They say that the reward for good work is always more work. By that same
token, the reward for demonstrating that you can keep a secret is that you
get entrusted with more secrets.
Trust is important: people need to know that they can count on you, and when
it comes to professional discretion, they need to know that you can be
counted on to keep sensitive topics to yourself when necessary.
When I first started blogging and doing CE trade media I learned very
quickly about the importance of discretion: contacts at manufacturers,
distributors and retailers appreciate not having their bridges burned, and
that you know the difference between legitimate news and commentary and
plain old muckraking.
Not that I've never burned any bridges or raked any muck in this role, but
in my defence, any muck I raked had some basis in fact, such as Circuit
City's procession of woes leading up to their finale.
As I said above, when you can keep a secret, people trust you with their
secrets, which means you get entrusted with all kinds of juicy, scandalous
Implicit in that arrangement is the unspoken understanding that if you ever
spill those secrets, you're never going to be made privy to any more.
The fact is, I enjoy being "in the know" and if keeping mum is the price
paid for knowledge, that's not a price too heavy to bear.
One trade media outlet I know (and let me emphatically state that it's NOT
rAVe Pubs) jokes internally about how they're always working on their final,
last, Going Out Of Business issue, just in case. They call it their "What We
Really Think About All Of You" issue, and will contain all the scandal,
gossip, and drama they've heard over the years in one giant collector's
Now THAT would be burning all your bridges. Add a comment
Its almost a cliché in the AV trade media that if you need a topic for your blog, post a picture of a dreadful installation and write a post that both mocks it and moralizes to the AV Pro readers about the importance of doing a better job than the one you're writing about.
Well, that's one cliché. The other cliché is writing a blog post about how terribly awesome (or awesomely terrible) you think Apple is.
For todays blog post I'm going to go with Option A.
When I'm in Calgary for business I usually stay at the same hotel. I was there on a prior visit when the hotel was upgrading to HD set top boxes in every room, and I saw the techs from the cable company scurrying around the hotel with spools of RG-6 and armfuls of new HD boxes to outfit the TVs in the 200-odd rooms in the hotel.
Pictured here are the fruits of the cable guys labor in the hotels exercise room. I especially like the way the power cords and RG-6 are casually intertwined, with a single IR plug dangling despondently into space from the whole mess, as if contemplating ending it all out of shame.
Needless to say, when I entered the room, the installation wasn't working.
However, as the saying goes, once an AV Nerd always an AV Nerd. I troubleshot the connections and the settings on the remote control and got the TV working again (And yes, I watch cartoons while doing cardio. Don't judge me).
I did however draw the line at cleaning up the cabling; theres a fine line between passion and working for free. I try to avoid the latter.
I know that this was the result of installation done by cable techs, whose daily responsibility is generally limited to running and validating lines, and doesn't include trimming out well-managed installations.
So lets forego the moralizing this time, as I know that no regular rAVe readers would dream of leaving an installation looking like this, right? Right!?Add a comment
Spring is in the air, and with it comes Spring Cleaning. While I was tidying up around the house I took the time to dig through my Obsolete Gear Closet. Here's some of what I found, pictured above:
ADS DA converter. An inexpensive (under $150 retail, if I recall) DA/AD converter, I had purchased it after finding a box containing my ancient cassette mixtapes from the 80s, and felt the desire to digitize them and save their tracks to my hard drives.
Those of you who were old enough will remember the time and effort that went into crafting mixtapes so that they were "just right," from the meter levels they were recorded at, to the exact order of the songs, not to mention the fade ins and outs, to the art on the case liner, and the clever name you gave your mixtape. So you can see why I wanted to preserve them.
The project ended up being abandoned when I saw how much work would be involved in editing the digital files (how lazy is THAT!?), not to mention the fact that the audio quality of the tapes had seriously deteriorated over the past two decades.
