June 2008 - Posts

Weighing Progress in Pounds

Figured it was worth explaining what Isaac (and some of the rest of the summer help) was REALLY doing with those big stacks of paper in a previously-posted photo.

There's a group of interns helping ETC to scan an estimated three million pages of systems documents as part of a larger effort to be more paperless around the office. The result of the work so far? Well, in part, a whole lotta staples.

 

At press time, the students so far have plucked, tugged and maneuvered over a pound-and-a-half of staples from hard copy pages, creating what looks like a combination of your grandpa's old "swear jar" and the tip jars found in sandwich shops and cafes on college campuses nationwide. By the time the project is done - which probably won't be by the end of summer, despite the efficiency of Team Winter Garden - the weight of the remnant staples is expected to near 40 pounds. Just how efficient has the group been? Consider: recent calculations show that each student is scanning 2,773 pages and over 300Mb of data per day. Wow.

The good news is that about four percent of the way through the project, they're still smiling. What dedication!

 

More thanks to Karen E. (not pictured) for contributing her photos and research to this story.

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Mike to Write Blog Posts

I spent just over four years in the United States NAVY as a Fire Control Technician. (Like missile firing not the hot red flames and smoke type of fire). It did not take me long to learn that the word NAVY was actually an acronym for Never Again Volunteer Yourself. But in the world of ETC you do not need to volunteer, you just need to show a little interest in any project that David Lincecum is involved with and you will quickly find yourself doing stuff you thought was kind of neat but were glad that others were working on. This is how I find myself writing a ‘Light Minds’ blog on the ETC forum. How it went down…mostly:

From: Mike Meskill
Sent: Wed 6/18/2008 3:05 PM
To: David Lincecum
Subject: Who are the special people?

David, who are the special people that actually get to create blogs? Am I special? Wait…don’t answer that. I have been thinking about an EU perspective but want to ensure I / we can stay committed to the task. I would see me / us sending things to you for review before posting. {I / we; me / us meaning that I would have the permission to post but would get inputs from ETC Ltd and GmbH}

25 hours latter:

From: John Kuehl
Sent: Thursday, June 19, 2008 3:53 PM
To: David North; Joe Kirschling; Mike Meskill
Cc: David Lincecum
Subject: welcome, new blog contributors

Each of you have been identified or self-identified as new contributors to our group blog, "Light Minds Think Alike", or, "Light Minds". I went ahead and gave you all the necessary permissions to begin posting.

So here I am adding my first post to this blog and with the help of the employees of ETC GmbH in Germany and ETC Ltd in the UK I hope to provide some interesting and timely updates.

Sincerely, (American English)

Cheers! (British English)

mit freundlichen Grüβen, (German)

 

Mike Meskill

European Service Manager, ETC

 

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Summer Help Arrives at ETC

Summer has arrived, and with it, waves of interns and LTEs and other part-timers have descended on the ETC campus in Middleton. They're helping out in all kinds of ways, across all areas of the company. And, universally, they all seem like they're here to really work.

Here's a pictorial look at just a few of them, caught in the action during their early days at ETC. All photos taken by Karen E., an intern in Marketing (coincidentally, not pictured).

Ashten B., a repeat offseason helper in the Broadway Deli.

Isaac K., obviously working with a lot of paper, and doing a stellar job of it.

 

Chris G., helping to keep the ETC grounds looking their best. (Chris' iPod noticeably absent from this photo.)

John G., who makes training videos for Ion when he's not busy trying to break them.

Lily S., part of a duo that will be helping ETC spec and create a video studio in the near future.  

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2 Scene or not 2 Scene

I've been hesitating to blog on this - but I think it is time. There are a couple of threads on this in the ETC forums.

In the near future ETC will have to cease making the Express consoles. These desks have been a mainstay of our console sales for over 10 years with over 14,000 units in the field. We have multiple problems with obsolete parts that we have been sourcing from unsavory characters for years. We are simply coming down the line toward extinction of the species.

