2016: A New Year, with New Goals

I hate cliches.

The New Year always seems to bring out so many of them, and for years I have found them repugnant.

“New Year, New Me” or “So, this is the New Year, I don’t feel any different”(that one is a set of lyrics from Death Cab for Cutie).

But, one of the many great things about the new year is the ability to start over, to press reset and to change for the better. I have typically avoided making resolutions in years past, because they’re all cliché, and I never follow through on them so they become a source of pain and shame for me. I say to myself ‘wow, look at that long list of things you failed to follow through on.”

So this year is different (another cliché) and I’m committed to it making it different (and better). Here are my top resolutions for 2016, personally and professionally.

Personally

  • Disengage more often– I have a real difficulty with ‘unplugging’ or ‘turning off.’ I find myself at all hours of the day panicked when I look at my phone to see what time it is and there’s a number next to my email app (sidenote- how do you people with 34,000 unread emails deal with yourself?). I find myself constantly updating twitter, or facebook to make sure I didn’t miss anything. That ends this year. My goal is to focus on the present more and get away from my phone. I’m looking forward to taking some vacations and just not worrying about where my phone is, or if I missed any calls/texts/snaps/emails etc.
  • Read more– I read a lot, I read a lot for work (articles, blogs, technical manuals and Wikipedia articles to name a few). What has really waned for me in the past few years is the amount I read for pleasure, for fun. My first job out of college I read on average two books a week. That may have had more to do with the fact I traveled full time and had endless captive free time (airplanes, truck, bus, hotels etc). My goal this year isn’t incredibly lofty, I want to read a book a month, that’s a good start and I hope to grow that over time. If you’re interested in what I’m reading, I’d be happy to let you know (and if you have a recommendation please let me know).
  • Buy new jeans- those who really know me understand how momentous this is. I have had one pair of jeans for the last two-plus years that I’ve worn almost daily. Not only have these jeans seen better days, and are starting to deteriorate but they are also quickly becoming too large for me, due to my plummeting weight.
  • Be more positive- I am a negative ned, or at least I was. I am not saying I’m completely cured, or I will be sometime soon. I am, however, choosing to look at things from a more optimistic viewpoint. Choosing to appreciate the little things in life, and be thankful more so than critical are things I need to focus on.

Professionally

  • Write More- I don’t write often enough. I write a weekly recap piece for the fine folks at AVNation.tv called “The Friday Five,” which I very much enjoy, but I miss writing other, different content. I’ve put a lot of my writing on hold lately in pursuit of some other things. So again, my goal this year isn’t incredibly lofty, I just want to write once a month here on my website, and once a month on another website and perhaps even get back into writing for others in the audiovisual industry. If you’re looking to hire someone to provide content for your website, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
  • Work less- This may seem counter intuitive, especially for people who know me very well, but I tend to work way too much. Now, I don’t mean I’m in the office 60 hours a week and I’m slaving away at my desk the entire time, but I do tend to take work home with me, and to sit on my computer late at night answering emails, sending emails and checking in and working on tickets (both customers and internal). This has helped me become an incredibly productive person over the past decade, but isn’t sustainable in the long term, also I came across this article which indicates sending late night emails (which I do all the time) might not be the best thing for you/your team at work.
  • Non-traditional professional development- The CTS credential is great, and I’m thankful for it. I work with the CTS committee to attempt to keep it relevant. One of the things I’ve neglected over the last few years is non-traditional professional development. Yes understanding audiovisual properties is incredibly key to doing my job, but learning things like utilizing excel in a more efficient manner can also have a tremendous effect on my career, especially as just about every company is manipulating data to become more sleek. There’s more than just hard skills to develop, and it’s time to focus on some of my soft-skills deficiencies.
  • Give Back- I give my time to the InfoComm CTS committee, and I participate in various other ways in the industry when given a chance. I am slowly learning that I need to give-back more. There have been plenty of professionals who have generously given their time and effort to help mold me, improve me and make me the person I am today. To name a few: Tim Albright, Matt Scott and George Tucker- who took a 22 year old kid on a 2 hour walk through las vegas to find some food that led to me learning more about the industry and getting more involved. My boss at my last job- Jason Thomas- who taught me there’s more than fixing problems, sometimes you have to fix the perception as well. Several of my colleagues at my current job who have encouraged me to approach things differently and have allowed me the room to grow myself and my position. I would really like to, one day, be that person for someone else. I don’t know how much I have to offer, but I look forward to finding out.