Audio Wave Cyclone 3D. A strange, misunderstood little product that, alas, never got much traction in the marketplace. Intended for gaming, and equipped with analog L/R in and out, it sat between your console or PC audio out and your amplification and provided a matrixed Virtual Dolby surround sound out of stereo speakers.
The soundstaging it produced alternated between sounding awesome and contrived, and eventually I unplugged it from my PC's audio system and forgot about it until now.
Zektor SOLOCat. This was an HDTV extender that I was given by the nice folks at Zektor for a review I did for another magazine a few years ago.
The SOLOCat was revolutionary at the time because it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first HD extender that carried both component video and analog/SPIDF audio on a single Cat5e line. The pieces performed admirably in the testing I did for the review, but time and HDMI marches on and these days Component Video extenders are about as cutting edge as stone circles. No disrespect intended to my friends at Zektor, who continue to do fine work.
Not pictured: my old Harmony 890 remote and Speakercraft IR repeater, which I had used in my system prior to upgrading to an RTI T2c remote control.
Shortly after I had been rooting through my gear closet I got an email from Derrick, my former project manager at my old job. His old Harmony 890 had croaked and he was asking me for recommendations for a new one to purchase.
I told him that I still had mine and wasn't using it, and gifted it to him, which worked out well for both of us.
The moral of the story is that some old equipment gets a second lease on life!Add a comment
A drum that gets beaten often in my columns and blog posts is on the importance of networking with related trades as a conduit for referral business.
As you might expect, I typically point to the usual suspects when I talk about having connections: electricians, millworkers, HVAC guys and, of course, interior designers.
But beyond those, there are always people in diverse fields with whom you can forge a beneficial relationship, you just have to take the right perspective.
That's why I'll tell you that, as an AV Pro, you can benefit from having a solid relationship with a reliable Trunk Slammer. And here's why:
The fact is, you can't say yes to every customer, and you can't take on every job, especially if you've positioned your company in a very specific way, such as doing full design, programming and install of higher-level projects. But customers don't know any of that. They're just going to Google their city and "home theater" and call you.
Some of them will be the kind of customers you're looking for, and some of them won't be. And if you're a full-service company, the ones who call you and say, "Yeah, hi. I bought a 50-inch TV and surround-in-a-box from Best Buy this weekend. Can you put it together for me?" aren't what you're looking for.
Incidentally, in our office we used to call those hang-and-bang projects CLJs, short for "Crummy Little Jobs."
There are two things that I hold dear (three if you count coffee).
The first is the notion of karma, and that you get back what you give out. The second is that the world is a better place if you spread the love around.
After I'd determined that I was talking to someone needing a hang-and-bang and there was no unspoken need for five figures or more worth of my products and services, I never felt good responding to their innocent question with "No. Bye!" and hanging up on them. Instead, I tapped the availability of a guy named DJ that I used to work with in retail who, as far as I could tell, was perfectly content to do CLJs all day, every day.
Rather than tell someone with a CLJ that needed doing no, I'd tell him "No, but I know I guy who can. Here's his number." Which brings me to the point of my story: One day DJ stops by my office and drops off a present for me. Inside the box is a fancy cut-glass bottle of Remy Martin XO, in the presentation case and everything.
After he left, I committed the cardinal sin of gift-receiving: I called a liquor store that a friend managed to find out what it cost. Yes, terrible, I know. Anyway, I described what I had to the clerk on the phone and enquired about the price: $2,500, she told me.
I spit my coffee all over my computer monitor.
Damn, I thought, I didn't know all those bones I'd thrown DJ had so much meat on them.
Turns out, she was looking at the wrong box. The one DJ had bought was $125, but regardless, clearly we had both done each other a good turn.
And yes, the cognac was amazing.
Add a comment
Gary makes a number of excellent points about how major CE brands aren't failing because they aren't doing retail like Apple does; they're failing because their products aren't well designed.
The rush to retail is perplexing and, to me, speaks of a shocking naiveté on their part. LG and Samsung should ask Sony about retail: I worked for Sony at the peak of their retail store count in Canada, and they've been contracting ever since.