When we developed the Ion desk as a derivative of Eos, and specifically with replacing the Express in mind also, we specifically determined that we were not going to support 2 scene operation. Why? Why would we abandon something as reliable as 2 scene which has been a mainstay of our product line? We decided it was time to move on. I'm not going to argue whether the decision is right or wrong - I'll let others do that and welcome them to do so. But I will tell you why we made the choice.

Why?

There are many reasons. We decided that we had an opportunity and an obligation to help move the entire market forward. The very nature of the Move-fade and LTP operation of the Eos system made 2 scene difficult to wedge in. These two things just don't go together well. When you wedge things together you make compromises.

We determined that 2 scene was in fact far less reliable than a memory desk, especially when the number of faders exceed a 'reasonable amount" and when students were doing the presetting. We know from our own experience that some educators like to teach 2 scene operation to lighting students - but that most acknowledged it was only for teaching purposes - primarily historical. We provide 2 scene operation on the Smartfade console - so students can still see what it was like when "we had to work during shows."

A very typical High school system has 96 or more dimmers these days and managing that size system on 2 scene is not really recommended practice. One broadway lighting designer we know well insists that two-scene teaches nothing but bad lighting practice and begs us to please proliferate a proper movefade-LTP-tracking philosophy to everyone we can reach.

We had learned that while lots of faders made teachers comfortable at the high school level and beyond - that the students instantly moved on to programming sequences and that generally speaking they were ready for even more. We looked at where other industries were going - audio for instance - and clearly they had moved beyond manual control as their primary offerings. With digital memory systems becoming standard fare in audio we felt that it was also time for a lighting company to move forward.

We decided that we were that company. Now I am interested in your views on this - I just want to say our piece. You may have to put up with some of my pontification on the subject!

The fact is that we feel that moving the lighting art forward is one of our duties, goals and joys. We have observed all the signs that the user base (even the high schools) are prepared to move forward and we also know that we as a company are prepared to deliver the solutions that make that movement happen. One of the primary things holding them back is fear. Fear by teachers - fear by resellers that the teachers can't handle it - fear by manufacturers that they won't buy it.

When I look at the history of lighting control I can see the clear movements that make this progression natural and logical. That doesn't make it easy. We knew that the decision was risky. We knew that some people would disagree and that we might lose some business as a result of the decision. But we also looked back at companies that chose to cling to the "established tools" and ultimately suffered. 

What does this have to do with drill bits?

Companies that sell drill bits don't actually sell drill bits. They sell holes. If people need large holes - they need new ways to provide them. If people need really accurate holes or lots of holes - they might find a bit less attractive. If a company introduces a laser hole maker - the market might flock to it. If the capability to solve real problems is at hand and the company does not deploy it - they risk the fact that someone else will. At the same time - they can choose to deploy the technology and help move the entire "hole" market to a new place. People will someday say - "remember when we used bits for every hole? Man, that was weird. I sure am glad Black and Decker invented these laser drills." Could this happen in lighting? It clearly has before. There are no more 5 scene presets, there are no more patch panels - dimmer per circuit is standard, even FOH patches are disappearing. So why is 2 scene a protected species?

This syndrome of "the technology is available but not being deployed" is apparent in Automobile gas efficiency. This was story with typewriters. Animation arts migrated to countries willing to deploy newer technology and Korea is now the home of animation.

And what about things that cannot be presetted?

I can't stand on a trade show floor without someone asking me "What about ETC and LED's?" We recognize that this is a technology that will eventually change the industry and our business model. Many strategic meetings at ETC involve a drawing that looks something like this on a whiteboard. It graphs the reduction of tungsten and the increase in "other." Along the tungsten line also falls dimming, Source Fours and other ETC mainstay products. Along the "other" line falls LED's, Automated lighting, video and things we haven't even thought of yet. Imagine the role of preset desks in this world!  Presetting is a very dimmer centric philosophy. I'm not under-cutting the primary role of dimmers mind you. We sell lots and would like to keep doing it.

