Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dealing with Connections

I “volunteered” to present a short bit on audio technology at the Science Museum this past week (June 6). The upside was that the target audience would be adults. The “Social Science” program is intended to attract adults to the museum for adult presentations with adult entertainment (and refreshments). After 12 years of trying to find a way to keep the attention of disinterested teenagers, I wondered if talking about audio and technology with adults would be less frustrating. Since I’m proposing a series of audio courses to a couple of local adult education programs, this seemed like a reasonable test bed for the concept.

More than 1,000 people showed up and it was . . . intense. In 5 hours, I had no more than 3 minutes to myself. My wife, there as a guest, came by a half-dozen times to see how I was doing and I only saw her out of the corner of my eye. We didn’t have a moment to talk until about 10:30PM. If my college students had half as much interest in the subjects I brought to discuss, teaching college would be incredibly fun.

macbook pro However, the point of this rant is that I (for no rational reason that I can remember) decided to bring the school’s MacBook Pro, instead of my trusty Dell laptop, for the presentation. In retrospect, that was a really dumb decision.

lattitude At home and in my own business applications, I use a Dell E6400 for Pro Tools, PowerPoint, Excel, Word, internet crap, and every other task for which I need computer assistance. The e6400 has VGA, USB2 (4), HDMI, Ethernet, Firewire400, and digital/analog audio in-and-output ports. I have a few adapter cables, but I rarely need them. Almost never, in fact.

The school’s IT department has jammed up my MacBook Pro with all sorts of sluggish overhead, which makes using it on a regular basis painful and time-consuming. So, that overpriced unit spends most of its life chained to my cube desk collecting dust, acting as a printer server, and accumulating e-mail. About 6 times a year, I unchain it and drag it upstairs to act as the controller for the Soundbite Cafe live sessions. Otherwise, it’s pretty much designated as my low-tech desk machine.

But that night, June 6, I decided to drag out the school’s POS Apple because . . . I don’t know why. Best guess is that I didn’t know the venue and wanted to risk their gear and not my own.

HT4126-mbp_13_mid2010-ports-001-en One of my least favorite things about the Apple machines is the company’s infamous distain for already-invented-wheels. Apple insists on sticking their suckers . . . I mean customers . . . with weird-assed home-bred “display ports.” There have been at least a dozen of the damn things over the course of my experience with Apple computer products and they are all as idiotic as the previous version of the same stupid idea.

That night, I stopped by the school and grabbed a couple of video adapter cables so I’d be able to turn one of the museum’s monitors into a display monitor for my PowerPoint presentation. In my hurry to test the majority of the presentation (most of which was hands-on stuff with microphones, loudspeakers, and basic electronics) I failed to figure out which of the three possible display port connections my unit has. (Remember, I normally don’t use this thing for presentation work.) With a 33% chance of getting it wrong, my usual odds brought that dismal number to 0% and I found myself at the Minnesota Science Museum, 15 minutes from when the doors opened to the public, with the wrong damn connector. If I’d have brought my Dell, I’d just plug in the VGA connector from the monitor and get on with it. Instead, I made a panic call back to school and had to be rescued by one of the nicest guys I’ve had the fortune of knowing in my educational career (thanks Andy).

And the lesson learned? Stick with what you know when it really matters. From here out, the Apple stays on the desk and I travel with the Dell and Win7.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.