Just in the past two years Sony Canada has abruptly halved their number of retail locations, and guys that I worked with fifteen years ago (Lifers I
always called them) have to face the unthinkable: life without Sony.
Notwithstanding Sony USA's current fascination with new Experience Centers, Sony's history with retail has been checkered and best.
Building on all of Gary's excellent observations I'd just like to add that, in my experience, store-within-a-store concepts aren't a marketing master stroke: They're the last gasp of failing retailers when nothing else has worked.
I remember when Eaton's, a Canadian department store with over a century in business adopted stores-within-a-store, including, but not limited to
Sunglass Hut and People's Jewelers. Eaton's was bankrupt and vanished from the retail landscape within two years.
And the Samsung/Best Buy thing isn't even new: Hudson's Bay Company, the oldest Canadian retailer with over 400 continuous years in business tried a Samsung experience center nearly ten years ago. HBC didn't go under (not yet, anyway) but the project quietly faded from sight in even less time than it took Eaton's to tank.
Anytime a retailer tries to coax a partner into supporting store-within-a-store they're not seeking to enhance anyones brand image: They're seeking avoid paying for inventory and wages, and off-loading those costs on their new partner. Store-Within-A-Store is NEVER a good sign.
If I was Samsung or LG (or anyone else for that matter), I'd be more concerned with making sure my Accounts Receivable department focuses on keeping Best Buy paid up on time than spending money on opening Experience Centers, but I'm kind of cynical. Add a comment
When it comes to salespeople making up their own compensation (i.e., commission fraud) I think that by now I've pretty much seen it all.
Most of those efforts are petty and easily ferreted out. Some, like I'm about to mention were more cunning.
What they all have in common is that they occur in companies whose management don't have strong oversight. Just like shoplifting, internal theft only happens if there's an opportunity because no one is watching.
The department store I used to work at had such poor internal controls that it was breathtaking: The controls weren't there, and the management was almost comically oblivious.
To further set the stage for my story, in the furniture business, stores carry very little inventory beyond the display models. If a customer wants a
specific color of sofa and chair they select the fabric or leather swatch they like, the salesman rings up the order and the order is manufactured by the vendor, shipped to the warehouse and delivered to the customer.
The built-on-demand process takes six to eight weeks.
At the same time, the store's Point Of Sale system was programmed so that returns after 60 days didn't go against the commission of the original
salesman. The theory behind that was that returns and exchanges that old were customer service decisions by a manager, and shouldn't penalize the
salesman, so the system would automatically not ding the commission on 60-day-plus returns.
This would be fine in an environment where the department store's management were actually on the ball, and took a keen interest in the business.
What actually happened was that prior to me the store's department managers all acted like being on 100 percent commission was contagious and, by and large, left the sales people to their own devices.
One clever salesman noticed the lack of oversight, and would deliberately order the wrong color furniture for his customers. When it arrived six weeks later, he would sincerely apologize, re-ring the transaction and "allow" the customer to keep using the wrong colored furniture until their new ones could be delivered.
Two things were happening here. First, he was getting paid TWICE for each customer. And second, the regional warehouse and our showroom was filling up with his USED returns, which needed to be sold on clearance at a steep discount.
When I came on board and uncovered it by digging through the old-school paper invoice registry, I found that he had being doing it FOR YEARS.
Add a comment
But both innovation and competition come at a cost, and that cost is that consumers have to face stupid, poorly thought out technologies.
UltraViolet is one of those.
Aside from being the title of a 2006 film that is easily the capstone of Mila Jovovich's extraordinary career of appearing in terrible films, I was
almost entirely unaware that it was also the name of a cloud-based content licensing system that seeks to rival iTunes.