There are many other examples of technology leaps that were brought mainstream and benefitted the whole of people using them. High school students that learn tracking and LTP operation will be that much more ready for college. The large productions high schools are now doing will benefit from accurate cues and repeatable transitions. The deployment of products that handle movers and LED's will create larger markets for those products and proliferate them down into the high schools.

But enough from me. I think ETC's position is clear, whether it is right or wrong, I want to hear from you.

2 scene or not 2 scene? That is the question.

David Lincecum

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The Opera risk

Terry Teachout wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the New York City Opera taking the big risk - a year off with practically no performances while their home - the State Theatre is renovated. Not only are they taking this year off - but the schedule in 2009 will include six 20th century operas! The season includes Einstein on the Beach! I haven't seen a live performance but have watched a film study of the opera which was extraordinary.

It made me think about the changes taking place in the Opera-going public. I have never enjoyed Opera even though I have seen a few. I wonder how the art form will hold up as the boomers retire and a new audience moves in? I guess I am relating this to my post on the changes in the High School musical choices these days. It occurred to me that these types of changes will be occurring throughout the entire spectrum of the arts. I guess we are seeing the very traditional forms begin to alter themselves just as we see music and film move - although the latter moves much more quickly.

We've seen a shift in the local Madison community with some theatre groups struggling to stay afloat. Some say it is the expense of operating in the new arts center here in Madison - or competition with broadway tours coming into the same facility. Some might argue that the play choices and production quality have not been up to par. I wonder what the real deal is?

I'm curious if you all in the biz - still producing shows - have begun to study this change in audience makeup and preferences? WHat will your theatres do about this? As one who relishes good market research - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

David

Posted by dlincecum | 1 comment(s)

High School Theatre moves on

I've been to the dentists a lot lately. As my colleagues at ETC know - I've been having tooth pain - Glad to say it is now gone - along with much of the tooth.

Anyway, the point is I have been browsing through magazines and saw this article in Time magazine. It about the evolution of the High school musical. They are not talking about the blockbuster Disney musical - a topic discussed weekly at my home. The article is focussed on what High schools are producing now. The shows are big. So I say "more power to you high school drama teachers. Keep it coming!" This trend in the US is a big driver of ETC's business.

So - "Every high school needs 2 racks and 150 Source Fours I say! Think big teachers! Go for it!"

David

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A little Lagniappe anyone?

I guess everyone is looking for "a little something extra." That is how I first learned the definition of Lagniappe when I moved to New Orleans. As a product manager we always talk about trying to find that "little something extra that thrills the potential customer or owner." These are the things that differentiate what you have from everybody else. One way to find that these days is in good design of software interfaces. I heard this last week at Lightfair as people looked at Light Designer - the new Light Manager-like software that is being introduced as a part of the Paradigm system.

There is "something extra" in the design of Light Designer in many places. My personal favorite is the "Know limits" screen.  A user may use this screen to ask, "will this work?"

In Light Manager, experienced users knew that the system had performance limits. At one point the engineers introduced a formula you could use to "know your limits." Different point values are applied to presets, stations, zones and macros and your goal was to keep the sum of all these items below 10,000. How's that for an interface? Of course not that many users have to deal with this - only those doing really large systems.

In Light Designer "know limits" is a series of speedometers that show you how your system will perform using the hardware you have. When you enter the screen the speedometers move to the appropriate values. And remember the old term "it goes to 11" ? The speedometers go to a value of 2 - or 200%, double the capacity of a given processor.

Mark Ramsey has slightly different take on Lagniappe in his post on the Weinie.

David Lincecum

Hey, what are you all looking at?

On etcconnect.com, that is.

I just finished compiling an internal report on web activity on our site for May, and thought it might be interesting to share openly some notable ETC web trends.

Google AnalyticsFirst of all, we've been having a great start to 2008. Before May, every month had brought more visitors to our site than the last. April was our second-busiest month on etcconnect.com since we started using Google Analytics to track web activity back in Q2 2007. Even though growth stalled (for the moment) in May, we're still topping our averages from the previous six months, and seeing double-digit percentage growth in visits from countries like China and Australia. May brought visits from over 130 countries and from every continent. Thirty-two countries accounted for more than 100 visits, and a dozen countries generated 500 visits or more.

