopting more Six-Sigma style corporate governance – was pretty much epic for its drinking. Like jump into a bus loaded down with coolers of booze so you can get warmed up BEFORE you get to the dinner where you are met at the door with drinks and then a possible drinking match or two during dinner BEFORE you head to a bar for a little post dinner wind down. So, during all of this drinking mightiness, a former Runco Academy attendee – and it totally was NOT me; like, seriously; this really wasn’t me; I’m just the conduit for sharing a bit of training lore – so a former attendee went out and got SO wasted that he came back to the hotel, went up like 2 or 3 floors in the elevator and then...leaned over a railing and puked down into the Koi pond. And the next morning ALL of the fish were dead! The hotel found out who it was and the guy’s company had to end up paying like $2500 or something. So, yeah, a LOT of drinking at Old Runco training...)
Winner by default: RUNCO
Battle: DINNER - ROUND 2!
OK, so they didn’t take the whole class out to dinner at Lutron, but they did take ME out to dinner. So, Battle: Dinner...RESUMES!
Runco concludes the first day of training by taking everyone to a local brewery restaurant. At first, I was a little sketched on the location because it looked like a cross between where you would see the final, smelting metal and steel showdown in Terminator 2 and where you would go to find the most out-of-the-way-location possible for your serial killing body dump. But, the place was packed so clearly it was a locals, in-the-know kind of place. They had like 10 made-on-premises beers to choose from and some good food. At the end, my Runco-class pal, Adam, and I ordered a Port with dessert and this Port was like a full 6 ounce pour. It was crazy. Crazy awesome! Sunday night we went to an Italian restaurant – perhaps an homage to the old Runco training days, and a tip of the hat to Sam’s memory; at least, that’s how I’m choosing to see it with these nostalgic eyes – called Mama Mia’s. Jugs of red and white wine on the tables, and a family style meal where the food just...kept...coming. And a really decent cappuccino and tiramisu for dessert. Monday night I had a private, personal dinner with Runco’s VP of Marketing, Jennifer Davis. We went to a steakhouse called Ringside. Food here was terrific, including a very Ruth’s Chris style steak, and it was great to get to know Jennifer on a one-on-one basis outside of her trying to sell me on anything and me having to furiously take notes on something.
It ended up being a tour-de-Asia cuisine at Lutron. On Sunday, I ate by myself and had Thai. Then on Monday Lutron took me out to a sushi restaurant. The food was really good, but the restaurant seemed to be out of like every beer I tried to order. Damn! Well I guess I WILL have the Sapporo now, won’t I? We ordered some good sushi for the table and a flask of sake but I’ll honest...I left still hungry. Probably my fault, should have said, “Hey, why don’t we, uh, get another couple of orders of something?” but I didn’t. (I just went back to the hotel and dove into my backpack chip stash.) The next night I had dinner with Richard Black, Lutron product development manager. Now, it’s important to note that at the table between us, Richard and I held a combined 25 patents. So, some serious brain power. Since our hotel was right on the border of DC’s China Town, we ended up getting Chinese food. I went with my old standby, Kung Pao Chicken, and Richard ordered something-something Tofu. (We both agreed mine was better. That’s the power of 25 combined patents at work! Though, at one point Richard got up to go to the bathroom and our table’s combined patent holding plummeted back to zero momentarily...) Richard told me his journey to Lutron and his time in the army and some really helpful ways to try and increase my business (like seriously; I’m going to try and employ some of them. And if they start working, I’m totally NOT going to share them with you!) and had a nice time.
And, as much as I like Asian cuisine, variety is the spice of life and this battle goes to: RUNCO
Obviously this one is going to vary greatly depending on where you live, though I guess you could say that since the Lutron show is a traveling show, you could always find one nearest your home...
So, for Runco I had to take 3 flights there and 3 flights back. And change 3 hours in time. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty awesome when you are going east to west and you’re like, “What do you mean it’s midnight and time for bed? I’m a party guy! Woo-hoo! PARRRR-TAYYYY!” Then in the morning you’re like, “Get up at 6:30 AM your time for training? No problem, bra. It’s 9:30 for me. I’ll be up anyhow!” But, you’d better save some money to pay the Ferry Man, because at some point you’re gonna come crashing back to East Coast Time reality. And that is not fun. No sir, not fun at all. So, 3 flights there, 3 flights back with a First Class upgrade ratio of 3 out of 6.
Conversely with Lutron it only took 2 flights there and 2 flights back; stayed in the same time zone the entire time AND I managed an impressive 100% upgrade to First Class ratio.
Winner goes to Front of the Plane!: LUTRON
You might think this would be unfair since Runco’s training was at their corporate offices and Lutron’s training was part of a road show but wait! Lutron’s training was held at one of their permanent Experience Centers in DC, so I declare this a fair fight! Battle...BEGIN!
Lutron’s training room felt like a school classroom.
Long rows of tables all arrayed to face the front of the room. They had a full bank of windows where you could see the city, but they also had a totally silent, dual shading system to cut down the sun and glare and encourage “Eyes forward!” Power Point was done on probably the WORST projector I have EVER seen. It had these horrible image shakes like the projector was suffering from Parkinson’s and if you stared too long or looked too closely you could feel yourself starting to become hypnotized... However, the work lighting was terrific, balanced and even and non-fatiguing, as you would imagine from a lighting company.
Runco’s class room had a very professional, high-powered corporate board room feel.