2016 will be a good year for me. I am convinced of that. It’s got a lot to live up to as 2014 and 2015 were both incredibly positive years for me. I’m quite fortunate to have had mostly great years in my life, and I hope 2016 will continue the progression for me.
Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? What did you resolve?

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Why I’m Passing on Sling TV… For Now.

Dish Sling

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas’ Superbowl for people who love gadgets and technology, Dish Network Corp. introduced an online streaming service that will allow users to stream live and on-demand content from a myriad of television stations and digital content producers. Sling TV, as it is being called, will launch this month with a $20 per month price tag and not require any contract, commitment or additional services required to take advantage, besides an internet connection and a playback device.

Dish Network Corp. has successfully negotiated contracts with content owners from Time Warner (TNT), Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. (Food Network) and Walt Disney Co (ESPN) and in doing so have positioned themselves to take the reins on providing traditional television services to “cord-cutters” or people who are no longer willing to pay high cable or satellite monthly premiums, wish to be more mobile in their media consumption or want to avoid lengthy commitments to services not deemed “necessary.” Cord-cutters, for some time now, have been taking advantage of different platforms to keep up with content without cable or satellite services, using Netflix, Hulu Plus or watching broadcast shows online.

While several of my twitter followers have expressed extreme interest in Sling TV, I remain skeptical, and will likely not become an early adopter. It’s not because I enjoy paying for cable or satellite, it’s not because Sling TV has no use for me, it’s not because I don’t want to view content only available to me with a cable/satellite log-in. It’s because right now it doesn’t do enough to end my need for cable/satellite. The key phrase there is right now. As of November of 2013, Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen admitted he was “0 for 50”  in talking with major content producers in securing contracts for this service. Dish currently doesn’t have partnerships with NBC, CBS, Fox and Discovery at this time, but is continuing negotiations with these holdouts.

Once Dish expands the content included in the Sling TV it will be more than worth it, but as it currently sits it doesn’t offer me the variety of content I would want in exchange for cutting the cord. Though I’ve given up renting DVDs, in favor of streaming services like Netflix and AmazonPrime, I just can’t bring myself to cut the cord from my tv provider, at least not until Sling TV has a wider variety of content available, although they made the major step in making ESPN available. It will be interesting to see just how far their offerings can expand, however, as Sony, CBS and HBO are all investing in their own streaming platforms. Eventually consumers will be paying as much as for streaming services when it’s all said and done as they currently do for cable and satellite, although the additonal flexibility to watch from anywhere with an internet connection will make it more than worth it.

 

 

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Government at Standoff with Mobile Encryption

Mobile EncryptionIn one of the few times an tech issue intersects with a political issue on this website, the Wall Street Journal reported today the United States Government is at odds with mobile device manufacturers and software developers over mobile encryption, saying it could lead to a “tragedy. ” The issue at hand is Apple, Google and other mobile software developers purposefully protecting users data, and preventing chances for law enforcement officers to unlock a locked device. In doing so, the software companies are combating the perception they are providing a “backdoor” for data to compromised by the government.

Law-enforcement officials, tone-deaf to the 4th Ammendment, believe this shift towards sheltering users data from government intrusion could lead to a tragedy. Even with a court-order it will now become more difficult for officials to gain access to a device’s data including pictures, messages, appointments or contacts. For instance, were Apple to be served with a court order, they wouldn’t even have the ability to decrypt the phone’s data.

While the government isn’t completely without recourse, as the majority of desired information can be obtained through wireless carriers, with regard to call logs and messages sent, coupled with files/information backed up to the computer. As a result of NSA information being leaked in how data collection on US Citizens is carried out, some might rightly call it spying, tech manufacturers and software developers are doing their part to avoid the blame. The WSJ article also reports WhatsAPP, owned by Facebook, is now encrypting text messages sent via the free data-driven service. Manufacturers and software developers aren’t alone, however, as telecommunications providers are starting to challenge the legality behind the government collecting data (spying) on citizens.

Under the guise of the Patriot Act, and “national security” the director of the FBI, James Comey, was quoted as saying “We need our private sector partners to take a step back, to pause to consider, I hope, a change of course.” Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, had this to say “Look, if law enforcement wants something they should go to the user and get it. It’s not for me to do that.”

The move to tweak software to encrypt data seems foolproof. As the government continues to overreach in “surveillance” rulings, there isn’t much (any?) legal precedence to force a manufacturer/developer to alter their Intellectual Property.