So, what's getting all the attention from our customers online? Here's what we're seeing from the whole - does it reflect your usage, too?

Not all that surprisingly, we get a lot of customers looking for product support information - posting questions or looking for answers in the forums, finding datasheets and other product details, downloading software updates. In fact, in May, support-related content accounted for about 30% of pageviews on etcconnect.com in May. The online community, where you're reading this post, captured nearly 43,000 pageviews all by itself! What was launched on a hunch a little more than a year ago has become a tremendous resource for our business partners and end users, and their use of it and contributions to it make it better every day. People like you are bookmarking our forums and making them one of your regular online destinations, and we thank you whole-heartedly for that!

As a company built on both great service and great products, we naturally get a lot of people researching for purchases of controls, fixtures, dimming networking and more. With millions sold, it's also no wonder that the Source Four is the most popular product section on etcconnect.com. A photometric tool and minisite for the Source Four that was produced two years ago still averages thousands of hits each month. Pages highlighting our newest entertainment console, Ion, has been a traffic magnet for months, but we still get gobs of people looking for information on Express consoles, too, after all these years. This was surprising to me when I started working here, and then I began to understand ETC's extreme dedication to supporting users of ALL its products.

In May, we launched Congo v5, and supported that groundbreaking software release with a series of videos on etcconnect.com. The two main videos produced for this page by the Congo team - "Don't own a Congo?" and "Already own a Congo, but not v5?" - were each available in three sizes. Which set of videos was more popular? Neither! Each video (when combining the views of all three sizes) captured exactly 404 views in May. Say what you will about the accuracy of exact view counts in web reporting, but this is a great example of etcconnect.com capturing consumers in different stages of a purchase or usage cycle - and delivering appropriate information to everyone.

Some other interesting facts:

  • Last month, 10% of our visitors viewed just one page before leaving the site. However, 28% viewed 10 or more, and 10% viewed 20 or more!
  • The average user spends more than 5 minutes on our site per visit.
  • Fourteen percent of our visitors are on Macs.

That's really just the tip of the iceberg, and again, I'm sharing this in part as a way to get some feedback on how each of you individually use our site. Do you spend more of your time in the forums than our product pages? What do you think we do well online? Where do we fall short? What do you want to see more of?

Please share! As always, we're listening. 

 

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On Angry People

Seth Godin out up an interesting post on dealing with Angry people. One of the things I like about Seth is his use of small illustrations and he uses one here to point out the separation between angry people and everyone else (even other angry people!)

I've been an angry customer, I've dealt with angry customers. I have to say that my experience being an angry customer did not really prepare me for dealing with an angry customer. The divide Seth talks about is always unique.

How do you deal with angry people?  " That's our policy sir . . .?" "Sorry you feel that way . . ."

David Lincecum

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Getting to Green

Thomas Friedman has done a great piece of video on NYTimes.com. In the video is discusses the article he wrote for the Times Magazine "The Power of Green."

In this piece he talks about reasons for America to take the lead on green power and environmentally sound practices and his reasons and examples are extremely compelling.  He argues that governments which set a very high standard for these practices force the innovation to happen in the market. In fact he suggests that the rising price of oil is exactly the wake up call that the USA needs. I have to say that I am very compelled by his argument - watching the changes in my habits and those around me as energy prices rise. We do need this. I've also been thinking about how the same reasons and actions could change the entertainment lighting business.

As we in this business fear the regulation of power consumption in the theatre -- it may be exactly what is needed in order to force innovation. In effect, our ability to get around this need for more efficiency in power use is a crutch. I guess it is pretty obvious that we at ETC really prefer to keep selling Source Fours and dimmers!

But Friedman's brief 6 minute discussion left me feeling the way I felt after watching "An Inconvenient Truth." A feeling of a very inconvenient lump in my throat.

David Lincecum