We were all arrayed in a circular pattern sitting in leather office chairs with power and Net plug-in at each work station. (Though, to be honest, I felt like my leather chair was constantly trying to fling me forward and either onto the floor or into a super-posture position. And any attempts at resisting were met with sliding and/or rolling around.) It was the kind of room that wanted to make you stand up and shout, "By God, Mr. President! There's just no more time! You've GOT to launch the missiles NOW!!!" The training room was essentially windowless so you weren’t encouraged to imagine what life beyond those walls was like. They also had a WindowWall AND a drop down video projection system using one of their brand new, high-brightness projectors. PLUS a 65-inch Plasma panel. The work lighting was a shade dim, but dimmer lighting makes for better images, so what would you expect from a video company?
Battle: TAKE HOME SWAG!
Used to be that you’d go to a factory training, you’d come home with some goodies; DVDs, jackets, USB stuff, whatever. Toys, man, toys! On previous trips to Lutron training I scored a Spacer remote control light switch and a tableside lamp dimmer. From Runco I have a jean jacket and a nylon windbreaker. But times have changed and budgets have been cut and the giveaway old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be... Battle Swag is ON!
Runco gave me a couple of binders filled with the roughly 1.4 million Power Point slides and some technical information on projector throw distance and screen offset. They also included a nice black t-shirt. Since Dana loves me collecting t-shirts, this is always received as a welcome bit of good news. They also included a little pouch with three Allen wrenches presumably used for projector lens adjustment. In reality, the Homeland Security person at the Portland airport saw these as three potentially lethal terrorist stabbing weapons, where upon seeing them in my luggage shouted, “I HAVE SCREWDRIVERS! SCREWDRIVER ALERT!” No amount of, “They’re not screwdrivers! They’re Allen wrenches! For calibrating a projector lens shift!” Because, you know, calibrating a projector lens shift is like the most natural and understandable thing in the world to an airport TSA screener. Sadly, this news didn’t seem to assuage his excitement over the discovery one iota. This then targeted me for “special selective screening” where I was able to receive premier concierge level treatment where the TSA pulled me out of line, swabbed all of my bags for explosive residue, gave me a personal pat down and then had the Allen wrenches unceremoniously confiscated and placed into a locked drawer. They would have probably like to have me wear a Scarlet-T on my shirt but I’m not sure that has passed Congress yet.
Lutron gave me a black t-shirt. So, another one for the collection, Dana! Huzzah!
At the end of the day, I came home from both places with the exact same amount of stuff – 1 t-shirt from both – so, Winner: DRAW (OK, to be TOTALLY honest, on my final-final day at Runco, my guide/chauffer/babysitter, Jeremy, let me go into the Runco room and take 2 Polo shirts. But this is on the QT so, I can’t count it...)
Final Battle: THE MAIN EVENT – Battle: TRAINING!
OK, the reason why you actually go to training in the first place...the TRAINING!
Having been through Runco training on two previous occasions, it might not be totally fair to expect to go out and learn a bunch of new things. While projection technology has changed – and certainly some new twists have developed with 3D – much of the information I already knew, and, honestly, probably could have taught myself. (Granted between the writing, the reviewing, the installing and the all-around deep loving of this stuff, I am probably a wee more dialed in to this industry than the average class attendee.) I did pick up a few new tips in the sales portion of the class, but I ultimately would have liked some more hands-on time with the gear. We got to spend a wee-bit of time playing with an anamorphic lens, but since I already have one of my own at home, this wasn’t revelatory for me. We watched some grayscale calibrations being performed, but didn’t really get a lot of time to play with the gear ourselves. We spent a lot of time – A LOT of time – watching Power Point slides. I would have liked to have been less of a human being and more of a human DOING.
Lutron sales training actually fired me up to sell their shading product. I think I took away some practical strategies to hopefully actually increase my sales with the company which is always a good thing. The technical training included a personal workstation where you programmed a system and then dumped the programming into a processor to control lights, keypads and shades.
They were practical exercises to make sure that you actually understood how to install, configure and program their lighting system. And if you had a question, an instructor was right there to look at your work and show you where you went wrong. At least that’s what I heard. You know, I was never wrong, so I didn’t, uh, need to, uh, have any help or anything.
Bonus Battle: BEST NEW PEOPLE MET!
At the end of the day, a big part of training is getting to spend some time with like-minded folks and some time away from the daily grind of your own operation where you can assess “How does what I’m doing measure up to what other guys are doing?” and usually come to discover that people all over have the same problems, gripes and concerns. Of course that's what must worky-work people do. You could be like me and just end up socializing with all of the people seated around you and see if you can meet some cool, new people.
At Lutron, I sat kinda by myself in the front row. I had no one immediately around me. I was in a Sciacca isolation bubble. There was little cutting up save for the near-constant internal dialog I manage to keep running and much eyes-front focus. Number of new blog readers picked up at the class: 0.
At Runco I had Dani directly behind me and a new friend, Adam Pelz, right in front of me. Dani and I have phenomenally similar tastes in TV viewing, especially Survivor. We also formed the WCC (West Coast Calibrators forevah!) with two other Runco employees. We're still working on our gang sign, but rest assured, it will be compliciated and suitably awesome. Adam and I have so many things in common that I started sending him things that said, "Here's some more stuff about us you should know." He likes beer and scotch and music and movies and School House Rock and... Well, a lot of the same stuff. Both have started reading the blog and -- as should be a lesson to you all -- Dani has already proved herself quite the commenter.