Photo from Wired‘s fantastic Article on iPhone encryption

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Lync to Become Skype for Business

Lync will become Skype for Business

Microsoft is rebranding it’s unified communication platform Microsoft Lync. Microsoft plans to retool their approach to unified communications, and launch under the name “Skype for Business” in 2015. Microsoft originally acquired Skype for $8.5 billion in 2011.

The Redmond, WA based software giant made significant strides into the Unified Communications space, offering a cost-competitive unified communications platform which included Telephony, Chat, Collaboration and Video Conferencing all from the desktop, laptop or tablet.

Microsoft made a splash, albeit a light one, last summer in the audiovisual industry when they bought a booth to the InfoComm Tradeshow. It seemed to be the culmination of a few years of product development centered around integrating Lync into the classroom, conference room and board room. Manufacturers from Crestron to Vaddio and Polycom to SMART were all developing peripherals as well as room systems built around the Lync platform. While any talk of Skype at these shows were purely relegated to the consumer space, and a consumer grade of product associated with it.

Poised to make a deeper run in the professional av/uc space, Microsoft’s main purpose in attending the show, it seems, was to gather feedback from customers, and perhaps ideas for future products and platforms. With more and more manufacturers chomping at the bit to get a piece of the Microsoft Lync pie, as Microsoft themselves don’t manufacture hardware solutions, it seemed Lync was going to be influencing the products to be revealed at InfoComm 2015, slated for June 13-19 in Orlando, FL.

There was some debate yesterday, mostly on twitter, about what, if any, impact this announcement will have on the audiovisual industry. In short, it won’t be ground breaking, but it will have some effect on the industry. The most notable effect it has on the industry is blending professional and consumer platforms into one hybrid platform that some might argue does nothing well and everything poorly. Time will tell what functionality from the two drastically different platforms will make it into the Skype for Business release in 2015, but reports are already hinting at the user interface changing to look more like Skype and less like Lync 2010 or 2013. Reports also indicate H.264 encoding adoption so Lync will finally be able to directly federate with Skype.

Besides the blending of the “professional” vtc (professional in quotes because Lync wasn’t close to competing in quality or market share with Cisco/Polycom/LifeSize). It will be interesting to see how this will affect hardware manufacturers. Will there also be a hybrid-level set of hardware coming down the pipeline? Something that sits between the logitech table top webcam and a professional camera which connects via, or converts to, USB? Will there finally be a usable product between the $1000 and $3000 price points?

Time will tell, for all factors, how this decision will play out in our industry, and whether or not it will be a success for Microsoft. One thing that is for sure, Skype for Business is one step closer to bridging the comfort gap that prevents technophobes from adopting any modicum of videoconferencing. Also, it will be funny to think about all the telecom professionals now having the title of “Skype Administrator”

What do you think this will mean for the industry? For your users?

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It’s time to move conferencing to the cloud

Video as a Service
There has been a lot of chatter lately in the world of technology about migrating away from physical devices. Our IT counterparts are well ahead of the AV industry in this regard, having spent the better part of the last decade migrating sprawling data centers and costly servers into tight, compact, and easier to manage virtual environments.

While this isn’t a completely fair comparison, as the majority of audiovisual equipment can’t be virtualized, there are AV applications that must be modernized, and move away from physical devices into the 21st century. The easiest application to migrate, that offers the highest return on investment, is a no brainer: videoconferencing. Though many users have trepidation about using the enigmatic “cloud,” migrating conferencing can drastically cut costs and help maintain sanity.

It’s time to ditch traditional videoconferencing equipment. It is expensive, can be difficult to use, and without an incredibly costly, dedicated support staff at meeting time, meeting organizers often have trouble using the system. It also requires compatible services at each location connecting to join the meeting. Continuing to design and install traditional videoconferencing systems can be costly and frustrating to users and support personnel alike, and yield a lower return on investment than originally hoped for.

Continue reading It’s time to move conferencing to the cloud on AV Network

Note: When deciding to write on this topic I really wanted to include this mostly not-appropriate-for-a-publisher’s website video of a character from the TV show “The League” talking about the cloud. I find it especially funny, as many users don’t always understand the concept of the cloud, and are somewhat apprehensive about adopting it as a core strategy. I, for one, don’t think any of the users I’ve come across in the industry think it refers to a cloud of smoke, though; I guess that’s a good start.

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InfoComm International Releases Verification Guidelines

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InfoComm International, the trade association representing the professional audiovisual and information communications industries worldwide, announced today they are releasing the Audio Visual System Performance Verification Guide  a free resource for interested parties to use in conjunction with ANSI/InfoComm 10:2013 standard for verification of audiovisual system performance.