Unaware, that is, until I decided to check Amazon to see if the DVD release of The Hobbit was going to include a digital copy. Expecting an iTunes copy, I was puzzled to see UltraViolet listed instead.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's intended to allow users to stream purchased content across multiple platforms and devices, requiring
its own player on computers and its own app on mobile devices.
Except that according to a Google search, it doesn't work very well. Users report a litany of horrors, from compatibility issues, crummy video and
sound quality, and worst of all, poor support from UltraViolet's helpdesk.
Nobody seems to have these problems with iTunes.
And that's the other thing. Beyond the poor reception from users (the Facebook group "UltraViolet Sucks" has some pretty salty comments from
disgruntled consumers) and the reports of technical problems, the format has two major problems: Apple, and Disney.
Neither is on board with supporting UltraViolet and at this point it looks like neither ever will.
That means that it's already on life support now, and its doom is only a matter of time.
Here's hoping it's not too long.
*Legal Disclaimer: My attorney advises me to tell you that the title of this blog post is in German. It reads "The Ultraviolet, The!" Add a comment
The world probably does not need yet another blog post about Apple, or any Apple products, such as Apple TV which I’m about to blog about.
However, I feel compelled to do so, for two main reasons.
The first is that I feel vaguely guilty spending my blogging time for rAVe telling old work stories that alternate between being humorous, scandalous or both while other bloggers on the rAVe roster like Jennifer Willard, Joel Rollins and Gary Kayye post thoughtful, in-depth pieces on the current state of the industry. So I feel it’s time to write something a little more serious.
The other is that I feel a deep conflict towards Apple. On the one hand I’ve grown to dislike them as a company. Their arrogance and Hubris seems to grow by the day.
They’re incredibly aggravating to do business with, and it’s only professional constraint that keeps me from going off on a tirade detailing all their aggravations, both petty and major that I find myself having to contend with on an almost daily basis.
Yet at the same time, some products in their lineup are so well-designed, and so good at what they’re intended to do, that I find myself deeply impressed with what Apple has wrought.
AppleTV is one of those.
After months of procrastination I finally integrated an AppleTV unit into the AV system in our media room.
One of my Logitech Squeezebox units bricked last year, so I hadn’t had easy access to my music collection in that room since then. Suddenly having access to iTunes on my big system made me grin.
And I had gotten so used/resigned to the slow, cludgy Netflix interface on the Nintendo Wii that, like a chronic dull ache you just don’t notice anymore that navigating Netflix via AppleTV was a genuine joy, and that’s before taking the AV quality into consideration, which is superb.
All in all, AppleTV may arguably be their best product, mostly because it plays to their strengths. You’ve got to remember, they’re not a hardware company, they just have hardware assembled for them to their spec. Apple is a media company; their strength is in delivering content to you.
But what does all this have to do with Joan Jett, you ask?
This video ought to help explain my feelings about Apple.Add a comment
Way back in the day one of the places that I worked that was 100% commission
had an unusual incentive in order to get hard-bitten, driven and cynical
commission sales people to show up for things like product knowledge
seminars, administrative duties, or anything else that took them off the
floor: pay for Non-Productive Time.
In short, NPT was calculated based on your last year's income divided by
hours worked. So for example if your NPT was $18 an hour, that's what they'd
pay you to show up for things like vendor fairs.
Of course, like any expression, "Non-Productive Time" can have more than one
meaning. So, it's a phrase that I've adopted, and often applied to refer to
activities that, to put it mildly, are not generating revenue.
For example, I used to work with a salesman whose entire non-work life
revolved around World of Warcraft, to the point that eventually it began to
leak into his work life.
He didn't actually go so far as to start playing WoW on company computers on
company time, but he did spend an inordinate amount of time online talking
about it on WoW-oriented forums, researching magic items on WoW FAQ sites,
and generally planning his next session of whatever it is people do when
they're playing WoW. As far as I know, he's still doing it.
Sales isn't for everybody, it's a fact. It's either in your nature or it
isn't. And while it's good to try new things and make a go of it, eventually
some people realize that it's not for them.