This 332-page document provides installers and technology managers, or anybody really, with “a framework and supporting processes to asses and report whether an audiovisual (AV) system performs according to the client’s agreed-upon expectations.” The document is thorough, including 160  reference verification items that represent tests and measures needed to verify the performance of audiovisual systems. Thought not all 160 references will be used in each project, the  accompanying Standard provides the process for deciding which items to include. when verifying an av system’s performance.

This document will be especially useful for technology managers, to be able to provide a base-line way to verify whether or not a system installed performs as it should, which can be especially important when dealing with eliminating scenarios where testing results in “good enough.”

This document will be best used in future projects, as it requires appropriate documentation, which might not be available for legacy installations, since one cannot verify against something that does not exist. The standard and corresponding system functionality verification guide are designed to check against the documents generated in accordance with ANSI/INFOCOMM 2m-2010, Standard Guide for Audiovisual Design and Coordination ProcessesThe Fairfax, VA based association plans to release a Design Package Verification standard in 2015-2016 that will expand on the current standards available, according to the introduction to this guide.

Copies of InfoComm Standards are available to InfoComm members free of charge. The organization is always looking for volunteers to contribute to standards projects and committees, those interested can find more information on the standards page of the InfoComm website.

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Small but Significant: Are Huddle Rooms the Right Fit?

Huddle Room

Huddle Room Technology featuring Vaddio GroupStation

Over the past few years colleges, universities and corporations have adopted a more agile approach to meetings and working in groups. One of the ways companies are making this change is by implementing huddle rooms, which allow for more flexibility, and better opportunities to collaborate or to meet, whether it’s a decision making meeting or a group brainstorming session.

Huddle rooms, or small conference and meeting rooms, are designed in such a way as to reduce the clutter, so to speak. These rooms are often smaller than a traditional conference room and feature a small table, and likely a flat panel display. Users can walk into the room, plug in to a cable cubby, or connect to a wireless display appliance and they are off and running in just a few seconds; certainly streamlined over a traditional conference room or boardroom setting.

There are a number of available options when it comes to sourcing hardware, or software, for huddle room presentations. Seemingly every manufacturer in the switching and control market has a huddle room product, and from the number of press releases I receive on a daily basis, the quantity and quality of huddle room technology is only going to increase. Whether the application is for presentation, group study, collaboration, or even videoconferencing there is no shortage to the supply of huddle room solutions.

When thinking about potentially outfitting a huddle room, there are solutions that run the gamut from simple plug-and-play options, to wireless technology, to small solutions that incorporate full control systems as well as videoconferencing capabilities. It’s imperative for technology managers to evaluate products not only on the quality of the technology, its consistency, reliability, and ease-of-use but also to make sure the solution meets the application.

Continue reading “Small but Significant: Are Huddle Rooms the Right Fit on AVNetwork.com


Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2014  AVTechnology Magazine 

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Google Classroom: Aiming to Overtake the LMS?

Google Classroom

Last week Jason Thomas tweeted a link about Google Classroom, an all-in-one solution for teachers and students create and organize assignments quickly, provide feedback efficiently, and easily communicate within their classes. Classroom’s marketing materials even include it is designed to enable teachers to do “more teaching and less tech-ing” I kid you not, that’s on their webpage.

Google, the search giant, over the last several years has made strides to diversify its offerings, seemingly taking on every established sect of the technology industry from social networks to web based music players, mobile telephones to small web-based laptops and tablets. There isn’t a part of the technology market, with the exception of IT hardware, where Google isn’t currently attempting to be a competitor.

Google Classroom is the Mountain View, California based tech company’s foray into education; unifying the services offered as part of Google Apps for Business and tailoring it to meet the needs of education institutions. Google Classroom offers familiar services such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides staples of the Google Apps environment but also combines it with the ability for teachers to collect assignments through Google Classroom, easily distribute ‘handouts’ or allow students access to presentations and documents used and discussed in class.

Google Classroom offers an impressive amount of functionality to Google Apps users in education. Before technology managers get up in arms, Google Classroom isn’t ready, yet, to truly compete with or overtake traditional Learning Management Systems (LMS). There are still several key features traditional LMS powerhouses offer for which Google Classroom doesn’t yet have an answer- gradebook, lecture capture integration, online lecture posting/viewing, managed/monitored web discussions so on and so forth.

As it stands now, Google Classroom is a tremendous benefit for schools/colleges/universities not currently using a full-fledged LMS, but isn’t yet ready to overtake or even compete for the business of institutions using LMS already. It will be very interesting, however, if Google chooses to continue working on Classroom and expand it’s functionality, it could become a huge player and ultimately one of the highest used LMS companies, but that’s still 10 or more years away, if you ask me.

I just want Google Wave to come back.

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All Eyes on 4K: A Special Report for Technology Managers

4k rAVe Pubs

I remember the first time I saw a 4K display; I stood, mouth ajar, as I stared for what seemed like hours at stunning images on incredibly beautiful flat-panel displays. I was blown away. I knew it was a pipe dream, for me at least, because at the time there wasn’t much need or support for 4K/UHD from an industry standpoint—certainly not at my university.

Now, just a few short years removed, 4K is finally on the precipice of practicality as manufacturers are shipping switching and distribution systems designed to handle 4K/UHD signals. Manufacturers are even certifying 4K displays to work with their solutions, providing customers confidence when installing these systems. Perhaps the most exciting news for technology managers who are considering 4K adoption is systems becoming (somewhat) affordable.

For many technology managers, a hesitancy to adopt 4K designs still exists. Integrators and manufacturers have united in assuring customers and technology managers: 4K isn’t like 3D, it is a resolution like HDTV and it is here to stay.

Whether it’s 4K cinema (4096×2160) or Ultra HD (UHD) resolution (3840×2160), 4K reveals incredibly nuanced detail and provides a notable improvement over digital systems with 1,080 or 1,200 horizontal lines. The greater pixel density prevents issues associated with up-close viewing such as the image appearing to have a grid-like structure caused by low pixel density.

As 4K/UHD systems are becoming more practical, readily available and are specified more frequently by consultants and customers, there are a several key factors technology managers must be mindful of implementing a 4K solution to ensure it is a successful installation.

Continue Reading: All Eyes on 4K: A Special Report for Technology Managers from AVTechnology Magazine‘s September 2014 Issue

Image from rAVePubsMark Coxon’s blog on the The Real Enemy of 4K: Infrastructure

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#AVMonth- New things to learn

AVMonthColorHorizontal-600x201

This transition has me thinking, however, how diverse the audiovisual industry is, and how small we really are. Now I’m not one to get introspective, but I felt as a technology manager, or user, I had my bearings on what products worked, what products didn’t work what is and isn’t going to be a winner in the marketplace, how future trends would shake out etc. I felt I had a really good “grasp” on technology, and I knew really everything I needed to know.

Yes, I believed there were parts of the industry I didn’t have as tight a grasp on, nuanced parts of the industry I’d really not need to concern myself with, like writing codecs to compress video, or  how SIP traffic is routed in QoS IP networks. I, for a while, thought I knew it all, or at least enough of it, to really make something of myself.

Then I started my new job as an Applications Engineer for Vaddio; I made the jump to manufacturing and was going to bring my “wealth” of knowledge with me.

It became very apparent, very quickly, probably 20-30 minutes into my first day when I started reading product manuals to bring myself up to speed on that I was far from where I needed to be when it came to knowledge of how cameras work, how cameras are controlled and a litany of other subject areas. I spent a week reading, reading some more and then reading some more without doing anything but reading and I find myself still asking co workers to explain terms and concepts to me so I can contribute to the team.

My point is, I thought I knew a lot, and maybe I did – maybe I knew a lot about a very little, but I’m quickly finding out that I could likely work on learning something new, continually, and still not know enough by the time I die. There’s a lot to learn, and a lot to grow into, especially in the audiovisual industry, which is one of the many reasons why our industry is special and unique it’s never stale, it’s never boring and most importantly is members of the audiovisual industry never grow out of things to learn.

Which brings me to my point (375 words later). This is October, or #AVMonth, as it’s being tagged on twitter, and discussed around the web. One of the key tenants of #AVMonth is to not only revel in the fact that we work in an industry far superior to everyone other industry on the planet (sarcasm); but rather to promote understanding and engagement within the industry. One of the best ways to do this is to get involved. I am finding left and right there are people who know different things than I know. Not necessarily know more than, or less than, I know, but know different things. I can learn from them, they can learn from me and together the industry can become stronger than it has ever been.

Fellow REDBAND Collective member Josh Srago touched excellently on the subject in his post “Who But You?” ; so please, stop reading this and read his post and get involved. It’s what the month is about. Wherever you choose to do so, just make sure you join the conversation, there’s always a new angle, there’s always a point someone hasn’t considered, so please use this month to make sure your voice is heard. If you want to write here, go for it, I’m happy to have you post, or comment. Just.Get.Involved.

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