One of the most pointed examples of that was someone I worked with very
briefly, who would nip into the back room for ten to fifteen minute cat
I don't know if he was narcoleptic or not, but the nap breaks on the job got
longer, until he was eventually found out by the Store Manager. And that was
the last any of us ever saw of him.
Not every example of Non Productive Time can be attributed to poor
motivation. Sometimes salespeople are just looking for a little excitement.
Pictured above is a garment trolley. As you can imagine, they're used in
retail to move clothing on hangers around the store. We used them at the
department store I worked at.
I can assure you, they're also a lot of fun to use as skateboards down the
aisles before and after store hours. Cornering is tricky, but with practice
and a little property damage you'll get the hang of it pretty quick.
Who cares about reconciling your invoices or tidying your section when there
are races to be won and Land Speed Records to be broken? Add a comment
We all have our vices, I suppose. It's just that some people take them to
I think I've mentioned in the past how much I loved being the only
non-smoker on a sales floor. I used to work with a half-dozen other sales
people, all of who had a serious nicotine problem.
In addition to the employer-mandated half-hour lunch and two fifteen minute
breaks each of my co-workers would nip out the side door for between three
and six cigarettes a shift.
A cigarette may only take five minutes or less to smoke, but there was
always an additional ten or more minutes of fraternizing with fellow smokers
that went along with it.
Which is fine, because that took each of my 100% commission rivals out of
action for between forty five to ninety minutes a day, leaving more paying
customers for me!
At that same job, one of the other salesmen, an older fellow who was nearing
retirement would frequently take extended lunch breaks at the pub down at
the other end of the mall.
His particular vice wasn't that he was having a few drinks at lunch (he
was), it was that he was playing the video lottery terminals at the bar.
I was never sure if he was making money at VLTs to subsidize his time off
the floor, or earning commissions at work to pay for playing VLTs all
afternoon. Six of one/half a dozen of the other, I suppose. Add a comment
The nerd community media, by which I mean the social media sites that
generate humorous pictures and the media sites that comment on social media
and humorous pictures would have you believe that video game lovers are a
nation divided; that somehow a line can be drawn between "serious" or "real"
gamers and so-called "casual" gamers.
But what do these arbitrary divisions even mean?
The Internet would have you believe that "real gamers" only play multi-hour
marathons of games that require endless hours of game play to conclude. That
somehow you're only a "real gamer" if you play Call of Duty or Assassin's
Creed to the exclusion of sleep, nutrition and personal hygiene.
The Internet would have you believe that if it isn't on a console like
XBOX360 or Playstation 3 that it's not a "real" game. That somehow being
played on your phone or tablet makes it not a "real" game and makes you not
a "real" gamer.
The Internet says so, so it must be true, right?
To counter that, I'd like to introduce Exhibit A: my wife. According to the
Gamer Nerd Media, she falls squarely into the demographic that gets labelled
as the "casual gamer."
Which is silly, because all that really means is that she prefers her iPhone
and iPad for gaming over consoles.
That aside, she's as serious a gamer as they come. She puts a huge amount of
time and effort into levelling up and beating the puzzle and car racing
games she's so keen on.
There's two key metrics I can use to gauge her commitment to video games:
there's the stream of profanity coming from her spot on the sofa when a
game's not going her way, and there's the email pings I get from my iTunes
account when she's tired of the old games and bought a new one.
Not that she's alone in the household. Like all guys my age, I grew up with
arcade games and home consoles.
But I don't have time to sit on the couch and play my way through long,
"real" console games. There's that whole "work for a living" thing, you
But that doesn't mean I don't get my game on anymore.
Far from it. I've put a lot of time into throwing birds at pigs, racing
laps, and, for several months, levelling up and unlocking all the rewards
and achievements on Jetpack Joyride on my iPad (please don't send me
hatemail after you're hooked on playing it).
Casual gamer? I don't think so. Add a comment
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